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Autopsy Report: The Best & Worst Horror Films of ’08

20 titles go under the microscope

The 2008 Autopsy Report is a month-long look at the year in horror. An unflinching and frank examination of the genre’s accomplishments, lapses, trends and random (or, rampant) stupidity in the big screen, television and direct-to-DVD world. This weekly series will sift through the detritus of the last twelve months and see what worked and what didn’t, why and why not.

THE TOP TEN BEST OF 2008

A vivid intersection of tradition, the supernatural, smart storytelling and amusing twists, Trick ‘r Treat isn’t just a love letter to those who love Halloween and horror, it’s a full-blown carnival of devilish delights. Ringleader Michael Dougherty, here making one of the most impressive directorial debuts of his generation, rolls out the pumpkins, zombies, werewolves, vampires and even a deadly lollipop-wielding masked imp. He puts a fresh spin on this cavalcade of ghouls and reinvigorates the dying form of horror anthology storytelling. Read my full review here.

Terror comes in ages 12 and under in this UK import, the celluloid equivalent of birth control. Have a loved one itchin’ drop some brood? Take them to see this film, then ask them if “starting a family” is something they still want in their future. Writer-director Tom Shankland here demonstrates his growth as a filmmaker in leaps and bounds since his previous effort The Killing Gene (aka Waz). The Children unleashes violent young tykes on their parents during a New Year’s Eve gathering and Shankland goes to town, drumming up a cruel amount of tension and shocking attacks against the rabid runts.

A remake better than the original? I thought so. This home invasion film about two young men who terrorize a well-to-do family in their vacation home is thought-provoking, sardonic and merciless. The only film this year that made you a participant in its madness and question what you consider entertainment. Fear, frustration, amusement…Funny Games runs the emotional gamut and doesn’t let up until your nerves are mashed into a viscous paste.

Art house meets mainstream in Tomas Alfredson’s eccentric tale of a young bullied boy and his old vampire gal pal whose semblance is that of a twelve-year-old girl. It reinvents the tattered bloodsucker sub-genre in the way Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark did (imagine if that whole story was about Josh Miller’s Homer wooing Caleb’s little sis) to haunting, sincere and macabre results. Ambiguous, cute and unsettling, this is one that sits with you a good while after its over.

A relationship on the rocks becomes a fight for survival in Bryan Bertino’s back-to-the-basics horror film. Besides the pacing, which could benefit from a bit more tightening (odd to say for such an already lean exercise), everything here rings true. Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman’s troubles eschew the typical Hollywood explanation and that first 4 a.m. knock at the door is downright sinister. A strong opening and gloomy ending bookend what I think will be an appreciated film in ten year’s time. Read my full review here.

With a few adjustments made between the novel and the film aside, writer Scott Smith still delivers one vicious lil’ ditty about American tourists quarantined in Mexico on an archeological dig where flesh-eating vines await to tear them asunder, choke them to death and get under their skin. At the forefront of The Ruins is the crumbling bond among friends, but there’s something apocalyptic about the story knocking at the back door. You want to see these vacationers make it off the dig site, yet you know they could potentially infect the world with this dangerous plant. Read my full review here.

Fans of kaiju cinema may not have gotten the U.S. answer to Godzilla (it’s hard to create a monster that tops the big mean ‘n green lizard), still, Cloverfield was about execution and it delivered in spades. Again, another genre reinvention from 2008 that brought something new to the table without being a flat-out remake. Clever and thrilling, the film boasts some great FX and still sits well when revisited. Read my full review here.



A familiar story – in this case, a boat full of tourists fighting off a giant crocodile – but one confidently led by director Greg McLean who has put together a handsome production with beautiful photography, good performances, intense attacks and one of the best giant crocodiles I’ve seen put to screen. McLean defies expectations and has fun reminding us not all nature-run-amok fare has to be Sci-Fi Channel nonsense.

Someone finally takes Clive Barker seriously again. And while the results are mixed, with probably the film’s greatest flaws stemming from the script, Ryuhei Kitamura has crafted an adult nightmare brimming with style. Vinnie Jones is a memorable killing machine, his methods are sensationally grotesque, even if they are aided by CG and the conclusion is pretty damn bizarre. Read my full review here.

An off-the-wall slasher film from Paul Andrew Williams, the man who hatched the story for The Children (see above). I don’t expect everyone to get this one, but I laughed my ass off and had a blast with the skillful ways the film’s killer dispensed with his prey (usually demonstrated in gory detail). Horror and comedy is always a tough mix, but some filmmakers in the UK still know how to do it right. Read my full review here.

THE TOP TEN WORST OF 2008

What a way to start out the year: With an abysmal remake of a film that was not really good to begin with. Asinine plotting, languid performances and the exorcism of a cell phone. Holy crap, what were they thinking? I wished cancer upon this film, if you needed any indication of how much I hated this tripe. Read my full review here.

Warner Home Video held an advance screening of this sequel to the sub-par Raw Feed film. I walked out after twenty minutes enraged by the film’s set-up, characters and sheer stupidity (I bailed as one dolt was being tormented while he was sitting inside a portable toilet). I hear it didn’t get any better. Kill this series now.

Uwe Boll attempts to make a statement about violence in society with this ripe turd that painfully opens with heartbreaking footage of real animal violence. What follows is the story of a captured serial killer who survives the electric chair, is buried alive and returns to exact revenge. He brutalizes babies, cops and women and you’re left bored to tears. The centerpiece “kill” which finds Seed bashing a victim’s head over and over and over in a chair with a hammer is neither shocking or scary, it’s just plain stupid. Another cinematic insult from the good doctor Boll.

A film that makes lamps scary again. Sorry, a jab you’ll only get if you’ve seen this update of the ’80s slasher film that is plagued by more false scares than real ones and features a killer who runs around in a baseball cap. This is some pretty tacky stuff, kids. It’s got a sharp look, but my God, the script is drivel and Nelson McCormick’s direction is pedestrian.

Six minutes and forty-four seconds in, this movie takes an abrupt turn from eerie and promising to embarrassing. I actually think the film has an intriguing premise, but in M. Night Shyamalan’s hands, it collapses under the weight of astonishingly bad dialogue (my favorite: “Mother of God, what kind of terrorists are these?”) and a hokey subplot about love that’s backed by even worse dialogue (“What color is love?” “I forgot.”). I was all for the “plants strike back” scenario, I would have loved to have to have seen it through anyone’s eyes but Shyamalan’s.

Insulting, predictable and one of the biggest missed opportunities of the decade. No amount of references from the first film save this dim-witted sequel. Utterly forgettable and cheap-looking. Don’t let anyone let you believe otherwise. Read my full review here.

Rusty Nail loses his balls and mystique, morphing from a feared trucker to a killer who’s about as intimidating as your Pizza Hut delivery boy. Look, if you’re going to make a sequel to a pretty decent thriller, at least try to make your lead characters as personable as the first batch of victims. Here, you want to see everyone die a quick death…because the slow torture Rusty enacts will put you to sleep.

Even on his bad days, I’ll still accept Dario Argento, but this…this does not get a pass from me. Fans have waited years for the third chapter in his Three Mothers trilogy and what do we get? A convoluted plot (more convoluted than usual, I should say), witches who look like rejects from the animated series Jem, a bratty Mother of Tears (with a nice rack) and Asia Argento’s protective Jedi spirit mother. Hoo-boy. Great gore, however, but then again when has Argento ever let us down in that department?

Until this point, I’ve been pretty lenient on the sequels. I’ve found something positive to embrace in all of them, but here, the stretch marks are beginning to show as the creative team struggles to keep the franchise alive with Jigsaw now long gone. The protagonist we’re left with, Agent Strahm, ties the plot’s puzzle pieces all too easily (talking to himself the whole time) and the “B” story – more folks being pushed through a series of brutal traps – isn’t very exciting this time around. I’m allowing myself one more sequel, then it’s kaput.

I had to watch this in two sittings because I found it neither funny nor intelligent in spite of all of the attempted subtle gags writer-director Jay Lee tries to imbue the film. A smile-inducing title and effective marketing push is all Zombie Strippers had going for it.

There you have it, friends. Some foreign films released in the States this year made my cut last year, so if you’re wondering why they were not included above check out the best/worst of 2007 here. I’d love to see what you considered your favorites and least favorites this year, so make the most of the comments section below!

Previous Autopsy Reports:

• The Best & Worst Horror Posters of 2008

•
DVD Sequelitis

• Fear Itself




















Source: Ryan Rotten, Managing Editor