Return to the Dark Century – 2010 – Let Me In

2010 continued our collective journey through the financial crisis, and while our politicians ratcheted up the rhetoric and demonstrated a shortage of leadership, the American people tried to rise out of the muck and remake themselves.  It only seems fitting that horror movies also seemed to find meaning in remakes.  Breck Eisner took on the George Romero classic The Crazies, Samuel Bayer raided Wes Craven’s closet and remade Nightmare on Elm Street, Joe Johnson cast Benicio Del Toro as The Wolfman, and Steven Monroe remade Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave.  Besides being noted for the remakes, 2010 gave us Cropsey, a creepy documentary by two filmmakers exploring the urban legend of their youth, Splice fed our need for a genetics-gone-wrong story, and Paul Bettany played a sexy fallen angel trying to prevent the End of Days in Legion.

But it was the remake of the amazing Swedish horror film Let the Right One In that hands down won our 2010 race for best horror film.

We approached Let Me In skeptically. As mentioned in our 2008 post, Let the Right One In left an indelible mark on our expectations not only for vampire films, but for horror films as a whole.  Combine that with our lack of faith that such a rich story could be transplanted without killing the roots, and we feared the worst.  Obviously, we were pleasantly surprised by this high profile production from the reborn Hammer studios.  Let Me In moved the story from Stockholm, Sweden to Los Alamos, New Mexico, but still did a wonderful job of making the girl vampire Abby, both sympathetic and terrifying.  The chemistry between actress Chloë Grace Moretz and actor Kodi Smit-McPhee rivaled that of their Swedish counterparts (Lina Leadnersson and Kåre Hedebrant) and gives this movie an amazing tension. Outcast and bullied Owen befriends Abby at night in a local playground, and eventually he learns her true nature. Let Me In reminds us that vampires are terrifying creatures, predators of the first order, and even though Abby appears as an “adolescent” and is in need of a guardian, she is a monster.  The relationship between Owen and Abby has a sexual charge, but it is subtle and sweet, and has more to do with mutual understanding and respect than sex.

Another surprise of Let Me In was Richard Jenkins as Father, Abby’s guardian, and in some ways, her prisoner.  His performance does an amazing job of portraying his devotion to Abby, but also his jealousy as Abby and Owen grow closer. His unwavering loyalty is tested and tortured as he tries to provide for his charge, and his inevitable end leaves Abby vulnerable.

Let Me In beat the odds by staying remarkably true to Let the Right One In, and it paid off.  This remake won several awards including Best Horror Film and Best Performance by a Younger Actor (Chloë Grace Moretz) from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films.  There is no doubt this film qualifies as a new classic horror film and redeems the vampire as an object of smart horror.

Return to the Dark Century- 2009 – Trick r’ Treat

So, 2009…

As noted, it’s hard to say anything meaningful about a year so recently passed, but it’s safe to say that not many historians will view 2009 as one of the world’s great years. Wars and rumors of war; the continuing unraveling of national and international economies; earthquakes and hurricanes. Michael Jackson died, but shallow celebrity culture lived on!

In horror films, the year was not as rich as 2008, but then few years are. Torture porn lurched forward on a hundred legs with the dreadful The Human Centipede (First Sequence), which reduced the unspeakable to ironic posturing. Lars von Trier’s Antichrist gave us a front row seat at a personal Gnostic apocalypse that may have done the best job of capturing the world’s mood in this dark year, but ultimately felt unsatisfying as a narrative. Bad sequels (Cabin Fever 2) and stupid re-makes (Friday the 13th and The Haunting) captured the quality of most of the year’s offerings.   Zombieland was hugely popular, but we found it un-engaging and painfully self-conscious. Close contenders for favorite of the year included Pontypool (which I inadvertently listed in 2008) and Wake Wood, a scary, low-key tale from Hammer.

But our pick is a brilliant little gem that was released, almost accidentally, in 2009. Trick ‘r Treat, written and directed by Michael Dougherty, is well on its way to becoming a holiday classic! A brilliantly woven web of stories, Trick r’ Treat reminds us that humor and horror can still be effectively combined, if the humor is smart. Trick ‘r Treat was intended for release at Halloween in 2007 but Warner’s nerve apparently failed and the movie teetered on the brink of oblivion before finally finding a DTV release in 2009. In the mean time, it had started to pick up a buzz from a few screenings at festivals and underground digital “distribution” and has gained considerably more of a reputation since its release. Any lover of Halloween should see Trick ‘r Treat.

We like this film not only for its sense of humor and clever structure, but for its playful use of Halloween iconography and numerous, often subtle references to horror comics, films, and folk tales. Sometimes compared to John Carpenter’s original Halloween, Trick ‘r Treat is a far more loving and complete tribute to the weird holiday that, above all else, celebrates the power of imagination.

It was easily our favorite horror film from 2009, even if it should have been released in 2007!

Return to the Dark Century – 2008 – The Burrowers

2008 was an election year, which made the year horrible enough all by itself. The US was dealing with potential economic collapse as well as the ongoing threat of terrorism and adjustment to the idea of a more multilateral future in the world. Maybe all that tension is what made it such a fantastic year for horror films.

Of the four years we will be considering, 2008 was by far the most challenging from which to pick a favorite. Apart from traditional movies or DTV productions, 2008 saw a boom in web-based horror with such efforts as Beyond the Rave, an online serial from the newly resurrected Hammer Studios. The burgeoning age of instant media also inspired Cloverfield, a truly innovative take on kaiju stories. From Sweden, Let the Right One In told a new kind of vampire story, and vampires were everywhere in 2008, so this was no mean feat. Zombies were pretty common too, though their numbers would increase in the following years, and no zombie tale was more innovative or entertaining than the Canadian Pontypool.

But our pick was a 100% American film, rooted in the country’s eternal fascination with the epic of westward expansion. “Post-colonial” in every sense of the word, respectful of Native American culture without dancing with wolves, and genuinely horrific, no other fright film in 2008 was quite as effective as The Burrowers.  Directed by rising star J.T. Petty, who may be the smartest horror director currently working, The Burrowers owes debts to John Ford and to countless monster movies from the last half of the 20th Century, while also managing to be spectacularly original. Whether viewed as allegory or as straightforward horror, The Burrowers is relentlessly entertaining, even when it’s hard to watch.

Like Ford’s The Searchers, Petty’s script tells the story of a band of white men in search of a stolen girl, and plays with all the familiar trappings of classic Westerns before turning them inside out like a gutted deer. Making the very best use of a small budget and full of great touches, The Burrowers may be the best horror film of the entire decade. All of Petty’s movies are worth seeking out. His 2001 debut, Soft for Digging, is probably the best horror movie ever made for less than $10,000 (no, that’s not a typo). He has a new film, Hellbenders, which should be out any day now.

Drake and I will be the ones at the head of the line.

Return to the Dark Century

Back in 2008, Drake and I chose our favorite horror movies, beginning with the very dawn of film and coming decade by decade to the present. We thought it would be fun to update that list by looking at the years since then. Our year-by-year list of recent favorites will appear here between now and Halloween.

In some ways, this list will be more of a challenge than the original one. Time gives one perspective and makes it easier to fit a movie into its era. A decade also offers a lot of choices, too many in some cases. Dealing with years as recent as 2008 and 2010 tends to be an exercise in tunnel vision; it is hard to know the characteristics of an age when you are still inside it.

Still, there have been some terrific horror films in the last few years and it’s time to recognize them. In the mean time, I invite any of my readers who want to send any suggestions for movies to consider, just email me at muse @ angelacaperton (dot) com.  You may well steer me to films I don’t know and prizes are a possibility!
Come back on Sunday and see what Drake and I thought was the best of 2008!

Happy Halloween!