Unlike almost any other genre, the horror film is often dismissed by critics simply just for being a horror film. But there are plenty of really good horror movies - The Exorcist, The Silence of the Lambs and An American Werewolf in London are three that immediately spring to mind. And just like every other genre, there are good and bad horror movies. Sadly, the good ones rarely get the recognition they deserve. So, in an attempt to correct that and, in the order of release (though not necessarily the order in which I saw them), here are the best of this year's horror movies (IMHO):
Writer/Director Mitchell Lichtenstein's feminist parable concerns the urban legend known as Vagina Dentata. Jess Wexler gives a truly terrific performance as Dawn O'Keefe, a young woman who has taken a vow of chastity, only to discover that her privates are even more dangerous than the preacher who led her to take that vow would leave her to believe. Hilarious and horrifying, Teeth will make every man squeeze his legs a bit closer together upon viewing and give every teen pause before getting his girlfriend drunk and trying something stupid.
The 'Godfather of the Dead,' George A. Romero, returns to his roots and joins the "hand-held camera" trend for his fifth entry in his "Living Dead" series. A group of student filmmakers are shooting a mummy picture in the woods when the zombie plague breaks out, and the young director decides to record the events that are unfolding about them. Intense and relentlessly horrifying, Diary of the Dead is Romero's best entry in the series since 1979's original Dawn of the Dead. Horror icons Wes Craven, Stephen King and Guillermo del Toro all have uncredited voice cameos, along with director Quentin Tarantino and Shaun of the Dead's Simon Pegg.
Scott Smith ("A Simple Plan") wrote the novel (and the screenplay) on which this nasty little thriller is based, about a group of Americans on vacation in Mexico who find themselves trapped atop an ancient pyramid with a vicious, intelligent and very carnivorous entity. The book seemed a bit silly when I read it, though Smith's character development and less-than-happy ending more than made up for that. Director Carter Smith (no relation) ramps up the tension and the gore, while managing to elicit terrific performances from his talented young cast, which includes Jena Malone (Donnie Darko), Shawn Ashmore (X-Men) and Jonathan Tucker (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre).
Liv Tyler (The Lord of the Rings) and Scott Speedman (Underworld) star in this taut thriller from writer/director Bryan Bertino. A couple returning from a wedding spend the night in the young man's secluded family vacation home and, while trying to reconcile over a failed marriage proposal, find themselves terrorized and eventually tortured by a trio of masked strangers who targeted them simply because they were home. What could have been a formulaic and forgettable movie is made terrifying by Bertino's expert use of sound effects and corner-of-the-eye visuals that pour on the tension.
Like fellow author Stephen King, novelist Clive Barker's works don't always translate well to film. Those that do (Hellraiser; Candyman) often end up as increasingly silly franchises that ultimately debase the often briliant works on which they are based. Bradley Cooper (TV's "Nip/Tuck" and "Kitchen Confidential") and Leslie Bibb (Talladega Nights) star in director Ryuhei Kitamura's adaptation of Barker's tale about a photographer who becomes obsessed with a serial killer who stalks the late night subways. It features cameos from Brooke Shields, Vinnie Jones and Roger Bart and is weird, gruesome and bone-chilling. Distributor Lion's Gate took some heat from Barker fans by not giving this movie the distribution and promotion they felt it deserved, and rightly so. The Midnight Meat Train is one of the year's most disturbing films and it deserves to be seen.
Tomas Alfredson directed the screenplay by John Ajvide Lindqvist, based on Lindqvist's novel. The story concerns Oskar, a bullied 12 year-old who is befriended by Eli, a young girl who helps him take revenge on his tormentors by sucking their veins dry. This chilling and atmospheric vampire tale takes place in Sweden, and like last year's 30 Days of Night, allows for some stunning visuals of bloodied snow and winter gloom. The title was inspired by a Morrisey song ('Let the Right One Slip In'), and the film is set for an American remake in 2010, though I doubt the new version will come close to the stunning and chilling original.
And finally, my pick for the Worst Horror Movie of 2008:
Writer/Director M. Night Shaymalan took the world by storm with his chilling ghost story The Sixth Sense. Sadly, the once-promising auteur has made increasingly bad films ever since. His latest, starring Mark Walberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo and Betty Buckley, is quite simply a nonsensical mess. Boring, stupid and preachy, The Happening is the single worst horror movie of 2008.
Stay tuned for more movie madness. Next up: My picks for the worst movies of 2008.
More of this, anon.