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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…

cryingtreeNightmare 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.

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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…

darknessfallsValentine 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?

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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.

afdAnother 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.

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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.

fd3The 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.

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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.

malevolenceThere 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Tie me backpacker down, sport

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WOLF CREEK

3.5 Stars  2005/18/95m

“How can you be found when nobody knows you’re missing?”

Director/Writer: Greg McLean / Cast: John Jarratt, Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi, Nathan Phillips.

Body Count: 5


Here’s something weird; Wolf Creek is a good film which I never, ever want to see again.

Sometimes this just happens, can be that something is so effective once (Session 9; The Orphanage) that a repeat viewing will only dull its initial impact, can be that it was just a bit too heart-breaking (Brokeback Mountain) but here, despite directorial competence and the presence of actual horror, Wolf Creek is a nasty little production, quite repellent in a lot of ways and I wouldn’t want to sit through it again.

Of course there are other negative aspects to this backpackers-in-peril flick, most notably how long it takes before the travelogue beginning shifts into the horror gear (around the halfway mark). A trio of travellers, Sydney native Ben and British gal-pals Liz and Kristy, decide to drive out to Wolf Creek, a meteor crater in the middle of nowhere. Now, this film is Australian, so the middle of nowhere is quite literal. As well as Great White Sharks, Funnelweb Spiders and killer lizardy things, Australia now seems to have an abundance of psychos, for upon returning to their old car, they find it dead and, as darkness falls, macho backwoods “passer by” Mick (Jarratt) offers them a tow to his garage, where they chat affably around the campfire and then fall into a nice…deeeeeep…sleep…

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Liz later wakes to find herself bound in a shack. She escapes but stumbles upon Mick torturing Kristy and so begins the ever-cranking tension of their botched escape plans from his pit of sadism, complete with rotting corpses of previous victims.

Wolf Creek is far from your average stalker flick and while it’s not especially bloody, it’s explicitly violent and at times downright despairing as the girls suffer at the hands of the perky, wisecracking maniac – but there is little Freddy-style humour to his vicious torment.

Such is the nature of their dilemma that you do find yourself screaming at them to run faster, hurry up with the ignition keys or not do what it seems they’re about to! With just the duo the focus of the majority of the film, there are accusations a-plenty thrown at Wolf Creek for being misogynistic. It’s a difficult call to make; the film has roots in real life backpacker murderer Ivan Milat’s case, who preferred sexually assaulting girls, so there’s a real edge to it that’s uncomfortable viewing. At the same time, extended scenes of violence against the girls is grotesquely perverse and could make you feel dirty for watching it. What’s more is that Ben – out for the count for most of the film – simply wakes up and totters away to freedom at the end, oblivious to the fate of his friends and not attacked by the killer at all!

Things move from innovative to cliché once the horror is under way: The girls have ample opportunity to cut the killer’s head off at one point or shoot him, stab him, stamp on his head and instead decide to go it alone in the middle of the bush. Wolf Creek becomes the type of body count movie that thinks above its station at some points but is then unable to source a new way around a problem, the case in point being when Liz picks a random pair of car keys from a choice of a dozen or so and super magic teleporty psychic psycho Mick is already in the back seat!

This convention succeeds in some rug-yanking as things become a bit silly. Mick is able to track a single person in the huge expanse of the outback but cannot find Ben!?

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So it’s a scenically beautiful film with characters sharpened by the long, slow build; gritty and documentarian in feel but also harrowing and depressing with no comfortable resolution or confines of the standard mad slasher opus – but then that’s what horror is, right? The absence of hope – definitively, it should be horrible.

Somewhat reassuringly, McLean’s next film, Rogue, which featured a giant killer crocodile munching tourists in the outback, featured no female fatalities at all, so we can at least be sure he wasn’t going Fulci on us. I have a fair few opinions on ye olde “are slasher films hate-women flicks” debate, which I’ll find a suitable home for sometime in the future; this one cuts it fine and I wish there’d been a girl survivor to beat the shit out of Mick, but all’s (un)fair in love and homicidal rampages. Up to you.

Blurbs-of-interest: Kestie Morassi played one of the nurses in Darkness Falls. John Jarratt was in Next of Kin and played the happy coroner in Needle, as well as returning to the role of Mick in Wolf Creek 2 eight years later and a TV series two years after that.

ALONE

alone2 Stars  2001/15/89m

“Hear the fear.”

Director: Phil Claydon / Writers: David Ball, Phil Claydon, John Davies, Mark Loughman & Paul Hart Wilden / Cast: John Shrapnel, Isabel Brook, Laurel Holloman, Miriam Margolyes, Caroline Carever, Claudia Harrison.

Body Count: 4

Dire-logue: “So…you’ve got Freddy Krueger as an admirer…”


There’s some real ambition in this arty Brit-flick, which toured European festivals for a full year before it was given a straight-to-video release. Made up largely of point-of-view photography that identifies us to/with the character of Alex: a compulsively clean outpatient who likes to write letters to, and then kill, young women whom Alex perceives to be lonely.

Beginning as a gritty detective drama mixed with the POV work of Alex’s strange existence and visits to caseworker Margolyes, whose advice is to try and romance a girl who is soon after found murdered. However it is her pretty American assistant Charlotte who eventually becomes the heroine when the entire thing morphs into a pedestrian clone of Halloween II as Alex tracks Charlotte down to a local hospital.

The most effective scene is when a girl returns home to find all of her kitchen has been cleaned, her fridge magnets neatly lined up and her spice rack contents faced up. All very Sleeping with the Enemy! We’re never granted a look at our killer, only Alex’s hands make it into the frame.

Alone doesn’t try to be a slasher film, with its miserable, colourless photography and the stupid twist ending that isn’t really a twist at all given the first-person voice used to thread things together. Actually, the ending downright sucks, yanking the rug out so violently that it tears as it goes! Director Claydon later helmed the Horne/Corden “comedy” Lesbian Vampire Killers.

THE HILLS RUN RED

thehillsrunreddvd3 Stars  2009/18/81m

Director: Dave Parker / Writers: John Dombrow, John Carchietta & David J. Schow / Cast: Sophie Monk, Tad Hilgenbrinck, Janet Montgomery, Alex Wyndham, William Sadler, Raicho Vasilev.

Body Count: at least 19

Dire-logue: “The characters always head out to the middle of nowhere, right? Suddenly their cars, their cell phones, their technology can’t save them and nobody ever brings a fucking gun!”


Mucho hype surrounded this film before it was unveiled at various horror festivals, it’s ‘back to basics,’ ‘gives horror fans what they want,’ blah blah best thing since sliced cheerleaders la la la…

It’s a slasher film about a 1982 slasher film, The Hills Run Red, which was withdrawn soon after its release and never seen again, along with the director and most of the cast. Horror geek Tyler is obsessed with finding the original reels and making a documentary about it, so after tracking down bit-parter and director’s daughter Alexa, now a heroin junkie lapdancer, he and his girlfriend Serina and best bud Lalo (who are secretly screwing), drive off in search of the house where the film was originally shot.

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No sooner than setting up camp, the killer from the film – Babyface – appears and saves the kids from a trio of rednecks who happened by to torment them and kidnaps Alexa, prompting the others to give chase to try and save her. Here, things twist off in to a place that sees the wings splinter off this flight, which sends it into a long nosedive from an altitude of intense slasherama to indulgent torture-porn-lite with a disatisfying conclusion. This also means that character expectations are switched and those we thought would most certainly survive or die…might not.

Until the twist is made evident, The Hills Run Red flirts with four-star truimphance: it’s slick, well-paced, bloody without being stupidly gory and engaging, a straight-up stalk n’ slasher from the days of yore, precisely what the mission statement appeared to be. It becomes another Texas Chainsaw wannabe with an overabundance of psychos, sleaze, unimpressive motives and a downbeat twist ending. And so it ends up in three-star land, a respectable showing for any B-movie of the stomp-and-kill ilk, perhaps a bit of a disappointment for genre aficionados who were hoping for the mooted next great horror icon…who looks a bit like the loon from Dark Ride to me.

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Blurbs-of-interest: bizarrely, the last new slasher flick I watched, Wrong Turn 3, not only starred Janet Montgomery, but was also shot in the same locale of Bulgaria and featured a horde of British actors doing American accents. Alex Wyndham was also in Red Mist.

WRONG TURN 3: LEFT FOR DEAD

wrongturn3WRONG TURN 3: LEFT FOR DEAD

1.5 Stars  2009/92m

“What you don’t see will kill you.”

Director: Declan O’Brien / Writer: Connor James Delaney / Cast: Tom Frederic, Janet Montgomery, Tamer Hassan, Gil Kolirin, Tom McKay, Christian Contreras, Jake Curran, Chucky Venice, Bill Moody, Borislav Iliev.

Body Count: 15

Dire-logue: “He’s out there… I can feel him. He’s been following us. He’s close.”


How to take one of the best survivalist slasher films in the last few years and drive into an almost aggressively bad DVD series in three easy films…

I watched half of Wrong Turn 3 yesterday and the rest today. In between, I took my dog out for a walk in a close by field. There was a creepy dense fog and, save for my dog’s flashing collar darting about in the mist, all I had to light my way was a blue-strobe LED ghost that squeaks ‘woooo’ when you press it. With mutant inbred cannibals on my mind, every blob in the dark could’ve been a psycho with an axe… Every sloppy thing I stepped in could’ve been gory entrails – but turned out to be cow shit.

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Having just finished the film, there was nothing to fear. The South Downs ain’t West Virginia. In fact West Virginia ain’t West Virginia here either as for WT3 they outsourced the project to Bulgaria and used an almost exclusively British cast!

Things start okay with a quartet of “all-American teens” kayaking down a river. They stop to set up camp and one couple goes to fetch wood while the others get jiggy. Boobs appear within minutes and seconds later there’s an arrow sticking out of the boob and through boob-girl’s boyfriend’s hand. Three of the teens are offed within the first seven minutes, all quite gorily: one guy gets skewered through the gob and the other trips a trap that pays tribute to the hacked-in-half opener from Wrong Turn 2, this time splitting the guy into three pieces. It’s impressive for all of five seconds until the world’s worst CGI kicks in…

wrongturn3splitAfter the remaining girl, Alex, escapes, we move to a prison where officer Nate’s last day on the job (yawn…) is made worse with the news that he has to chaperone several prisoners on a transfer to another facility to thwart a rumoured escape attempt by Mexican gangster Chavez. We know he’s Mexican because he calls everyone ‘Puta,’ which, I learnt, is the equivalent of whore. The route between venues is altered to allow the solo-working inbred to run the bus off the road, let the prisoners gain control and send the group running into the woods, where Alex soon leaps out, all screams and immediate expositions…

The group discover an old armoured truck full of cash and continue yelling at one another and swearing amidst aimlessly wandering into all of the hick’s savage traps, including a sliced off face, a vertical spear impaling and a skull cracked open and its lid removed like a boiled egg… We’re only supposed to care about Alex, Nate and the one trustworthy con who swears he didn’t commit the murder he’s inside for. But I didn’t really. They were such cookie-cutter good guys that they were boring, with none of the situational flair that Eliza Dushku and Desmond Harrington had in the original film.

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Also absent is a sense of futility: in the first film there was a real sense of doom for the teens-in-peril, that they wouldn’t get out of this. Plus they were nice kids out for a good time. The second film at least had the sense to try and make its leads affable enough to root for but all the characters in Wrong Turn 3 blur into a gross soup of I-don’t-care proportions. The only character I cared about the was the police dog and that didn’t end well.

Three-Finger, now working alone after his son (assumedly the grown up baby from the end of Dead End) is done away with by the felons, is played by a Bulgarian stuntman who looks like he’s wearing a third-rate plastic Halloween mask and also has the Hiro Nakamurian ability to teleport after he is ‘killed’ by Nate and Alex, who take his truck and drive for several minutes, finding him further down the road than they’ve managed to get!

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But perhaps the worst thing is like a blast from the past. But the past that came before the 80s, the 70s, before Jesus! Remember in old studio films when there was a character in a car, they drove in front of a screen and lackies rocked the vehicle from either side, that’s what they do in Wrong Turn 3 – the bus, the truck, check that fucking background! How low was the budget?

Sucky story, sucky characters, sucky prosthetics, vile CGI, crap actors, a grand total of three female characters… The sweet memory of seeing Wrong Turn back in ’03 feels like it has been raped by a backwoods inbred.

Blurbs-of-interest: Tom Frederic was the doomed boyfriend in the even worse Blood Trails. Janet Montgomery was also in The Hills Run Red – also shot in 2009, also shot in Bulgaria, also lots of trees. Declan O’Brien returned to direct Wrong Turn 4 in 2011.

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