In addition to the usual reviews and comments you would find on a horror movie blog, this is also a document of the wonderfully vast horror movie section of the video store I worked at in my youth.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Bloody Best Of The 00's.

Since there were only a handful of movie websites in 1999 – or at least in relation to how many we have ten years later – having to put together a best of the decade list is a new thing for most bloggers. At first, it seemed like a daunting task. I mean, coming up with titles for the year is sometimes tricky enough, but A DECADE?! However, when I actually sat down and thought about it, I realized something. I'd already written two articles – Ten Great Modern Horror Films & Fave Horror Films By Year – that pretty much made up a comprehensive short list. The heavy lifting was already done and all I had to do now was weed them down to a discriminate few.

Before I get to that list, I want to talk about the many trends that made up this decade's horror. At the beginning of the aughts, Asian horror was really coming into its own after late nineties titles like Audition and quintessential fright film Ringu. The first five years of the 2000's saw Asian horror flourish, until petering out due to over saturation and countless Hollywood remakes. In our neck of the woods, this decade saw the appearance of two main trends. The first was a throwback to the American classics of the seventies, which was spearheaded by those who grew up watching the works of Carpenter, Craven and Hooper to become filmmakers themselves. These men included the likes of Rob Zombie & Eli Roth among others. This style is what eventually bled into a nastier group of films known as, for lack of a better term as I've never been a fan of the phrase, torture porn. Direct-to-video companies are still pumping these out, but its mainstream appeal fizzled around the release of the abominable Captivity. Probably the most consistent trend that the aughts birthed was the French new wave. These films were gory, vicious and often nihilistic, but also extremely atmospheric and at times even, dare I say, artistic? Unfortunately, something that burns that strongly can only sustain itself for so long and after 2008's Martyrs, there really wasn't anywhere else for them to go. Zombies were as popular as ever and ran the gamut from comedic titles like Zombieland to the deadly serious 28 Later films. George A. Romero, seemingly trying to make up for the gap he left in the nineties, gave us three – Land, Diary & Survival Of The Dead. I guess the only fad left to mention is that the documentary cinema vérité style – popularized by the Blair Witch Project in 1999 though pioneered by earlier genre films like Cannibal Holocaust & Man Bites Dog – made a comeback in the latter years of the decade, in movies such as Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity. So, where do we go from here? Well, judging from the state of affairs right now, I'd say the torch is currently being carried by the Spaniards and the Brits.

Okay, so let's get onto this list. I've talked about most of these films at length before, so I tried not to just repeat myself wherever possible. Ranking them would have been too difficult, so I've just listed them in order of release.

Ginger Snaps
2000, Canada. Dir: John Fawcett
The werewolf genre got a much needed bite in the leg in 2000. It is movies like this, that make me proud to be Canadian. The strength of this movie is the interaction between the two Fitzgerald sisters Ginger (Katherine Isabelle) & Brigitte (Emily Perkins), who make a wonderfully morose pair. Ginger Snaps was also made before filmmakers started increasingly relying on visual effects for their creatures, so the practical designs in this (and its two sequels) are awesome. This was the best werewolf dark comedy to come along since American Werewolf In London.

Session 9
2001, USA. Dir: Brad Anderson
This film is one I always come back to when talking about great modern horror films. The thick atmosphere and eerie location – which actually exists in Massachusetts and was pretty much how it was in the film – recall The Shining and the cast including Peter Mullan and David Caruso is solid. That's how you know what a good director Anderson must be if he can get a good performance out of 'Mr. Miami' himself. What really puts this movie over the edge are the therapy session tapes that Steve Gevedon's character discovers. Not only are they a clever way to relay information, but the sound design of said tapes will stick with you for ages.

The Devil's Backbone
2001, Spain. Dir: Guillermo del Toro
Del Toro best explained this movie during his intro at the 2001 TIFF screening. 'This is not a ghost story, but more of a story with a ghost in it'. The brother film to his later fantasy-tinged Pan's Labyrinth, Backbone is far simpler, but just as impactful. The solid storytelling and understated visual effects mesh perfectly to give us a wonderful little mystery. Del Toro is able to somehow balance his small character driven pieces with his big budget projects seamlessly.

The Eye
2002, Hong Kong/Thailand. Dir: Danny & Oxide Pang
Out of the plethora of fantastic Asian titles this decade, this is the one that comes out on top for me. It has many memorable set pieces and also fits together as a story better than say, Ju-on, which I also love. It is one of the best instances of how smashing sound design can really enhance your film. Like Ringu, I sought this one out online, so I didn't have to wait for it to be released domestically. The Pang's have struggled since then to find the brilliance they captured in this film, but here's hoping they've got at least one more monster in them.

High Tension
2003, France. Dir: Alexandre Aja
This one may be a little controversial, but to hell with it. I adore this film. I love the amazing cinematography, the visceral gore and the screeching score. You may wonder why I chose this over Inside and the answer comes down to watchability. I have viewed Tension countless times, where Inside I generally only put on for people who haven't seen it, just to see their reactions. If we were judging the first two acts side by side, then yes I'd probably go with Inside, but I've never been crazy about its conclusion, whereas Tension's – as audience splitting as it may be – never bothered me. Plus, there is the fact – and I may have told this story before – that I basically spent two hundred dollars (fourty on a Region 2 DVD and one-sixty on an all-region player) because I wanted so badly to watch it again after its Toronto screening in 2003. That's love, boys and girls.

Shaun Of The Dead
2004, UK. Dir: Edgar Wright
Edgar Wright splattered his love of zombie films across the screen in 2004. His self proclaimed zom-rom-com was embraced by horror fans the world over and immediately became undead canon. When dealing with filmmakers that are also clearly fans, they sometimes have a tendency to over reference the films that inspired them, i.e. The Dead Hate The Living! However, Wright is so devilishly clever that when he does it, it elicits laughter rather than groans. Simon Pegg & Nick Frost make an awesome duo and are the heart of the film. It's no wonder they came back for seconds in Wright's 2007 jab at the action flick, Hot Fuzz. The strong supporting cast of Kate Ashflield, Bill Nighy & Penelope Wilton make this piece come together like peanut butter and jam - or should I say tea and crumpets?

Open Water
2004, USA. Dir: Chris Kentis
This is a film that I just don't think gets enough credit. Watching this was probably my most terrifying experience in a theater this decade. Being deathly afraid of sharks, this movie was my worst nightmare realized. Just thinking about that scenario makes every muscle in my body tense up. Open Water is guerrilla filmmaking at its best. Shot on weekends for almost no money with two actors (Blanchard Ryan & Daniel Travis) who were crazy enough to put themselves at risk, the filmmakers came up with this incredibly taut little thriller.

The Descent
2005, UK. Dir: Neil Marshall
If I had to choose a number one horror film of the decade, it would likely be this one. Neil Marshall was already on the radar of horror fans after his 2002 debut Dog Soldiers, but NOBODY could have expected this. This powerhouse of a film hits you on two fronts. First, there is the stifling claustrophobia of the cave location and then there are the deadly creatures that lie within it. This movie was a revelation when I saw it back in 2006. It's scary, gory and never lets up once the protagonists go down the rabbit hole. It is the one film you can unanimously point to if anyone says that no one makes good horror films anymore.

2007, Spain. Dir: Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza
I could just watch this film over and over again. At less than eighty minutes, this movie blazes through the setup and gets right to it. Even though it is shot in that bothersome shaky-cam style, I still marvel at how technically adept the filmmakers are to make sure you always see what you need to in all the chaos. [REC] has some of the most well thought out fright set pieces I've seen in years and is likely the best at making you feel like you are actually there, fending off the growing zombie onslaught. And kudos to actress Manuela Velasco for managing to maintain that same level of intensity once the shit hits the fan.

The Orphanage
2007, Spain. Dir: Juan Antonio Bayona
As far as I'm concerned this is how ghost stories are supposed to be made. This movie is beautiful to look at, wonderfully acted and a home run in every way. The Orphanage has given me some of the most striking visuals of the decade. Without Tomás, I would have had no Halloween costume this year. I swear, that one-two-three-knock-on-the-wall sequence gets me shivered every time. It always amazes me how it is able to be unbelievably dark one scene and then turn on a dime and be quite touching. The fact that is the third Spanish film on this list, goes to show they are doing something right.

Let The Right One In
2008, Sweden. Dir: Tomas Alfredson
This film seems a little out of place next to the majority of nasty titles on this list. This gorgeous film is part coming-of-age-story, part art-house flick. There are so many shots that I wish I could just capture and hang up on my wall. Let The Right One In has this level of sincerity that deeply resonated with me. Having been continually bullied myself as a child, I can only wish I had someone like Eli to help me out back then. The performances of the two leads Kåre Hedebrant & Lina Leandersson are really something special, as there's a subtle awkwardness there that you just can't manufacture. It's a film that, even with the high praise it had before it made its way to a theater near me, still lived up to every expectation.

There's the list, but I feel there are some other titles I should mention, as well.

I wrestled with putting Hard Candy on there, because I think its one hell of a film, but I did use the phrase discriminate few earlier. I almost left Shaun Of The Dead off as well, but in the interest of continuity – I couldn't very put Open Water on there when I said Shaun was my fave horror of 2004 could I? - I had to tack it on. Eleven is an odd number, but what the hell.

Gaspar Noe's 2002 cinematic hand grenade Irreversible isn't a horror film per say, but it certainly is horrifying. It is first on my list of traumatizing film going experiences and one I've never been able to revisit. That's a shame because I think it's a brilliant film. It's the equivalent of standing in front of a piece of art while the creator is there next to you, constantly punching you in the kidney. You have to ask yourself if it is really worth it.

Oh, and though it doesn't really qualify for this particular list, I'd say that the film that MOST rocked my world and immediately became indoctrinated into my lexicon of cool this decade was Kinji Fukasaku's Battle Royale. I LOVE THIS MOVIE!

Now, I know what you're thinking. With every best list comes a worst list, right? Well, it's the holidays, let's not focus on the negative cough cough feardotcomcaptivitymadcowgirlblairwitch2 cough... Excuse me! That was one massive frog.

Okay, I think I'm done here. I wonder what the next decade holds in store for us. Who's going to step up and save us from the mediocrity of Platinum Dunes? I know you're out there, so please step forward.


Anonymous said...

I think it's really funny how you make a blog and act like people will care what you think about movies. I'm amazed you put all that work into typing out that whole page and I'm the only one that's commented hahaha. You need a new hobby bro.

Jay Clarke said...

I beg to differ "bro". You're my first troll, so that must mean I'm moving up in the world.

Anonymous said...

I'm also the first person to comment, and I'll I've got are negative comments.

Anonymous said...

No one cares, stop taking up space on the internet

Anonymous said...

I think you'd benefit more from a social life