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Writer-director Orin Peli retained the ethos of the original – and superseded it.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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