Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Top Terrors of 2010!

I’m not normally too keen on doing these things as it seems every blogger or critic is spewing out their own top ten lists, but this year has definitely called for a look back – not just in terms of film, but life in general.  2010 wasn’t what I would call a “good” year, but it has been a year of accomplishments.  Those accomplishments came despite major obstacles.

We bookended the year with two big sell-outs – January’s screening of The Thing and December’s premiere of Rare Exports.  And despite having to change our dates and compete against the Fringe Fest, DEDfest was better attended than in 2009. Thanks to all you sick fuckers for continuing your support this year.

I personally learned some harsh lessons this year that have made me stronger and wiser. We do DEDfest because Kevin and I love horror films and our city’s wicked horror fans. But I also have an ulterior motive.  As a member of this city’s film and TV industry, I want to see it grow.  For me, DEDfest has provided an opportunity to highlight this city as both a great place to watch horror movies AND make horror movies too.  If we build on, and showcase our city’s amazing genre community, we could both grow local talent and draw the best in the genre to film in our city (incidentally, Darren Bousman, who was here with Fear Itself, filmed recently in Winnipeg).

The lesson learned?  If you try to renovate a small pond, the big fish will get pissed off. Big fish like being big fish and sometimes they like making sure little guppies like me stay small and edible. As a result of pissing off a big fish, I spent most of 2010 semi/unemployed. I went “from Guinness to Lucky Lager” as an acquaintance so eloquently put it.

Plus we nearly lost the damn festival.  Venue renos meant that in order to put DEDfest on in 2010, we had to find an alternate location. In a town with only one independent theatre (don’t listen to what those guys on the south side tell ya... they’re a chain), it’s an almost impossible feat.  Yet with the help and support of our friends and partners at Metro Cinema, the city’s awesome underground community, and you the fans, we were able to bring you DEDfest again.

There were more obstacles... too many to mention. As many of you know, i’ll be spending much of 2011 in a different city.  I’ve decided to head to Vancouver, where I can hopefully get enough ammo under my belt to come back here for a figurative shootout with those who, for ego-based reasons, don’t wanna see the film industry grow out here.  I’m kicking the big fish out of our small pond, and making a goddamn lake.

But enough about the old pigeon-feeding fuckers. Here are my favourite genre films of 2010! Please note that although I program a horror film fest, I didn’t get as many films as I wanted to this year.  As a result, I missed out on a number of films that might have easily captured a spot or two... films like Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, Phobia 2, The Loved Ones, The Last Lovecraft, Insidious, Rubber, Cold Fish, and I Saw the Devil. Here’s hoping these films get to our fair city in 2011.

Black Swan
Holy shit did this film come out of nowhere and knock me on my ass.  I’ve been a modest fan of director Darren Aronofsky’s work, but Black Swan floored me. What starts out as an edgier version of Altman’s ballet film The Company turns into the type of body-horror flick that Cronenberg would have made. And Natalie Portman gives a stunning performance as the tightly wound, crumbling lead ballerina. Her very face, as beautiful as it is, looks like it’s about to crack apart in nearly every frame.  And the lesbian scene between Portman and Mila Kunis is worth the price of admission alone.

Piranha 3D
Fuck James Cameron.  What happened to the guy who used to love our genre?  What happened to the director that made The Terminator and Aliens (and Piranha 2)? It seems his little 3D smurf film gave him a case of the snobbies, evidenced by his criticism of this popcorn flick. In addition to the hate on from the self professed “king of the world”, the film was criminally underseen. Why audiences flocked to shittily post-converted 3D versions of Last Airbender and Alice in Wonderland, yet stayed away from a film that embraced and used to the utmost the latest 3D tech is beyond me.  Was the 3D in this film more of a gimmick? Hell yes. And it worked. Seeing the lesbian 3D underwater swim scene was worth the price of admission alone.

Despite the financial failure of 2006’s Grindhouse, the exploitation boom is still going strong.  2010 brought us the first bit of glory promised by that film’s many fake trailers, and it was glorious indeed.  What was originally supposed to be a direct-to-DVD film soon began drawing the likes of Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, and Steven Seagal. With an all-star cast, over the top direction from Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis, and one stone cold Mexi-killer performance from Danny Trejo, Machete was the crowd-pleaser to beat for the year. And the lesbian scene between Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez was worth the price of admission alone. Wait, that part was in my head.

The Human Centipede: First Sequence
I had no idea what to expect with this film. It entered the pop-culture consciousness like no other horror film had all year; it was even referenced by TV talk show hosts. Thankfully, the film lived up to the hype, mainly due to the performance by Dieter Laser (yes that’s his name) as the mad scientist intent on making a fleshy, poopy masterpiece.  The film wasn’t nearly as gory as it could have been, yet it polarized the audience at this year’s DEDfest screening. Let’s see what director Tom Six has in store for us with 2011’s Second Sequence.

I Spit on Your Grave
Besides Machete, this was the other great crowd pleaser of 2010. Many criticized the film as being too “Saw-like”, but I loved the fact that the film turfed the original’s uncomfortable attempts at titillation and made it a balls-out revenge flick. The rape scene was suitably unpleasant, making the kill scenes all the more satisfying.  Anal shotgun rape? Check. Eye gouging? Check. Requisite manhood mutilation? Motherfucking check. And Sarah Butler gave a performance one step above the typical scream queen and created a character I would gladly see in numerous sequels... perhaps this is Death Wish for a new generation?  If you missed it in August, check it out when it hits Blu Ray this February.

One of my biggest regrets of 2010 was that i couldn’t bring this film to the big screen here in Edmonton. The best Zom-Com since Shaun of the Dead, Doghouse shows how good a horror film can be when all the characters are worth investing in. In addition to a great cast, wickedly inventive makeup effects (the best Deadites since Army of Darkness) and a fun story, its also the ultimate bloke’s film -  a great movie to watch with some good buddies and beer.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
Another film that surprised the shit out of me (and helped us sell out the Metro this December!) was Rare Exports, a yuletide horror flick out of Finland that despite the dark subject matter, actually succeeded in being a great holiday film. Although light on gore (and heavy on old man penis), Rare Exports felt like the kind of film Joe Dante would have made in between The Howling and Gremlins. My only complaint: I wanted to see what the real Santa looked like!

The Crazies
While working on Fear Itself in 2008, I had the chance to talk with Breck Eisner.  The only work Eisner had done up until that point was the modest but serviceable adventure flick Sahara, but I knew he was remaking the Romero classic, so I had to ask him about it.  After chatting with him in the lunch room, I was pleasantly surprised because he seemed to get it.  He wasn’t just a hired gun like the Platinum Dunes hacks, Eisner seemed to be a genuine, reverent fan of the original. And when the film finally came out in early 2010, my suspicions that Eisner had done good were proven.  While the original played on people’s newly formed mistrust of government, the remake took things even further and played with our modern age’s many paranoias and fears – fears of disease, terrorism, our own military and even our own neighbours. And it delivers on the sauce and scares.

Never Sleep Again
It’s funny (and sad) that a documentary on the Nightmare On Elm Street series was ten times more entertaining than the remake. The most comprehensive, yet well paced film documentary I’ve seen in a long time, NSA brought up things about the Elm Street series I never knew – like the extent of Peter Jackson’s involvement. The interviews were refreshingly candid as well, especially with regards to the working relationship between original director Wes Craven and New Line head honcho Robert Shaye. A must see for all horror fans.

[REC]2 was the rare follow-up that not only expands on the original, but takes the franchise in a whole new direction.  By following up on a minor plot detail in the first (a detail that was completely ignored in the US remake), this standard but chilling zombie flick becomes a demonic thriller a la Prince of Darkness. I was happy as the front end of a human centipede that we got to screen this off a glorious 35mm print this August.

Bonus: Splice
I finally caught this fantastic creature feature late in 2010, and loved it. Like an art house version of Species, Splice kept the gore red and the sex ample, yet had some very eloquent warnings about the dangers of science going too far.  It preached the old “don’t play God” lesson without being preachy.  Kudos to the KNB team for a great creature – a mix of practical makeup and CGI that I hope will be remembered come Oscar season, and extra kudos to awards darling Adrien Brody for taking on this and three other genre films this year (Predators, The Experiment, and the unfortunate Giallo).

Honourable mentions: Predators, Night of the Demons, House of the Devil, Black Death

The Shitheap:
Suicide Girls Must Die
They can’t all be winners, as we discovered when we screened this in June. A slasher flick with naked, tattooed chicks as victims should have been a no-brainer. Instead, it was a film programmer’s lesson on why you should always get a screener first. The filmmakers couldn’t decide if they wanted to make a legitimate slasher or a promotional video for the website. Skimping on the gore didn’t help either. And none of them even die at the end! That shit worked for April Fools Day because the characters were somewhat endearing.  When you bill your film as Suicide Girls Must Die, then subject the audience to 90 minutes of exposition without any payoff... well that’s a hand job without a happy ending.

Nightmare on Elm Street
The genius casting of Jackie Earle Haley in the role of Freddy couldn’t save this piss stained mattress of a film. In fact, Haley seemed to be the only one to care about this tepid remake. Apparently the producers went to director Samuel Bayer three times to make this film. And it shows. Bayer not only sleepwalks through this flick, he downright denigrates the originals. I’ve heard him in interviews say that he felt the original’s dream sequences were uninspired. Yet with a huge FX budget at his disposal, he pisses away any opportunity to be frightening. Despite the fact that they were milking the original series to death, at least New Line tried to keep each installment somewhat fresh. With the remake, we got the answer to the question “How the fuck can you make a Freddy movie boring?”

The Wolfman
Well, i gotta admit that i stayed away from a lot of the shit this year, so my worst list is relatively light. The Wolfman probably falls more into the “biggest disappointment” category. Man... I really wanted to like this film. The transformation scenes were pretty decent (although the best transformation since American Werewolf in London is in Trick ‘r’ Treat), the film was atmospheric and moody, and Anthony Hopkins was a hoot to watch onscreen. Why did it fail? Upon viewing the original, I realized what made it – and other transformation movies like Cronenberg’s The Fly – so resonant. Lon Chaney Jr.’s Larry Talbot is a nice guy cursed with being a monster.  You like the guy... he’s got that hang dog face and natural charm that makes the ladies want to date him and the dudes want to sling beers with him. There’s a horror to watching a nice guy become a beast against his will. In the remake, Benicio Del Toro’s Talbot is an asshole from start to finish. In fact, he’s less of a mopey arrogant dick as a wolf. Whether that’s a fault of Del Toro or the screenplay, it makes for a less engaging film.

Favourite Non-Horror Films of 2010:

Toy Story 3
The scene where the toys, nearly meeting their demise, hold hands for what they think could be the last time, is as harrowing, heart warming, and Oscar-worthy a scene as any of the usual arthouse awards bait. If this film doesn’t get a best picture nomination the voters should be relegated to the “old toys home”.

Jackass 3D
Whoever thought a 3 foot vertical shit, dildos fired from air cannons, and a homemade “helicockter” could outdo Avatar? Jackass 3D used Cameron’s technology to its fullest, and showed that unless you use 3D to make your movie more fun, you’re just gouging the audience for an extra three bucks.

Hot Tub Time Machine
Although it was unfavorably compared to The Hangover, the team of John Cusack, Craig Robinson, Rob Cordry and Clark Duke were funnier and more likeable than their Vegas counterparts. A perfect ode to the 80’s – reverential and retro without feeling out of date, the film even manages to poke fun at some of Cusack’s early work. And Cordry steals the show like no one else did in 2010.

The Social Network
I was on the fence about this one, but at the end of the day only David Fincher could take something as dull sounding as the creation of Facebook and make it as engaging as a heist film, as volatile as a gangster flick, and as hyperkinetic as an action movie. And believe it or not, Justin Timberlake is actually very good in this.  But really, why this is on my list? The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Finch.  The fact that we may see Mr. Nine Inch Nail onstage at the Oscars is one of the finest achievements of the year.

Sure, it’s overrated somewhat (see the South Park episode), and it suffers from a gaping plothole (why didn’t Cobb just have his Dad fly the kids to France?), but Inception turned out to be one of those films I could watch over and over again. Special note to Joseph Gordon Levitt, who, if Nolan ever has the balls to replace Heath Ledger, is the only choice for me in the role of the Joker. Hearing Hans Zimmer’s bombastic (and now iconic) score on the big screen didn’t hurt either.

The A-Team
I loved this show when I was a runt, so I thoroughly expected to be disappointed by the film.  But kudos to Joe Carnahan for getting it right and assembling a cast with enough chemistry to shine through the bombastic ridiculousness of this big budget action flick. Sharlto Copley as Howlin’ Mad Murdock steals this one. (and kudos to the art direction Mr. Gallagher! 

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