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Jeff Allard's Best & Worst Horror Films of 2008
Source:Jeff Allard
December 26, 2008

Good horror was out there somewhere in 2008 – unfortunately it just wasn't found in many theaters. The number of intriguing, much-talked about titles that most horror fans (including myself) didn't have an opportunity to see this past year (thanks to studios who give wide releases to the likes of Shutter and Prom Night and let films like Trick R' Treat or Midnight Meat Train either stay on the shelf entirely or get barely-there releases) is a depressingly long list all its own.

While it was all too easy to see the likes of The Haunting of Molly Hartley and Saw V, the year's more promising efforts – such as Let The Right One In, Splinter, My Name Is Bruce, Repo! The Genetic Opera, Midnight Meat Train, Fear(s) of the Dark and Eden Lake (as well as the still-unreleased Trick R' Treat) – weren't nearly as accessible for fans to come across. I'm still waiting to see most of the films that I really wanted to see in 2008 – and as a result, my 'best' list sees a few excellent films sharing space with those that were merely satisfying, as well as with a couple of poorly-received films that I just couldn't help myself from liking. Sometimes even when there's good films to be had, a bad film just feels right.

1.) Let The Right One In: Once in a great while, a horror film will rise to the level of art, achieving a transcendent quality not common to the genre, and Let The Right One In marks one of those occasions. This Swedish film, directed by Tomas Alfredson, is the first great vampire film of the current decade (maybe of the last two decades – with Kathryn Bigelow's 1987 favorite Near Dark being the last worthwhile contender). The coming-of-age tale told here, based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist (who also penned the screenplay), is told beautifully – supported by remarkable performances from child actors Kare Hedebrant (as bullied twelve year old Oskar) and Lina Leandersson (as Eli, a vampire forever in the body of a twelve year old). At first glance, I thought Let The Right One In was admirable but it didn't hit me as a classic. But reflecting on the film days after, as I found its impact deepening, I realized that with the exception of George Romero's 1977 cult classic Martin (which, it could be argued, is not truly a vampire movie at all), this is the first modern vampire film to really haunt me. To read Let The Right One In simply as a love story is to ignore the fate of Oskar's middle-aged predecessor, Hakan (Per Ragnar), and to fail to imagine that there weren't others prior even to him, companions (likely of both genders) that Eli encountered first as children only to have them grow old and inevitably need to be replaced. Even though this film ends on what is played as a light, open-ended note, the relationship these two characters are embarking on already has an abyss lying at its center.

2.) The Orphanage: This ghost story came out in some areas in 2007 but it played in my neck of the woods (and many other wider markets) this past January. Telling the tale of a woman returning to the orphanage that she was raised in and her long, determined search for her missing child, this eerie tale expertly mixed poignancy and shocks (including one startling scene that's a literal jaw-dropper). Director Juan Antonio Bayon made his debut here and The Orphanage instantly marks him as one of the leading talents in the genre. Produced by Guillermo del Toro, I thought this sensitive supernatural tale was accomplished in its artistry enough to rival del Toro's own celebrated Pan's Labyrinth.

3.) Stuck: Based on the macabre true story of a woman who hit a homeless man with her car, then drove home to let the injured man bleed to death in her garage, stuck in the shards of her windshield as he begged for help, Stuck sees Stuart Gordon making bitter commentary on the banality of evil. If the real life case in question provoked the question of how anyone could be so callous to another human being, Gordon and screenwriter John Strysik dramatize in 85 terse minutes how deceptively easy it is for ordinary people to live in a moral vacuum.

4.) The Last Winter: Writer/director Larry Fessenden continues to make thoughtful horror films just under the radar of mainstream attention. Although he's been making films for years, even many horror fans may not be aware yet of his intriguing body of work – which includes Habit (1996) and Wendigo (2001) – but this cautionary environmental tale with a mood that recalls the atmosphere of Carpenter's The Thing (both in its icy setting and its escalating sense of paranoia) is arguably his finest film to date. Made in 2006 and given a very limited theatrical run in 2007, The Last Winter wasn't able to reach a wider audience until its DVD debut this year. A moody dissertation on a planet in peril, The Last Winter unfolds with political urgency and narrative ambiguity.

5.) The Strangers: Usually when a film's release is rescheduled as much as this film's was, it's a sign of trouble but this modest chiller went on to become a sleeper hit during the summer, winning the hearts of genre fans who were looking for a credible horror movie to come along after a dismal late winter and spring that was marked by the sorry likes of One Missed Call, The Eye, Shutter and Prom Night. I don't think The Strangers is a perfect film but writer/director Bryan Bertino shows a natural instinct for generating scares and the imagery of The Strangers (such as the shot of Liv Tyler standing alone in the house as the sack-headed stranger stands in the distance behind her) already feels like it's a part of the iconography of the genre.

6.) Quarantine: If every unnecessary remake were as competently made as this remake of the Spanish shocker Rec, horror fans would have a lot less to gripe about. While this Americanized version of Rec varies little from its source material, director John Erick Dowdle and writer Drew Dowdle (the team behind the still-unreleased The Poughkeepsie Tapes) don't lose any of the original's scares, either. Quarantine may be little more than a series of 'gotcha'-style jolts rather than a film that gets under your skin but on a visceral level, it's an expert piece of work.

7.) Rambo: Sylvester Stallone's return to one of his signature roles wasn't horror, of course, but Rambo is a film no genre fan can afford to ignore, as this was hands-down the year's most hyper-violent film. With its graphic depiction of the atrocities occurring in Burma, Rambo evokes memories of the 'mondo' documentaries that were a staple of early '80s home video, such as Faces of Death. And with its final, kill 'em all onslaught, as Rambo brings it to an army of Burmese soliders, Rambo is a film that merits instant inclusion into the Gorehound Hall of Fame. With honors. Honorable mention goes to Punisher: War Zone in which The Punisher is depicted as a killing machine for the ages, making Jason, Michael, and Leatherface look like hopeless underachievers. Scoff at the half-ass plot and the sometimes overripe acting if you will but watch as Punisher: War Zone goes on to win cult movie immortality on DVD. Give both Stallone and Punisher: War Zone director Lexi Alexander credit for making modern action films that aren't afflicted with Bourne-esque shaky-cam moves and spastic editing.

8.) The Ruins: The smart money would say that a horror movie about talking, man-eating vines is a tough sell. And judging by The Ruins' no-show at the box office last spring, the smart money would be right. But first time feature director Carter Smith should be commended for crafting a nasty little film that turned its attractive cast into shredded meat. Novelist Scott Smith (no relation to Carter) did a mostly admirable job of adapting his own best seller with a screenplay that made few concessions from the grim source material, leaving the most excruciating moments intact.

9.) Mirrors: Yes, everyone agrees that this movie is pretty terrible. I'm not here to argue that (although I will say that the production design here is stellar). On an objective level, Mirrors would be more appropriate fit on a 'worst' list but the hell with being objective. Few films entertained me as much as this did and in a year as loaded as '08 was with films that made me want to give up and walk away from the horror genre forever (well, at least to leave it behind for a day or two), I have to give Mirrors some love. My DVD collection is brimming with cheesy films that I have a lasting affection for and Mirrors will join their company soon. It's as cracked as a cursed mirror and I can't wait to revisit it.

10.) The X-Files: I Want to Believe: This would-be revival of the cult TV favorite got crushed in theaters last July and was roundly dismissed by fans and critics as being a sorry return for Mulder and Scully. But while this wasn't the electrifying comeback that devoted X-philes might've hoped for (among its disappointments, it squandered a brief appearance by Mitch Pileggi), I still think there's much to admire about this film. Mostly I have to applaud director, writer, and series creator Chris Carter and co-writer Frank Spotnitz for the perversely self-destructive move of betting the franchise's future on the story of a gay Russian harvesting body parts in order to build a new body to attach his lover's head to (with a subplot about a pedophile priest thrown in for good measure). Yeah, now that's how to bring in the summer movie crowd! The decision to go with this storyline in favor of something more conventionally exciting may have been a commercial misstep on the part of Carter and Spotnitz but if it was a mistake, it's one that I found to be ironically in character with the series itself. After all, it's an archetypal Mulder move to follow your gut, forfeit the smart play, and end up looking a little foolish in the process. And to my mind, that's not such a bad legacy for The X-Files to leave. Whatever I Want To Believe's failings – whether they be noble or otherwise – David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson continue to be the brainiest of duos and I enjoyed being reminded of how much I've missed their understated, but unmistakable, chemistry.

As usual, a list of the worst films is always easier to compile because every year there's just so much of them sucking time out of my life. Rather than waste even more time deciding what order that I hated these films in, I've just listed them alphabetically.

1.) Cloverfield: A lot of people loved this but I found it to be an all-around failure. To witness the ground-level perspective of a giant monster attack should've made for an instant classic but instead Cloverfield's grating characters and uninspired monster caused a lot of devastation without leaving a mark.

2.) Death Race: I like violence for the sake of violence as much as anyone else and I think Jason Statham is the man but this remake of the Corman classic was a non-starter for me, not even fit for spare parts.

3.) Fear Itself: Masters of Horror may have proved uneven through the course of its two seasons on Showtime but there were always some gems along the way that kept me interested. The network version of MoH, however, was just dismal (save for Stuart Gordon's segment "Eater"). If horror is traditionally more effective in the short form (two of the genre's most celebrated writers – Poe and Lovecraft – did their best work in short stories), why is it that anthology series are so hard to pull off?

4.) The Haunting of Molly Hartley: This past Halloween didn't give horror fans much to celebrate, with this PG-13 tale of possession being every bit as lame and unscary as it looked to be. This is the kind of movie where all you can think of while watching it is of all the better genre films that are waiting in vain to be released.

5.) Lost Boys: The Tribe: Why a big budget sequel to The Lost Boys was never made baffles me. If second tier slasher films like Prom Night and My Bloody Valentine can be the subject of slick remakes that score major releases, why did the sequel to a cult classic and box office hit like The Lost Boys have to be such a shabby production?

6.) Mother of Tears: I think my days of rooting for Argento are done. Sure, I'll keep checking out what he's up to but Mother of Tears annihilated my hopes of another great Argento film. A few Argento-philes thought this was terrific but Mother of Tears didn't work for me at all.

7.) One Missed Call: Yet another abysmal remake of an Asian spook story. Some movies should come with their own apology from the filmmakers (along with a promise that they'll leave the film industry forever) and this is one of them.

8.) Prom Night: I'm just glad that the makers of upcoming remakes like My Bloody Valentine and Friday the 13th understand that an R-rating is the only way to go when it comes to revisiting classic slasher movies. I mean, the original 1980 Prom Night was lousy to begin with but this PG-13 version was just a full-on insult.

9.) Saw V: I know this series still has its fans, but at this point I believe its continued success at the box office is due to a lack of competition more than from audience interest. This latest entry was so absurd and so convoluted – even by Saw standards – that I just don't get who's still enjoying these movies. Other studios need to start putting their own horror offerings head to head with Saw so Halloween isn't dominated by a lame duck franchise anymore.

10.) Shutter: This tale of yet another dark-haired ghost girl out for revenge runs neck and worthless neck with One Missed Call as the most piss-poor Asian remake of the year. One Missed Call arguably edges Shutter out on that count but with its tepid scares and plodding march to a Twilight Zone-ish twist ending (that ranked as a spine-tingling conclusion in its original Thai version), Shutter should've skipped theaters altogether and aired on NBC as an episode of Fear Itself.

For managing editor Ryan Rotten's best/worst of 2008 click here.

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Posted by: MistAh BlistAh on December 26, 2008 at 14:37:24

Nice lists, the only one I gotta disagree with is Cloverfield, it should definetly be on the Best list simply because it deserves to be.

Posted by: Brian from OR on December 26, 2008 at 14:47:09

Yeah im going to have to disagree, "Cloverfield." should be on the best list. If any movie needs to be on the worse list it should be "The Happening." That was not just a bad horror movie but an over all bad movie.

Posted by: robg on December 26, 2008 at 15:23:07

Crap, I forgot about LAST WINTER on my list. Fessenden is often criminally underrated. Love his films.

Posted by: k on December 26, 2008 at 15:51:18

also disagreeing completely about Cloverfield. were the characters "grating" because they were realistic or...?

Posted by: Wyngarde on December 26, 2008 at 16:26:15

"Cloverfield" Needs to stay on the WORST list. That film was crap. The characters were the most cliche and unrealistic characters ever brought to the screen.

Grating is the right word for them. For the film it self words like 'Unoriginal', 'Ripp-Off', 'boring', 'uninspired' and 'excruciating' can be used.

I'm so sick of these movies where they put a camera on a spring and let a retarded kid slap at it and it gets high praise. It's cheap film-making to hide a zero budget and lack of plot.

Posted by: JJ on December 26, 2008 at 16:43:00

I didn't think that the lost boys sequal was that bad, but I think that we all wanted to see the Cories together some way. Feldman almost came off as a parody of himself, yet the film was good.
Good pick with Rambo, this fourth offering may be the best since the 1st. It gave us all the action that we want to remember the films for. without alot of the long walks through the forest.
And as for the X - files, well if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does anyone give a dam n

Posted by: MistAh BlistAh on December 26, 2008 at 16:55:27

I'm glad The Happening isn't on the Worst list, gettin pretty sick of seeing it on everyone elses...

Posted by: Jericho on December 26, 2008 at 17:30:07

It's good to see X-files on best list.. granted it wasnt great (for that matter neither the first movie was) but it was far from being bad, if it was released in the fall it would have done better.

Posted by: moviewizguy on December 26, 2008 at 19:08:17

OMFG! I effing love you! You don't have The Happening on your list! But on the other hand...Cloverfield. Gotta disagree but I don't care. I love the fact one person in the entire world didn't but The Happening.

Posted by: Jim Samtanko on December 26, 2008 at 19:34:52

Cloverfield worst? Rambo a horror? Admits Mirrors was terrible but in best list?

Trying to be different huh?

Posted by: Buck starbuck on December 26, 2008 at 19:40:47

After that saterday night live skit, "Mark walburg talks to animals", I could not watch The Happening without cracking up every time he was on screen.

Posted by: A True Horror Fan on December 26, 2008 at 23:36:52

Hey Jeff Allard, how often do you smoke crack?!. Putting The X-Files, The Strangers and The Ruins in your top ten!. Did you watch these movies with your eyes open?!. I mean for Gods sake the effin X-files!!!!!!!!!!!.

Posted by: k on December 27, 2008 at 01:25:20

good to see that this list is as credible as rolling stone, entertainment weekly, or the source. also funny to see when people agree with it. i'll stick with Shock's previous best and worst of 2008 list.

Posted by: Chris on December 27, 2008 at 01:53:51

I thought "Cloverfield" was terrific, but I can see how it would jar on some viewers. But to say the Cloverfield monster was "uninspired" is puzzling. Even if you hated the movie, and many people did, I'm curious as why you singled out the monster as one of your primary complaints. I'm not trying to be flip or adversarial, but I am interested in hearing your fuller take on it.

Posted by: beeb on December 27, 2008 at 04:05:22

Hated Cloverfield. Grating characters, cheesy camera, pathetic monster, yup.

Posted by: Doctor Splatten on December 27, 2008 at 14:11:43

Okay, that's two against MOTHER OF TEARS. Hm. I still want to see it, but at least I've been warned.

Posted by: wally balls on December 27, 2008 at 17:42:02

the ruins a good movie???? that was by far the worst movie i've ever seen in my entire life.... i could seriously write a better horror movie than that... it had more holes than swiss cheese... and saying cloverfield sucked???? whatever your smoking i want some of it right now... dont hate cloverfield because the camra made you sick.... and the last time i checked rambo wasn't a horror movie... quarantine also sucked major balls too and... i tought the lost boys wasn't bad considering there was no money and no big name actors into it.

Posted by: MistAh BlistAh on December 27, 2008 at 18:25:26

Hook up whatever drugs you're on Wally! The Ruins was easily one of the best and most underrated movies this year...

Posted by: HorrorKing97 on December 27, 2008 at 19:03:24

Even though I don't feel Cloverfield should be on the worst list (Why Rambo was placed on a list of horror films I'll never know), I can agree with what was written about Prom Night. My sibling saw that film and boy, would he agree with that review.

Posted by: yagiz on December 27, 2008 at 21:41:36

"The Mist" is my favourite!!!

Posted by: ZOMBIE4PETA on December 27, 2008 at 21:58:50

I have to dis agree with "The Strangers" on any best list. The movie was boring and I still can't believe the guy couldn't load a shotgun for christ sake. This should have been on the worst list.
"The Happening" that would surley be on my worst list.
And where was Romero's "Diary of the Dead"? That was the worst movie to come out all year!

I will agree with "Let the right one in" This was a great vampire movie , which I typically do not like. Also glad he didn't even mention "Twilight". Typical Tween girl movie with a bunch of pale skinned ,big haired goofy looking dudes.
"The Devils Chair" would have made my top 10 best.
All in all, a good review.



Posted by: Vedran on December 30, 2008 at 07:53:26

This guy (whoever it is) doesn't have a clue about horror movies. Firstly, Rambo isn't a horror movie at all and secondly, Cloverfield was one of the most unique experiences in cinemas in a loooong time. The characters were realistic (you could see the fear in their eyes) and the monster was perfect. Why do people need to know everything about it (its backround etc.)? If we were attacked by a huge monster, would you try to find information about it or would you try to save your own ass? The movie is realistic and unique with great characters and awsome suspense.

I'm sorry, but I don't want to waste more time explaining this. Just wanted to point out that you should reconsider your list. I, among many, laugh at it.

Posted by: jason on December 30, 2008 at 13:44:53

First off why is the strangers on his list that movie was a really bad rip off of funny games. Secondly nobody picked diary of the dead for best film? why it was great and so was mother of tears, the more i go on this site the more i think the reviewers dont no about horror, lets have a whole blog dedicated to the night of the demons remake and then lets market the s@#$ out of saw 5, you guys should be ashamed with yourselves.

ps- i do agree with last winter that film was intense and scary as hell, best of its kind since The Thing.

Posted by: Ryan Rotten, Managing Editor on December 30, 2008 at 13:55:46

Jason, it's called an "opinion" - everyone's got them.

I could easily take issue with your praise for DIARY OF THE DEAD and MOTHER OF TEARS (both mediocre to poor films, in my mind), but will I attack your credibility as a horror fan? Not at all.

And when did we "market" SAW V? We covered it, yes. And we panned it.

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