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Best of 2004: The First Annual Skully Awards

The Year in Queer Fear
It just occurred to me: 2004 was a shitty year for horror movies. Despite much-hyped sequels and remakes and a bumper crop of sure-fire “underappreciated independents”, the horror films of 2004 are overall a stinky lot. A few of the sobering realities that I was able to glean from this year’s offerings:

Depressing Trend #1: Action-Horror Hybrids
Van Helsing, Dawn of the Dead, and Resident Evil: Apocalypse are but three of a burgeoning trend of “action horror” films that threaten to reduce us all to quivering mush and destroy the horror genre forever. Simultaneously vacuous and ear-splitting, these films take horror genre clichés and imagery and plug them into the smash-cut, explosion-ridden world of action films. The result is, as one review of Van Helsing put it, “shriekingly boring.” Please make them stop.

Silver Lining #1: Nekkid Mens
One unintended side-effect of the action-horror trend is strapping horror heroes: since the roles are physically more challenging, the men are buffer and beefier than usual (the men of Anacondas and Dawn of the Dead could kick the asses of the Final Boys of the slasher genre, hands-down). And luckily, in classic action-film tradition, these men end up sleeveless, shirtless, and even downright nekkid (thank you, I, Robot) to display the powerful physiques of our protagonists. Yay, beef!

Depressing Trend #2: Horror Comedies
Again, the venerable tenets of our beloved genre are being sprinkled on non-horror films like so much Fruit Fresh, in an attempt to liven up what would otherwise be a lame comedy. This trend, likely continued fallout from Scream (a half-satire) and Scary Movie (a satire of a half-satire), has resulted in dreck like Seed of Chucky, Satan’s Little Helper, and Club Dread, films which fail as both comedies and horror films because of this ill-advised marriage of forms (in other words, Horror is not the chocolate in Comedy’s peanut butter).

Silver Lining #2: The British
2004 did offer one solid horror-comedy that actually managed to work as a comedy and throw a few decent bones to the gorehounds as well: Shaun of the Dead. Considering the recent adeptness of the United Kingdomers in aligning horror elements with other genres (28 Days Later, My Little Eye), my little eye is on the kids across the pond to make this particular combo work (if anyone does, that is).

Depressing Trend #3: Gay Horror Movies
Yes, I know – fuck me. But although 2004 showed the first wave of a real trend of horror films that feature openly gay characters and situations, they all missed the mark. I’m hoping that it’s the burden of being among the first that has resulted in such uninteresting gay horror flicks (Hard, Make a Wish), and that maybe when the gayness of the characters isn’t the only selling point, we can get back to making decent, scary films. At this point, Will and Grace is infinitely more frightening.

Silver Lining #3: YOUR NAME HERE
Hey – there’s plenty of room for gay horror flicks and there’s certainly an audience, so my money says that someone, somewhere will be coming out with a good, scary, entertaining queer horror movie before too long. Baby steps, people. Baby steps..

That just about sums it up, doesn't it?
(Courtesy of someone with far better Photoshop skills than I have)

My Anaconda don't want none unless he's got guns, hon...
(Johnny Messner, Peephole's Choice for Horror Hottie of the Year, in Anacondas)


What would Ruthie say?!
(Jessica Biel, Peephole's Choice for Horror Hoochie of the Year, in very little)


Eli Roth, living out a personal fantasy of mine
(and thrilled to have won the Eli Roth Award for Disparate Ratio of Exposure to Talent)

The Peephole's Choice Awards

I'm honored to be able to provide what is, to my knowledge, the first and only series of horror movie awards granted by the gay viewing public. Thanks to the contributions of people all over the world (they have horror films in Germany?!?!?), we've got a decent indication of what the homo horror community found to their liking this year. Drum-machine roll, please...

Best Horror Movie of 2004
Shaun of the Dead

Runner-Up: Open Water

Worst Horror Movie of 2004
Van Helsing

Runner-Up: Landslide victory -- congrats, Van.

Worst Sequel of 2004
Exorcist: The Beginning

Runner-Up: Another Landslide. Hey Renny -- how 'bout Cutthroat Island: The Beginning?

Horror Hottie of the Year
Johnny Messner (Anacondas)

Runner-Up: Ryan Reynolds

Horror Hoochie of the Year
Jessica Biel (Blade: Trinity)

Runner-Up: Milla Jovovich

Horror Homo of the Year
Alan Rowe Kelly
(director/star, I'll Bury You Tomorrow)
Runner-Up: Alan won by a huge landslide. I didn't know there were that many people in New Jersey!

Eli Roth Award for Disparate Ratio of Exposure to Talent
Eli Roth

What are the chances?! Next thing you know, Lou Gehrig will get Lou Gehrig's Disease! What? Oh... sorry...

Gayest Moment in Horror for 2004
This one was a mixed-bag, and a fun one at that. There were several votes for Blade: Trinity (one reader recounted a fag-filled screening where the entire audience went "Mmm-mmm-mmm" when Ryan Reynolds flashed his bush), and one inspired reader just sent me a link to an enormous poster for The Phantom of the Opera. Someone even voted for The Olympics -- they were either drunk or genius beyond my range of comprehension. But the winning entry was Paul Etheredge's homo slasher Hellbent, which seemed to grab the hearts of sissies around the world (folks wrote in about enjoying the film at Cologne, OutFest, and others).

So, the award goes to...
Hellbent (a festival favorite by Paul Etheredge)

Sincere thanks to all of you who wrote in -- your accolades will no doubt be cherished by their lucky recipients like so many Razzies or Spam emails offering great deals on knockoff Rolexes and cheap painkillers. Actually, probably less than the painkillers.

The winners of the prizes are:

Dennis Jones: for the inspired, wordless Phantom of the Opera poster submission, you will receive a CampBlood.org t-shirt and something from under my couch (hopefully not a cat).

Juan G.: a random drawing winner, although I feel completely comfortable sending swag to anyone who uses the term "pickle shot" in their ballot (in reference to Ryan Reynolds). Juan will receive a t-shirt and a set of stickers.

The Skullies

Open Water

My Little Eye

Daniel Travis

Blanchard Ryan

Best Horror Film of 2004 (Wide Release)
Open Water (review)
A deeply unsettling and meticulously-crafted “existential horror film,” Chris Kentis and Laura Lau’s yuppies-in-the-water opus Open Water achieved more genuine dread and 4-feet-off-your-seat jump-scares than all the other horror releases of the year combined. Kentis and stars Daniel Travis and Blanchard Ryan set out and proved what most filmmakers merely recite: it’s all about character. Through a deceptively simple story about how a miscount on a diving boat could lead to two people being left floating in shark-infested waters, Kentis cleverly stages a morality play about contemporary relationships and the dangers of emotional detachment. Admirable on every level – from its miniscule budget, brave performers, and simply amazing footage of actors being besieged by actual sharks – Open Water is hands-down the bravest and most effective horror film of the year. Extra points for not featuring ANY crappy ‘tard-rock and not resorting to cheap music cues for the sharks’ arrivals.

Best Horror Film of 2004 (Limited or Direct-to-Video)
My Little Eye (review)
Brutal, atmospheric, and very, very scary, My Little Eye never got a US theatrical release and snuck onto DVD in April. But this less-than-esteemed rollout should not dissuade anyone from checking it out, particularly since the subject matter (a webcam reality game show told entirely through surveillance cameras) is much better-suited for viewing at home. You can check out my review for complete discussion of the film – but in short, nothing else available this year was as smart, unique, unsettling, and uncompromising as this cheap little creeper. Extra points for featuring a way-hot Bradley Cooper (Alias, Wet Hot American Summer) and achieving some genuinely eerie imagery with digital cameras.

Best Actor in Horror 2004
Daniel Travis, Open Water
Lovable, hatable, pitiable, enviable, and intensely squeezable, Daniel Travis’s turn in the tiny shocker Open Water taps into something the other fellas of the genre didn’t even approach: pure terror. As the shit-eating yuppie hero Daniel (um, no relation?), Travis starts smug, moves into polite, protective, and finally despairing as he and his lovely wife (the also-quite-good Blanchard Ryan) bob in the ocean above a school of patient sharks. I wanted to pull this man out of the water so that I could slap him silly for being such a dolt – and to be able to inspire sympathy and rage at the same time from a jaded bitch like me is a lofty feat. A lot of people had problems with the film as a whole, but I challenge anyone to find a performance in horror this year more moving and grounded than Daniel’s – his journey is into sheer, gut-dropping terror. I still get the chills when I hear him scream during the night storm.

Best Actress in Horror 2004
Blanchard Ryan, Open Water
I almost hate to do it because it seems I’m playing favorites, but this unquestionably goes to Blanchard Ryan of Open Water. No other film even had a female character nearly as interesting, much less a performance. While the big horror releases of the year characterized their women through corsets and iPods, Open Water got serious with Susan, a tough-as-nails career woman who meets her match in a school of sharks. Much like her co-star Daniel Travis, Ryan lets us hate her character at the onset, and then tests our tolerance for how much torture we can watch human beings we don’t like go through before we start squirming. Susan’s behavior might not be admirable, but it is something that, thanks to Ryan’s resolve and calculated performance, we can understand. Her final decision is at the same time shocking and yet entirely consistent, regardless of how little we might like to think so. And I’m not even considering the fact that she had to pull the whole thing off in actual shark-infested waters – the characterization is still far and away better than anything any other female actor pulled off this year.

Worst Horror Film of 2004
The Sequels
A blazing round of flaming “Suck It!”s to Anacondas, Seed of Chucky, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Alien vs. Predator, Exorcist: The Beginning, and yes – even Blade: Trinity (even though it did gain considerable homo points for being the gayest horror film of the year, it was still admittedly pretty bad on its own). If these overblown, soulless gasbags are what we are to expect from the studios in terms of “horror films”, I’m moving to Korea next week. I hold the horror filmgoing community partly responsible for allowing such shit as Freddy vs. Jason to pass as legitimate entertainment – congrats, kids! You bought us another one! Sheesh…

Most Audacious Performance 2004
Jennifer Tilly (Seed of Chucky)

And I’m not talking about in the film – I’m talking about her appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Scattered, loud, and utterly unstoppable, Tilly’s stream-of-consciousness babble looked like an audition monologue for Girl, Interrupted. And yes, her performance in Seed of Chucky was also quite daring, in that she kept calling herself fat and got knocked up by a puppet with a turkey baster – both of which pales next to the fact that while doing all of this she also had to act opposite Redman.

Best Mortgage Payment of 2004
Ving Rhames (Dawn of the Dead)

Actor-turned-super-absorbent-maxi Ving Rhames tumbled from a Golden Globe for his performance as Don King to a water-retentive action “hero” in a crass, uninspired remake in a matter of years. What of the promise shown in such films as Pulp Fiction and… well, Pulp Fiction? Granted, no one else in the film fares much better (Sarah Polley: I love you, girl – but your freshness date is going to expire unless you make something watchable soon. It can even be Canadian!), but Rhames’s presence reeks with the most potent odor of “I’m here to finance that new addition on my house and pay off a car or two”. At this rate, watch for him in the next Resident Evil sequel and as the host of the new Family Feud.

Most Overrated Film of 2004
Dawn of the Dead
Come on, people – you really let this one slide? Boring, predictable, and decidedly run-of-the-mill, Dawn of the Dead seemed to charm everyone with the fact that it didn’t totally suck. Since when does “not totally sucking” give cause for celebration? I’m not even a huge fan of the original, really – it’s good, but not faultless by any means. But the one thing it had – that this tepid remake didn’t – is smarts. Bonus points for featuring the most retarded plot device of the year: stupid girl rushes zombie stronghold to save dog, and retarded Scooby gang actually goes in to save her. Yeah. Fuck them all.

Most Unintentionally Horrifying Film of 2004
Baby Genuises 2: Superbabies

Lock the fucking doors and hide your adopted children… the Superbabies are here.

Wait -- Two Moon What?
(Milla Jovovich, Horror Hoochie of the Year)

Horror Hottie 2004
Ryan Reynolds (Blade: Trinity)

Buff, gruff, and chained to the floor: just the way we like them. An actor who always plays his feyness to his advantage, Blade: Trinity’s Ryan Reynolds stepped up from sassy sidekick to full-on Muscle Mary, and in the process dethroned Wesley Snipes as the lead of the film. Ryan sports an assortment of cap-sleeved tees, wears his cargo pants around his hips, and even flashes us his treasure-trail in a close-up. Yum. Let’s hope Ryan stays away from Tara Reid and keeps up this whole Colt Model thing instead.

Horror Hoochie 2004
Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil: Apocalypse)

Missy-Piggy-in-the-Great-Muppet-Caper-style entrance aside (you have to see it to believe it), Resident Evil: Apocalypse just plain sucked. And yet I still can’t bring myself to hate Milla for being such an integral part in the sinking of what started out to be a genuinely good horror franchise. Sweaty, ballsy, and crazy-eyed, Milla kicked some serious ass in this flick, and while she got some stiff competition from Blade: Trinity’s Jessica Biel, Milla wins because when she gets all butch and scary, I actually believe it.

Gayest Horror Film of the Year
Blade: Trinity
Despite being (or perhaps due to being?) an installment in a testosterone-soaked Hollywood franchise, this puppy takes the case as the Faggatrocity of the Year. Boasting a vampire Pomeranian, Parker Posey, a buff pass-around-party-bottom by the name of Ryan Reynolds (see my drool-soaked description above), a hot nekkid Dracula, and a stunning lack of heterosexual intrigue (no love interest for ANYONE in this film, folks), Blade: Trinity is grade-A shower-nozzle masturbation material for any sissy with a tolerance for a little blood and a pulse. Loaded with bitchy quips and needless misogyny (mostly directed at Posey and the preposterous Natasha Lyonne – not that we can blame them, in that case), the film plays out like an angry, self-loathing sissy’s wet dream: the cool women are strong but silent and keep to themselves; the rest of the women are summarily tortured and destroyed; the men are buff and love taking their clothes off, and spend much of the time either chained to the floor or lying on their backs.

Horror Homo of the Year
Don Mancini (Seed of Chucky)

Considering the lashing I gave his film, this may come as something of a surprise. But after some deliberation (and considering the relative silence this year from vets Clive Barker, Bill Condon – in horror, anyway - and the like), I decided that the award of Horror Homo of the Year should go to Mancini for one reason: as the commander-in-chief of a successful horror franchise that has been purely commercial from the get-go (the Child’s Play movies), his brave decision to come out in a cover story in Fangoria magazine – a magazine targeted at teenage boys and other men who live with their parents – is as admirable and groundbreaking as PR moves come. Even though I thought Seed was a disaster, I sincerely commend Mancini for what his choice might do for visibility of gays in horror, particularly to young people who may not otherwise have gay folks to identify with in a genre that they love.

Not to Be a Bitch, but... the Only Way is Up?
Here's the good thing about having a shitty year: things can only get better. Right?

With a pipeline stuffed with potential (and I'm talking about horror movies here), let's pray that 2005 ends up bringing us a bumper crop of horror films worth crowing about, be they indie, no-budget, Hollywood, foreign, or what-have-you.

I'll sign off saying thanks for reading this year, and stay tuned for more unabashed optimism and sad reality in the coming months. Hey -- I turn thirty soon, so there's bound to be a breakdown worth checking in for.

Seriously, thanks for reading. Oh, yeah -- and buy something.




Horror Hottie of the Year, in all his lickable glory
(Ryan Reynolds, as seen on the cover of Men's Fitness and Jerkoff Fodder)