Defining moments in horror are lacking when I take a bittersweet look back on 2007. Even for films that endeavored to break the lingering remake/sequel formula there was nothing, birthed on U.S. soil, to push the envelope. Venture into the abyss and dare to return with unspeakable terrors. Instead, as you'll see, two of my top picks of the year came from overseas - our fellow fear mongers in France, who have impressed me the last two years, and Spain. Domestically, there were highs ("The Mist"), lows ("Dead Silence") and two "Pumpkinhead" sequels. In spite of that last sign of the apocalypse, I did think there were ten films worthy to be the spoiled cream of the crop, so here they are followed by ten losers of the year. Take my hand, pal, and let us rip through the last twelve months festering with more remakes and sequels.
1.) Inside: The wettest film of the year is also tops in my book. There's not a dry frame in this French import from director's Alexandre Bastillo and Julien Maury. The opening credits pulse with life juice spreading this way and that. None of it can prepare you for the unpredictable descent into furious violence that unfolds as a woman spends ninety minutes trying to extract, with a glistening pair of sterilized shears, an eight-month-old fetus out of a fellow female! This movie is positively immoral. An edge-of-your-seat take-no-prisoners affair that's probably the bloodiest film since Peter Jackson's "Dead Alive." Yet for all of its artful flair and the news headlines-inspired nightmare scenario, it is burdened by near show-killing preposterousness. But if you embrace the absurd, like I often do, you'll open your arms to "Inside" like a mewling newborn dripping in afterbirth.
2.) Rec: From Spain, Jaume Balleguero and Paco Plaza's verite approach to the zombie(-ish) sub-genre. Read my full review here.
3.) The Mist: Pure King and a return to form for Darabont after the cavity-inducing, saccharine "The Majestic." I'm glad to see a bonafide monster movie on the big screen again. Read my full review here.
4.) Grindhouse: Although one entry felt more "grindhouse" than the other, Rodriguez and Tarantino's love letter to the shady days of '70s cinema was an overall success, even if it was shunned at the box office. Originally, Rodriguez's "Planet Terror" won me over with its goopy FX, wild "sicko" action and dedicated cast. Tarantino's "Death Proof," however, is edging its way into my decrepit black heart largely due to the one thing everyone seems to despise: the talk-talk-talk. Kurt Russell's turn as Stuntman Mike is an obvious high point - as is the centerpiece back roads demolition derby and final act chase - but the characters are becoming less grating on me. In spite of the unevenness, as a whole, "Grindhouse" was a great time at the movies.
5.) 30 Days of Night: Maybe I was a bit too eager to claim one specific horror film as my "favorite of the year" (see my review here). After ten months of crap and near-crap, I was looking for something to show up in U.S. theaters that was bloody, dismal and antagonistic. "30 Days of Night" answered the call and I lapped it up greedily. The best American horror film of the year? Nah, but for what it is, it's pretty damn cool. For more of my thoughts, click on the aforementioned review link.
6.) The Girl Next Door: No other film made me feel like I had been violated by a pack of frothing, biting Rottweillers. This is the toughest film I've seen all year. Uncomfortable to sit through. Heartbreaking and hopeless. Okay, so "Hurray for life!" is not something you'll be bellowing when the credits roll. It leaves you with food for thought, though, and what it's serving up is tough to stomach.
7.) Sunshine: Don't, for a second, dismiss this one because of its sci-fi premise. Director Danny Boyle treads territory previously explored in Paul W.S. Anderson's "Event Horizon" and maximizes the fear factor. Lives are sacrificed, bodies are charred and this outer space odyssey, which heavily cribs from other efforts with harmless reverence, actually has a few suspenseful, jaw-dropping scenes that will leave gripping your armrests.
8.) 28 Weeks Later: An infected massacre by way of helicopter blades! Snipers gone wild! The streets of London firebombed! This was one sequel that took great efforts to up the ante. And while it doesn't match the raw intensity of the original, it gets kudos for trying. With visions of clean-up efforts echoing the Katrina disaster, director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo brings some decent ideas to the table. An infected Robert Carlisle literally recognizing and chasing his own kin down through the whole film? Well, that's not one of them.
9.) Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: I can tolerate musicals, but don't expect to find me at home belting out lyrics from "The Scarlet Pimpernel," "Rent" or "Wicked." However, if you have a musical and include a montage where Johnny Depp, as an angry barber, cutting throat after throat after throat in a rainstorm of Mario Bava-esque brightly colored blood, I'm soooo there. Seriously though, "Sweeney" is one of Burton's best. Macabre, and at times funny, you don't exactly find yourself tapping along to the tunes but the images are wonderfully grim, Depp is top drawer (as usual) and Borat gets a beatdown.
10>) Vacancy: Yeah, you read that right. On repeat viewing (to ensure that it deserves placement here), I still find this one taught and nasty for being a slice of Hollywood fare. My full review here.
Honorable mention should go to: Hatchet (made my "best of" list last year), Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, Right at Your Door, The Orphanage, Joshua, Severance, Alone with Her
1.) Skinwalkers: Brainless. I can't even imagine how this even sounded good on paper. Moreover, why didn't the Sci-Fi Channel get their paws on this material first? 'Cause that's where this long-delayed flick about battling lycanthrope tribes belongs. James Isaac serves up ham with a side of cheese as the good werewolves dispense with exposition about being, well, good and the bad guys spend their time looking tough and loading guns, repeatedly (thanks to a few glaring continuity errors).
2.) Primeval: Who cares how Disney marketed it? If you truly thought this was a film about a serial killer, then you were not reading ShockTillYouDrop.com (actually, we didn't exist at the time...so you're off the hook). This latest entry in the nature-run-amok cannon was toothless regardless of how you spin it. Less croc-munching-locals actions, too much political commentary about Africa - where were Brad and Angelina to save the children? Boo.
3.) Wind Chill: A direct flight to dulls-ville. Even as I write this I'm hard-pressed to remember the details about the plot. All I know is there was snow. Drab performances. Snow. Ice. Eels (or snakes?). And a ghost story we've seen beaten to death...even in sitcoms. I'm gonna go re-read my review and refresh my memory.
4.) The Hills Have Eyes 2: A fan of Alexandre Aja's remake, I expected the Wes Craven co-penned follow-up to be somewhat decent. Or at least tap a few simple pleasures. Man, was I wrong. The National Guard should boycott this flick for its disgraceful depiction of supposed new recruits. Yeah, I know, it's supposed to be "The Dirty Dozen" meets the mutie gang. F**k that. Give me the original "The Hills Have Eyes Part II" any day. There, I said it.
5.) Dead Silence: Open wide for a boatload of silly. Rich, baroque atmosphere. A creepy doll. It's a shame there wasn't a script to effectively pull the strings.
6.) Broken: The only film this year that I actually turned off without finishing it. Started it. Didn't care what was happening. Don't care how it ends. Pure mediocrity and pathetic stabs at shock value.
7.) Captivity: Slick and blatantly disgusting at times. But what was the point of it all? We saw the twist coming a mile away.
8.) The Reaping: More showboating from Joel Silver that emphasizes big budget pizzazz over subtlety. Full review.
9.) Ghost Rider: Oops. Friends tried to tell me that a "flaming skull super hero" couldn't work. Being a fan of the comic, I argued they were wrong. Sorry, fellas. You were right. You were all right.
10.) Disturbia: Maybe I'm getting old, but I liked this better when it was called Rear Window...or even Fright Night.
All the rest that didn't get a rise out of me: After Dark's Horrorfest 2007, Dead Mary, The Messengers, The Hitcher, The Breed, The Invasion, Hallowed Ground
That's it for the final edition of "The Rotten Truth" for '07. Keep an eye out after the New Year as this column goes all "blog style" on your ass - which means more updates and inside, opinionated poop from the world of horror in Hollywood.
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