Best Horror Movies Of 2009
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The year 2009 witnessed a full slate of major horror and suspense releases, ranging from remakes to originals to "based on a true story adaptations," with ghosts, zombies, vampires, aliens, demons and serial killers making us scream and squeal in delight. Here are my selections for the best wide-release horror/suspense movies of the year. (For the purposes of this list, I'm defining "wide" as 500-plus screens.)
An escapist romp with nary a dull or serious moment, Zombieland soars in every area, from the vivid direction to the hilarious acting to the self-aware script and the top-notch special effects.
This campy treat earns a spot in the killer child film pantheon, with the unbalanced yet prim and proper Esther becoming one of the best movie villains of the year -- regardless of genre.
My Bloody Valentine (2009)
A freewheeling, gory throwback to the golden age of slasher movies, arguably outperforming the 1981 original with the added appeal of 3-D technology, a perfect compliment to the inherently lowbrow fun of this sort of film.
Paranormal Activity (2007)
Overhyped? Sure. Overrated? A bit. Unoriginal? Yup. But Paranormal Activity is still an engrossing ride with some genuinely unnerving moments -- more than can be said about most horror movies today. It's able to scare without being explicit, although the ending (changed by the studio) takes all subtlety out of the equation.
A Perfect Getaway (2009)
A smart, self-conscious whodunit that gleefully toys with genre expectations while delivering thrilling twists and turns.
Drag Me To Hell (2009)
A fun, albeit overly restrained and straightforward, return to the madcap horror-comedy that put director Sam Raimi (the Evil Dead films) on the map.
The Last House On The Left (2009)
One of the rare remakes that actually improves on certain elements of the original -- notably the Dukes of Hazzard goofball cops. It's not a better movie, of course, but it at least justifies its existence, unlike so many other remakes.
The Box (2009)
This ambitious and perplexing conversation starter may not fully succeed in its storytelling capacity, but it remains an engaging mind trip until the end.
The Uninvited (2009)
A safe but proficient and well-acted reworking of the Korean film A Tale of Two Sisters that displays more class, purpose and brains than recent PG-13 teen-skewed fare like Prom Night and The Haunting of Molly Hartley.
Jennifer's Body (2009)
Breezy fun that succeeds more as a lighthearted character study fueled by charismatic performances from stars Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried than as a horror movie (or as the libido-fueled sex romp the marketers wanted you to believe it was).
People who complain about the state of horror probably haven't delved into the limited releases and direct-to-video fare, a treasure trove of quality films that often outperform flicks on the big screen. Here are my choices for the top limited-release horror/suspense movies of the year. (For the purposes of this list, "limited" means less than 500 screens.)
Trick 'r Treat (2007)
At last, the movie that sat in development (or rather, distribution) hell for a couple of years was released in 2009 -- albeit on video and not in the theatrical setting it deserved. Early buzz might've raised readers' anticipation of the movie's quality to unattainable proportions, but that shouldn't hinder your appreciation of its refreshing creativity, pitch-perfect humor, sharply written plot, captivating cast and an overall charm that personifies the creepy fun of Halloween.
Pontypool's setup verges on brilliance: a radio DJ (Stephen McHattie, in a star-making performance), who makes his living with his words, must contend with a deadly virus that's somehow spread through the speech. Furthering the irony is the fact that the only way he can find out what's going on outside is through audio reports by the station's roving reporter. It's a lyrical, intelligent, admirably restrained film that turns viewers' imaginations upon themselves as they picture the mayhem that surrounds the studio.
Home Movie (2008)
This scrumptiously dark POV movie mines terror within the home, delivering a simple, straightforward story that deconstructs the nuclear family, religion and modern therapy with a slight camp edge inherent in killer kid films.
Dead Snow (2009)
After a slow start, it unleashes a flurry of the sort of gore-to-the-floor mayhem, well-placed humor and nicely designed action set pieces that make zombie fans swoon.
Controversial, uncompromising and strikingly original, the superbly acted Deadgirl exposes the raw, ugly underbelly of humanity -- a zombie movie that's less about zombies than it is about humans.
This unpredictable, multi-layered Irish mystery tells the tale of a skeptical child psychologist fighting against small-town superstition when she treats a troubled girl whom the townsfolk believe can channel spirits. Not terribly scary, but profoundly affecting, blessed with wonderful storytelling and soul-stirring performances.
From Within (2008)
The best of After Dark Horrorfest '09 is similar in plot to The Broken but is better paced with more interesting characters and an atmosphere drenched in creepy paranoia. A powerful climax and twisted closing credits form the cherry on this yummy Horrorfest sundae.
Laid to Rest (2009)
Everything that's fun about the slasher genre, wrapped up in one deliciously gory funfest. The only thing it's missing is a decent story. However the sequel provides us with that.
End of the Line (2007)
From writer/director Maurice Devereaux, who gave us the enjoyable killer game show flick Slashers a few years ago, comes another overlooked gem -- this one featuring the refreshingly original storyline of a group of passengers trapped on an immobile subway train with a religious cult whose members believe that they can save souls by killing people. What it lacks in production value it makes up for in gory action, apocalyptic atmosphere and a nuanced script that doesn't go the easy route of painting all of the cult members as unsympathetic psychos.
Before the Fall (2008)
Also known as Tres Dias, this Spanish thriller positions a fairly simple tale about an escaped serial killer seeking revenge on the family who helped capture him within the backdrop of an impending apocalypse, as the Earth is about to be hit by a meteor. Chilling and heartbreaking with surprising moments of humor, Before the Fall raises questions of morality, love, loyalty and the value of life when all life as we know it is about to end.
This quirky Korean film is the sort of striking addition to vampire lore that the "Twilight weary" among us should relish -- full of bold visuals, award-worthy performances and meaty plot twists, with a dose of surrealism and oddball humor that doesn't hinder its mainstream accessibility.
Calling this the best SyFy channel movie to date is a dubious compliment at best, but that doesn't detract from the high entertainment value of this horror-comedy about a giant big invasion, which is more smartly written, funnier and has better comedic performances than many so-called comedies released in theaters. You have to wonder why they didn't go with a more campy title, though, like Bug Off! or Get the Bug Out of Here!
The Road (2009)
This grim adaptation might not carry the full impact of the award-wining book, but it's still emotional, visually imposing and well acted.
I was initially skeptical of the Butterfly Effect sci fi series turning towards horror, but this third film turns out to be a smartly plotted, emotional sequel that packs in the intriguing twists of the original with a darker edge.
"Artsy fartsy" Finnish film that delivers stark, haunting visuals, outstanding performances, an overriding sense of dread and a powerful climax.
Mining ground similar to The Road, Carriers captures the sobering desperation of humankind in the midst of a highly contagious global pandemic. Dark, emotional and deliberately paced, it's as much drama as it is horror, avoiding played-out Hollywood theatrics, over-the-top gore and any semblance of a happy ending -- thus, it was too hard of a sell for a wide release.
Red Mist (2008)
This underrated film adds a refreshing supernatural angle to the slasher formula, with a creative body-switching twist that ratchets up the paranoia and the possibilities.
The Thaw (2009)
Tense and unnerving, this is Cabin Fever meets The Thing, with a sobering, clever commentary on global warming.
Cold Prey (2006)
This Norwegian hit (which has already spawned two sequels) is a straightforward yet genuinely creepy slasher executed with precision and love for the sub-genre's '80s heyday.
Night Train (2009)
Tight storytelling and strong performances from an A-list cast (Danny Glover, Steve Zahn, Leelee Sobieski) propel this Hitchcockian thriller with a supernatural twist.
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