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Chris Hartley (Head Honcho)

Upon seeing the first trailer for this J.J. Abrams ("Lost") produced flick, where the Statue of Liberty is decapitated and mass chaos ensues, I was sold on Cloverfield. Purposely avoiding anything that might ruin the surprise for myself, I didn't know a heck of a lot about the plot going in, and I'm glad I didn't. Staged as footage shot by some party going New Yorkers, this monster movie takes equal parts Godzilla and 9/11 fear and comes out with a satisfying flick that has enough intense moments (and wisely keeps the creatures with minimal screen time) and realistic terror to be my favourite genre movie of the year.

Technically released in its home country of France last year, Inside finally hit North American shores thanks to Dimension Extreme and proved to be just as brutal and unsettling as we'd been told it was. It doesn't hurt that Beatrice Dalle gives one of the most memorable female psycho performances ever committed to film and, just when you think they can't possibly take things any further, they do. Of the five movies on this list, Inside was the hardest to sit through and, along with last year's Broken, is a shining example of the kind of films Dimension Extreme should be releasing (instead of such claptrap as Triloquist).

The Strangers
"Because you were home." Like Cloverfield, this was a movie I had no real expectations for going in. And just like that movie, the reason The Strangers works so well is that it feels like a gruelling moment in time captured for all to see. Writer-director Bryan Bertino doesn't want to bog you down with motive, instead he delivers a movie that plays on a common human fear, of being trapped in the middle of nowhere and in danger, and ramps up the tension until you just know there's no escape for our two victims. I came out of the theatre fully satisfied, only to be disappointed months later when a sequel was announced.

Having never seen the original movie this is based on, the Spanish film [Rec], I can't compare the two but if it's anything like what's on display here, I'm sold. Like Josh, I'm quite taken aback by the fact I have two movies in the style of cinema verite on my list but that doesn't take away from the fact that, of my five choices here, Quarantine is probably the most intense of the lot. While there's some plot elements I could've done without and a few logic lapses, I was much too busy focusing on the horrific events unfolding in front of my eyes. It certainly has to say something if my wife had to leave the theatre before this was over because it was too much for her to handle - especially since I've dragged her to a ton of horror films over the years and that's never happened before.

Dance Of The Dead
It came down to the wire between this and The Ruins but, in the end, Dance of the Dead won simply because, for such a low-budget movie, it just oozes wit and reminded me of all the offbeat horror/comedies I used to lap up in the 80's. Think a John Hughes movie with zombies and gore and you get the gist. This came out of nowhere and was probably my most pleasant surprise the entire year. Wholesale zombie slaughter + irreverent humour = winner.

Josh Pasnak (Staff Writer)

Let The Right One In
There is no question that this is the best horror film of the year. It was a great surprise as I would not have even know about it had I not been taken by a striking image in the 2008 Vancouver Film Festival schedule of a young girl whose face is covered in blood. I read the synopsis which revolves around a child protagonist who finds an escape from a life of bleakness and bullying through a mysterious young girl. Due to my work schedule, I was unable to see it at the time. A few months later, it thankfully received a theatrical release and I was able check it out. This is one of those pictures that takes the mythology of an iconic horror figure (vampires) and proceeds to expand on it in ways that are simple yet brilliant. The lead characters are complex, the performances and atmosphere are fantastic, the setting in a small town in Sweden is perfect, and there are too many great scenes to count. Do yourself a favour and see this when it comes out on DVD. We will be looking back on this as a genre classic one day.

Frightening female villains are few and far between but if there is anyone who can pull of a completely batshit-loony psycho, it is French actress Beatrice Dalle (who I first discovered in a movie called Betty Blue). Dalle seems completely in her element as nutcase who stalks a pregnant woman in her own house on a winter night. This may seem like a standard claustrophobic horror picture but when you throw in the fact that Dalle's objective is to rip the unborn baby out of the woman's womb, it increases the sense of dread considerably. It is rare that we get a movie that does not stop at moments when you would expect it to so you really don't know what is going to happen next or what the fate of any of the characters will be. Overall, this is an unbelievably violent and uncompromising slasher film from the new wave of French horror that will render you speechless by the final frames.

A brilliant marketing campaign made this the must-see horror movie of the year and I made a point of getting out to the theatre to check it out before I knew anything about it. The mystery of the ambiguous trailers was revealed and the movie delivers the scares in spades as an old-school giant monster movie updated in all the right ways. The choice of using video cameras to record the action a la The Blair Witch Project is brilliant and drew me right into the story. It is also a great way to only show the monster in brief clips which makes it all the more frightening. Add to that an extremely intense rescue attempt atop a tall building and a hopeless vibe throughout and we see what a Harryhausen-style movie looks like in our post-9/11 world.

Mother Of Tears
Dario Argento has been getting a lot of criticism in recent years and this movie feels like he just wanted to shut everyone up for a while. Instead of trying to enter the deeper parts of human psychology as he seemed to be attempting in The Stendhal Syndrome and some of his other recent flicks, Argento decided to go old-school and drench us with blood and nudity. I am not complaining and it was great to see a European gorefest in the tradition of the 80's films that many of us grew up on. I love the fact that Argento did not hold back and even went so far as to have a woman strangled with her own intestines in a scene reminiscent of City of the Living Dead combined with Opera. There are flashes like this throughout and, other than a rushed ending, this was a grand way for Argento to put an end to all the criticism that he has lost his touch.

I am surprised that my list includes two movies that use the techniques of cinema verite to draw the viewer in. Rather than the amateur photography setup that Cloverfield employed, this movie takes the approach that a professional news cameraman is documenting the action inside an apartment building where the occupants are turning into crazed monsters. As with Cloverfield, the result is very effective and became one of the more intense cinematic experiences of the year. I was literally on the edge of my seat for most of the running time, my heart rate increased, and I was chewing Nicorette like nobody's business. I only wish that I had the opportunity to see the Spanish original, [REC], before I saw this. Remake or not, this is a scary flick only ruined by the trailer which features a key shot that I waited for throughout the film until it was too late.