Theater Thoughts

The Best 2013 Had To Offer!

December 30, 2013

Star Drive in

Article By: John Carpenter

2013 was a great year for film fans.  Both the theater and home video market provided plenty of memorable experiences, and I was fortunate enough to have a front row seat for some of these great moments.  Rather than provide a simple ‘Top Ten’ list where I throw down some movies then lament about the twenty others that were left off, I decided to take a different approach.  What were the Top Ten movie events of 2013?  What names/places/etc that really made this past year memorable for genre fans and movie goers?  There are obviously some titles tucked away in this list, but it is more about things that made the movie geek in me smile the most (before lamenting because I did indeed have to leave some things off of this list).  In no particular order, here is the best 2013 had to offer…

Vinegar Syndrome

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It’s easy to single out Vinegar Syndrome.  If there were ‘official’ awards for distributors the way there are in major league sports, Vinegar Syndrome would have walked away with both “Rookie of the Year” and MVP.  They bookended a total of twenty four releases with Blu-ray’s from Herschell Gordon Lewis and Russ Meyer.  This ‘double dozen’ actually delivers a combination of forty seven features and short films that are sure to stimulate and entertain.  Vinegar Syndrome mixed in some stellar Blu-ray releases with their ‘Drive-In Collection’ for a variety of surprises during 2013.  It is tough to pick a clear cut winner from their already stellar catalogue.  Three releases that I simply can’t live without would be “Massage Parlor Murders,” “Death Force”/”Vampire Hookers” and “Night Train to Terror.”  With some of the 2014 goodies already announced, I think Vinegar Syndrome is looking for a repeat performance over the next twelve months.  Bravo for a wonderful year!

“Wolf of Wall Street” at BNAT

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Harry Knowles’ annual Butt-Numb-A-Thon (BNAT) is always a great time.  The casual perception is that a bunch of people cram into a theater and watch a dozen or so movies in a row.  This is true….to a point.  Anybody who has attended a BNAT will quickly let people know there is much more to this than a birthday party wrapped in cinema celebration.  It is about getting to know like-minded movie maniacs and fostering friendships that may not have otherwise blossomed without this event.  BNAT15 was a special year.  It tickled my exploitation funny-bone more than once and had a couple of horror movies thrown in.  There was a wonderful 70mm screening of “The Agony and the Ecstasy” along with some sweet hearted Hayao Miyazaki.  However, it was the drug fueled greed of Jordan Belfort that not only kicked off the festivities, but had all of the attendees buzzing.  Watching “The Wolf of Wall Street” is amazing enough, but seeing Leonardo DiCaprio deal with some time-delayed Lemmon’s while packed into an energetic, movie loving crowd is about as good as the theater going experience gets.

The Return of Grindhouse Releasing and Massacre Video

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No they never really went anywhere, but MAN did these two come on strong late in 2013.  Massacre Video released the definitive version of Chester Novell Turner’s “Black Devil Doll From Hell” and “Tales From the Quaddead Zone.”  They really took their time with this release, packing it will commentary tracks, reversible covers and other extra features to please fans of these classic SOV titles.  Massacre Video has already teased us with a tweet claiming ‘2014 will be a good year.’  Judging by their recent releases, I gotta believe them.  With “Corruption,” “An American Hippie in Israel” and “The Big Gundown,” Grindhouse Releasing made sure everybody knew they are in it to win it with their Blu-ray releases. Their releases are PACKED with extra features.  Multiple cuts of the film, commentary tracks, reversible covers, interviews, alternate scenes, and a freaking Ennio Morricone CD are just some of the bonus features Grindhouse Releasing gives fan with these titles.  Had these guys been popping out Blu-ray’s all year, they would have easily competed with the bigger distributors for your hard earned dollar.  Both companies were under the radar in 2013, but should crawl out of their respective shells in 2014 to give genre fans even more to be excited about.

“Cheap Thrills” Q&A at Fantastic Fest

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“Cheap Thrills” is a great movie on its own.  It doesn’t need anything other than an audience to succeed.  Thankfully Drafthouse Films has picked this title up and will deliver it to unsuspecting fans in 2014.  What those who attended the first “Cheap Thrills” screening at Fantastic Fest didn’t anticipate was an intro, contest and post-screening Q&A session that pretty much trumped this amazing movie.  With Director E.L. Katz and Actors Pat Healy, Ethan Embry and David Koechner on stage, the wild evening kicked off with a “Cheap Thrills” inspired contest where audience members could win prizes based on specific dares that the Alamo Drafthouse team had thought up.  It led to a man getting “Cheap Thrills” tattooed on his ass in front of the audience for a 2014 Fantastic Fest VIP badge, consuming bugs, a nasty cocktail (that had Embry’s balls dipped in it) and a guy dropping his own balls in Sriracha while a pantless Pat Healy stands next to him.  This doesn’t even cover the madness of having Koechner command the microphone for a hilarious running commentary as the evening progressed.  When all was said and done, the audience felt like it had not only seen “Cheap Thrills,” but experienced the mayhem firsthand (minus all of the blood and whatnot).

“Gravity” in IMAX 3D

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Sure “Avatar” looked great in 3D, but until Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” hit theaters, there was really no movie that made viewers want to fork over a few extra dollars for the 3D screening more than “Gravity.”  Actually, to call “Gravity” a movie is not accurate…this is an experience.  The beautiful backdrop of Earth sets the stage for some truly horrific events.  With the immersion of a 3D IMAX screen, Cuarón manages to make viewers feel claustrophobic and lost in a vast abyss at the same time.  Sandra Bullock and George Clooney crafted some surprisingly deep characters and help connect the emotional dots before letting all hell break lose.  “Gravity” is tense and thrilling, easily besting any 3D experience I have ever had.

Thought Provoking Cinema

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“Upstream Color,” “Vanishing Waves” and “Coherence” are just a few titles that managed to stimulate the brain just right.  “Upstream color” takes Henry David Threau’s “Walden” to an entirely new level with layers and layers of depth and exploration.  “Coherence” is a mind bending travel through time and alternate universes that takes the best parts of “Lost” and “Primer,” before unfolding a truly engaging story.  “Vanishing Waves” was just one of the many Artsploitation Films releases that had me loving the new label.  Along with “Vanishing Waves,” “Bullet Collector,” “Clip” and “Animals” were wonderful features.  Artsploitation would even throw some horror in with “Hidden in the Woods,” “Wither” and “Toad Road.”  The eclectic, under the radar releases were beautiful, giving Artsploitation Films’ thought provoking catalogue a serious run at ‘Best 2013 Distributor.”  Either way, their blend of indie flair and hard hitting stories will keep the label running strong in 2014.  I’d like to thank Artsploitation Films for making me feel classy from time to time.  It helped keep things interesting when I was on horror/exploitation/sexploitation benders and needed to find my constant.

“Rewind This!”

RewindThis!

On a personal level, it doesn’t get much better than “Rewind This!” premiering at the Paramount Theater during SXSW.  Having my name attached to a documentary that seems to be the darling of every festival is a great feeling.  It is fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, it has a solid rating on IMDb and the poster is KILLER.  Making things even better was sharing the excitement of Josh Johnson as the documentary continued to roll out.  I’d get texts here and there letting me know how the crowd reacted and where things were heading.  Along with Carolee and Topher, the success of “Rewind This!” couldn’t happen to a better trio of passionate movie lovers.  There have been some great documentaries in 2013, but none are as personal and rewarding to me than IPF Productions’ “Rewind This!”

Great Remakes

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So “Oldboy” and “Carrie” didn’t do it for you, but that is no reason to trash the remake train.  2013 should be known as a year that took the stink off of remakes…especially for horror.  Rising above nearly everyone’s expectations was the deliciously bloody “Evil Dead.”  While it may not be a bona fide remake, it certainly has familiar bones.  Fede Alvarez hit the gas and never let up with this gory story and managed to silent the most stringent of skeptics in the process.  Another cult movie that fans hold close to the heart is “Maniac.”  How could Bill Lustig let this happen?  How will Elijah Wood replace Joe Spinell?  Who cares!!  Just watch this movie and prepare to fall in love with Frank’s crazy, mannequin loving ways all over again.  This is another remake that hits hard and makes sure fans know it was made with them in mind.  The story has been updated just enough to feel fresh, but it still delivers high on the creep scale.  “We Are What We Are” is another remake that seemed pointless.  While the other two movies on this list have been sitting on shelves for decades, Jorge Michel Grau’s original vision has only been around since 2010.  During those three years, Jim Mickle turned this tale of cannibals into a southern gothic that feels like it was lifted from the world of John Hillcoat.  Both versions of “We Are What We Are” fly well below the radar.  The nice thing is, if you haven’t seen one version, it will in no way taint the other.  These are two totally different movies that have some key common interests.  It may be one of the rare times where the ‘remake’ is actually better than the original.  That is tough to do!

The Music of “Inside Llewyn Davis”

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Never doubt the Coen Brothers.  Not with stories.  Not with characters.  Certainly not with music.  “Inside Llewyn Davis” is a double edged sword of fantastic storytelling and deeply personal music.  Oscar Isaac is about as great as 2013 performances get.  Sure he has the added bonus of plucking out some great tunes, but he sells each and every song as if it were his own.  Add his struggles, the beautiful, yet shrewd Jean (Carey Mulligan) and a toned down Justin Timberlake and “Inside Llewyn Davis” turns into a movie that only Joel and Ethan Coen could deliver.  Being able to grab the soundtrack off Google Play or Amazon allows fans to take this movie on the go.  The songs, which are proudly displayed in the movie, seem to catch a new fire on their own.  It is tough to pin down the ‘best’ Coen Brothers movie.  If there is an award for an all-around audible experience, “Inside Llewyn Davis” ranks among the best.

Arrow Films vs. Scream Factory

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With all of the wonderful vintage titles these two studios put out in 2013, you’d think there was some sort of long distance pissing contest going on.  The difference between these labels and others mentioned on this list comes with a familiarity with the titles being released.  They are genre classics done right.  Arrow Films kicked things off with a pair of Mario Bava features (“Black Sunday” and “Lisa and the Devil”) before moving on to a trio of Radley Metzger Deluxe Editions (“Camille 2000,” “The Lickerish Quartet” and “Score”).  Scream Factory rolled out some second tier horror (“The Nest” and “TerrorVision”/”The Video Dead”) before finding its sweet spot.  They were just getting warmed up with “From Beyond,” “Phantasm II” and “The Burning.”  Before fans knew it they had Special Editions of “The Howling,” “The Fog” and “Swamp Thing.”  A Couple of “Scanners” sequels, “Q: The Winged Serpent” and the “Psycho” sequels paved the road for “Prince of Darkness” and “Day of the Dead.”  Their “Vincent Price Collection” and “Amityville Horror” boxsets were the cherries on the sundae that also included two more John Carpenter titles (“Body Bags” and “Assault on Precinct 13”), “Night of the Comet” and Paul Schrader’s “Cat People.”  All in all it was a solid lineup for Scream Factory.  While the SF folks were working hard in the U.S., Arrow Films was releasing some great titles as well.  They released the cult favorite “Knightriders,” “Motel Hell” and “Deranged” before getting kinky again with the Tinto Brass duo of “All Ladies Do It” and “The Key.”  They rolled into the summer with Brian De Palma’s “Blow Out,” and gave fans a couple of wonderful Jack Hill Blu-rays (“Foxy Brown” and “Spider Baby”).  Then there was “Dressed to Kill,” “Runaway Train” and “The Car.”  Rounding out 2013 with a massive “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” deluxe edition, “The Last American Virgin,” “Squirm” and “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” was great, but handing Twilight Time their ass by BLOWING AWAY the TT release of “The Fury” had to feel pretty great.  The two companies overlapped with “Deadly Blessings,” “Lifeforce” and “House of Usher” proving that they are on the same wavelength when it comes to pleasing genre fans.  If they keep this up in 2014, we will all benefit!

 

It kills me to leave some things off this list.  Kino Video and their Redemption label were in top form this year.  It really took some unbelievable efforts from other distributors to keep them out of the top ten.  Seeing “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” in 35mm and having it followed by a Q&A with Tobe Hooper was a great way to kick off 2013.  It was the lack of energy and stimulating discussion by the moderator that kept the event from raking higher.  RaroVideo’s second Fernando di Leo boxset, James Franco’s “Sprang Breeeaaak,” Synapse Films’ “Demons” steelbooks and the recently acquired Drafthouse Films title “R100” should also be on this list, but 2013 was just THAT good.  Here’s hoping 2014 can bring the same type of energy and memorable moments that 2013 managed to cram into the past 364 days.

Let me know what your greatest 2013 movie experiences were.  It could be something as simple as a ‘Top Ten’ list or perhaps you also went to some crazy screenings.  Either way, I want to hear how the year treated each and every one of you!

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