Dread Central's Best & Worst of 2009
5) Zombieland - I don't care what any of my fellow Dread Central colleagues say; I thoroughly enjoyed Zombieland. I liked the characters, I laughed frequently, and the surprise cameo was one of the funniest five-minute sequences of the entire year. You can question the faulty logic of firing up that amusement park at the end or complain that it doesn't have enough zombies or argue that it pales in comparison to Shaun of the Dead or bemoan that the lead guy is doing a bad Michael Cera impression - so what? It's light and breezy, like hanging out with some of your friends for an hour and a half. Neither filling nor nutritious, Zombieland is just a tasty little snack to be momentarily enjoyed - much like the Twinkie Woody Harrelson so desperately seeks.
4) Pontypool - Numerous critics have described Pontypool as "a thinking person's zombie flick." That is an apt description. I would also add riveting and wonderfully weird. The idea of a word virus turning people into violent zombies is unquestionably the most original horror idea of the past year - perhaps the past several years. Even if I didn't fully understand everything that was going on, given the Twilight Zone-ish nature of the story, all of the answers were never meant to be revealed. I sat spellbound, hanging on every word out of Stephen McHattie's mouth with no idea where this one was going. With shades of Orson Welles' production of War of the Worlds, more chills were generated by the harrowing radio reports of events I couldn't see than by the copious amounts of special effects and blood & guts that a majority of this past year's horror releases had to offer.
3) Orphan - Orphan was probably the biggest surprise of the year for me. Every trailer and TV spot did little to impress me; my going to see it at all stemmed more out of my sense of obligation to the site. Thank goodness I did because watching Isabelle Fuhrman vamp it up as that diabolical little Russian munchkin totally fucking with her adopted family was one of the best times I had at a movie all year. I have never heard an audience cheer that loudly at the sight of a small child getting punched in the face. One could easily pick apart the plot holes and questionable behavior on the part of many of the people around her, or you could just sit back and enjoy this movie as it constantly teeters between being very well made and total camp with just a tinge of sleaze.
2) Trick 'r Treat - Unlike Paranormal Activity, this was the much hyped horror film of the year that lived up to its hype. Denying Trick 'r Treat the theatrical release it deserved was nothing short of a criminal act. So much has already been said by so many about what makes it great that I am just going to say Trick 'r Treat perhaps best captures the spirit of what makes Halloween such a fun holiday.
1) End of the Line - I could have given Trick 'r Treat the #1 slot since it probably is my favorite horror movie of the past year. But since TrT has already received more than its fair share of praise, I thought I would give my top slot to a smaller movie that flew in somewhat under the radar and never quite got the attention it richly deserved: Maurice Devereaux's End of the Line. A bunch of everyday citizens on a subway find themselves stranded when the power goes out. A good number of the passengers are members of a religious cult that receive pager messages telling them that Armageddon is at hand and they need to use their crucifix daggers to kill the other riders in order to save their souls from the evil occurring upside. But is it really Judgment Day, or are these folks just insane doomsday cultists? Not a perfect movie - the opening few minutes are a bit shaky - and not quite on the level of, say, Frailty either, but End of the Line is one of the eeriest and most unnerving horror offerings of '09. I only watched it once, months ago, and it has stuck with me ever since. That is the true testament of a disturbing horror movie.
5) The Twilight Saga: New Moon - I didn't hate the first Twilight flick. I didn't think it was very good, but I didn't think it was the death of cinema some others have proclaimed it to be. If nothing else, the first film in "The Twilight Saga" didn't feel the need to drag itself out for more than two hours without ever telling anything that resembled a complete story. New Moon is 130 boring minutes of suffocating soap opera melodramatics built around two of the most insufferable protagonists in recent screen memory. Edward Cullen (AKA Count Mopes-A-Lot) is like Louis from Interview with the Vampire mixed with Dylan McKay from "Beverly Hills 90210" if he only fed on the blood of manic depressives. Bella Swan could very well be the worst female role model for young girls out there right now. Bella constantly needs a man to come to her rescue because she is incapable of doing anything to defend herself. When Edward decides to end their relationship for her own good, her reaction is collapse right there in the woods and remain seemingly catatonic until a police posse finds her. The break-up causes her to become a shell of a human being only brought to life by living dangerously. She constantly cockteases the nice underwearwolf, and when she talks of her reasons for liking him at all, it has more to do with how he makes her feel sane. Yeah, I think if I had a daughter, I'd rather her idolize Paris Hilton than Bella Swan.
4) The Stepfather - From JS Cardone, the man that gave us The Forsaken, The Covenant, and the remake of Prom Night, comes about as worthless a Hollywood remake as you will ever see. Inferior to the original on every conceivable level, Cardone's screenplay for The Stepfather remake eliminates everything that worked the first time in favor of a vapid hybrid of a Lifetime Network evil husband flick and Disturbia. Might as well have retitled this superficial remake Disturbia for Dummies. Dylan Walsh is no Terry O'Quinn, and more emphasis was clearly placed on showcasing the beach bodies of the two young leads than ever went into crafting an intense thriller. The only good thing about The Stepfather is Amber Heard in a bikini in nearly every scene she's in. Of course, if that's all you're interested in, why not just watch The Informers instead and see her naked in nearly every scene she's in? Even in that respect there is no justifying the existence of this worthless remake.
3) Whiteout - Never quite making up its mind whether it wants to be a serial killer chiller, the most boring episode of "CSI: Antarctica" ever, or a really lame South Pole version of Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Whiteout would make a perfect companion piece to X-Files: I Want To Believe - both are talky, boring, suspense-free murder investigation movies set against the backdrop of snowy terrain. A whiteout is a severe snowstorm with 100-mile-per-hour winds that kick up so much snow you can't even see six inches in front of your face; those weather conditions are recreated on film in an action sequence involving three characters all clad in identical hooded winter coats. Now try to imagine how watching such an action sequence play out might prove problematic to the viewer.
2) Transylmania - Too much of my life has been wasted on this film already so I'm just going to quote directly from my review: I went into Transylmania with the lowest of expectations and quickly came to realize I had not set the bar nearly low enough. I have always said the two worst kinds of bad movies are unfunny comedies and films that are boring; Transylmania pulls off the dreaded double whammy. The first time I felt compelled to check my watch to see how much longer it had to go, I was mortified to realize that only fifteen minutes had transpired; sitting there stone-faced as irritating people engaged in one flat joke after another, I would have sworn at least twice that amount of time had passed. That writers Patrick Casey and Worm Miller give us a megalomaniacal midget mad scientist in a robotic ghost costume kidnapping women to create a new Frankenstein body for his hunchback daughter and still fail to come up with a single funny thing for him to say or do is symptomatic of how their script fails to capitalize on any of the fantastical elements provided by the Transylvanian setting. Transylmania is to comedy what gas station hot dogs are to nutrition.
1) Train - Train is a vile film in addition to being boring and insulting to the intelligence. Many a horror fan gets defensive over the use of the term "torture porn". Train is the very definition of "torture porn". This execrable movie is a pointless exercise in seeing characters you're given no reason to care about rendered helpless and getting eviscerated while screaming or crying. No suspense or villains you fear, not even a sense of macabre fun or semblance of artistic merit that in some little way attempts to justify the inhumanity. I can appreciate a good bloody kill, but this is nothing more than 90 minutes of mean-spirited sadism for sadism's sake. Yet, as willing as Train is to wallow in the depths of depravity, it suddenly pulls back when it dares to introduce rape into the mix. This is a movie where two guys bash another guy's face to a bloody pulp with brass knuckles and then tag team piss in his open facial wounds, a movie where a guy strung up with spikes through his wrists still thrashes about a little too much so they slice his back open with a knife and break his spine with a hammer and chisel; why is showing us violent gang rape the line they wouldn't cross? Because Train knows it's just a hollow, chickenshit piece of torture porn.