Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ring In The New Fear

The best thing about coming to the end of the year is that all the cinematic disappointments of the last twelve month are forgotten (by me, at least - I hate to go into the new year carrying a grudge) with the promise of a better year ahead. And if it should come to pass that things don’t pan out as well as expected, well, there’s always another year to come.

As for the prospects that 2009 holds for horror fans, I think we’re in store for a fun year. Below are the twenty films I’m most excited to check out in the months ahead. If it seems like my choices are too thick with what some may categorize as mainstream American crap, well, I happen to be a fan.

While I know there’ll be plenty of foreign and indie offerings in '09 that'll knock my socks off, they likely won’t be in 3-D and won’t have Piranha in the title. I also will probably have to wait until DVD to see them.

When I think about the movies I’m looking forward to, I mostly like to think about movies that I know I’ll have a chance to actually see in movie theaters and unfairly or not, it's big studio pictures that best fit that description. Even if a movie turns out to be lackluster, I still love the anticipation of seeing trailers and TV spots, seeing the posters in theater lobbies, and ultimately seeing that new movie on the big screen. And those times when a movie really delivers makes the many disappointments worth enduring.

With that said, here’s to 2009!

1. Friday the 13th
Times have come around in a big way for old-school slasher fans with the disreputable films of our youth coming back into fashion. Whether this is a good thing or just a further sign that standards are irrevocably slipping is up to individuals to decide. As remakes go, this return to Camp Crystal Lake seems like an easy win. After Jason Takes Manhattan, Jason Goes to Hell, and Jason X, this can only be a major upgrade for the Friday franchise. And I like that this reboot is looking to make Jason a figure of fear again as there’s a new generation (or two) that doesn’t understand or remember that the early films in the F13 series were considered to be scary in their day.

2. My Bloody Valentine 3-D
The original My Bloody Valentine is arguably the best of the post-Halloween, post-Friday the 13th slashers. It had a better caliber of actors than were usually found in other slasher films of the time, the characters skewed to an older twentysomething crowd rather than to teens, the storyline was a little more elevated (with its love triangle and romantic angst) than just a series of killings, and it had one of the more vivid environments of an early ‘80s slasher film with its blue collar town and cavernous mines. This remake looks to retain all the qualities of the first film and do it bigger, better, bloodier, and in 3-D. And with Tom Atkins to boot.

3. Drag Me To Hell
Who cares if this is PG-13 – it’s still Sam Raimi coming back to the genre after an extended stay in the big budget leagues. I’m excited to see how his time helming the Spider-Man films will affect his approach to the kind of gonzo horror comedies that he made his name on.

4. The Wolfman
This would be higher on my this list – maybe even Number #1 – if Rick Baker had been allowed to do a real transformation scene. But the word that the FX in this remake will be primarily CG is discouraging. On the other hand, I love the cast here (I think everyone agrees that Benicio Del Toro is great wolfman material), the early word on Andrew Kevin Walker’s script has been positive, and I’ve mostly liked director Joe Johnston’s films to date. Along with the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Wolf Man is my favorite of the Universal Monsters so I have my fingers crossed that this will be a great revival for the character.

5. Ashecliffe
Martin Scorsese returns to horror/thriller territory for the first time since 1991's Cape Fear with this adaptation of the Dennis Lehane novel Shutter Island. I haven't read Lehane's book but its plot - involving two U.S. Marshalls searching for a mental patient (a woman who committed multiple murders) who's gone missing from an island-set asylum - sounds like ripe material for Scorsese to work with. I'll try to keep myself shielded from any spoilers before this hits theaters in October and hope that this one is going to floor me.

6. Final Destination: Death Trip 3-D
This series has been the only horror franchise of the current decade that I’ve enjoyed. I love the simplicity of the concept, and its inventive, Omen-esque set-pieces. The second Destination remains the best of the bunch and with FD 2 director David Ellis returning for this entry, I’m sure Death Trip is going to up the ante on 3-D horror.

7. 25/8
Although his career has hit its share of lows (Hills Have Eyes 2, A Vampire in Brooklyn) and his name on a film as a producer never seems to bode well (Mind Ripper, Dracula 2000), Wes Craven always seems to find a way to stay relevant. While peers like George Romero and Tobe Hooper are pretty much making films that go straight to DVD and John Carpenter hasn’t made a feature since 2001, Craven’s latest is bound to be a big deal. What I’ve read about the storyline sounds a little on the convoluted side but I have hope that this will be a return to classic Craven. Having said that, even Craven’s missteps (like Shocker) are more fun than most of what current horror has to offer.

8. Splice
This Frankenstein-esque tale of genetic engineering has an impressive pedigree of talent behind it with Cube’s Vincenzo Natali directing and Guillermo del Toro producing. I’m not sure how horror-orientated this’ll turn out to be but I bet it’ll be one of the better genre offerings of the year.

9. Piranha 3-D
How great would it be if 2009 was host to three kick-ass 3-D horror films? Three kick-ass R-rated 3-D films, at that? Of the three on this list, I only put Piranha last because it hasn’t even started filming yet and who knows if it’ll really make it’s planned-for summer '09 release date. I hope it does as I can’t imagine a better summer horror movie than one with piranha swimming off the screen in 3-D. To my eyes, Alexandre Aja isn’t that impressive as a director but he does know how to deliver great visuals and gore. This year’s Mirrors was a cheesy mess that won my heart and I’m hoping that Piranha 3-D will do the same.

10. The Last House on the Left
The original Last House is one of those movies where I concede its classic status but have no love for it whatsoever. For me, it’s not a movie I’ve ever cared to see a second time. A glossier, more crowd-pleasing take on this tale of rape and revenge might miss the point of the hard-hitting original but positive early word has me curious.

11. The Box
I’m not much of a Richard Kelly fan but this Richard Matheson adaptation could be a welcome surprise. I’m hoping this story of a couple who find themselves in possession of a mysterious box that grants wishes at a grisly cost will be a mix of the quirky and the genuinely scary.

12. The Orphan
R-rated, old-school slasher films may be back in vogue this year but director Jaume Collet-Serra was there first with 2005’s House of Wax, delivering one of the more underrated horror films of the current decade (he also beat the torture-porn fad to the punch, with scenes of nastiness that outpaced what Hostel offered audiences months later in January ‘06). Ever since seeing House, I’ve been anxiously awaiting Collet-Serra's follow-up and now here it is, courtesy of another Dark Castle production. The storyline – about a couple who’ve lost a child and subsequently adopt a young girl who turns out to be evil – doesn’t sound like the most promising but I have hope that Collet-Serra will do something interesting with it.

13. 100 Feet
This might be going straight to the Sci-Fi Channel but I’m still excited to see this ghost story about a woman (Famke Jenssen) under court-ordered house arrest who is haunted by the ghost of her abusive husband. Writer/director Eric Red’s last film, Bad Moon, was awful but the writer of Near Dark and the writer/director of the goofy but fondly remembered (by me, at least) Body Parts deserves some consideration. I just like how the concept of this film inventively solves the Achilles Heel of haunted house tales – why don’t people just leave the house? – and I expect that this should prove to be a little different than the rash of Asian-influenced ghost stories of the last few years.

14. The New Daughter
The idea of Kevin Costner in a horror film might not pique much interest among genre fans but I have a feeling that this supernatural shocker will end up being pretty good. I haven’t seen director Luis Berdejo’s previous films but he co-wrote [REC] and that’s recommendation enough for me.

15. The Knowing
This might be more sci-fi than horror but it looks suitably creepy to me. I just hope that when we find out the whole enchilada about what the force is behind this film’s eerie prophecies that it won’t be too cheesy. Even if this is only 3/4ths of a good movie, though, I think I’ll enjoy it.

16. 2012
Apocalyptic crap is always a good time waiting to happen. And with the Mayan calendar involved, doomsday has never looked such a sure thing. Well, actually it all looks like baloney to me – but immensely entertaining baloney. I just worry that this movie won’t be quite as nuts as I’d like it to be.

17. The Haunting in Connecticut
I’m always game for seeing an average American family forced to battle the supernatural on their home turf. We'll see how this one shapes up but at the very least, with Virginia Madsen as the mom and Elias Koteas as the concerned priest, this looks to have a little more dramatic clout than the usual teen-orientated fare.

18. Surrogates
Bruce Willis doing sci-fi is always alright by me, I’ve liked director Jonathan Mostow’s previous films (even if they haven’t been outstanding, they’ve shown he has an able handle on how to deliver B-style thrills), and the concept of a future where humans stay inside and only interact with the outside world through robot surrogates sounds like it has plenty of potential. I don’t know how much towards horror or scares this will lean – if at all – but the idea of these surrogates being murdered by an unknown killer hits me as one that could lend itself to some creepiness.

19. Pandorum
Space-set horror films are always favorites of mine, even if when they’re not that great. I have a feeling this’ll be a good one, though. Produced by Paul W.S. Anderson and Jeremy Bolt, this hopefully will be comparable to the duo’s minor cult classic Event Horizon. Aside from Pandorum, I’m also curious about Moon, with Sam Rockwell as an astronaut stranded on the lunar landscape for three years.

20. The Crazies
A remake of this 1973 Romero classic involving a small community stricken by a man-made virus that turns them into homicidal lunatics could be cool. There’s plenty of current incentive to do a timely update on the government’s failed response to a disaster but I have a feeling much, if not all, of the political ire of Romero’s film will be lost. Look for this to be another amped-up, post-28 Days Later zombie film. Still, maybe it'll at least succeed on those lesser terms.

Besides the above films, I'll be keeping an eager eye out for the return of Frank Henelotter with Bad Biology, the already raved-about UK offering The Children, J.T. Petty's well-received horror western The Burrowers, the Predator-meets-The 13th Warrior tale Outlander, Lars Von Trier's Antichrist, the Jack Ketchum adaptation The Offspring, the intriguing psycho-thriller Peacock starring Cillian Murphy as a man who fools a small town into believing his two personalities are man and wife, Park Chan-wook's vampire film Thirst, and the French shocker Martyrs.

A Happy and Safe New Year's to everyone!

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