Ad exec Kevin Roberts has a point in saying brands rely on “ER words: whiter, brighter, cleaner, stronger, fitter. Watch any commercials on American TV and you’ll see these words come up in the first three seconds, hammered remorselessly into your brain.”
I’ve seen a proverbial shit-ton of movies because they were called the scariest, the most terrifying, the best since some classic or other.
I should know better.
I should be too cynical for such optimism, too smart for such Barnum-esque huckstery.
To be just and equitable, I enjoy the overwhelming majority of horror movies I see. From Ed Wood Jr. level to Hitchcock, enjoyment ain’t the issue. But if I allow myself the folly of hoping this will be the movie to deliver the psychological damage I crave, I end up disappointed.
Indeed, a recap is in order, a brief, dissatisfying stroll through a movie decade spanning 2005 to 2014 (only February–need a minute to process 2015).
The Descent (2005)
Mutant humanoid creatures stalk a dysfunctional band of protagonists. Not much new there. Generally I respect and trust Fangoria but don’t buy Tony Timpone’s praise of The Descent as “The scariest horror movie in years.” I’m leery of blanket phrases like “in years.” They offhandedly disregard too much, in this case movies like The Devil’s Backbone, Saw, Devil’s Rejects, and High Tension.
The Host (2006)
This is one of my favorite movies ever. Same apparently for Harry Knowles at Ain’t It Cool News (dig those guys too). On the other hand, The Host just isn’t “the best full on monster movie since Jaws.” Bruce is a tough bar to clear, and while this critter is just too cool for words, I have one difficulty. I want one. I don’t want a Bruce. Or an Alien. Or The Thing.
30 Days Of Night (2007)
I hold Dread Central in the same regard as Fangoria, but I think Andrew Kasch misses the mark with “The most terrifying vampire movie ever made.” The folks at Hammer may differ. Clearly I think Nosferatu is one of the most terrifying movies ever made. I’d also throw Vampire Circus into the mix.
The Strangers (2008)
If you like this, I urge you to check out Funny Games and Ils. Same idea executed far better. Like an order of magnitude better. That said, I like The Strangers just fine. The tension ratchets up well. The male killer watching Liv Tyler in the kitchen? Far better just some jumpscare. Sadly for Mark Peikert at New York Press, The Strangers didn’t quite prevent me “from ever going home again.”
The Uninvited (2009)
“A truly frightening movie experience with a shocker of an ending.” Is it possible that Hollywood.com’s Pete Hammond managed to miss Session 9? And The Machinist? And Fight Club? And Shutter Island? And The Other? Think I made my point.
I can’t stress enough that I love most of these movies as movies, just not as “mosts” or “ests.” Insidious is a massive steaming pile of exception. The kid is annoying, the parents relentlessly dim, and the ending so predictable a lobotomy can’t make it surprising. WCBS Radio’s Steve O’Brien called it “the most terrifying movie since The Exorcist” which I’m forced to conclude O’Brien has never seen.
Hostel III (2011)
Another go-to for me is Brad Miska at Bloody Disgusting. He had some great insights, for example, about April Fool’s Day, May, and Slither. For this one, he suggests, “Sin City just got a whole lot darker.”
A whole lot more predictable? Yeah, maybe.
You can call it torture porn if you like, but Hostel is survival horror at a Deliverance or Rituals level. Tough genre to break new ground in, but Hostel did. That ground broken, it’s even tougher to sustain. We generally know what to expect. Switching genders and locations isn’t quite enough. There’s also audience involvement wickedly close to (and used better by) Cabin In The Woods and Running Man.
The Innkeepers (2012)
Ironic mentioning Hostel III. I do love me some Eli Roth: Cabin Fever, Hostel, Green Inferno. Don’t always agree with him. Like now. “One of the best, smartest, scariest indie horror films I’ve seen in a long time.” I was so sure I missed something I rushed to rent it again (like I need an excuse to hit The Naro). How did Roth and I see the same movie? I hate Insidious, true, but it wasn’t boring. Huh. Maybe the coma The Innkeepers put me in would have kept me from seeing Insidious’s ending coming like a freight train.
“An adrenaline shot to the cerebral cortex,” Marshall Fine wrote for the preciously named Hollywoodandfine.com. Stoker was definitely not what I expected, but it’s good, good stuff nonetheless, specifically because it’s not an adrenaline shot. Rather, it’s an almost textbook slow burn.
As stated in a previous post, I like to establish an arbitrary rule then disregard it. Nobody said Tusk was the scariest, spookiest, most terrifying movie since anything, but some dope at Variety called it “Kevin Smith’s very best work.” Sorry if I go all Breakfast Club for a second, but…
Not. Even. Close. Bud!
A) All you have to do is listen to Smith’s Smodcast segment in the special features to understand this was never a horror movie, and B) Red State.
Okay, that’s my list. And now, this way to The Great Egress!