2006: An Autopsy
By Desmond Reddick
01 January 2007 — In a year of bad remakes of good Japanese films, formulaic sequels, sequels to remakes, prequels to remakes and PG-13 tripe, one had to watch where they stepped as to avoid the cinematic shit piles. That said, if you knew where to step you were as pleasantly surprised as I was; this past year was the best year the horror genre has had in as long as I can remember. But now 2006 is dead and gone, my friends. The following is a selection of what I believe to be the best the year had to offer.
Years ago, Nacho Cerda made me marvel at the beauty of a coroner desecrating and violating the corpse of a young woman in the short film Aftermath. This year saw his feature debut with The Abandoned: a film about an adopted young woman searching for her family history and being drawn into something much larger than she ever expected. It is a trip to watch and, even though I don't usually enjoy ghost stories, I walked away with a lingering feeling of dread.
Calvaire: The Ordeal is a slow burn that just seems to get crazier and crazier and creepier and creepier. Owing much to Deliverance and Straw Dogs, this Belgian offering is as much a harrowing sexual thriller as it is a survivalist horror film. All I know is: this movie ensured that I will never go driving in the backwoods of Belgium anytime soon. This one wrecked me.
Although I saw it a few years ago when I lived in the UK, Shane Meadows' Dead Man's Shoes got its Region 1 DVD release this year. A haunting revenge drama that has Paddy Considine in all his scenery-chewing glory destroying the lives of his brother's tormentors after returning from the army. Think of it as Death Wish where the villains are comedic and demand more sympathy than the hero. This is the first great Nietzschean film and will be further dissected in the coming weeks.
The first half of Neil Marshall's The Descent had me feeling more claustrophobic than the time I was locked in a closet. Then again, I didn't have CHUD's redneck cousins in there with me. Terrifying and gruesome. It's just as good as his previous effort, Dog Soldiers, but in entirely different ways.
The first television entry on this list saved the concept of horror television for me; Dexter, with Michael C. Hall and the gorgeous Julie Benz, is a brilliantly acted and extremely well-executed Showtime drama about a forensics expert who hunts serial killers. The catch is that he too is a serial killer. Its first season has just ended and has me panting for more. If you weren't watching this then shame on you!
Winner of last year's Project Greenlight, it looked as though Feast was never going to be released. With the problems of ownership with the Weinstein properties after their split from Miramax, poor John Gulager must have been banging his head against the wall. But, after a few theatrical showings, it was released on DVD this year. One part Dead Alive, one part early John Carpenter, this fast-paced gory splatterfest does not disappoint. From the casting (uber-hot Krista Allen and Henry Rollins as a motivational speaker) to the proper use of comedy, Feast is everything that the colossal disappointment Slither was not.
Hard Candy is the one movie I wasn't committed to when it comes to this list. It is an intense character piece between a man portraying a photographer in his thirties picking up a young teenage girl online and discovering that the girl is more talented than she initially let on. The downside is that the entire film is based on the believability of the two actors involved and while Ellen Page (Shadowcat from the abysmal X-Men: The Last Stand) is magnificent, Patrick Wilson leaves something to be desired. A few of the twists, although they are interesting, seem tacked on. It's fun to watch... once.
Now, before the shit storm rains down on me I have to clear a few things up. Yes, I said in earlier articles how much I hated the current spate of remakes. Yes, I did it in a vitriolic rant a few weeks ago. Yes, I made a call to Hollywood to quit with the creative bankruptcy. Now that that is out of the way: The Hills Have Eyes (directed by Haute Tension's Alexandre Aja) is both a great survivalist horror film and way better than the original. Not only was the acting superb, but Aaron Stanford (Pyro from the X-Men films) had me on the edge of my seat when he was searching for his baby. This one is second only to The Descent for the My Heart Rate Spiked award this year.
I have to preface the following recommendation with the fact that I went into this movie wanting to hate it. I saw Cabin Fever and was quite enthralled with what I thought was a pretty good horror film without a monster / slasher character. The ending destroys the film and made me want to find director Eli Roth and slap him. When I saw Hostel, that changed things. I'm not a big fan of exploitation films, but this is a gem amongst the pebbles. Don't expect character development or intelligent dialogue; but if you want to see bad people do horrible things to bad people this is your chance. (Yes, Hostel was released in 2005, but I saw it on DVD in 2006.)
The following recommendation is only here because of its potential. Masters of Horror is a television series from Showtime featuring one-hour horror films by "the genre's greatest directors." While the first season had some greats (Carpenter's "Cigarette Burns", Argento's "Jenifer" and Malone's "Fair-Haired Child"), it was weighted down with crap. It suffered from the look and feel of TV movies (even though they were) and B-list TV actors. The only episode that looked like a feature film was Takashi Miike's "banned" episode "Imprint" but its prolonged torture scenes and aborted fetuses went way over the line without offering any substance. The second season is looking alright so far, but I'm excited to see this series continue for years to come. If only they would get some involvement from people like Guillermo del Toro and George Romero instead of people who have directed one horror film. It is called Masters of Horror after all.
This year has also seen a slew of DVD reissues of horror classics. Be they special editions or just first-time releases, my fancy was tickled. Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2, the original Black Christmas, Maniac Cop and the Gojira two-disc set (featuring both the American Godzilla: King of the Monsters and the original Japanese cut) are but a few of the genre's gems being produced for DVD rerelease. What is commendable is not just the fact that I can finally toss my thrice-recorded VHS copy of Maniac Cop, but that they aren't remaking these films!
Finally I would like to commend the film industry for growing a set of balls and releasing some major R rated material this year. Whether or not you liked Wolf Creek or The Hills Have Eyes you have to at least respect the fact that they were released in a very close to uncut state in theatres. Theatres have been too tame these past few years; I'd like to see this continue.
Yes, there was a ridiculous amount of awful films released in 2006, but how does that differ from any other year? Let's face it: horror films are cheap and easy to make and there's always an audience clamoring to see them — so a lot of them get made. And though most of them are shit, 2006 was a great year for horror and, as the next installment of Reel Dread indicates, 2007 will be even better.