Justin's Top 10 Horror Films of 2009

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Well boys and girls, its that time of year where us writers beat you over the head with all of our 2009 lists. While many people thought 2009 was a great year for horror, it has been a tough year for me as a horror fan.  I know a lot of people loved this years releases but I thought this year had more mediocre releases than normal and had a lot of films with too much hype that were ultimately letdowns for me. From big name franchises (F13, Halloween) and more remakes (The Uninvited, Last House on the Left), to a return from a Director (Drag Me to Hell), the oft delayed (Trick R Treat, Midnight Meat Train), and the overhyped (District 9, Paranormal Activity, Black Devil Doll) my list includes none of these.  Only one of my top 10 films saw wide release in 2009 while many others were direct to DVD, small festival/convention releases, a few foreign films, and (shock!) even one overlooked remake.  While there will be plenty of disagreement and arguing about what is and isnt on my list, the best part is this is MY top ten horror films for 2009 because they gave me things I really enjoyed.  Sit back, relax, and get your fingers warmed up because I know there will be plenty of comments about this one.

10) Sick Girl: While a lot of people may have put the film Deadgirl on their top 10 lists, about a week or two earlier a very low budget indie film came out called Sick Girl (not to be confused with the MOH episode of the same name).  Fortunately, I had my eye on Sick Girl ever since Synapse acquired it and ended up enjoying it.  A film about a girl trying to take care of her brother after her parents deaths and her brother leaving for the marines, she soon begins to lose it and tortures bullies who picked on her as well as her little brother.  While the plot is nothing new, I enjoyed the execution.  It gave you an inside look as to why the girl was a little loco and while there is some kidnapping/torture it wasn't over the top for the sake of being over the top.  There was one scene in particular that I loved and it involved what may be the most deranged Christmas tree you will ever see.  It has some slow spots and people will probably scoff at some of the low budget qualities or not being as extreme as it could have, but Sick Girl left with an unsettled yet strangely satisfying reaction.  It's not often a low budget film can do that to me which is why I didnt feel right without this on my list. 

9) Shuttle:  I heard some good things about Shuttle after it's single screening at SXSW in 2008 and after finally hitting the festival circuit again and a DVD release in 2009, I got a chance to see the film.  I tempered expectations a bit just to be safe but I was still fairly surprised with this film.  The story of two girls getting abducted on a shuttle ride home from the airport could have been a boring wreck but it was more intelligent then I expected and kept me wondering what could happen next.  Was it occasionally predictable and contained flaws?  Yes.  But it was the gritty and grim atmosphere that I enjoyed and it didn't succumb to the typical studio friendly happy ending.  One of the main things that disappointed me is the trailer and DVD cover both seemed to give a way a little too much of the conclusion but I look past that in realizing I enjoyed the film for how everything was presented and by keeping me wanting to know what would happen next.

8) Babysitter Wanted: This film is one that is interesting because it has been floating around the festival/convention circuit for some time but has yet to see a proper DVD release in the US.  I got to see this at a convention and also ended up picking up the UK DVD version of the film.  I was extremely surprised with this film as creepy kid films often let me down.  I thought it had a great story, with some twists that kept the story moving along well and were never over the top.  The little kid in the film was pretty eerie at times and usually little kids don't get to me.  It utilized the strong story and characters and built on it more with a great musical score and sound FX.  It had a very throwback feel to it, reminding me of some of the earlier creepy kid horror films and why they were successful.  Not you're standard "creepy kid" or "stalked babysitter" film, this is one worth checking out if you are a fan of old school psychological movies built around music, sound, and interesting characters.  Hopefully it will see a proper US release soon enough

7)  Thirst:  Last year, Let the Right One In was the foreign vampire film worth talking about.  Somehow this year, Thirst went relatively unnoticed.  It's a shame too because it is really a good vampire film.  It follows a priest who is turned into a vampire and soon must come to grips with his new found quest for blood as well as a suddenly overdeveloped sex drive.  It really has some interesting elements, seeing as the main character is a priest and now has all these moral dilemmas in front of him that were once taboo but now part of his everyday life.  Directed by Chan-Wook Park, who many of you know for his film Oldboy, this vampire film gets back to some of the basics of vampirism, a taste for blood and lust.  This film is drama in the same way that LTROI was last year, so don't expect lots of crazy action or large vampire killing sprees, instead watch the story unfold as a priest battles his inner sins that have now taken over after becoming a vampire.  It's a shame this was not chosen over the film Mother for Korea's entrance in the foreign Oscar cetegory.

6)  Home Movie: In a year where a low budget handi-cam film took the country by storm(paranormal Activity), it's another low budget handi-cam film that makes my list.  Home Movie is a Canadian horror film yet to see much of a release south of Canuck-land but for me was one of my surprise favorite finds when I got my hands on the Canadian DVD when it released this summer.  Starring Adrian Pasdar (Near Dark, Heroes), the film followed a family through their home movies, from playing backyard baseball to telling bedtime stories. You see the family in their most intimate moments and their worst as the kids begin to display evil acts and show signs of possession.  With the dad being a pastor and the mom a psychologist, it also gave a few twists as to how the parents each approached the demonic behavior their young kids show.  It may be too slow for some but I think it is necessary to form an attachment to the characters and make the viewer feel like they are watching the downfall of their own family.  There are some chilling sequences towards the end and an interesting scene with a cat but I wont say any more. 

5)  The Echo:  I never thought a remake would make my list, let alone a remake of a J-horror film that I really like.  The nice thing about the remake of The Echo is that writer/director Yam Laranas is the man behind the original Pinoy version of The Echo(aka Sigaw) so he was able to keep a lot of elements and styles similar.  Part ghost story part psychological thriller, it was a well executed story of a man tormented in the old apartment of his deceased mother.  Laranas did some excellent work in creating a tense atmosphere, most notable in bleak sets and great sound FX.  It takes some time to get going but I think the second half really makes up for the slow build beginning.  It's just an all around effective ghost story with some great use of sound and style to keep the viewer on the edge of their seats.  It may be the most satisfying ghost movie I have seen since in a while because it stuck with creepy atmosphere and building tension rather than cheap scares and watered down Americanization that happens to a lot of foreign remakes

4)  Dead Snow:  This film was talked about from the moment details began to leak out on the Internet.  When you base your film around Zombie Nazi's it's hard not to get a strong buzz going.  Fortunately, I thought this film lived up to a lot of the hype and was all around a great time to watch.  It kind of spoofs on horror films a little as one character is a horror fanatic and mentions movie cliche's while they are being stalked in the snowy mountains.  There were some pretty cool deaths, a few unrealistic moments that were too awesome to pick apart, and an all around crazy finale.  Sure it took a little while for the Nazi zombies to build up speed and paint the snow red, but the interplay of characters was funny and once the ball got over the hill this film was non-stop gory fun.  It's the type of film that you pop up a bag of buttery popcorn and watch over and over for a variety of reasons, from humor to well executed gore.

3)  Doghouse:  While this film may end up seeing itself on some top 10 lists next year in 2010 (it has yet to see US release) for me it makes my 2009 list.  Released this year in theaters as well as DVD in the UK (hooray for region free DVD players!), Doghouse for me was the funniest foreign horror comedy this year.  A simple premise of a group of friends in the doghouse with their significant others take a trip to cheer up a friend who is getting divorced....only to find they end up in a town full of psycho, flesh hungry women who have already devoured all the other men to cross their path.  The characters were entertaining and remained your every day, working class antiheroes.  I hate when movies turn ordinary people in Rambo-style killers of the undead, but in Doghouse the charters are ordinary enough to use golf balls, squirt guns, RC Cars, and anything they can find as weapons in order to run away and hide.   The interplay between characters is a lot of fun and it's full of typical cheeky British humor that I personally enjoyed.  If it weren't for Zombieland this year, it would be the funniest horror film I've seen since Shaun of the Dead. 

2)  Zombieland: A film that will probably grace a majority of horror fan's top ten lists, this is a film that is really hard not to enjoy.  While almost more of a buddy comedy then a horror film, this film was just too much fun to ignore.  Sure the plot was pretty simple, the zombie kills weren't anything too original and nobody really died but it's the execution of all this that makes it count.  The writing and dialog were hilarious, the characters were perfectly cast, and ideas such as raiding celebrity mansions for supplies/safety and going to an amusement park made for some original elements in the zombie genre.  Unless you don't like slapstick style humor in your horror films, there is no reason why anyone wouldn't enjoy a trip to Zombieland.  The only thing that worries me is the same thing that happened after Shaun of the Dead where a formula worked for the one film then gets replicated and beat to death by others for a while.  Lets hope the studio shakes the dollar signs out of their heads for long enough for the announced sequel to be just as good and not just another cash cow.

1)  Pontypool:  When Pontypool got a VERY limited release, it was not playing in my area so I was unable to see it which I was very disappointed about.  Fortunately for me the Canadian DVD came out this summer and I was blown away.  To top it off, in October it made it's Midwest premiere here in Chicago and I attended and it was even more incredible on a big screen, with the sound up, and in a room full of horror fans.  I don't remember the last film I have seen at a festival that had the whole audience dead quiet in a theater.  There were times you could hear a pin drop because everyone was glued to the film.  It is a completely different take to a zombie outbreak as we don't really see it unfold, but we hear it unfold as callers call into the radio station to describe the events.  This style may leave some viewers thinking the movie is kind of uneventful but I think it makes the film tense and uses a great deal of thinking to pull off.  I hate to use the term "thinking man's horror film" but Pontypool is just that.  Smart and some what sophisticated, it makes the viewer experience the dread and horror of a zombie apocalypse without much of a glimpse as to what is truly happening.  Kudo's to all involved for making a zombie film that requires more from its viewers than other "bash their brains in" zombie films.  Definately the high point of all my horror experiences in 2009!

So there you have it.  No doubt my list is going to raise some eyebrows and invoke a "he actually liked ____ more then ____" type reactions.  To me it's not what about what isnt on the list but what is and for a year that was supposed to be about all the big releases, I find a bit of pleasure in knowning most the films that took me by surprised and entertained me were done without the help of major studio backing or high theater count releases.  Maybe there is more hope for the genre after all, if only for studios leaving their grubby little fingers off some projects. 

Honorable mentions:  Grace, Martyrs, The Mutant Chronicles, Mum & Dad, Voices, Red Victoria, Last House on the Left, Timecrimes, Alien Raiders

Some notable 2009 releases I haven't seen so they could not be weighed in my top 10: Antichrist, The House of the Devil, Pandorum, Quarantine, The Final Destination. You can also go and read Mehs Top 10 Horror Films of 2009

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