Y2K, 9/11, war and a a horrid recession, a major escape we had this decade was in the form of film, notorious for thriving during National crisis. Leading up to New Year’s Eve where we’ll ring in 2010, Bloody Disgusting will be looking back at the entire decade year by year through the eyes of various staff writers. Check back each day for a profound reflection from Ryan Daley, David Harley, Tex, BC and yours truly. Inside you’ll find BC’s personal look back at the year 2006, the year PG-13 got served! Please share your memories for each year below, there are so many stories to be told!
So sit back, relax, and let’s take a look back at a time when Eli Roth was still directing films, Saw films still made lots of money, and Underworld was the first (and most successful) thing that came to mind when someone mentioned vampires and werewolves in the same breath.
2006 – A LOOK BACK: BY BC
2006 got off to a great start – literally – with Eli Roth’s Hostel, which opened on January 3rd. January is always a prolific month for horror movies, but it’s rare that they are giant hits and/or very good (indeed, Uwe Boll’s Bloodrayne opened the same weekend, and its final gross was less than even the opening weekends of his previous turkeys). Apart from Saw II, it was the first film to really cash in on the humor-free, mainstream hardcore horror movement that Saw had ushered in a little over a year before, and remains one of the sub-genre’s high points from both a critical and financial point of view. Its sequel failed to measure up on either front, and Roth is seemingly more interested in hanging out with Quentin Tarantino and endlessly talking about how he hangs out with Quentin Tarantino these days than making films, but Hostel remains his best film (with the best “kill off the presumed hero” kill since Psycho) and, like it or not, one of the genre’s most important films of the decade.
January also provided us with Underworld 2 (the series’ highest grosser at 62 million) and When A Stranger Calls, a remake that took a theoretically great idea (stretching the original film’s first reel – the only part worth a damn – and making it the entire movie) and botched it by delivering a film that was tame even by its own PG-13 standards. However, teens seemed to enjoy Simon West’s series of jump-scares (caused by mirrors, doors, and even a goddamn ice machine), carrying the film to 47 million, making it the year’s highest grossing teen horror film (unless you count Scary Movie 4, which grossed nearly double that).
The strong turnout continued throughout the spring, with Alexander Aja’s remake of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes coming out of nowhere and earning high praise (mostly deserved – though I never cared much for the addition of a “Brain Mutant” and his “Americans are the real enemy” grandstanding) as well as a 40+ million gross, further cementing the presence of “Hardcore” horror (some may call it “Torture porn” – these people are idiots) in our multiplexes. The newest entry of the Final Destination franchise also hit big, out-performing its predecessors despite also being the weakest film in the series (and remains so). A few weeks later, Christophe Gans’ video game adaptation Silent Hill also performed strongly, and while it may be faint praise considering its competition, it remains one of the best vid-game films (it’s pretty much the only one with a decent (for horror) Rottentomatoes average). A sequel has been in the works ever since, and one can only hope that it comes together sooner than later, especially as games become more and more movie-like in execution and in financial success (witness the recent Call of Duty game out-grossing any action film of the past decade in its first few days of release), thus negating the need for a video game to be given “cinematic” treatment.
The only low point of the season was the dismal performance of James Gunn’s crowd-pleasing SLiTHER, which grossed a paltry 7 million. Not sure how horror fans managed to drop the ball so badly with this one – it got good reviews and was heavily endorsed by every major horror site/mag in the world, but luckily it has found a small following on DVD. Still, the fact that the silly teen horror film Stay Alive managed to gross 3x as much (they opened on the same day) will forever sting. Shame on you, horror fans. It’s because of you that Nathan Fillion still isn’t the big screen A-list star that he should be.
The summer kicked off as it always does, with a big superhero movie (X:Men 3); the first of what would be many lackluster and half-assed summer movies. As I was researching the box office takes for the horror films, I was surprised to see how relatively lousy the summer of 2006 was at the box office, with disposable and forgettable junk like Click and Poseidon clogging theaters (even Pixar fell below their high standards with Cars). And there was precious little for horror fans to enjoy; the one big studio summer horror release was FOX’s ill-conceived remake of The Omen, which existed solely due to the fact that they could tie in a release date (06-06-06) with the number of the beast (why no Jesus-based movie for 07-07-07 then?). Summer also saw the birth of After Dark films, which released An American Haunting in the middle of May and were rewarded with a slim 16 million (and yet remains their highest grossing film). And WWE entered the film production game with See No Evil, a mean-spirited throwback slasher that I actually quite enjoyed, despite terrible direction from porno maven Gregory Dark.
But then, a sliver of perfection came along in July, courtesy of Lionsgate (oh, such a long time ago, when Lionsgate was committed to delivering quality horror films to theaters/fans). After cleaning up overseas the year before, US audiences finally got to experience Neil Marshall’s The Descent, which was my favorite film of the year and, now that it’s over, has become my favorite film of the decade, period. Some may complain about the original ending being snipped out, but it doesn’t change the fact that the 90 minutes before it are a tense, claustrophobic, and yes SCARY thrill ride that provided even the most jaded horror fans with the rare modern film that they could easily describe as a classic. Its 26 million take didn’t exactly set the world on fire, but it’s still one of the highest grossing horror imports on record, and it was still successful enough to inspire a (surprisingly strong) sequel, which will be released in the states in 2010. Dimension’s long-delayed, re-edited to hell and back Pulse also got dumped into theaters sometime in July, and even the teens they aimed it at were wise enough to stay away.
And then, on August 18, the movie we had all been waiting for was unleashed upon us all. After months of internet hype, fan videos, and even a goddamn Sudoku book, David Ellis’ Snakes On A Plane hit theaters, and… tanked. Proving that hype didn’t necessarily translate to box office gold, Snakes eventually grossed only 34 million, barely more than its production budget (not to mention what must have been a fairly large marketing push). Part of the problem was that the movie wasn’t nearly as fun or as funny as the idea itself (it took nearly an hour for the first snake to appear), and the late-game decision to turn the film into an R rated, more campy effort (title aside, it was largely designed as a straight thriller) was clumsily executed – you could spot the re-shoots instantly. Plus, no one went in expecting a good movie, just to have some fun – and they could do that for free with a playlist of Samuel L. Jackson fan videos on Youtube.
Oddly, the year’s true campfest came along a few weeks later. No one was asking for a remake of The Wicker Man, but with the ever nutty Nic Cage in the lead, and a respected director (Neil LaBute) at the helm, it had a chance to at least be interesting. But no one could have expected the batshit nonsense the two had delivered. Christ, the movie is gonzo even BEFORE Cage puts on a bear suit and begins running around an island smacking women around and robbing other women of their bicycles at gunpoint. Sadly, few saw it that way (at the time; it’s certainly found a new lease on life thanks to the Youtube clip that strings the best crazy moments together), and it grossed only 23 million. Cage, of course, is like Teflon, and no giant bombs will prevent him from toplining big budget films just a few months later (a year later National Treasure 2 became the actor’s biggest hit ever). But LaBute followed it up with a generic thriller (Lakeview Terrace) and is now completing work on another goddamn remake (Death at a Funeral), which suggests this once promising director has lost his spark, making Wicker Man all the more notable for all the wrong reasons.
A long past his prime Renny Harlin also returned to the horror genre with his pre-Twilight teen horror opus The Covenant, which did for warlocks what Twilight did for vampires (i.e. turned them into mopey, weak-ass teens). Barely qualifying as horror, it too managed to gross 23 million during an unusually weak fall (its #1 opening is one of the lowest grossing #1s on record) before (rightfully) fading into obscurity, as has Harlin himself (his next film went direct to video). Sony’s family 3D/CGI adventure Monster House also underperformed (compared to other CGI films), despite the Halloween season, the then-novel 3D hook, and the fact that it was quite a bit of fun.
October and November had the usual full charge of horror films, many of which fell below expectations for one reason or another. The Grudge 2 has the distinction of being one of the few horror sequels that failed to gross as much in its entire run as its predecessor did in its opening weekend, and Sarah Michelle Gellar struck out again a few weeks later with the underrated horror-drama The Return, which couldn’t even find an audience on DVD either (I actually think its one of the year’s best horror films, but that is, apparently, just me). The prequel Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning did OK (39 million), but still made less than half of its predecessor, and its downer ending left a bad taste in the audience’s mouth (for the record, I think it was actually a much better film).
At this point, the Saw series had become an October institution, and Saw III was no exception. Ultimately proving to be James Wan and Leigh Whannell’s final direct involvement with the series (for now), Darren Bousman’s return to the director’s chair delivered the series’ most interesting protagonist (Angus MacFayden’s grieving father Jeff), a more accomplished directorial job from Bousman, and some of the series most unique traps (burning your dead kid’s toys in order to save a guy that helped his killer go free? YES.). And audiences agreed, its 80 million gross was a bit less than Saw II’s take, but its worldwide gross was higher, and remains the series highest grossing entry (not to mention is frequently cited as one of the best of the series amongst fans). The recent Saw VI underperformed (despite raves from even the series’ biggest critics), and thus the series may finally see a conclusion, but at the time of III, it seemed like it would go on forever, and its fans (then) had no problem with that.
Saw III would also be the last financial high point for horror in 2006. December was particularly brutal, as the underrated Turistas (a victim of a lousy ad campaign that made it look exactly like Hostel) didn’t even crack 10 million, and the mean-spirited fun of Black Xmas (which felt more like a Silent Night, Deadly Night sequel than a remake of Bob Clark’s suspenseful classic) was a victim of a growing remake backlash, plus an idiotic “too-late” release (Christmas Day – who wants to see a Christmas movie on December 26th?). The lone bright spot was the (horror-lite) Pan’s Labyrinth, a supernatural fantasy from Guillermo Del Toro that was greeted with major praise, a decent intake for a foreign film, and even a few Academy Award nominations a few months later. Del Toro has always gone back and forth between smaller, personal films (Devil’s Backbone, Cronos) and big studio movies (Hellboy, Blade II), but Pan is the first that felt like both – a strong story aided by a big budget and some truly amazing special effects.
Throughout the year there were also a number of limited release indies and other foreign imports that prevented us from only having to choose between remakes and sequels. Fox Searchlight brought Russia’s awesome Night Watch into a few US theaters, the interest in which allowed for all four of the (even better) Russian-language novels to eventually be translated and brought to our shores (thank you!), and films as diverse as Ryan Schifrin’s Rear Window/Bigfoot hybrid Abominable and the Larry Fessenden produced headtrip Headspace each played a few theaters. John Gulager’s crowd-pleasing Feast also hit theaters in a series of well-received midnight screenings in the fall, and despite the “timeslot”, actually had the widest release yet for a Project Greenlight film (it has also spawned two equally fun sequels). Critics also took a shine to Hard Candy, which I didn’t particularly care for but I will admit had one of the most unnerving scenes in horror history (you know which one) and the least annoying performance by Ellen Page ever. And hell, there was even some junk that somehow managed to avoid “direct to video” status, such as The Zodiac and John Carl Beuchler’s The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And yes, the god-awful Night Of The Living Dead 3D actually played in 145 theaters. Hopefully you weren’t one of the ones to buy a ticket.
November also saw the first After Dark Horrorfest (and the only one that was met with decent box office – it actually cracked the top 10 as a whole entity), with a lineup of independent horror films that ranged from truly abysmal slashers (Dark Ride) to crowd-pleasing supernatural yarns (Gravedancers). Hell, there was even a zombie children movie (Wicked Little Things). While the marketing campaign was more than a tad misleading (claiming the films were too intense for regular theaters or whatever – at least two of them were PG-13 level and none of them were particularly gruesome or `red-band’ worthy), it was an ambitious and laudable effort, giving some indies a chance to shine before being dumped to DVD. Sadly, After Dark hasn’t put any money into advertising their follow-up “fests”, with the 3rd series being released into theaters with some filmmakers not even knowing where they could see them.
The direct-to-video market (forgive me if some of these films were given small independent releases – I was using Boxofficemojo to track everything, so if the gross wasn’t reported then it didn’t show up in my search. Blame them or your distributor!) also had its share of notable releases, such as Dave Gebroe’s touching Zombie Honeymoon (based on a real-life family tragedy, albeit a zombie-less one) and Tim Sullivan’s high-spirited splatterfest 2001 Maniacs (a remake of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ 2000 Maniacs). The long shelved 3rd Tales From The Crypt Film (Ritual) finally hit shelves, sans the Crypt title and any sort of fanfare. Anchor Bay put out the terrific Halloween documentary 25 Years Of Terror, which took a look back at the series and its lasting legacy, paving the way for His Name Was Jason and the upcoming Nightmare on Elm Street doc. Anchor Bay also delivered Takeshi Miike’s unaired “Masters of Horror” episode “Imprint”, which turned out to be freaky but in no way worthy of all its notoriety (grow some balls, Showtime). Companies like Tartan also helped bring more Asian fare to our shores, allowing us pristine, legit releases of films like Cello, The Maid, and Chan-Wook Park’s Oldboy follow-up Lady Vengeance. Even Lionsgate and Magnolia lent a hand in this area, bringing over the original Ju-On films and Pulse (Kairo) (respectively) in order to cash in on their American counterparts. Of course, there was also a lot of complete horseshit that continues to give “DTV” a bad name (Rest Stop, Return Of The Living Dead: Necropolis, The Butcher), but that is to be expected. The important thing is, we started seeing a lot of quality stuff pop up on Blockbuster/Netflix shelves (virtual ones in the latter’s case), and a lot of high quality foreign releases to relieve us of our shitty bootleg imports, kick-starting a re-evaluation of the practice of bypassing theaters (FWIW, my favorite film of 2009 is technically a direct to video release).
Outside of cinema, 2006 saw the release of one of the all time best zombie video games: Capcom’s “Dead Rising”. Some saw it as a rip-off of Dawn of the Dead, but only the basic idea (zombies in a mall) was similar; to me it’s like calling Home Alone a Halloween rip-off because they both take place in a house in Illinois. With an endless array of weapons and an emphasis on fun and over-the-top action movie beats (love those (human) boss battles), it was and remains one of the best horror titles for next-gen systems. And even though it came out in 2005, most people couldn’t FIND a goddamn Xbox360 until 2006, allowing them to play the launch title “Condemned: Criminal Origins”, which told a creepy, Seven-esque serial killer story under the guise of a 1st person action/adventure. And who could forget the first “Halo-Killer”: “Gears of War”, which introduced some of the most badass monsters in modern gaming history – and then let you chainsaw the ever loving shit out of them.
On television, “Dexter” was born to those of you who subscribe to Showtime (CBS attempted to bring the show to the air during the 2007 Writer’s Strike – it didn’t take, future seasons never aired on broadcast networks), and has become the genre’s most popular and acclaimed show, with Michael C. Hall routinely earning nominations for his performance in the titular role. Showtime also delivered up a new batch of Masters Of Horror episodes, which like the 1st season, were a mixed bag at best, and continued to weaken the idea of who a “master” was (Rob Schmidt? Really?). On “free” TV, Supernatural survived the death of its original network (the WB) and its weakest season to begin its run as one of the best network genre shows since the heyday of The X-Files, and both series stars went on to score major roles in high profile genre remakes of 2009 (Jensen Ackles in MBV3D, and Jared Padelecki in Friday the 13th) while continuing their duties as the Winchester brothers.
On the printed page, horror’s best mainstream comic, Robert Kirkman’s “The Walking Dead”, continued its impressive and ever increasingly popular run (it is now, if I am not mistaken, the longest running zombie comic series in history), and Spawn and its various spin-offs continue to run despite ever-changing creative teams and waning popularity. Marvel also introduced Marvel Zombies (actually began in December of 2005), which I felt was an idea way better in concept than in execution, but was nevertheless a lot of fun and more importantly successful, and follow-up series continue to this day (it’s now in its 5th “limited series”). For those who like their writing without all those pesky drawing, Max Brooks followed up his humorous “Zombie Survival Guide” with “World War Z”, a serious (and excellent) depiction of a global zombie “war”, written as an oral history by some of the survivors. Stephen King also released another book (“Lisey’s Story”), his 3rd after announcing his retirement. And in Utah, a woman with some seriously messed up ideas about love and sex wrote the first sequel to her book about a girl who falls in love with a vampire, which I understand was quite popular.
Back to the movies though. In the end, 2006 was a pretty “traditional” year, with some surprises, some undeserved flops, and a whole lot of filler. For wide release films, the tally was about evenly split between originals and sequels/remakes/adaptations, which is a pretty good ratio (compared to this year, where it was about 1 original for every 3 non), but unfortunately only two of the ten highest grossers were original properties (Monster House and Hostel), vs. the fact that originals made up the five biggest duds (Turistas, Slither, See No Evil, American Haunting, and The Return). Fans always cry about the lack of original horror films, but the box office proves that they simply don’t show up when it is offered to them. Who can blame the studios for sticking with sequels and remakes when their attempts at original ideas are ignored?
But what is most important is that we had options: teen horror, adult horror, slashers, monster movies, remakes, originals, sequels… there was something for everyone, with 2-3 major releases every month in wide release (not to mention the growing DTV market). Some might say that it’s better to have a handful of really good movies than a whole bunch of OK ones, but I disagree. Like I said, I thought The Return was a great movie, but few saw it that way. Yet I am happy to report I wasn’t one of the ones that drove Underworld 2 to the top of the box office (not a big fan of any of them, though the 3rd one was at least coherent for once). So even if there were just 2-3 films (which was the case in the mid 90s), there would still be a lot of people who didn’t like them, which would leave them completely out of luck. At least with 25+ major releases there’s bound to be a couple that even the most jaded fan will enjoy. As I’ve said many times, horror, more than any other genre, has the most divided consensus for films, and that sort of debate (which is sometimes even civil!) is what keeps sites like B-D alive. And without “glutted” years like 2006, our debating would be a lot less fun.
Now, go watch The Return!
(NOTE – the sections on TV, books, comics, and games were just asides on non-movie things I wanted to mention and are in no way meant to be all inclusive of the year.)