Review Index

A Look Back in Horror

     2008?  An eventful year, though not so much for the horror field.  Movie-wise there were a few genre hits (THE STRANGERS, QUARANTINE and--sigh--TWILIGHT), but for the most part Hollywood tended to shy away from the field.  This is something I witnessed first-hand at the 2008 L.A. FANGORIA Weekend of Horrors, wherein the movies promoted were almost entirely of the independent variety--and even those werenít always properly released (see the MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN snafu outlined below). 
     The situation wasnít much different in the publishing world, which went out of its way to hide the fact that many of the yearís high profile books--i.e. Stephanie Meyerís body snatcher blockbuster THE HOST--were horror-themed.  Thank God for outfits like Leisure, who were unafraid to boldly venture into the horror fold.  How long that will last is anyoneís guess.
     There was, however, some good news, starting with... 

The Yearís Biggest Surprise
     That was the monster success of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, a modest Swedish vampire film that succeeded solely on the power of enthusiastic word-of-mouth (something Hollywood appears to have forgotten).  The film is definitely a stunning piece of work that can be viewed as the stylish and intelligent flipside of that bloated teeny vampire fest TWILIGHT. 

The ďEndĒ of the DVD Format War
     Or at least thatís what the victory of Blu-Ray over HD was supposed to signify.  But Iím not so sure.  Most people in The Biz that Iíve spoken with believe internet downloading is poised to render DVDs of any form obsolete--and that day, Iím told, is not far off! 
     Others have a more conspiracy-tinged view of the format war.  Hot-shit moviemaker Michael Bay blogged that the dispute was engineered by Microsoft to buy them time to perfect the quality of internet downloads.  Whether you believe any of this or not, one thing is for sure: in the DVD world things are-a changing!

The New Horror Hotspot
 Would you believe...France??? 
     A few years ago we had HIGH TENSION and IRREVERSIBLE, and this year there were three high profile genre releases--INSIDE, FRONTIER(S) and FEAR(S) OF THE DARK (the last two showcase an even more curious trend, that of the parenthetical (S) in the titles)--all hailing from France.  Thereís also MARTYRS, which is said to outdo them all, and set for a stateside release sometime in Ď09.
     This Frogland horror boom isnít that hard to figure out when you really think about it.  French films initially flourished in the US back in the fifties and sixties, when uninhibited Gallic fare like AND GOD CREATED WOMAN and JULES AND JIM offered a viable alternative to sanitized homegrown cinema.  Compare that to todayís Hollywood horror scene, which has long since succumbed to formulaic PG-rated tedium.  French cinema is most successful as a counterpoint to Hollywood, which was certainly the case in 2008.   

Whatís up with Lionsgate?
     In recent years Lionsgate has become a veritable house of horror.  Under the tutelage of the studioís president of acquisitions Peter Block, Lionsgate put out the SAW and HOSTEL films, THE GRUDGE, THE DEVILíS REJECTS and quite a few other genre staples.  But in 2008 Joe Drake stepped in to assume acquisition duties, and the horror boom came to an abrupt end.
     Sure, Mr. Drake released SAW V and REPO: A GENETIC OPERA, but he dumped the hotly anticipated Clive Barker adaptation THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN (allegedly to eliminate competition for THE STRANGERS, which Drake co-produced).  If you missed THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAINíS 100-screen theatrical bow in August you werenít alone. 
     Iíll admit THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN never seemed too promising to me, although its trailer, which played nationwide in late 2007, was reportedly the highest-rated in the studioís history.  Yet neither that fact nor the FANGORIA-instituted email campaign in favor of a wide release did anything to dissuade Drake from giving the film a royal dumping.
     But horror fans may just have the last laugh.  Lionsgateís holiday tent poles THE PUNISHER 2 and THE SPIRIT both bombed, which has sent the companyís stock, and Drakeís reputation, plummeting. 

Uwe Boll is Still Making Movies!
     Yes, this is the guy who gave us pukers like HOUSE OF THE DEAD, ALONE IN THE DARK and BLOODRAYNE, and who continues regurgitating movies unabated.  But hope is on the horizon: you can sign a ďStop Uwe BollĒ petition online at
     The petition, created by a Good Samaritan named Robert Harvey, has already garnered 320175 signatures, and will hopefully amass even more.  You can even send Uwe a personalized message, as many signatories have already done (sample: ďNIGGA STOP YO MOVIES DEY SUCK SHIIIIIIIIITĒ).  But you better act fast, as this world-class crapmeister shat out no less than three movies in Ď08 (POSTAL, BLOODRAYNE 2 and SEED) and reportedly has several more on the way.  Be afraid, be very afraid!  

A Rising Literary Star
     That would be Jack Ketchum, horror author extraordinaire, whose books include classic gut-wrenchers like OFF SEASON and JOY RIDE.  True, Ketchum has writing for over three decades now, but only recently has his popularity caught up with his talent--and in 2008 his stock rose even higher.
     Ketchum published two new books in Ď08, the novella OLD FLAMES (packaged with his 1998 novel RIGHT TO LIFE) and the nonfiction collection BOOK OF SOULS.  There was also a Leisure paperback edition of the out-of-print TRIAGE, an anthology featuring novellas by Ketchum, Edward Lee and Richard Laymon.
     More importantly, 2008 was the year for Jack Ketchum movie adaptations.  Chris Sivertsonís THE LOST finally became available after a three-year wait.  So did RED.  And we mustnít forget THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, which although technically a 2007 production was discovered by horror fans (on DVD) in Ď08.  All three were terrific films, fully up to the high standards set by Ketchumís writing.  Letís hope the Ketchum adaptations persist, and continue to exhibit the same quality. 

The Comeback Kid
     Most critics would bestow this honor on Mickey Rourke for his justifiably lauded work in THE WRESTLER, but Iím thinking of another has-been actor who in 2008 clawed his way back to the middle: Michael Pare, the star of EDDIE AND CRUISERS, STREETS OF FIRE and many other eighties staples.  His career went south, alas, with the arrival of the nineties.
     Yet heís back, sort of, landing starring roles in genre fare like Eric Redís 100 FEET and most of Uwe Bollís recent films (lucky him).  Plus Pareís got several more films in the can, including several more Boll atrocities and Albert Pyunís ROAD TO HELL. 

The Rise of the Splatter Musical
     This burgeoning subgenre properly began with last yearís SWEENEY TODD.  Whether that film had any influence on this yearís song-and-dance splat-fests POULTRYGEIST and REPO: THE GENETIC OPERA remains to be seen, but the genre firmly established itself in Ď08, and there are more entries reportedly on the way.

The Year of the Self-Publisher...?
     Iím not sure if that statement, which Iíve heard from more than one source, is true or not.  I do, however, know that self-publishing is becoming increasingly common, for both novice and professional writers. 
     Not too long ago self-published books were considered beyond the pale.  These days, however, with the publishing industry crippled by economic woes, even established authors are bypassing traditional publishing channels in favor of POD outfits like Lulu and Booklocker (i.e. Robert Devereaux with his recent novel SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE HOMOPHOBES), and I expect the trend will continue.

2008ís Most Prolific Author
     Former world class kickboxer turned extreme fiction guru Wrath James White followed a rather fallow period by putting out five new books in 2008 (Stephen King by contrast only turned out two).  There was the novel HERO, written in collaboration with J.F. Gonzalez; ORGY OF SOULS, written with Maurice Broaddus; the collection SLOPPY SECONDS; POPULATION ZERO, another novel; and a revised edition of his 2005 puke-prodder SUCCULENT PREY for Leisure Books. 
     Of those books Iíve only read the initial edition of SUCCULENT PREY, and it was a toughie.  Be advised that in the realm of extreme fiction this guy is the real deal, making the splatterpunks of the eighties look like childrenís book writers in comparison. 

Publisher of the Year
Leisure books just keeps getting better, and in 2008 it all-but exploded.  A mass market paperback outfit, Leisure has grown from a purveyor of so-so horror potboilers into arguably the most vital genre publisher anywhere. 
     Their Ď08 reprint of Thomas Tessierís long out-of-print werewolf classic THE NIGHTWALKER is a must-own, as is TRIAGE, a new edition of an anthology originally published back in 2000, and until now quite difficult to obtain.  Leisure also gave Wrath James White his first-ever mass market exposure with a newly revised version of his 2005 novel SUCCULENT PREY, put out an author preferred text of Richard Laymonís late-seventies splat fest THE WOODS ARE DARK, and published a restored text of Robert Dunbarís Jersey Devil inspired THE PINES, which Leisure initially put out back in 1989 in a heavily cut version.  Thatís in addition to new books by essential authors like Jack Ketchum, Edward Lee and John Skipp...and all in a single year!  All I have to say is Keep it Up!!

Remembering Those whoíve Passed On
     Forrest J. Ackerman, writer/actor (BRAINDEAD, VAMPIRELLA): 1916-2008
     Ben Chapman, actor (THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON): 1925-2008
     Michael Crichton, writer/director (WESTWORLD, JURASSIC PARK): 1942-2008
     Jules Dassin, director (THE TELL-TALE HEART): 1911-2008
     Charlton Heston, actor (THE AWAKENING, IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS): 1923-2008
     Don LaFontaine, voice-over king (Nearly every trailer you can think of, horror and otherwise, from the past 20 years): 1940-2008
     Heath Ledger, actor (THE BROTHERS GRIMM, THE DARK KNIGHT): 1979-2008
     Paul Newman, actor (QUINTET, WHEN TIME RAN OUT...): 1925-2008
     Ken Ogata, actor (VIRUS, MY SOUL IS SLASHED): 1937-2008
     Sidney Pollack, actor/producer/director (THEY SHOOT HORSES, DONíT THEY?, EYES WIDE SHUT): 1934-2008
     Brad Renfro, actor (APT PUPIL): 1982-2008
     Roy Scheider, actor (JAWS, NAKED LUNCH): 1932-2008
     Vampira, TV hostess/actress (PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE): 1921-2008
     Donald E. Westlake, writer (THE STEPFATHER): 1933-2008
     Richard Widmark, actor (TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER, COMA): 1914-2008
     Stan Winston, special effects maestro (ALIEN, PREDATOR): 1946-2008