Sure, Saw 3D and Paranormal Activity 2 are the 800-pound gorillas this horror holiday season, but 2010 had a bumper crop of other frightening flicks worth checking out, too. Just this once, ignore the hype and go for one of these underappreciated gems.
Dir. Adam Green; feat. Ed Ackerman, Shawn Ashmore, Emma Bell, Kevin Zegers (R)
It maybe didn’t get wide enough release, but it’s on DVD now. Find it, rent it, own it. The premise: three college kids go skiing and get stranded on a lift after lights out. It doesn’t get any simpler than that. But writer-director Adam Green wrings every bit of drama, of terror, of meaning from just sitting up there on that cold metal seat. There’s wolves, there’s snow, there’s isolation, but more than that, there’s real people up there, living and dying. This is Open Water on the slopes, but you don’t shake it off very easily, either. It’s not a film with easy answers, and that’s the best kind.
Night of the Demons
Dir. Adam Gierasch; feat. Edward Furlong, Shannon Elizabeth, Monica Keena, Bobbie Sue Luther (R)
A remake, opening more on DVD than in the theatre, but don’t hold that against it. It’s a completely fun ride. Not the kind that scares you, finally, but the kind that leaves you smiling. And it never takes itself too seriously. What, another movie about kids spending a night in the local haunted house? With Shannon Elizabeth skanking it up on the staircase and bad stuff happening in the basement? Exactly. All the gore you can ask for, laughs in between, and a nicely handled backstory. The other thing you could ask for, if it wasn’t already there, might be tentacle nipples.
Let Me In
Dir. Matt Reeves; feat. Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chlöe Moretz, Richard Jenkins, Cara Byono, Sasha Barrese (R)
The novel (Let the Right One In) was gorgeous, the Swedish adaptation was properly stark, and now the American remake, in not keeping with the pattern (and in spite of how it feels at times like a Van Sant shot-by-shot do-over) is quite possibly an improvement on the Swedish film. Or, as much as the Swedish version finally had to leave in the pages of the novel, Let Me In transfers even less of it up to the screen. Which in turn somehow gets more of the story in. The performances by the two lead kids are even more impressive. And the effects, and the crawliness of the vampire? Dead on. It’s horror, yeah, and it’s horror from Hollywood, but it’s neither loud nor brash, and certainly not happy.
The Last Exorcism
Dir. Daniel Stamm; feat. Iris Bahr, Ashley Bell, Patrick Fabian, Louis Herthum (PG-13)
Possession movies get to you because the kids being possessed have rarely done anything at all to deserve that kind of treatment. Meaning it can happen to anyone, to you. Watching the movie, you realize you’re treading water in a suspicious-looking victim pool. So you then have to put up your defenses, try to take the movie apart, punch holes in the story, the effect, the acting. The Last Exorcism, possibly in anticipation of this, does all the “defense” for you, offering an inside, documentary look at what con artists these traveling exorcists are. But then — this is horror, after all — the scam takes a dark turn, and while the ending to this one is a love-it-or-hate-it affair, still, you won’t have seen it coming.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Dir. Samuel Bayer; feat. Katie Cassidy, Kyle Gallner, Jackie Earle Haley, Rooney Mara (R)
We’ve seen some solid slasher remakes over the last few years. My Bloody Valentine, Sorority Row, Black Christmas. They honored the original instead of trying too much to improve what wasn’t broken. This is another of those, and man, it’s solid. It updated the original’s 1984 effects, cleaned the story up, and made it relevant to today’s audience. And, most importantly, it successfully found a new Freddy in San Antonio’s own Jackie Earle Haley. He’s the lynchpin of the whole enterprise, that franchise character every slasher series needs. And while everybody knows the Nightmare premise — don’t sleep, there’s a killer in your dreams — what you’re not expecting in this remake is how blurry that line between sleep and waking can get. Completely satisfying.
And, what about Daybreakers, The Crazies, Survival of the Dead, Splice? I know, I know. I’ve seen them all, twice. And wait in line for Saw3D, for Paranormal Activity 2, for After Life. Maybe you’ll see me there. For the 31st, though, I recommend the 1978 Halloween the night before, Dead Snow the morning of, over cereal, then Trick ’r Treat the night of. It’s my best recipe for Halloween happiness. Enjoy. •