Thursday, January 7, 2010

Spooky List: Best Horror of the '00s

Here we are, already one full week into 2010. I'm sure by now the glow of the holidays has faded, resolutions are teetering on the brink of destruction, and reading yet another "Best Of" list is the furthest thing from your mind. Still, the passing of 2009 marks the end of an interesting decade for the genre; consider the trends in horror that abounded in the first ten years of the twenty-first century.

This was the decade in which the term "torture porn" was coined, thanks to a little film called Saw (itself a rather unpalatable riff on Se7en) and its endless stream of sequels and ripoffs. There was also a virtually unrelenting flow of Blair Witch Project-influenced, self-consciously low-budget "handheld camera" flicks, and an absolute glut of remakes, both noteworthy and uninspired (with an unfortunate tendency to skew towards the latter). Still, despite everything, there were some moments of true genius - and, in any event, I think we can all agree that last decade blew the '90s out of the water, no?

Without further ado, here is the Spooky Little Girl list of the Best Horror Films of the '00s, in chronological order according to year of release.

EDITED TO CLARIFY: These films are listed in chronological order, starting with Ginger Snaps because it was released in the year 2000, not because it's my #1 pick for the best horror film of the decade! (In other words, I have not ranked my choices.)

1. Ginger Snaps (2000)
I always love it when horror films are able to take well-worn concepts and successfully put a new spin on them; in this movie, werewolf mythology is conflated with female puberty and menstruation...and it totally works. Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle, as weirdo sisters Brigitte and Ginger (nice pun in the title, there), do a fantastic job of bringing two outsider teen girls to life without making them Hot Topic cliches. Followed by two more films, a sequel and a prequel, both of which are far better than they have any right to be.

2. Session 9 (2001)
I adore anything that deals with haunted and/or abandoned places, and what could be more terrifying than an abandoned mental hospital? Bonus points for filming on location in the Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts! This movie has a great sense of creepy atmosphere, a nice dose of "Whodunit?" tension, and a tasty little twist at the end.

3. The Ring (2002)
This is one of those movies that became so successful - and was so frequently (and poorly) imitated - that it's become a bit shameful to admit to actually liking it. However, if you can put the hype aside, The Ring is actually a very effective modern day ghost story, and perhaps the best American remake of a Japanese horror film. (Yes, I think Sadako's body language was creepier than Samara's, but I prefer this version overall.) Naomi Watts gives an emotionally resonant performance, and who can say they didn't positively ess themselves when poor Amber Tamblyn's terrified, grotesque death face was revealed in flashback? Shudder!

4. May (2002)
Another movie that, like Ginger Snaps, plays with a classic horror trope; this time, it's the Frankenstein theme of creating a perfect human from, ahem, "scrap parts," as it were. Angela Bettis gives a heartbreaking performance as the title character, a lonely, confused young woman who just wants to love and be loved. I firmly believe that she deserved, at the very least, an Oscar nomination for this movie - and probably would have gotten one, if horror wasn't so thoroughly overlooked by Hollywood's heavyhitters. The final scene is frightening, bizarre, sweet and sad.

5. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Combining Romero-esque zombies with pop culture references and zesty British wit, Shaun gets my vote for the funniest horror-comedy of the decade. It's a treat for zombie nuts, but it's not too scary for regular folks, and it's absolutely hilarious, which makes it ideal for watching with a group. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are the best onscreen buddy team in recent memory. (See also: Spaced, Hot Fuzz.)

6. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
This Zack Snyder-directed remake of Romero's zombies-in-a-mall '70s classic manages the impossible: It turns pretty much everything that made the original great on its ear, and it still finds a way to win you over. This Dawn is fast-paced (running zombies!), gory, and over-the-top, and while I wouldn't say it eclipses the original, it's a little zombie masterpiece all its own.

7. The Devil's Rejects (2005)
As mentioned in my controversial review of his H2 sequel, I am a Rob Zombie fan - and, to my mind, this is the best movie he's directed to date. It has such a filthy, unwholesome vibe - a great movie to watch in the dog days of August. If you don't feel like you need to shower afterwards, you weren't paying attention. This may be a sequel of sorts to the also enjoyable (but cinematically inferior) House of 1000 Corpses, but it has a completely different tone that means even detractors of its predecessor should give this one a try. While I enjoyed his Halloween reimagining, Zombie's dusty, renegade redneck aesthetic would have been much better suited to a Texas Chainsaw retread. Probably the best (only?) movie to set a pivotal scene to "Free Bird," in all its nine minute glory.

8. Let the Right One In (2008)
I'm no vampire elitist - I'll pretty much take my bloodsuckers any way I can get 'em - but I have to admit that this stark, moody Swedish import is the best vampire film in recent memory. It's sad, scary, mysterious and poignant, and it leaves a number of questions unanswered, which means it will stay on your mind for days. My heart absolutely ached for Oskar, a shy, angry little boy on the cusp of adolescence, and Eli, the strange vampire he meets and befriends. If you like stories about unsettlingly intense and ambiguous friendships - Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures leaps to mind - this one is for you.

9. Trick 'r Treat (2008)
Yes, I wrote 2008, despite the fact that the above poster has a 2007 release date - and, in fact, most people probably didn't see this Halloweenie gem until it was released to DVD just last year. (I'm going with 2008 because that's the year that's listed on IMDb, so who am I to choose otherwise?) This Creepshow-esque anthology movie hung in Hollywood limbo for years, becoming a near-legendary source of frustration for horror fans until just a few months ago. Fortunately, it was worth the wait. A great October film, highlighting Halloween's creepy, impish spirit, with some gore and a few laughs sprinkled in for good measure. The cinematic equivalent of reaching your hand into a trick-or-treat bag full of candy; you never know what's coming next, but it's probably awesome.

10. The House of the Devil (2009)
Finally, my favorite horror movie of 2009 earns a spot on the list. I've never seen a contemporary horror movie do the early '80s throwback thing quite as flawlessly as Ti West pulls it off here. Everything, from the title sequence to the poster art to the casting of Margot Kidder-esque Jocelin Donahue as the lead is spot-on for the era he invokes. Does a great job of building suspense, and doesn't skimp on the payoff - and I love the final shot.

BONUS: Grindhouse (2007)
Actually a 2-for-1 double feature comprised of Robert Rodriguez's cheeky zombie B-movie Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino's "tough girls vs. eye-patch-wearing psycho" exploitation homage Death Proof, I was conflicted about whether or not this actually counts as a "horror movie," thus my decision to leave it off of the list proper. Still, I couldn't overlook it altogether. Both halves of this double feature were enormously fun, and despite the fact that it took a beating at the box office, this was a movie that demanded to be seen in theaters for the full experience - including the hilarious and awesome faux trailers from Rob Zombie ("Werewolf Women of the SS"), Edgar Wright ("Don't") and Eli Roth ("Thanksgiving"), each of which was worthy of a feature-length film of its own. This tribute to the delicious cinematic trash of the '70s represents the best aspects of '00s horror, paying homage without crossing over into disrespect. Let's hope that, in the next decade, filmmakers continue to look into the past in order to find the way forward.


Belegurth said...

nice list but i prefer another films in top.

^^ that's same

spooky little girl said...

Thanks! Ginger Snaps isn't actually my #1 choice though; I listed my picks according to the year they were released, not according to my preference.

Madame Magnet said...

Ooh, thanks for this list! I haven't seen some of these, so it looks like it's time to update my Netflix queue.

Erin said...

I've given your blog the "Fantastically Frightening" award. Check it out!

merricat said...

Great list!

spooky little girl said...

Thanks so much, Erin!

oducerproducer said...

Good list


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