The Horror Effect's 2010 Awards

Well, 2010 was an interesting year. I'm not usually one to formulate a top ten list anyway, but looking back on the year, I think this would be a tough compilation. There certainly were some interesting horror films, but not too many standouts in a year of sequels, remakes, and independent efforts.

Instead of arbitrarily generating a ranked list, I'm going to give out awards!!! Yay for awards....well not all of them are good. Cheer 'em on or boo 'em off the stage. Your call.

The Best:
The Last Exorcism

I saved the best for first. How's that for being anti-climatic. This movie was really, really great. It was the only film I considered for this esteemed award. The writing, acting, and technical details all worked together in a beautiful marriage that created the most intriguing film of the year. Check out my review here.

The Most Fun:
Hatchet 2

Just like the original film, the sequel was all about sleeze, cheese, and gore (I wish there was another word that rhymed). Adam Green delivered on the silly fun once again, making Hatchet 2 a joyous watch. Check out my review here.

The Most Underrated:
My Soul to Take

Hey, I really enjoyed this movie. Wes Craven provided a light-hearted, teenage slasher movie that had me thoroughly entertained. While it's no classic, it's definitely worth a watch. Check out my review here.

The Biggest Disappointment:
Paranormal Activity 2

Why bother to remake a film and offer nothing new? Slow, repetitious, and ineffective. As a big supporter of the original film, I found myself awake at night thinking about this sequel - not out of fear, but out of frustration.

The Most Uncomfortable:

I was expecting a cool science-fiction film about the creation of a new species - perhaps something along the lines of Alien. Wishful thinking, I know. I've seen Species, so I really didn't need to see a more disturbing visual display of inter-species fornication. No thanks. Check out my review here.

The Most Half-Assed:

Come on now Robert Rodriguez, don't play me like that. Planet Terror is one of my favorite movies, so I dig the whole over-the-top grindhouse thing and all. What I don't like is how an epically trashy trailer was transformed into a convoluted piece of weak social commentary. Fail. Check out my review here.

The Best Remake:
The Crazies

Not bad, I found myself thinking after walking out of the theater. I have to admit, I'm not a huge fan of George Romero's original film, so I was pretty interested in this remake. It had action, good actors, and a pretty generic script, but overall, I liked it. Check out my review here.

The Best Extended Scene of Carnage:
Piranha 3D

While the whole movie wasn't fantastic by any means, there is a scene in this film that blows everything else out of the water! The pun is most definitely intended here. After piranhas attack a group of spring break partiers enjoying a wet t-shirt contest, a scene of gore ensues that is absolutely glorious. The real point of this film is revealed: to watch drunk douche bags die grotesque, yet hilarious deaths. Check out my review here.

The Best Adrien Brody Film:

While I haven't seen Giallo cause of the whole payment fiasco, I have a feeling that Predators is still better. This reboot of a badass series could have been disastrous, but instead, it was a fun, slick presentation with lots of stereotypical action characters that we all like to see. This movie tried new things, without trampling upon the original lore and I definitely appreciate that. Check out my review here.

The Best Technical Achievement:

Congratulations to Adam Green for making my list twice and both awards are good ones. This movie was gripping, intense, and moving. A large reason for this success was the fact that the move was shot practically and entirely on location. No green screens. No backdrops. No CGI wolves. Real cold, real heights, and real filmmaking. Kudos to the Ariescope team for an outstanding film. Check out my review here.

The Best Surprise:

While I don't personally have a problem with M. Night Shyamalan, I can see why lots of people were concerned when his name was attached to this project. However, Devil turned out to be really good. With an intriguing premise and tight execution, the movie was suspenseful, engaging, and highly effective. I look forward to sharing this little surprise of a movie with others.

The Least Surprising Surprise:
Shutter Island

Aside from falling into the inevitable Scorcese trap of being too long, Shutter Island failed to be effective because so much of the film operates on a surprise that couldn't possibly be a surprise to anyone that's ever seen a movie before. Yes, the film had some terrific moments and a great performance from Leo, but I was bored less than 30 minutes in. Check out my review here.

The Most Blah:
The Wolfman

There's really not much to say about this one. It's an okay remake that didn't take advantage of the fact that it had great actors and great potential. The first mistake they made was promising all practical effects and the second mistake was not delivering on that promise. It's enjoyable enough, but not all that good either. Check out my review here.

The Most Unnecessarily Dramatic:

Okay. After I saw the trailer for Legion, I was like "Sweet. A movie that doesn't take itself seriously about angelic battles of biblical proportions." Yeah, how about a movie that does take itself way too seriously and can't help but give every single character a monologue to explain their sad life story. Snore. Check out my review here.

The Worst:
A Nightmare on Elm Street

Good lord, this movie sucks. Even though I thought the trailers kind of looked cool, I half-expected the train wreck that happened. So uninteresting and so pathetic it hurts, this remake will go down in history as one of the worst. Check out my review here.


Exam (2009): Highly original and thoroughly engaging

Every now and then I come across a trailer that causes me to stop everything and jump on Netflix to move the film to the top of my queue. This happened after watching the trailer for Exam, which I will share with you now...

While this isn't really a horror film, it's definitely something I think you'd all enjoy. It has plenty of horror elements and it relies heavily on suspense (hey, I just talked about this here). Exam's premise appears to be simple and that is the genius of it. 8 candidates for an extremely competitive position are in the same room. There is a test, of which they have 90 minutes to complete, and there is only one question. The only problem is no one can figure out what that question is. How far will each job-seeker go to uncover the question and eliminate the competition? Apparently, pretty far.

"Umm, could we get a question up in here?"

The film opens to a fantastic sequence of close-ups, all revealing tiny details about the candidates as they prepare for their final step towards obtaining a dream job. Just like the rest of the film, Exam shows without telling - using small character traits and acting moments to speak volumes about these people we know nothing about. Once all the candidates enter the guarded and sealed room, the proctor delivers a strict, yet bizarre, set of rules for the examination. They are informed that there will be one question before them and it will require one answer. After he leaves the room, the first moment of panic sets in for the candidates. Blank papers sit before them. Where is the question? 

Meanwhile, the timer is ticking. 90 minutes to answer the question. The candidates work together, as well as against each other, in real time. And it's incredibly interesting. The diverse group of highly intelligent individuals start to poke and prod their way through the room, attempting to find a question hidden under objects or discover a UV light that may reveal the question. The battle of wits is punctuated by terrific acting and writing. Just as the characters are guessing, so is the audience. At every moment, I was thinking about what I would do (and wouldn't do) in their situation.

"This is way worse than when I farted during the SAT."

As the time whittles down, so does their threshold for rational behavior. The film quickly propels towards paranoia and violence, as the world of ethics and morals begins to fade away under the haze of isolation. To say much more about the film would ruin the fun, so I'm going to leave this review short and sweet.

To summarize: Very highly recommended! An original film executed wonderfully.


Where has all the suspense gone?

While watching the remake of When A Stranger Calls, I started thinking about the lack of suspense in recent horror films. Though the movie was a watered down PG-13 remake of a terrific film, the movie still generated a decent amount of suspense. Despite some poorly directed action sequences, I actually enjoyed the 2006 version quite a bit. Yes, the original is well-known for a certain twist and the remake's trailer gave this away, despite the fact that the movie hinges heavily on that twist and it occurs towards the end of the film. Even though I knew the surprise that was coming, I was impressed with the taught line of suspense strung throughout the movie's 87 minute runtime. The clever use of set pieces and red herrings transformed what could have been painfully boring into enjoyable.

After you're done cursing me for not finding the When A Stranger Calls to be completely unwatchable, you can calm down and focus on this food for thought: Where has all the suspense gone? I had this refreshing feeling while watching the movie and I couldn't figure out why. What could be refreshing about a safely executed unoriginal Hollywood film? It was the suspense. I've missed it in recent horror movies. The more I thought about this, the more I realized how sorely modern cinema is missing out on the wonderful tool of suspense.

I'm reminded of the classic example of surprise versus suspense once illustrated by Alfred Hitchcock. Imagine a family eating dinner peacefully. A bomb explodes. Surprise! Now, let's take the same scene and add suspense to it. You see the family eating dinner, but you also notice that there's a bomb underneath the dining room table. Will they notice the bomb before it explodes? Will someone come to their rescue? That's suspense, keeping the audience guessing and wondering what will happen next.

Most recent horror films seem to operate primarily on surprise, utilizing a shock and gore campaign. While there's definitely a place for the well executed surprise and definitely a place for films that lean more on surprise than suspense, I can't help but miss all the suspense from yesteryear. It's no secret that the original  Halloween is my favorite film and a large part of why I love that movie so much is the suspense. In comparison, we have Rob Zombie's Halloween, which hardly contains any suspense. It's all bombs going off in your face. The 1978 film creates suspense through steadicam POV shots, lingering edits, and Dean Cundey's atmospheric cinematography. When Laurie Strode slowly explores the neighbor's house, anyone watching is on pins and needles. In contrast, Zombies Halloween shocks the audience with raw violence and disturbing imagery. Michael's lurking presence is just not felt in the same way. 

I've been thinking about this and trying to come up with recent horror films that rely more on suspense than surprise. The House of the Devil, Frozen, Antibodies, and Devil are a few superb examples that come to mind. At first, I thought of Inside and Them, but then thought about it some more...they really rely more on surprise than suspense to scare the audience. 

What are some recent horror movies that you guys feel were suspenseful? Why is surprise being utilized way more than suspense? Comments anyone?


My 2010 Christmas Watch List

Rather than creating a top ten list of the best Christmas horror movies, I’m just going to make a list of the movies I plan on watching this year in celebration of the holiday season. No, Silent Night, Deadly Night, didn’t make the cut this year.
The Thing (1982)
Isolation. Snow. Cold. Frigid Cold. Nothing says Christmas more than those words, right? Really, this movie is just all kinds of cool and I could watch it anytime of year, but this gives me an excuse.

Black Christmas (1974)
Yes, I’m referring to the original. Maybe the remake will make next year’s list…heh, doubtful. It’s been way too long since I’ve seen the classic slasher and what better time of year to rekindle the ol’ magic?

Inside (2007)
Cryptic, I know. I don’t know of another movie involving Christmas that could rip me out of the holiday spirit more than this movie can. We’ll see if I can actually sit through the entire runtime again. Hint: It hasn’t happened yet.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Sue me. It’s not a horror movie, but you know what? It’s one of the most awesome movies ever made and I’m going to watch it no matter how trite it sounds. After Inside, I deserve it.
P2 (2007)
I already watched this in October, but I just may give it another go with a different audience. No one ever talks about this movie (which takes place on Christmas Eve), but I love it. Santa Baby, hurry down the chimney tonight…