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Monday, February 15, 2010

21st Century Terrors, Part 6: 2005

The first decade of the new century was half over, and right in the heart of it, horror hounds were being treated to arguably the greatest bumper crop of gruesome greatness since the heyday of the 1980s. There can be no doubt about it--a golden age was upon us. It was the year we got a new subgenre with a naughty sounding name, Rob Zombie got serious, some English broads went down a well, and even good old Uncle George had to get into the act. This was 2005.

The previous year had given some indications of where we were headed. For example, viewers who went to the movies to see Saw were given just a taste of the sickness and depravity that would come to full bloom this year, when Eli Roth, late of the offbeat horror comedy Cabin Fever, would turn out a film that would divide fans, start a new movement, and definitely get everyone talking.

Hostel was a film that literally pushed the boundary of what fans would consider to be entertainment. Revolving around a series of torture-filled set pieces, it drew the nickname of "torture porn"--a name derived from accusations that it sought primarily to titillate through the depiction of gratuitous scenes of methodical violence. Some would find it distasteful; others believed it gave the genre a much-needed visceral shot in the arm.

Whatever the case, Hostel was a touchstone, the kind of movie that sets the tone for much of what came after it. And we're still feeling the aftereffects of it to this day, for better or worse.

As much as the movies of the '70s and '80s pushed the envelope for violence in film, and the '90s reigned things in a bit, by this point in the new decade, the pendulum had swung completely back the other way. Thanks to Hostel and others, we were now seeing films arguably more graphic than just about anything we had witnessed before. Another filmmaker at the forefront of this movement was Rob Zombie.

If his previous House of 1,000 Corpses had caught some flak for being campy and cheesy, Mr. Zombie remedied the situation with a much bleaker, more serious sequel in The Devil's Rejects. The Firefly family, with Sid Haig's Capt. Spaulding at the lead, was more iconic than ever, and horror fans by and large embraced this film with open arms.

Zombie's grindhouse aesthetic and appreciation for the grittiness of '70s horror brought to the genre what guys like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez were doing with more mainstream cinema. As a result, The Devil's Rejects would become one of the most popular horror films of the decade with actual horror fans, as opposed to the mainstream audience that was eating up confections of a very different variety.

Those confections consisted of the near-endless stream of remakes Hollywood was (and is) churning out with breakneck speed. This might very well have been the year we all stood back for a second and said to ourselves, "Damn, there sure are a lot of remakes coming out!" We got House of Wax, in which Vincent Price was replaced with Paris Hilton; The Amityville Horror, which proved just as mediocre as its originator; The Fog, starring Superboy...

And in case you were looking more for sequels rather than remakes, we also got the disappointing The Ring Two, and the vastly more disappointing back-to-back direct-to-SyFy Channel atrocities, Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis, and Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave. The less said, the better. Peter Coyote, how could you? To think, I trusted you in E.T.

But sequels weren't by definition a bad thing, and in fact, 2005 gave us two very interesting ones in particular, which continued two venerable horror franchises. One of these was Dominion: Prequel to Exorcist, the original Paul Schrader version of the film that had been released the previous year as The Exorcist: The Beginning (directed by Renny Harlin). The result was flawed yet provocative, and definitely more daring than the previous studio-approved version.

The other long-awaited sequel was something that had previously seemed as if it would never happen: George Romero got back in the saddle and made another zombie movie, his first in 20 years. With the zombie movie craze raging for a few years, everyone was wondering if the man who invented the whole movement would ever get his chance to do what he does best once more. And thanks to Universal, he did.

Land of the Dead was the most mainstream of Romero's efforts, with actual marketable movie stars (namely john Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper and an almost-famous Simon Baker); it was also the first to be released with an MPAA rating, and the first to use CGI effects. It was definitely a new era, but fans were delirious with joy that their hero would finally be getting the opportunity to pick up where he left off with Day of the Dead in 1985.

In the end, there were folks who thought Uncle George lost his touch a bit, and that the years had put some ring rust on the old master. Just as the original Return of the Living Dead, a zombie comedy, had overshadowed Day of the Dead, many felt that Shaun of the Dead had overshadowed Land of the Dead and made it feel a bit obsolete.

Nevertheless, I think history will look kindly on Land of the Dead, just as it did on Day of the Dead eventually. It was a welcome return for one of horror's most beloved directors, exploring the territory he first pioneered. And in a project that had been high on everyone's ultimate fantasy lists for many years.

But if original concepts were still what you craved, then English director Neil Marshall, who had previously turned heads in 2oo2 with Dog Soldiers, really gave you something to write home about with the film that many consider to be the finest horror film of the contemporary era--including the amalgamation of horror bloggers who voted it the number-one horror movie of the past 20 years, right here in The Vault of Horror. I'm talking about The Descent.

Whether or not it's the very best is, of course, open to debate, but there can be no question that The Descent is one of the most highly regarded horror films of the past decade. Original, powerful, and downright terrifying, it is a 21st century horror film that will undoubtedly be added to the "canon" of classics moving forward into the future. Not to mention the fact that it's all-female cast of protagonists in and of itself makes the film highly intriguing, and one-of-a-kind.

There's a reason why horror fans have generally preferred the past decade to the one which came before it, and a glance through the body of material released in 2005 helps crystallize that perception. Thanks to the likes of Marshall, Zombie, Roth, Romero and many others, it was a banner year for the genre.

Also from 2005:
  • An American Haunting
  • Boogeyman
  • Constantine
  • Dark Water
  • The Exorcism of Emily Rose
  • Feast
  • The Gravedancers
  • Santa's Slay
  • The Skeleton Key
  • 2001 Maniacs
  • White Noise
Part 1: 2000
Part 2: 2001
Part 3: 2002
Part 4: 2003
Part 5: 2004


Greg said...

Damn, I would have loved to see your write up to Constantine and Skeleton Key, both big favs of mine. I had also loved the hell out of 2001 Maniacs, who'da thought?! That movie cracked me the heck up and this isn't a type of flick I tend to enjoy.

Hostel I recall hating the hell out of. I can see why people brand it as a great horror film of that year, but I felt it was so pointless. There were some redeeming factors about it, though. Like for one, I'm pretty sure this got under some people's skin about going to hostels in foreign places. But one thing I also just dislike of this movie was the huge surge of "torture-porn." I'm more of a fan of down right creepiness and building an atmosphere. Films like The Others, Angel Heart, or the old Val Lewtonesque films. But I will admit I enjoyed the heck out of The Descent and Devil's Rejects.

And the House of Wax remake may be one of the worst films I've allowed myself to watch. Goodness gracious, WHY?!?

B-Sol said...

Greg, I agree with you wholeheartedly about Hostel, but for these history pieces I try my very best to be objective (don't always succeed, though...)

Christopher Zenga said...

LOtD was the weakest of the series, the CGI "priest" Zombie was just awful! but he totally redeemed himself with "Diary"

I think George R. may be at a point in his life where he can ride his own coat tails and people will go see anything with his name on it. but how long can that last? there is another George who has that same type of fan base, those of us with a never ending hunger for more Wampas and Tauntaun's. But hear this Mr. Romero, we did not tolerate JarJar and we sure as hell will not tolerate another Cholo!

Later days,


B-Sol said...

Very interesting point, Chris--Romero and Lucas both seem to be trapped by their own creations.

Christopher Zenga said...

yet we buy in to the hype every time!!

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