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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

21st Century Terrors, Part 2: 2001

As the first decade of the 20th century draws to a rapid close, join me as I take another look at the horror genre as we knew it, year by year. Yes, I know it's been a couple of months, so it's about time I get this thing going again. This time we're talking about the second year (or, as some purists might call it, the first)--the year that was supposed to be so awesome an entire movie was once named for it.

Well, as far as horror goes, I don't know if it quite lived up to all that, but 2001 was at least pretty interesting. It was a step up from 2000, when the doldrums of the '90s were still lingering; and it gave us just a glimpse of the good stuff that was to follow as the decade would wear on...

When I think of 2001, one of the chief films that comes to mind is The Others. Here we had an effective, genuinely eerie ghost movie--which also happened to be completely mainstream, starring a mainstream actress in Nicole Kidman. As with any films that linger in recent memory, this one tends to divide fans, yet you can count me among those who were enthralled by Alejandro Amenabar's very traditional, and also very well-made haunted house picture.

But if it's indie horror you want, then 2001 gave us that, as well. Namely, a little movie (at the time) that has gone on to become one of the true cult classics of recent years: Session 9. The farthest thing from mainstream, this multi-national production was given a limited release and carted around to film festivals around the world--a model that would be repeated many times over afterward for a lot of horror cult faves soon to come.

The year 2001 would also bring us the greatest triumph to date of a foreign filmmaker whose work we would all be coming to know much better soon enough. Of course, I'm talking about Guillermo Del Toro and his brilliant little Spanish film The Devil's Backbone. Set amidst the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, this is a much more bizarre and off-beat ghost story than The Others. And although Del Toro had made some waves in the 1990s with Cronos and Mimic, this was the film that really put him on the radar of genre aficionados.

Perhaps one of the interesting legacies of 2001 was the growing, looming presence of foreign horror--nothing new, to be sure, but Devil's Backbone was just part of a widening flood that got even wider that year and also gave us flicks like Indonesia's Jelangkung (The Uninvited), and the unique French-Canadian monster movie The Brotherhood of the Wolf.

But never let it be said that the horror genre wasn't above going back to the well, 21st century or not. Because 2001 was also the year that gave us the first reappearance of a tried-and-true horror icon of the previous two decades--namely Jason Voorhees, who donned the hockey mask one more sorry time for the ill-conceived and ill-advised Jason X. As the world waited for the inevitable confrontation of Jason and fellow slasher mega-star Freddy Krueger that would still be more than a year away, they were instead given this dismal affair--whose only standout moment is that truly innovative liquid nitrogen kill that everyone always gushes about.

In the same vein of relying on that which is easy and already a proven formula, was the admittedly entertaining Jeepers Creepers, which also kicked off one of the decade's first bona fide horror franchises as well. The movies may be formulaic, but particularly in this first installment, The Creeper is a truly different movie monster and does offer some actual scares.

What might have even more scary, however, would be an even safer and less creative trend that was only in its infancy at the time: namely, the reliance on remakes and sequels to bring in an easy buck. This was the year that gave us Thirteen Ghosts (I refuse to spell it any other way), a lame retread--one of several to come--of a venerable Vincent Price gem. But far, far worse, this was the year of Hannibal.

Many of you may remember the furor that arouse when Thomas Harris announced he had already signed the movie rights for his as-yet-unwritten sequel to his highly successful novel The Silence of the Lambs, before even writing the actual novel itself. Everything about it smelled wrong, from Jodie Foster's wise removal of herself from the proceedings, to the rumors of wildly over-the-top brain-cooking and man-eating dogs, to Officer Starling's character assassination (the reason for Foster's aforementioned removal).

The resulting motion picture, Hannibal, was just as bad as everyone was afraid of. One of the most revered horror/thrillers of all time, The Silence of the Lambs, would now forever be attached to this, easily the most notorious genre failure of 2001.

Nevertheless, most would consider 2001 part of a positive trend in horror overall, and those of us who believe that this past decade has been a very good one for horror will probably tell you that 2001 was pretty much a sign of things to come. With the new century in full swing, it was only getting better for all things horrific.

Also from 2001:

  • From Hell
  • Ghosts of Mars

Part 1: 2000


MarilynMerlot said...

I was just thinking about "The Others" I was like I really liked that movie, I need to watch it again & here you are talking about it :) It's a sign!

Seth Canes said...

2001 also gave us one of the best and most unnerving horror movies of the 00s, Pulse (Kairo) from Japan. As far as I'm concerned that was the best horror movie from 2001.

B-Sol said...

Thanks Seth, good one! Another example of foreign horror on the rise in 2001.

And MM, it's definitely a sign! I love that movie. In fact, I once worked for a company that put out a horror movie magazine, and I wanted to make mention of The Others, but the editor hated the movie and wouldn't let me. Can you believe that??

Rabid Fox said...

The Others was a damned fine movie, that's for sure. I think I'll have to try and find a copy, so I can watch it again.

RayRay said...

Hannibal was a pathetic sequel. On the other hand, I've always enjoyed From Hell, but I do have a mild Jack the Ripper fetish.

Jonathan said...

I don't know if all would consider this straight up horror, but I've always found 2001's "Joy Ride" to be rather unnerving especially Ted Levine's great voice work. It's hard to get "Candy Cane" out of your head after watching that.

I am also one of the few "Others" lovers out there it seems, and "Jeepers Creepers" has definitely grown on me over the years.

B-Sol said...

From Hell is a good one, I should've worked it into the body of the piece instead of making it an also-ran!

Greg said...

Man, The Others is such a fantastic gem, it's not even funny. That film needs more love. It's definitely the type of horror movie I long for that we don't get too often. So masterly done with beautiful atmosphere and creepiness. Man, I need to own that on DVD.

I have to say, I wasn't a fan of Jeepers Creepers when I was younger. I may need to give it another look.

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