I *heart* horror films. It’s probably not a healthy thing to *heart* but I can’t help it. I love horror movies so much that I even found a way to incorporate theories of horror in my university dissertation and hopefully soon-to-be-published first book. Oh yeah I so did. Since I am of the recently unemployed, I got it in my head to think about which ones were the best from the last decade. While there were a kajillion horror flicks made, I only found a small handful were actually properly scary, interesting and provocative even. In alphabetical order my picks are:
28 Days Later, directed by Danny Boyle (2002)
Pesky scientists create a rage virus that pesky animal rights activists inadvertently release upon trying to set free lab monkeys. Jeezus. What ensues is an apocalyptic vision of London post-outbreak, where zombie-like humans slobber blood and search for any remaining Londoners to eat and transform. But that’s not all, and a chilling twist towards the end makes you wonder who are the real monsters in Boyle’s nightmarescape. Filmed mainly in digital video (one of the first films of that kind) and featuring a crazy effective soundtrack, this film is also notable for some fantastic footage of London as a ghost town: Haunting. This is old-school Danny Boyle at his best.
Black Water, directed by David Nerlich and Andrew Traucki (2007)
I do not like crocodiles. At all. It all goes back to when we lived in Thailand and we went to a crocodile farm. I must’ve been about 6 or so. The “farm” consisted of a series of bridges and pathways on stilts over huge pits of fantastically enormous crocodiles. Hundreds of them at least, but to my little mind it was THOUSANDS! MILLIONS! 25 years later and I still have nightmares about that place.
Black Water, based on a true story, is set in backwater Australia when three vacationers and their guide are attacked by the biggest crocodile known to man. Well, maybe not the biggest, but it sure seems like it. In classic indie film style, the movie has very little special effects and instead works with a simple and human style, focusing on the unlucky group. The acting is honest and tragic, really a gem of a horror movie. Not to mention that one of the women actually survived, and that’s the only way we even know what happened. *Shivers*
Blair Witch Project, directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez (1999)
The last scary story that got people into a real panic was Orson Welle’s radio production of War of the Worlds. Not that Blair Witch did anything remotely on the same scale, however for the months proceeding its release a carefully manufactured Internet campaign attested to the film’s fake “True Story” and “Real Footage” status, which really, really, really freaked people out. I mean really. Clever, clever monkeys are Myrick and Sánchez. The film cost next to nothing to make, and their effective use of Internet marketing (the first of its kind) caused The Blair Witch Project to become an unexpected blockbuster.
Filmed in a reality show style (also trailblazing, since reality TV was relatively non-existent in 1999), the film goes into the woods with three film students as they explore a so-called myth about The Blair Witch in Virginia. The unnerving and nauseating film style perfectly builds tension as you strain to see and hear things happening outside the camera lens’ gaze. Not to mention the haunting ending where you’re left to assume a million things, and know absolutely nothing about what actually happened.
They made a sequel that was a totally different (and totally deserving of an honorary mention here) film that revealed something I find to be one of the scariest parts of The Blair Witch Project: So, you know that house they are all running around and screaming in at the end? Well, the sequel reveals in no uncertain terms that there IS NO HOUSE…there are only ruins of a house’s foundation. Yikes! That really, really really freaks me out. I mean, dude! No house! Yikes! So scary. And I love it.
The Descent, directed by Neil Marshall (2005)
A group of extreme sportswomen go spelunking in an uncharted Appalachian cave. That alone is enough to give a person panic attacks and nightmares. But that’s not the half of it as Neil Marshall delves deeper into the underground of the women’s psyches, betrayals and survival skills in this terrifying journey down, down, down. A veritable screamfest, and fans will be happy to know that the sequel will be out very soon. Oh yeah.
My favorite part about this movie is how brilliantly Neil Jordan has coaxed layered and textured performances from the actresses. This is so much more than a horror movie: It’s a film about friendship and survival, though not in that Steel Magnolia kind of way. More the primal Goddess-woman Sarah Connor kicking ass kind of way. The Descent is one bad ass horror flick, and if you ever think you’re having a bad day just watch this movie. It’ll put it all back into perspective.
The Devil’s Rejects, directed by Rob Zombie (2005)
Who in the world would have thought that Rob Zombie would be such a talented and visionary director? I mean sure, his music was grim and yelly and the videos were always pretty hoary, but really? A movie director? While The Devil’s Rejects is actually the sequel to The House of 1000 Corpses (see below), I actually saw it first because I wasn’t crazy about the title of the first one. Loosely based on the idea of the deranged family that did the Texas Chainsaw Massacre murders, Rob Zombie takes us into a harrowing world of inbred degenerates and the horror they reap. What is most notable about this film, besides the great horror cameos and fantastic direction, is its Blair Witch-like realism and gritty flair. The only weak link is Sheri Moon Zombie (his wife) who leaves a bit to be desired on the acting front, however even that somehow manages to work in favor of the film instead of against it. A must see, especially for the sheer “Say what?” factor of Rob Zombie as a director.
Halloween, directed by Rob Zombie (2007)
Easily the best Halloween movie ever made, and further testament to the growing Horror King status that is Rob Zombie. Told in a gritty and realistic style similar to that of The Devil’s Rejects, Rob Zombie traces Micheal Myers from childhood all the way through to his Halloween massacre in Haddonfield. You might be thinking “Blasphemy,” but let me explain: One of the things that always bothered me about the original Halloween films was that there seemed to be no apparent reason for why Michael Myers did the things he did. Yes, there was the psychiatrist who tried to serve that function but only succeeded in telling us a whole lot of nothing, albeit in a very intelligent sounding British accent.
What I love about Mr Zombie’s take on this film is that the character of Michael Myers finally starts to make some sense. There’s still no reason for why he’s filled with such a murderous rage (my theory is that he’s a demon in human form), but you can see in this film how he might have ended up that way. Rob Zombie’s visually adept style adds layer upon layer of creepy to his main man and, drumroll please, the sequel will be coming out later this year! Totally brilliant.
The House of 1000 Corpses, directed by Rob Zombie (2003)
Despite the crassness of its title, this is one of the few horror movies that could easily be qualified as an art house film as well. On the total flip side of his naturalistic style in The Devil’s Rejects and Halloween, Rob Zombie has put together a twisted carnival funhouse of a film, replete with changing camera lens colors, found footage, split screens to create stunningly grotesque imagery. A non-linear narrative of fear introduces us to the sadistic Texas family that like to play with their people-pets before they kill them: an artsy snuff film. Yikes. This is a horror film for true horror buffs, full of a million sideways references to almost every good horror movie ever made, although so cleverly pieced together you can’t possibly catch all of them with only one viewing. A fundamental horror masterpiece.
Dog Soldiers, directed by Neil Marshall (2002)
It’s really a shame that they just don’t make werewolf movies like they used to. Or ever. Dog Soldiers is a screamfest of British military men who meet a pack of werewolves and the carnage that ensues. Lots of things jumping out at you (not all of them werewolves), and a serious ick-factor as the soldiers are wounded and do some self-patching up. I love werewolves, and while this film might not be as scary as others in this list, I didn’t feel it would be comprehensive without it. Not to mention how often do you have soldiers out on a routine training excersise who then run into werewolves? I mean, that’s just cool. Plus, the werewolves themselves are crazy big and intense: Silver Bullet meets methamphetamines. Now that I’m thinking about the lack of good werewolf movies I also just noticed there are no vampire movies in this list either. What self-respecting decade produces not a one good and scary vampire movie? Sheesh! Rob Zombie better get on that, STAT!
Saw, directed by James Wan (2004)
Oh. My. GOD. This is seriously one of the scariest movies, not just in the last ten years, but EVER in the history of scary freaking movies. Ever. One of the first in the then-emerging “goreno” (torture and gore on a pornographic scale) genre of horror, we watch as individuals are put into kill or be killed situations one after the other, and see the lengths to which some will go to survive. But that isn’t the scariest part of the movie: That would be the ending. Don’t worry, I’m not a spoiler and won’t tell you, but Jesus Christ on a crucifix, that shite is terrifying. I slept with my door open for two weeks after I saw it, and I’ve only ever seen this movie once and I still remember it clear as a full moon night. Too vividly. Classic scary, and awesome.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, directed by Marcus Nispel (2003)
Horror films seem to be the only remakes that actually work out better than the originals these days, as Hollywood scrapes the bottom of the barrel for new potential blockbusters. This version of the iconic Texas Chainsaw Massacre is no exception. Stylish, vivid, bloody and including the most notable imagery from the original film but remastered and way cooler, this is a damn good film and a great re-do of a seriously deranged story. Maybe that was because the two writers of the original 1974 Chainsaw Massacre, Tobe Hooper (who also directed it) and Kim Henkel came back as screenwriters for this one. Or maybe our new generation of horror director guru’s have found a way to take tired old cliches and turn them into heart-pounding fear fests. Either way, this film is quick and well done, authentic and new. Not to mention the young cast of Hottie McHottersons that includes Jessica Biel and Eric Balfour, yum, adding to the horror eye candy that is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. So worth checking out.
Well, no list would be complete without a few honourable mentions of fright that are as unique, revolutionary or compelling as the above Top Ten. A quick review and once again in alphabetical order they are:
28 Weeks Later (2007). We return to the post-Apocalyptic nightmare city of London after the rage virus has finally been contained and citizens, under the auspices of the US Army, are escorted back home to begin the rebuilding. Juan Carlos Fresnadillo puts a very Spanish film-esque take on Danny Boyle’s story as he focuses on the family drama of virus survivors. Crazy good stuff.
Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows (2000). The esteemed fear-mongers from The Blair Witch Project take us back into the woods for another terror-filled ride. Filmed in a flashy, hyper-edited style that is the antithesis of its predecessor, this sequel takes the Blair Witch legend and Internet hype to the next level. Self-reflexive movies make me happy, meaning this one makes me both happy and scared. It hurts so good.
Creep (2004). Christopher Smith takes us into the London Tube after hours, when a gorgeous Franka Potente (en route to meet George Clooney) gets locked in the Underground and can’t get out (bummer!). Things underground in general pretty well freak me out, but throw a monster into the mix and I totally understand why I do not step foot in the Prague metro either. It shouldn’t be called Creep, it should be called CREEPY!
The Hills Have Eyes Part 1 and 2 (2006 & 2007). A strong remake and sequel to the classic 1970’s version. Great cinematography, scream-worthy acting and brutality galore. Once again, modern special effects add some interesting new levels to these films, and the found footage from the Cold War nuclear scare is effective in setting the stage. Fan-freaking-tastic, the both of them.
House of Wax (2005). Nothing at all like the original Vincent Price House of Wax, but a really strong remake nonetheless. Special effects progress is very useful in this film, and the ghost town is actually creepy without the cheesy FX of old. It’s also interesting that the theme of twins enters into the horror genre, and that was something I’d never seen before. Kudos for trailblazing! Further to that, it’s fabulous to see Paris Hilton get a pipe through the head. Oh SNAP! Not to mention that Lucas Scott is in this movie. *Sigh*
Jeepers Creepers (2001). I seriously love this movie. It is so freaking scary, and I’m not really sure why people think it is so stupid. It’s terrifying! A brother and sister are driving cross country and come upon a demon monster thing that eats flesh and can disguise itself as a human. Throw in a really cool psychic lady and an unexpected ending, dude, this is one of my favoritest scary movies ever. And the sequel was pretty darn good too.
The Mist (2007). Frank Darabont is the only director in history who’s been able to make amazing adaptations of Stephen King’s brilliance (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, need I say more?), and The Mist is no exception. A small coastal town is plagued by a strange mist that traps a good number of people in a supermarket…and then the monsters arrive quietly through the mist. Yikes! But the scariest part of this movie is not the mist creatures, but rather the social commentary inherent in the dialogue as the citizens turn to or against each other in their fight to survive. Brilliance filmified.
Shrooms (2007). A bunch of stupid Americans go into the forests of Ireland to trip on mushrooms, conveniently near a boarded up school where very, very, very bad things happened. Yeah, sounds like a cheese-fest as opposed to a fright-fest, but the way it’s filmed, edited and then the twist in the ending make this a spooky little indie film. Sort of an old-school cautionary tale with a modern spin. I like that kind of thing.
Scream 3 (2000). The culmination of the fabulous Wes Craven trilogy that single-handedly revamped the horror genre. What’s scary about this movie isn’t so much the GhostFace Killer or all the sudden stabbing, it’s the gang rape that started the entire Scream saga revealed here. Really powerful stuff at work in the meta-narrative, not to mention the whole “self-reflexive movies make me happy” thing.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006). The prequel to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake that focuses on the sadistic Hewitt family and their history from way back, and gives us some insight into why they like to eat of the human flesh and where Leatherface came from. Some really fantastic performances in this underrated prequel, and lots of ick-factor to go around. Good stuff!
Wolf Creek (2005). A seriously disturbing true story of a group of kids who go out to see the famous Wolf Creek Crater in Australia’s outback, only to find much more than just conspiracy theories about aliens. There is some messed up stuff in this film that parallels so many of the fictions I’ve detailed here, except that this actually did happen. Like Black Water, only one of the group survived and probably never left the house again. What is it about true scary stories coming from Australia?
Wrong Turn (2003). A little known but fantastically frightening tale about a group of young people who get ambused by seriously inbred Appalachians in mountain backwoods. When I say seriously inbred I am not joking. Like so inbred they barely look human, and certainly don’t act it as they slice and dice their way through the young men while saving the women for, well, other even less savoury activities. Eeeeesh!
Well, I’m sure I’ve left out a good few, but this is all I can come up with for now and think it’s time to wrap up this mega-salvaging of my reviews blog. It sure was fun though and makes me want to pop out to the video shop to get my scare on asap.