In this last year of the decade, horror continued to make a sizable mark on the cinema of the new millennium. Sure, not every film was a winner but on average the genre offerings of 2009 left this fan very satisfied. This year was so horror-heavy, in fact, that I still haven’t had a chance to catch up with some of the year’s most talked-about titles, like The House of the Devil, Pontypool, and Antichrist. For that reason, I won’t be delivering a “Best Of” here but instead giving a shout-out to my ten favorite horror films of the year.
I never thought I’d see a remake of My Bloody Valentine, much less in 3-D, but yet somehow it happened – and as a bonus, it was frickin’ great! If you don’t like slasher films, this one probably wasn’t for you but for fans of the sub-genre, director Patrick Lussier and writer Todd Farmer proved to be a knowing, capable duo. MBV 3-D was a loving, irony-free ode to the joys of slasher cinema, a film that gave the 1981 favorite a deluxe revamp without losing its original appeal while putting Tom Atkins back on the big screen – I’d say it hardly gets better than that! Here’s hoping that Lussier and Farmer can keep working together as a team for a long time to come.
Honorable Mention goes to the shameless 3-D goreathon of The Final Destination (disposable junk at its finest) and the surprisingly sharp Sorority Row (and a shout-out within a shout-out to Leah Pipes as Jessica, the undisputed Queen Bitch of Theta Pi).
9.) The Box
According to Cinema Score, writer/director Richard Kelly’s sci-fi head trip The Box earned the unwanted honor of being one of the all-time worst ranking films in the company’s long history of polling audience reaction. Personally, I loved it – flaws and all. It’s far from perfect but I appreciated the fact that Kelly really went on a limb to try and bring something genuinely strange and difficult to mainstream audiences. It’s not often that you see a studio spending $30 million on a movie this defiantly odd and given The Box‘s commercial performance, it’s unlikely we’ll see it happen again anytime soon.
8.) Jennifer’s Body
With a script by Juno’s Diablo Cody and a marketing campaign that was designed to remind people (in case they forgot) that Megan Fox is hot, Jennifer’s Body was expected to be a commercial slam-dunk. Instead it did a massive belly flop in theaters with audiences staying away in droves – suggesting that 20th Century Fox made an enormous, audience alienating error in promoting Jennifer’s Body as being about nothing more than T&A. Substantially quirkier and smarter than what it was advertised to be, this acerbic essay on a toxic female friendship is ripe for rediscovery on DVD.
This sci-fi chiller played to empty theaters this past fall but what audiences missed out on was the best space-set horror film in ages. Director Christian Alvart crafted a taut, atmospheric mind-game of a movie (he also co-scripted Pandorum along with Travis Milloy) that will likely spring a surprise or two even on the most savvy of genre fans. Smart sci-fi didn’t go entirely ignored in 2009 – witness the success of District 9 – but it’s a shame that Pandorum wasn’t a hit as well.
A slasher film from director Dave Parker (The Dead Hate The Living) and screenwriter and novelist David Schow that deserves an instant cult following.
Mean, nasty, with a few whiplash surprises and genuinely psycho villains (“Babyface” is the best masked killer to come down the pike in ages) that kick aging icons like Jason and Michael Myers in the ass, The Hills Run Red proved that in the right hands there’s still plenty of life left in the slasher genre.
5.) The Burrowers
I wish this thoughtful horror/western hybrid had more of a chance to be seen on the big screen as it was blessed with gorgeous widescreen cinematography but even on DVD, writer/director J.T. Petty’s The Burrowers is an impressive work.
Using its American frontier setting to address environmental and political issues that continue to plague us, Petty revives the kind of social commentary that is too seldom practiced by today’s genre filmmakers.
The jury is still out on whether writer/director Oren Peli is anything more than a one-hit wonder or not but I hope that his next effort with prove his talent. His first feature, the videotaped document of a couple under siege by the supernatural, is every bit as divisive among fans and critics as The Blair Witch Project but, as with that earlier film, those who were affected by Peli’s film swear by its greatness.
I was more amused by it (I loved seeing Peli’s use of such low-tech, cheap parlor tricks like the Ouija Board bursting into flames) and admiring of its resourcefulness than I was terrified but I will say that any film that reminds studios and filmmakers that the tools needed to scare an audience are still as simple as things that go bump in the night has performed an invaluable public service.
Every generation needs a killer kid movie to call its own, a new shorthand reference for pint-sized evil, and this generation now has Orphan. This Dark Castle production (directed by Jaume Collet-Serra) was a surprisingly nasty piece of work that gleefully trampled on decency and good taste in a way that films from major studios rarely do.
Isabelle Fuhrman became an instant inductee in the ranks of classic movie psychos with her unforgettable performance here as Esther, a human monster capable of going where other killer kids only dream about. Although a big deal was made of this film’s twist, it’s ultimately not what Orphan hinges on. It’s more about the sick spectacle of seeing Esther – 2009’s best villain – unleash pure Hell on her woefully unprepared adoptive family.
If mixing horror with comedy is one of the hardest tricks to pull off, it’s even harder in the sub-genre of zombie comedies. There’s no middle ground here – either you’re going to end up with Return of the Living Dead or you’re going to end up with Return of the Living Dead Part II.
Luckily for horror fans, this was an unqualified success with sharp writing, a winning cast, and the most talked about cameo of the year. If it wasn’t already true before, Zombieland made it so – zombies have now become the stuff of mainstream entertainment.
Honorable Mention goes to Dead Snow, by far the best low-budget Norwegian Evil Dead and Shock Waves knock-off that I saw in 2009!
1.) Drag Me To Hell
I’ve already written about Sam Raimi’s ass-kicking return to horror as part of Shock’s Top 25 of the Decade so I have little more to add to my endorsement of this gem except to say that this was hands-down the best time I had watching any movie this year. More accomplished than just the return to Raimi’s classic Evil Dead shtick that some fans enthusiastically pegged it as, Alison Lohman’s cursed character is not just a female Ash.
She has more moral complexity and ruthlessness than Bruce Campbell’s iconic wiseass (you’d never see Ash ice a defenseless kitty, that’s for sure!) and the arc that she travels in this film is more psychologically arduous than anything Ash endured at the hands of the Deadites. Throw in a talking goat, an epic parking garage throwdown that rivals the alley fight in They Live (1988), and a climatic homage to Jacques Tourneur’s classic Curse of the Demon (1957) and you’ve got my favorite horror film of 2009.
Source: Jeff Allard