Ambush Bug counts down the best horror films on AICN HORROR since last Halloween – Number 10!!!
Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here. Happy Birthday to AICN HORROR which celebrates its second year in October! Always hoping to pass on new and exciting films for all of you ravenous readers in search of worthwhile horror, I decided to compile a list counting down to my favorite horror film released since last October and covered in this here AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Some of these films might be new to you since there isn’t a lot of horror in theaters these days that aren’t toothless remakes or watered down sequels. Theaters aren’t where the horror is at these days, I’m afraid. Some of these films have only seen the light of day on Video on Demand or simply go straight to DVD/BluRay. I’ve also compiled quite a few films I’ve seen advance screenings of at festivals and other outlets, and I’ll try to update you when you can see these films.
As far as how I compiled this list? Well, I simply looked over my AICN HORROR columns over the last year after October 1st (which happens to be the birthday of this little column two years ago!) and worked and reworked a list until I had 31. No real method to my madness. We’ll be counting down every day until Halloween toward my favorite horror film of the year. I’ll also provide a second film suggestion for those who can’t get enough horror that has something to do with the film I chose that day.
So let’s get to it! Chime in after the article and let me know how you liked the film I chose, how right or wrong I am, and come up with your own list…let’s go!
Though it was the biggest horror film of the year, CABIN IN THE WOODS just cracks my top ten horror films covered in AICN COMICS this year. I loved the film, but did feel that after seeing it, it upped the ante for a lot of films and sometimes it felt as if it was snubbing its nose at the genre. Here’s my review of the film from April.
CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012)Directed by Drew Goddard
Written by Joss Whedon & Drew Goddard
Starring Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchinson, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, & Amy Acker
Find out more about this film here!
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
CABIN IN THE WOODS is everything folks are gushing about. It is an unabashed horror movie, and proud to be one with multiple scares consisting of fantastically timed jump scares and more complex ones that build in magnitude. In many ways, it is the apex of horror films, taking everything of what has been said and done before and smartly incorporating it all into one expansive story. Horror, in itself, is as much about convention as it is about scaring you, and CABIN IN THE WOODS embraces this fact cleverly and capably. Certain tick marks have to be made on a well worn checklist for most modern audiences to enjoy horror films, and Whedon and Goddard do a great job of making those marks one by one throughout the story. There’s the cabin in the woods, there’s the group of rowdy teens, there are drugs, there is sex, there is an entire Mystery Machine full of Scooby Doo characters Fred the jock, Daphne the tramp, Shaggy the stoner, Scooby the noble nerd, and of course, Velma the virgin. The thing that separates this film from the herd is the fact that all of what we have come to expect are present and accounted for yet this doesn’t produce eye rolling at the adherence to convention; instead it views these archetypes with fresh eyes. All of these roles are smartly crafted and much praise should go to Whedon and Goddard for shedding a refreshing light on these old standbys.
Without revealing too much, I’m sure most of you know that there are behind the scenes machinations at work that our residents of the cabin are unaware of. This is the aspect which both sets this film apart yet also makes me a bit leery of what this film means for the horror genre. In many ways, this is the end all be all horror film. It borrows quite a bit from scores of other films, and much like the archetypes of our young cast, it checks off all of these types of horror films in the same fashion. As self-referential as SCREAM was, CABIN IN THE WOODS does the same in a more complex fashion. Instead of verbally vomiting these rules off one by one as it occurred in Craven/Williamson’s flick which half the time mocked the genre it firmly rested in, CABIN IN THE WOODS creatively implements them. In doing so, this makes the film so much more enjoyable to sit through. It’s the filmic equivalent of explaining a joke as opposed to experiencing it, experiencing it being the much more satisfying option of the two.
For example, when a character suggests that they split up in order to investigate the strange goings on, instead of one of the characters stating “Every character in every horror movie makes the bad decision to split up and it always gets them killed!”, the character simply says “Really!?!?!” Same joke, but funnier because it avoids the tedious explanation and obnoxious wink at the camera. By having these characters go through motions we are very much used to seeing in horror films, yet restrictedly self aware in doing so, Goddard and Whedon makes it ok to see someone go off alone to investigate that bump in the night rather than running in the opposite direction, which would be the more realistic way of handling said situation. Without giving too much away, the filmmakers make every bone-headed move these cabiners make sensible in the context of the story.
But with CABIN IN THE WOODS hitting all of the right notes, does this mean that horror has hit such a level of self-awareness that there is nowhere to go? Surely, the way this film ends there really isn’t a lot of room for a sequel, but much like the tedious and repetitive aftershocks that the horror genre experienced from the annoyingly overly self-aware SCREAM (where every character must acknowledge they are in a horror film), I fear that the same will be a result of this film. And in a genre that has already been sucked dry by sequels, remakes, and films talking down to its audiences, it makes me fearful as to what Whedon and Godard have wrought with this film, which could be seen as the end result of the sum of all horror films.
Ramifications on the horror genre aside, Goddard has constructed a completely satisfying movie experience. The film does fall into its own conventions at times with its extremely good looking cast of campers (even the nerd has six-pack abs), but I’m willing to look past that due to the deft handling of scare scenes, fresh takes on old conventions, and expert construction of just about everything from practical effects to CGI to elaborate set pieces. The climax of this film does toss everything against the wall, but most of it sticks. Though the guest appearance at the end is a bit distracting, it is, like the rest of the film, an ode to horror convention and I didn’t take very much issue with it. As I mentioned above, there is a definite ending to this film, one that might be hard pressed to squeeze a sequel from, but the ending, like much of the rest of the film, is solid and satisfying.
I couldn’t end this review without talking about the performances by the actors. Unlike most horror films utilizing the cabin in the woods motif, most of the cast exhibit a great amount of acting skill. Standout performances include Chris Hemsworth, who adds a bit of depth to the bawdy jock stereotype, and Kristen Connolly, who takes the virginal character that is always present in these types of films and turns it on its ear. Fran Kranz plays himself as the comedic stoner wisenheimer character he perfected in DOLLHOUSE, and his comedy works almost all of the time due to Goddard and Whedon’s clever scripting. For me, though, the highlight of this film was Richard Jenkins & Bradley Whitford, who alternate at being both jaw-droppingly awesome and pants-shittingly funny every second they are on the screen.
CABIN IN THE WOODS is the type of film that horror freaks like me fiend for, yet also makes them cringe a little as it alerts general filmgoers as to how cool the horror genre is, yet it does so on a blockbuster tapestry the horror genre is rarely cast upon. It’s gory but not grossout. It’s scary without being overly disturbing. It’s safe, yet the filmmakers are skilled enough to make the whole thing such an enjoyable loop-di-loop that you can’t help but leave the theater with a smile so big you can taste your ears. Though horror fans love to be off in the corner thinking dark thoughts and flicking off film snobs, it’s bound to give those same fans a warm feeling that CABIN IN THE WOODS was treated with such skill and respect for the genre. In many ways, CABIN IN THE WOODS is validation that all of those low budget horror films which set these conventions in the first place are as cool as we all knew they were and may serve as an awesome gateway drug for those who see horror in a down-snouted manner. It may even prompt those folks to view those amazing films that influenced CABIN IN THE WOODS in a new light.
I can’t help but recommend CABIN IN THE WOODS for horror fans and those beyond that specific predilection and hope that this treatment excites other creative minds to the genre. Yet at the same time, the cynic in me recognizes that CABIN IN THE WOODS could possibly be, like SCREAM before it, a milestone in the genre and fears what that means for what happens next in horror.
I’ve always wanted to see a merman too and if you’re like me, you probably love THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. When I was a kid, I went three years in a row as the Creature for Halloween in a home made costume my mom made me. It’s a classic and is definitely worth revisiting for Halloween.
The Countdown so far…#11: BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW
#12: JUAN OF THE DEAD
#13: MIDNIGHT SON
#14: BLOOD JUNKIE
#16: THE DIVIDE
#17: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3
#18: LITTLE DEATHS
#19: THE TALL MAN
#20: KILL LIST
#21: MOTHER’S DAY
#22: THE INNKEEPERS
#23: THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS
#24: THE PACT
#25: THE WRONG HOUSE
#26: SATURDAY MORNING MASSACRE
#27: SPIRIT STALKERS
#28: THE MOTH DIARIES
#29: THE SLEEPER
#30: THE AGGRESSION SCALE
#31: SICK BOY
See ya tomorrow, folks, with number 9 of the best of the best covered in AICN HORROR since last year!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/reviewer/co-editor of AICN Comics for over ten years. He has written comics such as MUSCLES & FIGHTS, MUSCLES & FRIGHTS, VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, WONDERLAND ANNUAL 2010 & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND & has co-written their first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in late 2012 as an 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark has just announced his new comic book miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment to be released March-August 2012. Also look for Mark's exciting arc on GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-80 which begins in August 2012.
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Oct. 22, 2012, 10:21 a.m. CST
by future help
"how come witches can't get pregnant?" Holloweenies
Oct. 22, 2012, 10:22 a.m. CST
Thanks a lot, Cabin in the Woods.
Oct. 22, 2012, 11:06 a.m. CST
I liked a few moments of this film, but overall was unimpressed.
Oct. 22, 2012, 11:10 a.m. CST
the greatest and most sympathetic of the Universal Monster lineup. All (most) effective horror stories have a central character that elicits some manner of emotional connection with the audience. Heck, even Freddy and Jason have a sob story in their backgrounds. For me though, The Creature From The Black Lagoon took that much farther than his brother characters, yet he remains the Red Headed Stepchild of the Universal clan. I never understood that. Just sayin'
Oct. 22, 2012, 11:17 a.m. CST
... but to me it was no way near as great as some were claiming it to be. The ending was a surprise but also a bit silly and made little sense. And the biggest problem for me were the characters. Sure they wanted to pay homage and use the old stereotypes. But by doing this i got the joke but still had no connection to these two dimensional lead characters. The characters that i liked were the two guys pushing all the buttons. But that just wasn't enough for me. A fun little film but surely not the masterpiece some made it out to be. By the way: this is my favorite column here on this site. Keep up the good work! And all the best from Amsterdam....
Oct. 22, 2012, 11:41 a.m. CST
But I haven't seen many new films. Saw a few on the list, but none have been as good as this one. Still, wish I had gone into it not knowing the ending, but the assholes at the Village Voice gave away the ending in the first sentence of their review.
Oct. 22, 2012, 11:52 a.m. CST
Thanks Bug, that sums it up nicely! Loved this film. Just outright fun without all the tedious crap they toss into horror films these days. And Jenkins and Whitford knock it out of the park.
Oct. 22, 2012, 11:58 a.m. CST
by Collin Armstrong
Maybe it's a nit-picky complaint, but I was really disappointed that they go to the trouble of showing that wonderful board with all those different creatures and monsters on it early on in one of the control room scenes, and what does the main menace in the woods turn out to be... a family of zombies. Bah. I get that maybe they filmmakers were waiting to really let things rip in that last 30 or minutes - that seems like part of the joke - so they didn't want to go too crazy in terms of creatures up front, but for close to half of the film I felt cheated out of something better.
Oct. 22, 2012, 12:03 p.m. CST
by Collin Armstrong
I wish the filmmakers / studio could've gotten the rights to have actual classic monsters and creatures appear - instead of the weird Pinhead / Tall Man amalgamation, we'd get Pinhead. And Angus Scrimm - or at least an orb. Since so many of the creatures were clearly modeled on popular, pre-existing designs, it would've been fun if they had been able to use those actual designs. Like a giant cross-over sequences during the last act. I can only imagine how expensive it would've been to acquire all those rights, tho. Going off on a tangent, but I shudder to think what Disney must've paid to use all those iconic video game characters for Wreck-It-Ralph. Kind of the same idea.
Oct. 22, 2012, 2:10 p.m. CST
The picked the most boring monster for the attack. A better approach would have been ALL of the monsters attacking the cabin (and maybe going nuts and attaching each other at some point)? Mayhem, but in the cabin/woods setting, which was the point to begin with. They abondoned the cabin setting too quickly. Any initial scares dissipated as soon as the action left the cabin. Disappointed overall with this. So much hype! That'll teach me...well, maybe not.
Oct. 22, 2012, 2:35 p.m. CST
by Sam Lloyd
Oct. 22, 2012, 3:02 p.m. CST
I can't imagine what nine horror films from last year the author is going to consider better than Cabin. Apollo 18 or maybe Hiss?
Oct. 22, 2012, 4:42 p.m. CST
All those cool, creative choices and we get the hillbilly zombies!
Oct. 22, 2012, 4:54 p.m. CST
It's a very ambitious and creative swing-and-miss. Zombies: Boring! Disappointing! Cheeky satirical humor: It fell flat for me. Wasn't very funny. Tone: Uneven. confusing. Is this a comedy? Because I'm not laughing Story: excellent Scream did it way better.
Oct. 22, 2012, 5:40 p.m. CST
Yes, and the reason is that the studio went under.
Oct. 22, 2012, 8 p.m. CST
Only film I was motivated to see twice this year! FUCK YOU HATERS!
Oct. 22, 2012, 8:12 p.m. CST
It's really hard to compare this to Scream. That movie was 15 years ago and one of the first of it's kind. It was making fun of the slasher genre while being part of the slasher genre and bringing back the living slashers, not the undead ones. It was also a bit of a mystery. While they could have gone with more subtlety, it worked very well at the time. Just look at all of the copycats that came afterwards. Cabin in the Woods is a great movie, but it's not that fair of a comparison to say this was much better.
Oct. 22, 2012, 10:40 p.m. CST
...made me eat a bowl of Meh by the end of the first hour. I laughed and laughed when I saw the arc and what made this story original...but then it just kinda pissed all over itself. Too bad. Plus I'm getting honestly pretty sick of seeing some of the same Joss Whedon regulars. Felt like I was watching an episode of DOLLHOUSE.
Oct. 22, 2012, 10:42 p.m. CST
They are cliche and overused, when there is this vast abundant world... in real Hollywood, and that is why they are in this film.
Oct. 22, 2012, 11:57 p.m. CST
Reminded me a bit of Behind the Mask: Rise of Leslie Vernon. I realize it was a mockumentary but I found the humor horror mix a bit better in that. However, not much this year to compare to and haven't seen stretching of the genre in a while so kudos.
Oct. 23, 2012, 12:02 a.m. CST
I have never understood the love Scream gets. It is exactly the type of movie it claims to lampoon without doing anything to separate it from the genre, except for characters basically talking to the audience about things that we've already known if we were fans of the horror genre. Plus, calling it "scary movies" annoyed the fuck out of me, because none of them were ever scary. Cabin in the Woods managed to play with all of the tropes of the genre while not being a traditional horror movie. It is obviously a love letter to the genre, but it's not actually a genre film. That is the genius of it.
Oct. 23, 2012, 1:22 a.m. CST
How was he like the tall man? He wasn't like the tall man, he was like Pinhead.
Oct. 23, 2012, 4:45 a.m. CST
I liked the way the movie justified the use of cliches and stock characters for it's own narrative purpose.
by albert comin
It's quite clever, really. And i loved the notion that no matter how gruesome your job is, after a while you will treat it as just another day on the job and you will do all those silly staff talk and make the best of the situation by having office parties, making pals with your co-workers, making bets on silly events and hopes of office romances. And if this sounds very weird and impossible, just ask the people who worked for secret services like CIA, or even more macabre ones like the KGB or STASI. In the end, regardless of their jobs, people are just people. Working for that job that's in the movie people would behave like that, specially if they believed their job was helping keep the world safe from a greater evil.
Oct. 23, 2012, 4:54 a.m. CST
by albert comin
I agree with you. Risking being ostracized for severe geek blasphemy, i also think the Scream movies are severey overrated and they aren't the clever post-modern whatever that many claim it is. In fact, only by the second movie they do become really post-modern, but even then it's more limited then what's believed. The first movie is more jokey in references but it's hardly post-modern. It's one of those cases when stuff is called post-modern more for the coolness of the designation then because it truly is, or because the people who use the expression don't have a very good idea what it means besides the often erroneous popular perception. It's like other expressions like "quantum leap", "hoi polloi", "it's better to be feared then loved" and other such misperceptions that entered popular culture.
Oct. 23, 2012, 6:45 a.m. CST
I really wish people would stop sucking this movie's dick. It's really not all that. It's just like 99% of the other swill that gets breathlessly over-hyped on this site.
Oct. 23, 2012, 8:49 a.m. CST
by albert comin
Good movies deserve all the support it gets.
Oct. 23, 2012, 12:17 p.m. CST
I enjoy horror but rarely rewatch horror movies as they lose something on rewatching. Not this one. This one is very good and as others have noted managed to make use of the tropes of the genre without all the wink-wink-nudge-nudge of Scream.
Oct. 23, 2012, 3:53 p.m. CST
'cept less words.
Oct. 24, 2012, 2:11 a.m. CST
Cabin should have been top 3. Very dubious. The only thing I didn't like was that fucking snake. Really who's idea was the snake? It was like cooking a Michelin star meal then placing a turd on top of it.
by Bradly Durant
Oct. 24, 2012, 5:55 a.m. CST
She, alone, would give me the heebie jeebies. I'd love to have seen her attack. My favourite bit was the Call of Duty style troopers being wiped out, wave after wave, by the released monsters, brilliant fun
Oct. 25, 2012, 1:10 p.m. CST
by Chris Reynolds
The concept of a post-modern take on the slasher movie, with tropes rationalised as elements of a ritual and the contrast of the horrors being orchestrated by 9 to 5 office workers are two fantastic ideas at the heart of this movie, but they can't carry the movie on their own. I love seeing the tropes being taken apart and all the monsters, but the movie has big problems which can't be ignored: As everybody mentions, the bits with the torture zombies are not scary or tense. Partially because the direction doesn't really attempt to make them scary, but also because we know from the start that the zombies are a tool of the office workers and that the college kids are being manipulated. The college kids are flat stock characters by design but attempts to make them more rounded don't really work and they stay bland and uninteresting. It's difficult to root for them, especially over the office workers, who are much more likeable and interesting. At the end their decision to let the world end rather than let the rituals continue is irritating rather than a satisfying "fuck you" to the world. Fran Kranz continues to annoy me. I remember Charlie Brooker (a critic) describing him on Dollshouse as "an irritating nerd ... everything he says has to pass through about 500 pop culture irony filters before it leaves his smackable wise-cracking mouth." I couldn't agree more. Plus he survives a stabbing that should cripple him and proceeds to beat up a massive zombie with a bong. WTF? When all the monsters appear we get a very satisfying monster mash, but the problems continue: Why is there a big red button that releases all the monsters at once? Why isn't it provided with more protection? Why is the loading bay for all the monsters right in the middle of the offices? Why don't they have any defences against the monsters? We know they must have had the technology to catch and confine them, why aren't the office windows, walls and doors lined with the same material that can imprison all the supernatural creatures in the cubes? Overall, it's got some wonderful ideas but it's too heavily flawed to be great. I'd give it 7/10, and its #10 placing here seems fair.
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