Horror 2.0 : A Decade of Horror Movies Part 1

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As 2010 ushers in a new decade in Horror, I felt it an appropriate time to briefly look back at the past ten years.  After the slasher pits of the 80's and their many in-carve-nations had been mined to death, the mainstream popularity of Horror suffered a notable decline.  In fact, up until the success of 1996's Scream,the studios had practically given up on the marketability of the genre in the changing climates. 

The films that did see the light of projection were usually parodic or self-referencing, fusing scares with irony and humor.  As the decade ground to a close Horror was still trying to reconnect with its audience, both young and old.  The 2000's, thankfully, would bring the focus back to more graphic and personal horrors.  In addition, the period would see a number of new franchises develop; remakes would be in high fashion: from beloved classics to foreign market makeovers; the term “torture porn” would rear its ugly head; and, most notably, a new wave of French Horror would bring danger back to the genre with smart films assaulting both the flesh and psyche.  Let’s take a look back at some of the highlights, shall we?

2000.  The Final Destination franchise would begin a popular run inspiring three sequels over time.  The films are short on characterization and long on inventive death scenes making them a favored go-to for new millennium gore-hounds.  The Ginger Snaps series would also debut.  Using lycanthropy as a clever metaphor for puberty, it easily achieves what the similar Jennifer’s Body failed to accomplish years later - being intelligent, earnest in performance and thoroughly enjoyable.  Mary Harron would bring what some considered to be Bret Easton Ellis’s unfilmable satirical thriller-cum-horror, American Psycho, to the screen.  Christian Bale crafts one of the most effective and self aware performances in mad-mannerisms, instantly making it a modern cult classic.  Two imports would make their presence known as well.  Versus, from Japan, blended zombies, the Yakuza and over the top action into a mindless romp full of spirited moments despite its budgetary limits; while Baise-moi, an explicit rape-revenger from France, stirred intense scrutiny for its shocking blend of violence and unsimulated sex.

2001.  Actor Bill Paxton would extend his resume to include directing in his chilling debut feature, Frailty.  Paxton excels both behind and in front of the camera with help from everyone's favorite naked bongo player, Matthew McConaughey.  Religious extremism never fails to disturb me and Frailty only enforced my strong faith in that notion.  Brad Anderson's Session 9 would find David (the future's so trite I gotta wear shades) Caruso and some co-workers removing asbestos in an abandoned mental hospital.  The threat of madness, however, proves much harder for the crew to eliminate.  Jeepers Creepers managed formulaic but commendable chills and now finds a third entry in the development stages.  Two supernatural subjects would haunt the masses.  Spanish directors Alejandro Amenábar and Guillermo del Toro weighed in with The Others and The Devil's Backbone, respectively.  Proof that well crafted and atmospheric spook shows never go out of style.  Fred Vogel unfortunately predicts the "torture-porn" trend with his first bit of low budget misogyny August Underground; an endurance test in design and delivery.  Two off-shoots would later beg additional condemnation.  Trouble Every Day and Brotherhood Of The Wolf hinted further at the dark waters ebbing from the French Republic.  Toward the tail-end of the decade enthusiasts such as myself found a good many of these French-fried forays breathing new life into the genre. 

2002.  Horror found itself becoming distinctly contagious by '02.  Danny Boyle's viral terror 28 Days Later infused the zombie mythos with fresh blood.  Romero's lumbering ilk hold nothing on Boyle's rapidly moving revenants in this edgy post-apocalyptic nightmare.  Papa Bear himself was originally signed on to bring the survival game Resident Evil and its perils to the screen, but in the end the task was given to Paul Anderson.  Fittingly as superficial as its source, however, the film was entertaining and turned a handsome profit spawning several supplements.  Eli Roth's Cabin Fever would take a far less serious approach the same year with his own "infectious" (if you will) debut.  Pancakes, anyone?  Richard Gere took us along for a gripping bit of frightful foreshadowing based loosely on actual events in The Mothman Prophecies.  Character study May would take psychological horror down her unorthodox path and the energetic Dog Soldiers gave wolf-fans something to sink the canines into.  The French were on the fringe again with Irreversible, Gaspar Noé's dramatic tale of revenge, which garnered controversy over its extremely graphic content.  Elsewhere, Gore Verbinski stepped into The Ring and achieved the improbable - actually improving on the original film. One of the first and arguably best of many Asian adaptations promptly offered up to English audiences posthaste.

2003.  Rob Zombie's colorful debut House Of 1,000 Corpses would finally see release after being held up for several years.  Sid Haig, as Capt. Spaulding, presides over the fiendish festivities which combine to make a visually robust circus tent revival of many horror clichés.  Wrong Turn, also immersed in very familiar territory, somehow out maneuvered familiar trappings to become a favorable diversion from the beaten path.  James Mangold offered a neat little pretzel of a plot accented by a fine ensemble cast with the whodunit Identity.  Kate Beckinsale got thrown into bed with warring clans in Underworld.  Far more entertaining than it had any right to be: vampires, werewolves and warriors, oh my!  Follow-ups underwhelmed.  Undead, a quirky Z(ombie)-grader from Australia, was a surprise in foreign fare; while Haute Tension would finally break the dam over in France and have us swimming in the grue of their "new wave".  Meanwhile, in Korea, A Tale Of Two Sisters and Oldboy had us paying attention to the fine print, if you get my double meaning.  In the underground, Jim Van Bebber's highly ambitious nickel and dimer The Manson Family would finally be released from obscurity's prison to creepy crawl into our living rooms.  Groovy.

2004.  We came, we Saw, we sequel.  Yes, 2004 would introduce us to a new icon named Jigsaw, catapulting the most lucrative franchise in the genre so far.  Say what you will for the series as a whole, the first film remains a well orchestrated bit of depravity influencing an entire sub-genre soon to be coined "torture-porn".  Whatever.  In other news: most self-respecting zombie fans were deadset (eh) against remaking the unholy grail that is George Romero's Dawn Of The Dead, but Zach Snyder got the job done better than anyone could have expected.  Consequently, his life was spared.  Walking dead worshipers also found much to like in Edgar Wright's Shaun Of The Dead.  This British bombast skewered its zombies with an inspired mix of hilarity and hemoglobin to fast make it a critical and commercial success.  The Grudge would retool Ringu derivative Ju-on to become one of the most profitable horror films of the year.  Not as effective as its antecedent, but it had many an ass jumping out of its seat nevertheless.  Special nods I'd give to the eerie period piece Dead Birds, the sleeper creeper of the year if forced to call it.

So how am I doing so far?  What films garnered your interest during this time?  Give me hell for not including them if you like, trust me, I can take it.  Please stay tuned for the second half of my decade in review which (among other things) lands Romero back among the dead; Argento continuing his mother of a trilogy; Raimi causing a ruckus; the contentious ribbon cutting of the "torture-porn" craze; and - for better or worse - more sequels and remakes.  Till next time.

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