Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Top 13: Best Horror Films of 2010

list compiled by The Black Glove staff
written by Nickolas Cook

Any true Horrorhead will undoubtedly agree with me when I say what a shite year for horror 2010 was. I mean, WOW! Seriously bad. You had your usual slipshod, thrown together remakes of Asian films, which as is the rule these days, bore almost no actual resemblance to their much more superior original foreign films. Why is it pretty much all American based studios have the annoying and disappointing ability to take those great little gems from overseas and turn them into plastic dribble glass entertainment, made for morons with no taste, by morons with no talent or vision?

But on offer were other pieces of crap. Tons of them spit out by the large studios like pre-chewed gum: flavorless gray wads, starring the latest dummied down versions of actors and actresses who look they all stepped out of a Disney film the day before. Was it a huge surprise to anyone that Wes Craven's first behind the camera/written by movie since his last Nightmare film, "My Soul To Take", turned out to be one of those flavorless gray wads?
And what the hell happened to Romero? Technically "Survival of the Dead" was released in very limited capacity in 2009, but it didn't get hardly any copy here in the U.S. until 2010. Not that it would've made this list anyway. It was, if anything, even worse than Craven's crap-fest film. It made me want to cry and rip my fucking hair out. I grew up watching Romero's dead movies; they made me what I am in some ways; they each came along at times in my life when I neded them most. "Survival of the Dead" was almost unrecognizable as one of his films. But enough bashing on the old guy. At least he's got some damned great classic horror movies under his belt. I can forgive his latest terrible film.

But not to make it sound like it was just the big studios which sent forth genre vomit. There were plenty of smaller studios, supposedly run by people with less money, but more talent and love for the genre. Didn't see much make me believe their claims this year, folks. I won't sit here and name off one bad film after another. If you paid any attention to the new releases, then you probably already know most of the small studio stuff never even made it to the big screen; they went, almost unanimously, straight to DVD. No big loss.

So what I'm trying to get at is, that this list was not only challenging in terms of finding 13 films that were decent enough to include, but it was damned depressing. I despair at the thought of what next year's Best of...list might look like, if it gets any worse than this year's selections.

I figure there are going to be some of you who disagree with our choices, but if you can find titles that deserve to be included over the ones which made the list, then please, by all means, drop me a line here, or at Nickolasecook@aol.com, and I'll gladly consider adding them to the list, instead of the ones you see here. But I doubt that will be the case. I mean, when you get down to it, the ones we included on this year's Best of...list were actually not too bad in context to their sad ass competition. But that ain't sayin' much. Four of them were even remakes, which I usually abhor; but I have to admit these four were actually done well enough that I didn't scream at the screen while they were playing. And two of the films on the list were actually produced and directed by A-List topnotch Hollywood directors. I was pleasantly surprised to find that not all big studio productions were made for 13 year olds with their freakin' cellphones permanantly attached to their faces. These were some well made, intelligent films, made for adults. Actually all the films made that criteria, or they would not have been chosen (hence why you will NOT find "The Human (are you serious?) Centipede" on this list.

So without further carping on my part, here is The Black Glove's Top 13 Best Horror Films for 2010, in alphabetical order.

13. The Wolfman
I really thought this movie was going to just infuriate me beyond words. But although there was way too much CGI for my taste, there was also some subtly emotive touches to this Universal remake of their original classic movie, starring Lon Chaney Jr. It probably helped that Benicio del Toro, who was also one of the producers, is a huge classic horror movie fan. It's great to see Horrorheads get a chance to do something good for the genre and other Horrorheads. Despite the fact that the film didn't get an overwhelmingly positive critical reaction when it was in the theaters, it did skyrocket to the top once it hit the DVD/Blu-Ray market. So the fans have spoken. Screw the critics.

12. Splice

The first of two films on our list which stars Adrien Brody, an all around actor who tackles such diverse roles these days that he surprises even someone as jaded as myself. There was also Sarah Polley, an underrated actress who brings such sincerity to her roles, be it horror or drama. But to the honest the true star of Splice is, of course, Bren, a sex-changing mutant creature that ellicit empathy and later horror. The film plays with our savvy horror fan preconception and asks some tough ethical and moral questions--questions which I'm sure we as a species are going to have to face for real very soon. Again, there was quite a bit of CGI, which sometimes worked to make the film better, but at times overwhelmed the senses and dragged it down here and there. But I'll say it: I liked this one. A lot.

11. Shutter Island

Okay, so some of you are probably asking why this movie is on a horror film list. Did you see it? This is as close to a horror film as you can get and still call it a psychological thriller (A classification big studios choose to use to get away from the truth. Remember "Silence of the Lambs"?). Directed by one of the biggest names in cinema, Martin Scorsese, and starring one of the best actors in the last 30 years, Leonardo DiCaprio. And you can say what you like about him, but he is one hell of a powerful prescense on screen. Another thing going it: Shutter Island is based on one of the best and darkest writers alive today; his stuff is as close to horror as you can get without having actual supernatural entities running around in the narrative. He tackles some deeply disturbing aspects of the human condition, something that the best horror invariably does. Dennis LeHane. If you haven't read his books, do so. You will thank me later.
But back to the film...
There is such a sense of decay and darkness throughout the movie. You feel dirty afterwards. Sort of like how I felt after seeing David Fincher's "Se7en" the first time. Disturbed, anxious, depressed and in need of a hot shower and plenty of soap.
I won't give away much on the film's narrative, because if I do, it will screw the experience for you. But be prepared for some gory scenes, some disturbing moments.

10. Predators

This is the second film on the list that stars Adrien Brody. An sci-fi/action movie. That's still sort of weird for me. He's not what you'd call an action star sort of guy. When I first heard that there was to be another Predator sequel, I was a bit dubious anyway. Not to say the last couple of Alien vs. Predator films were terrible, but they seemed to me to be aimed at the wrong aspects of the dual storylines, so they'd left me feeling a little cold towards the notion of more Predator movies. But when I heard later that Robert Rodriguez was to be one of the producers (after disappointed many Horrorheads by pulling out of directing the film himself), I began to have hope again.
Despite the letdowns here and there, some of those maddeningly contrived parts of the narrative, it was actually a decently done film. I assume Rodriguez is to be thanked in large part for that. But there were also some great choices made for the cast, especially Danny Trejo and Lawrence Fishburne, and the fact that the producers and writers went back to that sense of over the top testosterone which made the first Predators film such a blast. The CGI effects were used sparingly (with the exception of the silly alien dog bit) and the pace was what you'd expect from an action/sci-fi/horror film. It moved along and gave some scenes of gore and stuff getting blown to hell. Maybe future sequels will remember what made this one work so well.

9. Piranha 3D

I am old enough to have seen the original movie way back in 1978. Back then, Roger Corman was still producing great exploitation style movies with plenty of gore, T and A, and Barbara Steele. I loved it!
So as you can imagine, this cynical, aging Horrorhead approached (yet another!) remake with less than thrilled attitude. I had no hope it would compare to one of my old favorites.
Well, I gotta admit, I was wrong.
This is one hell of a great gory, fun, fast-paced film knocks it out of the park...as long as you don't go in with the notion that this is a thinking man's film. You get what the poster advertises. Although I do miss Ms. Steele.
The only thing I did NOT love about this one is the damned CGI overkill. I know it's more efficient, less costly, but come on. Couldn't we just try to use some physical special effects like the old days every once and a while?
But I can forgive them. After all, how many times are you going to find Richard Dreyfuss in a horror film?

8. Paranormal Activity 2

This was a prequel...sort of...but let's be honest, folks, this is a sequel because the first movie made bank. It used the now standard creepy home camera, which even after all the goddamned reality TV overkill we have these days, people STILL bitch about the shaky camera and how it makes them sick to their stomachs. Seriously, you know what the movie is going to be like, so would you pissants stop bitching about the shaky cams? Don't go see the damn movie.
But back to the movie. PA2 had some fairly creepy moments. Having the baby as a target for the bad spirits was pure genuis. It makes people really uncomfortable when you throw kids and demonic forces in the same movie. I found myself getting the chills every now and then, and that is something that rarely happens to this jaded Horrorhead. There is minimal special effects, so thank God there is hardly any reason to throw CGI at the screen. For that alone, I'd put this one on the list.

7. Let Me In

So this may be a remake of a great foreign movie, "Let the Right One In", a film destined to be a classic in the genre, but when you have one of horror history's greatest studios come back to life and this is the first movie they choose to produce for all us Horrorheads to enjoy, you fall to your knees and thank the horror gods. Hammer Films is the new incarnation of the old Hammer Studios, which was the leader in modern Gothic horror in the 60s and 70s, bringing to the screen all those now classic reimaginings of Universal's monsters, Dracula, The Mummy and Frankenstein. I was dubious, as I usually am with all remakes. But I have to say this was a very nice surprise. The producers knew what made the original bloody little vampire film work and they stuck with it. There's a very creepy quality to the story, which Hammer exentuates. And their choice for the young cast was damn near perfect. After this remake, I might be a little more forgiving on the notion of remakes, in future.

6. The Last Exorcism

So the big deal for most people was that this was produced (in part) by Eli Roth, the same man who brought us "Cabin Fever" (2003) and "Hostel" (2006), two films which were hit and miss with me. But despite that, I was willing to give the film a chance. I'm glad I did. This may be one of the better of the recent "Devil-made-me-do-it" spat of films. Again, we have a reality TV style of filmmaking which works in some ways that the usual camera techniques probably wouldn't have. The use of those shaky-camera techniques gave the movie a sense of realism, which is definitely something you do NOT want if you're scared out of your socks with the idea that the Devil may be an actual real entity which wants to eat your soul. There was a bit too much CGI for me (getting tired of hearing that yet? I'm getting tired of saying it; too bad no one in Hollywood gives a flying fig what I like, right?), but the parts in which the scene was driven by the characters and the mood were spoton creepy as hell.

5. Dream Home

Directed by Hong Kong's famous Pang Ho-cheung, this is a modern slasher without equal in the English language. It tackles more than the physical violence inherent in the modern industrial world, especially in big cities, but also peels back the nasty veneer of the modern real estate problem in most large Asian cities. It uses one woman's psychological horror at trying to find a place to live in a city with too many people and too little living space, and examines her psychotic break with reality. It's bloody, but artistic, and makes the viewer think about something most of us take for granted, simply having a place to call your own, without having to sell your soul to get it. It's a film with moments of almost Argento-esque explosions of violence balanced by scenes of fragile beauty. Ho-cheung's use of color and camera technique is some of the best in modern Asian cinema.

4. Devil

Director M. Night Shyamalan is the master of the ironic/trick ending. So much so that he can't seem to stop using the same idea in every movie. And, yes, this is one of those movies with a trick ending. Don't worry: I won't give away the ending. But another thing Shyamalan does well is create believable and sympathetic characters that viewers tend to talk about after the movie. This is a hard nod to Agatha Christie's "locked room" mysteries, with some horrific moments of claustrophobic terror. Each person who ends up trapped in the elevator with an entity who turns out to be the Devil has a past, which we find out about as they are killed off one by one. And then...well, it's a M. Night Shyamalan film, so that's all I'm gonna say.

3. Daybreakers

This is a great mix of sci-fi and horror, with some better special effects than one would expect of probably the least known movie on this list. It didn't get a lot of fanfare during its release in Canada and the U.S., but it's a shame that it didn't because this was one movie that deserved some serious promotion. Directed by Australia's Spierig brothers, who also took on the zombie in their first critical acclaimed film, 2003's "Undead". Known for their violent, bloody style, "Daybreakers" is no exception. For a Horrorhead, that's something that doesn't happen often in modern horror anymore. What's more, this film has a hell of a cast: Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill, among others. Highly recommended, even if you think vampires are done to death.

2. The Crazies

George Romero's original 1973 movie is one of my favorite cult classics of social horror and bloody violence. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth, disturbed by the ease with which your fellowman can descend into madness and violence. The remake, directed by Breck Eisner (son of Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney) and starring Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell, takes the best aspects of the original and moves it into a contemporary setting. I have to admit, like the other remakes on this list, I was thoroughly surprised and delighted that someone could actually make something as good (if not better, in some ways) as the original. The story stays in the a small town, still has the nasty virus "Trixie", but if anything, the bloodletting is even more violent and gory. Again, if you're a Horrorhead at heart, that means a lot these days, but the acting and production values are topnotch.

1. After.Life

Every once and awhile I run across a film that sounds so unoriginal on paper, but when I see it, the movie explodes off the screen and turns out to be something greater than expected. So don't pay attention to the less than thrilling sounding description of this film and do yourself a favor and see it. It stars Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson and Justin Long, who all do a fantastic job in this creepy ass little surprise hit. It is a chilling story of the confused and frighteneed newly dead and the manipulative still living. I loved the ending. You will, too.

--Nickolas Cook