Perhaps most ironically of all, the most beloved of these--and perhaps the most beloved horror film of the entire decade--was actually a horror comedy. Birthed from the minds of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg via their obsessive love of all things Romero, Shaun of the Dead was more than a movie--it was a movement. The zombie fad had been cooking for a couple of years already, but SOTD distilled it into a single, transcendent experience--a film that celebrated not only the zombie genre, but zombie fandom as well.
The misadventures of Shaun and Ed have since become iconic in a relatively short period of time. They were perhaps horror's finest comedy duo since Abbott & Costello tangled with the Frankenstein Monster. And the brilliance of the film was that it managed to be so genuinely funny while still being true to the genre it so blatantly worshiped. The movie works equally well as a zombie picture and as a romantic comedy, hence the now famous subgenre title, "rom-zom-com".
Shaun of the Dead was the kind of film that defines a generation of fandom, and without question represents horror in the 2000s for many people. Yet there is also another film which does that for others, and that's James Wan's Saw, the film that, for all intents and purposes, thrust the "torture porn" subgenre into the limelight (along with Hostel a bit later).
Yet ironically, the film itself doesn't quite conform to the stereotype of that subgenre, not having the trademark explicit depictions of graphic violence and sadism for the ostensible purpose of audience titillation. The original Saw, taken apart from its never-ending stream of sequels, is actually an imaginative, psychologically based thriller, which manages to put a unique spin on the slasher motif and packs one hell of a punch with its rollercoaster of a storyline.
Jigsaw is a character very much of his time, just as Dracula, Norman Bates and Freddy Krueger were of theirs. And his sinister m.o. of byzantine traps and warped morality--inspired strongly by the previous decade's Seven--definitely touched a nerve with audiences. Saw would go on to become one of the most successful franchises of the decade, becoming almost what Friday the 13th was for the 1980s--for better or worse.
The two giants of Shaun of the Dead and Saw gave horror a relatively high profile in 2004, but there was even more going on. For one thing, in addition to the Romero zombie parody, there was also a Romero zombie remake, in Zak Snyder's Dawn of the Dead. For a film that had a lot of ill will pointed toward it, Snyder's film made the most of it, and shut a lot of people's mouths in the process.
James Gunn's script upset many purists with its fast-moving zombies and the ejecting of most of Romero's social commentary, but the finished product can nevertheless stand on its own merits. It's an effective, energetic horror film with characters we can get behind, and quite possibly one of the most impressive opening sequences of all time. For a movie that seemed doomed to fail, Dawn of the Dead stands as one of the decade's triumphs.
Beyond the big triumphs, zombie cinema continued full speed ahead with no end in sight. We got the first sequel to the movie that arguably kicked off the whole craze, with Resident Evil: Apocalypse. And in addition to SOTD, there was another foreign zombie comedy, Night of the Living Dorks, which although far less inspired and extremely overrated, was another testament to the subgenre's worldwide staying power.
Sequels were also in full effect, as they always seem to be in our beloved genre. Yet just as with everything else in 2004, even the sequels seemed to stand out--although not always for the best reasons. Case in point: Aliens vs. Predator, a clunker of a film that managed to murder two adored franchises in one fell swoop. Although long followed enthusiastically by comic book fans, the battle of everyone's two favorite space monsters just didn't add up to cinematic magic.
It seemed like studios were anxious to bring back successful series and characters amidst the burgeoning interest in horror that was going on at the box office. The Child's Play franchise puttered on with Seed of Chucky, a subversive little flick that admittedly went in a completely bizarre and unique direction, delivering laughs as well as scares. Blade hit the wall with Blade: Trinity, a movie that proved that even horror comics aren't immune to the "third movie curse" of comic book franchises. Even the classic Universal monsters got back into the mix with Van Helsing, a poorly received action vehicle from Stephen Sommers, the same guy who resurrected the Mummy in similar fashion the 1990s.
And then there was the infamous Exorcist: The Beginning, the granddaddy of all troubled horror sequel/prequels. Looking to reap more financial rewards from the most successful horror film of all time, Warner Bros. commissioned a new film that would explore the origins of Father Merrin's relationship with the demon. Unfortunately, when Paul Schrader's version was a little too artsy for them, they brought in Hollywood mercenary Renny Harlin and created a whole different picture, which was a notorious disaster. In an unprecedented maneuver, Schrader's version would see the light of day the following year.
Leading the pack of foreign remakes was The Grudge, an American version of the acclaimed J-horror thriller of two years earlier. It seemed like a logical follow-up to the highly successful The Ring, yet failed to similarly capture the power of the original.
Yet don't let that mediocre final note fool you. The year 2004 was a banner one for horror films, and in some ways, it can be argued that it was highpoint of the decade.
Also from 2004:
- Dead and Breakfast
- Ginger Snaps Back
- Ginger Snaps Unleashed
- Satan's Little Helper
- The Village
Part 2: 2001
Part 3: 2002
Part 4: 2003