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2010: A LOOK BACK IN HORROR

Contrary to what you might have heard, horror is not dead. It is, however, in a decidedly precarious place. The near-dissolution of two iconic genre brands, Leisure Books and Fangoria magazine, isn’t exactly cataclysmic but is without question a deeply ominous development. On the bright side, I received more review requests in 2010 than in the all the previous years combined, proving there is life in the horror halls.

     I understand that for most of you the really good stuff was often difficult to locate amid all the retreads and remakes. Nevertheless, 2010 did yield up quite a few goodies for horror fans, from the outrageous environmental catastrophe novel SYLVOW by Douglas Thompson to collections like Brendan Connell’s UNPLEASANT TALES and Michael Louis Calvillo’s BLOOD & GRISTLE to independent movie gems like BURIED and HEARTLESS.

     Yes, quality genre entertainment DOES exist, although it has to complete with the not-so-good stuff. This was certainly true in 2010, which contained more than its share of good and bad…

R.I.P. Leisure Books
Over the course of 2010 Leisure underwent a succession of calamitous setbacks, including the defection of one of its top authors Brian Keene and the firing of editor Don D’Auria, leading up to the August announcement that Leisure would become an ebook-only outfit. Since then it seems that every week brings a new revelation of questionable business practices by Leisure: not paying writers, skimping on residuals, reprinting old books without properly obtaining the rights, etc.
     This is a situation that depresses me more than I can say, as Leisure has been at the forefront of genre fiction for the past decade. It’s naïve, I guess, to have expected Leisure’s reign to continue much longer--think back to Tor Books in the 1980s or Dell’s Abyss line in the 90s, both of which provided first-rate mass market horror before they, like Leisure, abruptly gave up the ghost.

R.I.P. Fangoria
In contrast to the above, Fangoria magazine’s downfall wasn’t at all difficult to foresee. Consider the Hindenburg-worthy disaster that was Fangoria Radio, the beyond-lame Fangoria movie series (MIRRORS 2?), the innumerable complaints of nonpayment by the mag’s contributors and its insanely high cover prices.
     Yes, I know Fangoria is still limping along (following a corporate shakeup that saw longtime editor Tony Timpone replaced in February), but just barely!

Most Prevalent Movie Trend
Situational claustrophobia-fests were especially popular in 2010. There was FROZEN (set almost entirely on a ski lift), DEVIL (in an elevator), EXAM (a windowless room) and BURIED (a coffin), not to mention 127 HOURS (a small section of canyon) and LEBANON (a tank). I’m sure any number of points can be made relating these films to our current political situation, or about the rigors of low budget filmmaking (wherein single settings are the most cost effective). Suffice it to say that three of those four films are worth seeing.

Most Prevalent Documentary Trend
That would be the exploration of extreme horror filmmaking and how audiences react to it in the docs S&MAN and GRAPHIC SEXUAL HORROR, both of which are quite similar thematically (even though the former film is technically a mock documentary) and both of which have made a quite splash in cult movie circles.

Most Irritating Literary Craze
Really, how many of those goddamn literary mash-ups do we need? 2009 gave us PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES (a book I’ve been unable to get through), SENSE AND SENSIBILITY AND SEA MONSTERS and several other lazy redraftings of public domain classics.
     In 2010 we got quite a few more obnoxious mash-ups: JANE SLAYRE, ANDROID KARENINA, FUCKING FRANKENSTEIN, LITTLE VAMPIRE WOMEN, WUTHERING BITES, THE WAR OF THE WORLDS PLUS BLOOD, GUTS and ZOMBIES, etc, etc, etc. Even if you accept the arguments of these books’ supporters (that they’re “transgressive reclamations of great literature by the common man” and so forth) I feel safe in proclaiming that this particular craze has officially been done to death.
     I understand these books aren’t selling nearly as well as they initially did, a clear sign that the American reading public is much smarter than publishers think.

Most Worn-Out Concepts
I know nobody wants to hear it, but I’m going to utter a harsh truth: vampires and zombies are DONE! This is something I’ve been saying for some time, and yet the apparently never-ending flood of vampire and zombie books and movies shows no signs of abating.

Most Hackneyed Publishing Trend
Fifteen years ago I might have been excited at the appearance of an expensive trade paperback horror movie guide, but for a variety of reasons--the internet being first and foremost, along with the fact that there already exist more than enough such books--I’m no longer too enthused about shelling out upwards of $20 for this sort of thing.
     Yet, in an all-too-typical example of the American publishing industry’s behind-the-times thinking, no less than three glossy horror movie review compilations appeared in 2010--TOP 100 HORROR MOVIES, HORROR MOVIE FREAK and HORROR! 333 FILMS TO SCARE YOU TO DEATH--and they weren’t cheap. I haven’t perused any of these tomes, but I don’t believe they’ll do much to displace THE OVERLOOK HORROR FILM ENCYCLOPEDIA, NIGHTMARE MOVIES, INCREDIBLY STRANGE FILMS, HORROR HOLOCAUST, NIGHTMARE USA, SLIMETIME, HORROR 101 or the innumerable websites devoted to the subject (this one included!).

Horror Movie Distributor of the Year
Would you believe IFC Films? This is an outfit best known for the likes of MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING, yet many of the top genre films of the past year--THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE, THE KILLER INSIDE ME, 7 DAYS, FEARLESS, EXAM, THE HORDE--were released theatrically or on DVD in the U.S. by IFC, which also has several promising titles in the pipeline for 2011.

Genre Publisher of the Year
For the second year in a row this accolade goes to England’s PS Publishing, whose 2010 genre output included such unexpected gems as Terry Dowling’s CLOWNS AT MIDNIGHT, Gary Fry’s HOUSE OF CANTED STEPS, Ramsey Campbell’s SEVEN DAYS OF CAIN, Zoran Zivkovic’s mind-roasting ESCHER’S LOOPS and many other worthy novels and collections.
     Keep it up, guys!

Genre Reprint of the Year--Pro and Con
Centipede Press deserves props for giving E.H. Visiak’s legendary 1929 rarity MEDUSA its first printing in over 40 years. I myself spent many a year searching for this elusive classic, and wound up paying a substantial fee to obtain a first edition copy. That fee, alas, wasn’t much higher than the $95.00 cover price of this new “affordable” edition.
     True, Centipede did see fit to include some extras in this new edition of MEDUSA, including a newly written intro by Colin Wilson and 13 short stories, but do those things really justify charging nearly a hundred dollars? The collectible market Centipede is mining is currently in trouble, and I think the above pretty much explains why.

Most Prolific Horror Movie Star
A surprise: that erstwhile honor goes to Academy Award winner Adrien Brody, who’s apparently looking to reinvent himself as a genre icon. In 2010 the distinguished Mr. Brody appeared in no less than four relatively high profile genre releases: SPLICE, PREDATORS, GIALLO and THE EXPERIMENT. Never mind that only one of those movies was any good…

Amazing! A Horror Micro-Budgeter that Didn’t Suck!
Years ago I had the wholly naive concept of making this site a haven for micro-budgeted horror movies. That was before I actually sampled some of the crap that passes for no-budget horror filmmaking, most of which is so shitty it doesn’t merit even a partial review.
     It was with a fair amount of trepidation, then, that I agreed to review the short film RECOMPENCE by filmmaker Ronnie Carlsson. Surprisingly, I quite liked the film, an impressively sustained forest-set hallucination with gorgeous black-and-white visuals. Still, I’m well aware that films like RECOMPENSE are anomalies in an otherwise unbroken sea of cinematic sludge.

Favorite DVD Release(s)
It’s a tie. First there’s Criterion’s release of Nobuhiko Obayashi’s utterly crazed, eye popping 1977 haunted house extravaganza HOUSE. I applaud Criterion for finally making this cinemutaton available in remastered digital form, allowing me to replace the crappy bootleg VHS with which I’d previously made due. In that form I found it difficult to make up my mind whether I like HOUSE or not, and after experiencing Criterion’s pristine DVD presentation, well…frankly I’m still not sure!
     I also appreciated the much belated digital bow of GRINDHOUSE (2007). It’s taken over three years, but Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s mind-blowing two part tribute to 1970s-era grindhouse cinema is finally available on DVD and Blu Ray in its intended form (i.e. not as two standalone releases), with all the wonderful fake trailers (directed by the likes of Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright and Eli Roth) intact.

Notable Discoveries From Past Years, Filmic and Literary

MOONLIGHT BOY: A uniquely creepy and evocative supernatural drama from Taiwan.

SECRETS OF A SOUL: Amazing psychology-tinged hallucinatory wackiness from 1926.

MR. ARASHI’S AMAZING FREAK SHOW: I’ve known about the similarly titled Suehiro Maruo manga for years, but only recently discovered that an anime version exists that fully captures Maruo’s surreal grotesquerie.

DOGS’ DIALOGUE: An amazing short by Raul Ruiz that incorporates stills and live action to relate its unbelievably overwrought narrative of madness and murder.

The LAIRS OF THE HIDDEN GODS anthologies: An absolutely essential four-collection set of Japanese stories, all inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos.

PLAY LITTLE VICTIMS by KENNETH COOK: A seriously twisted, bleak and macabre ANIMAL FARM-esque allegory.

MR. OVERBY IS FALLING by NATHAN TYREE: Quite an amazing piece of fiction that reads like a combination of FIGHT CLUB and HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER.

FROM INSIDE By JOHN BERGIN: An awesome post-apocalyptic graphic novel.

THE BRAVE by GREGORY McDONALD: Simply one of the most powerfully disturbing novels I’ve ever read--yes, it was the basis of the ‘97 Johnny Depp flick, but don’t hold that against it!

Remembering Those Who’ve Passed On

Notable names that have graced the genre only to leave us in 2010 include…

Lisa Blount (1957-2010) Actress: DEAD & BURIED, CUT AND RUN, PRINCE OF DARKNESS

David Brown (1916-2010) Producer: JAWS, JAWS 2, THE ISLAND

Stephen J. Cannell (1941-2010) Producer/Writer: DEMON HUNTER, IT WAITS, THE TOOTH FAIRY

Christopher Cazenove (1945-2010) Actor: EYE OF THE NEEDLE, THE FANTASIST, TALES FROM THE CRYPT

Claude Chabrol (1930-2010) Director: BLUEBEARD, LE BOUCHER, DEATH RITE, ALICE OR THE LAST ESCAPADE, HELL

Maury Chaykin (1949-2010) Actor: CURTAINS, OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN, BLINDNESS

Jamie Gillis (1943-2010) Actor: THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, WATER POWER, DIE YOU ZOMBIE BASTARDS!

Peter Graves (1926-2010) Actor: THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, THE CLONUS HORROR, ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES

Bob Guccione (1930-2010) Publisher/Producer: CALIGULA

Cory Haim (1971-2010) Actor: SILVER BULLET, THE LOST BOYS, WATCHERS

Dennis Hopper (1936-2010) Actor/Director: NIGHT TIDE, QUEEN OF BLOOD, BLOODBATH, REBORN, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, RIVER’S EDGE, BLUE VELVET, LAND OF THE DEAD

Dino De Laurentiis (1919-2010) Producer: THE WITCHES, ORCA, KING KONG (1976), AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION, THE DEAD ZONE, CAT’S EYE, SILVER BULLET, MANHUNTER, ARMY OF DARKNESS, HANNIBAL, RED DRAGON

Kevin McCarthy (1914-2010) Actor: INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, PIRANHA, THE HOWLING, TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, TRAIL OF THE SCREAMING FOREHEAD

Sally Menke (1953-2010) Editor: NIGHTWATCH, GRINDHOUSE

Leslie Nielson (1926-2010) Actor: CREEPSHOW, REPOSSESSED, SCARY MOVIE 3

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) Novelist: WILDERNESS

Arthur Penn (1922-2010) Director/Producer: MICKEY ONE, DEAD OF WINTER

Charles B. Pierce (1938-2010) Director: THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK, THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN

Lynn Redgrave (1943-2010) Actress: THE TURN OF THE SCREW, GODS AND MONSTERS, SPIDER

Jean Rollin (1938-2010) Writer/Director: THE NUDE VAMPIRE, SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES, FASCINATION, GRAPES OF DEATH, LIVING DEAD GIRL, TWO ORPHAN VAMPIRES, et al

Zelda Rubinstein (1933-2010) Actress: POLTERGEIST, ANGUISH, BEHIND THE MASK

Gloria Stuart (1910-2010) Actress: THE OLD DARK HOUSE, THE INVISIBLE MAN, MANIMAL

 

--1/9-1/17/11 

     

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