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There weren’t enough awesome horror films in 2010 that left a deep impression in me to make a Top Ten. But I did manage a Top Five.
The following are the pictures that I can recall staying with me the longest this year.
5. SHUTTER ISLAND
Sure, you could see the twist coming a mile away (from frame one if you’re savvy to this sort of film), but Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel offers many of the chief reasons I watch horror movies: to enter a world that is dark, disrupting and beautiful, and have my senses inundated with sound and image and ultimately, just allow myself to be expertly manipulated by a master. Leo DiCaprio offers yet another solid turn as a US Marshall in the early 1950’s, who ventures to remote Shutter Island Hospital in Boston, where a mental patient has gone missing. What he finds is possible conspiracy, murder and plenty of gorgeously rendered and deeply upsetting hallucinatory visions. Scorsese was admittedly influenced by Italian horror; specifically the swirly, colorful abstract work of Mario Bava. It all works. Slow, strange, weird and compulsively watchable. Robby Robertson from THE BAND creates a score from a double CD release worth of existing tracks—some classical, some pop, some blues, some big band, some just plain weird—and t’s the glue that holds the American movie maestro Marty’s cauldron of black blood together.
William Malone is pitifully underrated as a stylist, a point I tried to make in the pages of FANGORIA #295 and that was happily embraced by many readers. Not enough however, as PARASOMNIA kind of came and went, dumped on to home video and forgotten. Shame that. Although flawed (most of Malone’s work is), PARASOMNIA offers everything I love about his work amped up to impossible degrees; wall to wall style, perversions of noir tropes, nightmarish creatures, atmosphere and a refreshingly unpretentious desire to sculpt airtight, unpretentious pulp horror. In a year filled with lazy big studio re-hashes and overrated indie garbage, PARASOMNIA was the secret handshake, a work of vision and heart. Check it out now. You have no excuse.
3. THE WOLFMAN
Okay, don’t kill me. I know the world at large hated THE WOLFMAN. I know critics slammed it for being disjointed, melodramatic, narratively uninspired…and yeah, maybe that’s all true. But fuck you Charlie. I loved this movie. See, I worship at the shrine of Hammer Horror and all of the finger points that audiences and journo’s directed toward THE WOLFMAN could easily be awarded to any number of Hammer classics. Like Hammer, THE WOLFMAN’s many strengths – to me, anyway – crushed its many shortcomings. This thing felt like a deluxe Hammer film. Gothic, moody, somber, beautifully designed, ambiguous (whether by design or accident) and featuring lush costumes. Hell, Danny Elfman’s thundering score, Rick Baker’s digitally tweaked werewolf transformations, ample gore and Anthony Hopkins (pound for pound, ounce for ounce, my favorite actor) chewing scenery with relish as the mad patriarch of the Talbot dynasty, are more than enough reason for THE WOLFMAN to endure and be re-discovered. Every time I watch THE WOLFMAN, I just want to watch it again. It’s comforting. Like a good Hammer movie or a warm werewolf, er blanket.
2. BLACK SWAN
Darren Aronofsky’s latest gothic, kinetic horror film masquerading as, well, something else, is his most realized film to date. Not necessarily his best, but most fully realized. To me, the man has never made a bad film. He keeps returning to themes of self-destruction, of the mind and body rebelling against itself and fulfilling dark destinies that always end in death or despair. And yet every single one of his pictures is radically different. He’s very much like David Cronenberg, except he’s a much better filmmaker then David Cronenberg. He mines major Hollywood stars and brings out the best – or worst, same difference – in them while simultaneously mining horror and arthouse film tropes to disarming effect. In this simple yet operatic psychodrama, Natalie Portman stars as a tormented ballerina who is getting older and more insecure and completely loses her shit when she’s awarded the role of a lifetime in Tchaikovsky’s SWAN LAKE. Blending fantasy and reality, sex and blood, non-stop Clint Mansell (Aronofsky’s regular aural partner in crime) music, tongue in cheek sleaze and dirty elegance, BLACK SWAN is an epic tale of that fine line between madness and genius. A masterpiece.
1. THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE
My colleagues cite it as the worst. I cite it as the best. Why? Not just because of its inexplicable punchline reach into the mainstream, nor because of its horrifying concept, something that its many detractors claim it coasts on for 90 plus minutes. No. THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE is the best horror film of the year because it takes a freak show concept – mad scientist surgically attaches three poor sods together via their assholes and mouths – and turns it into a towering sonata of dread, doom, sleaze and lurid comedy. That’s right, THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE is at its black heart, a comedy. Tom Six is a punk rock media terrorist, sure, but he’s also rather sophisticated. The three victims that go under the psycho’s knife are real, we – or at least I – care about them, and because we KNOW from the title what their fates will be, there’s a stomach sinking feeling of downward spiral terror in the plain, matter of fact way the mad doctor goes about designing their doom. But back to the comedy. Visually, it’s there. When the three victims are tied to their gurney’s and the doctor enters their room, dims the lights, turns on the podium light that underlights his face, pulls down the screen and begins to detail what his plans are, you MUST laugh. It’s audacious, bizarre and kinky by design and execution. And speaking of mad scientists, fans of this subgenre – and especially fans of Paul Morrissey’s FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN – will revel in Dieter Laser’s completely controlled, and yet out of control, portrayal of a drooling lunatic blessed with intellect, going through with the most mind bending and perverse of Frankenstein acts.
Laser is fucking brilliant, part Klaus Kinski, part Udo Kier and part Colin Clive. You can smell his madness, but it’s also very theatrical, like the rest of the film. When Laser screams at the top portion of the “centipede” to “FEED HER! FEED HER!” stomachs will turn, sure, but if your tastes lean to exploitation and eurotrash, you’ll smile, shake your head and salute Six’s single-minded audaciousness. This is like a Jess Franco movie made by Lars Von Trier. And that's a good thing.
There was no other film this year as revolting, distressing – yet still playful – as this one. A SERBIAN FILM was just depressing. I was uplifted by THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE, and I for one cannot wait for the sequel/remake, in which Six proudly –and cheekily – proclaims is 100% medically inaccurate.
Now for the worst?
There are too many lousy films to mention, some that we shouldn’t bother mentioning because of their low budget, big dreams origins. But certainly, the remake of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET was pitiful and painful. Not outwardly awful, but hideous because of how bloody plain, flat and ordinary it was. How underdeveloped it was and yet how it tried to go darker – Freddy as MOLESTER – and yet failed utterly in making any of it pay off. I’m never one to sneer at studio filmmaking, nor remakes either for that matter, but this lifeless turd makes it very difficult to defend them.
And that’s that. Au revoir, 2010. Let the bilious comments be posted below...
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