While sometimes derided for deifying alleged con artists Ed and Lorraine Warren and turning them into warriors against malevolent paranormal entities (as per their own depictions of themselves), it can’t be denied that James Wan is an artisanal craftsman of creepy imagery and chilling set pieces. It must also be said that it is very well-acted and well-directed, but this does produce an effort that feels very controlled and deliberate at times. I personally prefer some touches of excess and chaos in my horror, but the impact of Wan’s franchise-launching blockbuster film on the genre has been tremendous.
Released June 7, 2013
Rated R – 1hr 25min
Directed by James DeMonaco
Starring Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Edwin Hodge
Here we have another big franchise-launcher – this sorta-disappointing home invasion thriller with the extremely inventive premise. While it would serve as a springboard to movies I consider superior, it’s not that The Purge is bad. It’s actually pretty decent, but it frustrates in how much promise it leaves on the table. All is forgiven though, because Anarchy delivers everything its predecessor may have squandered.
World War Z
Released June 21, 2013
Rated PG-13 1hr 56min
Directed by Marc Forster
Starring Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Brad Pitt, Brad Pitt, and assumably some other people
Dismissed by many hardcore horror fans and reviled so much by fans of the book that they’d rather take a Lobo to it than watch it, this was the highest-grossing horror film of 2013. It plays like a parade of whizzbang zombie-themed globe-trotting action sequences, all of which prominently feature Brad Pitt (it’s essentially Brad Pitt Vs. Zombies – The Motion Picture). It rather loosely uses Max Brooks’ much heralded novel of the same name as more of a backdrop or a list of suggestions for action sequences than it is an adaptation of it. For all the hate though, it promises zombie action and delivers a hell of a lot of it (despite an odd low-key 3rd act wedged into it as a result of epic production issues), so where it might fail as horror or an adaptation of a book, it’s a damn good popcorn movie.
Released June 28, 2013
Rated R – 1hr 58min
Directed by Neil Jordan
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton, Sam Riley
Probably the most acclaimed horror film from that year, Byzantium stands apart – far apart – from the bubblegum-pop romantic depiction of vampires so popularly forwarded by the Twilight franchise. Restoring elements of Gothic menace and complicated sexuality to the vampire mythos, this isn’t a light-hearted affair, as this mother-daughter duo endure a series of harsh traumas from man and vampire alike.
Released May 10, 2013
Unrated (equivalent to R rating for strong violence, language, and sexual content) – 1hr 28min
Directed by Ben Wheatley
Starring Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Kenneth Hadley
In this super-dark comedy, luckless Tina, still living with her neurotic mother, enters into a serious relationship with nice guy Chris and goes on a vacation with him, where she discovers that he’s a serial killer. Sightseers has no shortage of outrageous moments and uncomfortable laughs as Tina grows to embrace her boyfriend’s ‘hobby’.
John Dies at the End
Released Jan. 25, 2013
Rated R – 1hr 39min
Directed by Don Coscarelli
Starring Chase Williamson, Paul Giamatti, Rob Mayes, Clancy Brown
Creator of the Phantasm franchise Don Coscarelli delivers a surprisingly faithful adaptation of what should have been an unadaptable book. David Wong’s novel reads like the intersection of an acid trip, a fever dream, and a bout of mania – and the film retains much of the same aesthetic. Full of hallucinogenic imagery, transdimensional intrigue, and humor derived from the audacious absurdity of it all, this movie is quite the trip, if you can manage to stay on board.
Released July 19, 2013
Unrated (equivalent to R rating for creature violence and language) – 1hr 34min
Directed by Jon Wright
Starring Ruth Bradley, Richard Coyle
This more light-hearted horror-comedy plays a bit like the Irish answer to Tremors. A quaint seaside village is beset by some large unknown predator that can travel by land or sea. Fortunately, it has one key weakness – a fatal allergy to alcohol. The town must keep itself rightly shit-faced if it hopes to survive long enough to figure out a way to kill it – while shit-faced. It’s a fun flick.
(NOTE: The streaming service FXNow is available to all cable customers who receive FX in the regular packages, or so their site says. Haven’t used it yet myself.)