2009. It was pretty much as crappy a year for horror movies as it was for the economy. There were, however, some really high points to help balance out all the drivel that was put out there in theatres as well as on home video, and they are to be celebrated, even though technically a couple of them are not even from this year.
Pull up your chair, sit back, and strap yourself in for a look back at the dos, the don’ts, and of course the “DOH!”s of this past year.
Dig on our Best of and Worst of lists for 2009 by following the links below!
District 9 – Neill Blomkamp’s sci-fi/action/horror hybrid delivered the kind of hardcore testosterone roller coaster ride we hadn’t seen since the glory days of John McTiernan. With story and special FX superior to that of Avatar (with 1/25th of the budget), we got the best of everything: amazing set-pieces, memorable characters, and Peter Jackson’s brand of madcap New Zealand splatter!
Trick ‘r Treat – I have had Michael Dougherty’s anthological masterpiece on previous year-end lists, but its official release (combined with an underwhelming year at the movies) more than warrants another mention. Y’know what would’ve been great? To see this in a crowded midnight movie theater. Thanks, Warner Bros!
Paranormal Activity – Detractors throw out the same “it was all hype” argument we heard when Blair Witch first rolled around, but to those of us who experienced it before the buzz, Paranormal Activity’s success was a long time coming. Oren Peli’s minimalist ghost classic used simplicity to tap into our most primal fears … and left us with many sleepless nights.
Martyrs – After enduring a wave of overly violent and stupid-as-hell French slashers (High Tension, Frontiers, etc.), I vowed never to step foot near Martyrs. Thankfully, I relented and found that there was much more to this demented film beyond the excessive gore and cruelty. Pascal Laugier takes the worn-out “torture porn” genre and adds a heavy dose of Carl Jung – turning a simple story of two tortured girls into a multi-layered exercise in metaphysical horror.
Dread – After years of disappointing movie adaptations, Dread expertly fleshes out Clive Barker’s Books of Blood short to deliver the single best film version of a Barker story since Bernard Rose’s Candyman. With strong performances, thick atmosphere, and genuinely disturbing character arcs, director Anthony DiBlasi’s film packs an emotional wallop in a well crafted horror tale where the tension and gory set-pieces are actually earned. In an age full of cheap horror remakes and glorified music video directors, Dread shows what filmmakers can accomplish when they focus on real stories and characters over flash and shock value. If only they could all be this good…
Honorable Mention: Drag Me To Hell – As it turns out, we didn’t need Evil Dead 4. The car garage match between Alison Lohman and a toothless gypsy easily stands out as set-piece of the year.
Friday the 13th – Even with a badass Jason (courtesy of Derek Mears), the latest faux-gritty Platinum Dunes remake fails to deliver a single memorable moment or kill. Even Jason Takes Manhattan has more entertainment value.
The Unborn – Platinum Dunes makes the list yet again! What a shocker! We were all surprised when the producing team did something besides cash in on someone else’s work … but their attempt at a so-called “original” film was just as soulless and generic as their remakes.
The Uninvited – A Tale of Two Sisters is a cerebral foreign classic and one of the better ghost films of the last decade. The U.S. remake is a dumbed down Sixth Sense clone for teenage girls.
Wrong Turn 3 – Wrong Turn 2 was a DTV sequel that surprised everyone and turned out superior to the theatrical original. By comparison, Wrong Turn 3 plays like a DTV sequel produced 15 years ago. Take that, Cyborg 3!
Let’s face it – 2009 was a tough year to be a horror fan. Personally speaking, it was a colossal disappointment to see two of the greatest slasher icons resurrected with less than stellar results. Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers have been down rocky roads before, but their most recent misdeeds are among the worst in either canon. Pot farms and underground tunnels are hardly synonymous with the name Friday the 13th, and you should never, ever think white horses and hobos when talking about Halloween. When Tom Petty sang the good old days might not return, he must’ve been looking at 2009.
But it wasn’t all bad. Sam Raimi made his long-awaited return to the horror genre though, for some reason, horror fans by and large decided to pass on the affair due to its PG-13 rating. The result was a surprisingly low box office take for such an anticipated event. Weak box office also affected Lionsgate and its sixth Saw movie – a shame since it was actually the best in the series since James Wan’s original.
And we can’t mention 2009 without discussing the real snake in the grass – Paranormal Activity. Love it or hate it, the runaway success reminded everyone the world over that horror is far from dead. Maybe we’ll even get a few more scary haunted house flicks before Hollywood can finish milking the soon-to-be trend of ghost/demon flicks. I know a lot of people have been baffled by PA’s success, but I’ve been afraid of my creaky, noisy house ever since watching. Mission accomplished from where I stand, Oren.
And there were other gems, too – most of which will be included in my list of five favorite genre-related films. Before launching into the list, however, I’d like to take this opportunity to make some honorable mentions of films I feel deserve a little pat on the back – even if they don’t quite make the list:
Nah, it’s not amazing, but as a huge fan of George Milhaka’s 1981 slasher, I had a good time with the updated version. Todd Farmer’s script takes the same premise and turns it on its ear, offering plenty of surprises for audiences both familiar and unfamiliar with the original story. Director Patrick Lussier keeps things light and fun – channeling the spirit of the 1980s in several moments. He’s also not afraid to give his characters a few sequences to develop outside of the 3D splatter – a welcome decision. Jaime King proves to be a very good final girl, and Kerr Smith is by turn smarmy and sympathetic as the modern day Axel Palmer. Only Jensen Ackles falls flat as the tormented Tom Hanniger.
As an added bonus, MBV 3D gave horror fans a chance to see Tom “The Man” Atkins back on the big screen once again. Not perfect, but a great example of how to respect the source material while doing your own thing. I still prefer the town of Valentine Bluffs as the location of Hanniger Mines, but Harmony is a fun place to visit, too. Just not as often.
The Last House on the Left
Was there any reason to remake Wes Craven’s Last House? Absolutely not. The 1972 classic is an angry product of its time, an example of the disillusionment growing here during the last years of the Vietnam War. Is it a coincidence then that Craven returned to his most controversial film during another needless and unpopular war? The new version, directed by Dennis Iliadis, doesn’t obliterate the peace and love generation the way in which the original did – which robs this remake of much subtext and purpose. However, it strengthens the narrative in lots of ways, producing stronger central characters and (wisely) jettisoning the lame comic relief that throws the original off-kilter.
The biggest problem here, though, lies in the villains. They never reach the uncomfortable depths so effortlessly obtained by David Hess and Fred Lincoln in the original. They’re totally serviceable, but forgettable. This is balanced out by significantly better roles and performances from the parents – played here by Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter. Their decision to take bloody vengeance upon their daughter’s attackers unfolds more believably and the actors convey great discomfort with their actions – grounding the film is uncomfortable reality. It’s a shame films of this ilk are always overlooked at awards time, as Tony Goldwyn’s performance makes this well worth a look.
The Five Best Horror Films of 2009
5. Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!
It’s true that this was made and released overseas in 2008, but we didn’t have the chance to see it in theaters until Magnet released it this past July. As a documentary, it accomplishes its two most important goals: managing to be absolutely hilarious and entertaining while being informative.
Divided into three parts – sexploitation, horror, and action – this is a thorough examination of Australia’s history in exploitation, complete with interviews with dozens upon dozens of filmmakers and actors (even the late, great Richard Franklin is on hand), making this the perfect place to start if you’re unfamiliar with the subgenre. For those already well versed in Ozploitation, you can never, ever know too much about it.
Clips are well-utilized, and the participants are almost always entertainingly honest about the films in question. The section on horror is certainly the most interesting of the segments, but the whole thing is a delight: You’ll see George Lazenby burned in a stunt gone wrong, some of the most batshit insane stuntwork ever performed, and of course, some love for Howling III: The Marsupials, which makes it a winner in my book.
Horror fans have been begging Sam Raimi to return to the horror genre for years, and for a while it didn’t look like it was going to happen. It did, however, and while nobody would disagree that May was a bad time to release this one, its disappointing box office take left me absolutely baffled.
If the horror community isn’t going to turn out in droves for the triumphant return of Raimi, what will put them in theaters? Sure this is PG-13, but it doesn’t feel like it. It’s one of the greatest funhouse rides ever committed to film, and while watching Drag Me to Hell, you can only wonder where in the hell the film is going to go next. Cats are sacrificed, eyeballs protrude from dessert cakes, and goats have never been more sinister.
This is the Sam Raimi well all know and love. Drag Me to Hell is probably his most entertaining work since Evil Dead II and the kind of kinetic horror film we never thought we’d see again. Least of all from the director of Spider-Man. Thanks for proving us wrong, Sam.
3. The House of the Devil
This is a brilliant artistic achievement for writer/director Ti West for two reasons: First, he’s delivered a legitimately creepy Satanic horror film – the kind which hasn’t been glimpsed for a very long time. Second, and more impressive, is that he accomplished what so many directors have tried (and failed) to do when using the word “throwback” to describe their films.
This is a bona fide relic from the 70s/early 80s. From the clothing styles, the settings (where did they find that pizza parlor?), and the meticulous art direction in every frame – it’s an authentically bygone horror film. It takes its cues from a dozen different films from that era without using any of them as a template. And that’s what really impressed me. The House of the Devil succeeds because West understands what makes older films work.
There’s the possibility that this would’ve been even higher on my list had I been able to see it more than once. It’s not going to be for everyone, but what film is? This fucker nails everything it sets out to do, and even now I look at it with total admiration.
A great film from Dark Castle? Who would’ve thought it possible? In some ways Orphan is a bit of a throwback film itself. Invoking the style and spirit of so many slow-burn 70s films, it spends a great deal of time establishing itself before the bad shit starts happening to people we care about.
Vera Farmiga (in her second evil kid movie) is fantastic here, as is Aryana Engineer as her hearing-impaired daughter, Max. The fact that the film devotes some genuinely sweet moments to these two is a credit to director Jaume Collet-Serra, who understands that it takes good characters to lay the foundation for any great film.
Of course, the real star here is Isabelle Fuhrman. Esther is a twisted, evil little bitch, and Fuhrman captures every nuance of the character brilliantly. The film’s twist ending, which could’ve easily been a huge mistake, gives the film another disturbing dimension – thanks in large part to Fuhrman’s acting talent. If you haven’t seen this yet, rectify that soon. Orphan is just awesome.
1. Trick ‘r Treat
This is more or less a tie with Orphan for my favorite horror film of the year.
I’ve written so much about T’rT over the past few months that I can hardly find another word. I’ll just reiterate what I wrote in my Blu-ray review a few months back: “Somehow, Trick ‘r Treat manages to live up to the staggering hype surrounding its release – which gets my peers off the hook (they’ll be so relieved). It’s as fun and enjoyable as you might’ve heard, and now that I’ve seen it, I’m plenty pissed at Warner Brothers for deciding that the best place to experience it is in the confines of our own home. Not only does it restore my wavering faith in a genre that’s become too “dark and gritty” for its own good (thanks, Rob Zombie), but it’s also a reminder that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to make a great film.”
And now, THE WORST
Dishonorable Mention: Friday the 13th
Goddammit, Platinum Dunes, how did you fuck this one up? Unlike Ti West, you clearly don’t understand what makes older films work – despite your claims.
F13 isn’t awful but it’s bad. The filmmakers subscribed to the idea that you’re supposed to root for the bad guy, which doesn’t exactly make him scary. Characters are unlikable, annoying, and dumber than they ever were during the Paramount era. Beyond that, the decision to shoot the film in Texas robs it of the simple ambiance of the earlier Fridays. Instead of making a bona fide Jason movie, they tried to replicate the success of their earlier Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake by utilizing the same director and DP, which revealed a disappointing lack of vision from the creative team.
Derek Mears gives his all as a ferocious Jason, but I’d like to see a little less of John Rambo Jason next time around. Seeing him operate floodlights was a bit of a bummer, and don’t even get me started on those fucking caves. At least they got the New Jersey license plates right. Oh, and Julianna Guill does indeed have perfect nipple placement. That’s the best I can say for this mess.
This sequel deserves credit for taking everything that worked so well about the first film and throwing it out the window. Suspense? Nope. Sympathetic characters? Hell no. This one can’t even be bothered to keep its characters in one location – having them trot off to any number of nearby locations as they try to elude the fledgling snuff filmmakers. It’s also boring and directed without a trace of the flair that made the first movie so good. I know that nobody was expecting anything from this needless prequel, but did it have to be this stupid?
4. Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead
I’m going to spend as much time commenting on this as Fox put into producing it. An idiotic script, awful make-up effects, and an endless stream of (bad) CGI kills sink this disaster and kill the franchise right where it stands. Refusing to bring Joe Lynch back for another go ‘round was a big mistake, but if Fox couldn’t be bothered to make a good Wrong Turn 3, it probably wasn’t going to make a difference.
3. Children of the Corn
This is every bit as bad as you’ve been led to believe – and then some. It should’ve been relatively easy to improve upon Fritz Kiersch’s 1984 adaptation of the Stephen King short, but these guys blew it. Big time. Let’s start with a protagonist whom the viewer doesn’t want to spend two seconds with, let alone an entire film. Then there’s the amazing Vietnam flashbacks brought on by shuffling through corn rows – at least these bits provoke unintentional laughter. There’s nothing else to hold your interest, let alone warrant a viewing. Until someone gets King’s story right, stick with the original film. It’s not perfect, but it’s a masterpiece when compared to this.
2. The Box
Richard Kelly continues his steady descent into cinematic banality with this pathetic and cynical attempt to recapture Donnie Darko’s lightening in a bottle. Blowing up Richard Matheson’s short story Button, Button into a 90-minute feature was never a good idea, but that didn’t stop Kelly from trying. To expand on the ideas set forth by Matheson, Kelly takes us to outer space, citing aliens as the culprits behind the mysterious box.
And this script is just one of the problems. It’s incompetently directed and features two of the most uncharismatic leads (James Marsden and Cameron Diaz) in recent memory.
1. Halloween II
Once again: I’m a fan of Rob Zombie’s music and his ‘original’ films. But I just can’t find a goddamn thing to like about either Halloween movie. This sequel is perhaps a smidge better than the first one, but it’s such an ugly, repugnant, and boring disaster that I wouldn’t recommend it to my worst enemy.
While there are some very good actors on display here (Brad Dourif and Danielle Harris, especially), the abysmal script fails them on every occasion. Ditto the premise of the film: Traumatized survivors of a maniac’s killing spree trying to move on with their lives is a good idea. Maybe Zombie could’ve made it work had he allowed someone else to write it. Here, Michael Myers is a gritty serial killer that somehow survived a gunshot to the head. He spends half the movie suffering from white horse hallucinations while trekking through fields en route back to Haddonfield, murdering any degenerate that gets in his way. It’s very boring stuff with the character being robbed of any mystique he might have once had.
Zombie tried, but he also failed. Miserably.
1. Paranormal Activity – While my theater watching experience was more detrimental to my enjoyment than not, the movie itself left me with a genuine feeling of dread and uneasiness, and my husband and best friend and I spent the rest of the night telling each other ghost stories. This is one we’ll definitely own and rewatch a number of times.
2. Ink – My darling husband found this twisted fairytale on Netflix and had to convince me to watch it. I’m glad he did. Though its small budget was sometimes evident, the story was powerful and the imagery was very cool.
3. Watchmen – What can I say? I loved pretty much every minute of it. Even the giant blue CGI penis.
4. Orphan – While the idea was intellectually kind of comical, and I guessed the “twist” fairly early on, I thought it was immensely entertaining. It had actual atmosphere and felt like one of very few horror movies that was actually intended for grown-ups lately.
5. Grace – It had some flaws, but I am especially affected by any horror movie having to do with dead/deformed babies. And Jordan Ladd was both beautiful and brilliant in the main role. Without her, the film would have been just passable … but with her, it becomes powerful and memorable.
Honorable Mentions: Horror on TV – Dexter, Fringe, and Bones (while the latter two aren’t technically solely horror, they’re great places to see gross dead bodies and interesting freaky stories), District 9, Last House on the Left (except for that end scene), I Sell the Dead, My Bloody Valentine 3D, The Burrowers
1. Friday the 13th – This movie is so cookie-cutter it needed sprinkles. Or icing… a glass of milk… something, anything to make it more palatable. I can’t remember much about it now except that there were some nice boobs and… Well, no and. I actually can’t remember anything else about it. And the boobs weren’t even THAT nice.
2. The Final Destination – This should have at least been FUN. But the death scenes were so needlessly elaborate that I was bored by the time the character actually bit it … and those characters were so bland I couldn’t remember their names from scene to scene. And the end was completely ridiculous. I rolled my eyes so hard I think I strained them.
3. Halloween II – I don’t think I can say anything about this movie that every single one of you don’t already know. It was like the things you see spinning through your head right before you projectile vomit after a night of drinking cheap tequila. Only less pleasant.
4. Whiteout – This ridiculous pseudo-whodunit wasn’t even as compelling as TV procedurals. There have been episodes of Law & Order with more tension and mystery. There was the tiniest bit of build-up and then 99 minutes of anti-climax.
5. The Unborn – Not even Gary Oldman could make this movie anything but utterly full of fail. The story was muddled and full of plot holes big enough to drive double-decker buses through. The acting, even the aforementioned Mr. Oldman, was terrible. And there was just nothing redeemable about it … not even in the “so bad it was funny” way. My friend Joe now uses this as a yardstick of movies. He says, “Well, it wasn’t as bad as The Unborn” or “Was it better than The Unborn?” I keep trying to tell him, it’s not hard at all to be better than this piece of garbage.
Dishonorable Mentions: The Twilight Saga: New Moon, The Uninvited, Terminator: Salvation
Zombieland – The zombie apocalypse comes low on drama, low on meat, and high on comedy. I don’t need a half-hour back story to care about each character, and Zombieland takes us through their intros with due haste while retaining their essential sensitivity and, more importantly, their humanity. Just a great time all around with Bill Murray in a show-stopping role. My most anticipated DVD of 2010!!
Orphan – Vera Farmiga has a bad track record with creepy little kids. Can’t catch a break, can you? Not your typical “cute little kid turned spawn of Satan” tale with a delicious twist that is chilling and disturbing all at once. An awesome Saturday night thriller with a room full of friends looking for fun and a screen to scream at.
The Collector – People in a house are systematically offed by an almost supernatural master of traps??!! To be sure, it’s a supremely flawed story, but The Collector is saved by excellent execution, a killer soundtrack, awesome actors, and a slick style. The rooms full of traps are extremely over-the-top, unlikely, and at times laughable, but inexplicably, it doesn’t stop the fun! A slinking creeper of a film with very effective tension, jumps, and a baddie who doesn’t quit … or get lame after 20 minutes.
Infestation – A hidden gem in the giant steaming pile that is generally the Syfy Channel’s original movie lineup. The human race blacks out and wakes up to … INSECT ARMAGHEDDON!! Witty dialogue, impressive FX make-ups, and original designs for human/insect hybrids make this an awesome Saturday afternoon monster movie you won’t mind watching multiple times.
Sweatshop – I think the theme of 2009 was “don’t over-think it.” Sweatshop is the perfect example of this. Take a bunch of hot raver kids, put them in a rundown warehouse space, add a 2-ton monster with a giant hammer named “The Beast”, and smush till everyone is pulp. No origin explanations … no long-winded drama. Just a tiny sub-story for the slightest bit of depth (if prostitution counts as depth) swimming in a tranquil ocean of blood and gore. She ain’t too pretty, but she sure does horror real well!
The Stepfather – A yawn of a film that takes the initial theme of the crazy stepdad trying to create his perfect family at all costs and turns it into tiresome, sub-standard soap opera devoid of even the slightest of jump scares. If this movie were a little kid performing at a recital, it would have had a big introduction before it took the stage and made fart noises until his teacher smacked him off the head. That’s probably what this movie needed. A swift and mighty backhand.
The Twilight Saga: New Moon – I’m sure everyone will list this movie, or at least those of us who had to eat it and sit through the mind-numbing moments of mental anguish, both on screen and in our own craniums. What does New Moon teach us? Heartache is an anorexic girl screaming into a pillow … the older vampires get, the more ridiculous they act … and most importantly, you can always spot a werewolf clan by their lack of shirts. Not horror, not decent drama or sound love story … just not good at all. Pain, thy name is Twilight. See you again next year.
Knowing – After watching this film, I had to research Scientology to make sure I didn’t just see a recruitment video. Thrill as Nic Cage unravels the secrets behind the end of the world, while drunk, and then runs around doing a whole lot of nothing while things blow up real good. Granted, the carnage moments are spectacular, but two seconds later we are back into the muck and mire of bad writing, horrific dialogue, and a storyline that seems ripped from M. Night Shyamalan’s back pocket. He could sue if this one made any money.
Gothkill – It’s probably bad karma to pick on a movie with such a small budget, but this horror fiasco doesn’t have one redeemable moment. I couldn’t even say it was so bad I laughed out loud. A flimsy premise, catastrophic pacing, zero scares, an earsplitting soundtrack, and 16 miles of exposition make this straight to DVD release unwatchable.
The Haunted World of El Superbeasto – The juvenile dream of three overly horny 13-year-old boys with a love of Ren and Stimpy and a wish to see animated boobs on the screen every five minutes. Follow the adventures of former wrestler turned pornographer Superbeasto and his nails on a chalkboard voiced sister as they fight zombie Nazis, Doctor Satan, and good taste. I’m no paragon of decency, but the creators of this mess packed it so full of foul language, nudity, immature songs, and disgusting premises that it all becomes boring as hell. Probably the biggest waste of premium animation ever put on a screen. It’s like asking Dali to ditch the watches in favor of floppy nipples. When does it end?
2009 wasn’t a great year for film in general, but there were some absolutely fantastic films here and there. Though I missed a couple of the great ones, I was able to see some truly awesome horror flicks.
5. Pig Hunt – Every year I try to find the one film that no one else has seen. Pig Hunt is that movie for 2009. Crazy hillbillies, a giant man-eating boar, and killer pot-smoking hippies combine to make one of the most fun filmgoing experiences of the year for me. It’s a shame it hasn’t been picked up for distribution yet. While it’s no masterpiece, it is everything I want in a movie.
4. Paranormal Activity – I said I’d keep putting PA on my end of the year lists until it was released, and because it finally came out this year, this will be the last time it appears in my top five. Need I say anything else about the scariest movie I’ve seen this decade? No, I think not.
3. Drag Me to Hell – I can’t tell all of you how happy it makes me to include a Sam Raimi movie on a “Best Horror of the Year” list. DMTH was the only movie this year to make me shout out “HOLY BALLS!” in the theatre. And I maintain that sentiment. It’s a great movie with great scares, great gross-out moments, and great goat talking scenes.
2. Trick ‘r Treat – It was a really tough decision to put TrT at number two and not number one, but I just had to go with something else in the numero uno spot. Nonetheless, TrT is fucking awesome. It’s one of those films that remind me why I enjoy horror movies as much as I do. They’re supposed to be fun and imaginative, and Trick ‘r Treat is just that! It’ll keep you guessing all the way through and is a complete blast from start to finish. It will always be one of the biggest crimes against cinema that this didn’t get a wide release.
1. House of the Devil – When I first saw HotD, I knew right away that it was going to be on my best of the year list. However, I didn’t think it would be number one. After re-watching it, though, I decided that it is by far my favorite horror film of the year. The 1980’s setting, the slow methodical burn, fantastic acting from all involved, and the outright most shocking moment in a horror film this year all make up one great scary movie. The filmmakers should be very proud of this flick, and I recommend it to anyone who likes his or her horror smart, suspenseful, and completely manic.
Honorable Mentions: Orphan – For its killer Communist dwarf who sounds like Dracula; District 9 – For being one badass sci-fi movie (not full-on horror, though, so I left it off the list); The Hills Run Red – For having one of the best damn slasher killers I’ve seen in a long time; The Haunting in Connecticut – For being a quiet little haunted house movie that worked very well; and My Bloody Valentine 3D – For naked women with guns in 3D and Dean Winchest…I mean Jensen Ackles.
Like every year, I tend to just avoid bad movies because I don’t like to waste my time or money, but alas, a few bad ones snuck into my viewing material.
5. Zombieland – While everyone else was going apeshit for Z-land, I was looking around confused and asking “Why?” There was no character development, a horrid lead actor, and overall it was just dumb with easy jokes. Save for the cameo scene, I fucking hated Zombieland. Shaun of the Dead did everything and more that this piece of shit wanted to do.
4. The Collector – I was generally really excited for The Collector before it came out. I love most everything Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton have done so this was a no brainer. What the fuck happened with this? It is nothing more than a series of Jigsaw reject traps while heavy metal music plays to flashy primary colors. It is nothing but Saw meets Home Alone. Fuck this movie. I came out of the theatre feeling angry and cheated. I will never get that $9.50 back.
3. The Final Destination – An FD movie in 3D?! What could possibly go wrong? Everything. This movie is just stupid. I have nothing else to say about it.
2. Rob Zombie’s (HELLLL YEAAHH) Halloween II – To this day, I still don’t know exactly what I saw in this “film”. It’s an incoherent mess, acted terribly, and just all around bad. The only two good characters in it (Danielle Harris and Brad Dourif) are wasted, and the movie just turns into a remake of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”. Fuck Halloween II.
1. Children of the Corn ’09 – SHIT.
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.
2009 provided a bounty of some truly amazing films … unfortunately very few of them were of the horror variety. And to add insult to injury, the best of those that were horror-related took a bit of effort to find. With only a couple of exceptions, the genre offerings that made my Best of list weren’t theatrically available to the masses. I either saw them via DVD, on a screener disc, or at a film festival/convention. That might be seen as bending the rules a little, but I have to call ’em like I see ’em. And when it comes to the Best of the Year, these are what I believe to be the highlights worth seeking out and remembering for future reference:
Paranormal Activity/Trick ‘r Treat (tie) – I see these two films as the yin and yang of the movie business in the new millennium. On one hand we have Paramount’s savvy and successful midnight rollout of Oren Peli’s creepy and now widely beloved Paranormal Activity that resulted in huge new box office records for indie films. And on the other we have Warner Bros.’ cold shoulder to Mike Dougherty’s outstanding Trick ‘r Treat anthology that is destined to become required viewing on Halloween night (if it isn’t already). Aside from being a breath of fresh air, it has one of the hottest actresses on TV right now, True Blood‘s Anna Paquin, in a key role; and still their marketing people didn’t see its potential. Nor did they put much stock in horror audiences, who have embraced both of these films for one reason and one reason only: They kick copious amounts of ass!
Moon – Sci-fi/horror hybrids often provide an opportunity for an actor to shine, and this year Sam Rockwell gives an award-worthy performance in Duncan Jones’ debut feature. Out of all the portrayals I saw during 2009 (and believe me, I saw a LOT!), his haunting … and haunted … astronaut Sam Bell left the most lasting impression. Rockwell is stellar from start to finish, as is the film itself. It’s atmospheric as hell and quite stirring. Seek it out, and watch it with friends since there’s a lot to talk about afterwards.
The Revenant – I caught this nearly perfect gem at Austin’s Fantastic Fest, and although it’s a tad too long and drawn out at the end, I knew immediately it would show up right here as one of the year’s best. Keep your eyes peeled for a proper release hopefully sooner rather than later.
I Sell the Dead – This is one of those movies that draws you in with characters that take their time to grow on you. I love its stream of consciousness, kitchen sink approach with vampires, graverobbing, and even an alien. Dominic Monaghan is awesome, and Larry Fessenden makes you question why he ever leaves the front of the camera for directing. He’s that damn good as the ghoulish Willie Grimes.
District 9 – Yes, another horror/sci-fi mash-up makes the Top Five, but seriously, can you name a film that was smarter and more unique than this simple yet tightly complex tale from New Zealand that’s set in South Africa? How does one even begin to describe it? I said smart. How about intelligent? Clever? Actually, Nomad summed it up best in his review: “District 9 is a thoroughly original, super realistic, sci-fi-tinted tale of woe; and at the end of the day we have to applaud such originality as loudly as we possibly can.”
Honorable Mention: Embodiment of Evil, The Burrowers, Pontypool, Alien Raiders, Disney’s A Christmas Carol 3D (sue me; it’s a blast the whole way through … and really pretty spooky, too!)
Biggest Surprise: Showtime’s Dexter (Season 4). Holy shit! Just when I was thinking Dexter‘s glory days were behind him (although certainly not Michael C. Hall’s, who continues to shine week after week), John Lithgow pops up as the chilling and utterly compelling Trinity Killer, Jennifer Carpenter is a standout as Deb’s life-changing story arc forces her to run the gamut of emotions, and those damn writers throw us for a loop at the end that pretty much nobody saw coming. Hooray! Add in True Blood, Supernatural, and BBC America’s Being Human, and it’s obvious quality horror TV is thriving. It’s just good to see a familiar back at the front of the pack.
Only three films that I saw in a theatre were bad enough to warrant inclusion on my Worst of the Year list, including the Dishonorable Mentions. Yep, seven out of the ten turkeys of 2009 were direct-to-DVD only. So if you let your Netflix membership lapse and were too lazy to visit Blockbuster (if there’s even one still left in your home town), then chances are you dodged some major bullets. Here’s what you might have luckily missed:
The Cell 2 – This movie is soooo bad! There’s nothing but stilted dialogue and over-enunciation by the actors. Very dry and dull — worse than a Lifetime knock-off. What was good in the first Cell has totally disappeared and been replaced by torture porn wrapped in bright colors. Most obvious killer in recent memory.
Horsemen – How a flick can start out so well and look so good, but then go to such shit, is beyond me. At first it’s a solid little mystery, but then it delves into “emotion” and connections between the characters that are totally unbelievable. YAY, Platinum Dunes, for continuing your record of producing nearly unwatchable tripe. The saddest part is that Dennis Quaid almost gives a good performance.
Friday the 13th – No one denies this franchise reboot has a good … no, make that a great … opening, but then it’s all downhill from there. There aren’t more than two even semi-memorable kills. Padalecki is wasted. Mears is wasted. Viewers’ time is wasted. It’s a textbook example of what not to do to pay homage to a classic and endear yourself to fans.
Jennifer’s Body – If pitiful best describes this year’s F13 redux, then the only word for Jennifer’s Body is lame. It was poorly shot, has ridiculous dialogue, and proves how one-note Megan Fox’s acting abilities really are. Amanda Seyfried and J.K. Simmons are the only good things about this flick, and even they could have done better.
Diagnosis: Death – I kind of feel bad for disliking Diagnosis: Death so much because I think its intentions are good and harmless, but it just is not fun in the least, and for a horror comedy to be successful, viewers have to be having a good time. I did not have a good time. It’s uneven and dull and feels twice as long as it is. Admittedly, there are a few good ghost effects and not a bad storyline, but they don’t outweigh the terrible acting, script, and pacing.
Dishonorable Mention: Voices, Shuttle, Elsewhere, The Canyon, the last few minutes of The Last House on the Left remake
Biggest Disappointment: The Box. Richard Kelly had never let me down before, so I may have possibly let my expectations run too high, but I found his adaptation of Richard Matheson’s short story surprisingly muddled and pretentious. Uncharacteristically for the writer/director, it rings rather hollow, and Cameron Diaz’s performance doesn’t help. Marsden is okay but vanilla, and a script that over-explains some things and doesn’t explain others enough only makes matters worse. But no hard feelings, Richard. They can’t all be Donnie Darko and Southland Tales!
Two thousand and nein. Nein! Nein! Nein! Yes, there were plenty of times throughout the year that made me feel as if I were a Nazi having encountered the famed Bear Jew. Still, we have to shrug off those baseball bat strikes to the head as a means to talk about the good times, and 2009 was riddled with highs and lows.
Before I begin let’s talk about the cinema landscape. It has completely changed. It used to be that going direct-to-video was a form of death sentence, but now DTV is where a lot of the good stuff has been coming out. As a result my Best of and Worst of lists will be comprised of both theatrical and video releases.
Without further ado and in no particular order as I both loved and loathed each film about the same …
Paul Solet’s intriguing new spin on the living dead subgenre was both disturbing and gut-wrenching. That’s exactly how I like my movies, too! Let me be the first to say that I hate kids. The little bastards have a tendency to ruin everything. Should anyone ever ask me why, this film is my prime example. They can just suck you dry, man! Special shout-out to Jordan Ladd, who in my estimation gave the performance of the year in a horror film.
A little sci-fi flavor makes it into my Best of list thanks to the high octane alien-fueled action of District 9. Described by one of my esteemed colleagues who hated it as “The Fly II in Shanty Town”, for me this flick went above and beyond what I look for in my extraterrestrial cinematic entertainment. For my money D9, which is just as preachy, packed more punch than Cameron’s juggernaut Avatar while giving us horror fans more of what we want from this type of film. One of the year’s biggest surprises for sure.
Drag Me to Hell:
Welcome back, Sam Raimi. We’ve missed you so. Drag Me to Hell is a textbook horror movie and embodies most of the genre’s very definitions. For all intents and purposes with a little altering this easily could have been labeled Evil Dead 4, and fans would have been clamoring for more. Sticky, gooey, spooky, and starring a mean-ass spirit who will punch you in the fuckin’ face, it honestly doesn’t get much better than this, folks. Don’t let its PG-13 rating scare you off. This flick delivers on all counts!
Trick ‘r Treat:
If there’s one thing that floats my boat just as much if not more than zombie flicks, it’s anthology films. Mike Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat is the best of its kind since the big daddy of them all, Creepshow. Why it sat on the shelf for over a year is anyone’s guess. Given a proper Halloween timed release, this would have made bank at the box office. Maybe it had something to do with all the child deaths in the flick. See? I told you those pricks ruin everything!
Now this feels good. Paranormal Activity has made quite a few of our lists since 2007, and now that it has been officially released, it can take its official rightful spot on one. While no one else even knew what this movie was, we were singing its praises. Like it or not (it certainly isn’t for everyone), the film not only made millions at the box office during its uniquely demanded theatrical run (hat’s off to Paramount for that one), but it has changed the way that the big studios who normally play it safe with either sequels, remakes, PG-13 fodder, or something based upon a graphic novel are looking at independent filmmakers and their original films. If we take anything out of this past decade — horror or otherwise — this change in perspective is easily the best one for all parties concerned — especially for us, the fans and viewers.
Honorable Mentions: Zombieland, House of the Devil, The Hills Run Red, The Haunting in Connecticut, My Bloody Valentine 3D.
Wrong Turn 3:
Hey! Let’s take a surprisingly good franchise that’s lots of fun and has been monetarily successful and attempt to cash in on its name by giving people the phoned-in entry they anticipated Part II to be! That’s a great idea! And hey! Never mind a director who cares about the film he’s making! Let’s find someone who’s only looking to collect a paycheck! AND instead of smart kills made with practical effects, let’s give folks mainly poorly rendered CGI splatter that looks as if it was fashioned about ten years ago! Epic fail, Fox. Epic fucking fail.
The Cell 2:
Remember that ultra stylish Jennifer Lopez flick The Cell? Yeah, it kind of sucked, but wow, did it have some of the most amazingly striking visual sequences of our times. Yes! You do remember! Well hold on to those memories because you won’t be making any new ones with this second-rate laughable cinematic fiasco.
This is your classic example of taking a good story that could be told in less than thirty minutes and padding it out to become a two-hour long metaphysical snooze-a-thon with a silly alien plot twist that you may just miss somewhere after its first hour of undecipherable needless retardation. Attention director Richard Kelly — how about just telling a story? Is that so rough?
Children of the Corn:
Shit. Very few movies embody that word. This is one of the more smeary examples of the Brotherhood of the Brown. From top to bottom nothing about it works. Bad acting. Bad directing. Bad dialogue. Hell, they couldn’t even find a spooky kid to put in the lead. Instead they gave this really little kid a hat with a brim that was about seven times wider than the span of his shoulders. Yeah. Really creepy. Thanks for that.
Friday the 13th:
Let me start off by saying that there were a lot of films released this year that were worse than this ill inspired Platinum Dunes remake. However, there were no other ones that made me physically angry, and that’s why this one is sitting here like the bastard child that it is. The Friday the 13th formula is a really simple one to follow: Kids show up. Kids die in horrible yet memorable ways. That’s it. How you can fuck that up remains a mystery to me. Friday the 13th is a classic example of filmmakers tooling around with something that they really don’t understand. The only victims to be found in this flaccid piece of cinematic douchebaggery other than those of us who paid to see it is the actor who played Jason himself, Derek Mears. Out of everyone involved with this mess, he seemed to be the only one concerned with making a good Friday film for the fans. Despite having nothing to do, his portrayal of Jason was spot on. Bring Mears back and team him with a director that actually knows the franchise, and the inevitable Part 2 could just be a winner. Wait … who am I kidding? This is Platinum Dunes we’re talking about! Their only concern is cash and posing with prop police cars.
Dishonorable Mentions: The Final Destination, Horsemen, Halloween II, Jennifer’s Body, The Canyon.
HERE’S TO A BIGGER & BETTER 2010!
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