Decade of the Afraid: Best of the 00’s – Part 2
So, with sequels, reality slashers, remakes and torture-porn outta the way, let’s turn to the ASIAN tidal wave of horror, first beginning with, ugh, more remakes. The Ring, The Grudge, The Eye, One Missed Call, Shutter, Pulse… The list goes on, like, forever. Having done so well in the USA, they sort of got their own back by putting a continental twist on the American slasher film.
Korea, Thailand and Japan were at the forefront of these ‘rip-offs’, which pretty much recreated plots from the Scream gen, mixed it up with the usual creepy ghosts from those earlier films and came up with some interesting stuff…
Nightmare had the ghost of a dead girl taking revenge on her friends for a prank gone wrong; Record was pretty much the same with definitive I Know What You Did Last Summerian influences; Thai flicks The Crying Tree (left) and Scared pit people in the woods against a psycho, or psychos in the case of the latter, while 999-9999 came up with a good ploy to virtually remake Final Destination with Thai spices.
India also got in on the game with epic slasher musicals (I shit you not!), Kucch to Hai and Ssshhh…, which interspersed the murder plots (again lifted from the I know what you did… school of slasher-plotting) with songs, usually about the romance between the leads. Hilarious if you can sit for over 3 hours.
Now, let’s talk about me. Me, me, me! What did I like from the last ten years? Well, much of it really. Fill yer plate with teenagers and then cut them up and I’ll most probably derive some pleasure from it. Before we get to the bests and worsts, here are a few GUILTY PLEASURES of mine. I take no responsibility for any coronaries suffered when you read that I somehow liked some of the following…
Valentine is a film I love in spite of its striking similarity to cat shit. It’s bad, we all know it’s bad. The book was trashy but sustained something of a coherent plot and packed a great twist, both of which were ignored by the cheesy script for the film and lots of stuff made no sense. But what can I say? Cast of game glam girlies and a killer in a creepy Cherub mask – does it for me.
Darkness Falls is another rubbish studio horror flick and one of the first PG-13 rated body count films. Although it starts very well, things get boring and remain frustratingly dry, with Chaney Kley and Buffy‘s Emma Caulfield hiding in the light to save themselves from the ghost of a witch (known as the Tooth Fairy) who was burned by the townsfolk 100 years earlier. Again, stupid but so fun.
There were also gay slasher flicks Hellbent and The Gay Bed & Breakfast of Terror and dumbassed urban-legend-ghost-story flick Fingerprints, with Lou Diamond Phillips, Sally Kirkland and a killer dressed as a train conductor!
Now here’s what sucked. Not strictly from a bad film angle, otherwise the list would be populated with a bunch of barely seen DVD titles, no, here’s what was insultingly BAD…
2001’s Ripper turned out to be an impressive effort, performing well enough to generate its own sequel, suffixed Letters from Within, which sent the lone survivor to a European institute. In a castle. An actress friend of mine auditioned for the role of “black girl with attitude” – I’m thankful she didn’t appear in it. It really sucked, with almost no connections to the plot of the first film (bar the one character, tellingly played by a different actress). It’s a sequel, so why be surprised though?
Crud in a different way is Cry_Wolf, another young-audience friendly PG-13 “thriller”, which sells itself as the slasher film it never manages to become. Obnoxious, slappable teens at a prep school have a liars club, make up a rumour about a campus cruising psycho known as The Wolf and goreless murders begin. Only they don’t. It’s all a big ruse because of some love triangle between Lindy Booth and freakin’ Jon Bon Jovi’s media teacher! It was an upsettingly dreadful denouement in a film that ends up as nothing but a big budget cheat, attempting to seem cool with referential dialogue and a Cruel Intentions-styled backing. You’ll cry alright.
Another film all about tricks and lies was the godawful “remake” of April Fool’s Day, one of the best of the 80’s. As with Cry_Wolf, over-privileged snots are the primary cast members. Nobody is remotely pleasant. Just fucking die! Or, yet again, don’t. Scout Taylor-Compton, having already ruined the legacy of Laurie Strode in Rob Zombie’s Halloween redux, has a lot to answer for. The joke’s on us!
Another day, another remake, albeit more of a faithful adaptation of a book came in the shape of the horrible Children of the Corn TV flick with David Anders, Kandyse McClure and one of Dexter‘s kids as Isaac. It fails on almost every level.
A straight-up slasher flick came in the shape of See No Evil, starring WWE wrestler Kane as a hulking loon who dwells in an abandoned hotel and likes to pluck out victims’ eyes for random reasoning. Cue eight delinquent offenders sent there to fix up the place and carnage ensues. Not as bad as the others in this category, it was just disappointing. Really, really disappointing, as was slasher-laced anthology flick Heebie Jeebies, which concerns a girl who dreams the future and sees the deaths of her high school friends and, in her infinite wisdom decides they should all go to a creepy old farmhouse for the weekend “for their safety.” Stupid moose. They all die. There’s a story about rock monsters, which sucks. It all sucks.
Finally, Shrooms. Inexplicably given a cinema release around Christmas in 2007, this is the tale of American tourists in the Irish woods, magic mushrooms of the intense variety, dogging, and death. It all leans towards the rather stupid twist. Director Paddy Breathnach’s follow up, Red Mist, was a bit better.
Right, that’s what sucked, here are the slasher films n’ franchises that proved (to me at least) that the age of the slasher film was not necessarily over…
THE BEST OF THE 00s
I don’t want to create a countdown as some film series were important to the decade, so starting with this in mind, if the fourth was to be the last, then the entire Final Destination cycle started and ended in the one decade.
The inarguable awesomeness of the general premise (flaws included) made this series an instant winner. The original (and best) film had the guts to feature a tragic plane crash, keying in on a common fear before shifting to a slasher film with an invisible killer in Death, who doesn’t like to be evaded by cheeky teens and therefore they die in a variety of gruesome ‘accidents’.
The form was perfected early on in 2003’s Final Destination 2, which is the ultimate catalogue of inanimate objects plotting our downfall. By the time the third instalment appeared in 2006, nobody had to be psychic to see what was coming. The plot hadn’t developed significantly and 2009’s 3D entry sank to new depths of desperation. Nevertheless, these disposable-teen safety films-gone-wrong should be regarded as some of the best of the 2000’s.
Not nearly as inventive but far more intense was 2003’s Wrong Turn, a back to basics survival slasher film, which placed a group of city kids in the wooded territory of a trio of hideously inbred cannibalistic brothers who have been collecting victims for years. Brutality is core in this snappy flick, which never takes its foot off the accelerator once the action begins. Great turns from heroes Desmond Harrington and Eliza Dushku, who barely make it out alive as it is, emphasise how important likeable characters are in modern horror, something absent in almost all of the entries in the crop-of-crap list.
In a similar vain, 2006’s grimy Brit-flick Wilderness put teens on a tiny island with a vengeful killer, although this time they’re all from a young offenders institute being punished after one of their number is bullied to the point of suicide. Nice guys don’t exist here, but the revenge angle and use of a quartet of trained dogs made for one of the better British horrors of recent years. Yes, I preferred it to The Descent. Off with his head!
Doing what we do just as well, Simon Pegg starrer Hot Fuzz outdid Shaun of the Dead as Pegg’s retentive small village copper investigates a series of murders that nobody else believes is happening. Hmmm… Sticking with the comedy, 60’s beach party horror pastiche Psycho Beach Party has the surf dudes of a Californian beach on the hop from a loon who bears a prejudice against anyone with disabilities. A campy mini-classic.
There was still a lot of arty goings-on in horror during the decade, influenced largely by the onslaught of horror from the East, who were making the rest of the world’s horror look pedestrian on a visual front. Thank God, then, for Malevolence, Stevan Mena’s snail-paced atmos-builder, where screw-up bank robbers haul a couple of hostages to what they believe to be an abandoned farm. The regional, beyond help ambience made for a terrific sleeper, a prequel to which was completed in 2009 but not yet released.
In a similar spooky vain, creepiest slasher film of the decade – and possibly ever – goes to Session 9, which, in one sub-five second shot (a future Pant-Soiling Scene) made me almost cry with abject fear! A little love also for UK-Canadian production Ripper: Letter from Hell, at the other end of the spectrum to its dire sequel, this Jack the Ripper combo of Urban Legend (easily my favourite 90’s slasher) and Copycat worked out very well.
On the flipside of these po-faced terrors, light-hearted Shredder wrapped up a spunky slasher film on the slopes of Colorado, while Aussie Scream-contemporary Cut brought in Molly Ringwald and Kylie Minogue to battle a killer who appears whenever the unfinished slasher film he featured in is shown. It bombed at the box office but struck a great balance between laughter and Jason-style body counting.
Later came Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, a documentary style insight into the preparation a wouldbe psycho killer goes through before becoming the slasher film it parodies – and does it all with great wit, a fab cast and visuals.
Jason was re-born at the end of the decade in Platinum Dunes’ ‘reboot’ of Friday the 13th, which may as well have donned the suffix Part 12 for all it recreates.
Over at MGM, dodgy-past director Victor Salva attempted to create a horror icon in The Creeper in the first two Jeepers Creepers films, flawed in their legacy by featuring a villain who only appears for 23 days every 23 years! The first film was half-perfection, half-ham. The third film, due in 2011, will likely make or break the series’ potential.
Lastly, we move to Europe to close in on what I consider to be the best slasher thing going in the 2000’s. Anatomy, the German medical-school slasher from the beginning of the decade showed that the killer-with-a-sharp-object genre can still be intellectually challenging.
However, it was a most unlikely country that produced not one, but two of the most visually stunning, intensely produced and overtly satisfying slasher films. Douze points go…to Norway.
The land famed for the Northern Lights, fjords, vikings and herring had never really been an active participator on the horror scene until 2006, when skiers-in-peril film Cold Prey was made. Yet another back to basics approach abounded with the simple tale of a reclusive killer taking out the young people who enter his environment. The craftsmanship and appreciation of the technique of generating tension is second to none for the period. Character interactions, escape attempts and eventual showdown between the lone survivor and killer all put most others to shame.
That said, the 2008 sequel ticks every box you could want out of an effective follow-up. While the hospital setting isn’t anything new, we do get the original actors back to play their own bodies, there are characters we care about, which means there’s heartbreak and pain, love and loss, intensity, bloodshed and plenty of action. I’ll attempt to give both of these films faithful reviews in the near future to go into more detail but, for now, let me say that Cold Prey and Cold Prey II were, for me, the best slasher films of 2000-2009.