Dread Central's Best & Worst of 2008
This year brought a lot of changes, both on the global scale (yay President-elect Obama and a return to low gas prices, boo recession and big business bail-outs) and on a smaller individual scale (I moved back to the glorious and at the moment very snowy state of N.Y.). But some things never change ... Like the fact that every year we get some genre fare that’s a cut above the rest and some that is decidedly further down on that particular totem pole. Here are my personal picks for this year’s best and worst (in no particular order):
"Dexter": I have to mention everyone’s favorite serial killer again this year. While the show itself has its ups and downs, the characters are rock solid and the acting superb. And while this last season may not have been quite as satisfying as the first, I can’t deny how refreshing and wonderful it is to have a smart genre show. Too often when a network puts out a "horror show", they shy away from really taking on that mantle and end up with weak fare. But the creators involved in "Dexter" seem to genuinely embrace the darkness and have fun with it, and I for one am very thankful for it.
Dance of the Dead: It seems like lately you can’t spit without hitting a zombie movie, indie or otherwise. Not that I think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I love zombies. I’m the kind of girl who likes to nibble on my fellow humans now and again myself. And if they were all as quality as Gregg Bishop’s Dance of the Dead, I would be a happy girl. While the story is really nothing at all new – the dead rise from the grave to munch on the living and a small group of tenacious survivors have to blah, blah, blah – it’s executed with skill and aplomb. The cast, lead by the adorable Jared Kusnitz (who also played the brother in Otis, and whom I hope to see in many more genre outings), are all really wonderful. Especially Justin Welborn (you'll remember him from The Signal), who is absolutely superb as bully redneck Kyle Grubbin.
The Strangers: This movie had flaws. There were things I felt could have been better done. I was not, upon watching it, overwhelmed by its greatness. But there was one thing that, for me, it did so well I felt I couldn’t NOT include it. So few horror movies for the last very many years have really excelled at building tension. We most often get jump scares or major events foreshadowed by loud music cues. Also, while we’re supposed to identify with the victim, most horror movies give us an omniscient view – we can see where the killer is and what they’ve done before the victims can, and when they go in that room or get in the car or whatever, their actions seem stupid. The killer’s in there, duh! But The Strangers kept the audience as much in the dark to the motivations and movements of the aggressors as the victims were – and kept us on our toes and the edge of our seats.
The last 10 minutes of Quarantine: I have not yet managed to see REC, the foreign film of which this is the remake, reimagining, revamping ... whatever the hell we’re calling it these days ... so I have no way of knowing what that one was like. But for the first seventy-odd minutes of this version, I spent most of my time going “Wait ... what just happened?” I was not scared, or enthralled, by the chaos of both noise and movement on screen. I was mostly perplexed and aggravated. I spent most of the movie calling people "that fireman – no, the other one", or "the doctor guy". So… after all that, why are the last ten minutes on my best list? Simply because once Jennifer Carpenter and her cameraman (see, I can’t even remember either character’s name without cheating and looking it up) get into the attic apartment, things get infinitely better. There’s only the two of them now, so things quiet down. The lights are off completely, which makes Camera Guy switch to night vision, so you can actually see some things. And as they are in the dark and therefore unable to run around like a virgin with ADD at a whorehouse, things also slow down. Those last ten minutes are tense and really pretty powerful. Jennifer Carpenter looks and acts genuinely terrified. If only the rest of the movie could have been that good.
The Dark Knight: I think, based on the reception this film has gotten since its release, that I don’t need to explain too much why it is on my best list. Most of you have seen it and feel the way I do. This movie was just… wow. Not just Ledger’s wonderfully disturbing Joker, or Nolan’s strong script and good looking cinematography, or Bale’s tortured Batman (despite the sometimes funny voice), or Eckhart’s powerful Harvey Dent, or even Maggie Gylenhaal’s Thank-God-She’s-Not-Katie-Holmes turn as Rachel Dawes. This was a film with some whopping good parts, and still the whole was more than just their sum.
Mirrors: I love me some Kiefer Sutherland. That voice? Mmmmmmm ... My vagina is quite opinionated on the subject of sexy voices, and it says you can leave it alone with that voice and a nice glass of wine and it’d be just fine. Oh, and he’s a pretty good actor too. And I think Alexandre Aja has talent. So, what went wrong with Mirrors and why is it on my worst list? Mostly BECAUSE Kiefer Sutherland is a good actor and Aja is a talented director. Let me explain ... You know that phrase ‘"the bigger they are, the harder they fall"? Well, it’s kind of like that. There were some really lame, bad movies out this year that overall were much less entertaining than the good parts of Mirrors. (Some of them will turn up later). But most of them were obviously going to be terrible. In most of those cases, it was clear from the get-go that all they were was flaccid studio fare meant to cash in on the teenie-bopper market. But when you have a film like Mirrors that has talent behind it and wastes it in a weak, convoluted and pointless story ... well, it has a harder fall. And in my book that makes it worse than some of the more overall bad movies we saw this year.
The Happening: I’ve stuck by M. Night Shmalamala (yes, I’m aware that’s not the correct spelling, I just like saying it). Apart from The Village, when I figured the nature of the BIG SECRET from the trailer, I haven’t had any overly bad experiences with his work. I even mildly enjoyed Signs and Lady in the Water. But this latest movie ... Ugh. You know what’s more entertaining than this silly snoozefest of a movie? Just about anything. I was once aggressively groped by a piss drunk frat boy with a cast on his arm while trying to drive down a snowy road in the dark. That was much more fun than The Happening. I once drank so much at a party in Germany that I was unable to walk on my own and crawled around the house or was carried by a handsome German boy named Simon who spoke very little. That was WAY more fun than this movie. Even the massive and debilitating hangover I had the next morning was more entertaining than The Happening.
The X-Files: I Want to Believe: Bad, terrible writing. That’s the biggest problem with the newest "X-Files" movie. From the very first second, the writing is painfully bad and continues to get worse as the movie progresses. Apparently, Scully has spent the intervening years becoming a brain surgeon. And Mulder has holed himself up in a house out in the middle of nowhere and grown an impressive fake-looking beard. Apparently they’re still in contact, but only in a very distant way. Except that the minute they’re in the same room, they’re sleeping together ... and then talking about how they have a “home” together. And then talking about how they can never be together. And then talking about how they should get away together. There’s a little boy, too, that Scully is trying to save. And there’s a whole subplot involving that which really only serves to provide her with the key to the big “mystery” – which isn’t all that mysterious – and is then completely abandoned. It’s all just a big, sad mess. You know what I want to believe? That I never saw this movie.
Pathology: Once upon a time, when I was just young girl, I got very high marks in science and my teacher recommended me for a special medical program. I wanted to be a forensic pathologist. I once got to hold a severed and rotting human hand. The skin of the fingertips had been sliced off so the police could try and get fingerprints. It was pretty amazing. I might have stuck with it too, except… that’s a LOT of school. So I was intrigued by the idea of a movie about a bunch of medical students who attempt to use their knowledge of forensics to try and commit the perfect crime. Except that the whole committing the perfect crime thing is sort of sidebar to the whole once-respectable-up-and-coming-doctor-decides-to-do-crack-and-bang-some-chick-doctor-in-order-to-fit-in storyline. All they do is kill some people and then try and have their classmates guess how they did it. In fact, the crimes they DO commit are often sloppy and would in reality leave behind tons of forensic evidence at the crime scenes of people they have a connection to. And of course, no one at this fancy hospital realizes that some of these corpses have autopsies performed on them in the dead of night with no record of it being done. Lame. Although if you’re into the idea of seeing a fake corpse that vaguely resembles a naked Alyssa Milano, you’re in for a treat.
Twilight: I contemplated having this movie occupy all 5 slots on my worst list ... but I know you guys already know the depths of my dislike for the movie, so I thought one would be sufficient. I’ve said everything I can coherently say about how bad this movie is and how much it takes what is good about the book and shits all over it. Bella and Edward don’t suck face like sloppy teenagers in the book. They kiss and caress like passionate lovers, overwhelmed by lust, unable to satisfy their deepest want and needs and trying to slake their desires somehow. It can get quite steamy… in fact, there are even reports of women getting so heated they seduce their menfolk and name the resulting babies Bella or Edward. But more than just titillating, the characters are interesting and their story is compelling. But Summit ... or Catherine Hardwicke ... or someone ... decided it would be much better to just stick a bunch of good-looking emo kids on screen and make everything dreary and full of angst and, like, totally serious. What a fucking waste. In the wake of the news that Hardwicke has walked away (or was sent away) from the sequel, I can only hope that my hex works completely, and the production is continually plagued by problems and has to shut down permanently. Now the thought of THAT turns me on.
So that’s it for 2008 ... the good and the bad. Here’s to a bloody good 2009!