as i sat down to start writing my best/worst lists for 2009, it quickly became apparent that this was a more complicated task than i first imagined. many of the noteworthy horror films of 2009 were interesting for reasons beyond simple polar categorization into ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ so, in addition to the typical best and worst lists, i’ve included a few shorter lists to best capture all of the notable films from last year. if you don’t see your favorite film (pontypool, zombieland, the house of the devil, etc.), it’s likely because i’m a slacker and haven’t seen it yet. i’ll get to it soon, i promise.
the best horror films of 2009
martyrs is an incredibly brave and shocking film. the plot drastically shifts gears halfway into the film and while many (myself included) prefer the trajectory of the first half, the direction it ends up heading is undeniably thought-provoking. more evidence that there are some really f’d up filmmakers in france.
my bloody valentine 3d
one of the few remakes to surpass the film it’s based on, my bloody valentine 3d is a fun, exciting slasher with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek. best viewed in three dimensions, the theatrical experience is not simulated well at home, but the blu-ray comes far closer than the dvd version.
friday the 13th
hated by many, i really dug the friday the 13th reboot. simplistic and flawed, yes — but what prior entry in the series wasn’t? i still kinda cringe at the idea of jason kidnapping people… but that’s really a small complaint against what’s really a fantastically entertaining and shockingly brutal entry in one my favorite franchises.
splinter is a by-the-numbers trapped-in-an-enclosed-place monster flick, but it’s so well executed that it never feels formulaic or predictable. if i’d seen this when i was 13, i know i would have loudly proclaimed to friends and family that this was THE BEST FILM EVER and maybe even written a really crappy fanfic cross-over sequel titled splinter vs the thing.
trick ‘r treat
horror anthologies have a long history… unfortunately recent parts of that history primarily involve sucking. trick ‘r treat is an extreme exception to that trend. sam, the sack hooded trick-r-treater, is one of the cutest (and simultaneously creepiest) horror villains in recent memory. the studio seemed to lack confidence in the film, but i hope its success on dvd is large enough to ensure this isn’t the last we see of sam.
drag me to hell
sam raimi’s absence from horror has been sorely felt for years. any fears i harbored that raimi’s skill at creating his own unique campy brand of horror had atrophied after years baby-sitting spider-man were laid to rest with the release of this immensely stylish and funny demonic thriller.
like the best campfire ghost stories, paranormal activity is simple, short and terrifying. it really needs to be viewed with no distractions and, preferably, late at night. its scares will not work for everyone, but those that are susceptible to its subtle brand of horror will be creeped out long after the credits have rolled. and on dvd, since they list about fifty gajillion fans… those credits are really, really long.
if you’d told me a year ago that my favorite horror film of the year would star megan fox, i would have likely backed slowly away from you and called the guys with the big butterfly nets. or maybe i would have just thought what you said was just highly unlikely to be true. regardless… that hypothetical you would have been absolutely right. many seem to have trouble getting past diablo cody’s stylized uber-cool teen speak, but unrealistic dialogue works for me when done well (e.g. heathers, clockwork orange or anything written by joss whedon, quentin tarantino or david mamet). a smart and satirical horror/black comedy, i predict this will be a cult classic years from now when the megan fox backlash wears off. i could be wrong though… as one fellow blogger (brad of ilovehorror.net) put it, “watching jennifer’s body made me want to punch a baby in the face.”
the worst horror films of 2009
the haunting in connecticut
like the amityville horror, this is another new england ghost tale supposedly based on a bullshit true story. boring and far from scary, this haunted house film brings little new to the table. and i still can’t figure out what’s supposed to be happening in the poster — my best guess is that someone is vomiting on the space shuttle.
despite a surprisingly likable cast, stan helsing is dragged down by a terrible concept and an unfortunate lack of anything approximating ‘funny.’ i picked this up because i imagined it was going to be in the vein of scary movie, but instead of being aimed at the post-modern slashers like scream and i know what you did last summer, it’d take on the 1980s slasher classics. and while leatherface, freddy and jason do make appearances (oh-so-cleverly renamed pleatherface, fweddy and mason), classic slasher situations and cliches are completely absent, replaced with a scooby-doo-esque setup and more fart jokes than i care to recall.
i should have known better than to think a movie that relies on photoshopped butt cheeks as its main draw could be decent, but i took a $20 gamble on the unborn (on blu-ray no less). new to the blu-ray revolution, my magical thinking was that seeing the film in HD might somehow improve the experience of the film… which is a lot like thinking a piece of dog crap would look more appealing because you’re using a magnifying glass. i’ve blocked most of it from my memory, but it had something to do with a dead twin, the holocaust, another dead twin and gary oldman with a funky accent.
offspring begs you to be shocked by the fact that children are committing murder, which is somewhat offset by the fact that the children in question are dressed like bam-bam rubble and pebbles flintstone and the bloody entrails they’re playing in look suspiciously like rubber tubes doused in ketchup. as the tired cliches rack up and the preposterous plot collapses in on itself, you can’t help but feel bad for the kids who got to tell all their friends they were going to be in a big hollywood movie — and then had to put up with the teasing, playground bullying and dating-related rejections that no doubt occurred once this film hit dvd. it’s also worth noting that this film is based on the second book in a series, which may make it a first in the horror genre… a sequel to a film that hasn’t been made yet.
the cell 2
completely ignoring the one thing that the original film got right (its stunning nightmarish visuals), the cell 2 is a cluster-f of bad writing, poor direction, crappy cgi and frank whaley. this movie isn’t just tedious and boring… if placed in close proximity to other dvds on your shelf, i fear it could cause other films to become more tedious and boring via osmosis. avoid at all costs.
the best horror documentaries of 2009
not quite hollywood
while geographically narrow in scope (not quite hollywood deals with only australian films), this is one of the best documentaries about exploitation films ever made. i could watch this thing all day long.
his name was jason
a documentary detailing the history of the friday the 13th franchise, hosted by tom savini? now if i ever run across a genie in a lamp, i’ve got an extra wish to use!
zombie girl: the movie
following 12-year-old emily hagins in her quest to make the feature length zombie epic pathogen, zombie girl is a touching and inspirational story of how one young girl somehow manages to pull off what i’m sure every horror fan dreamed of doing as a kid. don’t miss this film and be sure to read our q&a with emily and check out her site at cheesynuggets.com to see what she’s up to now.
the most surprising horror films of 2009
the saw franchise has been in a steady decline for a while now, and no one expected that trend to change with part six. wrong we were, however, as the sixth entry in franchise proved to be far superior to the last few sequels and added in some much-needed depth by using jigsaw’s increasingly improbable exploits to comment on current politics. not the best film in the series, but a welcome change of direction that gives hope for future entries.
despite featuring one of my favorite actors (peter sarsgaard), orphan looked bad. like, really bad. i stayed far away from it theatrically, and tried my best to avoid it on dvd. however, one night the dangerous combination of having a little too much to drink and browsing the pay-per-view channel ended with me giving it a try. luck was on my side that night as orphan is a surprisingly well executed thriller, largely due to the amazingly creepy performance from child star isabelle fuhrman. a fantastic entry in the ‘evil child’ genre.
the most disappointing horror films of 2009
the final destination
the final destination films have always had fantastic deaths, an easy-to-understand (if silly) mythology and somewhat interesting characters. throw 3d in the mix, and it seems like a perfect match. unfortunately final destination 4 (bizarrely retitled the final destination) keeps the deaths but makes little sense plot-wise and features the least-defined characters in horror history. i don’t need much in terms of characterization, but these teens/20-somethings don’t appear to be high school students, college students or employed. apparently their purpose in life is to just sit around their scarcely furnished but expensive looking apartments and wait to die. which, thankfully, they do in short order.
laid to rest
i had high hopes for laid to rest. it looked to be a unique take on the slasher formula with some old-school special effects. while the death sequences are indeed impressive, there is little to like in the rest of the film (with the possible exception of a catchy song that’s entire lyrics seem to be “sexy bitches are my favorite kind of bitches”). the characters and situations are impossible to identify with because every character reaction seems disconnected from reality and contradicts common sense. like a bad sitcom, laid to rest feels like it takes place in a confined, artificial and magical world which, unfortunately, makes getting scared by or emotionally attached to anything that happens in that world impossible.
the grudge 3
after the grudge 2, i doubt many expected very much from part three. however, when i saw it was directed by splinter creator toby wilkins, i got very excited that maybe the new sequel might exceed expectations. for whatever reason, this is not the case… the grudge 3 is just more tired, poorly executed jump scares paired with an unengaging story. rather disappointing given the combination of such a talented director and a horror franchise with such potential.
my name is bruce
my name is bruce is one of those concepts that sounds impossible to screw up… bruce campbell as bruce campbell vs the undead. but they found a way. campbell somehow manages to be unlikable, unfunny and uninteresting through the majority of this film, which is shocking to anyone who’s ever met him or seen him speak. given his natural charisma, charm and improv ability, it’s shocking how poorly my name is bruce turned out. maybe with spider-man now abandoned, bruce and sam raimi can finally be reunited and produce something as good as the film this should have been.
the most bizarre horror film of 2009
rob zombie’s h2 is one of the strangest franchise slasher films ever made. flawed but fascinating, it is (for better or worse) the product of a singular vision and definitely the exact film that zombie wanted to make. the entire thing, from the jarring opening sequence to the inclusion of “love hurts” in the closing credits feels like a giant raised middle finger from rob zombie. unfortunately, it’s unclear to me who the finger is raised to… critics? the studio? fans? there are things i like and things i don’t about the film and i have yet to firmly decide how i feel about it as a whole (hopefully watching the unrated cut this week will solidify my feelings one way or the other). in any case, its brazen disregard for convention and unquestionably unique take on the evil in haddonfield make it a must-see for genre fans.
the biggest fumble of 2009
the last house on the left
like many films before it (the most maddening example being spielberg’s a.i.), the remake of the last house on the left is a brilliant piece of film making that falls completely and utterly on its face in its final moments and really should have just ended just a few minutes earlier. like seeing your favorite team leading through the whole game, only to lose with seconds on the clock… finishing this film is a disheartening experience that makes you wish it had sucked from the beginning instead of getting your hopes up. while spielberg had no such excuse (having final cut), the ending of the last house on the left stinks of studio interference. an unfortunate bit of interference that is solely responsible for keeping this film off many a ‘best of’ list. including mine.