Basically, what matters is if the film was given its widest release during the course of the year. For example, despite being first shown publicly years ago, I consider Trick 'r Treat an eligible title, as 2009 finally found it going wide (albeit straight-to-video). Daybreakers, on the other hand, played a few festivals in 2009 but will not have its wide release until 2010. Conversely, most people in America won't see [REC] 2 until 2010 or beyond, but it went wide in its native Spain in 2009, thus it is eligible. Make sense? On to the show!
10. Paranormal Activity
I went back and forth on excluding Paranormal Activity from my Top 10 list because, really, it didn't do much for me in the scare department. I found it pulse pounding to watch for the first time, but it has scarcely popped into my brain since then. However, I do remain in awe of what Oren Peli accomplished with a mere $15,000. I have a lot of respect for the process that goes into engineering any thrill ride, so to speak, so even if it didn't severely impact me, it still commands a placement.
9. Thirst (my review)
Chan-wook Park's Thirst is, hands down, not only the best vampire film of the year, but I'd put it in league with another similarly atypical fang-set film, Let the Right One In. It's not particularly scary, but it is a deft, engrossing blend of lust and violence that gets back to the eroticism of the vampire that no film (or TV show) has properly explored in years. If you're feeling burned out on vampires these days, and that would be perfectly understandable, at least put this in your Must Watch queue simply because it's another brilliant film from the mind of the man who gave the world Oldboy.
8. Saw 6 (My Review)
If you told me at the beginning of the year that the 6th entry in the Saw franchise - a franchise I care almost nothing about - would crack my Top 10 of the year, I would have been checking your pupils for dilation. Yet here we are with the best the series has had to offer since Saw 2. Kevin Greutert's direction wasn't over the top, Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton weren't forced to retcon the script left and right to keep Jigsaw a looming part of the story, and its leading man (Peter Outerbridge) was on par with, if not better than Angus Macfadyen in Saw 3.
All of this could logically be tied to Twisted Pictures giving the writers and director plenty of freedom this time around. Unfortunately, the downside of that is Saw 6 brought in the weakest box office receipts in the film's history, thanks to Paranormal Activity's surprise domination of the Halloween season, meaning Twisted Pictures may be more inclined to "creatively" intervene once again with part 7.
Paramount Vantage either had no clue or no drive to properly market Carriers, so instead they trimmed it down to a PG-13 rating and delivered it to a handful of theaters with a barely audible whimper. And that's sad because the movie is actually a bold, original, kick-to-the-face for anyone who is a fan of post-apocalyptic virus stories. Hopefully it can find the audience it deserves now that it is available for rental, but I have a feeling this is going to live on as a slowly unraveling "Oh, dude, you like post-apocalyptic movies and haven't seen/heard of Carriers? You have got to check it out!" kind of movie.
6. Pontypool (My Review)
Pontypool is one of the craftiest horror films of 2009 that knows exactly how to toy with the mind's eye instead of spelling things out. It boasts the best dialogue of the year, one of the best performances of the year (Stephen McHattie), and is neck-and-neck with an entrant below for best director of the year (Bruce McDonald). And if you're not impressed with how McDonald's transforms a story set entirely within the confines of a radio station into an anything-could-happen horror movie, I direct you towards Dead Air as an example of just how poorly it can be done.
5. The House of the Devil (My Review)
Ti West's satanic panic renaissance film The House of the Devil keeps growing and growing on me. Jocelin Donahue is perfect as an '80s girl-next-door babysitter, but it is Tom Noonan as the off-kilter man in need of her services that will go down as one of the most memorable horror roles of the '00s. It's about as meditative a slow burn as one can find these days and is easily the best film West has ever made. Also features the best horror score of the year.
4. Trick 'r Treat (My Review)
It's unfortunate that Trick 'r Treat sat on Warner Brother's shelf as long as it did, but Michael Dougherty's shrine to Halloween is deserving of every ounce of acclaim it got upon its overdue release. I love the anthology format, I love the stories it tells, I love that it gives great character actors like Dylan Baker and Brian Cox some delightfully twisted material to work with, but above all, I love that it has created a new, original, and stunning horror icon in the form of Sam.
Antichrist stomped my lungs in. It's the only film of the year, for me, that has sparked conversations which can (and do) go on for hours and hours. I think it is a terrifying work of art that is the cinematic equivalent of being slowly stabbed for 104 minutes. Needless to say, such an experience is not for one and all, but if you're game to have your emotions expertly mutilated, few this year do it better than Antichrist.
2. [REC] 2 (My Review)
It's a bummer that Sony hasn't pegged down any US release plans for Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza's follow-up to their scary-as-hell spin on the zombie formula, because [REC] 2 is one of the most invigorating sequels our genre has ever seen. It takes off immediately after the first film ends and then proceeds to evolve into an unholy blend of niche elements that are so damned exciting that if [REC] 2 were ever played in a morgue, it may just raise the dead itself.
1. Friday the 13th (My Review)
I am as surprised as you are, believe me. When Marcus Nispel's remake of Friday the 13th hit theaters, I enjoyed it and moved on. However, I have since gone back to it for a comfort level pleasure I don't often get from horror movies these days. Is it a smarter film than Pontypool? More challenging than Antichrist? Gorier than Saw 6? Scarier than Paranormal Activity? As original as Thirst? As inventive as [REC] 2? As fun as Trick 'r Treat? As clever as Carriers or as meticulous as The House of the Devil?
Of course not. It's easily the most accessible film on this list; but I'm not one to vocally ignore my movie watching behavior. Truth is, of every horror movie released in '09, F13 has seen the inside of my Blu-ray player more times than anything else on the shelf. For that alone, I'd be lying if it ended up any lower on my list, even if every critical sensibility I have resists the idea of it as number one.