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Thursday, December 17, 2009

21st Century Terrors, Part 3: 2002

If the early part of the current decade suffered a bit from the aftereffect of the '90s malaise, then 2002 was the year that things really began to shape up. Most would agree that this decade has been a good time to be a horror movie lover, and 2002 is where it all kicked into gear. This was when the decade started coming into its own.

This was the year so many things began clicking all at once, giving fans lots of options, and rebuilding the face of the genre in the process.

For example, 2002 gave us what very well may be the decade most well-crafted and impressively made horror film, Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later. Not only was it a tense, fascinating and brilliant re-evaluation of the zombie genre, it's the kind of horror film that literally defines an era. In other words, looking back on the 2000s, we could very well call it the decade of 28 Days Later.

And speaking of zombies, it can safely be said that the 2000s was the decade those undead buggers really came into the mainstream after many years of existing underground and being somewhat out of fashion. And 2002 was the year it started. 28 Days Later was one major part of that, although "purists" will argue it's not really a zombie film since the attackers depicted are technically infected living people.

But this is an exercise in futile semantics. Technical details aside, the plot devices are those of the zombie movie, the setting, the structure, the methods of evoking fear--purism aside, 28 Days Later helped usher in a golden age of zombie films, with its depiction of manic, rabid, and--controversy of controversies--fast-moving "zombies".

But if a more old-school approach was more your cup of tea, then the other half of 2002's one-two punch of zombie goodness delivered what you were looking for--to a degree. Based on a successful video game, Paul W.S. Anderson's Resident Evil is the other film that usually gets pointed to as kicking off the zombie renaissance.

While not as good a horror film as 28 Days Later, it was just as popular, if not more so, owing largely to the vast popularity of the game. And while it gave us traditional, slow-moving zombies, it mixed things up a bit with an assortment of other bizarre mutated monsters from the game.

And most importantly, it reached a mainstream audience to a degree almost unheard of for a zombie movie, due largely to its lack of gore. While this didn't sit well with hardcore horror fans, it did expose middle-of-the-road America to the zombie phenomenon, and so may deserve even more credit than 28 Days for spawning the wave of ghoul cinema that continues to this day.

The trend of Asian horror cinema and its effect on the American genre gained greater steam than ever, with the most high profile U.S. remake of them all, The Ring. Taken from 1998's Ringu, this amped-up ghost story was a major hit, with some even preferring it to the Japanese original. Unlike what mostly had been happening, with paltry, inferior remakes of Asian horror, The Ring captured the attention of a lot of horror fans. And although most still prefer the original, it is a quality film.

For many casual horror fans, The Ring would become the benchmark of scary for the decade's fright films. The American version was able to assert a completely separate identity, which was a large part of why it became one of the decade's most memorable horror films. But meanwhile, overseas in Asia, more excellent horror was being created. Both Ju-On from Japan and Jian Gui from China would have a strong impact, and later be remade in America as The Grudge and The Eye, respectively.

Genre directors would make their mark in a big way in 2002. M. Night Shyamalan, who had debuted with the Oscar-nominated The Sixth Sense three years earlier, gave us Signs, a moody sci-fi/horror flick about hostile alien invaders. Although it ends with one of the director's increasingly tiresome twisty climaxes, along the way it delivered some solid scares.

And another young director, Eli Roth, crashed on to the scene with Cabin Fever, a wicked little horror comedy that instantly got him the attention of fright fans. There's no question that film divides horror fandom, but I fall amongst those who found it to be a delightfully sick little laugh riot. A ballsy film that put Roth on the map, leading to the continued impact he would have on the genre as the decade moved along.

Horror movies in general got more interesting in 2002 than they had been in a long time. Within the same 12-month span, we got the ingenious and truly original werewolf picture Dog Soldiers, as well as the boldly imaginative comedy Bubba Ho-Tep, which added one more shining gem to the crown of horror's reigning king, Bruce Campbell. Just one of those films in any given year in recent memory would be impressive--to have both come out within months of each other is testament to the blockbuster horror years that was 2002.

But OK, if you'd like me to balance things out a bit, I can point out that 2002 also gave us the abysmal Anne Rice adaptation Queen of the Damned, which made the previous decade's Interview with the Vampire look like Nosferatu; the famously atrocious FeardotCom; and perhaps the saddest entry in the adventures of Michael Myers, Halloween: Resurrection, in which Mikey tangles with Busta and Tyra...

Nevertheless, 2002 was indeed the year the decade came into its own. And there would only be more good stuff to come--including lots and LOTS of zombies.

Also from 2002:

  • Blade 2
  • Eight-Legged Freaks
  • Ghost Ship
  • The Mothman Prophecies

Part 1: 2000
Part 2: 2001


Unknown said...

Am I nuts in thinking this is 2003? I swear i saw 28 Days Later and Cabin Fever when I lived in albany, and the only reason the year sticks out is it was the October of Aaron bleeping Boone

Dead on about the sheer awesomeness of the year though. It seemed like it was the first one of the decade to shrug off the smug, self aware films that had infected the late 90s

B-Sol said...

Very true that both those flicks did not open wide in the U.S. till 2003. But 28 Days was already a hit in Europe in '02 before coming here, and Cabin Fever made a huge splash on the festival circuit in '02 almost a full year before getting that coveting theatrical distribution thanks to Peter Jackson' influence.
But I completely agree, this was the year that, for me, started off the great decade of horror that we've had.

Greg said...

As much as I loved the Ring remake, I sorta give it a stink eye due to starting the remake genre of Asian horror movies. While the remakes after The Ring and The Grudge have been rather awful, they've at least opened up my eyes to other Asian horror films, a lot of them extremely excellent and a wonderful refuge when I want to escape some recent crappy American horror movies.

Signs was such a wonderful and fun experience seeing in the movie theaters along with a lively and respectable crowd, and it was even better when we got the DVD and I watched it by myself. Such a great, creepy film.

I've recently heard about Dog Soldiers. I hope to check it out soon.

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