Its been a long, long journey from 1896 to the 2000s.
The early 2000s saw a lot of run off from the 90s, there were sequels to some of the 90s biggest horror hits as well as some original and interesting new movies. But 2001 brought about a real horror that would change cinema… 9/11. After the twin towers fell, the horror film became something ‘dirty’ and there was even a select few people trying to end the production of horror films afterwards. The aftermath of 9/11 impacted all of cinema, but especially the horror genre which fell into a slum for a few years as ticket sales dropped while writers, producers and directors struggled to find a happy middle ground as to what the public would deem acceptable now.
Final Destination (2000): Director James Wong offers a refreshing take on the supernatural horror film. A group of students board a plane to France for a school trip when one of the students, Alex, sees a premonition that the plane will explode shorty after take off. Alex panics and gets taken off the plane along with a few of the other students and one of the teachers. Its soon proven that Alex’s premonition was true and he learns he and the others have cheated death… but death is not very happy about that at all.
If you are scared of flying, then its probably best to avoid this flick. This one was a surprise hit when it was released and went on to become its own successful franchise with multiple sequels. I love the idea of death itself coming for its victims instead of some maniac with a big knife. Some of the kills are really creative too and the film offers more then a few scares along the way… bus scene anyone? The film is great as is its premise, but its just a shame the teenage victims are so cookie-cutter.
Ginger Snaps (2000): Directed by John Fawcett, this interesting twist on the classic Werewolf lore stars Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins. Two sisters who are obsessed with death find their lives drastically change when one of them is bitten by a werewolf.
This one past me by for several years, I didn’t even know the film existed until about 5 years ago. It really is a refreshing take on the classic movie monster. The two leads are amazing and the script they have to work with makes them feel ‘real’ and not like the stereotypical teenagers you’ll find in a lot of these pictures. The werewolf itself looks very similar to the one used in the John Landis classic; An American Werewolf in London (1981). The blood and violence never feels gratuitous, but what is shown is still pretty damn brutal, the opening involving a dog sets the tone. A really great film from start almost to finish. I say almost to finish as I personally found the last 20 odd minutes a bit of a drag and the finale is a disappointment.
28 Days Later (2002): Directed by Danny Boyle comes this zombie film with a difference. Animal activists break into a lab and release several chimpanzees that are being experimented on, a virus the chimps had begins to spread. 28 days later and Jim wakes up from a coma to find he seems to be the only person alive.
The zombie film fell out of favour by the end of the 80s and nobody really made a truly great one for over a decade and then this film was released. But what separates this zombie flick form others is how it tends to focus more on the sparse human characters of the film and not the zombies themselves. Its a well written movie that manages to avoid many of the zombie film clichés we have seen hundreds of times. There is a real feeling of sadness and helplessness all through the film that adds to the atmosphere.
Dog Soldiers (2002): Yet another werewolf movie given a fresh coat of paint, directed by Neil Marshall. A squad of British soldiers are sent on a training mission in the Highlands of Scotland where they find a wounded Special Forces captain and the bloody remains of his team. They seek shelter in a farmhouse where they have to fight for their lives against a pack of ravenous werewolves.
Bloody brilliant, that is all you need to know about this flick. Its gory and intense, all with that British charm that big budget Hollywood movies lack. The effects can be a little ropey at times and the film is far from perfect, but don’t let that put you off. I really enjoy ‘claustrophobic’ movies, ones where most of the action takes place in one simple locale and this one delivers in that regard. In an era of ‘slick teen horror’ films that the late 90s and early 2000s brought, this film offers something more grounded and visceral. The flick is loaded with references to past horror classics too for the horror fan to enjoy spotting. While not a ‘funny’ movie, it never takes it self too seriously either with some memorable and quotable dialogue. A horror film that actually cares about its characters and this shines through in the end as you’ll be genuinely concerned about what happens to these guys.
Freddy vs. Jason (2003): Director Ronny Yu brings together two of horror’s biggest icons. Freddy Krueger has long been forgotten about and the residents of Springwood have moved on. Trapped in Hell, Freddy resurrects Jason Voorhees and tricks him onto killing for him so people will remember Freddy once more. However, Jason becomes uncontrollable and the two horror giants finally clash.
Us horror fans waited years, over a decade in fact, for these two titans of horror film to fight, but was it worth the wait? This film is a mixed bag. It has the bog standard, mundane and cookie-cutter teens that I personally became bored of by the time the 90s came around. It also messes with the lore of the past movies and creates problems that never previously existed… Freddy is scared of fire and Jason is scared of water, since when? The flick just lacks so much heart and sadly becomes a sub-standard slasher picture and tiresome… until the final battle. Freddy and Jason hardly ever meet in this film titled Freddy vs. Jason, but the last fight is simply awesome as both Freddy and Jason are let loose on each other. I think the plot is kind of interesting and definitely far better than other films of this ilk tend to have. The concept of Freddy manipulating Jason is a great one, its just a shame the film is weighed down with a lot of uninspired tat. Worth a watch even if only for that final battle.
Saw (2004): Psychological horror from director James Wan. Two strangers wake up in what appears to be an abandoned bathroom. The two are both chained by their ankles to pipes and are unable to move much. In the middle of the room lies a dead body in a pool of blood. The two men have to work together, while not trusting each other, to escape their shackles and the room as they learn they are part of a sick game set up by an unknown killer.
One of the most tense and refreshing modern horror films ever made… shame about the poor sequels. Still forget about those films as I’m talking about the first film here. Such a minimalist movie with a small but impressive cast. The plot is kept pretty secret for us viewers as it is slowly drip-fed via flashbacks and we can start to piece together this intriguing puzzle. Its a well written picture and another one that requires subsequent viewings to pick up on the subtle clues you may miss first time. Brilliantly constructed and acted and it all ends will one of the most memorable and intense finales in recent years. Love the first film so much and yet detest the sequels and franchise even more so.
Shaun of the Dead (2004): British horror/comedy at its finest. From co-writer/director Edgar Wright and starring co-writer Simon Pegg. Featuring a great cast including; Nick Frost, Kate Ashfiel, Penelope Wilton and Bill Nighy. Shaun is stuck in a dead end job, is having trouble with his girlfriend and spends most of the day slacking off with his best friend, Ed. When his girlfriend dumps him, Shaun and Ed decide to go the pub for a few ales and they wake up the next day to find themselves in the middle of a zombie apocalypse and Shaun along with Ed decide to try and save his loved ones.
This flick is amazing. Just the right blend of horror, comedy and numerous horror references. Much like the overlooked Simon Pegg/Nick Frost/Edgar Wright sitcom, Spaced. You can tell this film is made by fans of the genre who actually care. A brilliant love letter to the works of the grandfather of the zombie film, George A. Romero but injected with a fresh new twist and wonderful British humour. Essentially, this film is a romantic comedy, it just has the unusual setting of a zombie apocalypse as its backdrop. The first part of what became known as ‘The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy’ followed by Hot Fuzz (2007) and The World’s End (2013).
The Call of Cthulhu (2005): Based on the H. P. Lovecraft short story of the same name and directed by Andrew Leman. Following the death of his uncle, a man begins organising his affairs. He stumbles across a series of clues that point toward an ancient horror lurking beneath the sea.
Brilliantly shot in the style of a 1920s silent film, this could possibly be the best movie adaption of a H. P. Lovecraft story. Even the acting has been nailed to fit the style and often feels stilted and over exaggerated as actors often were in the silent era. The film’s (few) flaws actually work as a plus and all add to the overall concept of a 1920s silent film. Well worth checking out of you love H. P. Lovecraft and the silent horror films of the 1920s.
Wolf Creek (2005): Written, co-produced and directed by Greg McLean. Starring John Jarratt, this film is ‘inspired’ by real,life killers Ivan Milat and Bradley Murdoch. Three eager backpackers explore the Australian Outback and become stranded at Wolf Creek. They are rescued by a bushman named Mick who offers them a helping hand and much more.
This movie is a very, painfully slow starter… and I love it. The very slow first half allows us to get to know the three main characters, so by the time the second half and carnage begins, we actually feel for the victims. The cinematography is beautiful and really shows off the amazing backdrop of the Australian Outback, this also works as a great juxtaposition for when we finally enter the world of Mick. Its a very tense and taught film and it manages to avoid a lot of horror movie clichés. Oh and John Jarratt’s Mick is one of the greatest modern horror villains created in recent years.
Grindhouse (2007): Two films in one from writer/directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof is a 70s inspired ‘slasher’ flick where the killer uses a specially adapted stunt car to murder his victims. While Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror is inspired by the zombie films of the 80s when an experimental bio-nerve gas is accidentally released turning a small town into a backdrop for a zombie apocalypse.
An experience of a movie. A love letter to the grindhouse cinemas of the 70s and 80s that would show exploitation flicks often as double features. While the films were later released in a slightly extended cut and both separately. If you want to feel the experience as it was meant to be, then you need to watch Grindhouse in its original cut complete with faux trailers. This isn’t high brow cinema, this is dirty, grimy and glorious too.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007): Directed by Tim Burton, an adaption of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s stage musical of the same name. Starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Alan Rickman. Corrupt Judge Turpin frames local barber, Benjamin Barker of a crime he didn’t commit. Fifteen years later and Barker returns to extract his revenge but now taking on the persona of Sweeney Todd.
A musical horror film… why not? Tim Burton’s directing is always at its best when he’s dealing with the dark and Gothic, this film delivers on both accounts. If you don’t like musicals, then you’ll not enjoy this flick, I personally found the film to be a much needed breath of fresh air in the stagnant mid 2000 horror film scene. Depp is amazing as Todd and is both scary and charismatic. The music, is taken directly from the stage play but slightly adapted. The film is not shy with the blood either and the whole movie feels very Hammer Horror from when they were in their heyday.
Drag Me to Hell (2009): Director Sam Raimi returns to his roots with this horror film. Christine Brown works as a loans officer at a bank where she has her eyes on a promotion. But she is worried that her boss thinks she is weak willed when it comes to turning down loan applications. When Mrs. Ganush, a lonely old woman who faces foreclosure and the loss of her house applies for a loan, Christine rejects it. Mrs. Ganush then places a curse on Christine.
Very tongue in cheek and a horror film that also offers that very specific Sam Raimi humour. Its loud, brash, humorous and scary all at the same time. The PG-13 rating put me off for a while, you can’t have a good PG-13 horror film… but I was happily proven wrong with this one as this offers plenty of shocks and scares. This is a B-movie, but one done with a clear passion and respect.
The ABCs of Death (2012): A modern twist on the horror anthology sub-genre. 26 different short films, each by different directors spanning fifteen countries, based on the letters of the alphabet.
This film will not be for everyone. In fact there is quite a lot about it that I do not like myself. But this is a very intriguing concept and I do love the horror anthology idea too. The trouble with this film that there are a few great stories here, but there is also a hell of a lot of utter crap too. 26 very different short films from 26 very different directors and they all have their own style and tone. Its hard to tell a good story in a short amount of time, and this is the film’s main failing as the stories are too short to really engage the viewer. Plus as there are 26 of them, sadly there is more crap then good in the overall grand scheme. But the flick is worth watching once. There was also a sequel ABCs of Death 2 (2014), but I never bothered to watch it.
The Woman in Black (2012): Starring Daniel Radcliffe and directed by James Watkins, this is a remake of The Woman in Black (1989). A solicitor, Arthur Kipps is grieving the loss of his wife who died giving birth to their son Joseph. Arthur is sent to the village of Cryphon to review the personal papers of the deceased Mrs. Drablow. Arthur soon learns that the residents of the village are none to happy about his arrival.
Released by Hammer Films, yes THE Hammer Films. This one is a not only a brilliant remake, but also proof there is still life in the classic bygone age of horror films. The cinematography and directing is wonderful and the set design is both gorgeous and foreboding. Creepy and atmospheric, the picture oozes a Gothic style sadly underused in horror films today. If it was not for the HD cameras being used, you could easily mistake this for a haunted house film from the 1960’/70s, and that is a good thing.
Bad Milo! (2013): Directed by Jacob Vaughan. Duncan is an average, every day kind of guy working a regular, boring office job. Whenever he feels stress, he gets pains in his stomach and these pains reveal themselves to be a devilish little creature called Milo that Duncan ‘gives birth’ to.
Well this is a strange one. Very similar in tone to the cheap and nasty monster movies like Basket Case (1982). This is crude, bloody and very immature… but then it also has a softer side and even gets a little emotional too. You even start to feel a sorry for Milo as he and Duncan build a twisted father/son relationship. The movie is absurd and weirdly moving at the same time.
Mahi va gorbeh (2013): AKA Fish & Cat. An Iranian horror film directed by Shahram Mokri. A small group students travel to the Caspian region to participate in a kite-flying event. They set up camp near a local restaurant and things get strange.
Right from the off, I have to say that this film suffers for a few pointless and slow scenes that in the grand scheme mean nothing and offer little. But the film as an overall piece is utterly fascinating, playing around with the perception of time and more specifically, time loops. I quite honestly think this concept and they way it has been brilliantly captured on screen by director Shahram Mokri is a little too good for a horror movie. There is a mystery to be unravelled in this picture and that is pretty much all I want to say about it over fear of stumbling into spoilers. Never heard of this film? A lot of people haven’t, but it is well worth checking out as the plot will keep you captivated and riveted to your seat from the ominous start right to the shockingly beautiful ending. A true masterpiece in direction and camerawork.
Well I think I’ll end my Halloween celebration and very long pilgrimage from the very first horror film to modern day-ish. As you have probably noticed, I skipped a few years in the 2000s and offered nothing of the last 3 years. Mainly because I feel the horror film has been lacking for well over a decade now. For me, the pinnacle of horror films was the 70s and 80s. Now I’m not trying to say there are no good horror films anymore, as there are. But sadly they are few and far between and hard to find in a sea of the mundane horror film that the genre has now become. Besides, after Mahi va gorbeh/Fish & Cat, I honesty couldn’t find anything else that even comes close to its excellence, so I may as well end it right there.
And yes, I am aware I failed to mention dozens upon dozens of other great horror films, classics and modern. But this list was already way too long as it is and I already covered over a century of horror films, what do you want from me, blood? Besides, there is always next year…
This whole multi part article has been a great labour of love for me. I aimed to highlight some of the obvious and famous horror films out there, but also hopefully turn the spotlight on a few lesser known and less obvious titles too. I think I achieved just that. So close the curtains, turn off the lights and sit back to watch a few scary films this Halloween season.
There really is not much more to add other than…