There are a lot of horror fans who maintain that the 2000s have been a desperately lousy decade for horror movies, that all we've been offered are derivative sequels and remakes. I'm of the opinion that this "popular opinion" reflects only the most visible, mainstream releases, and that if a true horror fan can't find recent horror films to suit their particular taste... they're just not looking hard enough. To round out a long series of blogs about horror movies that aren't included in my documentary (Nightmares in Red White and Blue), here's a list of some of my favorite horror films of the current decade.
SCREAM 3 and URBAN LEGENDS: FINAL CUT sounded like death throes for the horror genre, but this was also the year of THE GIFT, FINAL DESTINATION and BATTLE ROYALE. Last year around this time, blogger Jim Blanton made a case for 2000's BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2. Axelle Carolyn, in her book on "horror movies of the new millennium", hails THE CONVENT (featuring Adrienne Barbeau as a zombie hunting nun), as well as the Japanese zombie movies VERSUS and WILD ZERO. Personally, I think a case could even be made for HELLRAISER: INFERNO... but that's another post for another day. My own pick for 2000: GINGER SNAPS.
A decent year for monster movies (see BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF and JEEPERS CREEPERS) and a particularly good year for ghost stories. In the summer of 2001, I attended the annual FrightFest in London, England, and was blown away by two of the films I saw there - THE BUNKER (a Lewton-esque British film set on the front lines of WWII) and Guillermo del Toro's THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE. Also noteworthy: Alejandro Amenabar's THE OTHERS, J.T. Petty's SOFT FOR DIGGING, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's KAIRO, and my personal favorite: Brad Anderson's SESSION 9.
This year witnessed the popularization of J-horror with the American remake of THE RING, soon to be followed by English-language remakes of the Hideo Nakata's DARK WATER and the Pang Brothers film THE EYE. Neill Marshall made a noteworthy debut with DOG SOLDIERS. Lucky McKee made an even stronger debut with MAY. Danny Boyle practically reinvented the zombie movie with 28 DAYS LATER. And Eli Roth achieved wunderkind status with CABIN FEVER. (Sure, the film was tonally schizophrenic... but I won't believe anyone who says that Cerina Vincent's leg-shaving scene didn't make a strong impression. Roth knows his audience.) I'm tempted to draw attention to the surprisingly effective THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES, as well as the admirable (if often underwhelming) ghost story BELOW, written by Darren Aaronofsky... and I can't, in good conscience, overlook Don Coscarelli's hilarious BUBBA-HO-TOP... but my favorite horror film of the year has to be the Canadian indie MY LITTLE EYE.
This was the year that Platinum Dunes took the horror genre for ransom, by resurrecting Leatherface (and pitting him against Jessica Biel). Also the year of the "70s-style horror movie" comeback, thanks to similar films like Rob Schmidt's WRONG TURN and Rob Zombie's HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES. There were a few subtler efforts - IDENTITY and DEAD END come to mind - but the trend was definitely toward overkill. Alexandre Aja's HIGH TENSION turned plenty of heads, but I prefer Stuart Gordon's KING OF THE ANTS.
Horror reached the apex of its popularity for the decade, thanks to a surprisingly spirited remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD, the brilliant parody SHAUN OF THE DEAD, and James Wan's enormously successful SAW. J-horror was still going strong, with the releases of MAREBITO, INFECTION, and Takashi Shimizu's American remake of THE GRUDGE. For my money, the year's best was the Korean ghost story SHUTTER.
Remakes, sequels and "masters of horror" abounded... but it wasn't all bad. Among the first season episodes of MOH, I particularly liked DANCE OF THE DEAD (Tobe Hooper), JENIFER (Dario Argento), CIGARETTE BURNS (John Carpenter) and HOMECOMING (Joe Dante). WOLF CREEK, THE DEVIL'S REJECTS and HOSTEL gave rise to the catch-phrase "torture porn," but in my memory these films were eclipsed by Neill Marshall's more traditional monster movie THE DESCENT - which gets my vote for best horror film of the entire decade.
Filmmakers delivered the unexpected even in familiar packages with the remake of THE HILLS HAVE EYES and PULSE, and a host of distinctive monster movies: SLITHER, SILENT HILL, THE LAST WINTER, and THE HOST. BUG wasn't a monster movie... and it didn't live up to all the hype that surrounded it as "William Friedkin's first horror film since THE EXORCIST"... but it's still much better than either Paul Schrader or Renny Harlin's earlier attempts at THE EXORCIST 4. The "8 Films to Die For" campaign valiantly brought attention to some independent horror films, though the only one I cared for was THE ABANDONED. As for the best films of the year... I'd have to go with THEM, HARD CANDY, and RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR.
On one hand, you could lament this as the year of Rob Zombie's HALLOWEEN remake. On the other hand, you could hail it as the year of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN... which I think worked for many of the same reasons that the original HALLOWEEN worked. Yes, there were a lot of other unnecessary sequels and remakes, but there was also 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, THE ORPHANAGE, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, THEM, [REC], FRONTIERS, INSIDE (easily the most disturbing horror film I've seen in recent memory), and a pair of sadly neglected indies that warmed the cockles of my movie-geek heart: THE SIGNAL and TEETH.
This was the year that I made my documentary and at the time I wished I could have added CLOVERFIELD. Not necessarily because it was the best horror film of the year, but because it was the most talked-about. Two years later, I'd much rather sit down and re-watch THE RUINS, SPLINTER, EDEN LAKE, THE STRANGERS, THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN or even M. Night Shyamalan's hopelessly-panned THE HAPPENING (if only because it reminded me of my fondness for the original DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS). The best film of the year, however, has to be the Swedish vampire film LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.
I must admit that I have some catching up to do... I haven't seen a lot of horror films in the last two years. I saw ZOMBIELAND and DRAG ME TO HELL, which got all the press in 2009. I was equally impressed with GRACE, CARRIERS and - despite all of the vitriolic reviews - JENNIFER'S BODY. Honestly, that's the most fun I've had watching a horror movie in a long time. The popularity of the genre may be waning slightly at the moment, but in my mind it's a never-ending cycle... and I'm fully prepared to celebrate Halloween on any night of the year.