Following in the tradition of THIS article and also THAT one, I thought I'd take a look at the final four months of 2011's horror output, which produced few winners and even fewer surprises (as was expected - a "benefit" of a rigid and widely known/scrutinized release schedule!). Worse, unlike the previous eight months, the limited release market wasn't much more impressive than the stuff playing on 2,000 screens. And so it goes without saying, as with the previous two installments of this "series", there really isn't a lot to talk about compared to years' past - this article could have been twice as long in 2009.
Following the somewhat crowded August schedule (with three major releases, none of which were very successful), Labor Day weekend produced not one but two technically original horror movies in wide release, something that hasn't happened in ages (those three August releases I mentioned? Two remakes, one sequel). From Dimension we had Apollo 18, an ambitious but deeply flawed attempt to set a found footage movie on the moon, while Relativity gave us the "should have been classic" Shark Night 3D, which was unfortunately slapped with (or edited for?) a PG-13 rating, and thus lacked the boobs n' blood of last year's Piranha 3D. Let's face it, there's no real reason to watch this sort of thing unless it's going to be exploitative in some way, but while I actually enjoyed the movie (thanks in part to the greatest post credits scene in cinematic history!), I can't blame anyone who opted to skip out on a 3D killer shark movie from the director of Snakes On A Plane. Especially when it didn't hold the promise of anyone saying "mother fucking sharks".
As for Apollo, it's hard to find anyone who really liked it, and for good reason - it's dull, confusing, and ridden with major plot holes (how does 16mm film get back to Earth?). But no matter; as is often the case when two genre movies open on the same day, neither of them scared up much business, and it's almost kind of remarkable how they both ended up with nearly identical final grosses (with Shark Night ultimately pulling a bit ahead despite opening lower - the least impressive example of "strong word of mouth" ever!).
But neither film was as insulting as Creature, a sub-Syfy channel effort that inexplicably landed a 1500 screen release the following weekend. Much was made of the "all practical FX" approach director Fred Andrews took, and that is laudable - however it's meaningless if we never SEE anything! All of the kills in the film are shot in a way that never required complicated practical work like in the Hatchet films (which Creature shamelessly aped at times) - we see the monster swing and then we cut to the weapon already embedded into the victim, something anyone could figure out. Also the ENTIRE GODDAMN CLIMAX occurred off-screen; if Andrews turned the camera on himself and told us to fuck ourselves I'd be less insulted. Luckily, no one bothered to suffer through it themselves; as of this writing the movie can "boast" one of the worst opening weekends on record, with a hilariously low $217 average per theater on opening weekend. Think about that number; even at 7 bucks a ticket that would only be 31 people PER THEATER for the ENTIRE WEEKEND, and you know as well as I do that those tickets weren't only 7 bucks. Heh.
A couple of weeks later, horror fans were ripped off and insulted again with Dream House, a woefully bad thriller with minor supernatural elements. Boasting a pretty great cast (Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts, Rachel Weisz) and a multiple Oscar nominated director (Jim Sheridan), this should have been a home run for Universal. However, everyone who wasn't turned off by the bad ad campaign that seemed to spoil the movie's big twist (to be fair, said "twist" was more of a plot point, and occurred at the halfway point) just got bored silly and left cold, thanks to the obvious producer tinkering (Weisz and Craig refused to do press for the film due to the mangling; Sheridan tried to have his named removed). Luckily I saw it at a budget theater, reducing the amount of money I contributed to this pointless debacle.
Universal struck out again two weeks later with their remake (technically a prequel) of The Thing, which, like a certain other Carpenter remake, I've already gotten tired of talking about. Incidentally, the movie suffers from the same thing as Rob Zombie's Halloween - a confused attempt to redo the original almost scene for scene while also adding in their own new ideas. The result is a bit of a mess; entertaining at times but maddeningly stupid at others, and it ends on a giant CGI showcase that not only looked awful (Rob Bottin's FX still hold up - these don't even look good NOW!), but didn't quite match up to what we know about these events. Ironic side note - the Carpenter film was a "bomb" in its day but went on to achieve much acclaim and DVD/video success, and yet this version actually made less money, and you don't even have to account for inflation to point that out (the original made 19 million; this one topped out just under 17).
Finally, some good news: Paranormal Activity 3. I wasn't a big fan of the first sequel, but this one was more in line with the original, giving us a story that COULD have consequences, some innovative camera tricks (oscillating cam!), and a genuinely chilling finale that opened up the mythology a bit, promising a 4th film that might actually be the best yet if they focus on that particular aspect. And audiences agreed; while most part 3s come in far behind their predecessors, this one actually outgrossed PA2 and came within spitting distance of topping the original. But then again, it had no competition; The Thing was already losing most of its theaters and nothing else opened up until after Halloween (this was also the first year without a Saw film since the series began in 2004).
If we're counting it, then Breaking Dawn Part 1 can be counted as the only other hit horror film of the season, but that was a given. Fans apparently didn't care that they were only getting the first half of a book (one that barely had enough actual story to fill one movie), nor were they turned off by the batshit insane story points this one offered. I seem to recall a number of the fans hating the book when it came out, but it certainly didn't affect the ticket sales too much; while coming in slightly below the grosses of the last two films, it's still the 3rd highest grossing movie of the past 12 months.
Even the indie market was quiet, with very few limited releases of note. Darren Bousman's 11-11-11 (released in a handful of theaters on its namesake "holiday") had an admirable 70s Euro-thriller approach, but was weighed down by some hokey dialogue and an edit that was apparently cut to the bare minimum - a movie like this SHOULD be slow paced, but someone apparently thought it should go from plot point to plot point as quickly possible. Korea's smash hit Sector 7 3D also played some US locations, but it was hardly worth seeking out - the 3D was unimpressive and the monster just another modern CGI abortion that suffered from over-design. Think of all the great movie monsters - they're all basically kind of simple, right? So why do modern filmmakers (particularly JJ Abrams) opt for these horrid "spider mixed with a _____" (in this case, a seal) things?
The straight to DVD market didn't have much, either. Wrong Turn 4 was actually kind of fun (much better than the terrible 3rd entry, at any rate) and the wonderfully disturbing British anthology Little Deaths finally hit our shelves, but otherwise it was slim pickings there. There's a new Hostel sequel that just hit last week; my rental disc hasn't arrived yet so I can't speak for it, but the fact that it's from the director of From Dusk Till Dawn 2 doesn't exactly excite me. There was also the bodily fluid drenched anthology Chillerama, which hit disc in November after a few "roadshow" and festival screenings, but I feel weird talking much about that one (other than to note that it has by far the best end titles and anonymous zombie work ever seen in a motion picture). I will say that seeing it with a crowd is the only real way to go with this one - hopefully you got that chance. And on VOD, in the twilight hours of the year, Magnet released Ti West's The Innkeepers several weeks before its (limited) theatrical bow. I wasn't too thrilled with it, but I am in the very VERY small minority there. Plus, I'd rather guys like West were making movies than Fred Andrews, so I encourage you all to check it out (LEGALLY!) and make up your own mind - odds are you'll disagree with me.
Luckily I was able to hit up a few festivals (including my first Fantastic Fest - and it won't be my last if I can help it) during this period, which made up for the studios'/indie distributors' inability to provide quality horror during the most genre-friendly time of the year. Most of the best/most interesting horror movies I saw this year - You're Next, Sleep Tight, Absentia, Crawl, Deadheads, Exit Humanity, Livid - won't be out until 2012 (I hope!), so it doesn't make much sense to discuss them at length here. However, if those titles are a sign of the things to come, then 2012 might more than make up for 2010/11's rather underwhelming horror output - the existence of Underworld 4 and Resident Evil 5 notwithstanding.
So overall, I think 2011 was a minor improvement on 2010, and turned out slightly better than I thought thanks to those few surprises - I Saw The Devil and Attack The Block weren't even on my radar when the year began, but ended up being my two favorite genre films of the year. Paranormal Activity 3 and Final Destination 5 were vast improvements on their predecessors, and even mostly pointless rehashes like Fright Night and The Thing had their moments. In fact, I didn't outright HATE (sorry, FilmCritHulk) any of the big theatrical releases except for Creature, and again, why the hell was that thing in theaters anyway? Add in the festival stuff that'll be coming your way hopefully sooner than later, and I think horror's in an upswing; a minor one to be sure, but slow and steady wins the race, or something.
Final note - I haven't seen a few movies I am seeing on a lot of "Best Horror of 2011" lists, such as Martha Marcy May Marlene, We Need To Talk About Kevin, The Skin I Live In, and The Woman, and for every person who tells me they are horror movies, I talk to someone else who disagrees. So I'll make my own judgment when I get around to seeing them (I might be seeing Skin this week!). That said, if you want to read my top picks for the year (as well as the "worst"), head on over to Bloody Disgusting. And in a few days I'll have Horror Movie A Day's annual "awards", which skips top 10 or bottom 5 type lists in favor of honoring the best and worst in categories such as "Best/Worst Killer Tiger Movie" or whatever.