As I was thinking about the end of this decade looming over us all, it occurred to me that this hasn't been a bad decade at all for horror. Sure, there have been a ton of really crappy films released. And most of them don't have the character that the crappy drive-in fare of the seventies had. I'll give you that. Though we can't be sure that in twenty or thirty years the kidlings who are just beginning to feed their appetite for horrific celluloid productions aren't going to look back on this decade with the kind of kitschy amusement many of us look back at those low budget seventies gems, I highly doubt it.
The problem with the majority of really poor quality horror films released in the last decade is two fold. The first is that many of them were churned by studio executives and producers who had no guts, no gusto, no balls and little else but the desire to turn a quick buck.
The second problem was the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Low quality, low budget, low intellect, low light, low everything films started popping up on video shelves everywhere because the advent of digital film technology, combined with advances in home computers have made it possible for many, many more people to make films than were ever able before. This is not an entirely bad thing. Some of the best films of the decade were low budget films, shot digitally, edited on not much more than your average home computer and found success not only financially, but artistically. The Blair Witch Project (1999) was the harbinger for this sea change in cinema. Whether you liked the film or not (I considered it pretty successful, because it creeped me out, though I did have to forgive the cultural and marketing event it was in order to gain some respect for it), you can't deny the fact that it definitely made the possibilities for low budget mega success in the digital age all too real. The down side to this is the number of films made with what was probably a lot of love, but not much quality. Yes, you might love horror films. Yes, you might love some specific sub-genre, but throwing a bunch of gore at the camera in low light, with some overtly sensational T+A, poor writing, poor performances and so on don't make a horror film. They just make a bad film. It at least has to be fun, and many of these films were just downright boring, probably the worst thing any film can be. Money isn't everything, certainly, but if you don't have it, you'd better have something to reel audiences into the experience of your film. Maybe some of these folks will develop their talents into the next decade and produce some truly remarkable films or even eminently watchable and entertaining films, for which I can absolutely forgive early attempts and failures. But many of them seem to be doing the same things the studios are on a much smaller scale. Produce, count, repeat. Not a good equation for quality film making.
Having said all that, I'm compiling a list of fifty horror films from the last decade that are at least worth seeing, if not required viewing for the up and coming horror fan. I started the list and at this point and have ended up with forty-six, so fifty seemed like a good round number, and there's still some time left for some decent fright flicks to hit the theaters or the retail shelves. As for what's made the list so far, they may not be classics. They may not be seminal works in the genre. Some of them probably aren't even really horror films in the classic sense of the phrase, but it is some of those classic elements of the horror film which make them at the very least, fun to watch. A few are genuinely frightening. More than a few are genuinely disturbing, a trait they share with a number of the classic films of the seventies. I'm tempted here to go into a longer discussion of the similarities between the decades in terms of social upheaval, and the inevitable connection between those things and the disturbing nature of the horror films we're seeing, but that's for another time.
I have a few things to insert as a disclaimer before I start though. First, I'm not saying these are the best horror films of the decade. They are not in any particular order. This is just my opinion. If you're one of the three people who happen to stumble across this, there's no reason to leave me a bunch of nasty comments regarding how poor and asinine my taste in film or this list is. I'm also aware that I'm probably missing a few titles that deserve to be here. Second, as I said before, I'm not even stating that all of them are horror films. I'm just saying that the majority of them are horror films, but some of them used the classic elements of horror to produce films that were at least entertaining and fun. If you're a horror purist (something which in itself has a variety of actual definitions), you're probably not going to be very happy with the entirety of the list. That's part of the point though, to get us all thinking and talking about how to communicate what it is we love about horror films, or if you like, films in general. The third is that considering the length of a list of fifty films, and the fact that I'm going to at least try to say something quick about each of them, this is going to take some time, so this list will be posted and then edited in the future. If you're reading this through Facebook, and you're interested in it, I'll re-post the link each time I update it. Facebook doesn't update the link as News each time I edit an entry on this blog. I'll post the list, without comment on the films, at the end of the entry, so you can skip to the bottom if you're just interested in the list, and not what I have to say about the films.
The last part of my disclaimer concerns remakes and sequels, a topic hotly debated in the horror community these days. This last ten years has had an unusually high number of both. I've only included one sequel on this list, specifically because it's so much it's own film it can be viewed without having seen the original, and it's one of the extremely rare cases of a sequel being better than the original. You can look at the list and see if you can figure out which one it is. As for remakes, there haven't been very many good ones. I honestly enjoyed the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, even though I really didn't want to. But, it doesn't surpass the original in quality. It surpasses the original in technical quality. It's a prettier film, because of a much bigger budget, and a more polished film in every way, but I don't think it is as visceral, disturbing and surreal as the original. R. Lee Ermey was awesome, and the film should be seen for his performance if nothing else. But as a whole, remakes don't tend to float my boat. That being said, I've included some of the remakes of Japanese films on the list, not only because they were some of the more effective films of the decade, but also because the larger section of American audiences would never have seen or known about the original films had it not been for the American remakes. In the cases of the remakes of Japanese films I have included, I'm including both the original and the remake under the same heading, first to save time and space, and second to make sure that anyone who might read this can find either film and make their own choice as to which they might want to see or learn more about. All of the films on the list have links to their IMDB pages, through which you can find the available DVD on Amazon, including the Japanese versions of the remakes.
Hostel: This is the only film on the list at a specific point for any reason what so ever. It gets the first spot because it was not only probably the most controversial horror film of the decade, but also one of the most intelligent, and most socially relevant. This is a brutal, bloody, unnerving experience. Absolutely loathed by many for it's violent imagery, it was the first film crowned with the term "torture porn". Either fortunately or unfortunately for the film, it's financial success could have be in part due to the controversy, a number of the critical community have been so conditioned to expect empty headed, low brow horror films (which I can love as intensely as this film), they didn't catch the underlying themes in the film or were more insulted by those themes being addressed by a film as grotesque and disturbing as this gem from Eli Roth.
Drag Me To Hell: Sam Raimi is one of horror's icons. Having brought us The Evil Dead, The Evil Dead 2 and Army Of Darkness, Raimi has given genre fans and cult film geeks across the nation a trio of films to rally around. After forays into more mainstream fare like A Simple Plan, The Gift, and those movies about the superhero in the suit with the spider on the front, Raimi returned to the genre that brought him both acclaim and undying love from geekdom everywhere. Drag Me To Hell is a horror film, that like his other films has it's comedy centered in the Three Stooges-esque torment of it's protagonist, adding insult to injury, sometimes literally. Drag Me To Hell might be the most purely cinematic horror film of the last decade, reveling both in the history of supernatural horror films it takes it's place among, and the cinema experience. Drag Me To Hell is a film which you should have seen in theaters, as it's cinematography was designed for the dizzying speed of a moving camera on a big screen and it's sound design worked even the best of theater sound systems to their maximum capacity. Drag Me To Hell is the pure glee of cult and horror geeks, distilled to celluloid and blasted on the screen with vehement force. Though a number of horror fans were unhappy with the films PG-13 rating, I have to give Raimi credit for finding new and inventive ways of completely grossing the audience out that didn't involve blood and guts. An absolute blast.
The Ring: The Ring and Ringu the Japanese film of which it was a remake (technically, not a film from this decade as it was released in '98, but didn't make it to our shores until shortly before the remake was released), were on the forefront of what came to be known as the J-horror craze. To the Japanese, the idea of an evil spirit or ghost somehow using technology to their advantage is nothing new. To American audiences, this was a relatively new concept. It was also just creepy. Creepy kids, creepy video, creepy dead girl in the closet (one of the more disturbing scenes in the film) all added up to a well made fright flick. Naomi Watts did a good job of bringing to life the protagonist, and Brian Cox, as the man who was responsible for the evil, evil little girls hate for humanity (by proxy) was as always, phenomenal. The Ring isn't perfect, and probably not even great, but it was effective enough to make the list, and was popular enough to have helped keep horror films getting the green light (for better or worse).
Frailty: Bill Paxton's first directorial effort has taken some knocks for some of it's storytelling tricks, but it's a really effective little film in it's own way. If nothing else, the basic premise of the film is unsettling. A man awakens his two sons in the middle of the night to inform them an angel has just visited him. Now, that could be kind of disturbing in the first place. Dad's seeing angels in the middle of the night. What kid old enough to ask the question might not wonder if Dad wasn't cracking up a bit? What kid might not be relatively sure of this fact should Dad then go on to tell them the angel had come to give them marching orders? They are meant to be warriors for God, destroying demons on earth who have taken the form of human beings. Should they follow God's orders, finding the three magical weapons along the way, God will protect them and be sure no harm comes to them. When Dad starts showing up with a list of names and the three magical weapons, all revealed to him in secret messages of different kinds, we're on board with his eldest sons headlong sprint toward a nervous breakdown. Bill Paxton did a great job behind the camera. He was better than I've seen him before as the earnest, possibly insane, and still deeply loving single father in seventies Texas, trying to raise his boys to be weapons of the Lord and do their homework too. Story, character, writing. All in all a great little film.
Cabin Fever: Having just learned of the existence of S.A.R.S and ebola and watched them ravage other nations of the world, American audiences were treated to the feature film debut of Eli Roth. Cabin Fever starts out in an absolutely cliche'd manner. A bunch of young, attractive college students are heading to a cabin for a vacation prior to their senior year. This time, the scary thing in the woods isn't a maniac with a love for sharp weapons or crushing skulls, it's a highly contagious flesh eating virus. Roth delivers the gore with panache' and horror fans loved it. He also managed to make a really entertaining and somewhat bizarre movie. The cast is great, the gore is gruesome, the conceit of the story terrifying, and all of it done with style and an obvious amount of love. Cabin Fever even manages to work in a few so completely out of whack moments when it begins to feel like the film itself has a fever of life threatening proportions and is beginning to lose touch with reality (PANCAKES!!!! +10). One of the better debut features of the decade.
The Devil's Rejects: Alright, this is probably the first film that isn't specifically a horror film by nature, story construct or content. It's more of a revenge film or really sadistic drama. BUT, Rob Zombie's second film was certainly embraced by the horror community, and they might just be the only one's who could sit through the whole thing. A semi-sequel to his first film House Of 1000 Corpses, The Devil's Rejects dispenses with the music video decor of the first film, the twisted Oz elements and gets straight at being cruel, uncompromising, brutal and just plain hard. This film isn't hard to sit through because it's a bad movie in terms of quality. It's hard to sit through because it's deeply disturbing and incredibly mean. This is not the kind of film in which you root for the bad guys. The bad guys are patently psychopathic, and there is very little attractive about them. Bill Moseley's return to the character of Otis very much embodies the films title. This guy might just be so sick and insane the devil would reject him. Moseley apparently had some trouble with the material while filming, to which Zombie responded, "Art is not safe." Thank you Captain Obvious. I can't leave out Sheri Moon Zombie's turn as Baby, the demented half sister, step sister or whatever to Moseley's Otis. Baby is horrifying in her lack of conscience in using her sexuality first to capture her prey, then to torment it once she has it in her insane little web. The character evokes both titillation and revulsion from men everywhere. It's rare to see a female character so gleefully evil without being campy or silly. There's nothing campy about Baby, and nobody puts Baby in a corner without getting the business end of a deadly weapon. A crazy film with no good guys, at all. Even the Sheriff chasing these lunatics is unhinged. And Sid Haig, who gave us one of the more memorable character introductions in film history in House of 1000 Corpses is back as the sadistically insane clown Captain Spaulding. Nothing and no one is safe, there is no justice and hell is on every highway. That's pretty much what The Devil's Rejects has to say, and it says it pretty convincingly. If you can stomach it's more graphic scenes, it's one hell of a well made film.
The Grudge: Another of the J-horror films was well served by the absolutely foreign approach it had to a familiar concept. A remake of Ju-on, and the first remake to be helmed by the original director Takashi Shimizu, it's basically a haunted house story from a Japanese perspective. Japanese folklore relating to things like ghosts and demons and so on is vastly different from that of the Western world, and so, their approach to the haunted house story is vastly different from our own. The original film was apparently based on an old Japanese myth, and in the remake, Americans living in Japan replace the original Japanese characters, and accordingly, the film is somewhat different from the original for that reason. This is a splendidly creepy little film which is of the variety to get you worrying about every little creek and noise in your dark house at the end of the night. Not graphic in any sense, it's suspense the unknown that Shimizu uses to create an extremely taught tale of an in home health care assistant caught in the middle of weird Japanese supernatural events. I first saw it late at night, on DVD with the lights out, by myself, and it definitely creeped me out. Not perfect, but effective, the first viewing is the real gem with this one.
28 Days Later: The movie that brought the zombie film back from the dead. It was a fresh twist on the zombie genre. The baddies in this one aren't technically zombies, because they're still alive. They're infected with the "Rage" virus as the result of a few damn naive animal rights activists trying to free chimps who had been being used for animal testing. The opening scene is chaotically horrifying, and it just gets worse from there. Personally, the following sequence with London completely emptied of people was deeply disturbing. Another case of good writing, good directing, good performances and just generally good film making coming together to make an intelligent, well crafted fright flick. The gore isn't over the top, but it's enough to keep the horror audience happy, and there's enough of a real story and character development to keep people who might not otherwise enjoy horror films happy. Fast moving zombie's scared the living crap out of many, many people.
Martyrs: I posted an earlier blog about this film (which you can find HERE). It's one of the few specifically dedicated to one film on this particular blog because I thought it was that important to get the word out to other film lovers who may not have seen it. This is one of the most disturbing, graphically violent, and horrifying films in a long, long time. But it's thematic strength, storytelling prowess and the power of it's performances keep it from sliding into the territory of exploitation or mindless violence. This is an intelligent film, which leaves you questioning things about the nature of suffering and the like. It could only have come from France. It made a very big splash on the festival circuit and caused quite a stir in the critical community. I don't want to say much about the story or plot because it's still a relatively little seen film as compared to many of the others on the list, but I can say that if you're even a passing fan of horror films, you should see this as soon as possible.
American Psycho: We really kicked the decade off with a bang when this little indy film hit theaters. This one was causing controversy before it was even released because the book of the same name (published in 1991) had been extremely controversial when it had been released, and many of those folks who had protested it, spoke out against it and threatened author Bret Easton Ellis with all manner of punishment came back out of the woodwork to deride the film version. The film is as faithful to the book as a film could possibly be and put Christian Bale on the map for his portrayal of Patrick Bateman, the protagonist and psycho of American Psycho because it was an absolutely incredible performance. Bateman is an empty shell of a human being. There's really not much going on there except the drive to succeed and to appear as normal and as if there is something going on under the surface. In one of the films more memorable scenes, he kills a coworker with an axe, while waxing poetic about the depth of musical achievement of Phil Collins, because said coworker had a better business card. If you can't understand or grasp the idea that the film is a satire of eighties power mad male ego, and male competition culture in general, you're missing the whole point of the film. This is not to be taken seriously. Patrick Bateman is not an everyman who needs to be feared because of his thirst for blood, violence and the satisfaction of his ego at all costs, he's to be laughed at because he's the furthest logical extent of every males ego. Though he's charming, wealthy and good looking, a business card reduces him to murder. There are some memorable sequences in American Psycho, not the least of which is a naked Patrick Bateman chasing one of his would be victim down the hall naked with a chainsaw. That's just not something you see everyday. The film like the book is sly, but deeply cutting social satire that's extremely well made. If you liked the movie, read the book.
Let The Right One In: So far as I'm concerned it's not hyperbole to say this could possibly be the best vampire film of all time. Who knew the Swedes could put out a vampire film which could so successfully touch all of the bases? Apparently based on a book of the same name from a Swedish author, the film succeeds in being a very well crafted story of a lonely, confused child, while also being creepy as all hell. Oskar is the kid who gets picked on by the school bullies. He's kind of a loner and has some rather interesting hobbies when he's not getting pushed around. When he meets someone even stranger than he is, in the form of Eli, the new girl in his apartment complex, things start to get a little strange. As Oskar and Eli further solidify their bond, things begin to get more than strange. It's one of the rare horror films that manages to be very human, very compassionate to it's characters, and about way more than blood, terror, fear and carnage. It's heartwarming in it's own dark way, and very, very well done through and through, from script writing to cinematography to score to performances.
Grindhouse: If you didn't see the Grindhouse in theaters, you missed three quarters of what the film was actually about. There have been a number of unfortunate decisions made with Grindhouse, and hence, it has gotten less of it's due than it should have. The two films packaged together like an old school seventies double feature and given the trailers in between, it made for quite the experience. Releasing it Easter weekend and then breaking the films up to be released separately to DVD, did the whole project a disservice. I know there's plenty of acrimony in the critical world and in the world of cinema geekdom about the quality of both films, which film is better and just about everything there could be acrimony about concerning these films. I really enjoyed both of these films, though after repeated viewings, I probably enjoy Death Proof more, neither is the same without the other and without the faux trailers in between. With Planet Terror, Robert Rodriguez crafted a manic blend of horror film, zombie film, and trashy soap opera. The grue was gorgeous, as were the women, and the action was over the top insane. It was an incredibly fun, fast and furious. A machine gun leg was a pretty inspired piece of insanity, and no one could have pulled it off quite as well as Rose McGowan. Between the bizarro subplots, the hilariously dead pan dialogue, and Freddy Rodriguez this film was everything a fan of seventies drive in cinema could have asked for.
Death Proof, on the other hand, was a very different kind of film. It's very much Quentin Tarrantino as if he had channeled the gasoline, pin up soaked wet dreams of his early pubescent years. Sydney Poitier was a stunning vision in the opening sequence of the film, with legs so long and underwear so well fitting she looked like she could have been sculpted out of granite. The whole film has the same kind of burn as the opening sequence, slowly building up to it's big scenes. Again, all of the performances were pitch perfect, the women full of the kind of confidence, flair and intelligence that proves Tarrantino isn't just some kind of misogynist, but a man who actually loves women. Jordan Ladd, Vanessa Ferlito, Tracy Thoms, Marcy Harell, Marie Elizabeth Winstead, and the incomparable Zoe Bell all did great work in this one. Kurt Russell is both hilarious and frightening as the adrenaline mad Stuntman Mike. And the car scenes! You haven't seen practical stunt work like this in a very long time. It's the kind of thing that made the Raiders Of The Lost Ark such an incredible film. The stunt work and the car chase scene in this film are awesome. It's a throw back to films like Two Lane Black Top and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry. This is what they would have been with a real budget behind them.
These aren't films for everyone, but they absolutely are more fun to watch than eighty percent of anything else being released these days.
Shaun Of The Dead: This is another one that isn't necessarily a straight forward horror film, but the horror elements within it are part of what make it as great as it is. Simon Pegg gives one of the better comedic performances of the decade as Shaun, the hapless, shiftless slacker working in an electronics store, living with two room mates, one of whom is a better definition of a slacker than has probably ever been produced on film. And as the film begins, Shaun's life begins to unravel. His girlfriend leaves him because he has no direction, no drive to do or be anything. His third room mate, an obsessive yuppie is losing his patience with the slacker duo and it's pretty plain that Shaun's life isn't one anyone would want to experience at this point. Then, things really start getting weird, and hilarious. The film gets some great laughs at some of the things we've all thought about the zombie genre once in a while. It also does something which makes it better than the majority of films which attempt to balance the line between humor and horror. We identify with and care about all of the characters, and that kind of big hearted center in the film, even as it's conclusion does deliver some real tension and some scares, makes it head and shoulders above films which fail utterly in what it is so successful at.
Saw: Yes, this is the film which inspired a ton of disgustingly poor sequels which were more concerned with gore and gruesomeness than they were at all with anything related to story or characters. The sequels became nothing but shitty soap operas for teenage boys who are more interested in blood than girls. But, the first film was something different when it was released and it's bizarre concept and it's unusual plot device concerning the traps of Jigsaw were something refreshing. Not to mention that in it's own bizarre way, it was saying, "Make sure you appreciate and enjoy the life you have." It's a somewhat unusual thing for a horror film, especially one as brutal as Saw to have quite that hopeful a theme. It moves at a pretty quick pace and is another film which in it's first viewing is surprising, engaging and extremely hard to deny. This is an unusual film, and even though I may not be a fan of what came following it as a result, it's still worth seeing, if only for the first viewing.
Inside: For the length of their history in film, and the quality of that history, the French never developed a tradition for horror films. They started with a bang in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Between Martyrs, the next film on the list, and this film, Inside, the French have gotten off to a damned good start. Like The Devil's Rejects, this film has a rare breed of female villain, who is horrifying, uncompromising, completely insane, and beyond reason. Beatrice' Dalle gives the kind of performance horror icons are made of, and if it were not for the snobbishness of American audiences toward foreign films and subtitles, she would be. Alysson Paradis is compelling as the unfortunate soul Dalle has fixed her insane obsession on, and the entire film is dread inducing, brutal and horrifying. The fact that there have been cases of exactly what the idea of the story is built around, only makes it all the more terrifying.
High Tension: High Tension or Haute Tension, the original French title, dropped like a bomb on the horror community. No one was expecting a film as brutal and nail bitingly suspenseful to come crashing out of France. Being a foreign film, it's pre-production, shooting and post production didn't make it onto American horror fans radar until it started hitting the festival and art house circuit. This was the first of the French horror films to grab the attention of the American horror community, and we've been watching ever since. It's director and writer, Alexandre Aja, went on to one of the better remakes of the decade, The Hills Have Eyes. Again, a number of the pieces come together beautifully to create this exercise in terror. Performances, cinematography, writing, it's got the whole package, and it's a very heavy package beating you in the forehead through every minute of it's running time. It's among a number of films in the last decade whose ending was vehemently debated and argued, but the film itself refuses to be denied. If your heart isn't pounding while you're watching this one, you're already dead, and you might as well give it up and lay down already.
My Little Eye: This film unfortunately slipped through with very little recognition. It never relies on gore and guts to get the job done. The story revolves around what is basically an internet reality show where five people who don't know each other live in a very secluded place for six months, every minute of every day being filmed and broadcast across the internet. But, things don't turn out as they initially seem. Given this basic set up it's easy to see how this film could have gone very wrong, become extremely pedestrian, derivative and annoyingly boring. It doesn't though. It's creepy and filled with dread from start to finish. It successfully integrates the "reality", something most other films fail at in their attempts. This one's on the list specifically because it hasn't gotten the recognition it deserves, and it's a great film for the kind of film goers who loved Hitchcock but are turned off by the modern horror films reliance on visual effects, gross outs and graphic violence. It does a wonderful job of bringing that kind of classic suspenseful storytelling into the modern day. Check it out.
Doomsday: This is a truly bizarre pastiche of a film. Giving homage to everything from Mad Max to King Arthur lore, this is obviously, blatantly, unapologetically a film made by someone who loves B movies and cult cinema. Neil Marshall made a splash with another film a few years earlier, Dog Soldiers, then followed that up with the wildly popular The Descent (both of which make the list later), and with Doomsday, he pulls out all the stops. When the Doomsday virus begins decimating the population of the UK, they do what is both reasonable, and incredibly hard to contemplate, quarantine. A few years later, the virus shows up outside the quarantine area, and some survivors are found inside the quarantine area. A special operations team is put together to go into the quarantine zone to bring out evidence of what ensured these peoples survival. The quarantine zone is where things get really wild. It's a very fun movie that you can't really ignore once you begin watching it. It's not a serious film. Make sure you keep that in mind when you sit down to watch it.
Grace: This is a whopper of a film. This is a character driven film. There are some extremely disturbing images, certainly, but these are in no way the most disturbing part of the film. The most disturbing elements of this film come directly from the unraveling of the characters. It gained a strong buzz following two gentleman film goers passing out during the first screening at Sundance. This is an unusual film. It deals with subject matter which is unusual for horror films. It approaches that subject matter in an unusual way. It takes certain risks in things like cinematography and score that are unusual. It also takes a certain feminine perspective that is extremely unusual for a horror film. I'm not going to give you a plot synopsis because going into this one raw is going to give you that much more solid an experience. Paul Sorlet, having produced such an usual film in his first directorial effort is going to be someone to watch in the future. If you're looking for something a little different, look no further than Grace.
Ginger Snaps: Like Grace, Ginger Snaps comes from a distinctly feminine perspective. Werewolf films have a long history of being absolutely terrible. If you see that a werewolf film is coming out, you can give it a ninety percent chance of being boring as all hell or just plain stupid. Ginger Snaps on the other hand is well written with strong performances. When two sisters get attacked by an animal on one of the local playgrounds, it starts becoming clear that it wasn't a dog of any kind you can find at the pound. The whole thing is a metaphor for puberty, and it's great stuff all the way through. The recent Jennifer's Body was a combination of Ginger Snaps and Drag Me To Hell, and all of the reviews talking about it's depiction of female relationships being so new and different, absolutely didn't catch Ginger Snaps, because it's a much more organic film. Emily Perkins and Katherine Isabel both give great performances, and their relationship on screen as sisters is not only believable, but compelling. This is a very good creature feature, written as the kind of intelligent allegory which you usually see in good sci-fi. Even folks who aren't usually fans of horror films will have a good time with this fun little film.
The Host: Occasionally, someone tries to throw together an homage to the old school creature feature monster movies from the 50's. They are rarely any good. This one is very good. Most of the films to come out of Asia in the last decade were kinds of hybrid films, the mixed horror, mystery, noir, ghost stories and so on. This is a straight forward monster film from South Korea. When a monster emerges from Seoul's Han river, and starts carting people off, terror erupts on the streets. It's very much an homage to those films of the 50's in a modern style and it's extremely entertaining. There's some comedy along the way, but at it's heart this is a story of science gone awry, and is an all around good film. I'll give them some extra credit for creating some extremely impressive creature effects. The design of the creature is excellent and the execution of the effects is as good. If you think you're seeing a pattern here, you're right. Many of the films on this list made it specifically because of the kind of fun they bring to the audience, and this is a great example.
Identity: This film caught me by surprise. I was expecting something so much more run of the mill, but what I got was interesting, compelling, very mind boggling and taking the audience to places I never expected. It starts off as a very standard Hitchcockian set-up and becomes something so different I never could have seen it coming. This is a great ensemble cast which takes some very hard subject matter and makes it believable and suspenseful. James Mangold went on a few years later to direct the widely popular and acclaimed Walk The Line, and his chops shine through here, taking a film which could have ended up extremely silly and annoying and making it a full quality experience. There are some really great surprises along the way, and nothing is what it seems as this tense thriller chugs along it's track to a "Holy CRAP!" reveal. If you're a fan of mystery/horror films and you're not ultimately beholden to to the conventions of either genre, you'll really enjoy this one. This is also what I refer to as "good John Cusack".
Jeepers Creepers: This is another film which could have ended up being a terrible mess of annoying teenage angst, sprinkled with some buckets of blood and dropped in the can for the masses to waste their cash on. Victor Salva wrote and directed this film with a great understanding of the conventions of the genre. I'm not going to tell you too much about this movie, because again, the way the facts of the story are revealed is half the fun in this one. I can say that Gina Phillips and Justin Long (the Mac commercials) were perfectly convincing first as brother and sister, and then as siblings tossed into the middle of this bizarre and terrifying experience. Whenever you think you know where this film is going, the chances are very good that you're going to be wrong. Initially, I had no interest in this film, but I was working in a record store in a mall which also had a movie theater. As a result of the extreme opinions about the film which were expressed to me when it came out, people either really loving it or really hating it, I decided to give it a shot, and I'm so glad I did. It had been a long time since I'd seen a film in theaters which was both so anxiety inducing and to which the crowd reacted to so fervently. Of course, you're about eight years too late to see it in theaters, but this is still a really great film to sink your teeth into while you and your sweetheart are chomping down some popcorn. Don't fill that bowl up too high though, because you'll end up wearing as much of it as you get to eat. The only other thing I can really add here is that seeing the film on DVD does give you one advantage theater goers didn't get. The color palette of the film wasn't quite what Salva had wanted when it was released in theaters and is corrected for the DVD, and it makes a difference. It's a gorgeous little film, as well as being genuinely scary. Another generally overlooked gem.
May: Speaking of overlooked gems, this is in my opinion not only one of the best horror films of the last decade, but one of the better films of it's type in film history. Angela Bettis is absolutely incredible, stunning as the title character. If you see this film, and then aren't completely done paying attention to all those Hollywood awards bonanza's because she wasn't even nominated that year, you're a lost cause. She plays a completely socially handicapped human being. Half of the film is deeply discomforting for no other reason than just watching her interact with the other characters in the film is nearly excruciating. They're uncomfortable with her, because she's just so awkward and maladjusted to human company, and she's uncomfortable with them, because she's just uncomfortable and awkward no matter what. It's hard to watch, and it's got nothing to do with gore or violence. It's got one hell of a lot more to do with the way people actually treat each other, and especially the way people treat someone who doesn't fit their particular definition of normal. May will take you to some incredibly uncomfortable places, and then it will really get rolling with the creepy, gore, scare factor. I can not recommend this movie highly enough. This is another one which might really be the kind of film which can peek the interest of people who might not otherwise have a taste for horror films. When they're this good, they convert people into horror fans. Go out and get your hands on a copy of this superb little shocker as soon as possible. It's brilliant.
The Mist: This one's really controversial in the fact that people seem to either really enjoy it or thoroughly and completely dislike it. Obviously, since it made it onto this list, I liked it a lot. Is this a perfect film with no flaws? Absolutely not. Is it well made, well acted and ultimately able to pump out both some scares and some really tense atmosphere and situations? Absolutely. Honestly, the mist itself, and what's in it, weren't the high points of this film for me by any stretch of the imagination. Marcia Gay Harden as Mrs. (Mother) Carmody is the highlight of this film. She's so, so evil. Ultimately this film isn't as much about what's in the mist, but the people that are trapped in the supermarket they holed up in when the mist rolled in. It's about what happens with a group of people in an absolutely dire situation they don't have a ready answer to explain. It's about things falling apart, community splitting at the seams and how people can turn to things that under normal circumstances are branded as completely insane. It gets directly at the idea that under strain and stress great enough, the reasonable and rationale people can very quickly become the pariahs. And then there's the ending. Dear God the ending. It's been argued and debated over since the film was released, but to me, it couldn't have ended any other way. It was so absolutely perfect, and incredibly courageous given that it's a film financed and distributed by one of the major studios. There's a huge soft spot in my heart for this off beat, uncompromisingly bleak film. Take a chance on this one and give it a shot. You may be better served by watching the black and white version included on the DVD, as the film was originally conceived with black and white in mind.
The Others: I honestly believe this is absolutely, without doubt Nicole Kidman's best performance to date. And this movie is genuinely creepy, make no doubt about it. It's a ghost story about a woman, her two children, and a set of newly hired servants living in an English manor during World War II. Her children are photosensitive, meaning they can't be exposed to direct sunlight, and too much of any light at all can cause rashes, etc. Grace (Kidman) is a stern, austere soul. She may love her children deeply, but affection is not something she doles out without forethought. Strange things begin happening around the house, and Grace's neat and orderly world is being subverted by forces she can't completely grasp. Fionnula Flanagan, playing Mrs. Bertha Mills, the newly hired nanny and housekeeper is also mesmerizing as the woman giving solace to the children and who seems to know more than she's saying. This is essentially a ghost story with a twist, but it's the really rare kind of ghost story that keeps it's cards hidden throughout the first eighty percent of the movie, and even then, you still might not fully understand what's happening. No gore, no nudity, no foul language, and creepy as all hell. This is incredible talent behind and in front of the camera. The Others might make you sleep with the light on.
Pan's Labyrinth: There are a handful of film makers in the history of the medium who are equally capable of putting a very personal, individualistic touch on their films, and at the same time produce films of the highest possible quality. Guillermo Del Toro, who also wrote this film, is one of those film makers. When watching his films, I often find myself intimidated by the scope of imagination it would have to take to produce them, and Pan's Labyrinth is probably the best example of that. It's the absolute achievement of artistry in this film and those rare find which can match it in quality that makes me have little to no problem turning up my nose at folks who have something against subtitles in a film. They miss things like this or don't get them as fully realized through the dubbing process. Bits of story and character get lost, and here, I reveled in soaking in every single thing I could. There's such a vivid and fully realized fantasy world here that it's almost kind of shocking to be thrown into it. But, nothing in that fantastic reality is nearly as horrible, disgusting or terrifying as the very real world surrounding it. Del Toro has crafted a wonderfully subversive tale about the dangers of choosing to confront the dilemmas of our fantasies over the dilemma's of our reality, and losing focus on our loved ones while we do either. Pan's Labyrinth is a film of deep heart, compassion and love. In service to those things (and rightly so) he never flinches from the abominations we create, because those beautiful qualities and principles can lose meaning when we forget just how disastrous the consequences of that loss of meaning can be. It's beautiful, harsh and near perfection. This is the real deal. Pan's Labyrinth wouldn't be what it is in any other storytelling form. It's film, not just film of the fantastic or horror films, but film at it's best.
[rec.]: This one came to us from Spain, and takes a few different elements which could be tired and boring at this point, and mixes them together with such undeniable energy and imagination that they come together to create a truly frightening movie going experience. A female reporter assigned report on and follow the general goings on at a local fire station accompanies the squad on it's first call of the night. Things go awry. The building they are in, where the call originated from, gets quarantined by the government with them inside. It gets worse, fast. From the time they enter the building and ascend their first staircase, my heart was pounding, and it didn't stop until the credits rolled. It got a few really good jumps out of me as well. It follows the same conceit as The Blair Witch Project, in that this is supposed to be the footage that was found after the incident was over. Unlike the Blair Witch Project, because this is supposed to be a news piece by a journalist and her camera man, you never wonder why they're still filming, you immediately get released from a number of the problems The Blair Witch encountered, and you're just some poor observer, along for this horrifying ride. If you have problems with things like hyper tension, anxiety disorders, etc., I'd suggest you let this one pass. It's almost too well done for it's own good. This is truly scary stuff.
Session 9: Less can be so much more and this is a great example. This atmospheric little thriller is about an asbestos cleaning crew charged with cleaning up a long abandoned mental hospital with a horrific past. Beyond the tensions of working in such a high risk field, and those inevitably found in almost any work crew, things start to get weirder the longer this crew is there. There are no flashy special effects, no trite junk to explain the unexplained events, nothing like that. This is just straight forward, unwavering psychological horror. This is another film driven by the actions, reactions, and downward spiral of the characters and the ability to actors have to sell us on those things. There's such a strong sense of atmosphere and foreboding that it can't fail to unnerve you while you're watching it, and like one or two of the other films on this list, might be even more effective when you're done watching it and are trying to go to sleep in the dark. The writer/director Brad Anderson could really blossom into a great writer and director, but only time can tell. He certainly made this little film very chilling.
Jack Brooks; Monster Slayer: Make no mistake about it. This movie is completely retarded. Don't for one second even think of going anywhere near this expecting anything remotely serious. NO, it's not a horror movie, but it does rely heavily on everything mainstream culture thinks of as a horror film. Think of this as Indiana Jones, meets The Re-Animator. It's absurd. It's more fun than a barrel full of zombie heads. It's pretty well done too. The story is at least interesting, the lead (Trevor Matthews) does a great job of creating a character we can identify with, the effects are great and it's just really, really fun. It's like cotton candy for a horror fans brain.
Slither: Again, this one's got a good deal of comedy mixed in, but it does have some really great gore effects, some really great performances (Micheal Rooker was particularly hilarious, as was Gregg Henry), great creature effects (one which actually manages to be inventive), and is pretty disgusting in a number of ways. Alien critters infest the bodies of rednecks, things get really weird, and horribly gross. Don't think it can't happen to you too. And it should. Check this one out.
Feast: This is the last of the horror comedies on the list for a good while, so if they're bothering you, just skip on to the next one. Feast has something most of the horror comedies on the list aren't actually able to pull off (with the possible exception of Shaun Of The Dead). It has a great black humor to it, but it can also get you to jump in a number of places, and actually care about the characters. It's an unusual mix to see someone pull all three things off in one film. I actually saw some of the Project Greenlight episodes as they were fighting through trying to get this film finished, and John Gulager, the film's director was just coming off (or purposely being portrayed) as a combination of lunatic and jack ass, but after seeing the finished product, I was happy to know he fought as hard as he did and he gave the producers such a hard time, because it seems he was right. He finished a good film, which was enjoyable for a number of different reasons, and wasn't just empty derivative crap.
The Strangers: There were sequences in this movie which were so incredibly tense I honestly thought there were a few people in the theater who might pass out. I made the mistake of bringing my girlfriend to see this. I was expecting something so much more run of the mill, just more of the same, slasher flick kind of thing. She was basically uninitiated in relation to horror films before we started dating. I'm not being hyperbolic when I say she had trouble falling asleep for a few days following The Strangers. Along with High Tension, this is probably one of the most suspenseful, tension filled films in a good while. I also have to give them credit for the ending. It's so terribly bleak. This little home invasion tale is going to have a long life when the next generation of horror geeks gets their hands on it.
Wolf Creek: Loosely based on the Backpacker Murders in Australia during the 1990's, Wolf Creek is a thoroughly hard, mean, and disturbing film to watch. This is definitely not a film for everyone. It's bleak, harrowing, disturbing, violent, intense and effective. Deservedly compared to the original versions of Last House On The Left and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Wolf Creek is the kind of film that lingers on with you after it's over. A very good script gives four very good actors room to breath life into characters that are anything but one note or stereotypical, and that's part of why it's so effective. It takes the time to establish the three main characters in the film long enough for you to be able to identify with and care about them. Then, it introduces John Jarrett as Mick Taylor. I have to be honest in saying that I'm somewhat shocked that in the time since this film was released Mick Taylor hasn't been a character mentioned in the same vein as Hannibal Lecter, Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, Leatherface and Michael Myers. It's possible the actor and the character haven't been given their due specifically because unlike the characters mentioned previously, Taylor seems all too real, and is truly, surprisingly horrifying. Had this film been released by one of the major American studios, it would have been as controversial, as popular, and as intensely debated as Hostel. Unfortunately, either the horrific content of the film, the inexperience of the film makers or the fact that the three protagonists speak with British or Australian accents kept it from getting picked up by one of our major studios.
Intacto: Another film from Spain. Intacto isn't a straight forward horror film either. Part thriller, part fantasy, part drama, part mystery, and all great. The story basically centers around an underground gambling circuit in which the competition is between people who can steal the luck from others. It's the kind of movie you can't take your eyes off of once you start watching it. Honestly, I can't say with any real certainty that this film belongs on a list of horror films, but you know what? It's not gonig to make any of the other decade ending lists from the mainstream critics, and it deserves to be seen and to get it's credit for how incredibly well made and creative this film really is. Stateside, we know the director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo from his work on the sequel to one of the films which made this list earlier. 28 Weeks Later is definitely one of the better sequels of a decade which had more than it's fair share, so this guy is going to be one to watch in the future. If you want to know how someone relatively unknown in the States could end up at the helm for a franchise as successful and as critically acclaimed as 28 Days Later, Intacto is going to give you all of those answers. It's just a great exercise in the Hitchcockian school of film making. And, of course, Max Von Sydow proves his place as one of the greatest actors not only living today, but in film history.
Dead Birds: At it's heart, this is a haunted house film, but it's gets there and it wraps that old standard up in such a great package that it makes it a different and interesting film. A group of Civil War soldiers, having gone AWOL, have turned to bank robbing, and during their exploits stumble across a plantation house which seems to have been abandoned for longer than even the war would have caused, and decide to use it as a hide out. It's not what they expect it to be at all. First of all, period horror films are relatively unusual because of the cost associated with producing a period film of any kind, and horror films are more or less always produced for a much lower cost than other genres. Second, a Civil War period horror film is even more unusual. Civil War films have had the unfortunate tendency to be extremely simplistic, morally unambiguous, clap trap kind of crap. Luckily, this one doesn't get into the politics or social aspects of the Civil War. It's a haunted house tale that happens to take place during the Civil War. And it's well done. The atmospherics of it, and the way it doesn't necessarily give you simple immediate answers are extremely satisfying. The cast is really top notch as well. It's something a little different. Give it a chance.
30 Days Of Night: Vampire films and werewolf films have a few things in common. They're both based on folklore which has existed for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. Unfortunately, if you were to make a lists of films whose stories surrounded both, you'd have a list of film in which there are many, many, many more really bad films than there are good ones. Since Anne Rice and the Buffy The Vampire The Slayer television series, vampires not only made a big comeback in popular culture, there has been a glut of films, television shows and otherwise concerning the fanged, nocturnal creatures we love to fear and fantasize about. Centering around the idea that vampires finally figure out that there are places in the world where the sun doesn't rise for as long as thirty days, this film does away with the idea of the sexy, alluring vampire Anne Rice's novels introduced and made popular and goes directly to the savage, animal nature of the vampire myth. These are not pretty, brooding creatures who happen to sleep all day, and really miss the days of being human. These are creatures who are drunk on the power of what they've become, have no moral ambivalence about using it, and enjoy cracking open the nearest body part to get it. These are brutal vampires who look at humans more or less the same way we look at pigs. They are lower life forms we eat, and which can occasionally be dangerous if we don't take the necessary considerations. They've got 30 days with no sunshine to worry about, so it's a blood orgy. Danny Huston as Marlow (sound familiar Stephen King fans?) is perfect as the head of this vampire pack. I've come to have more and more respect for his acting abilities over time, and I think he's one of the unfortunately overlooked performers of his generation. Josh Hartnett was surprisingly good in a role in which he actually has to play, not only a real adult, but a role which is pretty well fleshed out for a film of this kind. I honestly didn't catch this one in theaters specifically because he was the lead, and I'm kind of sorry I didn't. He was good enough to not ruin the movie (that's a back handed compliment, I know) and to actually be a character we have some identification with and root for. I was very happily surprised by 30 Days Of Night, if for nothing other than it's brutal and visceral approach to the vampire and it's ability to produce real tension and dread. If you're tired of vampires who look and act like a bunch of emo kids whose audition for a clothing commercial didn't go very well, this is a good film for you. Thank you David Slade for directing a vampire film which is more horror film than dramatic romance, and thank you Steve Niles for the graphic novel that inspired it.
Dog Soldiers: The previous entry on the list mentioned how rare the good werewolf film is as a breed. Here is one of those extremely rare specimens. Unlike Ginger Snaps (#21 on this list), Dog Soldiers isn't an allegory of any kind. It's just a story about werewolves, and well, special ops units on training in the Scottish wilderness who run into them. It's something a little different, and a whole lot of fun. Directed by Neil Marshall who later went on to direct another film on this list, Doomsday (#19), gives Dog Soldiers a non-stop energy and immediately instills a sense of isolation that helps to deliver, putting the old werewolf story into a new situation with success. It's well done, it put Neil Marshall on the map, and enabled him to bring us both Doomsday, and The Descent, another film which makes the list later on. This film makes the list, like so many others, simply because it's a hell of a lot of fun.
Oldboy: South Korea dropped a few bombs on the American horror and cult film audience this decade, and no other film was probably as bizarre, compelling or well done as Oldboy. In fact, there were probably very few films in the last decade which were as well done as Oldboy, South Korean or not. The second in Chan-wook Park's vengeance trilogy (preceded by Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and followed by Lady Vengeance) this tasty treat takes the old noir style, mixes it up with some modern film making technique, modern story elements and a big dose of crazy to create a completely fascinating journey for it's lead character Oh Dae Su. After a night of drunken carousing, Oh Dae Su gets picked up for drunk in public, and once bailed out by a friend, disappears from outside the phone booth from which his friend is attempting to call Dae Su's wife. We then follow Dae Su as he's imprisoned in some strange place for fifteen years. Once he's released, he's on a mission to find out who's done this to him and to get his revenge. Oldboy is technically superior to most of the other cult/genre movies you're going to find. It's gorgeous, with a rich color palette and cinematography that's a cut above what you get in the most expensive studio films. In particular, there is a fight sequence in a hallway, that's just one long, extended shot, and comes across as almost miraculous. This film has it's detractors, but honestly, I just can not understand that at all. It's a pretty surreal film, and I know there are a lot of folks out there who have no use for surreallism, which I can understand, but the film reveals it's mysteries, secrets and story in such an incredibly well done way, that I can't understand not being able to have some love for it.
Trick r Treat: Warner Brothers sat on this piece of creepy, Halloween themed, tasty goodness for two years, before finally giving it an unceremonious straight to DVD distribution. It's unfortunate, because this is going to not only be a Halloween favorite, a genre fan favorite and an anthology fan favorite, it's going to be revered as one of the best Halloween films of all time. For the next few decades people are going to be having Trick r Treat parties, local theaters are going to be doing midnight showings, and I'd be shocked if costumes designed after the characters didn't start showing up every Halloween. This is a near perfect Halloween film, and beyond that, just a great film in every aspect and area. It's filled with that sense of creepy, spooky, scary fun that makes people like me fall in love with the holiday. This film has it's heart in exactly the right place, and you get the feeling as you're watching it that writer/director Michael Dougherty not only absolutely loves Halloween, but that he was having a blast with the idea that he was going to make a movie that was going to add some frightening fun to other people's enjoyment of the holiday. The cast is pretty amazing, especially considering the fact that this is essentially a small budget horror film. Click HERE to read my full review. If I can find a Sam costume around this year, I know what I'm going to be for Halloween. See the movie if you want to know who Sam is.
The Devil's Backbone: Every generation has a a few master film makers. By a few, I don't mean ten or twelve, but usually closer to two or three. Most people who have seen Pan's Labyrinth (#28) don't have a hard time concluding Guilermo Del Toro is one of the few master film makers living today. If you haven't seen Pan's Labyrinth or this film, The Devil's Backbone, and you only know Del Toro from his work on Mimic, Blade II or the Hellboy films, calling Del Toro a master film maker probably seems a bit of a jump. Don't get me wrong here. I enjoyed the original Mimic, Blade II and the Hellboy films, but this film, like Pan's Labyrinth, is on a whole other level. The Devil's Backbone takes in an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War. The Spanish Civil War seems to be a favorite period for Del Toro, as Pan's Labyrinth also took in the same time period. Although it fits into the category of a horror film specifically because it's plot is essentially a ghost story, a brutal and bloody ghost story at that, this film has so much more heart, soul, and strangely enough, love, than ninety-nine percent of the other horror films released this decade or any other. Again, the most horrific aspects of the film don't come at the hands of the fantastic. The ghost in this story isn't avenging it's wrongful death with the blood of anyone in the orphanage, as would be the case under almost anyone else's writing or directing. This film is as much mystery, coming of age story, and a story about compassion and kindness as it is anything else. Del Toro seems to be most at home when blending his most soulful stories and ideas with the most tragic and horribly horrific aspects of human nature. He's been quoted as saying that Pan's Labyrinth is a spiritual sequel to The Devil's Backbone, and that's a good description of the tone of this film, and the thing that makes it absolutely beautiful. If you've missed this spooky gem, you're doing yourself a disservice. If you won't watch it because it's subtitled, it's absolutely your loss.
43). Severance: In 2004, writer/director Christopher Smith released Creep. It had potential, but didn't quite live up to it. It was that one thing that a movie should really just never be, just kind of "eh". It wasn't a really good movie, but it wasn't a really bad movie either. Outside of a few sequences which were either creepy or doing something kind of new within the genre, it was pretty forgettable. It did give some hint that it's writer/director might be someone to watch in the future. Creep was very much like a puzzle put together incorrectly, all the elements were definitely there, but it just didn't put them together effectively in the end. Then came Severance. The story of a corporate sales divisions team building exercise gone very, very wrong is both hilarious and harrowing, and there are some smarts mixed in there as well. This isn't Deliverance with ties. It's not Texas Chainsaw Massacre with profit and loss reports. It actually manages to do something unexpected with the story, be funny and intense all at the same time. If in his next film Smith can make the same kind of leap forward in quality as he did between his first and second film, it's bound to be something special. If not, and he produces projects on par with Severance's level of quality, he'll be a genre sweetheart for a long time. One of the other things that makes this film so successful is it's performances, because you believe these people have all been working behind desks in cubicles next to each other for a long time. Even though the characters begin as the kind of one note stereotypes which have made "The Office" a sensation on both sides of the pond, they do become more three dimensional and more realistic. This is where I have to put in some frothing praise for Danny Dyer. As Steve, the office slacker, he is hilarious in the beginning of the film, but as the film continues, he brings some really solid emotional weight to the story, and really takes the script up a notch to something a little better than it probably was on the page, which is a rarity. He's got a really full performance in this film, from very, very funny, to the terror of the situation they find themselves in, to a genuine kind of sorrow, and he really nails it. It's been a few years since this was released, and I'm honestly shocked he hasn't started getting some work under the big lights, in supporting roles to start of course. There are some absolutely terrible actors out there, making tons of money on films which are either really bad by themselves or probably could have been decent without them. Guys like Danny Dyer should be getting those jobs, because the films would be better and the film community would be better served. Rant over.
Bruiser: I've been struggling with whether or not to put Bruiser on this list because I'm not exactly sure it's a horror film. But, in the end, it makes it because I'm not exactly sure it isn't either. I'm not pulling one of those stupid tricks marketing people pull either, "it's a thriller, it's not horror". They call horror films "thrillers" when the budget and the names are the actors are too big to be called horror films (Silence of the Lambs being one of the best examples). But Bruiser might be a character drama, that happens to have some horrific elements. Of course, it's basically marketed like a slasher movie because it was directed by George Romero (Oh great one, when are you going to go back to making movies this good again?). In case you're not familiar, George Romero is the creator of Night Of The Living Dead, and the series of "Dead" films that followed. He's an icon of modern horror. With Bruiser, he turns away from the grand scale of the Dead films that have made him famous (or infamous, depending on your tastes), and turns to something much more personal. Bruiser is a film about the loss of identity, the dehumanization of modern life. Sounds really heavy right? Well, that's why we have good stories and good storytellers, to break down ideas so large that we can digest them a little bit. Henry (played brilliantly by Jason Flemying) wakes up one day to find his face is missing. Not in the gory, bones and muscle hanging out everywhere sense, but in the sense that it's been replaced by a completely nondescript, emotionless, snow white visage. Although it's somewhat horrifying to him at first, Henry eventually finds it liberating, because you see, Henry hasn't had a sense of identity in a long time. Henry has been invisible and unrecognizable for years. Now, he just has the face that takes it one step further. You've seen Jason Flemyng in small parts before. He was in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and also had bit parts in Snatch, and L4yer Cake (which if you missed, you should remedy immediately). You may also have seen him in League Of Extraordinary Gentleman (notice there's no link for it), but don't hold that abominable pile of steaming crap against him. That film is the reason Sean Connery retired. Flemyng is great here. Through a good deal of the movie, he literally has no face, and is still able to somehow convey all of the characters emotional responses. Bruiser is an unusual film, and was probably a disappointment to people who are fans of the variety who like their horror hard core only, especially coming from Romero. But, I honestly think this is one of his better films. To me it's in the same category and level of quality as the better films in the Dead series. A little too arthouse for the hard core horror fan, a little too horrific for the hardcore arthouse fan, Bruiser is a good film, well made with strong performances and strong themes for adults. It's kind of sad to see films like this slip through the cracks over the years.
Brotherhood Of The Wolf: I sat through the first thirty-minutes of this film utterly confused and just kind of staring at it thinking, "what the hell is this thing?" Then I realized it didn't really matter what it was, it was fun as hell. Brotherhood Of The Wolf is a French, monster, martial arts, intrigue, romance set in the 18th century. I'm not really sure which is more ludicrous and insane, the film itself and the fact that it actually got made or that it actually works. When a town in the French countryside is beset by a beast with a habit of carrying off and devouring anyone it can put the bite on, the King calls for his taxidermist, the protagonist, who brings along his sidekick, a Native American from then New France. I'm guessing a taxidermist is the closest thing they'd have had to a zoologist in the 18th century, but really, once the whole crazy thing gets going, it doesn't even matter. The Beast of Gévaudan is an actual part of French history that is still unexplained, an interesting tidbit in itself. There is so much going on in this film, it should be a jumbled mess, a la' Spiderman 3, but it's not. Somehow, amidst the ridiculousness and beyond fantastic nature of what some of this film is, the things which seem like they should be a burdening weight actually make it more believable and more grounded. From the political intrigue of the King's Court to the bizarre romantic storyline (involving a love triangle between the protagonist, an aristocrat and a prostitute played by the stunningly beautiful Monica Belluci) to the relationship between the protagonist and his Native American companion, it all plays out with some flair for the dramatic for sure, but it is always interesting. And guys, you've never seen Monica Belluci being this uber-sexy, erotic, and of another world hot. And she's not just there for eye candy, her character and her performance have some real weight on how the film turns out. If you've read this list so far, you'll notice I don't often go all googly eyed and pubescent teenage boy about the women in these films very often, but WOW IS SHE JUST STOP TRAFFIC IN TIMES SQUARE GORGEOUS in this movie. If you're not familiar with her, you've seen her as Persephone, the wife of Merovingian in the two Matrix sequels and Magdelen in The Passion Of The Christ. Vincent Cassel turns up in this one too. As always, he's great fun to watch. You might know him from Eastern Promises, and as The Night Fox in the two sequels to Ocean's Eleven. In short, this movie is exciting and fun to watch. Half of the fun is how weird a combination of elements they successfully throw together to come up with it. The other half is marveling at how well it all comes together as you watch it. It's not for everyone, but if you can appreciate things being a little different, a little weird, and teetering on the edge of outright sword and sorcery kind of fantastic, this one is a pleasure to watch.
BUG: This film had the unfortunate fate of being marketed as a much more straight forward horror film than it actually is. Film goers were walking into theaters expecting something much more along the lines of a monster movie about bugs infesting people and taking them over or eating them from the inside out. That's not what they were getting. Lions Gate, usually a company which does incredibly well with genre films, really dropped the ball on this, and unfortunately, a very good little film took the brunt of the publics animus toward the marketing campaign. The problem with marketing BUG as a horror film, is that it is in no way a conventional horror film. It is a horror film, but not in the way audiences understand the meaning of that phrase. It is horrific, and it is frightening, anxiety inducing, and disturbing, and still not at all what people think of as a horror film. It is truly, exactly, one of the very few really perfect examples of completely psychological horror. It is specifically about psychological horror, and that's exactly how it plays out as well. Bug was originally a play by Tracy Letts, who adapted the screenplay for the film as well. It's really great writing that does the trick here, more than anything else.When a drifter and veteran played by Michael Shannon hitches his wagon to a down on her luck waitress played by Ashley Judd, things get weird, fast, in ways you very rarely see in film. Shannon and Judd put incredible performances on the screen, and take us on a journey into a kind of hell that actually exists. Harry Connick Jr. is pretty great as well, though his character gets very little screen time in comparison to Shannon and Judd. Watching this movie is uncomfortable, not because of how gross it is, how disgusting it is, how terrible the violence is or any of that, but specifically because if you've ever seen two people spiral out of control together in good part because of the strange alchemy of desperation and emotionally damaged underpinnings, this film isn't at all fantastic. It's every abusive relationship in the world, every relationship between people who are together more because they're tired of or afraid of being alone more than anything else. It never tips it's hand either. It never completely jumps in and says, "this is good, this is bad, this is real, this is crazy/fantasy", it just takes you along for the ride as these two characters go careening toward a cliff everyone but them can see coming. It's really great, smart, deeply human writing brought to life in performances that are deeply empathetic and courageous. This is not courageous material for an actor to take on because it's Oscar bait. It's courageous because of how un-Hollywood the material and the characters really are. There isn't a silver lining. There isn't a journey of discovery and realization through hardship. And it's not even so desperately bleak that it's cinematic either. It's the kind of mundane insanity burdening and destroying the lives of people who have fallen through the cracks everywhere. Without doubt William Friedkin's best work since The Exorcist.
Zombieland: I wasn't sure whether or not to actually add this one to this list because it's so new, and it's been such a success that I kind of think some of the shine is going to wear off over time. That being said, Zombieland was hilarious, and awesomely gruesome. It's the kind of thing I will be showing to people who might not necessarily like horror films in ten years. It's definitely more a comedy than a horror film, I'll give you that. I can just see some little horror geek like I was in my teens reading this and shaking his fist at the screen, going all, "that's not even a f*ck*ng horror movie". But, for people who might not have found that place in their heart for things, dark, grim, bloody and macabre, Zombieland is a perfect primer. It sets the stage for folks to get the idea that the gore, either here in Zombieland or in the chambers of Hostel, is actually supposed to be fun. I know that sounds completely insane, and those of you who might not have come to understand this yet are thinking, "there is something deeply wrong with people who find blood and guts entertaining". I get that. But here's what you're missing, the overwhelming majority of people who like blood and guts in their entertainment, are more deeply horrified by it in real life than the people who hate it in their entertainment. It's never about the fact that it's blood and guts. In Hostel's case, it's about the story, and what it is actually saying, which is actually so much more dark and grim than any kind of violence you could actually put on screen that for horror fans like me, the blood and guts are a break from that grim reality. We're marveling at the artistry of the special effects wizards, and being grossed out at the same time. In Zombieland, it's all for laughs, and to help establish the characters played by Woody Harrelson and Jess Eisenburg. Like Shaun Of The Dead, to which it is being compared favorably everywhere, Zombieland has a really big, sweet, lovably corny heart. The story of an odd couple who have found decidedly different ways of surviving a world over come by zombies, there's just a lot to really love in this film, and a hell of a lot to laugh at as well. You can find my full review here.
The Exorcism Of Emily Rose: I'm not in the minority when I state that I liked Emily Rose. The majority of people I've come across or spoken to about the movie have enjoyed it or at least been said they thought it was a good film. The horror community on the other hand, has less than love for this film. Because it plays out as much a court room drama as it does a supernatural horror film, and it's not at all graphic, there are lots of folks who just like to throw the tar on this one. It's not a pure horror film, because of the courtroom drama aspect, but it does succeed in being pretty creepy in a few spots, it's well made, and it plays it's cards pretty close to the vest throughout the film. You never really know if Emily Rose was possessed or if she was mentally ill, epileptic or what. I liked the fact that the film more or less leaves the audience to decide, by way of what they really bring to it. It doesn't make a case for the existence of possession by proxy of it's story, but it also freely admits there are things about human beings and the way we work that medicine has yet to fully grasp. It doesn't hurt that I have a soft spot in my heart for Laura Linney, playing the defense attorney for Tom Wilkinson's priest on trial for Emily Rose's death. Both of them are usually strong in the film, and then newcomer, now Dexter and Quarantine star Jennifer Carpenter was oddly believable as the afflicted with we don't know what Emily Rose. The film is very loosely based on the case of Anneliese Michel. All in all, a well made film that was able to do something different with it's subject matter than the films that preceded it.
Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon: First and foremost, Behind The Mask is a love letter to fans of the eighties slasher movie everywhere. It's also something a little different and original within the confines of that genre. Behind The Mask is the only film on this list which has any of the kind of post modern, self referential content that made Scream such a breath of fresh air in the nineties and was subsequently beaten to death by every studio and every writer who wanted desperately to be Kevin Williamson. But, Behind The Mask takes it one step further. The film exists in a world where Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, and Michael Myers are real. They are serial killer celebrities. They exist, as the maniacally unstoppable killing machines we've seen them as in film, and they're as popular or more so, if at least for the juicy news they create. Leslie Vernon is one of their acolytes. Leslie never wanted to be a fighter pilot, an astronaut, policeman or fireman. Leslie's dream is to be an unstoppable celebrity serial killer. Somehow, a documentary crew finds out about Leslie's desire and that he actually has a plan, and they decide it's a great opportunity find out what goes on behind the masks of these mad men and what they have to do in order to pull these grand plans off. So, the film is from that perspective, at least the first third. It pokes fun at all of the conventions of the genre, pokes fun at itself, and all that is the slasher genre. It is also successful in turning the tables on the audience in some ways I'm not going to detail too much, because it would ruin it. Leslie Vernon is a great character, and the mask, as you can see there in the poster, is sufficiently creepy. This is a fun film, something a little different and interesting, intelligent and well done.
They: This film suffered from two specific problems at release. The first was that there was another film released not long before, who's trailers more or less suggested they were based on the same concept, and that movie Darkness Falls, was an unmitigated piece of crap. The second thing this film suffered from actually had two parts in itself. They attached the "Wes Craven Presents" banner to the poster and trailers. Now, I don't think most people realize that when a trailer or poster says, "So and So Presents", they are not the films directors, but it's producers instead. The all knowing numskulls at film studios just throw a recognizable name above the title specifically to help sell tickets. Unfortunately, this isn't a Wes Craven movie of the variety horror fans everywhere have come to enjoy. He's certainly had his missteps, but he's also made some classic films in the horror cannon. SO, horror fans were being disappointed by a non-Wes Craven horror film. The other side of the coin was the backlash against the cultural phenomenon that was Scream. There were lots of folks who were just sick and tired of hearing about Wes Craven, his movies, and how awesome he was (and still is in my opinion). With all of that going on, this little movie never really got the day in the sun it deserved. This is a fairly simple set-up. Adults, all of whom had at one point or another in childhood suffered night terrors, begin disappearing. One of them, suspects there's more to the story than coincidence. She's right, and the moral of the story is, there is something in the dark, in your closet, under your bed, and it is coming for you. It's been waiting for you since you were a little kid. The result is a relatively creepy film with an interesting concept. It's extremely spare in it's use of effects and it never really shows you exactly what it is, but you can tell it's weird, it doesn't have warm, fuzzy intentions, and you don't want to go where it's going to take you. I really do think that had it not gotten lost in the rest of the press, media junk surrounding it, this film would have been more popular. It succeeds in creating the creepy atmosphere it sets out to, gets some good scares in there and tells it's story well. This film really would have been better served by being released at a different point.
So, that's it. Fifty horror films worth seeing from the first decade of the twenty first century. If you've been keeping up with this as I've posted it in installments, I appreciate your patience. If you've stumbled across this and have read the entire thing in one thing after it was completed, I applaud your fortitude. There's a whole lot of mouth running in those fifty entries, and what came before them. I guess it's time I put the jawing on hold. Let me know what you think though. What films did I miss? What films don't belong? What do you think? At the end of the day, that's the fun part right, we all get to talk about something we really enjoy and share that with each other.