Despite the craziness of 2020, which forced film festivals to embrace a virtual model, there was no shortage of outstanding content.
While othing compares to attending a festival in person and sharing a theater with an audience packed with hardcore film lovers and genre fans, there was a considerable bright side to a year of online festivals. A vast number of fans who would have been unable to attend an in person fest now had the opportunity to explore the outstanding lineups of offbeat treasures, hidden gems, and long-awaited auteur projects — without leaving the house.
As always, many of the best films I saw all year long came courtesy of one of the great film festivals. Thus, when the Morbidly Beautiful writers were asked to celebrate their favorite releases of 2020, I wanted to do a special article celebrating the films I was lucky enough to watch that did not receive a wide North American release in 2020.
While many of our readers may not have seen any of the films on this list yet, I definitely want to make sure you keep them all on your radar and seek them out as soon as you are able.
1. Favorite Documentary: All Hail the Popcorn King
Directed by Hansi Oppenheimer
All Hail the Popcorn King looks at the key works genre author, Joe R. Lansdale (Hap and Leonard, Bubba Ho-Tep, Drive-in, Cold in July), as he discusses his life, personal philosophies, martial arts, and popcorn.
With a short runtime and more “home-video” approach, at face value, this doc can seem more like a behind the scenes special feature than a standalone. However, it fits perfectly with Lansdale to create something so authentically personal. Hansi is able to capture a feeling that we are hanging out with the esteemed writer, who’s known for blending every genre into one story to make something miraculously unique and never sacrificing morals for his much-deserved fame.
The doc also features interviews with horror genre legends like Don Coscarelli, Bruce Campbell, and Mick Garris.
2. Favorite Gateway Horror Movie: A Ghost Waits
Directed by Adam Stovall
Synopsis: A man’s job requires him to clean a house, which turns out to be haunted. In the course of trying to exorcise the ghost, he falls in love with her.
Marketed as Ghost meets Beetlejuice (and I’ll add) through the lens of a 90s indie comedy, A Ghost Waits boils down to two lonely people (well, one is a ghost) finding themselves investing all their energy into these meaningless jobs because it gives them purpose. While many horror “gatekeepers” will consider it not horror and it has its flaws here and there, the movie is ultimately so delightful as a quirky romantic comedy that you find yourself invested throughout.
This is a horror fan’s date night movie or one you show your partner who claims to be not a big fan of horror but they’re willing to give it a shot.
As of February 1, 2021, A Ghost Waits is showing exclusively on Arrow-Player.com. So you can go check it out now! Free trial subscriptions of Arrow’s new on demand service are available.
3. Favorite Thriller: The Columnist
Directed by Ivo Van Aart
Synopsis: Columnist and author Femke is flooded with anonymous nasty messages and death threats on social media. One day she has enough and decides to take revenge.
It’s surprising that more films like this haven’t come out lately with all the hate that can be spewed from people when hiding behind a computer screen. I’m sure there has, but none as effective as The Columnist.
In a dry, comedic way that seems to only be accomplished by European cinema, the film is able to show us Femke’s decent while also not being one-sided about its commentary on freedom of speech in the digital age. The movie makes us conflicted as we (the audience) despise what is being said about her online but find ourselves questioning whether such a violent response was justified, especially as she’s triggered more easily.
For anyone who’s dealt with online trolls, The Columnist proves to be much-needed medicine.
The film will be released in cinemas and on digital platforms, courtesy of Vertigo Releasing, on 12th March in the UK and Ireland. Keep an eye out for US distribution.
4. Favorite Horror Comedy: Hawk and Rev: Vampire Slayers
Directed by Ryan Barton-Grimley
Synopsis: Philip “HAWK” Hawkins doesn’t just dream about killing vampires; he eats, sleeps, drinks and freakin’ breaths it. After getting kicked out of the Army for staking a fellow soldier with a blunt two by four, Hawk almost dies of boredom working as a night security guard in his hometown of Santa Muerte, California. Just when it looks like all Hawk’s options in life have expired, filthy blood-sucking vampires appear and, of course, nobody freakin’ believes him. With his back up against the wall, his sweaty Karate Kid headband on and hordes of murderous vampires closing in, Hawk enlists the help of the one person who kind of believes him: Revson “REV” McCabe, a dimwitted, vegan-pacifist groundskeeper. Together, they join forces to save the whole entire freakin’ world. Well, at least their hometown anyway.
Way more comedy than horror, extremely low budget, and basically if a 15-minute Adult Swim series stretched itself to a feature-length. Yet, there’s something endearing about this little flick that I keep thinking about, and it makes it worth being spotlighted. Because, in the best way possible, it’s dumb fun. As A Ghost Waits works for a date night, Hawk and Rev is the kind of movie you’d throw on late at night with a bunch of friends (once the pandemic is over of course).
It’s a movie that proves that the greatest tool you can have when making a movie is passion, and it’s the one thing that you can’t fake for an audience.
Hawk and Rev debuts on North American VOD Platforms and DVD on March 16, 2021.
5. Favorite Film Overall: Detention
Directed by John Hsu
Synopsis: In 1962 Taiwan during the White Terror martial law period, Fang Ray Shin, a female student at the hillside Greenwood High School is attending counselling with teacher Mr. Chang, and they gradually fall in love. It was a dangerous period where sensitive books were banned and free speech were restricted, but Mr. Chang secretly organized a study group for banned books, together with fellow teacher Miss Yin and male student Wei Chong Ting. (Based on the video game of the same name).
Detention isn’t just my favorite festival film, it’s one of the best things I’ve watched in horror this year. It’s filled with a tension and dread that for some reason only Asian-based horror films seems to be able to achieve. It feels like the film adaptation Silent Hill deserved (even coming from someone who loves the 2006 Silent Hill movie).
It should be acknowledged that there are story elements that work better with cultural context, because it could feel problematic for a 2020 western audience, like a teacher/student relationship. However, they never detract from the devastating heart of this story that uses its horror with purpose to create a phenomenal film that shines brightly among the best from any genre.
Netflix created a television adaptation of Detention, separate from its movie counterpart, in collaboration with the Taiwanese Public Television Service. The first episode aired on December 5, 2020, with the series finale taking place on January 23, 2021.