Swampflix’s Top Films of 2015

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1. It Follows – The only movie to make three of our lists is a throwback to 80s horror classics from past greats like John Carpenter. Featuring a killer soundtrack, the highest of high-concept premises, and a fascinating visual aesthetic, It Follows is more creepy than it is frightening, but easily stands as the best horror film of the year, if not the best film overall.

2. Crimson Peak – A love letter to the Gothic Horror genre, Guillermo del Toro’s latest is a traditional ghost story loaded with the genre’s classic tropes of isolation, bloody histories, unnatural relationships, menacing architecture, Victorians, obvious symbolism, endangered virgins, and things that gibber and chitter in the night. Crimson Peak is ripe with heavy-handed visual metaphor and beautiful overwrought acting to match.

3. Magic Mike XXL – An over-the-top road trip comedy where a gaggle of male strippers act like an over-aged boy band: horny, sassy, too-old-for-this-shit, and high on drugs. One of the most unashamedly fun movie-going experiences of the year, not to mention the lagniappe of its intense cinematography. There aren’t many situations in which the sequel is better than the original, but we’re confident this one surpasses its deeply-somber predecessor. It’s pure genius!

4. Tangerine – This flick, which was filmed with an iPhone 5S, has been the talk of the town for months, and for a very good reason. Tangerine is a raucously fun, poorly behaved whirlwind of an adventure through Los Angeles’ cab rides & sex trade. It’s got a surprisingly intense cinematic eye & despite leaning hard towards over-the-top excess there’s a very touching story at its heart about the value of friendship & makeshift family.

5. Queen of Earth –  Two lifelong friends inflict terrible manipulation and emotional violence upon each other in a tense story that spans two separate summer getaways, where past secrets, petty jealousies, and personal vendettas come to light while one of the women slowly  becomes more deranged. It’s difficult to pin down exactly what does & doesn’t transpire in Queen of Earth, but the seething hatred mounting between its two leads is bound to bore a hole into your memory no matter where you land on its plot.

6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Easily the most over-complained about movie in 2015. The Force Awakens a genuinely fun, intricately detailed return to form for a franchise that hasn’t been nearly this satisfying since 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back. If you need insight into just how much the movie bends over backwards to please its audience, just take a look at the beyond-adorable BB-8. What a little cutie.

7. Goodnight Mommy – There’s a major twist at the core of Goodnight Mommy that most discerning folks will be able to catch onto within minutes of the film beginning, but that withheld reveal in no way cheapens the ugly brutality of its horror imagery or the delicate beauty of its art film surreality. Goodnight Mommy has been derided by its detractors as “torture porn”, but its intense moments of horror are actually quite well shot and understated in their simplicity. Don’t be fooled by reviews that refer to this as a terrible movie, or an exploitative one; it’s a gorgeous film with style to spare.

8. Turbo Kid  – A cartoonish throwback to an ultraviolent kind of 1980s futurism that probably never even existed. Turbo Kid is a smorgasbord of eccentric ideas smashed together into one glorious and beautiful assault on the senses. Moreover, each of those ideas is realized in bloody practical effects magic. It’s difficult to believe that Turbo Kid didn’t previously exist as a video game or a comic book, given the weird specificity of its world & characters. It’s a deliriously fun, surprisingly violent practical effects showcase probably best described as the cinematic equivalent of eating an entire bag of Pop Rocks at once.

9. Krampus – Director Michel Dougherty’s first film, Trick ‘r Treat, was a comedic horror anthology devoutly faithful to the traditions of Halloween. His follow-up, Krampus,  thankfully kept the October vibes rolling into December traditions in a time where so many people do it the other way around, celebrating Christmas before Halloween even gets rolling, the heathens. All hail Krampus, a soul-stealing demon who acts as “St. Nicholas’ shadow”,  for bucking the trend. A new cult classic has been born!

10. The Final Girls – Although its main goal is undoubtedly a goofy, highly-stylized comedy, this film also reaches for eerie, otherworldly horror in its central conceit, an unlikely of mix ideas from Scream & The Last Action Hero. As a send­up of campsite slashers like Friday the 13th & Sleepaway Camp that focuses almost entirely on the relationships between female friends as well as a young woman & the woman who is not quite her mother, The Final Girls is a meta horror comedy well-deserving of your attention.

Read Boomer’s picks here.
Read Britnee’s picks here.
Read Brandon’s picks here & here.
Read Erin’s picks here.

-The Swampflix Crew

Erin’s Top Films Reviewed in 2015

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1. Crimson Peak (2015) – Guillermo del Toro writes a love letter to the Gothic Horror genre.  The classic tropes of isolation, bloody histories, unnatural relationships, menacing architecture, Victorians, obvious symbolism, endangered virgins, and things that gibber and chitter in the night are explored in a visually luscious theatrical feast.  Del Toro’s use of visual metaphor is appropriately heavy, and the acting is beautifully overwrought to match.

2. Road House (1989) – A classic story of the Bad Boy with a Heart of Gold and a Dark Past, Road House lets every one revel in the simple pleasure of barroom brawls and Patrick Swayze’s oiled up body. Watch it.  Enjoy it.  It’s ridiculous and satisfying.

3. The Man Who Laughs (1928) – The only silent movie that I reviewed this year.  It’s a fun look at the pre-Hayes Code Silver Screen.  It’s a melodrama based on a Victor Hugo novel, and it is played to the hilt.  Enjoyable and accessible if you are interested in trying out silent films.

4. Shanghai Noon (2000) – Thoroughly enjoyable ramble through Wild West tropes.  Jackie Chan makes an interesting and unlikely hero for a Western, and the good-looking cowboy played by Owen Wilson only manages to be a sidekick.  Fun and funny, with trademark Jackie Chan physicality and stunts.

5. Innocent Blood (1992) – A French Vampire in Pittsburgh instead of an American Werewolf in London.  A fey vampire accidentally turns a mob boss, and spends the rest of the movie chasing them with Joe, an ousted undercover cop.  The best part of this movie are the vampire mobsters and their scenery chewing, bombastic scenes.  Not John Landis’ strongest entry, but a fair attempt at the vampire genre.

6. Grandma’s Boy (2006) –  Lowbrow stoner humor.  It is what it is, but it’s pretty solid for an Adam Sandler movie.  Funny in a juvenile way, but manages to portray actual character development for Alex, the schlubby programmer protagonist.  The best performances are from the titular Grandma and her elderly roommates.

7. Crime of Passion (1957) – Barbara Stanwyck is Kathy, an ambitious Lady Reporter cum Stifled Housewife cum Conniving Murderess.   The 1950s were not kind to women with a mind for more than card parties.  Kathy’s situation is first sympathetic, but she walks down a dark road of Femme Fatale turns.

8.  The Little Mermaid (1989) – Childhood favorite.  The Little Mermaid makes an interesting watch as an adult – King Triton’s fairly reasonable attempts at parenting are definitely not appreciated by the 16 (!) year old Ariel, who should really have been grounded forever.  The movie, however, is gorgeous, the soundtrack is perfect, and it’s definitely a great watch.

-Erin Kinchen

Britnee’s Top Films of 2015

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1. Krampus – A new cult classic has been born!

2. Carol – This one is hands down the greatest romance film of the year. It’s also more proof that Cate Blanchett is complete and utter perfection.

3. Crimson Peak – The prettiest ghost story that I ever did see.

4. Magic Mike XXL – There aren’t many situations in which the sequel is better than the original. That’s definitely not the case with this one. It’s pure genius!

5. It Follows – A throwback to horror films of the late 70s/early 80s that delivers on all levels.

6. Inside Out – An adorable but informative emotional roller coaster.

7. Trainwreck – Even though it has a predictable story line, it’s insanely hilarious (at least if you enjoy Amy Schumer’s style of humor).

8. The Lazarus Effect – Just another film reminding us all that bringing anyone or anything back from the dead is never a good idea.

9. People, Places, Things – The great Jemaine Clement stars in one of the most easy-going films to come out this year. It’s very simple, yet very entertaining.

10. Tangerine – This flick, which was filmed with an iPhone 5S, has been the talk of the town for months, and for a very good reason.

H.M. Ricki and the Flash –Meryl Streep’s campiest performance since Death Becomes Her!

-Britnee Lombas

Crimson Peak’s Giallo Treats

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A lot has been made about the genre mashups to be found in Guillermo del Toro’s most recent foray into horror: Crimson Peak. As Erin mentioned in her review, the film boasts an oldschool horror vibe that longingly looks back to the infamous Hammer horror productions of the 50s & 60s, while also recalling the romantic parlor dramas & ghost stories of the Victorian era. Indeed, those points of reference are worn proudly on the film’s sleeve. It’s impossible to look at the ancient, spooky, castle-like haunts that plague the film’s three central characters (played by Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, and Mia Waskowska) without conjuring thoughts of the Hammer horror style. The romantic, Victorian ghost story aesthetic is referenced by Mia Wasikowska’s protagonist directly (along with apt name-checks for Jane Austen & Mary Shelly for good measure) because she herself is writing one & submitting it for publication. Something I could not stop thinking about while I was watching Crimson Peak, however, (and I’m sure I’m far from alone) was the stylistic influences of the Italian giallo genre of the 1960s & 70s, particularly the work of Dario Argento & Mario Bava.

While the narrative of Crimson Peak is much more closely related to the Hammer horror classics & Victorian ghost stories mentioned, the film’s visual palette & style-over-substance mentality are deeply rooted in giallo. I’m not talking the traditional murder mystery giallo films where the genre gets its name (though there certainly is a good bit of that), such as Bava’s Blood & Black Lace, but more of the spooky witchery in works that came later, like in Argento’s Suspiria. The most easily recognizable giallo element at work in Crimson Peak is the film’s lighting. Stark red, blue, green, and yellow lights clash in the film’s internal spaces as if Bava himself were alive & running del Toro’s lighting on set. Also present is Argento & Bava’s love of a gleaming straight razor just begging to slit a throat, as well as a masked, gloved, mostly offscreen killer shrouded in black-clad secrecy until the last-minute reveal. The giallo influences get more specific from there– be they the creepy dolls from Deep Red, Phenomena‘s fascination with close-up shots of insects, or the image of characters spying through keyholes, which is so prevalent in giallo that it appears in two of the genre’s recent pastiche tributes: Amer & The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears.

What’s most striking about Crimson Peak‘s giallo heritage, though, is just as elementary as the Mario Bava lighting, but also important enough to be referenced in the film’s title: blood. There is a ludicrous amount of blood in this film. Just ridiculous. It flows from the sink & the bathtub faucet. It seeps through the floorboards & runs down the walls. Characters cry blood. They cough it up. Snow is blood-red in Crimson Peak, as are the film’s beautiful CGI ghosts. I should mention here that most of this “blood” is actually the red clay that rests below the trio of central characters’ haunted household. The effect is, of course, intentional, allowing del Toro to fill the frame with absurd amounts of a thick, blood-red substance (stored even in gigantic bloody vats in the house’s basement/workroom), without relying on a supernatural source for it. It can be no mistake either that the film’s blood-red clay is much more akin to the vibrant hue you’d see in an acrylic paint or a ripe tomato. Giallo films were particularly fond of this cartooonish style of stage blood as well, tending to shy away from the more brownish hues of the real stuff.

So, if you happen to have any buddies out there who are huge giallo nerds & haven’t yet shown an interest in Crimson Peak (is that possible?) it might be worthwhile to shoot them a recommendation. The film’s tendency to value visual style over narrative substance should fit in snugly with their tastes, as should its over-the-top lighting & untold gallons of crimson blood. Of course, the film will play even better if these hypothetical giallo nerds also have a taste for Hammer horror & Victorian ghost stories. I’m sure there’s a great deal of overlap on that Venn diagram & the movie will eventually find a sizeable cult following, even if it currently isn’t doing so hot at the box office. It genuinely deserves it, if nothing else, just based on its visual accomplishments alone.

-Brandon Ledet

Crimson Peak (2015)

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fourhalfstar

Crimson Peak is luscious, extravagant, and terrible – a perfectly gothic Gothic Horror. Guillermo del Toro makes another entry into his visually stunning filmography, providing a richness and grotesqueness in both storytelling and cinematography.

I really appreciate that Crimson Peak is a classic Gothic Horror, with the storyline sticking closely to the standard tropes of the genre – isolation, bloody histories, unnatural relationships, menacing architecture, Victorians, obvious symbolism, endangered virgins, things that gibber and chitter in the night, etc.  Del Toro makes references to the Hammer Horror aesthetic, appropriate for a movie with such an overstated sense of dramatic Victorian style (although, to be fair, the Victorians were really dramatic to begin with).

The plot is not complicated or particularly innovative, but the storytelling is superb and the style is to die for.  Crimson Peak is perfectly dark and creepy, with Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, and Jessica Chastain delivering a wonderful combination of passion, tension, and insanity.  Del Toro knows how to keep the audience horrified and engaged, and he continues to exercise his use of obscenely rich visuals.

I’d recommend Crimson Peak to anyone looking for Halloween movie.  It’s not a slasher movie or a suspense drama, but it’s terribly good fun.

-Erin Kinchen