Top 10 Favorite Horror Films of 2009: Rotten’s Picks

Zombies, viral outbreaks, doomed babysitters & more

Top 25 of the Decade | Top 10 Favorite Films of ’09: Allard’s Picks | Best & Worst of ’09: Doro’s Picks | Top 10 Favorite Films of ’09: Rob G.’s Picks

“Best of” lists are so subjective. No shit, right? I’ve done many here, and will continue to do so, but looking back on 2009 I wanted to change it up. Merely because, no doubt, there will be plenty of “best horror movies of the year” breakdowns to chew on and departing from the pack is refreshing.

It’s been a rough twelve months. When I took a good, hard look at the films I had seen, frankly, I wanted to close my laptop and call it a day without having written a word. More sequels. More remakes. More indies touted as the second coming but don’t live up to the hype (yes, folks – independent cinema can be just as bad as Hollywood’s output). 2009 represented a formless mass of serial killers, zombies, haunted houses, demons, vampires and more. Diversity. I like that. There was a lot of fresh blood behind the camera, yearning to break the mold. And I’ve got ten titles this year that have already been replayed in casa de Rotten solidifying their place as favorites in my book.

As always, this list is based on films I saw this year – as opposed to released this year. So if you’re wondering where the hell Trick ‘r Treat is, look no further than last year’s list, where you’ll also find The Children.

10.) Paranormal Activity

I didn’t care for the film at first. It’s true. When I saw it on a screener, I watched it at home all by my lonesome and I thought the parts were greater than the whole. Those parts that did work, I likened them to Robert Wise’s The Haunting in the sense that Oren Peli siphoned maximum fear from simplicity and the unknown. But the theatrical experience turned me around and I now appreciate it as a whole. The communal experience of seeing it with a group was infectious. I still agree that Wise would have had a big ol’ grin on his face watching this, as I did, as Peli elicits shivers with every bump, creak, door slam and passing shadow that one hears and sees in the quaint San Diego home of characters Micah and Katie. This is ingenuity on display.

9.) The Hills Run Red

Director Dave Parker’s done a lot of growing up since his feature directorial debut The Dead Hate the Living, moreover, since he was heavily rewritten on The House of the Dead. But his enthusiasm for the genre hasn’t waned any, as evident in this old school survival/slasher horror film that spills the gory goods, introduces us to a hulking new killer named Babyface and delivers probably one of the best “oh shit!” moments of the year. Rough around the edges it is, however, Parker’s sadistic and clever portrayal of fan boy curiosity and a director fighting to complete his film on his terms is boiling with just the right level of frustration and fury, making this, perhaps, the right fit for Parker, who has been through the Hollywood trenches. Where we’re living in a time when so many of our iconic bogeymen are being revitalized, it’s refreshing to see a new killer on the block who is so damn creepy.

8.) Surveillance

A Rashomon-esque account of two killers prowling a remote highway and the FBI agents strapped with the duty to interview three victims detailing a single incident. Naturally, everyone has something different to say, but that’s only part of the fun. Here Jennifer Lynch returns to the director’s chair after a long absence with a sharp film that has a playful bite. There are some surprising turns from cast members French Stewart and Cheri O’Teri, not to mention leads Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond. And, sure, the ending is a doozy you’ll probably see coming but the journey getting there is a hell of a lot of fun. Lynch’s warped landscape is something to admire.

7.) Deadgirl

If this movie were a flesh and blood human being, it’d be an overweight flasher dressed in a trench coat running madly about the streets showing off his goods…which have been cut clean off leaving a bloody stump. It’s a perverse, disgusting and juvenile image to conjure up and so is this story about two teens that discover the body of a reanimated female corpse. One’s immediate impulse is to screw the damn thing and, sure enough, he does, much to the chagrin of his more sympathetic pal. What ensues is an incredibly morbid struggle between friends, teetering between coming-of-age drama and black humor with some supreme-o gross-out gags that sometimes pushes the film beyond the realm of art house fare and more into Peter Jackson territory. It’s heartfelt – but in the world of Deadgirl that word takes on another level of meaning. You’ll laugh. You’ll cringe. And afterwards, you might want to take a shower.

6.) Rec 2

An excerpt from my review: Rec 2 juggles a fresh approach while placating those who are looking for the same unyielding attitude of the first film. It’ll certainly jolt those Xbox controller-hugging Left 4 Dead/Dead Rising junkies whose knees get weak and jeans get moist at the sight of a zombie’s head popping at the end of an assault rifle’s red hot barrel. There are some great surprises, and while the story threatens to buckle at the weight of the film’s ideas (paving the way for a part three), Rec 2 stands strong as solid sequel. It’s an ideal companion to Rec much like 28 Weeks Later complimented 28 Days Later.

5.) The House of the Devil

Five minutes in, I instantly fell in love. This is Ti West’s best film to date. And it has thread-bare plot, really – a college girl needs cash, take a babysitter position on the night of a lunar eclipse, satanic happenings ensue. So what works? West sets the film in the ’80s, lending the film nostalgic perspective and charm, but this is all trumped by Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Greta Gerwig and AJ Bowen’s finely-tuned, eerily calm performances. West’s deliberate pacing – felt in his previous endeavors – finally services the material and makes the brutal conclusion to Donahue’s night all the more effective. I absolutely love Jeff Grace’s score, too.

4.) Zombieland

Cut from the same cloth as Rec 2 in that you’re witnessing the greatest hits of your favorite zombie and first shooter video games on screen with flesh and blood characters. More comedy and less horror, there is absolutely nothing wrong with including the film on this list. There’s a clear threat in the story and the zombie annihilation is an absolute riot. Like so many of the best zombie films in the genre, this slice-of-life story focuses heavily on character (gasp!) and succeeds in keeping us endlessly entertained and wanting more. It’s brisk, hilarious and laced with certain sadness, but I couldn’t stop smiling through the whole thing.

3.) Carriers

The Stephen King movie Stephen King had absolutely nothing to do with. Criminally dumped by the studio, Alex and David Pastor’s look at four 20-somethings traversing the highways of America during a viral epidemic feels like an excised chapter from “The Stand.” Lou Taylor Pucci and Chris Pine play brothers seeking refuge at an old beachside vacation spot – a safe haven from the non-infected scavenging for food, gas and a cure. Pine’s girlfriend (Piper Perabo) is along for the ride, as is a new friend (Emily VanCamp). Harsh decisions are made and the forecast is bleak for this quartet as they meet various characters in their journey. The Pastors introduce shades of Matheson, Romero and, again, King, yet their achievement is making their characters very human. A dismal offering, but that’s how an end of the world should be.

2.) Drag Me to Hell

An excerpt from my review: On the dance floor of cinema, Drag Me to Hell is the dude everyone gathers around to watch in awe. Vigorous. Unique. Every move is precisely executed and there’s no sign of faltering. Excessive? Maybe. Raimi, in all his unfettered glory here, falls victim twice to moments that are so zany, and in one instance grotesque, they don’t quite fit even in this cavalcade of carnage. Still, this is sensory overload structured with such skill and heart that it’s easy to dismiss any minute flaws. The jolts come hard, the laughs come easy and horror fans won’t help but grin from ear to ear when Raimi takes a turn into “Evil Dead possession” territory. There’s no skimping on the bodily fluids either as Christine finds herself being spewed on or, in one instance, doing the spewing.

1.) Pontypool

In a world where everyone is connected, squawking incessantly on their cell phones, televisions, pod casts, the admonition “shut up or die” couldn’t be more relevant (and something I’d love to shout on the freeway from time to time at those on their phones). This Canadian import, based on the novel by Tony Burgess, imagines a viral outbreak that infects the English language which makes things tough for a former shock talk radio DJ who’s been bumped to a small town station. Most of the action is implied via through phone call accounts, making this a child of Orson Welles’ broadcast of “War of the Worlds.” But Stephen McHattie steals the show as an Imus clone coming to grips with an unfathomable situation; he’s flanked by equally energetic turns by Lisa Houle, as his producer, and Hrant Alianak, a local doctor with a few answers to what’s going on, but not many. A terrific spin on the zombie genre that narrowly misses collapsing under the weight of its strong ideas and ending. Definitely a must-see.

Others I enjoyed: Friday the 13th (review), Jennifer’s Body, Blood Creek, Thirst

Source: Ryan Rotten, Managing Editor


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