The Best, Craziest, And Bloodiest Movies From The Scary Movies XI Festival

Another week, another horror film festival in the books. It's barely been 14 days since my Fantasia Film Festival recap highlighted the scariest and most splendid programming notes of Montreal's three-week-long shindig, but that didn't stop New York City's Scary Movies XI from happening. Each August, the Film Society of Lincoln Center spooks Manhattan with a week-long curation of Halloween season holdovers as a gift to genre fans. It's not as flashy or up-all-night as such all-encompassing events like Fantastic Fest, but it provides noteworthy screenings in an accessible after-work style for even a Brooklynite like myself. When has more horror content ever been a bad thing?

As we do here at /Film, I've come up with various superlatives that hit upon trends and highs from Scary Movies XI. "Best Actor," "Worst (Best) Breakup," a "THANK ODEN THIS GOT DISTRIBUTION" award, etc. And there were no shortage of nominees, either. With titles like Anna and the Apocalypse, Lords of Chaos, The Witch in the Window and more, Scary Movies XI exhibits the wide interpretations of horror that creators envision and act on. Luckily for you, most films already have release dates scheduled for 2018, so let's find out what you've got to look forward to.

Greatest Christmas Horror Feature - Anna and the Apocalypse

Scary Movies XI programmed not one, but two different Christmas horror titles this year. The UK's quarantine thriller Await Further Instructions and Scotland's zombie musical Anna and the Apocalypse. Guess which one I liked "more" (all relative)? Oh, right. It's listed above. Footloose meets High School Musical meets Shaun Of The Dead – ingredients within your new favorite holiday genre obsession.

Director John McPhail orchestrates a marvelously balanced, dangerously addictive undead comedy that sing-songs without losing its horror bite. Not every kill is an all-timer – how about that snowman mascot decapitation, though? – yet it doesn't matter. Musical accompaniment douses holiday cheer in doomsday revelations, timing walker carnage to finger-snappin' choreography. Very Edgar Wright in terms of editing whips, action pacing and the blackest, deadliest "Adult Disney" done right humor. In any case, it's X-mas horror the whole family can enjoy – infectiously joyful jingle bell rockin' as the undead munch high schoolers and chaos reigns on high.

Best Glimpse Into Civilization’s Impending Demise - Await Further Instructions

Screens. In life, we worship the warming glow of our devices like religious deities. We're beyond addiction – we've entered the realm of dependence. Director Johnny Kevorkian recognizes this, and if Await Further Instructions is any indication, he's not particularly comfortable with civilization's eyes-glued, time-wasted, blind-faith belief in tiny glowing screens.

Here's his attempt at a wakeup call.

As the Milgram family congregates for Christmas festivities, they're walled inside mum and dad's by some black, ribbed barrier over doors, windows, you name it. The television flickers a message, then instructions for survival. Without question, multiple characters obey whatever scrolls across the radiating monitor. Humans abandon instinct and trust only an anonymous feed when faced with utter unpredictability. All without ever knowing the screen's basic intent, or who's in control...

Most Lost-In-His-Role Actor - Rory Culkin (Lords of Chaos)

Cut-and-dry category, anything but conventional portrayal. Rory Culkin's take on Mayhem guitarist "Euronymous" – factual details be damned – is the actor's most fully-realized, transformative, and accomplished role yet. A musician credited with creating the subgenre of "Norwegian Black Metal" who preaches corpse-paint-and-hatred authenticity; a marketing genius who thinks he can abandon his chaotic world at any moment. Lords of Chaos is many demagogic, damn-the-masses things, but director Jonas Åkerlund's crowning achievement is staging a malicious character study with true crime impact.

An impossible feat without Culkin's prince of darkness.

As Euronymous grows from basement rehearser to stage-show grinder to record shop and label owner, his catacomb throne is challenged. Emory Cohen's loner Varg waltzes in with more talent and fewer smarts, threatening all Euronymous has built. This leads to a very contemplative, push-to-shove performance where Culkin's eyes shine hesitation that his actions must convince otherwise. Brutality, bloodshed, fear, fame, booze, girls – Culkin masters this chameleon effect that's paid off tremendously in due time, always dangling the idea that Euronymous is either Norway's greatest fraud or most savage Black Metaler. Culkin's talent always the primary catalyst of what cometh.

Best Lost-In-Her-Role Actress - Hannah Emily Anderson (What Keeps You Alive)

In What Keeps You Alive – now available in theaters/on VOD through IFC Midnight – Hannah Emily Anderson is straight on-screen fire as "Jackie." At first, she's the adoring, fluttery-eyed wife of Jules (Brittany Allen) – for, like, the blink of an eye. Then the long-distance gazing fits, unearthed secrets, and general something-isn't-right-ness hits. Filmmaker Colin Minihan wastes zero time launching his thriller's chase aspect, and before you know it, Jackie has pushed Jules off a jagged cliffside – which is only the beginning.

While Allen's character is left to survive, Anderson's lifelong woodland hunter wants nothing more than to notch another kill. Foreshadowing is subtle like a branch to the face – Jackie playing a folksy guitar song about "demons" escaping or blasting targets with precision rifle aim – but Anderson sells impending doom ceremoniously well. That musical croon...yeah, I'd be her helpless victim in a heartbeat. Then when Minihan's cat-and-mouse game ensues, we get full-blown serial killer Jackie who flips emotions on-and-off like a renegade automaton. Rowing after Jules across silent lake waters, each stroke more precise and Olympic-formed. All the charisma of an America's Most Wanted poster child, tenfold the determination and nerveless completionism. One of 2018's true villains, a testament to boastful psychotics in an unassuming form.

Best Actor Who Isn’t Rory Culkin - Jack Kilmer (Lords of Chaos)

Jack Kilmer's role in Lords Of Chaos may only be in support, but nearly steals Jonas Åkerlund's entire thrash-and-headbang show. As Rory Culkin's Euronymous jabbers about what it means to be "Black Metal," Kilmer's Swedish lead singer "Dead" is Black Metal. A tragic soul, scarred by self-inflicted cuts and dedicated to the darkest shadows. A tortured artist, a forgotten wanderer. Kilmer's asked to swim deeper and deeper into a terrorizing mental state that swallows his character whole, but what's delivered on-screen is rock God commentary.

Dead's introduction is that of a blonde-haired growler with an affinity for roadkill. He pushes Euronymous towards the maniac energy Mayhem demands. On stage, Dead slices open both his forearms and sprays blood all over a cheering crowd who are entertained by the spectacle – but he's left pale-faced and trembling over gyros after the show. "You okay?" asks Euronymous. Dead can't even muster an answer, and his misery in the name of art doesn't stop there. Dead's arc is haunted by themes of death itself, that Euronymous may or may not exploit for Mayhem's benefit past boundaries meant for Dead's own wellbeing. Kilmer wringing every last drop of alcohol and sorrow from his lunatic frontman until a choice presents itself.

Worst Breakup (For the Characters, Best for Us) - What Keeps You Alive

What Keeps You Alive is about the end of a loving marriage between one unsuspecting partner and her far-more-equipped spouse with a plan. Jules (Brittany Allen) the sweetheart, Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) her aforementioned hunter. Colin Minihan's naturalist survival thriller is beastly and frantically one-sided, only to heighten Jules' shedding of meekness in the face of Jackie's criminal past. A savage, speak-and-you-die kind of waiting game for spells, then psychological toolbox tamperer when Jackie grabs a hold of Jules once again.

Some hide-and-seek, some fleeing captivity, all harrowing female-on-female crimes against passion. In the name of ritual and "fun."

Minihan's forest setting leads to comparisons of animalistic regard. Jules at one point – while teasing Jackie in bed – calls herself a crow. Jackie responds by saying she's a bald eagle, asking Jules if she's afraid. These are the personas their fighters take, and particularly the evolution Jules undergoes in order to soar as an equal bird of prey. Jules finds herself lined-up in Jackie's crosshairs, but what good would Minihan's LGBT heartbreaker be without conflict or drama? Gushing wounds, dinner party theatrics, hammer-cocked weapon poses – What Keeps You Alive doesn't skimp on intensity the size of black bear paws. A union burns at the stake, a raging inferno of broken spirits and fiery resurrections it is.

Best Reason Never to Have Children - Tamara (The Inhabitant)

Guillermo Amoedo's The Inhabitant mashes exorcism horror with home invasion blueprints, all hinged on one family's basement secret. Three sisters break into a wealthy estate searching for riches but find something evil. Something satanic, even. Why is there a little girl locked up in the cellar? Is now the time to grow a conscience? Poor little Tamara (Natasha Cubria), stricken by disease but discarded by her family.

Turns out that's because she's possessed by a demon.

Enter young Natasha Cubria's performance as a red-eyed disciple of Hell, whose weapon is one of the tongue. She reveals your deepest secrets and cackles with glee as the fallout takes place, whether that be squabbling, physical harm, or self-inflicted endings. Cubria dives head-first into her blasphemous attack against religion and humanity, channeling a voice of pure gravely evil while invading the conscious of even Cardenal Natale (Fernando Becerril). Kids are creepy enough as is, but a psychologically damaging child being puppeteered from below? I'LL PASS THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

Most Punk Rock Vibes - Boogeyman Pop

Brad Michael Elmore's take on anthology horror, Boogeyman Pop, is a roof-thumpin' punk odyssey set in small-town America. His wraparound killer wields a bat, drives a beaten Cadillac, and wears a black face mask that conceals his identity. A drug called "Wendigo" may be transforming concertgoers into alpha-a**hole monsters of the night, but amidst all the soul-snatching, 'shroom-eating, and venue moshing is the film's most inviting aspect – this punk-as-hell vibe that chews like fruity bubblegum throughout.

Wolfmen From Mars score Elmore's fantastical calamity, which isn't always boot-stompin' anarchism. Synthesizer tones ring a throwback to '80s slasher accompaniments accented by classic rock notes with a panicky twist, but it's not just about music. It's about colorful cinematography, cul-de-sac haziness, and letting all your frustrations out during angsty stage shows. While the film's second half works better than its first, there's no denying Elmore's found a loud and interesting way to buck anthology trends. One that shitkicks and head-bashes its way into genre competition.

Most Entertaining Kill Sequence - Seesaw Beheading (Anna and the Apocalypse)

Anna and the Apocalypse is a lot of toe taps and finger snaps, but my favorite laugh-it-up bloody kill of Scary Movies XI was the zombie seesaw bit. One I alluded to above, where a zombified civilian in a snowman costume lurches towards our young heroes. It's still early in the film so hesitation and stumbling hit first, but it becomes obvious that Feeding Time Frosty needs to be handled. Cue an elaborate Mouse Trap style death that ends with the mascot's head being clean-removed and a geyser of blood erupting from a now decapitated torso. It's not all this midnight-madness crazy, but John McPhail hits us with a gusher right when his production needs it most.

Most Unsettling Silence-the-Entire-Theater Moment - Dead’s Big Reveal (Lords Of Chaos)

I've already gone into detail about Jack Kilmer's portrayal of Mayhem vocalist Dead, but no words justify how deafening a bang this spotlighted scene makes. Rips the rug right from under you, your gut plummeting down an unending drop. We are onlookers, voyeurists, of something we have no control over stopping. Kilmer flays our emotions in two, incapacitating and paralyzing by virtue of quite possibly the year's most disturbing sequence of events. You'll know when it happens, blood-soaked and bursting with ache. Merciless, relentless, all the -lesses.

Best Festival Movie I Can’t Stop Writing About That Finally Has Distribution - Tigers Are Not Afraid

There it is. A line of text in the description for Tigers Are Not Afraid reads "A Shudder release." Congratulations Issa López, thank you Shudder, and get ready, world! López's macabre fairy tale has been touring festivals for almost a year now and should have been snatched up in half the time (if even). That said? Shudder couldn't provide a better home. Satan's Slaves, The Witch In The Window, and now Tigers Are Not Afraid? Someone's distribution team needs a pay raise.

Are you getting sick of me screaming about this movie yet? I reviewed it out of Fantasia. Gave thought to its massively successful festival run. Now I'm back with the greatest news of all and no less love for one of 2018's most enriching, important, and tremendously affecting watches. Let's all appreciate this brilliant news and just enjoy the moment.