2009 was a pretty ho-hum year for the horror genre, in my opinion. A couple really good things stood out in a sea of mediocrity. Not that mediocrity can’t be entertaining (listen to the Splattercast on a weekly basis and you’ll learn that quickly). To be fair, I still haven’t seen everything I want to, so this Top 10 list isn’t really a definitive “best of” so much as it is a list of the films I enjoyed the most of those that I’ve seen. “Definitive” lists of films are best done a few years after the fact, once time, thought, and perspective have set in. It’s quite possible that in a few years I’ll forget some, if not most, of the films on this list and once I’ve actually seen a good 5-10 other well received flicks that I haven’t gotten around to yet, this might not even accurately reflect how I feel about this year’s genre offerings. Nevertheless, people love lists, so here’s mine in all of its glory. Only a few of these movies I’d watch again, but isn’t there an unwritten rule somewhere that you have to have a “top 10”?
10. Drag Me to Hell: What an odd movie. The pre-release buzz of Sam Raimi’s “return to horror” was a mixture of “OH MY GOD I LOVE HIM” and “F*CKING PG-13 SELLOUT TARDFACE!”. Even now this movie is polarizing. A 92% critical slurpfest vs. Brother D’s accusations of Raimi “using” the horror audience. The truth that nobody wants to hear is that Drag Me is neither a genre classic nor an excuse by Sam Raimi to milk money out of naive and gullible horror fanboys. It’s really Raimi just having fun after years of the tumultuous stress and grind of the Spiderman films. There is no deep message here. It’s Sam Raimi directing an extended Tales From the Crypt episode with his trademarked directorial zaniness. And you know what? I like that. Sometimes you don’t need a genre giant to reinvent the wheel. You just need him to show you how awesome his wheel was when he made it the first time.
9. The Uninvited: I haven’t seen any top ten lists with this film on it and it might surprise some listeners/readers to see me put it on my list. Proving once again that there is nothing wrong with remaking a film, The Uninvited, itself a remake of the interesting Korean film A Tale of Two Sisters, flew under almost everyone’s radar this year. It has some really fine performances and it just a solid film all around. It isn’t as violent and mean spirited as the Korean film, and I think a lot of people sort of dismissed and/or pre-judged it because of that. It’s a shame because this is the perfect type of horror film to show a wife or girlfriend who maybe isn’t into some of the harder stuff that’s all the rage (unfortunately) these days. A solid, slick thriller.
8. Donkey Punch: Some people might not call this horror, but as I always say, horror is a Big Tent genre. It’s unique in that it can co-opt the conventions of, literally, every other genre and successfully merge them with its own. This is why horror can appear anywhere, be it musicals, comedy, or drama. Donkey Punch is essentially a slasher film only only without a faceless killer. Everything else is there: blood, boobs, a group trapped in the middle of “nowhere” (here, the ocean). It’s about a group of people stuck on a boat dealing with the consequences of one person killing a woman by, well, donkey punching her. It’s situational horror about events that spiral totally out of control and the reaction of the characters to those events. It succeeds as a film even though the donkey punch premise seems totally absurd on the face of it.
7. Trick ‘r Treat: Horror fans waited years for this and, for the most part, it was worth it. A lot of people call this film an anthology but it just feels different to me. I don’t consider it an anthology in the classic sense. Sure, it has a few stories all going on and various characters interact with each other during different time periods on Halloween night, but the stories just don’t hold up as individual things. Sort of like how nobody thinks of a Quentin Tarantino movie an “anthology” even though multiple stories and character interact over the course of the film. Anyway, this is certainly a fun and well made flick. Good performances all around and a very polished, professional sheen.
6. The Burrowers: I like westerns and I like horror. Put the two together and you are already starting off on the right foot as far as I’m concerned. Aside from the gorgeous cinematography, the film features some fine performances. I really dug (ba-dum ching!) the fact that there were these monsters around and that the only reason they bothered to attack us was because we had eliminated their food source. It makes these creatures a bit sympathetic and anytime you can do that with a movie monster you’ve accomplished something.
5. Deadgirl: We’ve talked about this on the Splattercast before, but this is a movie that makes you feel really uncomfortable to be a guy. Again, the performances are outstanding but it was this weird morally ambiguous narrative going on throughout the film that really succeeded in creating a reaction in viewers, be it positive or negative. Even though the premise is totally unrealistic in that the girl is a zombie, the dialogue and performances really made it feel realistic. It made me feel gross in sort of the same way that The Girl Next Door did. A well made, original flick in a sea of unoriginal zombie films.
4. Coraline: I didn’t get to see this in 3D but did catch it recently and I was highly impressed by this stop-motion flick. It’s always going to be compared to Tim Burton’s animated stuff which is sort of disappointing because Coraline out-Burtons Burton.The visuals are stunning and it nails a vein of creepiness that many animated features miss out on. There’s something about button eyes that is unsettling. Not just a visual treat, Coraline is really interesting commentary on childhood and how no matter how much we might think our parents suck and that life is boring, the alternative might not be what we think we actually want.
3. House of the Devil: Screw the people who think this movie is boring. I’ve already posted a review of this flick but though I agree that it isn’t some amazing piece of horror cinema, it’s still a damn fine film. It’s a film that gets better as it sits with you and you let it simmer around in your mind. A second viewing of this actually made me like the film more than I did the first time, so that review is already out of date. It’s a film that takes its time and I don’t see that as a negative. Long time listeners of the Splattercast know that these kind of films are right in my wheelhouse. I like seeing a movie where I can appreciate the craft of making it just as much as the story or visuals. And I fully endorse techniques that don’t throw gallons of blood in my face yet still keep me completely engaged.
2. Pontypool: The fact that this movie is so hard to describe is exactly why it is so powerful. If you haven’t seen it, it’s essentially about radio disc jockey and his producer who are getting calls about strange events occurring in the town. Ostensibly, people are going to call this a zombie movie. But it’s so much more than a zombie movie that it actually transcends that kind of easy categorization. It’s a “zombie” movie for intellectuals. A film that is actually smart and knows that it’s smart. I’ve long been a vocal critic of zombie films. I generally just don’t care for them because I find them incredibly stupid on any sort of intellectual level. It’s not surprising that two “zombie” movies show up on my top 10 this year, precisely because they aren’t glorified demos for aspiring fx artists.
1. Paranormal Activity: This movie floored me in a way no horror movie has done since I was a kid. It reminded me that being scared while consciously watching something you know to be “fake” is not only possible, but can be done and done amazingly well. Love it or hate, PA was a national phenomenon. Not on the scale of Blair Witch, but huge nontheless. The people who hate this movie are morons. Even if you weren’t scared by it, it was still an incredible display of suspense, atmosphere, tension, and sound. The “Dragging Scene” was just the bee’s knees and arguably the finest scene of pure horror that the genre produced this decade. And it did it all by showing absolutely nothing. This is the kind of movie that some 10 year old kid watches and then decides “I want to make horror movies.”