Rejoice, all ye connoisseurs de la decrepit! 2011 is coming to a close—and what a particularly petrifying year it has been! Let’s look back and give thanks for what has been a boon year for the macabre, arguably a step up from last year at least—what with the death of the Saw-franchise, a diminishing roster of remakes, and some superbly bloodcurdling flicks you most definitely missed at the multiplex. Here’s my top ten…
10. RED STATE
Written and directed by Kevin Smith.
I know, I know—you don’t have to tell me. Kevin Smith made the list. As a Hostel retread, at least one-third of Red State fumbles for its torture porn aspirations—providing Smith’s dunderheaded high school horndogs some of his most humorless dialogue yet. But Michael Parks performance as ultra-fundamentalist Abin Cooper conjures up a cool-headed psychotic in the vein of Westboro Baptist Church’s pastor Fred Phelps mingled in with Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter. His fifteen-minute sermon at the center of Red State is worth the rental alone.
Written by Leigh Whannell. Directed by James Wan.
From the minds of Saw, fused together with the producers of Paranormal Activity, these two frighteningly successful franchises join forces to deliver a technical exercise in cribbing from the greats. Fans of Poltergeist should file a lawsuit, but I’ll argue that the first half of Insidious is a rather sturdy rift on the haunted house yarn, supplying an proper dosage of violin strings (and boy are they shrill), bait-and-switch Boo!-scares, and a decent heap of eeriness to thrill the kiddies for the film’s requisite 90-minute run-time. Let’s skip any discussion on Insidious’ latter half, shall we? When Lin Shaye pulls out the WWI-era gas mask and starts communing with the dead, you can almost hear the pinched warble of Zelda Rubinstein calling from beyond: Carol Anne? Tell her to go to the light!
Written and directed by Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani.
An art-house giallo redux. An MTVed Suspiria. Totally pretentious—but I loved it. By taking the Dario Argento/Mario Bava-template and extending it into a 90-minute music video, writer-director team Cattet and Forzani give us a near-wordless, dialogue-free portrait of Ana. Focusing on three key moments in her life—the death of a grandparent as a young girl, a breathless run-in with a biker gang as a teenager, and a sexually-charged attack from a leather-gloved marauder wielding a straight-razor as an adult—the audience watches Ana plunge head-first into her own color-saturated fantasies, blurring the lines between what is real and what essentially amounts to a binge-session of Italian horror flicks. Style-over-content all the way—but with a color-scheme from Argento’s best films serving as Amer’s prototype, this one’s a lot of goofball fun.
7. I SAW THE DEVIL (AKMAREUI BOATDA)
Written by Hoon-jung Park. Directed by Jee-woon Kim.
The cliché game of cat-and-mouse gets a brutal role reversal in this absurd, nasty little treasure. Kim Soo-hyeon’s fiancé has recently been murdered by a diabolical psychopath who has alluded the police for years. But as fate would have it, Kim himself just-so-happens to be something of a super-secret top agent for lord only knows who or what—and now, with a lot more time on his hands, he focuses his super-secret top agenting skills on making the life of his fiancé’s murderer a living inferno of pain and regret. Thus ensues one of the more wince-inducing diversions of catch-and-release that I’ve ever seen onscreen. Clocking in at a jaw-dropping two and a half hours, the nihilism permeating this film eventually becomes too opaque to take seriously—but director Jee-woon Kim, who is responsible for other such K-horrors as A Tale of Two Sisters, stages a handful of set-pieces that demand close-viewing. At least for those who can stomach it.
6. FRIGHT NIGHT
Written by Marti Noxon. Based on the original screenplay by Tom Holland. Directed by Craig Gillespie.
A remake makes the list! With the vampire-craze hitting its peak, it’s not such a shocker that the vultures would swoop down and peck at the bones of Tom Holland’s 1985 mini-classic. What is a bit befuddling however is how little Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) sticks to the original and still feels the need to cling to its source material. This update would do better to stand alone, on its own, removed from William Ragsdale and the rest. By streamlining the original film’s storyline (next door neighbor is a vampire) and stripping the narrative of what made its cinematic ancestor so much fun (namely by swapping Roddy McDowall’s turn as a late night creature feature host for David Tennant’s odd spin as a Criss Angel-ish Vegas magician), I cry foul for going the remake route in the first place. The narrative parallels between the two are scant—and what connective tissue remains attached are arguably the low-points for the remake. Evil Ed? Christopher Mintz-Plasse, I’ve seen Stephen Geoffreys, I knew Stephen Geoffreys, his turn as Evil Ed is a favorite of mine. Christopher—you’re no Stephen Geoffreys.
But thankfully there is enough innovative material within this update to really stand on its own, completely independent from its predecessor. Much like Matt Reeves did with his own remake of yet another sacred vampire-cow Let the Right One In, Gillespie is at his best when he forges into fresher, original territory with his version of Fright Night. That at least lessens the sentimental sting of witnessing yet another childhood horror being mined and sapped of all its 80’s glory. A remake by any other name…