Sunday, February 28, 2010

The most important Horror films of the past decade

The other night, a young friend of mine asked me to recommend some good recent movies to watch… something scary, of course. I immediately started to think of some of the movies in my own collection, but quickly realized that I didn’t really understand what she probably meant by “recent”; within the past year, past five, or past ten? Domestic, or are we including foreign? It was then that I realized this last decade came to a close and it was one HECK of a decade for horror. On all fronts, the entire genre got a huge boost in the arm with some massively successful franchise films and inspired film making. The internet played a big part in spreading the “word of mouth” success for many films that used to only trade hands at conventions and cult screenings.

Now, the truth of the matter is that while I do maintain a certain degree of arrogance in my knowledge of the horror genre, I also maintain a reasonable sense of reality and my tastes are not really the same as everyone else. If I were to create a “top ten” list, I’d doubtless run into one person or another throwing out a few gems that should have hit my list but didn’t… and while I have substantial bits of information at my fingertips, I’m too lazy to spend a lot of time on research. So what you’re going to get from me are a list of the movies that most stick out to me over the past decade… the ones that really made me sit up and pay attention. They’re not even my favorite movies by a long shot. But I do think they’re the most important films in the past decade or so.

5: The Ring:

I saw the Japanese version before the American was adapted for a Western audience. It was a long, slow, tedious build to one of the best and most frightening visuals in recent years as a long haired, soaking wet, young girl would crawl out of the television set to kill her victims and set their bodies in a rictus state of terrified fear. It was the western introduction to J-Horror by way of roughly a dozen remakes from the Land of the Rising Sun, each movie featuring it’s very own “Hair Ghost” and technological means of haunting. And as audiences grew bored with the same visual effects, plotlines, and imagery being recycled over and over again they sought inspiration from other foreign sources. We discovered the burgeoning French Horror market and re-emergence of Spanish Horror. With the help of new technological advancements, the foreign film market was becoming much more available to meet alternative demands of the Western market.

4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake

It’s not a film I hold a lot of affection for, but I can’t deny the impact this film had on the genre over the past decade. Its success suddenly paved the road for other remakes, and additional sequels to these films that would wind up taking their respective franchise stories in different directions. In addition to the remakes, we also had the “Retro” trend… current movies based on a retro formula from another era. Rob Zombie cashed in with House of 1000 Corpses and his “Devils Rejects” follow-up, while both Tarantino and Rodriguez teamed up to bring us “Grindhouse”. The whole “Retro” trend also inspired several DVD distributors to pick up cheap prints of public domain films, bundle them up in packages for a quick buck or, in some cases, purchase distribution rights to cult classics and give them a whole digital re-master with tons of special features.

3. Cabin Fever

Eli Roth also hit the scene with this little “cabin in the woods” feature, a movie that touched on current events and fears by developing a horrible flesh eating virus as the films main antagonist. The violent reactions to the virus from the films cast of characters were a horrible mirror to the panic and paranoia inspired by SARS, anthrax, and various other chemical weapons fears in the wake of 9/11. Roth’s films would continue to explore the fears and paranoia’s in a charged political climate over the next several years. His success also spawned a lot of first-time directors to get funding for their own little projects. Adam Green, Neil Marshall, and various other genre favorites were able to make the movies they always wanted to. Hatchet never saw much in the way of theatrical support, but Anchor Bay continues to hold this film up as its biggest money maker in DVD sales. These huge successes proved the viability for completely original films, with DVD genre films cutting out a huge chunk of the genre market in the past ten years.

2. Zombie Mania!!! Too many films to list!

Zombie films made a huge comeback this decade. First we had the Resident Evil franchise, 28 Days Later, a few Romero remakes and two returns, and sequels to the most successful franchises. Shaun of the Dead started the whole “zomedy” trend that spawned Zombie Strippers, Zombieland, and on and on. The huge market success of zombies even made it as far as video games, books, comics, fashion, and various media outlets. Zombies were cool and accepted, up to the point of a virulent spread of Zombie Walks throughout the world. Although they were all inspired by “Night of the Living Dead”, the truth is that zombie films only found a recent re-emergence after the success of a number of different films. We can’t really pin the success for the whole sub-genre on any one particular film in this case so you might as well take your own pick on this one. I’ll say it’s a toss up between “28 Days Later” and “Shaun of the Dead”.


The most important horror film in the past decade has already seen six sequels with a seventh on the way. It’s unabashed treatment of bloody effects, morality, and a reworking of the Slasher premise paved the way for other film makers to push the envelope on violence and horror. Jigsaw became an iconic character for a new generation of horror fans everywhere. It gave birth to the controversial sub-genre definition that seemed to carry through the entire decade, with one “torture” film after another and another.

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