Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Horrible 00's, Part Deux

More Best Horror Films of the 2000s – The Cursed Number 15 in our ongoing series that just won't stay dead!

 I'm not often dissatisfied with my list type blog posts, but I did have the feeling that last years Best Horror Films of the 2000s was somewhat lacking. Never to back away from a challenge, I did realize there were a lot of other very fine horror films made in the last decade that deserved to be mentioned.

Tonight, Night Visions Maximum Halloween 3011 kicks off at Helsinki. So, to celebrate that and the upcoming Halloween, let me present to you the further top 10 of recent horror flicks:

[REC] (Spain, 2007)
Directors: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza

Found footage horror flicks would've just be forgotten gimmicks in period pieces such as The Blair Witch Project and Cannibal Holocaust if it weren't for this highly innovative film. A spanish news crew happens to be with the fire departement as they are called in on a block of flats. Some rage-infusing disease is spreading among the inhabitants. Soon the entire area is quarantined, leaving the crew stuck inside the building with blood-thirsty monsters. For a modern zombie film, there isn't any tongue-in-cheek humour, just fighting for survival. This sort of film works best in the cinema, because it allows you to feel dropped in the middle of the critcal situation yourself and start to feel the panic. It's a real roller-coaster ride, fast and unrelentless with scares coming in thick.

To be fair, I saw the film's American remake Quarantine first and I kind of like it more, because it allows us to spend a little more time with the characters before everything goes to hell and doesn't have as clear reason for all of the things to happen. If you haven't seen either one, pick that, but if you've seen [REC] alreaady, don't bother. It recreates most of the film in a shot-by-shot fashion.

American Psycho (USA, 2000)
Director: Mary Harron

Bret Easton Ellis' masterpiece novel of the same name must've been one of the most difficult books ever to turn into a film. The novel's first 150 pages follow the sleazy rich yuppie businessman Patrick Bateman as he goes through business lunches in high-end restaurants with his obscenely rich "friends" who he secretly loathes. Bateman notices all the luxury product brands around him and gets insanely jealous if someone's wearing something more expensive than he is. After excruciatingly long scenes of upper-class assholism, it is revealed that Bateman is also a blood-thirsty psychpath, bent on torturing and killing (especially women) in a most violent way possible.

The film, of course, makes this revealation much sooner. It does feel like a quick run-through of the novel's events, but it does manage to reveal the obscenity of having it all. Christian Bale made his first truly iconic performance as Bateman, a guy who can go from charming to petty to a douchebag to a dangerous lunatic in seconds. The violence is also toned down from the novel, but director Harron allows much of it happen off-screen, making the viewer's imagination make the worst out of the scenes. Bateman's paranoia of getting caught is increased, but really the world around him isn't interested in his blood work, and sees no difference in his victims. The possibility of it all happening inside his head is also open. Like the novel, the film offers no exit when the credits start to roll.

Antichrist (Denmark/Germany/Poland/France/Sweden/Italy, 2009)
Director: Lars von Trier

Leave it to Lars von Trier to transcend genre lines. Horror is what this film mostly resembles, even though it really doesn't belong to any genre. It's just pure Trier. I don't necessarily think this is his very best film (altough a number of reasonable people would also argue so), but at least it is his most raw, most powerful and most shocking work. It is a manifesto of his own depression and the feelings of inadequacy, guilt and gloom, and the dismissal of trying to alnalyze them rationally and cold. See, you get a lot more out of this than your generic slasher flick.

A couple (Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe) have suffered the death of their firstborn child. They were having steamy hot sex while he jumped out the window. Later on, the couple retreats on a distant cabin to find redemption in their devastating feelings. But when the civilized way to look at the thing runs against the sher forces of nature itself, things are bound to get messy.

Trier's symbolism is a little on the nose here, a little inpenetrable there. Like in many of his work, it's impossible to decide whether he's pulling the collective leg of his entire audience. Yet the odd little film is like none other and its devastating athmosphere more horrifying than in any other film of last decade. The film also needs a little time to grow on the viewer. At first viewing I was disappointed in it, but it has grown on me. Mostly because its haunting imagery will never leave the viewer alone.

Eden Lake (United Kingdom, 2008)
Director: James Watkins

Seemingly normal people, not possessed by any kind of demons or rabies etc. are often the most frightening antagonists in horror films. In this film we have teenage hooligans who have been so spoiled that they grow ever more blood-thirsty when they don't get what they want. A young couple (Michael Fassbender and Kelly Reilly) take off to a romantic weekend in the British countryside but run into these sorts of little beasts. Refusing to allow the obnoxious, loud ruffians to spoil their weekend, they resort to threats, which the teens respond ever more harshly. The teens start to dare each other to step over lines, which leads to real brutalities, while the adults respond the same way. Soon both sides have blood on their hands.

The film's subject is handled with some weightm, as the problem isn't solely with the youth, but in their parents' empty lifestyles and disinterest in their doings as well. In this world, the nice die first. The community doesn't care much for the weak and the wounded, but a dog's death brings great sorrow. The movie's violence is really sadistic, but it can also be really pressuring, not just disgusting. The film is also the first annual Night Visions Audience Award Winner.

House of the Devil (USA, 2009)
Director: Ti West

In the 80's, there was a wide-spred scare that Satanic cults thirsting on innocent blood may hide in any neighbourhood without a trace to the outside. Ti West's film works great as a tribute to both that era's panic-driven news items and the good old-fashioned horror films. College student Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) opts to become a babysitter to an odd family living in the middle of nowhere. She and her sassy friend Greta Gerwig (Megan) are no fools and the girls take off to the house together to avoid any psychopath shenanigans. Yet as it turns out, there is foul play going on and the girls are soon separated and scared.

Unlike many other nostalgic horror directors, West hasn't chosen the campiest and silliest aspects of the 70's and 80's to replicate. The setting, the music and clothing do bring back those times, but not in an in-you-face or over-the-top style. Instead, the film is a welcome return of the kind of horror films that play on having a disturbing mood to them and are constantly one-upping the feeling of paranoia shared by the main characters as well as the audience. The film is created with seemingly small resources, as you don't really need more than a small scratch or a moving shadow to scare the audience if it's played right. So good is the first part of the film that the ending is a clear let-down of panicky running around. It's not that bad per se, as the most obvious clichés are avoided, yet still feels too conventional for a movie that started this good. But as a whole, it is a really spine-tingling work that doesn't explain everything in it through and through.

Open Water (USA, 2003)
Director: Chris Kentis

This minimalistic horror film really divided the audiences. I happened to love it. A scuba-diving couple (Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis) are left in the middle of the ocean, when their boat has sailed off. So they just have to float around the ocean, figuring out what there is to do about their situation. And then the sharks come around. When they only need to survive the ordeal, they start to realize how little the daily woes in their rat race life actually matter.

I really like the kind of horror films where the situation is plausible, but you couldn't figure out how you would save yourself in the same situation. This whole scenario scares the living shit out of me, and knowing it's based on actual events makes it all the more horrible. There isn't a single special effect used on this film and its shows in unrelenting realism. Of course, this sort of film is pulled off by the actors and their characters and I must say that I could hope for a little more convincing performances from the main pair. But as a bickering married couple in a jam, blaming each other, they are believable enough. One cares about what's going to happen to them. The stylish ending doesn't spell it out for us viewers, altough there really was no escape at any point anyway.

The Others (USA(Spain/France/Italy 2001)
Director: Alejandro Amenábar

Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman) lives with her two children, who are sensitive to light, in a large mantion. The Second World War is about to end and Grace is waiting for her husband to return home from the front. He has strict rules for her children, in fear that they hurt themselves by coming in contact with the sunlight. But it seems the house is also inhabitetd by malicious others, who attempt to break those rules, apparently to drive the family out.

The Others is easy to dismiss on these sorts of lists because the sort of filmmaking it represents was farmed to death in the early 2000s and seems like it has run  its course by now. But nevertheless it is a powerful piece of cinema that left an impression me on the only time I've seen it. It is spooky and its mysteriousness tingles the imagination.

Shadow of the Vampire (USA/UK/Luxembourg 2000)
Director: E. Elias Merhige

Horror films are often about other horror films. But rarely do they go as far into that field as here. This is seemingly a drama about the time F.W. Murnau (John Malkovich) shot his classic silent horror film Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des grauens (1922). Murnau is a true perfectionist, wanting to create the ultimate horror film. That's why he has hired Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe) in the lead role. Schreck is, after all, an actual vampire. The death and disappearance of multiple crew members doesn't worry Murnau at all, as long as he gets everything he wants on film. But what to do when Schreck sets his eyes on the lead actress when there is still a lot of film to be shot?

The film's plot is, of course, utter baloney, as Schreck was already an acclaimed stage actor when he was cast in Murnau's film in the real life. But that hardly matters. What matters is that it's plausible. Schreck's vampire is one of the most terrifying in the history of cinema, because it has been shot so it moves unnaturally. It doesn't matter that his make up looks ridiculous by today's standards. The film does a good job depicting the spiralling madness concerning ambitious cinema auteurs. Malkovich and Dafoe make a good lead pair, almost as much at each other's throats as Kinski and Herzog. The film is actually pretty light on actual horrors, but as a mind game, it is quite swell.

Slither (Canada/USA 2006)
Director: James Gunn

If horror films of the 70's and 80's are hard to emulate on the modern day, even harder are the B-movies of the 1950's. But even that wouldn't be difficult enough for director-screenwriter James Gunn. No, he emulates the kind of outrageous B-movie parodies they had in the 80's (as well as work from such horror maestros as Romero or Carpenter in the 70's and 80's). So the end result's a sort of double-parody. No wonder it tanked at the box office. But that was just the fault of the movie-going public, because Gunn's film is actually both extremely creepy and pretty darn funny.

A meteor hits the outskirts of a small American town. It contains parasitic worms that can take over people or turn them into gruesome monsters. Cool B-list actors such as Nathan Fillion and Elizabeth Banks try to salvage the town from the alien rampage and possible taking over the world. As one can witness from the film's awesome poster, there is a strong sexual sense in the penile aliens, and the R this movie got was well justified. But it works as well to parody the sex-hungriness and boozehoundiness of the American midlands. Of course, this doesn't reach the lofty qualities of Cronenberg's Shivers, which has been a major influence, but it is one of the best horror comedies of the last decade that too few people have actually seen.

Wolf Creek (Australia, 2005)

Director: Greg McLean

Horror genre also likes to play with stupid gimmicks time and time again. It's no wonder the Australian Greg McLean's stripped first feature film was hailed exceptionally good by horror experts around the globe. Seemingly, it's a really back-to-basics horror film. Three young backpackers go on a trip to a middle of nowhere. Their car has trouble. A friendly-seeming stranger offers them help and towes their car to his far-away ranch. You can see how it plays out. But, at the risk of SPOILING the film for those who haven't seen it, the real strength of the film is in the end. McLean refuses to play out to the genre's convictions any more. So whenever we think that a strong, pure heroine is emerging that will survive the whole ordeal, our hopes are shattered. The serial killer Mick Taylor (the wonderful John Jarratt) is so relentless, ruthless and merciless that he will use any chance to off them. People don't do moronic horror movie mistakes in this, they only come unprepared to what Taylor has in his bag. There isn't going to be a purifying catharsis in the end of this film and that's why it feels all the more harrowing.

McLean shoots everything in a matter-of fact way. He doesn't build a threatening athmosphere but rather gives out some magnificent postcard views of the Australian Outback. It doesn't seethe with evil, but all it needs is one apple rotten to the core that can hide very easily in the middle of nowhere.

Bubbling Under: The Devil's Rejects, Dog Soldiers, Hierro, The Human Centipede, Session 9

To Be Seen: Hard Candy, Hatchet, May, A Tale of Two Sisters, Them

Have a Happy Halloween and if you're coming to Night Visions, I'll see you there!


  1. Katsoin tuon Shadow of the Vampiren viikko sitten ja se olikin huiman viihdyttävä! Tosin mulla on heikkous lähes kaikkii elokuviin, missä tehdään elokuvia, joten syy voi olla siinäkin.

    Tuo Eden Lake pitänee kaivaa jostain katsottavaksi...

  2. Kiva saada kommentteja pitkästä aikaa ja hienoa, jos onnistuin herättämään kiinnostusta elokuvia kohtaan.

    Katsoin Eden Laken uusiksi tätä tekstiä varten. Aikanaan se oli minusta OK-tasoa, mutta toisella kertaa sen synkkyys ja lohduttomuus toimi paljon paremmin. Wolf Creekin tavoin siitäkään ei voi sanoa, että se toisi katarttisia aineksia edes loppuunsa. Pahuus elää yhä.

  3. Wolf Creek oli kyllä niin armoton ja lohduton, että mun ja mun kaverin kauhuelokuvailta ei jatkunu sitä pidemmälle...

    Harmittaa kun meillä ei enää töissä ole tuota Eden Lakea. Vuokraajat ei selvästikään tainnut tajuta sen arvoa. Huomenna olisi uusi kauhuleffailta ja elokuvavalintoja ei olla vielä tehty! :D Hmmmm...



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