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#10: AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS
I’m not a huge sci-fi guy, but AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS transcends genres, and becomes something completely unique. First off, this movie is set on Christmas Day. Alternative holiday movies are a huge weakness of mine. So, that alone wins me over. and then add veteran actor David Bradley (THE STRAIN) as the crotchety old grandpa, and this is an automatic winner. Witnessing the tension mount around the Milgram family as they are trapped inside while a black substance surrounds their house= is a white-knuckle ride of the very strange. To make everything all the more interesting, they receive bizarre instructions through their television, which cranks up the Lovecraft meter to 11. Take the dysfunctional family and holiday setting of KRAMPUS. Then add a whole heaping helping of Cronenberg weirdness via VIDEODROME, add a little bit of Carpenter’s THE THING, and Tsukamoto’s TETSUO, THE IRON MAN, and you have AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS.
#9: SUMMER OF ’84
Hey STRANGER THINGS and IT (2017), take notes. This is how you do a retro homage without being complete nostalgia porn. SUMMER OF ’84 is horror mixed with a teen sex comedy. Brought to you by the fine folks who were behind TURBO KID, is a masterful blending of FRIGHT NIGHT, THE ‘BURBS, SCREWBALLS, and THE GOONIES. When rumbling started in cinema circles that the team behind the amazing TURBO KID were making a new movie, I was already excited to see what they came up with. I won’t lie, I was expecting more of the same splatterpunk horror-comedy, and I would have been totally happy with that. Instead, what I got with SUMMER OF ’84 was an ’80s throwback, where a group of kids team up to take down a small-town serial killer. SUMMER OF ’84 is intelligent, fun, and totally punk rock! If you haven’t seen SUMMER OF ’84 yet, track it down [try Shudder!] and watch it. This is a must-watch for any ’80s baby!
#8: SOFT MATTER
SOFT MATTER is one of the strangest films I’ve seen in a long time, but strange in the most important way. In this Afro-centric inner-city tale of Kish (Ruby Lee Dove II) and Haircut (Devyn Placide), two graffiti artists trying to make a name for themselves by breaking into an alleged haunted research facility and turning it into an art installation, the audience is treated to an absurd twist of mad scientists resurrecting a Lovecraftian sea god. There is so much going in this film, but it all works, and it’s all very necessary. The more bizarre urban horror films, the better. It’s shocking that this is director Jim Hickcox’ debut feature length film. He did such a great job of tapping into a very current feeling of rebellion. The characters are quirky, the story is interesting, and the special effects are fun. I am truly looking forward to seeing what else he will be doing in the future. I’d love to see SOFT MATTER on a triple feature with KUSO and SORRY TO BOTHER YOU — weird Afro-centric horror rules!
#7: SUSPIRIA (2018)
I didn’t want to like SUSPIRIA (2018). I can’t stand the idea of remaking classic horror movies, but the trailer looked interesting and I figured I’d give it a shot. Wow! I was blown away! What a beautiful and grotesque film. As much as I love the original Dario Argento film, this new SUSPIRIA makes more sense. The story of Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), a young American ballerina traveling to the Markos Tanz Company, a world-renowned dance company in Berlin, Germany, is one that most horror fans know, but we have never seen it presented in this way. The decent into madness, the darkness, the witches, and the sacrifice is displayed in such a highbrow way that the gore and torture doesn’t come across as offensive in the slightest. This story is truly unique — if it wasn’t called “SUSPIRIA,” you would barely be able to call it a remake. The cast is truly mind-blowing. Tilda Swinton is a goddess. Seeing her portray the roles of Madame Blanc, Dr. Josef Klemperer, and Helena Markos gave me chills. As far as I can tell, this is director Luca Guadagnino’s (CALL ME BY YOUR NAME) first foray into the horror genre, and I hope he does more. SUSPIRIA (2018) is a modern giallo masterpiece.
#6: THE RANGER
Punxsploitation films can really get bogged down when people that are not close to the subculture get their hands on it. Thankfully, that’s not the case with THE RANGER. This tale of teenage punk rockers on the run from the cops and hiding out in the woods is a movie I want to watch as it it is… but then throw in a crazed park ranger who is a brutal psychopath, and I’m absolutely in love! The dialogue and characters come across as very authentic. I loved seeing Chloe Levine in the psychological socio-political 2016 vampire film THE TRANSFIGURATION, and I loved her even more in THE RANGER. What a wonderful talent. You had me at punk rock slasher movie. Take the classic punxploitation movie PUNK VACATION and combine it with the very cool backwoods splatter movie HATCHET, and you get THE RANGER. If Penelope Spheeris (DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION) and Michael A. Simpson (SLEEPAWAY CAMP III: TEENAGE WASTELAND) hosted an orgy in the woods, it would look something like this movie.
#5: MOM AND DAD
Speaking of punk rock, MOM AND DAD is a pretty solid punk rock horror movie. I wouldn’t call it “punxploitation,” but the energy in this film is so fervent, it left my mind spinning. The events of MOM AND DAD take place in a peaceful suburban community where something terrible is happening. Once loving and caring parents have now mysteriously become ravenous and want nothing more than to kill off their offspring. The film mostly focuses on Carly (Anne Winters) and Josh (Zackary Arthur) surviving the brutal attacks of their father Brent (Nicolas Cage) and mother Kendall (Selma Blair). Seeing this gem come from director Brian Taylor, the creator of the CRANK films, GAMER, and the television series HAPPY! is no surprise. It matches, if not surpasses, the intensity of his other projects. Parents attacking their children like zombies attacking humans in DAWN OF HE DEAD (2004), Reagan Youth on the soundtrack, and Nicolas Cage in a Misfits T-shirt all make MOM AND DAD a winner in my book!
I can understand how the title of this movie can be off-putting to some more sensitive film fans, but FAGS IN THE FASTLANE is a queersploitaion, rock-and-roll adventure that must be seen to be believed. Director Josh Collins delivers the most outrageous tribute to trash cinema as Beau (Chris Asimos) and his gang of super-homos go on a wacky quest to avenge his mother Kitten (Kitten Natividad) after her bordello was robbed by a disgusting burlesque gang of mutant strippers. If that isn’t awesome enough, part of the cast is my favorite garage/psyche rocker, King Kahn, in search of his lost golden penis. Oh, and surf-rock band The Mummies show up for no real reason at all. I love it! If you can imagine a circle jerk of John Waters (FEMALE TROUBLE), Herschell Gordon Lewis (BLOOD FEAST), Russ Meyer (FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!) and Bruce La Bruce (THE RASPBERRY REICH), through the techno-color vision of Sid and Marty Krofft (H.R. PUFNSTUF) you might get something close to being as amazing as FAGS IN THE FASTLANE!
#3: WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE
Wow! WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE is a film that came out of left field and I feel like not nearly enough people have seen it. There has always been a surprising lack of LGBTQ characters in horror movies, so when it’s done and it’s done right, it should be held in high regard. It’s the one-year wedding anniversary of Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) and Jules (Brittany Allen), and to celebrate, the young newlywed lesbian couple enjoy a picturesque weekend in the woods. As a series of events unravel, their wonderful weekend in the woods quickly becomes a dreadful game of survival. WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE really knocked me out of my seat. This is not what I was expecting at all when I started this movie. It’s the most thrilling lesbian-survivalist film I’ve seen since HIGH TENSION, and it’s one of the best hunting-humans movie since SURVIVING THE GAME. This is the kind of movie that people should be getting excited about.
Not that Spike Lee ever went anywhere, and he has consistently made thought-provoking cinema (minus his remake of OLDBOY), but he is back and with a vengeance. BLACKKKLANSMAN is exactly the movie we need at exactly the right time. It’s volatile, it’s thought-provoking, and it still has a great sense of humor. John David Washington portrays rookie cop Ron Stallworth with such zealous passion, quickly climbing through the ranks, living a double, nay triple life, working undercover with Detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) to take down a terrorist plot from the Ku Klux Klan, to prove himself as a an asset to the police force, and to maintain his identity as part of the black community. There is so much depth to BLACKKKLANSMAN. The characters are all so wonderful. The fact that it’s based on a true story makes it even more incredible. BLACKKKLANSMAN made me feel every sort of emotion while viewing it. I laughed, I cried, and by the end of the film, I was mad as hell. Oh, and I would be doing cinema fans a disservice if I didn’t mention how smart I thought it was of Spike Lee to use the title of the 1966 classic THE BLACK KLANSMAN — it’s a brilliant nod to a film with similar themes.
#1: SORRY TO BOTHER YOU
SORRY TO BOTHER YOU is an awe-inspiring debut full-length movie by first-time director Boots Riley. The man is brilliant. Shifting roles from being the front man in his anarchist alt-hip hop collective, The Coup to getting behind the camera and directing one of the most thought-provoking genre-bending movies of all time is no small feat, but he was able to do it seamlessly. SORRY TO BOTHER YOU takes place in Oakland, CA in the not-so-distant future, where telemarketer Cassius Green (LakeithStanfield) has a tough time at making any sales until his older and wiser co-worker Langston (Danny Glover) drops some knowledge on him. Cassius learns to use his “white voice” and his sales go through the roof. Things get really strange and almost magical. I don’t want to get to much into that, because I don’t want to ruin this movie for you, if you haven’t seen it yet. I have to mention that the SORRY TO BOTHER YOU would not be the movie that it is without the always first-class actress Tessa Thompson as Cassius’ radical-artist love interest Detroit. SORRY TO BOTHER YOU is a smart, funny social satire with a sci-fi twist. It combines the biting social commentary of Spike Lee (DO THE RIGHT THING), the bizarre fantastical twists of Richard Kelly (DONNIE DARKO), and the storytelling of Alex Cox (REPO MAN). SORRY TO BOTHER YOU is punk rock, it’s hip hop, it’s mind-blending and dangerous. Watch it now!
Honorable mentions: TERRIFIER, HOUSESITTERS, DEAD ANT, OVERLORD, and HEREDITARY