In no particular order…
First timer Richard Bates Jr.’s “Excision” was a film that kind of came in under the radar, though which left more of an impression than almost anything else in the horror genre during 2012. The twisted tale of an increasingly deranged misfit teenage girl obsessed with surgery goes to some very dark places in hysterical and over the top fashion, mixing in satirical humour, colourful campery and extreme art gore along the way. With an unbeatable cast of cult favourites including Tracy Lords, Ray Wise and John Waters, it’s not only horrifying, but a sharp and immaculately written affair that arguably provides the most coffin-funny and homicidal take on teen angst since “Heathers”.
Against all the odds, Franck Khalfoun’s “Maniac” remake emerged as one of the best and most brutal horrors of the year. Channelling and building upon William Lustig’s notorious 1980 nihilistic and perverse slasher, the film stays very true indeed to its source material, fairly painting the screen red and never skimping on the sleaze and scalping gore. Boldly shot mainly from a first person perspective, the stylish and cleverly directed shocker also receives an unlikely boost from Elijah Wood, who turns in an amazing and queasily convincing performance in the lead role. Though heartless, cruel and vicious throughout, not to mention utterly devoid of humanity or hope, it’s a gripping and intense piece of genre cinema that surprises and disturbs at every turn.
Japanese auteur and cult favourite Shinya Tsukamoto returns with “Kotoko”, combining the apocalyptic style of his classic “Tetsuo” films with the monstrous and terrifyingly intimate tale of a young single mother played by singer/songwriter Cocco losing her mind in hallucinogenic and violent fashion. Possibly the director’s most disturbing and punishing film to date, it’s also filled with moments of haunting beauty and poetry, and stands as a near flawless triumph for both Tsukamoto and Cocco, not to mention one of the most effective and unsettling portraits of madness seen in recent years. Though undeniably hard going and not an easy watch, it comes with the highest recommendation both for fans of the director and brave viewers who enjoy extreme cinema tempered with artistry.
Both a gripping sports story and a fascinating documentary, Yung Chang’s film makes great use of an intriguing premise, following a series of Chinese young boxers, recruited from rural areas and trying to use the sport to offer them new lives. Having premiered at Sundance, the humanistic and moving film has been garnering strong word of mouth at festivals around the world, and makes for entertaining and powerful viewing, even for those not usually into documentaries.
Quite possibly the year’s best looking and most hysterical film, “Helter Skelter” marked the return of Japanese director and photographer Ninagawa Mika some 5 years after her colourful debut “Sakuran”. Based on a manga, the film also sees the return of controversial and gorgeous actress Sawajiri Erika in an over the top and frequently insane look at the Japanese entertainment industry, packing in madness, sex and black market plastic surgery. Visually arresting and mind-bending throughout, though open to accusations of style over substance, it’s a film which sears itself into the mind and eyeballs.
Ben Wheatley again proves himself one of the most talented and unpredictable directors working in the UK today with a leftfield tale of serial murder of the most English kind, following an odd, though believably crazed couple on a homicidal tour of the country’s dullest tourist spots. Although at first glance a very different proposition to Wheatley’s shocking and brilliantly nasty “Kill List” from last year, the two actually have a lot in common, drawing much of their strength from the director’s superb powers of observation, underscoring the comical violence and madness with a solid everyday emotional core. By grounding things in recognisable real life, he ensures that the black comedy is all the funnier and more affecting, and the results are wonderfully, grimly, hilariously entertaining.
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