Why horror? I just happened to notice a bunch of interesting films in the genre this year. (That will be a theme in my upcoming future posts as well: stuff I happened to notice.) Personally, I found Observe and Report scarier than many of the films on this list, but I didn’t include it here because the big video chains have it down as a comedy rather than a horror film. How their labels box us in! A happy coincidence: Nos. 2 and 4 on this list are available on DVD as of today.
1. Zombieland: This movie’s one of my best movies of the year, so no surprise that it’s heading up this list. Check out the opening credit sequence for a taste of its dark, twisted wit. Nice use of Metallica, by the way.
2. Jennifer’s Body: Megan Fox is really just window dressing on this thing; Karyn Kusama’s film deserves to be rediscovered for Amanda Seyfried’s performance and a script that’s both funny and seething with enough issues to fill a women’s studies course. The DVD comes in an unrated version that I can’t wait to see.
3. Pontypool: The innocuous-sounding title belongs to this clever Canadian zombie flick about a big-city radio shock jock who starts receiving weird news reports in the hick town in Ontario that he’s been exiled to. This startlingly minimalist film has most of the action confined to the church basement where the characters are broadcasting from. The zombie outbreak is surprisingly effective viewed from there.
4. Paranormal Activity: The indie sensation has its share of flaws, but its low budget works for it — the girl being dragged from bed by an invisible force would be yawn-worthy in a Hollywood horror flick, but here it makes you wonder how the filmmakers did that. For sheer terror, nothing in this year’s movies surpasses the climax, when you wonder what’s going to come through the bedroom door.
5. Thirst: Last year Twilight got bested by Let the Right One In, and this year the sequel was one-upped by this Korean vampire movie from Park Chan-wook. The film is sumptuously beautiful, as you’d expect from the director of Oldboy. Less expected are this movie’s swirling overtones of Catholic guilt, as well as the poisonous relationship between the priest-turned-vamp hero and his female lover, who’s a monster long before she becomes a vampire.
6. Grace: I caught up to this little horror flick because of Jimmy Fowler’s earlier blog post on it, and it’s pretty interesting indeed. Its story of a miracle birth that quickly turns sinister is creepy and distinctive, and it addresses aspects of the baby industry that most horror movies ignore. Might make a good companion piece to Jan Švankmajer’s 2001 film Little Otik.
7. The Uninvited: Released in the dregs of January 2009, this underappreciated flick stars Emily Browning as a recently released mental patient (there’s your warning sign) who starts to believe that her dad’s new girlfriend is out to kill her. The film is a remake of A Tale of Two Sisters, a much scarier movie from Korea that truly earns the “horror” tag. This movie falls short as a supernatural scarefest, but that’s only because it’s a psychological thriller in disguise.
8. Drag Me to Hell: Points off for the twist ending that I saw coming way too early. Then again, Sam Raimi’s damnation movie works better if you believe, as Dana Stevens did on Slate, that Alison Lohman’s character isn’t literally going to hell but simply delusional and preyed on by some con artists. I found that interpretation to be persuasive.
9. Dead Snow: What’s better than zombies? How about Nazi zombies? Yes, this Norwegian movie goes there. Too bad the filmmakers don’t make anything more meaningful about the undead’s sociopolitical leanings. The movie’s no Zombieland, but some of the jokes score big-time. I wish they had kept the original Norwegian title, Død snø.
10. Shuttle: Ever been stranded at the airport at two in the morning? Ever had nightmare scenarios flash through your mind about the worst thing that could possibly happen to you in that situation? This movie’s kinda like that. Demerits for the contrived downer ending, but before that, this thing stings.