So we have left the single digits behind us and have entered the tweens of the 21st century. Looking over the past decade of film we can now wonder what it has brought us, where it has left us and where it may lead us.
Where Hollywood, and American film in general, are finally starting to see the cracks in their movie machines, the rest of the world is surging forward to produce the challenging and edgy, the risky films that the over-cautious American investors shy away from in favour of dumbed-down, formulaic, return-guaranteed, mind-numbing drivel.
Hollywood may be filling their coffers, but who is having more fun? And more importantly, which do we derive more pleasure from?
Don’t we yearn for the emotional and physical response that a film like Ichi the Killer, with all it’s clean, highly-polished, extreme gore and Japanese lunacy, provokes? Sure, it may not be for everyone, but at least it prompts discussion, over a pint after the film, reflecting with a few friends and debating. These are things you should be able to do with extreme cinema as well as arthouse.
The noughties saw foreign cinema break new ground and challenge the accepted genres. We can only hope that this trend will continue into the next decade, forcing the hands of the big studios. Promisingly, we have already seen them take note by recruiting up-and-coming, daring talents such as Aja, Del Toro and now Babluani. He is where our list begins…
13 Tzameti – Géla Babluani’s powerful first feature is a noiresque journey into criminal underworld never explored before. Expect edge-of-your-seat, breath-holding tension… and the upcoming Hollywood remake, thankfully written and directed by Babluani.
1408 – 1408 sits comfortably with Pet Cemetery, Carrie and Christine in the Stephen King cannon of viewable films (The Shining stands on it’s own). This is no easy feat considering how many of the King adaptations are dire, unwatchable messes. While 1408 is not a risky film, it’s dark exploration of insanity avoids many of the pitfalls of similar big studio blockbuster type horrors.
28 Days Later – Danny Boyle’s Day of the Triffids-style infection classic helped relaunch and redefine the zombie genre, pulling it away from the tired hands of Romero, while simultaneously paving the way for a new breed of British Horror, one which is bankable and lacking in bouncing breasts and dusty old castles.
30 Days of Night – The battle between the sun and vampires is finally delayed with the long overlooked, yet bleedingly obvious solution of heading to the North Pole during winter. It trades the finely-tailored Victorian suits and suave sexiness of the past 50 years of vampires (excluding Near Dark) for a more ferocious bestial vampire that will truly scare you.
American Psycho – When Mary Harron opened the decade with the self-obsessed and murderous investment banker Patrick Bateman, little did we know how destructive this breed of beast would prove to be in reality. Harron’s second film is a perfect blend of surreal dark humour and deadly passions.
Antichrist – Controversial? Yes. Self-indulgent? Yes. Horror? No. The film explores the descent into madness and coping with loss, all taken to extremes. One of the most haunting films of the decade, this is certainly not for everyone, but is definitely worth seeing. Lars Von Trier has done better but will never out-do this one in terms of controversy.
Audition – Takashi Miike burst onto the international scene with this twisted story of romance gone horribly, terrifyingly wrong. Not his most shocking by far – he would save that for Visitor Q and Ichi the Killer – but one that resonates with people on a much deeper level.
Battle Royale – Following on from Ringu, Japan continued to blow minds in the new millennium by coming up with a new way to deal with teenage delinquency… make them battle it out amongst themselves. A stunning, gripping film.
Call of Cthulhu – HP Lovecraft’s classic tale of the occult is given a very impressive silent treatment. You’ll be amazed when you realise that this is from 2005 and not 1925. No mean accomplishment, and on that alone this film deserves to be applauded.
The Children – Nothing like homicidal children on Christmas to scare the shit out of you. Throughout this film I found myself asking over and over “How did they get the parents to agree to this?!” as the children climbed to new heights of evil and blood-letting, time and time again.
Cloverfield – Kaiju comes to New York City in this cinéma-vérité Hollywood Blockbuster. Nowhere is safe as battles explode above and below ground, leaving 1998 Godzilla remake splashing haplessly in the Hudson. This is how to make a monster film.
Cold Prey/Fritt Vilt – Slasher movies have been hacked to death – an old, tired, tried and true formula it’s hard to add anything new or even make one that is worth the time, but this Norwegian effort marries the isolation of The Shining with the homicidal rage of Michael Myers and comes up trumps.
Colin – Proving that low budget doesn’t equal shit, Colin is another British film helping to redefine the UK’s name on the horror map of the world. You can read my piece on Colin at the Quietus here.
Dead Snow – Two words: Nazi. Zombies. Add to that mix Evil Dead 2-style self awareness and humour and you are onto a winner. And, of course, it never hurts when you throw in a reference to Shock Waves.
The Devil’s Backbone – Guillermo Del Toro’s third feature film is a marvellously creepy ghost tale. I will happily state that this one of the best ghost films of all time, and certainly the best ghost.
The Descent – 2005 was the Year of Spelunking Horror, but none were as primal, dark and claustrophobic as Neil Marshall’s foray into the underground. Sadly the sequel didn’t add anything to the mythos and while a great ride, was nothing exceptional.
Drag Me to Hell – Sam Raimi’s return to his roots? Or just a rehash – nothing more than Evil Dead 4? A disappointing comeback for the man once considered king, but with enough disgusting gross out moments and jump-scares it will keep anyone happy for 100 minutes.
The House of the Devil – Ti West’s slow, brooding period piece, builds suspense to perfection and recalls classics of the past such as Repulsion. This may just be America’s most flawlessly executed horror-suspense film in years and certainly wins the award for some of the best posters of the decade.
Ils/Them – While it influenced American horror The Strangers starring Liv Tyler, this is a much more effective isolation horror leaving the monster a mystery as long as possible. From the jump-scare in the beginning through to the, albeit slightly obvious, conclusion, Ils is a winner.
Let the Right One In – Nothing more can be said about about Let the Right One In that has not been said before. My review of it for the Quietus can be read here.
Machine Girl – A not-to-be-missed, mental bloodfest: geysers of blood, insane characters and surreal deaths abound. Best viewed pissed and followed up by a healthy helping of Tokyo Gore Police. Jaw-dropping Japanese insanity.
The Orphanage – Del Toro produced this Spanish ghost film and while his mark is all over it, the real master of the beauty and terror in the film, director Juan Antonio Bayona, crafted an undeniably chilling masterpiece.
Shaun of the Dead – Horror and comedy, I don’t care what anyone says, is not an easy thing to do. But Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg have hit the nail on the head with this instant classic. So many horror comedies fall flat or enter into the realms of obvious, juvenile humour but this is self aware, referential and smart.
Shetain – Vincent Cassel stars as the crazy and at times hilarious housekeeper in this sadly-overlooked occult romp through a small French town during Christmas. Another notch in France’s horror bedpost.
Switchblade Romance/Haute Tension – Predating Martyrs, and hard, unflinching and brutal, Haute Tension hinted at things to come as France stood up to be counted on the international circuit. The film launched the career of Alexandre Aja, director of a bearable The Hills Have Eyes remake and the forgettable Mirrors.
Trick r Treat – Drawing inspiration from Amazing Stories and the Horror anthologies of the 80’s, this is a fun-filled romp through leaf littered suburban streets. Trick r Treat is destined to become a holiday classic.
There are a few notables missing, either I think they are over-rated, such as [rec], or I have forgotten them.