When it comes to top ten lists, it's impossible to please everyone. There is always at least one person ready to jump and criticize either your choices or what you left out, therefore I generally avoid writing them. I like what I like and if someone doesn't like what I like, that's a-okay with me. So writing my Best of 2013, the choices I made were rather easy: I wrote down the first 10 things that came to mind that I enjoyed this year, and then wrote out why. The way I look at it, these are the ones that somehow stuck with me for one reason or another.
Now, I'm sure there are things that may come to me down the road that I may regret not mentioning, but for right now, this is the media – be it movies, books, or music – that came to mind first when drumming up this list.
There is no order to this list other than I put the first three items up top because they are going to be on a lot of others' lists, so there isn't much for me to add (even though I do) that other list-makers haven't already said. I will say this, though, that first film is the best horror movie I saw this year. After that, it's all about things I enjoyed this year.
After seeing the first trailer for The Conjuring, director James Wan's follow up to Insidious, I successfully avoided each subsequent teaser and trailer with the intention of going into the film blind. My only hope was film would live up to my incredibly high expectations when I inevitably watched it. It not only did, it surpassed them.
I know I said this isn't a top ten list, but if I were to pick the best horror movie of 2013, The Conjuring wins, hands down. It takes an old-school approach with the scares, using atmosphere, good practical effects, and imagination over blood, grue and gore. Don't get me wrong, I dig the latter three as well, but the torture and gore kick that Hollywood's been on for years has been old for at least two of those and The Conjuring was like running into a well-loved friend after missing them for many years. The irony shouldn't be lost that Wan was a big part of the torture porn craze with his Saw film.
Going into American Mary, I was a bit worried. By the time I saw it, the horror community had been talking about the film and its directors Jen and Sylvia Soska for months, and I was concerned that it would not live up to the hype. I gave it a chance regardless and hoped for the best because I'm a huge fan of its star Katherine Isabelle. If nothing else, I could enjoy the performance of one of my favorite actors.
Fortunately, American Mary not just impossibly lived up to its hype, but Isabelle turned in her best performance to date. A medical-based horror, the film follows Mary (Isabelle) as she goes from a college student looking to be a doctor to a highly sought out body modification surgeon. Managing to be both horrorific and tragic, the film slips a little at the end, but overall American Mary is well acted, exquisitely directed, and a hopefully a delicious taste of what the up-and-coming filmmakers have to offer.
Released as part of the Hard Case Crime catalog (via Titan Books), Joyland saw Stephen King return to top form, something I haven't seen much of since 1987's Misery. A terrific coming-of-age tale, Joyland is reminiscent of The Body (Stand by Me for you movie fans) with virtually no supernatural element, but it has one hell of a heart.
Having recently finished Doctor Sleep and enjoying that one immensely as well, it's nice to see King may have his A game once again.
Comprised of artists Edward Douglas and Gavin Goszka, Midnight Syndicate writes and performs the score to every horror fan's imagination. I've been a fan of the group's work for over a decade and have enjoyed most of their releases. However, in 2013, the duo raised the bar with Monsters of Legend, an homage to the Universal films – Frankenstein, The Wolfman, Dracula, and more – of the '30s and '40s. More than just a collection of songs, the CD tells a story of mystery, adventure, and fear, and listening to it is an experience. I always knew Midnight Syndicate was great, but Monsters of Legend has them at the top of their game and the leaders in their genre.
When the person at Raw Dog Screaming Press provided me Wraiths of the Broken Land by S. Craig Zahler, I was told that it may be a western, but it's not like any western I'd read. I nodded my head thinking I understood what they meant, when in reality I had absolutely no idea what I was in for. The book's brutality, violence and bloodshed left me breathless.
To call it simply a revenge novel does not do this book justice, because it's so much more. Sure, revenge is the core of the book's plot and the motivation for many of its characters, but the things these people go through to achieve their ultimate goal is damning for most of them. There are no winners in this book.
Wraiths of the Broken Land was my introduction to Zahler's work, and it was a savage first meeting. The man didn't shake my hand, he smacked me around a bit and told me to like it. I did. I'm looking forward the next ass beating Zahler has in store for me.
Because of its original publisher filing for bankruptcy in April of 2013, Pete Rawlik's first full-length novel first looked like it wouldn't get a release. Fortunately, some sort of higher power deemed it necessary that this fantastic novel needed be on the shelves and it found its way there in August.
Taking place in the same universe and at the same time as H.P. Lovecraft's Herbert West: Reanimator, Reanimators is told from the point of view of Dr. Stuart Hartwell, a rival of Lovecraft's titular character. The book is chock full of Lovecraft homages, some subtle and some not, and is a gripping read from beginning to end.
The story about a young lady who has the ability to see ghosts thanks to her death and subsequent resurrection while serving in Iraq, Deborah Coates' Deep Down sucks you in from the first page and doesn't let up. Her folksy storytelling style is reminiscent of the likes of Stephen King and Joe Lansdale and it doesn't feel like you are reading a book but rather being told a wonderful yarn. Plus there are black dogs and demons.
I'm a fan of anthologies because it gives you a chance to check out a variety of authors without having to invest the time it takes to read a full-length novel. And if there's one name synonymous with consistent, kick-ass anthologies, it's Ellen Datlow. Editor extraordinaire, if you see her name stamped on an anthology, you know it's worth picking up.
One of my favorite anthologies of the year, Hauntings is chock full of creepy tales with nary a bad one in the bunch. Simon Kurt Unsworth's "The Pennine Tower Restaurant" is still fresh in my mind, nine months after reading it.
While not actual releases, these last two entries have cut loose so many quality titles in 2013, they easily earned a spot on this list.
For the readers out there, the DarkFuse Kindle Book Club is a bargain that can't be beat. I have praised DarkFuse in the past and I will continue to do so until all horror fans of the written word are subscribers or Dark Fuse stops delivering such a high quality product (the latter of which I just don't see happening). The variety you'll find on your Kindle each month ranges from giant monsters to hauntings to aliens and everything you can imagine in between.
For Blu-rays, Scream Factory is flat-out kicking ass in the horror genre. Not just satisfied with the more popular horror titles like They Live, The Howling, The Amityville Horror, and more, the company (a division of Shout! Factory) took time and care to drop special editions of forgotten classics like The Burning, Deadly Blessing, and The Town that Dreaded Sundown to mention but a few. Any horror fan worth their salt should have at least one (or four or five) movies from the Scream Factory catalog in their collection.