Friday, 23 March 2012

The 10 Best Horror Films of 2008

talent over beauty: (l-r) Kelly Reilly, Manuela Velasco, Belen Rueda

2008 was the year of the banking crisis. Here in the UK our great leaders warned us it would take five years to get back to pre-catastrophe levels. Now that we’re in 20121… The lying bastards.

Thrill Fiction is proud to present a new series of editorials detailing the first decade of this (perhaps the last) century. Each year will be catalogued in reverse chronological order after which the best films of the decade will be collated. How many films will make that list is to be determined by quality and not numbers.

The usual TFi parameters apply. each film is listed according to its US or UK release date – whichever came first (this is in contrast to IMDb and others which list the year of production). ‘Release’ means available to the public – be it wide theatrical, video-on-demand or DVD premiere. The noted criterion change is ‘limited release’; just because a picture is screened at an arthouse in Manhattan’s gay district doesn’t mean its available to the public.

When the futureworld unearths the time capsule marked ‘2008’ they’ll see what the talking monkeys were up to. A subspecies called ‘geeks’ were wetting themselves over a bloated movie called The Dark Knight (as well as various porno flicks). A US senator from Chicago won the presidential election. The surprise was he had no ties to organized crime. An orangutan named Hulk Hogan (not his real name) lost his wife to one of his daughter’s teenage (male) friends.

Sounds a lot like 20122.

This is what the HorrorFolk were watching:

10 Rouge  AUS
Cinema is littered with the carcasses of the sophomore slump: Spike Lee (She’s Gotta Have It 1986 debut; School Daze 1988 sophomore), Steven Soderburgh (Sex, Lies and Videotape 1989 Kafka 1991), Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko 2001Southland Tales 2007). There are others. Greg McClean is not one of them.

His feature debut Wolf Creek 2005 raised the attention of the criterati. They rewarded him with inclusion n the ‘Splat Pack’3Rogue doesn’t stray too far from its predecessor. Where the debut was babes-in-the-woods the sophomore is man-fights-beast (in-the-woods). McClean’s next film is Wolf Creek 2.

If it works – shoot it. 
 Clips contain profanity and/or violence; may not be safe for work
Rouge received a 25 April limited release then a 5 August DVD premiere in the US.

9 The Ruins  US
When Hollywood can be bothered they make the best movies in the world. The template is simple – acquire popular novel, hire talented director and actors and the movie should sell itself.

Jena Malone is the big noise onscreen but everything is played down to a simmer in the searing Mexican heat. Despite the vistas and the Mayan pyramid the action is claustrophobic. The filmmakers are taking themselves seriously. It is accomplished work but the audience would be better equipped if they read the novel.
The Ruins opened wide on 4 April Stateside. It went on general release 20 June in the UK.

8 Day of the Dead  US
My first recollection of an ingénue is Winona Ryder. Whereas she stayed active into her disgrace almost all others have dissolved into forgotten memories. Who today remembers Kristy Swanson, Phoebe Cates and Alicia Silverstone? Who remembers Mena Suvari?

The American Pie 1999 alumni are cashing in their last paycheque later this spring (don’t spend it all at once kids). In the case of Suvari she was given a chance to be a Winona Ryder – then everyone realised she can’t act.

So she headlines Day of the Dead with Nick Cannon as co-star. For those who aren’t familiar with the d-list Cannon is a (yoot) TV presenter and Mariah Carey’s bitch. He and Suvari are cast as soldiers in this purported remake of the George A Romero film – but it’s not a remake. It merely leases the original’s premise then goes off on one.

Fast zombies, the army and lots of guns. Horror films can be entertaining too. Mena Suvari may not be able to act but I’d surrender to her.

I’d escape later though.

Day of the Dead opened wide on 8 April in the US. It went on general release 1 September in the UK.

7 The Signal  US
Like in pro wrestling the independents should serve the public what the mainstream (Hollywood) refuses to. Said refusal may be a case of ineptitude or simple economics. Ie the story may not be financially viable to a conglomerate behemoth. Ie if the projected gains are so small it’s not worth an executive jumping out of his Lear jet.

Pigs will fly if the price is right.

The Signal exists to challenge the audience. Its low budget is betrayed by the texture of the visuals, special effects and one or two ropey actors. Its low budget is also a marvel at what can be accomplished with so little.

The Signal is raw – and that’s how horror fans like their meat.
The Signal received a 10 June DVD premiere in the US.

6 Eskalofrío  SPA (also known as Shiver)
When John Carpenter directed Halloween 1978 he created a precedent. Henceforth the lead characters of horror films would no longer be adults they would be teenagers. One of the advantages was immediately apparent at the box office of the cash-grab Friday the 13th 1980; the audience was/is the same age as the characters. They could relate.

The teens in horror films are invariably high school seniors. They have access to vehicles and credit cards thus there is no significant plot mechanical difference between them and adults (perkier boobs are not a plot mechanic). Shiver has a younger teen as protagonist. He has no car and is at the mercy of grownups. 

Those liars, murderers and corrupters of youth.
This along with the Mexican thriller La Zona 2008 inspired me to write the lead character of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Return as a 15 year old.

Shiver premiered 28 October on DVD in the US.

5 Zombie Strippers  US
Here at Thrill Fiction I pride myself on the absence of snobbery. So those looking to join a cinema club of fools should wear a beret, immigrate to France and live in a commune full of communists where you can worship the collected classics of Inspector Clouseau.

Zombie Strippers  is truffle gift wrapped in tabloid newspaper. It stars the porno whore Jenna Jameson. In my research for this article I have determined that this woman has demonstrated all human possibilities of vaginal penetration. Thank goodness she does not display any of her talents in this flicker.

Jenna can’t act but she comes alive as a zombie. Husband Tito has a chuckle worthy cameo (this was before she accused him of beating her up4). Robert Englund holds the centre as the sleazeball strip joint owner (another way of saying pimp).

As the title suggests this is horror-comedy. It’s also a satire on the ‘exotic dancing’ industry. All humour is shed in its denunciation of the Bush administration and American foreign policy. This is a film feminists should show their children – but feminists won't get the joke.

Zombie Strippers had a limited release on 18 April in the US. It went on DVD sale 28 October. General release was on 19 September in the UK.

4 Eden Lake  UK
I sometimes play a parlour game with people: what’s your favorite film of the 90s (or 80s)? Who was the star? Who was the female? Who?

Michael Fassbender co-stars in Eden Lake. He has since become a critical darling and a star in Hollywood movies. His last film was directed by Steven Soderburgh (Haywire 2012). His next film is directed by Ridley Scott (Prometheus 2012).

Kelly Reilly plays the lead with a performance that could have made her a star if such things were determined on merit. She remains in England as a TV actor where her English Rose appeal is effective. Perhaps she can’t crack a yankee accent. I predict her career will go the way of another English Rose Geraldine Sommerville.

Geraldine Sommerville in 'Cracker'
Eden Lake went on general release 12 Sep in the UK.

3 The Lost  US
Five of Jack Ketchum’s books have been adapted into films. They range from good to great. This is one of the great ones. The Lost is the stylistic and artistic sequel to Mary Harron’s masterpiece so much so it could be called American Psycho 2: White Trash.

The audience for horror dramas is patient. They observe as the story unfolds. There is no time for patience in The Lost. The first sequence establishes the tone of the horror to come.

There is no mercy in a Jack Ketchum story. There are no loose ends; no plot holes. This is Master of Horror storytelling.
The Lost was released on DVD (premiere) on 18 March in the US.

2 [REC]  SPA
The super zombie Danny Boyle created in 28 Days Later 2000 reached its zenith in [REC]. This was the year of Cloverfield when found footage films were exciting and intriguing. In [REC] and for the first time since The Blair Witch Project 1999 the format was innovate. It hasn’t been innovative since.
Story is context. Without Goldilocks the three bears would have been circus freaks. Without lead actor Manuela Velasco [REC] would have been just another zombie flick. Horror is not kind to Final Girls or Scream Queens. Like Kelly Reilly in Eden Lake stardom did not beckon for Velasco after a performance that elevated this film into ‘great’. How great was she? Compare her performance to that of the chick who played the same role in the shot-for-shot remake Quarantine 2008.

Human cloning is not a good thing.
[REC] went on general release 11 April in the UK. It had a DVD premiere on 14 September 2009 in the US.

1 El Orfanato SPA (aka The Orphanage)
Every so often there comes a film that fulfils the potential of cinema. The Orphanage is a ghost story specific to catholic Spain but it reaped $78m at the worldwide box office. That figure can hardly be blamed on its marketing campaign. I dare anyone outside of its home country to recall posters on the side of buses, TV spots or a red carpet premiere. The Orphanage was a global success because of quality. The public responded by word-of-mouth.
Hollywood has never been backward in coming forward. To wit this year has seen the Silent House remake of last year’s The Silent House. New Line Cinema has been developing a remake of The Orphanage since 2007. At the time of writing principal photography has not been scheduled.

Maybe someone told them about Quarantine.

The Orphanage had a limited release (19 screens) on 28 December 2007 in the US. It opened wide (707 screens) on 11 January. It went on general release 21 March in the UK.

2008 was a landmark year in horror. It was called Cloverfield and made a domestic $80m ($86.8m adjusted for inflation). It certainly helped the way Paranormal Activity 2009 was marketed to the public. Right now we are in the middle of a nuclear found footage winter. Horror fads come and horror fads go and this too shall pass. Thankfully 2008 reaffirmed a horror truth: nothing can surpass a ghost story well told.

That is not an endorsement of Harry Potter and the Woman in Black.

Read more Thrill Fiction: The 10 Best Horror Films of 2011
1 ‘only 6% of brutal cuts have kicked in so far’ DailyMirror
2 Hulk Hogan sex tape Daily Mail
3 The Splat Pack TIME magazine
4 Jenna accuses Tito Ortiz of domestic abuse USA Today
all release dates from sources The Numbers and Box Office Mojo
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