2009 in review

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Remo D
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2009 in review

Post by Remo D »

And here we are again—another year come and gone. I truly wish I could have spent more of 2009 focusing on the movies themselves—instead, I was hugely preoccupied by just how many representatives of my formative past (and indeed, present) said goodbye. We ended 2008 (and thus began 2009) by bidding farewell to Uncle Forry. Then it was my original horror host, Bob Wilkins. Then it was my first theatrical director (and teacher), Professor John Steven Paul. Then it was the inspiration behind my first published articles (Paul Naschy) and one of my very first publishers (Chas. Balun), both of whom were also close personal friends.
So, movies? Yeah, there were a bunch, all right. But I didn’t see them all, and let’s get the ones I deliberately skipped (or reluctantly missed, or never got a chance to see) out of the way first. Unseen by me: THE UNBORN, THE UNINVITED, UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS (look, if it starts with “UN,” let’s just forget it, apparently), THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT, JENNIFER’S BODY, THE FOURTH KIND, THE BOX, CIRQUE DU FREAK, ANTICHRIST, HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, and the STEPFATHER remake. Oh yeah, also missed TRANSYLMANIA with the rest of the world. But beyond that?


The horror year of 2009 began with so many “skippables” that the first film I considered worthy of the genre was a PG-rated animated fantasy. Yes, CORALINE was that good—reminiscent of David Lynch, unafraid to be legitimately frightening, but thoughtful, considerate and respectful of its young viewers, all the same. Keep your 3-D superspy guinea pigs and your flatulent chipmunks—here’s a truly excellent dark fantasy for all ages.

I can’t let this section go by without reminding you that I was lucky enough to see Shawn “Smith” Lewis’s BLACK DEVIL DOLL on the big screen and that it delivered on every one of its raunchy, offensive, hilarious promises. If you wanted more from it, I want to know exactly WHAT!

Lost in the generic wasteland of disposable, so-called “torture porn” ripoffs and seen by virtually nobody was a genuinely nerve-wracking tension-fest known as THE COLLECTOR. The device which cast a professional burglar as the only person capable of detecting and counteracting the various sadistic traps of the title character made this every bit as much a battle of wits as an exercise in horror and gore—and it worked.

Even more surprising was just how good the remake of THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT turned out to be. I was completely prepared to dismiss what was almost certainly going to be a watered-down travesty (come on, Mari LIVES in this version??)—and I was completely wrong. This hit all the right buttons when it came to acting, direction and audience manipulation… even though it chose not to end quite when it should have.

TRICK ‘R TREAT was meant to finally hit theatres last year (we even saw the trailer), but it never quite happened for us. Nevertheless, this was a delightful Halloween-themed anthology, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the glory days of Amicus.

THIRST was a superlative follow-up to Park Chan-Wook’s “revenge” trilogy and his first trip into the unequivocally supernatural. A reluctant vampire gradually loses his grip on his former humanity, spirituality and morals, all the while urged along by an enthusiastic female recruit in a film which offers as much food for thought as it does on-screen outrage (and that means plenty of both).

I will happily declare to anyone who cares that SAW VI ended the series on a high note… so long as it really ENDED the series. Enough said (except that love or hate the series, pretty much everybody will tell you that VI was a lot better than V).

And then there was the film that sneak-attacked SAW VI into oblivion… PARANORMAL ACTIVITY was a masterpiece of marketing, undoubtedly—but it was also a very effective display of minimalism, slowly-building tension and a well-chosen coup de grace (as you know, NOT the one that first hit the Internet). Though I never came close to falling for the “it’s the real thing” hype, I was suitably impressed.

It was very hard for me to choose an actual “Best Horror Film of 2009.” It could easily have been CORALINE or the LAST HOUSE remake… but I’m going with ORPHAN. This is the film that fulfilled the promise Dark Castle made way back with HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, and it’s proof of the directorial skills of Jaume Collet-Serra (who, in my opinion, did some praiseworthy work in Dark Castle’s HOUSE OF WAX. ORPHAN acknowledges its roots in THE BAD SEED and comes perilously close to mimicking JOSHUA (which even starred Vera Farmiga), but it thunderously comes into its own with confrontational moments, bold performances and stellar orchestration of even the most preposterous material. Even as you recognize where it comes from, this film still HAS you—and for me, that’s worth the top prize. (And it may be the last prize Dark Castle ever gets from me—this was a great rebound from THE REAPING, all right, but then they had to go and expunge all of my good will by advertising the dreary murder “mystery” WHITEOUT as a horror film. As for NINJA ASSASSIN, at least they didn’t pretend it was horror—it had some vivid gore and an excellent villainous turn by Sho Kosugi, but had precious little else to recommend it.)


Don’t get me wrong—I wanted to LOVE Sam Raimi’s DRAG ME TO HELL. Yes, I was disconcerted and put off when the so-called “return to REAL horror” popped up with a PG-13 rating, but that, in the end, wasn’t the problem. There was a lot to admire here, particularly the spot-on acting and a bravura fight scene in a parking garage. And we can debate the “cat” business and the unworthiness of the heroine all we want. In the end, I wearied of the “boo” scares, wished Raimi had taken the séance sequence much further, and was particularly and utterly unimpressed with a final “twist” so glaringly, groaningly obvious that I saw it coming from the first scene and spent the film silently begging Raimi to prove me wrong. It’s not a “bad” film, but it could and should have been so much more.

MY BLOODY VALENTINE and THE FINAL DESTINATION both made excellent use of 3-D. Without that, I’d drop them both down a category, but FD would fall farther. MBV was quite well-acted and used its 3-D advantageously (to the point where the film would still be viewable flat), but I thought the momentum wore off around the halfway point, and I have a problem with films that deliberately cheat (you know, make you witness to things that don’t actually take place) to throw you off the track. As for THE FINAL DESTINATION? There was an utter abundance of 3-D fun here, but we already knew that this formula was played out, and this one doesn’t even try to come up with anything additional or interesting to do with it. No Tony Todd, either.

ZOMBIELAND was the best zombie comedy of all time? Ummm… no. It WAS cute. It WAS fun for the most part, and I DID like the characters. And yes, the Bill Murray cameo itself was inspired—but it was wrapped up with uncharacteristic stupidity, and the movie never quite recovered after that.

Okay, we all know the drill with NEW MOON. Most of you don’t consider TWILIGHT when it comes to “real” horror—but it’s vampires, it’s werewolves, and it’s phenomenally popular… This particular entry (book and movie) struck me as a less-than-inspired rehash of the first one (with a knock-you-over-the-head Romeo and Juliet theme), but Taylor Lautner has successfully shucked “Shark Boy” with his Jacob, and Michael Sheen was a terrific addition to the cast. If the book’s any indication, ECLIPSE ought to be fairly nifty (and BREAKING DAWN will stink on ice).

And popping up with no fanfare at all was the “stranded spaceship” sci-fi/horror/psycho thriller PANDORUM, which played a few too many cards and cluttered its claustrophobic setting, but which also held my attention and actually managed to surprise me here and there.


Look—I’m betting that I never actually saw the truly worst horror film of 2009. Odds are it was THE UNBORN—or maybe that STEPFATHER remake. Yeah, I was curious enough to see PROM NIGHT in 2008—because the original didn’t mean much to me at all, I knew the remake would be “big,” and I wanted to see just what they were going to come up with. But there’s no way I’d contribute so much as a dime to see this same director go at it with a film I genuinely admire. With that in mind…

…and speaking of remakes, there was the new FRIDAY THE 13TH. Yeah, the first twenty minutes or so were pretty nifty. But the momentum wore off incredibly quickly, and I experienced nothing but painful boredom as Jason went through the typical teenkill motions (and wasted time with a girl chained in the basement. And oh, that wretched ending, which raised character stupidity to heights previously undreamed of…

Did the world really need a dull-as-dirt, old-fashioned return to ‘innocent’ 50s science fiction? The makers of ALIEN TRESPASS apparently thought so. Was the fact that nothing ever actually HAPPENED in this movie supposed to be the point?

One genuinely shocking kill scene that actually resembled primo Argento raised my hopes for even SORORITY ROW. But one good scene does not a good movie make. Sure, you have to expect a series of clichés in a slasher film, but the good ones make them seem new (see THE COLLECTOR or ORPHAN) even when you know better. This nominal remake offered us nothing but reprehensible characters, horrendous acting and even sloppy visuals to boot.

And then there was the latest film Rob Zombie said he didn’t want to make. Originally, the INSIDE guys were going to take on HALLOWEEN II when Zombie’s remake (which was NOT designed to carry a sequel) proved as popular as it did. But money apparently talked, as it will. So what did we get? A full twenty minutes of hospital stalking before the REAL movie started (gotcha, it was all a dream). New heights in ugly, intense brutality (we get it, Rob, murder is ugly and not ‘cool’). A genuinely appealing take on Laurie subjected to non-stop cruelty, and a once-intriguing new version of Loomis turned into a ridiculous parody. In other words, everything that was already done quite well enough the first time around—plus a symbolic white horse that needs to be explained before the credits even run.

I’ve been told (and by that, I mean by people I respect) that I failed to find the good movie trying to get out of this bad one. And I’ve also been told that the “director’s cut” is a distinct improvement and that I really ought to check it out. So you know what? I WILL check it out before I offer a full-on DVD review. But nothing will change the fact that the version of HALLOWEEN II that I saw on the big screen was the single worst film I saw in 2009.

Okay, a few more quick notes. My favorite film of the year wasn’t a horror film—it was Quentin Tarantino’s INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, an equally effective meditation on World War II and on the movies themselves. We all know that Christoph Waltz is going to walk away with an Oscar for his mesmerizing work, and I enjoyed every word, every reference, and even every musical cue throughout the film.

There was also some excellent science fiction to be had (no, I still haven't seen AVATAR as I just can't get terribly interested in it, but I suppose I'll force myself eventually). DISTRICT 9 was a grungily effective “you are there” political satire with convincing effects and a dynamic central performance (you can keep your TRANSFORMERS films). STAR TREK defied my every expectation by breathing new life into all of the classic characters—I’m an Original Series fan from childhood and could find absolutely nothing to carp about here. Oh, all eyes may be on Zachary Quinto as Spock, but it’s Karl Urban who steals it as McCoy. And then there was MOON—a claustrophobic character drama with a tour de force performance by Sam Rockwell, aided immeasurably by the voice of Kevin Spacey. I say this study of loneliness, isolation and identity is worthy of Rod Serling himself. Mick LaSalle says it’s one of the year’s ten worst. Make up your own mind. (Oh, let’s be fair to Mick—he, too, said INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS was the best film of the year—indeed, one of the decade’s best, though he still couldn’t resist the opportunity to bitch about KILL BILL VOLUME ONE yet again.)

And then there was TERMINATOR: SALVATION, which, while watchable and entertaining enough on its own terms, was utterly unnecessary as far as the once-profound series itself was concerned.

PUNISHER: WAR ZONE was one of the best comics-derived films I’ve ever seen—the character has finally been done justice, the villains were amazing, the gore was creatively hysterical… and nobody saw it.

I'd hate to think of WATCHMEN as a "comic book" film, but it's certainly one of the finest explorations of the "superhero" concept I've ever seen. I saw the film before I read the graphic novel and still think they're both utterly excellent and worthy of each other.

Not quite “horror” were A PERFECT GETAWAY (great scenery, good cast, less than challenging mystery that became utterly predictable) and LAW ABIDING CITIZEN, which took a huge page from the SAW and DEATH WISH franchises before spinning off into sheer caper/conspiracy insanity.

Heck, even though I didn’t mention it in my original review (for fear of giving anyone the wrong idea about this PG-rated film), there’s even a rather unmistakably Jigsaw-inspired trap sequence in the wonderful new SHERLOCK HOLMES movie! Now as I suggested, don’t let that put you off—there are overtones of horror and the supernatural in this adventure, but they’re handled intelligently, believably, and NOT at the expense of the lunch of the viewer! One of the best times I’ve ever had at the movies.

And now, a special prize for a film that won’t sit comfortably no matter WHERE you try to put it.

I’ve seen lousy Jason Statham films (that would be WAR—Statham himself was just about the only saving grace of TRANSPORTER 3, and not even I have seen IN THE NAME OF THE KING).

And I’ve seen inferior work by Neveldine and Taylor (that would be GAMER, which I thought was every bit the chaotic mess people accuse their other films of being). So I DO have standards of comparison.

That said, CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE was the single most outrageously, offensively, entertaining madhouse of a movie that 2009 ever threw at me… just about the only series entry that had me champing at the bit for just ONE more. I have no idea where on earth they could take CRANK 3-D… but dammit, I want to SEE it!

On to 2010—enjoy and report back—I’ll do the same!

All best,
Remo D.
My dog's breath smells like peanut butter...

...and I don't even have a dog!
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Darth Tanner
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Post by Darth Tanner »

Awesome recap Remo. I had mine ready to go but I was waiting for you to do the honors before I chimed in:) Now for my turn....

IMO 2009 was a much better year than 2008 when it comes to genre films. It also gave me more of a reason to get out to the theater more often (unlike last year when I only made it out to see five movies....and none of them were horror). This year I took in 21 theatrical viewings, but only about half of them were genre titles. To be fair there were a couple of genre titles I didn't see this year. ZOMBIELAND was one that I didn't make it out to so I'll catch up to it on DVD. I had almost no interest in THE UNBORN, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY or SAW VI (I never bothered with the series after SAW III), so they'll go on my lengthy list of films to catch up with on video which may take years:) I also avoided NEW MOON and will likely do the same with the other TWILIGHT sequels. I've heard mixed opinions on THE BOX and JENNIFER'S BODY so I'm debating if I should even bother with them. There was also a bunch of other stuff Remo mentioned that I never made it out to see for one reason or another. But overall I was very happy with just about everything I saw this year. Here is a brief rundown of what I saw this year in chronological order:

MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D - What better way to start the year than with a remake of a little-known slasher from the 80's (in 3-D no less). Definitely not the best film in the world, but it had great use of 3-D and some awesome gore effects. Best part was a nice juicy role for Tom Atkins. Not liked by a lot of people but it worked well enough for me. Slasher films are definitely not known for their intelligence, so I just turned off my brain and enjoyed.

THE UNINVITED - I went into this without knowing beforehand that it was a remake of a Korean film from a few years ago. Like our resident reviewer, I'm really tired of Asian-horror remakes and never bother with them. But I actually thought this was pretty decent for a one-shot (plus Elizabeth Banks was really easy on the eyes). However I was dismayed that the "shocking ending" had to be used as a sales hook in the advertising and for the DVD cover. Jeez...what a way to ruin the movie for first-time viewers!

FRIDAY THE 13TH - This was probably the big remake of the year that everybody was talking about. When I first saw the movie in the theater, I had mixed feelings about it. But after seeing the extended version on Blu-Ray I warmed up to it a lot more (even if it is not a classic). The movie does deliver the goods in terms of creative kills and nudity, but I was expecting a better story as opposed to a rehash of the first four FRIDAY films.

WATCHMEN - I was unfamiliar with the graphic novel, but I really enjoyed this one more than Zack Snyder's 300. My only gripe is that the movie seemed a bit too long. This one isn't high on my list of favorite comic adaptations, but its still one worth checking out if you're even slightly curious.

LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT - This is a remake that really surprised me as I walked into it expecting it to completely suck. But it managed to be brutal and shocking in its own way without having to resort to the cheap shocks and gore of the original (which I still like quite a bit). This one didn't get much of an audience, but I felt it should have as it is better than most of the other remakes we've seen in recent years. I'd have to pick this as my favorite horror movie of the year as well as one of my favorite remakes.

CRANK 2: HIGH VOLTAGE - Like the first film, this was a complete adrenaline rush from beginning to end coupled with some of the most outrageous scenes ever. Reminded me a lot of the "Grand Theft Auto" games for some reason, but that's just me:) Hopefully the filmmakers can sustain the formula long enough to give us CRANK 3. Also a great cameo by the late David Carradine.

OBSESSED - Hard to believe that this movie was a hit when it came out (albeit a modest one). It is nothing more that your standard FATAL ATTRACTION knock-off. The otherwise lovely Ali Larter was terribly miscast as the protagonist and Beyonce Knowles performance was also unmemorable. The only thing in this that worked for me was the catfight between Ali and Beyonce, but even that wasn't enough to save the movie. But I guess you could always say it was better than stuff like SWIMFAN.

X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE - Not too many people seemed to like this movie, but I did. Not as good as the first two X-MEN films but certainly better than THE LAST STAND. Hugh Jackman was great as usual plus it was nice to see Gambit finally make an appearance. Here's hoping that the proposed MAGNETO film becomes a reality.

STAR TREK - One reboot that certainly lived up to its hype and was a lot of fun. J.J. Abrams made a movie that was enjoyable for non-Trekkies while staying true to the original Trek mythologies. Even though I'm a big fan of the original movies, I can't wait for the sequel and hope it is just as good.

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM 2: BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN - Nothing much to say about this one except that if you liked the first film, chances are you'll like this one too. I enjoyed seeing Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart and Hank Azaria as the bad guy, but this is your basic popcorn movie for those who enjoy silly comedies. At least this is one you can enjoy with the family.

TERMINATOR SALVATION - I was a bit underwhelmed with this one. It wasn't really bad, but it just didn't measure up to the first three movies (or the short-lived "Sarah Connor Chronicles" series). The PG-13 rating was also pretty odd for a TERMINATOR movie. I understand that the Blu-Ray has the original R-rated "director's cut" but I have yet to check that out. I might warm up to it some more after seeing it a second time but the movie was more or less forgettable.

TRANSFORMERS 2: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN - I actually enjoyed this one every bit as much as the first movie. If you liked that, then you'll no doubt enjoy this one too. I grew up on the Transformers and am happy they finally got the big screen treatment. Now I'm just hoping they'll get around to that live-action Voltron movie that they have been proposing for the past few years.

PUBLIC ENEMIES - A really well-crafted movie by Michael Mann about the life and times of John Dillinger. Johnny Depp and Christian Bale were both terrific in their roles. Despite the long running time, this one moved at a breezy pace and kept me interested. Another one definitely worth checking out.

G.I. JOE: RISE OF THE COBRA - Another childhood favorite of mine got the big-screen treatment this year. A lot of people seemed to hate this one but I had a great time. Sure the story wasn't the greatest but it did feature some great action set-pieces and a great performance by Sienna Miller as the Baroness. It's your typcial popcorn movie that only Stephen Sommers could deliver. Although not as good as his remake of THE MUMMY, I'll still take this over VAN HELSING and THE MUMMY RETURNS anyday.

HALLOWEEN II - I was one of the people that didn't hate Rob Zombie's original HALLOWEEN remake, but I was pretty divided on this one. It wasn't entirely horrible but it wasn't that great either. Maybe worth seeing at least once but that's all I can recommend.

THE FINAL DESTINATION - Another film that had great use of 3-D. The death scenes in this one were also well done. While I enjoyed this one a bit more than FINAL DESTINATION 3, I didn't feel it measured up to the first two movies. Hopefully the "THE" in the title is an indication that this will be the last film in the series. I think it should be since there is really nowhere left for the films to go.

SORORITY ROW - Probably the biggest disappointment all year (as well as my pick for "worst movie"). I thought this would be another fun throw back to the classic 80's slashers. The problem is that it couldn't make up its mind if it was a comedy or a straight horror film. Also a complete waste of Carrie Fisher. I'll take a movie like PIECES over this any day.

THE STEPFATHER - Yeah, I saw this when it came out but didn't feel compelled to say anything about it. I never saw the original, but this was basically a standard by-the-numbers suspense thriller. It wasn't that badly done as SORORITY ROW, but it was certainly forgettable. If you want to see the formula done right check out DISTURBIA or VACANCY. I will say it was just slightly better than last year's PROM NIGHT remake, but that's not saying much.

NINJA ASSASSIN - I was really looking forward to this offering from Dark Castle (although their output has changed drastically in the past couple of years) since I grew up on the old-school ninja flicks from the 80's. There was some cool ninja action plus it was great to see Sho Kosugi back on the big screen. My only complaint is with the over-reliance on CGI which looked a bit cartoonish. Just because it can be used doesn't always mean it should. Nevertheless I had a great time with this one and look forward to adding it to my collection someday.

AVATAR - Now this is a great example of CGI done right. This film features some of the best CG effects since Peter Jackson's KING KONG remake. The 3-D was also really well done. Overall I liked the movie despite the fact that the story dragged in a couple of spots. But James Cameron had definitely make a film worth checking out regardless of what you think of it. Just be sure to see it in 3-D for the complete experience.

SHERLOCK HOLMES - What a great way to end the year! I really enjoyed this one despite my unfamiliarity with the original stories or other movie adaptations. Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, and Rachel McAdams were all in top form. Everyone needs to check this out even if they aren't a Sherlock Holmes fan.

So that's my recap of 2009 in a nutshell. Now let's bring on 2010....
"I have existed from the morning of the world and I shall exist until the last star falls from the heavens. Although I have taken the form of Gaius Caligula, I am all men as I am no man and so... I am a God." - Malcolm McDowell, CALIGULA

[url=http://www.dvdprofiler.com/mycollection.asp?alias=ctanner5]My DVD collection[/url]
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Remo D
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Post by Remo D »

Great lineup, Darth... and you reminded me to go back and fix my original post to include two movies I forgot like a fool...
My dog's breath smells like peanut butter...

...and I don't even have a dog!
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Post by Kimberly »

i still really need to see the remake of LHoTL
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Griff [Mola]
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Post by Griff [Mola] »

Thanks for weighing in guys. I'm sorry I can't return the favour but, really, I found so little to like in 2009 that it's just too depressing to contemplate.
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Post by gothbat »

Didn't really see very many movies that came out last year, there were just too many movies from prior years/decades that I wanted to see and movies that I wanted to re-watch so much more than anything I heard about...

Last House on the Left – It was entertaining but I couldn't get past asking myself why the movie just could have been it's own movie rather than a remake, reboot, or whatever. The exact same movie with a different title and different names for the characters would have been more enjoyable to me since I just don't like the fact that they remake movies, regardless if they come out OK or not. I should have gotten used to this a long time ago but I much prefer a rip off to a remake!

Antichrist – Sometimes it seemed like it was going to get good but that's really it, one part even gets pretty nasty but overall the movie bored the hell out of me; the vast majority of the movie just drags and I found the characters to be extremely unlikeable and quite annoying. Definitely among the worst, if not the worst thing I watched all year. I didn't know anything about the movie coming into it and from the first scene I kind of expected something over the top, and one or two parts were, but in the end this movie had pretty much nothing going for it. Despite the crap I sometimes watch I seldom find a movie to be so bad that it actually annoys me as I watch it and this is one of those movies.

Zombieland – It certainly wasn't perfect but this one was a lot of fun, definitely among the best of the few '09 movies I've seen.

Grace – I was a bit excited about this one after reading some favorable reviews but didn't really enjoy it. Some parts definitely have a creepy feel but overall this one is a bit boring because it's slow and not a lot happens.

Terminator: Salvation – Overall it was a decent entry into the series but it was weird seeing a Terminator movie where Arnold does not play one of the main characters. The cameo was a nice touch, it's brief but it would kinda suck if he wasn't in the movie at all. One thing, the only thing really, that I was let down about was the fact that we didn't see more of the machines, I'm not sure what exactly I was expecting but I would have liked to see more of their base and what they did with the people they captured.

Giallo – Eh, it was alright; far better than The Card Player and a little better than Do You Like Hitchcock? but still just alright. I'll probably always look forward to seeing a new movie from the man who gave us so many classics but I really don't think he's got it anymore.

Død Snø – Not bad although it does get a bit ridiculous. It really got off to a good start but there was too much humor for a horror movie and not enough humor for a dark comedy. Might get better with a second viewing but for now I'll just stick with "not bad".

Friday the 13th – I was never a big fan of this series and I'd say this was probably on par with all the rest.

Trick r' Treat - This was great! Didn't know much about it going into it (I kind of make it a point to not know much about what I'm going to see) and I was entertained throughout the entire movie. Recommended but you probably all saw it already.

I probably saw others but don't remember them and nothing is jumping out at me as I go over my log.

"Come on, let's pay our fuckin' respects!" - Suicide (Return of the Living Dead)