The Best Horror Films of the 2000s - The Thrilling 8th Circle of Our Ongoing Series From Hell
Drag Me To Hell (c) 2009 Universal Pictures, Ghost House Pictures, Buckaroo Entertainment
I might as well get it over with. I've postponed making some of my best-of the 2000s lists because they are hard. Some genres haven't really created enough memorable pieces of cinema in a whole decade (that I've seen anyway) for a top 10 list. These include action and musicals. I'm worried about the current state of these genres. Most of all, I've been worried about the development of horror. Most of the new horror movies seem to be tedious remakes, unintentionally silly straight-to-DVD stuff.
Actually I had a version of this list published in my other, finnish blog as early as July, 2009. This one is mostly the same list, but with a few changes here and there. As it turns out, there were plenty of horror movies that merit a spot on the top 10. It's just the American horror films that are in trouble, not, for instance, the European ones. Some of the films on this list were films that I hated at first, but came to change my mind.
There still seems to be a nice amount of interesting material to be seen in this genre. Who knows, maybe a year from now, I'll make a sequel. Perhaps this series could appear every Halloween and never stop like the fucking Saw series.
28 Days Later... (2002)
Director: Danny Boyle
The zombie genre gets real innovators very rarely. The first major one since Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Return of the Living Dead (1985) came from Great Britain and created a big pack of lackluster carbon-copies. The oft-copied imagery of the deserted streets of London and the fast-running zombies have popped up in movies since this to boredom. But in Boyle's innovative direction the soon-to-be-cliches work here as well as the virus does on slow people. However, the film wouldn't be anything if the main characters weren't likeable, so that one can care about how they will survive. The sequel has a few great scenes, but mostly it's disappointing.
The Descent (2005)
Director: Neil Marshall
This story about women getting trapped underground works as a horror story addressing such themes as claustrophobia, the fear of the unknown, and the breaking point of one's mind. The setting inside a cave wasn't overused before the film (althogh a number of similar films were released at the same time for some reason...). In the end there's maybe a bit too much shown from the monsters, but the shocking conclusion (of the European cut at least) is more than enough to fix this minr problem. One of the best of the best.
The Devil's Backbone (2001)
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Not all horror should be a total gorefest. Guillermo Del Toro always does better films when working in Spanish and this ghost story with a thick athmosphere one may be his best picture yet. Del Toro uses the Spanish civil war as a backdrop for horrible happenings that don't need to rely in ghosts and other supernatural phenomena. It's much more reasonable to fear people than it is to fear the unknown. The child actors in the film are utilized to create a tension as things are harder to accomplish when you're strong and to create certain innocence which is threatened by violence. The director balances all these ingredients just right.
Drag Me To Hell (2009)
Director: Sam Raimi
Groovy. After dabbling with Spider-Man stories for a while, the homecoming of the Evil Dead -era sam Raimi is more than welcome. The comeback is a fun ride, filled with black humour and suitably disgusting details. The dynamic camerawork isn't quite on par with ED but close enough. Kudos also for the film for making a bank employee suffer at the time when everyone would've sent al the bankers of the world to a fiery hell.
Directors: Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino
Say what you will, the two seperate films of Grindhouse NEED to be seen together. Even though they are completely diffirent in style, athmosphere, seriousness and general awesomeness. Planet Terror features more playing around with the concept and parodying action movies with actually a handful of zombies thrown in. Death Proof is more talky and has a troubled narrative, but Tarantino's script isn't as bad as some people say, and it does contain one of the coolest car chases in history. In fact, both of them are quite close to being action films instead of horror, but I'll let that slip this once. The film's initial idea was perhaps my favorite one of the whole decade. I totally support the point wanting to go back to the cinemas of yesteryear and have some fun with that. How's that high-concept for ya?! The plan works beautifully, with fake trailers and old advertisement clips. This one is more about having fun, than being actually scary or deep, but part of the reasons we love cinema is because of this kind of creative funness, right?
High Tension (Haute Tension)
Director: Alexandre Aja (2004)
Alexander Aja went on to become a go-to guy for making unncessary remakes, although his ones are some of the better ones. Also I'm pretty sure that Piranha 3D will be on my top 10 of this year.
But he truly showed off his talents here with a suitably dark film cementing the ground layer of the French Extremist Horror wave. The tension runs high and the violence is rough as one woman tries to escape a superstrong, unseen assailant and also tries to save her friend from the creature. The incredibly moronic ending almost spoils the film and I'm glad the film has a better english name nowadays than the old one which referred just to this ending. But one can always stop watching the film 20 minutes before the end, for otherwise this is a great piece of work.
Let The Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in, 2008)
Director: Tomas Alfredsson
You might remember this from my list of the best vampire flicks a short while ago. If Roy Andersson directed a vampire movie, this would resemble the result. The swedish show the world yet again how to make a great and gripping genre movie that still maintains the national melancholy and filmmaking style. A 12-year-old bullied child befriends a girl bloodsucker at the dawn of his puberty. Without vampires, this could be just another episode of Eva & Adam. There's also a bit too much about the sub-plots that do go deeper in the film's mythology, but don't exactly serve the main story. But beneath the plot there is a subtex of the living hell that is living in a swedish suburbs. I also like that like Guillermo Del Toro's films, the supernatural can be seen as a defense mecahnism against the true evil of the world. But this makes the ending even more open for debate.
Director: Pascal Laugier
Initially I hated this film, but it deserves to be on this list sheerly because it creates a fucking agonising athmosphere that runs all the way through the film. I must have forgotten that horror films should be scary, hard to watch and distressing. This film makes even the most accustomed gorehounds squirm in their seats. It is intensly memorable, and questions why people watch violent films in the first place better than any Haneke film ever could. But unlike, say Inside, there is a reason for all the sickness in this, and it serves BOTH the story and the athmosphere.
The Orphanage (El Orfanato, 2007)
Director: Juan Antonio Bayona
Another piece of Spanish greatness. An example of how a good director and the correct mood can make a good movie out of even the most used-up ideas like a haunted house. The story about killed children and haunted houses maintains its core mystery to the end and manages to be emotionally crushing to boot. Not to mention audiovisually inventive.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Director: Edgar Wright
This is both a very funny comedy and a very good zombie horror film at the same time. Thus, it is clearly the best comedy-horror film of the recent years. Much like Evil Dead II, people keep forgetting that the film has also scary parts in it. The lovable comedic characters die in the film, and the viewer keeps worrying about them, and have sad moments when they die, so it is not a pure laugh fest. There's excitement here very few horror films manage to create. Even though the zombie part of the film is largely indebted George A. Romero's films, SOTD has more fresh ideas in its relatively short running time than Romero himself had in the whole decade. (I refuse to accept he has directed anything after Land of the Dead - an underrated but still underwhelming film).