So, as 007 turns into 008, it’s time for yet another Eatmybrains Top Ten of the Year, this time as voted for by Rawshark, Soulmining, David Hall and Sean Cockwell.
Ok, so it wasn’t quite a vintage year for horror this year (only a couple of genuine 5-star films), but there certainly have been many solid scares from both studios and independents alike, especially from Europe where Spain and France in particular both stepped up to the plate this year.
All of this year’s Top Ten have been seen theatrically by at least one of us, whether on general release, or at various festivals. Special mention must go to London’s FrightFest events (both the main 5-day August Horrorthon and it’s Halloween all-nighter at the ICA) for showing preview screenings of five of our final Top Ten. It’s a shame we couldn’t also squeeze in such films as The Signal (an audacious three-parter, both violent and amusing), WAZ (the best indie UK film of the year) and Black Water (a taut and tight killer croc movie), all of which also debuted this year at FrightFest.
Soulmining this year had the great pleasure of attending the Toronto Film Festival (in particular the Midnight Madness section) where he encountered a few greats such as [REC] (a terrifying first-person horror from Spain), Stuck (Stuart Gordon’s latest with Mena Suvari and Stephen Rea), Dai-Nipponjin (Big Man Japan) (a gloriously funny pastiche of the Ultraman movies) and Frontiere(s), the second best ‘hard-as-nails’ horror film from France this year.
Other films voted for, and thus deserve a mention, include Larry Fessendon’s The Last Winter, Paradise Lost, the hugely underseen Fido, Mr Brooks, Vacancy, Lynch’s Inland Empire, Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises, Roth’s Hostel II, Zombie’s Halloween (the work print, or so David Hall says) and The Hamiltons. All things considered, a very strong year for our favourite genre - roll on 2008!
10 .The Abandoned (2006)
Lost in this year’s sea of torture porn and afforded only a limited release outside of the festivals, The Abandoned takes a well-worn premise – the spooky old house in the arse-end of nowhere – and crams in enough scares and tension that every nook and cranny feels set to burst. It's more stylish than the average genre picture with sets that Silent Hill would have killed for.
You just know (and hope) that when an American woman Marie Jones (Anastasia Hille) inherits her birth home, a derelict for some forty years smack bang in the middle of 'nowheres-ville', Russia, that things are going to take a turn for the worst. And they do.
Marie Jones is soon confronted by her 'dead' self, a man claiming to be her twin and events from her past reconfiguring to claim her life. It’s deliberately sparse, allowing the mood created by the lush camerawork and creepy location to get under the viewer's skin. With eerie framing to enhance the mood, director Nacho Cerda goes for a slow build and teasing reveals, maintaining edge-of-the-seat momentum through to it’s bleak denouement. - S Cockwell
9 .30 Days of Night (2007)
Think you're having a bad day? Imagine being stuck in a small Alaskan town that has no sunlight, not just for one day, but THIRTY during its winter period. For those affected with Seasonal Affective Disorder this would be bad enough. Factor in a bunch of vicious vampires making the most of the darkness offered and chances are things couldn't really get much worse.
Hard Candy's director David Slade turns the acclaimed graphic novel into the scariest mainstream vampire movie for ages. Slade's vamps are not the sexy vamps of Anne Rice; these vamps come at you full on, seduction being the furthest thing from their minds. They want your blood and they are quick and brutal about getting it. Slade's movie is about upping the stakes and making vampires scary again and to wring every inch of tension out of his story. With a vibe reminiscent of classic Carpenter he has pulled it off. See it and then see it again! - S Cockwell
8 .Day Watch (2006)
Arriving on these shores nearly two years after its native Russian release, Day Watch was met by a largely apathetic reaction from film-goers who'd long forgotten the ground-breaking Night Watch and since moved on to newer, more family-friendly fantasy franchises. Which is a real shame as Day Watch takes everything that was fun about Night Watch and makes it bigger, brighter, better and more exciting than ever.
Leading directly on from events in the first film, the sequel continues the saga of the conflict between light and dark forces with hero Anton again at the fore, seeking the mysterious Chalk of Fate which holds the destiny of the world in its balance. Reuniting the original cast with director Timur Bekmambetov, Day Watch is an action-packed extravaganza with some outrageous set pieces including an audacious car-up-the-wall sequence and a dizzying finale with some lethal balls which threatens to turn the whole piece into an old-school disaster flick.
Yes, it’s flabby and confusing in places, but it's also hugely entertaining and the complex narrative does pay dividends in the end, wrapping up the story nice and neatly without any need for a much-rumoured third instalment to be set in America. - Soulmining
7 .Diary of the Dead (2007)
Back with his second undead film within the space of two years (although not officially part of the ‘Dead’ series), zombie fans had high hopes for Mr Romero’s ‘independent’ and stripped-to-basics new flesh-munching flick. And they weren’t disappointed when the man turned up himself at the ICA in London in October to give a sneak preview of Diary of the Dead, a rollickingly fun ride with lashings of humour, splatter and the de rigeur Romero social commentary.
With a plot device that allows for a fully edited first-person documentary style, Diary of the Dead follows the adventures of a horror film crew - ”You’re supposed to look dead!” - who learn of a nationwide zombie outbreak midway through filming their mummy movie. Director Jason decides to document the footage as the crew attempt to find safety, encountering an Amish man called Samuel (hilarious), a black militant group and several undead ghouls along the way.
Fresh, fun and with plenty to say about the current age of digital information, Romero has proved that no one else can do slow-walking zombie films like him. It’s good to have him back. - Rawshark
6 .Teeth (2007)
A genuinely risky, transgressive black comedy that plays out like Heathers meets I Spit on your Grave, debutant Mitchell Lichtenstein’s vagina dentata themed comic horror (!) follows earnest ‘true love waits’ teenager Dawn as she struggles with the traditional pressures of peer sexual pressure and the more unique problem of having an uncontrollable monster between her legs.
Alabaster-pale lead Jess Weixler gives a finely judged, understated performance that plays superbly well against the film’s broader more excessive elements. There are various wincing moments for both sexes though and one scene rivals Dead Ringers for leg crossing cavity calamity – as a creepy gynaecologist pays the price for an excessive exploration.
There are some problems – making Dawn’s half-brother Brad have an infatuation for Dawn from childhood seems excessive even in the context of this seriously warped flick, and the film's sexual politics are seriously fucked. But it’s an exploitation movie at heart and you have to give kudos to Lichtenstein for empathising with his central character rather than demonising her. The final act is a bloody mess (in every respect) but Teeth has the genuine feel of a future cult midnight movie classic. Fear of fanny indeed. - David Hall
5 .28 Weeks Later (2007)
So, how do you follow up on a smash hit, yet still create a worthy sequel both critically and commercially? Well with 28 Weeks Later, it was a case of keeping original director Danny Boyle on board as producer, whilst drafting in Spanish director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (Intacto) to give a new visual spin to the empty streets of London and the fast-running Rage ‘infected’. And boy, do they pull it off.
In much the same way as the recent Dawn of the Dead remake, the opening sequence is simply stunning. During the early days of the virus, Don and Alice (the terrific Robert Carlyle and Catherine McCormack) hole up in a remote farmhouse with a handful of survivors, but their sanctuary doesn’t stay safe for long. The ‘infected’ soon lay siege in a scene that both pumps and breaks the heart, all set to John Murphy’s thunderous instrumental track In a House – In a Heartbeat.
Six months later, with the country now declared ‘safe’, Don is reunited with his two children Tammy and Andy who were out of the country at the time of the outbreak. But, wouldn’t you know it, a serious of unfortunate incidents soon leads to a fresh new epidemic and another battle for survival. Ignore the geographical errors as our heroes travel around London, just sit back to enjoy the carnage (especially that helicopter moment in Regent’s Park) and you’ll have a great time. Bring on 28 Months… - Rawshark
4 .Sunshine (2007)
Director Danny Boyle’s last flirtation with the genre was the apocalyptic 28 Days Later scripted by his regular collaborator Alex Garland. This year’s re-teaming of the duo sees Garland do what he did and create an amalgamation of well-liked genre flicks and make them his own. A solid cast, including 28 Days Later’s Cillian Murphy, is put through their paces as they play the crew of a vessel whose mission is to revive our dying Sun and therefore save life as we know it on Earth.
Flawed Sunshine maybe – towards the end it feels very Event Horizon - but you would be hard pushed to find a sci-fi picture this year to rival it for entertainment. Space hasn't been this tense or exciting since Ridley Scott introduced a phallic-headed xenomorph onto the cinematic landscape. Sizzling stuff! - S Cockwell
3 .The Orphanage (2007)
This year's FrightFest favourite was undoubtedly The Orphanage, with lucky festival attendees getting an exclusive early peek at this atmospheric nail-biter months in advance of its UK release. With genre giant Guillermo Del Toro on board as producer, director Juan Antonio Bayona continues the resurgence in high quality Spanish cinema with his debut feature. Whilst the subject matter - a haunted orphanage - smacks of familiarity, all credit to the filmmakers then for fashioning a picture that absorbs the audience completely in its drama.
The assured, accomplished direction and sparse sound design help create a masterpiece of tension and unease which pays off with not one but two real jump-out-of-your-seat moments - a rarity in these explicit show-everything times. Led by a tremendous performance from Belen Rueda as the desperate mother searching for her missing son, The Orphanage is an affecting film which has the power to make the most hardened gorehound watery-eyed and should prove to be a breakout hit amongst the art-house set.
As a testament to its strengths, the film has just garnered a whopping fourteen Goya nominations in its homeland and international recognition cannot be too far behind. - Soulmining
2 .Grindhouse (2007)
One of the more depressing responses of the year: the hordes of ingrates who queued up to kick Grindhouse, citing – unbelievably – indulgence as the project’s key flaw. Surely if there was any point at all to this gloriously pointless enterprise, it was to indulge – both the filmmakers and the fans.
Grindhouse was the unwieldy, cinematic menu degustation of 2007, frequently indigestible but with enough variety on the plate to keep things interesting. For me the key surprise was Planet Terror – a zombie splat-fest that provided us with some of the great iconic genre moments of the year, fusing early Stuart Gordon with John Carpenter for a fitfully hilarious 50 minutes before – inevitably – running out of gas.
Tarantino’s widely misunderstood half-brilliant, elegiac Death Proof was certainly the superior cinematic exercise and allowed Kurt Russell to deliver the only real performance of the whole film. But Tarantino’s indulgent valentine was partly responsible for the film’s underwhelming word of mouth – as he pushed the limits of audience tolerance with the material in ways that were thematically true to the source, if ultimately frustrating for many contemporary viewers.
On a separate theatrical run in the UK, both films’ flaws were perhaps more cruelly exposed, but bound together as originally intended – and flanked by four pitch-perfect trailers – they made delicious, delirious (non)sense. - David Hall
1 .Inside (A L'Interieur) (2007)
The monstrous feminine writ large; À l'intérieur (Inside) was the punk horror of 2007. In a year when the genre’s fairly battered envelope was pushed hard (Eli Roth’s magnificent Bathory homage in Hostel 2 springing horribly to mind) this was the film that dared to go much, much further – a hideous, quasi-phantasmagorical fever dream quite unlike anything else out there, thankfully.
A horrible car accident sets in motion this minimalistic two-hander between house-bound pregnant widow Sarah (Alysson Paradis) and a spooky Goth phantom (Béatrice Dalle, completing an unofficial trilogy of bonkers birds that began with Betty Blue and Trouble Every Day) armed with giant scissors who wants to get (literally) inside her. This is unrelenting horror, unleavened by humour or irony, with the sound design and visual composition of a waking nightmare. Ultimately it’s a Grand Guignol tale, enveloped in a woozy, amniotic fug.
There are some minor issues. The reveal isn’t particularly surprising and the sustained terror of the opening half is slightly diminished by the sheer excesses of the insane finale. However, this is still the horror film of the year, easily. Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury have delivered a fascinating, uniquely horrible film. We await their take on Hellraiser, with interest and some trepidation - David Hall