A tight, creepy, psychological thriller about a group of asbestos removers tasked with cleaning a mental hospital, “Session 9” is surprising for a number of reasons. Though there is violence, it is relatively muted and mostly gore-free. We learn a lot about the six workers in the removal crew, such as their backgrounds and true feelings about each other as the film progresses.
The cast, which includes CSI Miami’s David Caruso, is mostly superb in this unsettling movie. The ultimate resolution is slightly muddled and weak, but the always-increasing tension from beginning to end makes for a horror film that will make you think more than you’d expect.
The debut film of Eli Roth, who would later direct the “Hostel” series, “Cabin Fever” is a funny, gory story of five college students infected by a disease while vacationing at a cabin in the woods. As the disease progresses, the five friends’ relationships deteriorate as they attempt to survive and avoid the locals while trying to isolate the disease.
“Cabin Fever” goes over the top many times, getting grosser and funnier as the film continues. Roth clearly draws from the 1981 classic “The Evil Dead,” but does so organically and in a way that shows affection for the old film, not just ripping off the premise.
HOUSE OF A 1000 CORPSES
Rob Zombie’s first movie could barely be defined as horror. It’s more of an endurance run. The movie is a leering snarl. How much can you take? How much blood do you need to see? What will make you break down? If it wasn’t so well made, the whole thing would feel more than a little infantile.
As much as it seems necessary to discuss the plot, it’s ultimately unnecessary. “House of 1000 Corpses” is a mix of blood, deep fat fryer grease and mostly terrible southern accents, but there’s such a clear vision from Zombie that it’s a singularly well shot and stunning opening, plus it’s really just a dry run for what’s to come
DAWN OF THE DEAD
There was a day when Zach Snyder wasn’t known for slow motion fight sequences and hardcore misogyny. In his remake of the classic “Dawn of the Dead,” he somehow improved on one of the most beloved cult films of all time. It’s gory, dark and innately personal.
Where George Romero focused his original work on exposing cultural greed, jealousy and consumerism, Snyder gives the characters room to breathe, escaping the trappings of a zombie filled fable and creating a story of survival where no one is safe. It’s a good thing, as there are quick moving zombies harassing the survivors at every turn and one mistake could cost the whole group their lives. “Dawn of the Dead” debuted Snyder as a potentially masterful director who still has the potential to rise above his most recent dreck.
THE DEVIL’S REJECTS
Rob Zombie improved on everything from his directorial premier with “The Devil’s Rejects,” the continuation of the story of the murderous Firefly family. What audiences expected was another exploitative blood-filled crime spree, but what they received was a dark meditation on violence in the media, police brutality and the War on Terror.
The film is most well remembered for a gloriously gory scene in which several members of the murderous family are held hostage by a pair of equally crazed bounty hunters and tortured in ways that mirror the murders they committed in the first film. It’s a well thought out, well-written scene examining the eye-for-an-eye mentality that characterized much of the conversation about torturing alleged terrorists as well as the role of forced interrogation. It helps that the whole movie ends with one of the most gloriously dark and violent sequences scored to Lynyrd Skynyrd ever.
Maybe it’s because I’ve met him several times (as he is a graduate of my high school,) but writer-director James Gunn’s “Slither” is one of the most entertaining films I’ve ever seen. Gunn’s horror comedy is a clear homage to David Cronenberg’s “The Fly,” the 1978 version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” and others but takes some familiar horror tropes and makes them funny.
A meteor crashes near a small town, and an alien parasite eventually affects nearly the entire population. The comedy arises from the sheriff and a group of survivors doing all they can to avoid infection and stop the parasite’s spread. Featuring a cast that includes Nathan Fillion and Elizabeth Banks, “Slither” is gross, funny and clever in all the right ways.
A lot of directors think horror films should be grim, dark affairs. Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino know the genre should be fun and they prove it with their collaborative epic.
Although Tarantino’s beautifully shot and perfectly written “Deathproof” is considerably better than Rodriguez’s overly gory and meandering “Planet Terror,” both films perfectly encapsulate the sleezy charm of the drive-in double feature. Adding to the fun are a series of trailers placed before and between the movies that play up the ’70s low-fi aesthetic, with “Machete” and Eli Roth’s hysterical holiday themed horror film, “Thanksgiving.” It’s all just a blast.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN
Put simply, this Swedish film about a young boy and his vampire friend might be the most beautiful movie I’ve ever seen. Long shots of snow-covered buildings and Swedish forests, lakes and rivers make this haunting film come alive. More a coming-of-age story than anything, it is quiet (there is little music or dialogue,) not very bloody, yet possibly the most emotionally unsettling movie on this list.
12 year-old Oskar, who is picked on at school, becomes friends with Eli, a young vampire girl who must kill for blood, and she teaches Oskar that he must fight back if he wants the harassment to stop. Even for non-horror fans, “Let the Right One In” is a must-see. Very few other films (of any genre) show what it’s like for kids taking the first steps into becoming teenagers better than this.
HOUSE OF THE DEVIL
It didn’t seem possible that someone could make ’80s cinema seem fashionable or smart. Tai West, of “Cabin Fever 2” certainly didn’t seem to be the one to do it. That, however, was until the masterful “House of the Devil.” As much of an homage to “Halloween” and “The Exorcist” as an original film, it’s a tense, beautiful film.
Turning the virginal girl in the haunted house storyline on its ear, “House of the Devil” builds for most of its running time to a climax that embraces its old school roots as well as the advances in story building technique over the past 30 years. It’s amazing that it works as well as it does, but it’s a testament to West’s skill as a director that he understands the clichés well enough to embrace them and usurp them when needed.
The easiest way to describe “Piranha 3D” is this: it is a movie whose sole purpose is to have women take off their clothes above and under water, then be eaten alive by computer-animated fish. The filmmakers know their story is silly, so they completely embrace the stupidity of it all and revel in the cheesy fun. You will never enjoy college douchebags dying more than while watching “Piranha 3D.”
Throw in a cast that features actors like Richard Dreyfuss and Christopher Lloyd, and you have a fun movie that refuses to take itself seriously. There’s gore here, but you’ll be laughing too hard at the ridiculousness of it all to care. Turn your brain off for an hour and a half and have a good time.