Thursday, December 31, 2009
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Before I get to that list, I want to talk about the many trends that made up this decade's horror. At the beginning of the aughts, Asian horror was really coming into its own after late nineties titles like Audition and quintessential fright film Ringu. The first five years of the 2000's saw Asian horror flourish, until petering out due to over saturation and countless Hollywood remakes. In our neck of the woods, this decade saw the appearance of two main trends. The first was a throwback to the American classics of the seventies, which was spearheaded by those who grew up watching the works of Carpenter, Craven and Hooper to become filmmakers themselves. These men included the likes of Rob Zombie & Eli Roth among others. This style is what eventually bled into a nastier group of films known as, for lack of a better term as I've never been a fan of the phrase, torture porn. Direct-to-video companies are still pumping these out, but its mainstream appeal fizzled around the release of the abominable Captivity. Probably the most consistent trend that the aughts birthed was the French new wave. These films were gory, vicious and often nihilistic, but also extremely atmospheric and at times even, dare I say, artistic? Unfortunately, something that burns that strongly can only sustain itself for so long and after 2008's Martyrs, there really wasn't anywhere else for them to go. Zombies were as popular as ever and ran the gamut from comedic titles like Zombieland to the deadly serious 28 Later films. George A. Romero, seemingly trying to make up for the gap he left in the nineties, gave us three – Land, Diary & Survival Of The Dead. I guess the only fad left to mention is that the documentary cinema vérité style – popularized by the Blair Witch Project in 1999 though pioneered by earlier genre films like Cannibal Holocaust & Man Bites Dog – made a comeback in the latter years of the decade, in movies such as Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity. So, where do we go from here? Well, judging from the state of affairs right now, I'd say the torch is currently being carried by the Spaniards and the Brits.
Okay, so let's get onto this list. I've talked about most of these films at length before, so I tried not to just repeat myself wherever possible. Ranking them would have been too difficult, so I've just listed them in order of release.
2000, Canada. Dir: John Fawcett
The werewolf genre got a much needed bite in the leg in 2000. It is movies like this, that make me proud to be Canadian. The strength of this movie is the interaction between the two Fitzgerald sisters Ginger (Katherine Isabelle) & Brigitte (Emily Perkins), who make a wonderfully morose pair. Ginger Snaps was also made before filmmakers started increasingly relying on visual effects for their creatures, so the practical designs in this (and its two sequels) are awesome. This was the best werewolf dark comedy to come along since American Werewolf In London.
2001, USA. Dir: Brad Anderson
This film is one I always come back to when talking about great modern horror films. The thick atmosphere and eerie location – which actually exists in Massachusetts and was pretty much how it was in the film – recall The Shining and the cast including Peter Mullan and David Caruso is solid. That's how you know what a good director Anderson must be if he can get a good performance out of 'Mr. Miami' himself. What really puts this movie over the edge are the therapy session tapes that Steve Gevedon's character discovers. Not only are they a clever way to relay information, but the sound design of said tapes will stick with you for ages.
The Devil's Backbone
2001, Spain. Dir: Guillermo del Toro
Del Toro best explained this movie during his intro at the 2001 TIFF screening. 'This is not a ghost story, but more of a story with a ghost in it'. The brother film to his later fantasy-tinged Pan's Labyrinth, Backbone is far simpler, but just as impactful. The solid storytelling and understated visual effects mesh perfectly to give us a wonderful little mystery. Del Toro is able to somehow balance his small character driven pieces with his big budget projects seamlessly.
2002, Hong Kong/Thailand. Dir: Danny & Oxide Pang
Out of the plethora of fantastic Asian titles this decade, this is the one that comes out on top for me. It has many memorable set pieces and also fits together as a story better than say, Ju-on, which I also love. It is one of the best instances of how smashing sound design can really enhance your film. Like Ringu, I sought this one out online, so I didn't have to wait for it to be released domestically. The Pang's have struggled since then to find the brilliance they captured in this film, but here's hoping they've got at least one more monster in them.
2003, France. Dir: Alexandre Aja
This one may be a little controversial, but to hell with it. I adore this film. I love the amazing cinematography, the visceral gore and the screeching score. You may wonder why I chose this over Inside and the answer comes down to watchability. I have viewed Tension countless times, where Inside I generally only put on for people who haven't seen it, just to see their reactions. If we were judging the first two acts side by side, then yes I'd probably go with Inside, but I've never been crazy about its conclusion, whereas Tension's – as audience splitting as it may be – never bothered me. Plus, there is the fact – and I may have told this story before – that I basically spent two hundred dollars (fourty on a Region 2 DVD and one-sixty on an all-region player) because I wanted so badly to watch it again after its Toronto screening in 2003. That's love, boys and girls.
Shaun Of The Dead
2004, UK. Dir: Edgar Wright
Edgar Wright splattered his love of zombie films across the screen in 2004. His self proclaimed zom-rom-com was embraced by horror fans the world over and immediately became undead canon. When dealing with filmmakers that are also clearly fans, they sometimes have a tendency to over reference the films that inspired them, i.e. The Dead Hate The Living! However, Wright is so devilishly clever that when he does it, it elicits laughter rather than groans. Simon Pegg & Nick Frost make an awesome duo and are the heart of the film. It's no wonder they came back for seconds in Wright's 2007 jab at the action flick, Hot Fuzz. The strong supporting cast of Kate Ashflield, Bill Nighy & Penelope Wilton make this piece come together like peanut butter and jam - or should I say tea and crumpets?
2004, USA. Dir: Chris Kentis
This is a film that I just don't think gets enough credit. Watching this was probably my most terrifying experience in a theater this decade. Being deathly afraid of sharks, this movie was my worst nightmare realized. Just thinking about that scenario makes every muscle in my body tense up. Open Water is guerrilla filmmaking at its best. Shot on weekends for almost no money with two actors (Blanchard Ryan & Daniel Travis) who were crazy enough to put themselves at risk, the filmmakers came up with this incredibly taut little thriller.
2005, UK. Dir: Neil Marshall
If I had to choose a number one horror film of the decade, it would likely be this one. Neil Marshall was already on the radar of horror fans after his 2002 debut Dog Soldiers, but NOBODY could have expected this. This powerhouse of a film hits you on two fronts. First, there is the stifling claustrophobia of the cave location and then there are the deadly creatures that lie within it. This movie was a revelation when I saw it back in 2006. It's scary, gory and never lets up once the protagonists go down the rabbit hole. It is the one film you can unanimously point to if anyone says that no one makes good horror films anymore.
2007, Spain. Dir: Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza
I could just watch this film over and over again. At less than eighty minutes, this movie blazes through the setup and gets right to it. Even though it is shot in that bothersome shaky-cam style, I still marvel at how technically adept the filmmakers are to make sure you always see what you need to in all the chaos. [REC] has some of the most well thought out fright set pieces I've seen in years and is likely the best at making you feel like you are actually there, fending off the growing zombie onslaught. And kudos to actress Manuela Velasco for managing to maintain that same level of intensity once the shit hits the fan.
2007, Spain. Dir: Juan Antonio Bayona
As far as I'm concerned this is how ghost stories are supposed to be made. This movie is beautiful to look at, wonderfully acted and a home run in every way. The Orphanage has given me some of the most striking visuals of the decade. Without Tomás, I would have had no Halloween costume this year. I swear, that one-two-three-knock-on-the-wall sequence gets me shivered every time. It always amazes me how it is able to be unbelievably dark one scene and then turn on a dime and be quite touching. The fact that is the third Spanish film on this list, goes to show they are doing something right.
Let The Right One In
2008, Sweden. Dir: Tomas Alfredson
This film seems a little out of place next to the majority of nasty titles on this list. This gorgeous film is part coming-of-age-story, part art-house flick. There are so many shots that I wish I could just capture and hang up on my wall. Let The Right One In has this level of sincerity that deeply resonated with me. Having been continually bullied myself as a child, I can only wish I had someone like Eli to help me out back then. The performances of the two leads Kåre Hedebrant & Lina Leandersson are really something special, as there's a subtle awkwardness there that you just can't manufacture. It's a film that, even with the high praise it had before it made its way to a theater near me, still lived up to every expectation.
There's the list, but I feel there are some other titles I should mention, as well.
I wrestled with putting Hard Candy on there, because I think its one hell of a film, but I did use the phrase discriminate few earlier. I almost left Shaun Of The Dead off as well, but in the interest of continuity – I couldn't very put Open Water on there when I said Shaun was my fave horror of 2004 could I? - I had to tack it on. Eleven is an odd number, but what the hell.
Gaspar Noe's 2002 cinematic hand grenade Irreversible isn't a horror film per say, but it certainly is horrifying. It is first on my list of traumatizing film going experiences and one I've never been able to revisit. That's a shame because I think it's a brilliant film. It's the equivalent of standing in front of a piece of art while the creator is there next to you, constantly punching you in the kidney. You have to ask yourself if it is really worth it.
Oh, and though it doesn't really qualify for this particular list, I'd say that the film that MOST rocked my world and immediately became indoctrinated into my lexicon of cool this decade was Kinji Fukasaku's Battle Royale. I LOVE THIS MOVIE!
Now, I know what you're thinking. With every best list comes a worst list, right? Well, it's the holidays, let's not focus on the negative cough cough feardotcomcaptivitymadcowgirlblairwitch2 cough... Excuse me! That was one massive frog.
Okay, I think I'm done here. I wonder what the next decade holds in store for us. Who's going to step up and save us from the mediocrity of Platinum Dunes? I know you're out there, so please step forward.
Monday, December 28, 2009
Spain, Dir: Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza
This ‘nuther go round with this talented Spanish duo did not disappoint me in the least. Picking up exactly where the first movie left off, it is almost like the two installments fuse together to create one tension-filled juggernaut. Like I said before, it would have been easy for the filmmakers to sit back and just rehash the first film, but instead they take it in a fantastic new direction, which somehow manages to make it even more relentless than its predecessor. There are rumours of a third part floating around and I’m all for it.
Drag Me To Hell
USA, Dir: Sam Raimi
No one should be surprised that this movie is on my top five. I think he really hit it out of the park with this. My apprehensions about this being mediocre fare (that the banal ad campaign didn’t help to alleviate) were shredded even before I got to the hilarious parking garage sequence early on. Alison Lohmann performed admirably, taking the kind of punishment usually only reserved for Bruce Campbell. The order of the day here was ‘fun’. You could tell that Raimi & Nicotero were just having buckets full of it here, and we were all fortunate to be along for the ride.
UK, Dir: Tom Shankland
I love this British flick from Tom Shankland. It’s atmospheric, it’s gory and it’s shot beautifully. I know a few people that shit on it because they say the adults’ reactions in the film aren’t believable, for which I’m afraid I have to call bullshit. I’ve been in enough checkout lines, restaurants and movie theatres to know that these days, parents let their kids get away with murder. Shankland just takes that fact to the next, literal level. The Children also had one of my favourite endings of the year, as well.
USA, Dir: Jaume Collet-Serra
This was a shocking surprise, as it was another title hurt by its bland ad campaign. It is only through word-of-mouth that this film is finding new life on DVD. The plot sounds by the numbers, but the emphasis on family relationships, solid acting – I am still reeling from then ten-year-old Isabelle Fuhrmann’s performance in this – and well-placed gore make this a tour-de-force. There has been some debate about the big ‘twist’, but within the context of the film it completely sold me. It’s like something you’d see in an old giallo, so naturally I accepted it with open arms.
House Of The Devil
USA, Dir: Ti West
I wrestled with including this in my top five because I was only lukewarm toward the movie when I first saw it. I still think the ending is unsatisfying, but the overall atmosphere of the movie has stayed with me all these months. There have been many directors that have tried to emulate that late seventies/early eighties horror film aesthetic, but none have nailed it as well as Ti West does here. Everything is so pitch perfect; that I just had to forgive that its climax was not what I wanted it to be.
It was a dead heat between Paranormal Activity and HOTD for the last spot in my top five. It is fitting that Paranormal got released around the tenth anniversary of The Blair Witch Project, as they do share many similarities that now include small budget/immense return. The simplicity of the piece is really its strength and in some ways it was even more powerful than BWP because it took place in the home rather than deep in a forest somewhere. Some people loved it, some hated it, but it was definitely one of the most talked about films of the year.
We all finally got to see the long-shelved Trick ‘r Treat this year, and I was relieved to find that it was a clever and entertaining Halloween yarn. With talent like Anna Paquin, Brian Cox and Dylan Baker in the film, I still say this should have gotten a wide release, but oh well. I love a good anthology and this can sit amongst the ones that came before it proudly.
Low-key, subdued and almost not even really a genre movie at all, The Eclipse totally took me by complete surprise when I saw it last July at Fantasia. It was just one of those this-looks-like-it-might-be-okay titles to fit into an open time slot, but this half relationship drama, half ghost story really affected me. And it had Aidan Quinn as a womanizing boozehound. Score!
Save for maybe King Of Kong, Best Worst Movie might be the most entertaining documentary I’ve ever seen. In it, we see former child actor turned director Michael Stephenson reminisce about his experiences working on the movie Troll 2 – widely considered to be the worst ever made – and delve into how it has become a cult phenomenon. Filled with colourful characters that you can’t believe are real – and they are, I’ve met George Hardy and he IS really like that – this doc had me smiling from ear to ear.
Lastly, I just want to give a shout out to Duncan Jones’ film Moon. A masterful piece of straight-up sci-fi that accomplishes what other films that cost twenty times more have not. Sam Rockwell deserves special praise after a remarkable job as the film’s protagonist.
Now for the stinkers. Well, I actually did a good job from staying away from the ones I knew I’d hate, so there really isn’t one I can single out as being horrible. That doesn’t mean there weren’t disappointments though. The Fourth Kind’s transparency was truly disheartening and Pandorum was a missed opportunity at possible greatness. On the video front, Laid To Rest was pretty bad, but at least its top-notch gore effects made it watchable. I guess if I HAD to choose, I’d have to go with Jake West’s Doghouse, only because I’d waited for so long, for something so flat and unremarkable.
So that was 2009. Come back tomorrow because I’ll be unveiling my top horror films of the decade to celebrate my 500th post! Picking the top five for 2009 was tough, but narrowing down my favourite horrors of the decade was excruciating. See ya then!
Friday, December 25, 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
The second season of True Blood kicked off last June and was a pretty entertaining ride. The show’s universe expanded to include a few more creatures of the night and we finally found out what the deal was with Maryann (Michelle Forbes) and her pet pig. Whereas the first season focused more on Bill’s origins, the second shone some light on Bill’s sherriff Eric (Alexander Skarsgård). The storylines of Jason's time with The Fellowship Of The Sun and Bill's charge Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) adjusting to being a vampire were also highlights of this season. I think my only real disappointment was that with all the hype around Evan Rachel Wood joining the cast, she didn’t arrive until the eleventh episode. The conclusion was pretty abrupt, but at least it ended on a decent cliffhanger.
Durham County was a six episode Canadian TV series that came and went in 2007. I was pretty impressed with it at the time, as it well above the quality I was used to seeing from most Canadian-made productions – and a hell of a lot more edgy too. The way the show ended, it seemed like there was more story to be told, but there was no mention of anymore episodes for quite sometime. That is, until a new run of six episodes began in July. Picking up a year after the events of the first season, Mike Sweeney (Hugh Dillon) is now a Staff Sergeant and even though he's supposed to be behind a desk, still manages to get into all sorts of trouble. Michelle Forbes plays police shrink Pen Verrity and ho boy, if you thought she was fucked up in True Blood, you ain't seen nothing yet. I felt the first three episodes were really strong, but it seemed to taper off from there on in. That's not to stay it wasn't still engaging TV though. There is stuff that was setup in the first season that is finally elaborated on and by the end I was just glad that the real GTA* is not like the one represented in the show. I hear there is a third season in the making and I'm glad because Laurence Labeouf... let's just say I'm a fan.
When I heard John Lithgow was joining the cast for the fourth season of Dexter, I was very weary because I can’t stand him. I’ve always thought he’s a total ham and don’t get me started on that retarded excuse for a sitcom he was on. However, in this, he did a bang-up job. Uncharacteristically reserved and ultimately creepy, he stood toe-to-toe with Michael C. Hall. Their scenes together were just as good (if not better) as his exchanges with last season’s nemesis Miguel Prado (Jimmy Smits). Most of the other storylines were solid as well. Detective Quinn (Desmond Harrington) got a love interest, and Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) inched ever closer to finding out the truth about her brother. Most notable though, was how fucking dark this season was. I’d viewed Dexter mostly as entertainment up until now, but there was some stuff that happened this season that disturbed me deeply.
And that's pretty much it. And for the first time in about fifteen years, I have a gap where I'm not watching at least one show. Dexter, Curb and Californication have ended, and Lost and Burn Notice don't start for another month or more. I guess it's time to dig into those BSG episodes that DirtyRobot lent me, so I can see what all the fuss is about.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
After Dark's A Comin'
About a month ago, I posted a trailer for a neat looking British flick called The Reeds. Well, After Dark films announced that The Reeds is the seventh film in this year's 8 Films To Die For lineup. Here below is a still for the film.
I found a link to this wonderfully creepy little animated short called Alma on Twitch this week. Check it out below while you can because it will only be online for a short time. For more info on Alma, click here.
Oh, that Calvin.
Calvin & Hobbes have been gone for many years now, but the comics will always be there to entertain us. I found a fun 'Snowman' collection that Digg user MrBabyMan posted yesterday. Click on the image for the full gallery.
Friday, December 18, 2009
Thursday, December 17, 2009
I could say that I watch Black Christmas before breakfast or have the Silent Night, Deadly Night films playing in the background all day like they were Christmas carols, but that just isn’t the case. The truth is I actually make an effort NOT to watch horror films on Christmas. I’m certainly not a religious person, but Christmas is as good a time as any to just take a break from all the gore & mayhem that I absorb on a daily basis. Even further on that point, I usually don’t watch much television at all on Christmas. After the tryptophan has had its way with me, I usually curl up with whatever new book or comic I got that morning and listen to some tunes. Christmas Eve is a different story though. Again, no horror – although last year I did cheat and watch the aforementioned Black Christmas on Blu-ray – but I do have two seasonal viewing habits. First, is Frank Capra's It’s A Wonderful Life.
Never all the way through though. With the many hundreds of channels at our disposal now, it seems like its on a constant loop. I can jump in and out whenever I want. I think it might be, like four hours long if I ever watched it all in one sitting. The other thing is a Canadian animated short called A Cosmic Christmas. First aired on CBC in 1977, it quickly became a fixture in Canuck elementary schools everywhere, which is where I first saw it. It took me many years to find it on VHS, though nowadays it’s online for the whole world to enjoy.
Whatever your viewage on Christmas Day, have a merry one!
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
The reason I make special mention of it, is that I went to high school with the film's star. Brandon McGibbon - who we'll also see in the upcoming Vincenzo Natali sci-fi Splice - is really making a move now after years of grinding away in commercials and walk-on parts in movies like Killshot and Saw 5. Congrats, man!
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Spiking The Punch.
A trailer for the long-awaited Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever finally dropped this week. It looks like it might be fun. Ti West (of this year's very solid House Of The Devil) directs, and Rider Strong and Guisseppe Andrews reprise their roles, so that is definitely enough to sell me. Cabin Fever 2 hits video store shelves in February. Check out the trailer below.
I found these cool Star Wars posters a few days ago. It looks like artist Matt Busch has zombified the original works of Drew Struzan. See them all below.
Courtesy of Coreplanets.com
Solving The Puzzle.
I got an email this week that Italian filmmaker Davide Melini new short 'The Puzzle' is now online. Shot in one day, this forboding piece has already played several film festivals around the globe. You can watch it below.
Friday, December 11, 2009
"Horror Fans is a short, comedic documentary that examines the fandom surrounding horror films and why so many people are attracted to such a dark genre. From horror conventions to midnight screenings, fans and celebrities recollect their first encounters with the genre and what it is about the macabre that continues to inspire them to this day."
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Technically the third movie in the House franchise, this slasher had a great showdown between genre vets Lance Henriksen and Brion James, who was fantastic as serial killer 'Meat Cleaver' Max Jenke. The movie coincidentally shares a lot of similarities with Wes Craven's Shocker that also came out in '89. It's fun stuff that a lot of people haven't seen because of the confusion around its release.
This one came out after I'd left Cockbuster, but a friend who still worked there let me know it had my name written all over it. This odd little German/British/American/Russian co-production has a great setup and prolonged sections of suspense. It does get a little ragged by the end, but is always anchored by a solid performance by Marina Zudina in the title role.
This ultra sleazy slasher is hardly a movie at all. It follows duelling serial killers, murdering their way through each scene, until they finally meet up at the end and throwdown with each other. What I'll always remember about this movie though, is that there is not one word of spoken dialogue in the whole thing, just voice-over narration by the two protagonists.
So, there you have it. Two years in the books. Thanks to all who've supported me and looked in over that time. I've got a lot of new features on tap for 2010, so hopefully you'll stay tuned. Talk soon.