Monday, 31 January 2011

Re/Made in the USA: Let Me In

The Great Train Robbery 19031 is the first narrative driven American motion picture. It was so successful it prompted an industry that became known as Hollywood. It was so successful it was promptly remade in 19042.

Through the decades remakes have always been an option in Hollywood: The Bells 19263, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde 1941, The Magnificent Seven 1960. This is with good cause; movies, like hair and fashion, tend to date. Good movies that date due to dialogue, acting style, special effects, social attitudes et cetera can be revamped and remade (eg Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978).

Remakes are a constant in today’s industry. Since the turn of this century they have been a staple in horror. What was previously a curiosity piece of subgenre (Night of the Living Dead 1990) is now a standard of exploitation (I Spit on Your Grave 2010). Hollywood has dropped all pretence at entertainment. The industry understands that human beings are drawn to moving pictures – as they are to fireworks and men kicking footballs. Quality control is now longer an issue. There is no longer an attempt for the remake to surpass the original.
remade in 2010
This Californian horror gold rush is not confined to the American back catalogue. Foreign films have an even better reason to be remade. Native English speakers do not speak a second language. They are suspicious and xenophobic of other tongues. They refuse to read subtitles and for good reason no one will watch a dubbed film. This leaves Hollywood producers with the incentive to stomp through the world waving their chequebooks.

Anyone on Earth who makes a horror movie and has a modicum of success will attract the attention of the carpetbaggers. This is excellent financial news for the local filmmaker in the short term. In the long term the native (cottage) industry erupts into a series of derivative clone all chasing the almighty dollar. Hollywood moves on and the result is J-Horror is left in a state of self parody.

Hollywood moves on to Sweden.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 2009 is overhyped idiocy. That David Fincher is directing the remake does not guarantee narrative compos mentis. Let the Right One In 2008 is critically adored4 and beloved by viewers5. The film has a flawless narrative and a cinematic perspective. There are no leaps of faith needed and no plot holes to fill. The acting is performed naturally. There is no self consciousness or winks to the camera. This is cinema as it should be: the exploration of story resulting in the creation of folklore recorded in moving images.

Oskar is introduced in Travis Bickle mode. He is 12 years old and enraged in a subdued Swedish manner. The film is set in the early 1980s – the last gasp of the Cold War when Comrade Leonid Brezhnev was Chairman of the Supreme Soviet. A subdued Sweden shuddered in the Soviet shadow.

Oskar’s home life is not traumatic. His mother loves him but he knows she is ashamed of being divorced. He is lonely and his rage comes from being bullied at school. In his first sequence as he looks out of his bedroom window he sees Eli and her father moving into his tenement building.

Eli used to be 12 years old but she’s a vampire and that was a long time ago. The man assumed to be her father is actually her watchdog. One of his jobs is to kill for her. The camera captures the moment in long shot. There is no glorification in the murder. There is a detached finality. It is horrific – as are the other kills. The victims are ambushed like animals by animals.

Sweden in the snow can look beautiful but it is a frozen veneer that hides despair. It is a despondency imposed by climate and the then geopolitics. There is nothing to do but drink – at home or in the pub. Lacke dreams of escaping to the countryside. Oskar fantasizes about killing his tormentors.

Oskar tells Eli she smells funny. The next time they meet she’s showered and changed her clothes. She presents herself to him; “Do I smell better now?”
The watchdog doesn’t want her to have anything to do with Oskar. He used to be 12 years old too but that was a long time ago. Now he’s old. He knows he’s about to be replaced.

The beauty of this film is the love story. Children live in a world without adults. Adults may intrude in the form of authority but they are not welcome. They are excluded. Every now and again a loving parent may be acknowledged but the children understand that grownups are not to be trusted. It is after Oskar and Eli agree to go steady that he stands up to the bullies. If he has a girlfriend he’s got to be able to protect her.

Human beings are drawn to stories that reflect the human experience, desire and spirit. Let the Right One In is all three of these things. It is a horror film but much more than that it is a human film.
Empire Film Awards 2010
Mark out.
Matt Reeves6 is most famous for Cloverfield 2008 a monster movie that was a po-faced popcorn pic. Its box office success elevated Reeves above his station. It was on the back of this he got the gig to remake Let the Right One In.

Not every remake is a remake. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde has been filmed more than 20 times7. Every version can claim adaptation or inspiration from the novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (pub. 1886). Låt den rätte komma in by John Ajvide Lindqvist (pub. 2004) has two English translations. For his film Matt Reeves chose the title Let Me In 2010.

The movie could have been as disparate from the original as Red Dragon 2002 is to Manhunter 1986. It isn’t. While not a shot-for-shot remake like Psycho 1998 it is a plot-for-shot remake like The Omen 2006. Let Me In credits Matt Reeve’s screenplay to be based on the novel – and the original film.

Matt Reeves wants to eat his cake and have it.
Matt Reeves is not so much a fraudster as he is a counterfeiter. Given the opportunity to adapt the book he copied the film. Thus Let the Right One In has not been revised, re-evaluated or retold: it has been translated. This is perfect for the hoi polloi who answer their phones in a capacity auditorium but it is anti cinema. It is not an artist’s vision; it is a studio hack’s photostat.  

Let Me In is a well made clone. It attempts to replicate the tone of the original and succeeds in self contained yarn. What this version lacks that the Swedish film has in abundance is pathos. Let Me In is a disposable horror story punctuated with thriller set pieces.
This is the main difference between the two films. The American movie stresses action. The Swedish movie is imbued with mood. Let Me In makes more noise in its first sequence than the whole length of the original. An American film has to have a car chase.

Let Me In is not a bad film. It is a bad film by comparison. What’s most insulting about it is the regard Hollywood has for its own audience. American movie makers think that the American movie goer has to be force fed plot points and inference; that he cannot understand subtlety and abstract theme.

Let Me In has an 89% rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

Then perhaps this is the future template of remakes of foreign films. Perhaps a significant portion of the audience will then seek out the superior originals. Perhaps a new audience’s taste and demand will kill the remake subgenre as a horror staple.

The remaking of Let the Right One In was artistically unnecessary and an exercise in buccaneering. Matt Reeves knew that going in.
3 The Bells 1926
5 Let the Right One In Rotten Tomatoes
6 Matt Reeves IMDb
7 Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde IMDb
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Sunday, 23 January 2011

Insidious (teaser trailer & clip)

Saw 7 The Final Chapter 2010 is the epitaph of the franchise created by director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell. With worldwide revenues (box office and DVD sales) of over $1billion it can be assumed that both men have made bank from their creation. They continue their partnership but now they do not work for food.

The well fed artist can work for art or for prestige. Wan and Whannell can put Saw behind them and grow as artists or they can try to recreate their box office success with another franchise – for the prestige.

Demonic possession is a trending topic in horror releases. This current wave started with the phenomenal success of Paranormal Activity 2009. Said film pulverised Saw 6 at the franchise annual box office spot. Lesson learned. Wan and Whannell have made their ‘devil inside’ picture. The variant from the yardstick Exorcist 1973 is that the possessed is a little boy.

Saw 2004 was a great movie – the rest of the franchise not so much. Wan and Whannell may be one-trick ponies destined to be remembered as a pair of asses – or they may be growing artists.

Insidious is released 1st April.

Thrill Fiction would like to thank Bloody Disgusting for use of their exclusive content.

Read more Thrill Fiction: Black Swan
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Friday, 21 January 2011

Scream 4 (2nd trailer)

It is impossible to ignore the growing noise of the impending sequel. Some of us are old enough to remember a similar noise the first time round. Wes Craven was coming off the critically applauded commercial failure of New Nightmare 1994. Kevin Williamson was unheard of. The title was explicit and succinct. The curtain raiser had (then) major star Drew Barrymore die in a thrilling horrifying sequence.

It was lifted from When a Stranger Calls 1979.

1996 was a long time ago. The wave of studio horror that Scream started has dissolved into homogenised pap. Originality is dead in the genre. Typical of such is My Soul to Take 2010 – one of the worst films of last year

Wes Craven is coming off critical and commercial derision. Kevin Williamson has to tell a story with more wit intellect and satire than the first time round.

The verdict will be in the viewing.
Scream 4 is released 15th April.

Read more Thrill Fiction: Re/Made: A Nightmare on Elm Street
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Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Black Swan

The Crying Game 1992 was released in England to savage reviews1. The critics killed it at the box office. A month later Miramax distributed it in the US and scored a sleeper hit of $60million+ ($98million in today's money). The Crying Game was then re-released to success in the UK2. Lesson learned: a hit in America will generate enough buzz to hit the UK.

It’s called the Lemming Effect.

Black Swan 2010 was released wide in America on 17th December. Its critical acclaim measures 88% on Rotten Tomatoes and 8.6 on IMDb. Its domestic box office performance to date is $75million3 (on a production budget of $13m). It is a confluence of critical and commercial euphoria. It is perfect for awards season.

Yesterday morning BAFTA nominated Black Swan for 12 statuettes. As impressive as that reads the film has received a prior 159 nominations4 (which includes 44 wins eg Natalie Portman best actress Golden Globes5). The Academy Awards will announce their nominations next week.

This doesn’t sound like a horror film.

Black Swan was marketed as horror to draw in a demographic that can make a hit out of the worst film of the year – if for one weekend only. The deception completed and the box office boosted Black Swan set about wooing its real target: the crossover into mainstream.
Aronofsky's feature debut Pi 1998
Darren Aronofsky is an art house filmmaker. Although his second feature Requiem for a Dream 2000 is best known for its soundtrack it is a wonderful piece of melancholic storytelling. One of Aronofsky’s strengths is the performances he elicits from his cast. The Wrestler 2008 is lauded by the wrestling community – of which I am a proud member – for its depiction of the industry. It too received mainstream attention, awards and accolades for its actors.

Black Swan is art house. It is psychological drama; the story of a ballerina in rehearsals for the lead role in a production of Swan Lake. Swan Lake is ballet. Ballet is art house but Aronofsky does not leave the mainstream audience adrift. Where The Wrestler depicts a breaking body Black Swan witnesses a breaking mind.

The Wrestler tells the story of a has-been – both onscreen and off. Aronofsky resurrected Mickey Rourke in the mainstream. Now he’s rolled a similar albeit easier die with Natalie Portman.
Golden Globes 2011
Despite the talent promised in her debut Leon 1994 Portman has struggled for roles to best showcase her ability. She’s like a songstress looking for a ballad; once upon a time Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey weren’t divas. Now aged 30 Portman has found her song at last. Now she can become Meryl Streep or Sigourney Weaver.

Age is a factor in film especially for female actors. This is a theme explored in Black Swan. Winona Ryder is the aged ingénue Portman replaces in the movie. In real life like Mickey Rourke Ryder has fallen from our grace. The former darling of Generation X is now a celebrity ridicule to sneer at despite numerous comeback attempts. It is a disaster for her that in this film Aronofsky draws attention to her criminal thievery.

Parents see the passing of time in their children. How young can a woman be when her baby girl is now an adult? Barbara Hershey plays Portman’s stage mother to a brilliant tragic effect. Scorcese devotees will know of Hershey when she was Boxcar Bertha 1972. The Horrorfolk remember her from The Entity 1981.
Cassel (left) in La Haine 1995
Vincent Cassel may not be the most famous Frenchman in the world but he’s the most famous French actor. In this film he plays the exotica; the foreigner with a foreign accent with foreign ways that seduce the natives. For an untold reason Anglos find the French alluring. Another French leading man who tried his accent in Hollywood is Gerard Depardieu. His character in Green Card 1990 summed it up: to paraphrase – in his own country he’s just a man. Abroad he is superman.

When I think of the French I think of Vichy6.

Cassel plays the ballet director. His character dominates Portman’s. He bullies her. He inspires her. He elevates her. She wants to please him. She wants to please her mother. She wants to be friends with her coworkers. Perhaps she can be friends with new girl Mila Kunis. Aronofsky’s camera hounds Portman like a paparazzo – like a poacher chasing a swan.

The psychological drama should not be misinterpreted as horror. It is a worthy subgenre that includes Blue Velvet 1986, Les Diaboliques 1955, Vertigo 1958 and Repulsion 1965 by the child rapist Roman Polanski. They are taut by necessity. Although Black Swan has a running time of 108 minutes it is a film without mystery – the plot is laid out in the first act. Thus by act three the ongoing story is redundant. The flourishes of horror are exciting to see but boring to watch because they lead to nowhere. The film would have been too long at 90 minutes.
Then this is a character study. As such it is an indulgence. It is pomposity of narrative and hysteria of visual motion. There is perversion in the sexuality. That kind of thing should be left out of the cinema nowadays. Everyone has access to the internet.

The art house Nazis who grovel in Black Swan’s pretentious tide can cheer for the celebration of their beloved ballet in the cinema. Ballet is patronised by the elite. It is exclusive and anti-proletariat. Cinema is for the masses. Film critics should serve as a filter between the film companies and the consumer. Their mass hysteria over Black Swan is a further example of the homogeny of opinion in the mainstream and their desperate elitism.

It’s called the Lemming Effect.

Black Swan is on general release in the UK 21st January.

Read more Thrill Fiction: Never Sleep Again
1 The Crying Game Empire magazine
2 The Crying Game Wikipedia
4 Black Swan nominations Wikipedia
6 Vichy France Wikipedia
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Friday, 14 January 2011

The Divide (Trailer)

In a music world dominated by American Idol and The X-Factor where do the captured audience escape to find good music? They go looking for it. 

This is no secret; nightclubs and pirate radio have been around for years. On the visual storytelling side of the same world dominated by corporate horror and low budget clones where can the audience discover the films to frighten them? This quest is harder but genuine horror movies are out there.

This may be one of them.
Film co-stars Michael Biehn (The Terminator 1984) Rosanna Arquette (Desperately Seeking Susan 1985) and Courtney B Vance (Hamburger Hill 1987). Perhaps this is not meant for kids.

The Divide will premiere March at the SXSW film festival in Austin Texas. General release dates to be announced.
Read more Thrill Fiction: [Rec ]2
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Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Husk (Trailer)

In 2006 After Dark Films1 held the Horrorfest 8 Films to Die For. The festival serves as venue for the theatrical release of 8 mainly American independent horror with the odd import. It has been an annual event since inception.

In its four years After Dark has distributed (in theatres and on DVD) Rinni 2005 by Takeshi Shimizu the director of Ju-On: The Grudge 2000, the French Frontier(s) 2007 and From Within 2009. Last year’s festival included The Final and Zombies of Mass Destruction both of which are feature in the TFi Top 10 Films of 2010.

This year sees a slight difference in their game plan. It’s a great leap forward for After Dark. Not only will they be distributing 8 new films but they produced them as well. This is what New Line Cinema used to be when they mattered.

In an era of carpet bagging that produces horror dross After Dark Films is on the side of the fans. Needless to say I’m a fan of theirs and Thrill Fiction offers its full support. Nevertheless each film will be judged on its own merits.

Not just by me.
Thrill Fiction would like to thank Bloody Disgusting2 for use of their exclusive content.

Husk is released 28th January.
Read more Thrill Fiction: ReMade: Halloween
1 After Dark Films - Originals
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Monday, 10 January 2011

The 100 Best Horror Films #4

The 90s were a cultural reaction to the 80s: Nelson Mandela strode out of prison with a clenched fist and ended apartheid. Boris Yeltsin rode a tank to the Kremlin and ended the Cold War. The Americans voted Democrat. The British ruling Conservative Party succeeded in a putsch to oust Margaret Thatcher.

Hollywood stopped making horror films.

It was due to the success of Scream 1996 that the industry decided to resurrect the genre. While Hollywood was busy greenlighting a new wave of horror movies the Japanese were watching Ringu 1998.

First word arrived from journalists at foreign film festivals; they had never seen anything like it. The solitary art house in my hometown booked it. Film 4 broadcast it. By the time Hollywood had announced its intent to remake the wonders of J-Horror were in full bloom. Ringu had earned its legend.

Horror works best when based in reality and the reality of horror is mythology. These are the stories of old – the stories told to children to keep them in check.  They are The Pied Piper of Hamelin, Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood. Ringu is based on the eponymous novel inspired by (Japanese) folklore1.

This is a film about an invented legend a la Candyman 1992. Where the latter uses the curtain raiser to introduce the legend Ringu uses it to both introduce legend and serve as catalyst to kick start the plot:

Teenager Masami is over at Tomoko’s house. The girls are alone – no parents. Masami tells Tomoko the story of a cursed videotape. It turns out Masami has seen said tape. As soon as Masami leaves the room the curse comes to claim Tomoko.
Every story needs a hero. In horror it is invariably the final girl2. This character is germane to the successful telling of any horror film thus the casting is critical. Wes Craven said of Nancy Thompson in A Nightmare on Elm Street 1984 “I wanted to cast someone intelligent looking”3.

Quick wits, fortitude and attractiveness (as opposed to beauty) are traits fundamental in the horror hero for this is the character the male audience has to empathise with. It has to be played by an actor the audience will desire and also respect.

Actress Nanako Matsushima was in her mid 20s during filming. She towers like an elder above the schoolgirls in the cast. Her character Reiko is a working woman so the teens respect her. Her attire throughout the movie is professional and modest. No cleavage. The audience can accept her without her flicking her hair.

To raise the stakes she’s also a (single) mother. She has a straight forward relationship with her ex-husband. She’s very feminine. So much so that when an infatuated student of her ex meets her Reiko is amused at the young girl’s suspicion. For the latter half of the film Reiko is trying to save her son from the monster.

The worker seeks employment for a pay cheque and the audience seeks out horror films for their monsters. This monster is called Sadako. She is a ghost – a ghoul. She was once of the living but not quite one of us. Now she is of the dead and is full of hatred for us. She is mute in her malice. She is unforgiving. She will not be resolved. Her reveal is the most dramatic moment in horror of the decade.

The bonus of this story is the slow build and detail. Reiko and her ex investigate the folklore and the audience discover the resonance of the curse as they do. The viewer is bathed in eerie narrative flux and the dutiful payoff defies morality to the point of disbelief.
original Japanese one-sheet
Ringu went on to become Japan’s most successful horror film4. It inspired a multitude of copycats in Japan and Korea and is solely responsible for the J-Horror phenomenon late of last decade. Don’t blame it for the risible remakes. The Ring 2002 was incomprehensible nonsense but a box office smash5. There is irony in Sadako’s use of video technology: Paramount has announced The Ring 3D coming soon6.

Disregard the cynicism of the marketplace and the unfortunate legacy of cinematic success. Surrender to the story telling of Ringu. It does what every horror film is supposed to do – it creeps into the memory.

It never leaves.

Read more Thrill Fiction: The 100 Best Horror Films #3
1 Japanese folklore – Bancho Sarayashiki
2 Final Girl – Ax Wound
3 Wes Craven – Never Sleep Again Youtube
4 Japan’s most successful horror film – IMDb
5 The Ring 2002 – Box Office Mojo
6 The Ring 3D - SlashFilm
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Thursday, 6 January 2011

The Top 10 Coming Soon Horror Movies of 2011

Jean-Luc Goddard said “all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun”. I say all you need to make a horror film is a girl and a ghost.

Horror is sold on premise not star power. Before cinema, before the novel, before plays, people told each other scary stories. So after 100 years of horror cinema why hasn’t Hollywood got it right? There is premise out there – in novels and comics, in news bulletins, in every single culture on the planet and in every fertile imagination.

The quality in 2010 was appalling. That in and of itself is no indicator of this years offerings. However if 2011 is just as bad at some point the box office will coalesce with the product. The net result will be no more bad horror and no more chances for any good ones. 

A lot is riding on Scream 4.

The following films are on my watch list due to concept or marquee value. History teaches us that the best horror films arrive unheralded.

I can’t wait for those.

Vanishing on 7th Street 7th January VOD
A universal concept executed exceptionally creates legend (A Nightmare on Elm Street 1984). 
A wildlife photographer recanted a night in the Serengeti under a new moon. He was sitting on the plain with no tree to lean against – to cover his back. He was effectively blind. It was disorientating.

Everyone’s afraid of the dark– at some point.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark 21st January General Release (4th March UK)
Guillermo del Toro has achieved master of Horror status. He wrote and produced this title based on the eponymous TV movie of 1973. Katie Holmes has form in horror; Disturbing Behaviour 1998. Guy Pierce is always solid. So this opens the new year with anticipation.

The Ward 21st January UK General Release
This is on the radar of every horror fanboy. Despite Carpenter’s last 20 year résumé there is faith in the work of a master of horror.

So why did he cast Amber Heard?

The Rite 28th January General Release (25th Feb UK)
It’s based on a well received book by Matt Baglio1. The book is a journalistic investigation of exorcism and demonic possession. Baglio interviews exorcists and their ‘patients’. He also investigates the history and the contemporary of the phenomena. There is no excuse for an incoherent script.

The Roommate 4th February
The city is anathema to human beings. Tokyo has 33 million, New York 18 million, Mexico City 17 million2. Humans were not meant to gather in such numbers. Some people are going to fall through the cracks. The resulting loneliness can lead to obsession.

Single White Female 1992 did not optimise its plot. The Roommate may be a psychological exploration that morphs into a horror-thriller or it can fall through the cracks.

Apollo 18 4th March (US & UK)
Yet another film to use the Blair Witch technique: first person/POV/camera held found footage.
The intrigue is blaring.

The Resident 29th March DVD & 11th March UK General release
Hillary Swank can win Oscars but can she play a woman in peril? Christopher Lee co-stars in what looks like an American take on a Spanish style ghost story.

Or perhaps it’s an urban thriller.

Scream 4 15th April (US & UK)
In the run up to its release this film will garner a similar internet frenzy the A Nightmare on Elm Street remake did. It should serve as a cautionary tale to the horror folk. Scream1996 was revolutionary and brilliant. The sequel was the sweepings off the floor. Part 3 was the garbage in the can.

After last year’s My Soul to Take Wes Craven needs to pacify his audience. He’d have a better chance with a more daring writer than Kevin Williamson. Be it good or bad Scream 4 is the tent pole horror film of the year.

Fright Night 19th August
This is a remake of a film that epitomised the 80s even though there’s nary a brat packer in sight. Michael De Luca produces so Toni Collette might be in shoulder pads.

The Thing 14th October (US & UK)
The pick of the bunch. John Carpenter’s version is legend. Although I didactically insist it is sci-fi the horror folk consensus is it is horror. Hence the inclusion of this prequel on the list.

We all know it won’t end well.
Wait. Is that a girl?

Look what they've done to my business.

Release dates are subject to change so hate mail should be directed elsewhere if Leprechaun 7 is delayed.

Gentlemen. Ladies. Enjoy the next 12 months.

Read more Thrill Fiction: The 10 Worst Horror Films of 2010
1 The Rite by Matt Baglio Random House
2 The largest Cities in the world
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Monday, 3 January 2011

John Carpenter's The Ward (UK trailer)

click poster for review
What does it mean when the UK gets an American film before the Americans? Are we a dumping ground or a testing ground?

Four Weddings and a Funeral 1994 is a British film first released in America. The producers chose that strategy because at the time the British critics were wont to destroy a British film on arrival eg The Crying Game 1992. Four Weddings was a success in America so that was alright then. It became a success over here.

Conversely it was the British that made Quentin Tarantino. Reservoir Dogs 1992 was ignored in the States but hit big on these shores. For good or ill we launched his career.

John Carpenter’s last feature film was Ghost of Mars 2001. It is an embarrassment. The consensus is he hasn’t made a decent movie in over 20 years.

Which begs the question are we a dumping ground or a testing ground? Time will tell but the trailer looks great.

The Ward is released in the UK on 21st January. No dates have been set for North America.

Read more Thrill Fiction: Re/Made: Halloween
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Sunday, 2 January 2011

The 10 Best Horror Films of 2010

Watching a horror film in 2010 was like finding a good looking girl in a brothel. Hollywood repeatedly failed to deliver (A Nightmare on Elm Street) but then again so did the independents (Hatchet 2) and the foreign market (Dans ton sommeil).

There were the films touted as horror (Shutter Island, Buried, Black Swan) but even though they somewhat used horror tropes and/or motifs their stories are firmly set in other genres. The net result is that most of the films on the following list will struggle to be included in the top 100 of the decade.


The top three are worthy. The next two are very good. The following two are entertaining whilst watching but no more. Entry #8 is flawed. The last two (in descending order) are merely adequate. It was that type of year.

Brothels are illegal in England. Bad horror films should be too.

10 Paranormal Activity 2 US
By the laws of experience and common sense the sequel should surpass the original. In movie land, and not just Hollywood, sequels tend to chase the box office of the originals thus end up as blurred photostats. There are exceptions – James Bond and Harry Potter. These examples however have distinguished themselves as series. Furthermore they are based on books. Amongst the best instances of sequels based on original screenplays are the James Cameron films Aliens 1986 and Terminator 2: Judgement Day 1991.

Regardless of the fact that many always choose the original over the sequel for a variety of reasons (none less than nostalgia) a sequel should always be the narrative superior to its predecessor. Paranormal Activity 2 achieves this but the congratulations are tempered.

The Ringu trilogy ends with a prequel. Despite the incoming Paranormal Activity 3 20111 part 2 is a prequel. The film copies its epilogue from Ringu 1998. That said the narrative structure is streamlined, the inclusion of characters from the original is cohesive and the plot moves at a steady pace to its conclusion.
Writer-director Orin Peli retained the ethos of the original – and superseded it.

Only a fool would remake a classic for he is doomed to failure and ridicule. Note Gus Van Sant’s Psycho 1998, Adrian Lynne’s Lolita 1997, The Omen 2006. However what if the subject wasn’t (yet) a classic? What if the film is foreign?

No one would have seen it. Americans and other English speakers don’t read subtitles. Why should we? Film, television and music are all in English. If it’s foreign it’s art and our culture is popular.
Quarantine 2008 was made in the comfort of this ignorance. The people who liked it hadn’t seen [REC] 2007. Let the Right One In 2008 was one of the best films released last year. It is critically acclaimed to the point of embarrassing2. The majority of those who have seen in are in love with it. This includes writer-director Matt Reeves – his previous effort is Cloverfield 2008. This is a great leap forward for Matt.

Watch Let the Right One In then decide if you like Let Me In.
8 After.Life US
This is horror-drama as opposed to horror-thriller. It is a musing of life within death and an attempt to explore the connection between the two sides of existence. It fails. It is an honest and valiant failure.

Christina Ricci is one of the best female actors of her generation. She brings a rock n roll ethos to performance – forthrightness detrimental to a lady’s place in a consumer culture. Liam Neeson arrives with gravitas to his roles. He is aging well enough to step into Robert Duvall’s spot. The negative in this cast is Justin Long. He’s exposed for what he is: a central casting construct of hair and teeth.

The two leads propel the picture and are watchable throughout. This story is a descendant of the Romantics3. It is not a true descendant – more of a bastard child. Had it been more beautiful it would have been a love child.

7 The Last Exorcism US
The Blair Witch Project 1999 ignited the found footage/POV subgenre. Where [REC] was innovative and Cloverfield was hackneyed most everything else has been tedious. Yet the box office bonanza continues. 

This can be explained as content over context.
The Last Exorcism explores the possible demonic possession of a young woman. Of course this subject has been visited before – The Exorcist 1973, The Exorcism of Emily Rose 2005, An American Haunting 2006. The possession of a young woman is more horror cinematic than that of a young man. Eg A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge 1985.

The Last Exorcism successfully builds tempo and questions. The story is told in vérité manner which includes the camera crew intruding on their documentary subject. Alas the dénouement is a sequence of hysterics that looks to invoke The Wicker Man 1973. That’s a shame because where the latter is premeditated chaos The Last Exorcism suffers a lack of destination.

However there is intrigue getting there.

6 Burning Bright US
The premise is that of the old woman who wakes to find a burglar under her bed. The (much maligned) Collector 2009 is of the same ilk. Said premise is a frightening starting point (Scream 1996) or concept (Black Christmas 1973) for any horror film.

The high in this concept is that the stalker is a Bengal tiger – hence the contrived title. How a tiger ends up in someone’s house is well plotted in the opening sequence. Thus proceeds shock moments and audience expectation swerves that make it easy to root for the hero and her autistic little brother. Even so the writers tried too hard to wrap up all story ends when they could have left the terrain ravaged.

5 Monsters UK
This horror drama is set in an alien invasion milieu. The impending apocalypse is in the foreground as a couple journeys home.

The couple are strangers. They are stranded in alien infested Mexico and have to illegally re-enter the United States. They spend so much time together in fear, desperation and hope. The film travels through rural Mexico without a sombrero in sight. The couple trek through the rain forest. They stand atop a pyramid. The aliens are constant.

This is a beautiful lyrical story that examines humanity in the wake of destruction. The end is nigh.

4 The Final US
When formula succeeds the equation is solved. This film adheres to formula. It contributes nothing to the question of human existence but it entertains humans like a horror film should.
It is The Revenge of the Nerds 1984 by way of Carrie 1976: a group of kids hijack a school party and promise their peers torture. It is the fantasy of bullied youth turning on their tormentors.

The Final points out that in such scenarios – for example a prison riot – the good guards get lumped together with the bad. This film is not without observational humour – a black kid looking for help knocks on the door of a white man and is accused of attempted burglary. That’s another film right there.
Though this story is a revenge fantasy it does not shirk in portraying its protagonists as pathetic. In their dismay, in their vengeance, they are tragic.

This movie was distributed by After Dark Films4.

3 Cabin Fever 2 US
The Godfather 1972 is universally acclaimed5 yet Francis Ford Coppola had to be arm twisted into the final cut. The version he initially edited was rejected by the studios6. The Exorcist III 1990 is the best horror movie ever made. Writer-director William Peter Blatty decries the reshoots and subsequent edit that was forced upon him7.  

Cabin Fever 2 director Ti West denounces this film.
I love it.

It is a horror-comedy that supersedes the benchmark Tremors 1990 and the overrated Zombieland 2009 because it has the satire of Heathers 1989. It is also disconnected from its predecessor (which I hated). The performances mesh with the characters and the conclusion retains the tone of the whole film.

Ti West has The Innkeepers 2011 incoming. Until then Ti this is your best work.

2 [REC]2 SPA
Click poster to read review.

1 Zombies of Mass Destruction US
This is the best zombie film since Dawn of the Dead 1978. It’s a satire. It’s a zombie apocalypse in a post 9/11 landscape.

There are the usual targets; the hypocritical fundamentalist church and the bigots. There’s nothing usual about the lead character. Janette Armand plays Frida, a Westernized Persian in a small town who just wants to fit in and get laid. As soon as the zombies appear all she wants to do is escape.

It took a zombie apocalypse for her to figure that out.

This may well be an acquired taste but a lot of people liked Shaun of the Dead 2004.

I hated it.

Zombies of Mass Destruction is the second film on this list distributed by After Dark Films. This year in place of Horrorfest they’ve created After Dark Originals7. These are eight films they’ve made themselves as opposed to the annual eight films they merely distribute. Without them horror would be a lot less terrifying.

2010 was not a vintage year but it wasn’t a complete washout. In 2011 Thrill Fiction will continue to support the horror genre and God willing I will post online my original screenplay A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Return.

The future always looks bright and the past can be viewed through rose tinted glass.

Pretty soon they’ll have to be 3D.

Read more Thrill Fiction: The 10 Best Horror Films of 2011
1 Paranormal Activity 3 release date Dread Central
2 Let the Right One In Awards IMDb
3 Romanticism The Guardian
5 The Godfather American Film Institute

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