Wednesday, January 9, 2013

My Favorite Cinematic Discoveries of 2012

We've all got holes. No, that's not what I mean, you pervert. I know exactly the kind of weird stuff you  searched for on google to get here, and I'm keeping track of it all.

What I mean is that every film fan has gaps in their viewing - except for maybe a few people who continually astonish me by having seen more films than should be possible in the integrated span of their lifetime. I'm not one of those people though. I'm also not afraid to admit I haven't seen everything, because it means I'm constantly able to benefit from all sorts of incredible recommendations. I love seeing a great movie for the first time. Picture how great it'd be to wipe all of your memories of your favorite film and have it stun you for the first time all over again. You can't put a price on that experience.

The continual feeling of discovery is a large part of the reason I like film so much. Here are a few films that blew me away for the first time this year.

All About Evil

This flick had been on my to-see list ever since I passed it up a couple of years ago at a fest in favor of ... I don't even remember. I finally broke down and watched it this year, then immediately wondered why I waited so long. What's better than a movie about murder? A movie about movies about murder, of course. Don't worry though, this isn't some awful self-indulgent meta-filled garbage. Rather, it amps up the camp and tells a blood-soaked tale of revenge and madness. When shy Deborah comes into possession of an old revival theater, she finds that the only thing that'll draw people in faster than old horror flicks are the new horror flicks she starts filming. How does she get the gore to look so real? Well, it ain't practical effects - it's because the gore is real. Things spiral out of control and culminate in a movie theater massacre that reaches Demons-levels of fun and gore. This little indie gem is populated by a cast of eccentric misfits and cult film icons that keep the tone light in spite of the high body count. It's somewhat scarce these days, but it's worth seeking out a copy, unless you want to wait for the 2014 re-release that IMDB is hinting at...

Bride of Frankenstein

One of the best favors I did for myself this year was to go back to the early days of horror and seek out classic films that had up to now escaped me. Aside from the occasional Saturday afternoon TV matinee in my youth, the Universal horror pics were untouched ground for me. While it's hard to narrow them down to a favorite, I'm going with The Bride of Frankenstein for the following reasons: 1) Dr. Pretorius, now one of my all-time favorite mad scientists. 2) The emotional depth in the monster's struggle to (re)gain his humanity, which caught me very much off guard. 3) Elsa Lanchester's ability to dominate the film in just a few minutes of screen time as the Bride. 4) How well this film embodies the paradox of how the Other is treated in the early days of horror (i.e. do we empathize with the monster, or cheer his death at the end?)

Lady Terminator

A man pulling an eel out of a seductress's lady parts and turning it into a magic dagger within the first five minutes should alert you that this is not your typical low-budget Terminator rip-off. It also in no way indicates the flood of bullets, neon, and explosions to come, nor the freewheeling enthusiasm and excess, all of which is held together by the most tenuous strings of plot. Indonesian exploitation has its own special breed of madness, and it's on full display in this - a film that by all rights should have been just another boring cash-in on an American trend. Lady Terminator surpasses its source material and becomes by turns sublime and surreal. The only thing it's missing is a Le-ak.

Night of the Comet

This film came courtesy of my favorite film series, Cinema Overdrive, which constantly uncovers hidden gems I'd otherwise overlook. It's also not above occasionally throwing more popular genre fare on the big screen, as was the case here. Valley girls surviving a zombie apocalypse sounds tedious in so many ways, but Catherine Stewart and Kelli Maroney won me over completely despite their ditziness and shallow materialism. Who knew that life in the modern world wouldn't be so different after the end of the world? These girls had it figured out a couple of decades before Shaun rolled around.


One of the most idiosyncratic and emotionally powerful pieces of navel-gazing I've ever witnessed. Watching Tarnation is like reading someone's diary, flipping through their family photos, and watching their faded old 8mm videos, while occasionally stacking up antidepressants and hallucinogens and crashing hard. What's even more remarkable is that it's primarily the work of one person - documentarian, subject, autobiographer, and curator Jonathan Caouette. Tarnation is both a distressing portrait of mental illness and an attempt to pick up and reassemble the pieces of a fractured life.

Please - tell me about your discoveries over the past year! Let them become my favorite first experiences this year.

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