Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Top 20 Favorite Horror Movies of the Decade

The end of the year is fast approaching, and that means it's time to make some tops. I've pondered about what kind of top to make for a while, and finally decided to make a Top 20 favorite horror movies of the decade, with the help of my brother, since it's by far our favorite movie genre and we watch a ton of horror movies. Notice this is not a list of the best movies, merely our favorites.

Making a top is kind of a tricky business, and so there are a lot of movies we ended up leaving out, for a variety of reasons: we decided not to include horror-comedies that relied more on humor than on horror (and so we were forced to leave the likes of Shaun of the Dead - which I love dearly - and Zombieland out), to only include movies we had both seen (so a lot of movies that are potentially great, like Ils, The Orphanage, Á L'interieur or Martyrs don't fit the list, simply because we didn't get to see them yet), (and to try to stick to a more specific definition of horror, leaving out movies like Cloverfield, Battle Royale or Pan's Labyrinth, that despite having horror imagery or moments, are not straight up horror). Still, we did this just for fun, so check out the top, and let us know with what you agree or disagree.

20. The Eye - Gin gwai (2002)

The original, of course. It probably suffered from being another one in a wave of ghost movies that were popular in the early 00s, but it's an intensely atmospheric and creepy tale that definitely deserves to be watched.

19. The Last House on the Left (2009)

One of those remakes that are actually good. Tense, dark and violent, the movie is well-acted and crafted, and deserving of a place on this list.

18. Wrong Turn (2003)

Yes, we've all seen the "canibalistic inbred mountain family" movie made more than once. But a solid cast, tense atmosphere, and grisly deaths make this one a little better than most. It's not groundbreaking, but it's almost guaranteed it'll deliver horror entertainment. We can forgive it for having spawned sequels, the last of which is downright unwatchable.

17. May (2002)

Definitely one of those gems that deserve to be discovered by a bigger audience. Good story, great performances, especially by the lead, Angela Bettis, who manages to keep her character sympathetic even at the craziest parts of the movie. It's really best not to reveal too much about it, because it'll enrich the experience of watching it. Rent it, buy it, just make sure you give May a chance.

16. The Others (2001)

This is an extremely atmospheric movie, beautifully shot, and very creepy. It's also very subtle, and it will unsettle you without ever showing much.

15. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

A remake of the 1974 classic. A bit torture porn-ish at times, it does have some strong performances, especially by R. Lee Ermey, who plays the deranged sheriff, and all in all managed to be entertaining all throughout.

14. The House of the Devil (2009)

To me, this was one of the surprises of 2009. A highly atmospheric movie that is a throwback to 70's/early 80's horror. It's a slow burning movie that suffers from a rushed ending, but that didn't detract from the experience, and I highly recommend it (besides, I love all the posters for it). Maybe it should be a little higher on the list, but it does get tougher and tougher to pick favorites.

13. The Mist (2007)

A big-budget adaptation of a Stephen King story, The Mist had a strong cast and a very compelling script. I was totally immersed in this story and I was quite fascinated by the behavior of the group of people stuck in the supermarket.

12. Saw (2004)

I don't care what anyone says, the original Saw is a solid horror movie, which managed to both scare me and surprise me. Forget about all the sequels (most of which are horrendous), the first Saw definitely deserves a place on this list.

11. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)

A very entertaining dissection of the nooks and crannies of the slasher genre, anyone who is a horror fan should enjoy this. It does have some comedic elements to it, but it doesn't fully rely on comedy, so it was still able to make its way onto the list.

10. Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Even with the fast zombies (that I know a lot of people don't like at all), this was a solid zombie movie that, despite being a little more focused on action than on scares, pleased a lot of horror fans worldwide. It was energetic and fast-paced. It was also a good remake, that never wanted to outshine the original material, but instead gave it a different spin. The opening scene remains one of my favorite openings of any horror movie.

9. Splinter (2008)

Some may disagree with this movie being in such a high position, or even in the list at all, but we greatly enjoyed it, and it serves as a testament how sometimes straight-to-DVD movies are better than big-budget, theatrical release horror (as was the case this year with movies like The Haunting of Molly Hartley and The Unborn, which were beyond bad and still got significant theatrical runs).

8. Trick 'r Treat (2008)

Another movie that I honestly don't understand why was kept under wraps for so long, never seeing a theatrical release. It's been a while since the last horror anthology film came along, and Trick 'r Treat is a very solid revival of that sub-genre, in which all tales intertwine and play along with the various traditions of Halloween. Bound to become an Halloween classic.

7. The Ring (2003)

One of the rare cases when we prefer the remake over the original. It was tense, it was unsettling, creepy and scary. And on top of that, it was elegant and mature. It may have spawned a landslide of J-Horror remakes, but to this day it remains the best re-telling of the original story, and a modern horror classic.

6. Dead End (2003)

A family on their way to Christmas dinner decide to take a short cut. That's the premise of this movie, and that might get you thinking you've seen it done a hundred times before, but this is actually a pretty original take on the "wrong way" movies, with a hint of Twilight Zone, a solid cast, and gripping plot. The ending and the way it relies on twists was a bit disappoint, but the ride there was great.

5. 28 Days Later (2002)

While technically speaking this is not a zombie movie (it's more an "infected" movie), this compelling flick marked the return of the zombie sub-genre, and, not only that, still remains one of the best entries on it. Unrelenting, vicious and a fantastic horror movie.

4. Drag me to Hell (2009)

Hands down my favorite horror movie of 2009, Drag me to Hell marks the return of Sam Raimi to the horror genre. His directing style is almost like a character in the movie. Raimi combines horror and gross-out humor like almost no other (I wish Peter Jackson would also return to his roots!), and the result is an amazingly fun movie that makes us laugh and gag in turns.

3. Paranormal Activity (2007)

I already discussed this movie at length so I won't do it again. All I will say is: this movie scared the bejeezus out of me, and so it definitely deserves to be on this list.

2. The Descent (2005)

One of the most claustrophobic movies I ever saw. This movie manages to be tense and scary at almost every turn, it literally keeps you in the edge of your seat. Filled with dread and very unforgiving, this is horror at its best, from this, or any, decade.

1. [REC] (2007)

If the hand-held camera style was ever used to its full potential, this movie was the one that did it. It throws you right into the middle of an apartment building where a zombie outbreak is taking place, and the acting is so good that it's easy to forget you're watching a movie. From then on, it doesn't stop. It may not be the most thought-provoking movie, but it's incredibly visceral and, most of all, it is scary and it'll stay with you long after it's over.

And so we conclude this list. Like I said in the beginning, there are some movies that didn't make the cut for one or other reason, but there are plenty other horror movies that were good this decade. Let's hope the next brings us more of the good, and less of the bad!

Happy New Year to everyone!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Paranormal Activity

As you know, I don't really like reviewing most current movies I see in my blog. I think there are far better writers and reviewers out there that undertake the task of tackling the newest box office hits, and so I don't really need to do it. I prefer to write my occasional review on old or poorly known movies that people may enjoy knowing about.
Anyway, sometimes I feel like breaking the cycle and this is one of those cases. What caused it? The much hyped and talked about Paranormal Activity.

Like I already mentioned, this movie was super hyped. It reminded a lot of people of the Blair Witch Project, a comparison pushed even further by the hand-held camera style that most of the movie was shot on (although, in my opinion, the publicity for Blair Witch was a little more complex - the directors even created a documentary totally separated from the movie, created all these websites and basically bet a lot of resources into tricking people to believing the events they would eventually see on camera were real). But, to be honest, I disconnected from a lot of the hype. I'm not one to jump in bandwagons, and when I start hearing about a movie left and right I get really turned off to it most of the times. Especially when the movie gets branded with labels such as "scariest movie of all time", like this one was. It pretty much just makes me want to dismiss it as a bag of bullshit. I didn't even see the full trailer. Still, when the movie opened in theaters in Portugal and opinions started rolling in on twitter, I got curious again. A couple of people there mentioned how they thought the movie could be more effective if watched at home... and that, coupled with me being a little sick, led to me watching this movie at home, in the dark. I was pretty torn about it, because I knew the version I had featured a different ending from the current version, but curiosity just spoke louder, so I settled in with my boyfriend in the bedroom and we popped in Paranormal Activity.
I think most of you are probably familiar with the setup: Micah and Katie are a young couple who started living together a little while ago. They start experiencing an array of weird events in their house and, since Katie reveals that she has suffered paranormal experiences on and off since she was a kid , Micah decides to go out and get himself a camera to document whatever is happening in their house. He gets a full set up together in the bedroom, not just the camera but devices to capture EVP and all sorts of gadgets like that. What we see is what they got on camera over the course of about 3 weeks.

You guys know I love horror movies, and I watch all sorts, from every subgenre out there, old, new, doesn't matter: I watch them all, I watch a LOT of horror movies. Not that much scares me anymore. But Paranormal Activity managed to scare me. Maybe it's because I'm a little bit of a scaredy cat in real life, when it comes to weird noises around the house and stuff like that. That door creeking, those faint footsteps you can't really place, that bump you think you hear... all of that freaks me out. I mean, I'm not really a believer in paranormal things, but it freaks me out and I actually love to read books about it, or watch documentaries, whatever I can get. I guess I like being scared. Well, along with me, I think a lot of people share the same deep-rooted feelings of being alone, freaked out in their house by unidentified noises, and that's where I think Paranormal Activity comes in as effective. The things you will see will make you wonder , deep down, if it has ever happened to you but you just don't know about it because you didn't set up a camera in your bedroom to record it. That, and the unseen, are the biggest things playing in favor for this movie. It was effective for me, it might not be for other people but to me it was.
The movie develops pretty slowly. In the beginning you kind of think "Well, that's not really that scary", but things definitely take a turn for the worse and it becomes increasingly terrifying, in a very effective way. Katie becomes desperate and Micah becomes borderline idiotic, making bad decision after another. I almost wish his character wasn't as full-blown alpha-male as he was, but well. They were believable to me, they may not have been the best actors ever, but they mostly came across as a believable couple. Katie's friend, for example, didn't work well for me at all, and whenever she was on screen she kind of took me off the movie - fortunatelly she was only there for a short time.
The filming style worked very well for me. I know a lot of people have problems with the hand-held camera, but I honestly believe if this movie was made any other way it wouldn't have been as effective. There's not a lot of shaky cam because plenty of times the camera is set on a tripod, so you get a stable shot. And, when the characters are carrying the camera around the house, you're actually scared again by what could appear when the camera is swiping left to right, to the dark corners of the house. The camera didn't detract from the movie at all, in fact it contributed a lot to the feeling of reality of the movie. I can tell you that watching it with my boyfriend, in a set up pretty similar to that of the movie, in the dark, it almost felt voyeuristic, almost like we were really watching a lost home movie from a real couple. It made it all feel very palpable, very real. And very creepy.

You know those internet games that were pretty popular a few years back, where you were asked to focus on a photograph, or look for something, or listen to a song very attentively, just to stand there like a jackass for 30 seconds and then have something jump at you? That scared the shit out of you, didn't it. Yeah, it scared the shit out of me too. A lot of parts in this movie reminded me of that - especially the parts at night, in the bedroom. The director managed to create such tension, you're just there thinking "oh my god, something's going to happen right NOW", but then it's never a cheap jumpscare, like you'd expect. It's just continuing tension, and anxiety. You're bracing yourself for that scare, but then it's never what you think. It really gets on your nerves and you only imagine how those people can even sleep in that fucking room, I know I wouldn't be able to sleep. There is some fantastic, I mean fantastic creepy imagery here. Things so simple that you think for sure someone must have used this before - but no one did, and it works perfectly. I won't say what it is because I don't want to spoil it, you'll have to see it and try to guess what I mean.
There were a few things that I didn't like all that much. To everyone who's seen it, the "Diane" plot point and the way it's shown in the movie was overkill for me. That took me right out of the movie - up to that point everything felt pretty real to me, but that didn't look real to me and it made me think of another movie, which is not good, when you're reminded of a movie that is superior to the one you're watching. But that's probably all I can think of, off the top of my head. I've heard people mention pacing issues, which I can understand, but to me it worked perfectly, I wasn't bored for a second.
The movie ending I saw was the original one, not the Paramount/Spielberg cut, though I have now seen both endings. Both are good - but I don't know if it's because I saw it first or if it's geniunely better, but I lean towards prefering the original ending. They're both good, shocking and very bleak.
All in all, I really, really liked this movie. I don't know if it lives up to the hype, but it comes damn close and it sure deserves the recognition that it's getting. It's pretty remarkable that a movie made with only 11.000 dollars is getting a worldwide distribution, and I hope it continues succeeding at the box office, because it's probably one of the best horror films to have come out this year, or in the last 10 years for that matter. It IS scary. Watch it in the dark, try watching it alone, in your house, and see if it doesn't stick with you. You'll be wanting to sleep with the door closed. 4 out of 5 stars from me.