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Tuesday, December 28, 2010


       Well, another decade has come and gone.  I was really beginning to wonder about the future of horror movies throughout the dismal 1990's.   I doubt we'll ever see the likes of the 1970's and 80's again, but I feel during this past decade we were treated to some kick-ass horror flicks- a big step-up from the previous decade.  Filmmakers in general seemed to have got back on track again.  So after careful consideration, these are my favorite horror movies of the past decade.  Some are better made than others, but all seemed to speak to me or make an impact in some form or another.  And, I personally enjoyed watching all of these.  I was either successfully spooked, or at least had a hell of a lot of fun while watching.  These 25 are in no particular order.

   01.     "28 Days Later"-  Although it's not technically a zombie flick (it's a virus...)- director Danny Boyle took the established zombie formula done so well by George A. Romero and completely put a new twist on it.  And the result was awesome.  The scenes of an empty, desolate London are still chilling and unforgettable.

  02.   "Joyride"-  I initially had doubts about this movie, thinking it would be just another silly teen horror flick.  However, I was pleasantly surprised with this little-seen, underrated shocker.  Besides the glory of Paul Walker, we are treated to a truly creepy villain in Rusty Nail, a psychotic truck driver who relentlessly pursues wise-cracking Steve Zahn and Paul, who are driving cross-coutnry.  The sound editing completely makes this film- we never see Rusty Nail, we are only treated to his voice over the CB.  It's downright scary, and leaves an impression.  "Joyride" could have easily been a silly teen thriller, but manages to come across as a slick, tension-filled nightmare.  Plus, Paul Walker has a nude scene in it.  'Nuff said.

03.     "Quarantine"- Yes, I know the rest of the world preferred "REC" and hated this American version.  Not sure about all the hatred here as basically they are identical- except one has subtitles, one doesn't.  Now I do not mind subtitles at all.  However, since both movies are basically the same, why would I watch the one with subtitles?  Just saying.  Not quite as effective as "Cloverfield"- "Quarantine" is still an entertaining remake that's nowhere near as bad as the haters make it out to be.  It's the story of a TV news crew tagging along with the fire department who's called to a Los Angeles apartment building.  That routine call turns out to be something much more, and they soon realize that the CDC has quarantined the building, with them inside.  Good stuff.  "Quarantine" kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the entire film.

 04.    "Saw"- It's almost hard to imagine back to the day when there was only one "Saw".  It's basically become a joke now, but when the first installment was released way back in 2004, it was a breath of fresh air in the annals of horror.  Taking a clever and original approach, "Saw" was gory, shocking, and just plain weird.  The lack of big-star names also helped the little indie-horror flick.  Taking a cue from "Seven", it's a gut-wrenching, unpredictable,  and completely original horror flick.  Only this one, though.  I fell asleep during the sequel, and has had nothing to do with the rest of them.  Why?  Because in just six years, they've released like fourteen of these damn movies, that's why.

05.     "Cloverfield"-  J.J. Abrams immensely entertaining monster movie told from the point of view of a small group of New York partiers is obviously an allegory of the 9/11 carnage, with moments that almost seem as if you're  watching actual footage from that horrible day.  It only adds to the effectiveness.  "Cloverfield" is either a love it or hate it kind of movie- I LOVED it, of course.  It's "Godzilla" actually done right, for once.  I liked the fact that going into it, I knew nothing about this movie.  I was instantly immersed in the situations as if I myself were running for my life in the streets of New York.  I also enjoyed that there were no big-name stars, and like "The Birds", no score at all.  It's ridiculously entertaining.

06.     "Dawn Of the Dead"- I usually detest remakes.  And a groan did escape my lips when I found out that they were remaking George A. Romero's 70's masterpiece, "Dawn Of the Dead".  (Although I've always found it strange that they chose to start with the sequel, instead of remaking the original...)  However, I was extremely surprised and pleased with this 2004 reboot.  Taking Romero's zombies and making them extremely fast this go 'round, it's actually quite shocking at first to see them move like that.  It makes them much more... menacing.  And I don't think I've ever seen an opening scene in a horror movie with more punch as this one.  The first ten minutes of this movie kicks ass.  

07.     "The Descent"- A marvelous throwback to 70's/80's horror, "The Descent" is the tale of a caving adventure that goes horribly wrong.  A group of six women who find themselves trapped underground in a huge cave, only to be stalked by a group of blood-thirsty cave dwellers.  It's an unashamedly old-fashioned and terrifying monster flick that's one hell of a ride. 

08.     "The Exorcism Of Emily Rose"-  Wisely avoiding becoming a stereotypical "possession" movie, "Emily Rose" instead comes across as "Primal Fear" mixed with "The Exorcist".  Based on an actual events, it's nice to see a horror film that manages to come across as intelligent and scary.  The appearance of the great Laura Linney only makes this film better, in my opinion.  She adds a dose of class to the project.  Besides Laura Linney, Jennifer Carpenter also delivers a standout performance.  The director wisely avoids the usual thrills and shocks of most horror movies and instead chose to make us think- which sadly turned many viewers off.  All in all, it's a smart, intelligent horror movie that unbelievably is rated PG-13.  It seems way too intense at times for such a rating.  

    09.      "Frailty"- Bill Paxton's directorial debut is the little horror movie that nobody saw.  "Frailty" is a dark and chilling movie that Stephen King raved about back in the day, and it's a highly engrossing and creepy movie.  It's truly original- even though about a serial killer, it wisely sidesteps becoming just another "Silence Of the Lambs" knock-off.  The acting and directing are top notch here, and besides boasting some mind-numbing twists and turns, "Frailty" is a horror film that really makes you think.  Probably another reason why nobody saw it.  Well worth a look though!

10.     "The Mist"- Stephen King's awesome and scary short story finally made the transition to the big screen, and as a huge fan of the original story, I must say it was brought to life wonderfully.  They really stayed true to the original story, and for that, I'm grateful.  "The Mist" is a great monster movie- it does NOT pander to the typical horror audience.  Yes, I'm talking about that ending...  It's ballsy and depressing, for sure, but somehow seems right.  Definitely one of the decade's best, and I would say one of the best King adaptions as well.  

 11.    "The Others"-  Proof that a movie can be rated PG-13 and still be scary.  I found "The Others" to be a wonderfully creepy and intelligent ghost story.  I'm not a huge Nicole Kidman fan- as a matter of fact, I think she's highly overrated as an actress.  "The Others", though, is a great movie with a great performance by Kidman and the rest of the cast, for that matter.  The actors playing her children are spectacular and super creepy in their roles. There are some truly chilling scenes in "The Others"- it's a great, old-fashioned ghost story that only comes along once in a while.  

12.     "The Ring"- I really had no intentions of enjoying this movie when a roomate at the time brought it home one night.  I had never seen "Ringu", the original, and hadn't even really heard much about it yet.  But after turning down all the lights and starting the movie, I was instantly transfixed, completely glued to the screen.  It may seem cheesy to some now, but like the original "Scream"- the first time was very scary.  At least to me.  And I loved the whole look and feel of "The Ring", especially the cinematography.  Interestingly, as much as I enjoyed this movie, it's not one I watch often.  But the few times I do stumble across it, I'm always instantly hooked.  There are some truly eerie scenes in "The Ring".

13.     "Signs"-  It always seems to end up in the list of M. Night Shyamalan's worst movies, but I think it's actually a very well-made and interesting film.  It was Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix's last movie while they were both still legally sane, for one.  I'm not a fan of Mel Gibson by any means, but I have to admit this is a great movie.  The story is quite interesting as well- crop circles and aliens?  Sign me up, please.  Plenty of spooky moments abound- and I'll never forget that one moment halfway through when Joaquin first sees the news footage of that scary extra-terrestrial... the entire audience I was sitting with just went batshit.  Seriously.  Don't let his bad reputation as a filmmaker stop you from seeing this or "The Village"- they're both severely underrated.

15.     "The Strangers"- Another great throwback to late 70's/early 80's slashers.  Once again, movies like this don't come along very often... the last of this type being "Wrong Turn" back in 2003.  Movies that to me tap into that childhood subconscious where I'm still terrified of what might be lurking outside my dark window or hiding in the closet... I really responded to this movie- it took me instantly back to childhood, as this was just the kind of slasher we would rent on a Friday night as a kid and love.  A great, simple scary movie.

  16.    "Vacancy"-  A tightly woven and paced little horror/thriller that manages to stay above average all the way through.  I was pleasantly surprised with "Vacancy"- I certainly wasn't expecting much going into it.  There are some genuinely disturbing and scary scenes, although it borders on silly a couple of times.  Still, it has overall good acting and excellent pace that will keep your adrenaline pumping through the whole thing.  More of a "thriller" I guess, than outright horror, but with a good dose of suspense thrown in for good measure.  

17.     "What Lies Beneath"- A very well-made mystery/thriller with supernatural undertones starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer.  Not technically a horror movie, but has a great, ghostly feel to it that makes this a great kind of movie to watch in October.  It moves along at a steadily unnerving pace and the great thing about "What Lies Beneath" is that is plays on those things that creep us out- that feeling that you're being watched, a face in the window, a creaky door.  The silence of the film also works great here- about 50% of it has no sounds, score, or voices... just silence.  It wonderfully conveys a spooky atmosphere.    I think this one even surpasses "The Sixth Sense" or "Stir Of Echoes"... it's that good.  

  18.   "Wolf Creek"-   Supposedly based on actual events, with unknown actors, a low-budget, and one of the scariest psychos in recent horror history, all make "Wolf Creek" one of the most disturbing scary movies I've seen in a while.  Great character development helps as well- by the time things start getting scary, we really do feel as if we know these people.  And things really get scary.  Honestly, I haven't watched it since. Yeah, it disturbed me that much.  Another that people either seem to love or hate.  

 19.    "Wrong Turn"- Picture a theater packed full of people just wanting a good old-fashioned scare. It's summertime, and people are in the mood for a great, rollercoaster ride of a movie.  "Wrong Turn" delivered on all accounts, as far as I'm concerned.  And I'm pretty sure that packed theater felt the same way- people were whooping, hollering, laughing, and screaming.  Just what you're supposed to do while watching a scary movie.  Once again taking us back in time to the golden age of horror, which I know is why I immediately loved it. These guys did their homework and did it right.

20.     "Paranormal Activity"-  Just like "The Blair Witch Project", this movie is intensely loved or intensely hated by horror fans.  I always try not to build up a movie before seeing it.  I went in with an open mind and let my imagination go.  "Paranormal Activity", as imperfect as it is, really kind of freaked me out in parts.  I can see the terror in strange noises in the night.  Of something in the house with you.  And I'm sorry, but the thought of somebody in the middle of the night getting out of bed and just staring down at you for hours while you sleep is nothing short of horrifying.  That scene alone did it in for me.  I seriously dig these movies.

21.     "The Village"-  Moviegoers HATED this movie with a passion.  I would just like to understand why.  It packs a mind-bending wallop of an ending, and is a movie that requires more than one viewing to fully understand and appreciate it.  The "monster" is super-scary, and with a cast of Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, and Adrian Brody, how can you go wrong?  One of the most under-rated and hated movies of the decade, by far.  Give it a chance!

  22.   "The House Of the Devil"-  An awesome homage to late 70's/early 80's slashers- "Devil" is exactly how horror movies should be made.  The director certainly did his homework and it shows here- his love for the genre and for the time period (1983) shines through in this tense and terrifying thriller. Plus, we are treated to some fabulous cameos- Dee Wallace-Stone, Mary Woronov, and Tom Noonan.  One of my favorites!

23.     "Paranormal Activity 2"-  Of course, a sequel was inevitable.  Dare I say I enjoyed this one more than I did the first?  This was supremely scary stuff in the theater- I was barely breathing during the last 45 minutes or so.  What I love about these movies is the imagination involved- most big-budget horror movies come across as bloated wrecks.  Rob Zombie's movies never make us think or use our imaginations, whereas these movies do.  Will we see a third installment?  

 24.     "Open Water"-  First of all, I find as interesting the ocean is, it's also quite terrifying.  I was but a wee child when the original "JAWS" came out, and remember finding it very scary stuff indeed.  Being eaten alive by anything has to be one of the most unpleasant ways to die, but there is just something about a shark that makes it even more unsettling.  "Open Water" may take a while for things to really get going, but the last 45 minutes of this movie, at least to me, was nothing but pure terror.  Loved it.

25.     "Black Water"-  Super-suspenseful killer croc movie that probably fooled a lot of people into not seeing it, thinking this was just another "Lake Placid" B-movie.  Far from it, actually.  I thought it would be the cheesiest, but I was completely blown away by this little Australian flick.  This is a damn good movie, and I think I was the only person to see it.  Based on actual events, and it's quite suspenseful.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Halloween 2

     Could 1981 have been any more phenomenal in the realm of horror flicks? I don't really see how, as it is now universally known as a magical year in film-making, music, and pretty much everything else. Literally tons of horror films were released in 1981, one of them being the sequel to John Carpenter's masterpiece, HALLOWEEN.

      Neatly picking up exactly when the original left off in one continuous story flow, the movie starts with the ending of the original. Dr. Loomis runs down to the yard screaming "call the police!". After some POV shots of Michael still alive and still creeping the neighborhood, we are treated to the sight of an ambulance showing up and whisking Laurie away to the emergency room for treatment. Meanwhile Dr. Loomis runs off into the night, determined to track down the murderous madman.Not finished with Laurie, he inevitably tracks her down at the nearby hospital, and disposing of anyone in his way.

       I love this movie and there are many things I love about it.  For one, the fantastic atmosphere! There are many great, eerie shots of dark, deserted hallways in the hospital, which leave a lasting impression. Director Rick Rosenthal takes a cue from John Carpenter,as he wisely mimics his use of blues and orange in the nighttime scenes, only this time giving us shades of green and red, especially in the hospital.

     The score is another great thing going for the movie. The original, iconic score has been pumped up electronically here, which almost gives it a nice Dario Argento effect. Dare I say that I actually enjoy this score more than the original? Yes, I actually do. It's actually a sensational score, and one of my favorites. I also like the addition of the Chordettes "Mr. Sandman"- somehow, it just fits.

     I love that Nancy Loomis, Charles Cyphers, and Nancy Stephens, along with Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance, all return for cameos. And what a setting! That dark, creepy hospital is a perfect setting for a killer to silently stalk. Sure, there are faults with the movie, (I was beginning to suspect that Dr. Loomis might have contracted rabies by that point- he certainly foams at the mouth in this one...), but I will always defend and love HALLOWEEN 2- simply because it's still hands down the best sequel in the whole franchise.

     I really like how HALLOWEEN 2 adds a touch of the urban legend to the mix- apples filled with razor blades and monologues about Samhain. It's a nice touch and works just fine for me, as I was a kid when these movies were released, and they were a huge part of Halloween for me. HALLOWEEN and its early sequels were hugely influential on me back in the late 70's and early 80's. They were some of the first scary movies I started watching and made a huge impact on me. The image of Michael Myers silently gliding through those dark, empty hospital corridors really stuck with me as a kid and it was such a part of my movie-going youth that it's impossible for me not to love it.  And it still bathes me in a warm, orange nostalgic glow that instantly takes me right back to childhood. This movie perfectly sums up my childhood vision of Halloween and all its magical, mythical glory.

      This is the last movie before they inexplicably started changing the mask- it grows more and more ridiculous looking as each lame sequel is released. For me, this is the end of Michael Myers. In my mind, he dies in the fires of Haddonfield Memorial because I simply cannot take him seriously when he returns in the fourth installment and it was the original wish of John Carpenter, Debra Hill, and Tommy Lee Wallace anyway. I'm gonna side with those guys.

      Fans complain of Jamie Lee Curtis being wasted as an actress in this movie- but let's not forget, her character, Laurie Strode, is supposed to be in great pain and shock-nearly catatonic. It's only when she's fearing for her life does adrenaline kick in and causes her to haul some righteous ass. Movie-goers apparently loved the idea of a sequel to John Carpenter's 1978 classic as it easily crushed the competition that year, beating such notable slashers as FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, THE PROWLER, and THE BURNING at the box office, grossing $25.5 million. And how cool is the movie poster for this one?  A worthy sequel, in my humble opinion.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Psycho 2

     Attempting a remake, much less a sequel to an Alfred Hitchcock movie must be a daunting task, to say the least.  Having to continue a story started by Hitchcock himself would almost lead to a disaster, you would think.  However, I find the sequel to one of his most iconic movies to be not bad at all.  In fact, I love this movie.  Now it's not even fair to try to compare the two- I mean, it's Alfred Hitchcock you're comparing it to.  But the sequel is surprisingly slick and entertaining.  It helps having Anthony Perkins reprising his infamous role as Norman Bates, and Vera Miles returning as Janet Leigh's sister in the original, Lila Loomis.  While watching, one can't help but marvel at Perkins.  He's just so good as Norman.  He was meant to play this role.  It also helps that this sequel is unpredictably chilling, scary and gruesome, and even manages to be almost touching at times. "Psycho 2" doesn't rip-off the original at all, I think.  I believe that truly stands on its own and is a fine sequel in its own right.

      It's been 22 years since he notoriously murdered Janet Leigh in that shower, and Norman Bates has been declared legally sane and is finally being released from the mental facility to begin a new life.  Lila, the sister of Janet Leigh's character from the original, is determined to keep him locked up though, convinced he's still a dangerous killer. Norman takes a job at a local diner and meets Lila's daughter, Mary, played by Meg Tilly, who moves in with Norman.  Suddenly strange things start happening in the old Bates house.  Norman begins having visions of his dead mother- is he still suffering from psychological issues or is someone trying to get him re-committed?  A nice little mystery/thriller begins, with many neat little plot twists to keep it entertaining.

    A whopper of an ending wraps it all up nicely, although opening the door for another sequel, which probably wasn't a good idea.  The wonderful score by Jerry Goldsmith adds a haunting touch, and smartly doesn't try to copy the iconic original score.  "Psycho 2" is actually a pretty good slasher, and severely underrated as a sequel.   This could have been a disaster, but luckily for us it wasn't. This is actually one of the best horror sequels ever made. Trust me. There are far worse horror movies out there.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Friday the 13th Part 2

     Words cannot describe my love for the sequel to FRIDAY THE 13TH.  I have vehemently defended this film since the 80's, and I'm pleased to say that it's finally getting the respect that it most certainly deserves. To me, it's one of the greatest slashers of all time, and was one of the scariest films to ever come out of the 80's. At least to me. Major nightmares, kids.

     It opens with a bang. Adrienne King, Alice from the first film, is trying to put her life back together after her ordeal at Camp Crystal Lake. She has an apartment not far from the camp, and dealing with it all through her art. She lives alone, and one dark night, receives a strange phone call. Alice instantly knows something is wrong, and so do we. It's a great, scary opening scene full of roving camera work and that frightening score that immediately sets a tone of dread and fear.  And most importantly, it establishes that Jason is very much alive, and hell-bent on revenge for the death of his mother.

Flash forward 5 years.  Camp Crystal Lake has been closed and abandoned.  But a nearby camp has opened, and once again a group of counselors roam the woods care-free, not knowing that they are being watched. And stalked.  It seems there truly is a death curse on Crystal Lake, and before you know it, the blood is flowing.

FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 is in my opinion one of the best and scariest slasher films ever. The final twenty minutes are quite scary, and overall, this is a bit more of a polished effort. Being a sequel, of course the body count is higher, although not quite as gory as the original. Doesn't matter though. This one makes up for its lack of gore with dread and suspense.

        Part 2 fully establishes the mythology of Jason Voorhees, and does it quite well, actually. The genius of FRIDAY THE 13TH is that the tale of Pamela and Jason Voorhees could be told around any campfire in any decade, and scare the kiddos to death. It presents the story as myth already. And that myth tells us that Jason never really drowned as a child, that he witnessed his mother's beheading and simply ran away to live in the woods, growing up to be this stalking, deformed mongoloid... which I can swallow. Sure. He could have ran off and lived in the woods, growing hair and whatnot. I can buy that. Much more than a Jason in space or in Manhattan.

         Like the original, it's actually much better than it's reputation- it's a good, solid creative effort all around.  It seriously contains some of the best stalk/chase scenes in any slasher flick I've ever seen. 2 isn't as gory as its predecessor, but that's the censors fault. They really cracked down on this one, and sadly, Carl Fullerton (who replaced Tom Savini on this one) found much of his effects left on the cutting room floor. I don't really think it hinders the film, though. At all.

     Amy Steel makes a great heroine here.  She's tough, and gives Jason a run for his money. She is a great and memorable Final Girl, and her appearing in APRIL FOOL'S DAY only ups her coolness factor. Warrington Gillette and Steve Daskawicz brought to life my favorite incarnation of Jason Voorhees- he's downright terrifying. There's just something very frightening about the sack cloth, and I never got the hatred of it. Steve Miner stylishly and steadily directs the shenanigans, and of course the iconic Harry Manfredini returns with the brilliant score. It has likable characters, it moves along at a brisk pace, and you can tell that a lot of creative effort went into the making of this installment. It doesn't come across as some sleazy excuse to knock off a bunch of teenagers. Sure, there's a body count- it is a slasher of the early 80's, after all.  But this film had a lot of talent and creativity involved, which ultimately raises it to a higher plateau. 

     1981 was a banner year for horror, and FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 was most definitely one of the stronger slashers to hit theaters that year. Not only is it a damn good slasher, but it's a fantastic time capsule of the early 1980's. Especially if you were eleven years old like I was when this hit theaters.

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