A Look Back in
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
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
There was, however, some good news, starting with...
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.
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
Would you believe...France???
A few years ago we had HIGH TENSION 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
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
Remembering Those whoíve Passed On
Forrest J. Ackerman, writer/actor (BRAINDEAD, VAMPIRELLA):
Ben Chapman, actor (THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK
Michael Crichton, writer/director (WESTWORLD,
JURASSIC PARK): 1942-2008
Jules Dassin, director (THE TELL-TALE HEART):
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):
Heath Ledger, actor (THE BROTHERS GRIMM, THE
DARK KNIGHT): 1979-2008
Paul Newman, actor (QUINTET, WHEN TIME RAN
Ken Ogata, actor (VIRUS, MY SOUL IS SLASHED):
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):
Vampira, TV hostess/actress (PLAN NINE FROM
OUTER SPACE): 1921-2008
Donald E. Westlake, writer (THE STEPFATHER):
Richard Widmark, actor (TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER,
Stan Winston, special effects maestro (ALIEN,