Jeff’s Top Horror Films of 2010

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The highlights and the bottom of the barrel

2010 TOP FIVE HORROR MOVIES:

5.) Devil

M. Night Shyamalan’s reputation as an Alfred Hitchcock or a Rod Serling for a new generation has been eroding for years, with films like The Village (2004) and The Happening (2008) getting derisive responses from audiences. Even though he didn’t direct Devil, just the sight of Shyamalan’s name as producer was enough for many audiences to boo the trailers for Devil, the first in a proposed anthology series dubbed The Night Chronicles. When Devil – directed by John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine, 2008) – was released this past September, though, the skepticism towards it was largely dispelled. Based on a story concept by Shyamalan (with a screenplay by Brian Nelson), Devil harkened back to classic Twilight Zone, showing a refreshing sense of narrative economy. Where Shyamalan’s films have long been accused of being overblown, Devil was modest in every regard. A pleasing slice of old-school supernatural hokum, Devil was a promising move in the right direction for Shyamalan. Perhaps when the trailer for the next installment of The Night Chronicles arrives, audiences won’t be so quick to jeer his name.

4.) The Crazies

Yes, there are elements to The Crazies that mark it as a movie unmistakably made in 2010. For instance, back in the day when Romero made his 1974 original, it was ok to have regular people just going crazy – like otherwise harmless-looking old ladies suddenly stabbing soldiers with knitting needles. Nowadays they’ve got to be pimped out Crazies, with pricey make-up jobs and CG to make them look as gnarly as possible. But still, I credit director Breck Eisner for not going with the hyper-edited Michael Bay style that plagues so many movies today. Working from a lean script by Scott Kosar (who previously did ok with two other ‘70s remakes – 2003’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and 2005’s The Amityville Horror), Eisner refrains from getting too flashy, making The Crazies as close to gritty as big (ish) budget genre offerings come these days. It’s a movie that’s more about goosing the audience with jump scares than making them think but it’s a proficient, bleak-minded thriller and Timothy Olyphant as a steadfast small town sheriff makes for an effective hero.

3.) Let Me In

Fans of 2008’s Let The Right One In understandably feared the worst when this remake was announced. Surely a remake would aim to take the Swedish original and make it into something more commercially palatable, a film designed to appeal to the Twilight crowd. Ironically, this Matt Reeves-helmed remake did anything but that and ended up paying a steep price for it at the box office. Maybe in a few years, some fool will get the idea to remake this remake but without all the artiness and angst and bump up the age of the protagonists to adolescents while they’re at it. Maybe then this film will become more widely appreciated as the sincere, sensitive work that it is. Marking the return of Hammer Films, Let Me In rose past skepticism to be one of the best horror movies of the year.

2.) Shutter Island

Martin Scorsese first tried his hand at the horror/thriller genre with 1992’s Cape Fear remake but that was only a warm-up for the mammoth madhouse tour of Shutter Island. Author Dennis Lehane’s 2003 novel was a deliberate attempt to tell a classic Gothic tale, bursting with pulp conventions and B-movie homages, and Scorsese (along with screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis) proved more than game for the task of adapting it. This is a cinematic slab of pure dread (greatly abetted by Robbie Robertson’s soundtrack, culled from classical recordings) that, like 1973’s The Wicker Man, begins as the mystifying, frustrating search for a missing person on an island but is revealed to be much more than a police procedural.

Some have griped about the obvious nature of the film’s twist but if movies were rendered invaluable simply by knowing their endings, there’d be no need to re-watch the likes of Psycho, Planet of the Apes, or The Sixth Sense – or for new viewers to watch them at all, given that their once-surprising endings have become so commonly known. Shutter Island isn’t about turning the audience’s head around with a climatic twist; it’s about the journey of its protagonist. By its end, Shutter Island has transcended its pulp influences to become something profoundly broken-hearted. Watch all the way through the closing credits for the poignant mash-up of the late jazz singer Dinah Washington’s vocals on “This Bitter Earth” with the Max Ritcher composition “On The Nature of Daylight.”

1.) Black Swan

There are so many subliminal scares in this film, so many blink-and-you-missed-it moments that the famously fleeting face of Captain Howdy from The Exorcist would have fit right in to Black Swan‘s shimmering, shifting menagerie of half-seen red-eyes, paintings of faces that suddenly warp and twist, and elusive doppelgangers. But director Darren Aronofsky gives Black Swan its Grand Guignol bloodshed, too – with the misuse of an emery board being a hideous highlight. Ostensibly the simple story of Nina (Natalie Portman), a young dancer cracking under pressure as her long awaited star turn in a new production of Swan Lake looms, Aronofsky turns Nina’s deadly drive for perfection into a stress test for the audience as well. Ridiculous to some, rapturous to others, Black Swan soars as 2010’s most boldly choreographed shocker.

HONORABLE MENTION:

Paranormal Activity 2: Credit to all involved for sidestepping a potential Book of Shadows-style disaster. I don’t know how well this movie will hold up to repeat viewings but I know that it worked beautifully with the packed house I saw it with – one of the best in-theater horror movie experiences of 2010.

The Wolfman: I do wish this remake was a little better than it is but its flaws (a listless love story and a bungled wrap-up) don’t get in the way of its gorgeous look or the pure Monster Kid joy I felt seeing a Rick Baker-designed Wolf Man (by way of Jack Pierce) in full-blooded action, prowling through moon-lit, fog-shrouded forests, ripping his way through hapless victims.

THE WORST OF 2010:

I’ll keep my comments on the year’s worst short. These films were bad, and few would argue otherwise. For the most part I’m sorry I sat through them but hopefully the people involved will have more success on their next projects.

In alphabetical order:

Daybreakers

The advance word on this was so strong – with comparisons to classic John Carpenter flying fast and thick – that I figured Daybreakers was a lock to be good. But while the world created here was intriguing and full of promise, the storyline was a botch job.

Legion

I’ll put this on my worst list because, well, it’s terrible. But I’ll confess to enjoying its awfulness. I loved that this movie was a heaping junk pile of genre references. A lot of horror movies mash-up a couple of influences but this one put about twenty in a bus – everything from Maximum Overdrive, The Terminator, The Prophecy, and Exorcist III to From Dusk Till Dawn and Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight – and drove ‘em straight into a wall.

My Soul To Take

As disappointing as the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street was, I thought it was even tougher to watch Freddy’s father fail with his first original script in years. I love Craven and usually find something to like in uneven efforts like Shocker, but I was dumbfounded by this movie.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Dreary and lifeless every second of its running time, this was just a waste of potential. The only right move the makers of this film made was in hiring Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy. Too bad they thought it was a good idea to put him in make-up that made him look like a roasted cat.

Skyline

“Atrocious” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Characters that are an endurance test to spend time with, and aliens so derivative in their design that they only serve to remind you of much better films.

THE BEST OF THE WORST:

Case 39: I’m not going to make a case – heh, heh – that this is a gem waiting to be discovered but I had an unexpectedly good time with Case 39. Jodelle Ferland (Silent Hill) was great as a sinister kid and had this film not sat on the shelf so long, it might’ve gotten more favorable attention had it beat Orphan (2009) to theaters. Orphan is the far superior film but for fans of evil children, Case 39 has its charms. Director Christian Alvart (Pandorum) couldn’t make sense of Case 39‘s nutty script (what is Ferland’s character even supposed to be – a ghost? some kind of hell spawn?) but he did stage a number of effective jolts. It’s a bad movie, yes, but it’s a bad movie I’ll probably watch again on DVD – and that’s more than I can say for the many other bad movies of 2010.

Source: Jeff Allard