Filmmakers have continued to push boundaries and find new innovative ways to elicit the emotions of fear, disgust and horror from viewers. Since Alfred Hitchcock directors strived to provoke viewer’s nightmares, hidden fears, revulsions and terror of the unknown. Although a good deal of it is about the supernatural, others have focussed more on a plot about morbidity, serial killers, a disease/virus outbreak, surrealism and more. This year we see vampires, outbreaks, poltergeists, hillbillies, rednecks, zombies, cannibals and the devil himself featured on our list.
What is considered to be a horror film has varied from decade to decade. These days, the term “horror” is applied to films which display more explicit gore, jump scenes/scares or supernatural content whereas early horror movies were largely based on classic literature of the gothic/horror genre, such as Dracula, Frankenstein, The Phantom of the Opera, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I have argued with one of our contributors about wether or not each of these picks belongs in the list but after a long healthy debate, we all agreed they do. The films range from rape and revenge to creature features to horror/comedies but they all serve enough gore, scares and thrills to justify their presence.
Often you will hear folks say “They don’t make them like they used to.” Yet year after year, I am continuously impressed with the amount of truly great genre pictures released and 2010 is no different. Here are reviews of the ten best horror films released this past year along with a link to the episode in which we reviewed each on our podcast.
#10 – Paranormal Activity 2
Directed by Tod Williams
Written by Michael R. Perry and Oren Peli
Less than a year since Paranormal Activity’s UK cinema release and the sequel comes screaming into multiplexes this weekend with a marketing campaign that’s unnervingly similar to it’s progenitors. Despite creator Oren Peli sharing producer and writing credits, a ghostly shadow of scepticism was cast over the ability of relative unknown Tod Williams helming the picture and it became increasingly likely that this would turn out to simply be another rushed, budget-inflated Hollywood cash-in sequel.
Well I have no doubt that this movie purely exists at such a breakneck speed to rake in as much of the publics money as possible off the back of it’s indie precursors surprise blockbuster earnings last year. But thanks to some genuine creativity and an obvious passion for the sub-genre, this turns out to be an impressive found-footage horror that not only manages to almost equal it’s original, but adds layers to the mythos.
It would be irresponsible to give too much away about this film as it would be easy to spoil it’s handful of genuine and expertly timed scares and to ruin its simple twist of a premise. Suffice to say that we are focusing on a new family this time who are of course plagued by an unseen spirit. The key to the films success as a sequel lies in the fact that it manages to interweave its storyline into that of the originals in a surprisingly convincing manner.
The film itself however is almost a carbon copy of the firsts, albeit with a bigger budget and a bigger family. We’re now given a husband, a wife, a daughter, a dog and a newborn baby to fear for and these extra characters help to ramp up the tension and give a slightly different flavour of fear to proceedings this time round, even if it is from the same palette. At the beginning of the movie their house is broken into and in order to feel safe once more they install security cameras around the house. This nifty little setup along with the oddly obsessive filming from husband and daughter means that there’s always plenty of angles to piece the film together from, far more so than in the original. Are any as persistently ominous as the iconic bedroom shot from the first? Not really, but we’re thrust into the action with numerous handheld shots when the scares are piling up and it’s a welcome addition that reminds us of just how much more terrifying a handheld found-footage horror film can be when used during the right peaks.
Sadly they feel the need to really push the ‘it’s real footage’ angle and we’re forced to wince at an opening thank you to the police department for letting the studio use the footage and constant blurbs on screen to inform us which night we’re at in the proceedings. It worked in the original since they were documenting the paranormal happenings on purpose. Here it feels forced and contrived.
Also this reviewer must confess to not being a huge fan of the ending to the original and the sequel follows this style of proceedings faithfully. It doesn’t sully the built tension like The Last Exorcisms’ ending did, but it’s not as satisfyingly dark and malevolent as it’s crescendo would have you hope for.
But still, these are small niggles. Generally this is a successful sequel that proves to be one of the better entries in the sub-genre despite the slightly been-there-done-that flavour it leaves in the mouth. How many more they can eek from this series is unsure, but since the superior [Rec] series is now down for four entries, who knows? Surprisingly the next entry is actually Paranormal Activity 2 : Tokyo Night, an unofficial sequel from Japan that is released on November 20th in it’s home country. Here’s hoping it creeps out over here soon.
– Al White.
#9 – The Crazies
Directed by Breck Eisner
The Crazies is about the inhabitants of a small Kansas town systematically plagued by insanity after a mysterious toxin contaminates their water supply, when a plane bearing biological toxins crashes in a lake. The adversary is the U.S. Government, who launches a “containment protocol,” leading to a coverup and eventually many dead residents of the once-peaceable town. Sheriff David Dutton (a convincing Timothy Olyphant) and his physician-pregnant-wife, Judy (Radha Mitchell), try desperately to remain among the dwindling ranks of the unaffected.
The Crazies (a reinvention loosely based upon the George Romero classic of the same name) stays loyal to the original’s intent, making a statement about the perils of a ruthless, self-serving government turning on its citizens. Wasting no time establishing its premise The Crazies begins as a taut horror film and remains en effective journey through paranoia and conspiracy theories.
Directed by Breck Eisner – son of ex-Disney head Michael Eisner, the film does what an exploitation movie should and among all the many early George Romero inspired genre pieces or remakes, The Crazies is perhaps the ripest candidate. Part zombie movie, part apocalyptic bio-terror, part military conspiracy thriller and a doomsday action piece, the film never disappoints, delivering a dozen or so bloody surprises. Although the new version is more visually expansive than Romero’s ultra low-budget original (which suffered from a few amateurish perfs), Eisner puts the money to good use, delivering a beautifully shot film that contains equal measures of style and gore while somehow retaining its minimalist spirit.
Scott Kosar also responsible for penning the remakes of The Amityville Horror and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, teams with writer Ray Wright on this script. The screenplay makes changes mostly for the better, ramping up the horror factor by not overemphasizing on arguments between military personnel and weighing down too heavily on the political subtext. Swapping the original’s sex scenes and cheesy look for more realistic splatter, we get a tighter focus on the townspeople’s struggle, making the movie more of a survival story.
More tense than truly scary, the picture does manage some terrific set pieces, notably in the ward and at a funeral parlour. However the highlight of the film comes from an extremely tense scene set in a car wash, building suspense through a wall of soap bubbles and ending with a bang. Eisner brings plenty of tension and some gratifying scares amid the ordinariness of Main Street U.S.A. and never relies on gore to achieve it. Instead he opts for a simple slow pan to reveal something terrifying as appose to a slathering of gore.
Like all the best thrillers, The Crazies achieves believability, with convincing performances by it’s central cast, despite the characters forgetting a few basic rules of the genre – don’t go anywhere alone, don’t look back, don’t leave your pregnant wife unattended and always double tap.
By the end of The Crazies, we’ve been led from an epidemic to something close to the end of the world. The Crazies is familiar B-movie fare, but it’s also filmed with brilliant visual style and edited with well-paced flair. Fans of the original may want to keep a close watch on a brief cameo by Lynn Lowry riding a bicycle and singing a hymn.
– Ricky D