Ten Horror Bests from 2006

  • Best line, by far: Samuel Jackson’s SNAKES ON A PLANE one, here
  • Best monster kill: that last one in FEAST
  • Best justice: in the bathroom stall at the end of HOSTEL
  • Best subtitle: “[Zombies Panting],” from SLiTHER
  • Best remake: THE HILLS HAVE EYES
  • Best prequel to a remake: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING
  • Best tanning bed death(s): FINAL DESTINATION 3
  • Scene you (I) most wanted to look away from:1 either that rib-splitter early on in SAW 3 or Jigsaw’s brain surgery
  • Scene you least wanted to be in: that first little cave-in in THE DESCENT. (I’m not counting HARD CANDY as horror here either2)
  • Best Halloween-themed horror: MONSTER HOUSE

As for a too-early overview of horror movies 2006, the only teenie-slasher to get wide release, I think, was FINAL DESTINATION 3. And, I mean, don’t get me wrong, it was supercool. You probably won’t find a bigger FD fan than me. If I had a “Burgeoning Franchise” category here, I’d probably give it to either FINAL DESTINATION or SAW. And, yeah, I suppose we could count HOSTEL in the teenybopper category — it’s got the ‘final girl’ (Jay Hernandez), punishes those who indulge, etc — but, for me anyway, true slashery involves campfires and bad-idea parties and ignorant adults, and some honest-to-goodness stalking, preferably the through-the-eyeholes kind. Instead, right now, we’re kind of locked into a gore cycle (with torture issues), which maybe started with CABIN FEVER, or maybe even with WRONG TURN. Not sure. And nothing at all wrong with the gore either, of course (for a full discussion, catch this). Wet crunching sounds are what horror’s made of, and I’m there every opening day, looking through my fingers. I’m just all nostalgic, I suppose, for the golden era of slashers — about 81 to 86, I’d say — and for that brief rennaissance SCREAM ushered in in 96, which finally about petered out right around URBAN LEGENDS: BLOODY MARY.

And yeah, I didn’t even put any J-horror up in that 10-list, I know. Not out of hostility — though it does seem that, without SCREAM & Co. to prime the audience, get them ‘sick’ again of the slasher but still hungry for horror, THE RING might not have made the kind of splash it did — but just because the J-horror hasn’t seemed that vital lately. At least when made American. Take PULSE. It had its moments, but finally just wasn’t scary, I think. And I also didn’t put any ‘haunting’-type stuff up there. Not because I don’t have a taste for it — it has the potential to be the most scary, really, to get you that debilitating kind of afraid — it’s just I can’t think of any standout ‘hauntings’ for a while now. The closest, I guess, would be THE GRUDGE, or THE OTHERS, or THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE. But those are forever ago already. Not sure why there’s less of them these days either. It have to do with effects, maybe? Like, CGI & etc is so easy now — I suspect that to the filmmakers it feels less like a crutch, more just like keeping up (nevermind that the hyenas look like cartoons) — it’s like the atmosphere never gets properly ‘creeped’ up.

All of which is starting to sound like I’m down on contemporary horror. That’s not what I mean to suggest. There’s some good, exciting stuff being made, and a lot of it’s better than the stuff twenty or thirty years ago. As for my pining for slashers, too, I suspect the reason we see less of them now is that the audience is just so cued into the conventions that it’s hard to sneak any good scares past. Not impossible, though. Just more worth it when it happens.

And, as for a remake-discussion, I’ve yet to understand that whole movement. I mean, BLACK CHRISTMAS, say, or even HALLOWEEN: they both were beautiful and complete in the first place, right? But then this second HILLS HAVE EYES was stronger than the original, I think. And WHEN A STRANGER calls, it was such a different movie that comparing it to the original’s not even all that fair, I don’t think. But then there’s remakes like OMEN, which, though competent-enough, don’t really do anything, don’t add anything. And I’m not even sure when this whole horror-remake thing started. With Gus Van Sant’s PSYCHO? Whatever the reason, there’s of course huge prejudice against the remake. Somewhat justified prejudice too, as the remakes, even if they’re good, make horror vulnerable to that old criticism that we’re just rehashing, that there’s nothing new anymore, that there’s no good, scary ideas left. And if the justification for the remake is that we have better effects or bigger budgets now, so can do it ‘right,’ then that’s just as bad, as it makes horror dependant upon those effects, rather than upon strong writing and competent directing.

I don’t know. It is strange that these ‘do-overs,’ if you will, though they’re rallied against in all the review forums, they’re not met with similar hostility on the comic book shelf. Say, Marvel’s whole Ultimate thing, where they go back in and corral all the Spider-man early years stuff, or the Avengers, the X-Men, whoever. Make the art consistent and the story lines not branching off every which direction. And, I mean, I know I’m a traitor, but I far prefer those Ultimate versions to the originals. And maybe I’m not alone? People don’t seem to badtalk them nearly as much anyway. And I guess it might have something to do with percieved intent: with Spiderman, the idea might be that, with all the different writers and titles, he’s been spread too thin. So, giving him the ‘do-over’ treatment, it’s not rehashing, it’s consolidating, it’s salvaging. Whereas the idea with Hollywood, I think, is that these remakes are seen as a ‘bargain’ for the studios: the movies are already ‘brand-names,’ have built-in audiences, have proven their market viability. So the perceived intent there is that it’s all about the money. Which, I mean, look at Mekhi Phifer in the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake talkshow circuit, asking, in answer to a question about whether he’d studied the original, ‘for no money, you mean?’ Granted, he’s an actor, not the (re)director or (re)writer, but still, we have this idea that remakes are supposed to be labors of love for all involved, yes?

Anyway, no, my big hope with all these remakes, from PSYCHO to THE STEPFORD WIVES to BLACK CHRISTMAS, is that maybe, with HALLOWEEN, we can have a resurgence of slasher-interest. Not just tolerance, but if that movie can prime the audience’s hunger for the slasher like SCREAM did, then we might be getting somewhere. Unless of course it’s to a ‘Ten Year Anniversary’ SCREAM remake . . .

©Stephen Graham Jones, 2006

1I’ve yet to catch SEE NO EVIL or STAY ALIVE or GRUDGE 2 or THE WOODS or FREAK OUT or SILENT HILL (I know, I know), so my list just about has to be way incomplete here; apologies. Also, I should probably have a category for scariest corpse (think: the dead girl in MULHOLLAND DRIVE, the closet girl in THE RING), but I just can’t dredge any up from this year. Also, talking scariest stuff, that possession in the dorm room in THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, it was scary enough — that is, immediate enough to me still — that I had it on this list until I checked, found it was all the way back in 2005, in spite of how near it still feels. And of course I wanted to somehow sneak in that girl getting run over in DEVIL’S REJECTS, but it’s too early as well. Same for WOLF CREEK. Was barely able to get HOSTEL on/in, I mean. And yeah, I maybe should have reserved a place for that BLACK CHRISTMAS remake. Probably should have had a “best trailer” category too, which GRINDHOUSE would about have to win.

2 . . . or THE MACHINIST or SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE or any of the others that aren’t ‘pure’ horror.

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Author: SGJ