The Past Decade in Horror, Part 1

By Andreas

It’s list-making time again! The alliteration-loving Marvin the Macabre over at The Montana Mancave Massacre has challenged horror bloggers to name their top 10 horror movies of the past 10 years. So of course, we had to do it. (I came up with a similar list of 20 horror faves from all time periods back in October.) You can expect Ashley’s top 10 sometime soon; in the meantime, here’s mine: ten rewatchable, well-made movies, and the best that recent horror has to offer.

10. Splice (Vincenzo Natali, 2010)

I found a lot to dislike in the bioethical child-rearing allegory Splice: it adopts a lot of horror cliches without taking them anywhere; its writing is only clever in spates; and it goes completely off the rails at the end. But it’s got terrific special effects (especially in the creation of its monster, Dren) and when it’s darkly funny, it really the mark. That, plus its icy blue/green color palette and Adrien Brody’s hotness, sneaks it onto my list at #10.

9. Seed of Chucky (Don Mancini, 2004)

So many slasher sequels of the past decade have been formulaic, low-quality retreads. Hence why Seed of Chucky is such a breath of fresh air: it revels in its franchise’s inherent absurdity, piling meta-jokes and gory self-parody on top of its “killer doll on a rampage” premise. Turning the Child’s Play set-up inside out, Hollywood-style, is oodles of fun—as is seeing Jennifer Tilly finally get her equivalent of Being John Malkovich.

8. Coraline (Henry Selick, 2009)

You can call it “children’s fantasy” all you want; I’m telling you, Coraline is an animated horror movie. The title character’s dream-turned-nightmare constitutes one of the decade’s most imaginative horror landscapes, and there’s no villain quite like the Other Mother, voiced with menacing sweetness by Teri Hatcher. Selick’s fluid stop-motion artistry and Neil Gaiman’s very scary novel turned out to be a match made in horror heaven.

7. Pontypool (Bruce McDonald, 2009)

No zombie movie of the 2000s (and there were a lot of them) had a twist quite as original as Pontypool‘s: here, the vector of disease isn’t saliva or blood, but words. Set in a claustrophobic radio station off in rural Ontario, the film milks all the terror it can out of talk radio call-ins—bleak audio-only testimonies to the increasingly violent havoc outside. The terror is counterbalanced only by the rough, reliable growl of Stephen McHattie, giving a powerful performance as a hotshot DJ trying to keep cool. Semiotic horror: that’s something you don’t see everyday.


6. The Host (Bong Joon-ho, 2006)

This Korean monster movie casts off the genre straitjacket from the very beginning, and fearlessly mixes slapstick, tragedy, and anti-imperialist critique to tell the story of one family’s vendetta against a giant fish monster. Strange, stylish, and spectacular, The Host rewrites the rules of kaiju cinema while playing the audience’s heartstrings like a giant killer harp.

5. [REC] (Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, 2007)

Handheld Blair Witch rip-offs are a dime a dozen these days. Literally: they’re cheap to shoot, and often profitable. (See: Paranormal Activity.) But [REC] takes the caught-on-tape aesthetic into new territory, bringing the audience right into the heart of a quarantined zombie outbreak. It’s ceaselessly visceral and inventive, and introduces reporter Angela Vidal, one of my favorite recent final girls. Few movies beat [REC] when it comes to inducing raw, physical fear. (Not even [REC] 2, though it certainly tried.)

4. May (Lucky McKee, 2002)

I’m not shy about my love of May. I did write 1/4 of my senior thesis about it, after all. It’s a quirky, cute, romantic, gruesome, twisted, bloody, perverse indie horror confection, melding Frankenstein and Repulsion with something Zooey Deschanel might star in. It’s the bittersweet tale of an obsessive, attractive misfit and the lengths she goes to for love. It’s really, really good! Essential viewing if you’re interested in horror of the past decade, or any time.

3. Caché (Michael Haneke, 2005)

For many stupid reasons, art films like Caché that debut at Cannes are rarely seen as authentic horror. But it is! It so is, and it’s one of the eeriest, most disturbing horror movies of the 2000s. It only has a single scene of actual gore, but that’s nothing compared to the lingering unease and uncertainty instilled by the rest of the movie. Who sent those tapes and letters, utterly destroying the Laurent family’s bourgeois comfort? It’s a question that persists after countless gratuitous slasher deaths have faded.

2. 28 Days Later… (Danny Boyle, 2002)

Boyle’s vision of post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested England is an elegy to a vanishing way of life (i.e., humanity). A hardy quartet of survivors make an arduous cross-country trek, punctuated both by bursts of violence and rare moments of beauty. In such a ruined world, 28 Days Later asks, can any altruism or compassion bloom? For all its brutality, it’s an unusually tender horror movie, with stars Cillian Murphy and Naomie Harris doing very subtle, striking work. This is the new millennium’s gold standard of what a zombie movie can look like.

1. Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2008)

Really, what else could top this list? Not a single misstep mars Alfredson’s note-perfect adaptation of John Lindqvist’s young-love vampire novel. Sweet, delicate, and shockingly violent, Let the Right One In is as cool and crystalline as a snowflake. Oskar and Eli’s bizarre relationship is a refuge for two abused outsiders, two kids just trying to make a go of it in this hard world. It’s a theme we can all relate to and, in Alfredson’s gentle hands, it’s also the most beautiful, unforgettable horror movie of the 21st century.

15 Comments

Filed under Cinema

15 responses to “The Past Decade in Horror, Part 1

  1. Nice list, and I must say I can’t fault most of your choices!

    However… Seed of Chucky really wasn’t for me. I really dug Bride of Chucky, but this continuation of the series was just puzzling. I think I just couldn’t get over Pippin voicing a doll… so bizarre.

  2. Oh, also, I really really enjoyed the first half of 28 Days Later…, but it all went very downhill once they got to the army base. I see the point that was trying to be made, but it slowed down what was up to that point a very interesting story. Still, I can see why it is appearing on so many of these lists :)

  3. @Liam: Seed of Chucky is definitely the most out-there, idiosyncratic choice on this list, but I stand by it. Someday I’ll write a full-length post defending it; in the meantime, this will have to do. But I can very much understand disliking or being baffled by it. (And I never registered that it was the “fool of a Took” as Glen/Glenda! The more you know, I guess!)

    As for 28 Days Later…, I absolutely love the army portion of the movie. Eccleston’s great, it’s a disturbingly plausible scenario, and it gives Jim the chance to prove himself with that incredibly bad-ass escape plan. But I can imagine not liking it, especially since it progresses so differently from the rest of the movie up to that point. To each his/her own!

  4. Very nice list. Most of these were in my head as I tried to narrow my list down, and the likes of LTROI and 28 Days Later might have made the list today. As might have Pontypool.

    I’m a little sketchy on Seed of Chucky, too, but I want to see it again.

  5. KC

    I’m with you on Coraline. All stop motion frightens me, but the Other Mother and that whole button eye thing made me especially uneasy. I wish I hadn’t of watched it alone in the middle of the night.

  6. I actually love the army base portion of 28 Day Later. To me it’s the scariest part of the film. It does suffer from a conspicuous lack of zombies, but ti worked for me.

    Andreas, thanks for the awesom list. I’d never been out to your site before, but I love it. The writing is top-notch, and can I help but be turned on by sex toy reviews?

  7. Húni

    hi
    long time reader, really appreciate most of what you post, mostly the film stuff. on to the subject; that’s quite an interesting list, haven’t seen most of these and am gonna try and hunt a few down. but i’m gonna have to take exception with Splice, though to each his/her own as you mentioned.

    i wasn’t sure what to expect as i watched it but i found so many faults with it i almost couldn’t finish it and wished i hadn’t.

    where to begin (there be SPOILERS!)..

    both the “characters” are pretty boring, i’d have a really hard time choosing between the ridiculous faux-Freudian Elsa “i want to be a mother, but not really, oh yes wait i do” Kast or the wimpy Clive “my rock’n’roll t-shirt has more character nevermind backbone than me” Nicoli as to which i disliked more. their boring as fuck conversations were some of the lamest/shallowest “lets move the plot along some, we have an actual plot, right guys?” i’ve had to endure for a long time.

    the illogical step by step decision making of deciding not to have a baby but then splicing some genetic penis looking mutation something with your boyfriends DNA ? what ?

    this one point i’d be surprised if you didn’t pick up on: the speech from Elsa about how mom didn’t let her use makeup/lipstick because it “degraded women”. and then surprise surprise, Elsa gets raped in the end by her genetic what-the-fuck-of-a-thing. silly whore using lipstick, that oughta teach her. she probably wanted it anyway huh ?

    oh yeah, the rampant sexuality thing between the two scientists/parents and their lab creation? the fuck? i guess sometimes these rock’n’roll scientists just gotta get their freak on..

    i’ve got oodles more vent about this flick, more than it’s healthy for me. a more apt name for it would probably be “Adam vs. Eve: Whoever’s first to fuck the snake wins!”.

    my regards
    Húni

  8. Húni

    oh! and i forgot to mention. i’d argue that Pan’s Labyrinth is indeed horror and would be nr.1 on my list for sure.

  9. I’m in the small minority of horror fans who hated, hated, hated every minute of 28 Days Later. I think it’s based on an egregiously stupid premise (the monkeys have been infected with “rage?” How does THAT work?), and I think it turns completely sexist in the end by turning Naomi Harris’s badass into just another girl who needs rescuing by a man (they even put her into that stupid dress)–by a man who just woke up from a coma and turns himself into Rambo, to boot! Man, that movie pissed me off. I thought it looked like mud, too, but I haven’t seen it on video, so maybe it looks better in its natural environment.

    I generally don’t do lists, myself, but some of my own candidates for the 2000s would probably include Frailty, Spider Forest, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, both Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, Rogue, The Descent, and a few other more controversial choices like The Passion of the Christ and Secret Sunshine. And probably some from your list, as well. Certainly Let the Right One In and May.

  10. Whoa, I’m loving these critiques. Where to start…

    Well, first of all, to The Mike, KC, and Marvin: thanks for stopping by and reading! I’m glad you’ve found things to enjoy about this list.

    @Húni: I actually agree with you about most of that, and you’ve written a fantastic review-in-comment-form. Splice is very, very flawed (something I addressed in my review last summer), and I prefer to pretend that those nonsensical, ugly last 15 minutes never happened. It’s like Natali couldn’t figure out a way to wrap up all his themes and plot points so he just threw it to the wind. I included it mainly because it’s stayed with me as an entertaining if ill-advised combination of softcore porn, (unintentional?) comedy, and Frankenstein story. That, and Adrien Brody. Certainly not a must-see like most of the movies on this list.

    @Christianne: I can see where you’re coming from, but (obviously) disagree. Iffy back stories like the monkey virus thing are in just about every zombie movie (how else do you have a zombie movie?), and in the climax [SPOILERS], Selena remains a badass—she’s just rendered temporarily helpless and dressed-up because the soldiers have specifically targeted her and Hannah to be raped. And Jim’s subsequent rescue isn’t at all Rambo-like or overt; it’s him finally using the resourcefulness and desperation he’s learned from Selena to sneak around the base and use the soldiers’ own captive zombie against them. And after the rescue, Jim becomes comatose again, and it’s only because Selena and Hannah are so thoroughly self-sufficient that they’re all able to survive and that he’s able to be saved. So that’s my take on the ending of 28 Days Later, and part of the reason I love it so much.

    Also, great list! Gives me a few I’ve never heard of that I can hunt down now, like Rogue and Spider Forest. Thanks a lot!

    (Fun fact: this was the 1,000th comment on Pussy Goes Grrr. Thanks to everyone for commenting!)

  11. a) Pontypool. Canada and Bruce McDonald and Stephen McHattie (one of the first casualties in A History of Violence) represent!

    b) I like Let Me in better than the original.

    c) Nice list, It’s an acquired taste, but I should check out Splice since critics in my city are into it. Sarah Polley gracing the screen should by considered a national holiday, And its director, Vincenzo Natali, gets a lifetime pass for Cube.

    • a) I was very happy the day I discovered who Stephen McHattie was. He has such a great voice.

      b) I’m obviously on the side of the original, but I can’t fault you for that. As far as horror remakes go, Let Me In is pretty high up!

      c) I also love Sarah Polley—have you seen Last Night? A smorgasbord of Canadian acting talent. She was great in Go, too.

      As a Canadian genre movie fan, you have a lot to be proud of!

      • McHattie: COFFEE! lol.

        And yes! My teen years would not be the same without Last Night. And Sandra Oh is in it, when she was still stereotypically Asian yet cool. And speaking of Sandra Oh, I love how John Cameron Mitchell films have their token Asian-Canadian.

  12. Hard to argue with the #1 choice but I’m curious what you thought of my #2 choice The Descent? Did it come close or are you not a fan?

    • Actually, it came very close and I enjoyed it a lot; I don’t think there’s any arguing (OK, minimal arguing) that it’s one of the scariest, most compelling horror movies of the past decade. The main, maybe only reason it wasn’t on my list is because we tried hard to avoid overlap between Ashley’s list and this one. She was the bigger Descent fan, so it went on hers. Hope that clears up part of my decision making process!

      (For the record, I’m also a pretty big fan of House of the Devil and Inside, but, well, see above.)

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