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Thursday, May 13, 2010

21st Century Terrors, Part 8: 2007

The year 2007 is a special one here in the Vault, because it was the year this blog first got off the ground. And boy, did I pick an interesting year to get things started. There was a lot going on in 2007 in the world of fright flicks, and I was definitely fortunate to have some of these films around to write about at the very beginning.

The remake and sequel craze was in full swing by this point, but luckily there was also a lot of fascinating and original material being put out on the market as well. Interestingly enough at the time, a great deal of it was coming from overseas.

In particular, the one movie that will always come to mind for many when 2007 is brought up is Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza's [REC], which many would consider among the most downright terrifying films of the entire decade, if not the most terrifying. From Spain came this unique, mockumentary take on the zombie subgenre, featuring a team of TV reporters and firemen trapped inside a quarantined apartment building during an outbreak of some sort of disease which turns the living into bloodthirsty undead.

Visceral, straightforward and extremely realistic in its presentation, [REC] became an instant sensation. People from all over the world clamored to see this (formerly) little movie that had emerged from Spain, a country many hadn't thought of as much of a horror haven since the heyday of Paul Naschy. It also managed to keep the zombie resurgence going strong roughly half a decade after it first exploded.

Spain also produced a very different kind of horror film that same year in Juan Antonio Bayona's The Orphanage (El Orfanato), a movie that was helped along in its overseas exposure by the blessing of Guillermo del Toro, who was understandably taken with it. A very unorthodox combination of ghost story and psychological thriller, The Orphanage takes its place amongst the likes of The Uninvited, The Haunting and The Changeling as one of the finest motion pictures of its kind.

Meanwhile, from just a few miles to the northeast in France, came Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury's Inside (À l'intérieur), a deeply disturbing and shockingly violent motion picture that became another international sensation and immediate film festival darling. The 2000s gave us quite a few depraved horror films, but Inside has to be very near to the top of the pile in terms of subject matter and the unflinching portrayal of said subject matter.

Following a nine-months-pregnant widow on the eve of her induction, as she fends off a psychopathic intruder bent on stealing the unborn child from her body, the film struck a nerve with even the most jaded horror viewers. As dead serious as the genre gets, Inside delivered extreme tension and extreme violence in equal doses, resulting in one of the most unsettling viewing experiences imaginable, and a movie that literally challenges the definition of entertainment.

And yet, while in most any other year, Inside would win hands down as most disturbing French movie, in 2007 it was a toss-up! There must have been something in the water in France that year, because the French also gave us the equally grim and harrowing Frontière(s). Xavier Gens' story of fugitive thieves held prisoner by demented neo-Nazis is another film that helped propel France to the cutting edge of international horror cinema.

But the Americans certainly weren't sitting on their hands while the Europeans had all the fun, either. Rather, some of the best and brightest filmmakers around were delving deep into the genre. Tim Burton took a crack at the beloved Stephen Sondheim splatter musical Sweeney Todd, putting his go-to star Johnny Depp in the lead, and adding wife Helena Bonham Carter to the mix to produce a typically sumptuous and subversive slice of cinema reminiscent of some of his best work.

Genre junkies Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez joined forces to create Grindhouse, a one-of-a-kind 21st century double feature that paid homage to the sticky-floor movies of old. Though greatly hyped, it did not quite live up to box-office or critical expectations--nevertheless, Rodriguez' contribution to the effort, Planet Terror, is a balls-to-the-wall, over-the-top zombie trash epic that certainly has its fair share of avid supporters. If anything, RR has to at least be recognized for having a great deal of fun with the subgenre, in the grand tradition of Dan O'Bannon. Plus, we also got the infamous line, "I'm gonna eat your brains and gain your knowledge..."

Steve Niles' acclaimed 30 Days of Night vampire graphic novels were adapted by director David Slade in highly bloody fashion--and although the slickly stylized film divided many fans, its unapologetically brutal approach to the bloodsucker mythos was at least an effective alternative to the Twilight-mania just tightening its grip on popular culture. Another film which divided fans was The Mist, in which Frank Darabont, director of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, turned his attention to his first Stephen King horror story. A monster movie in the tradition of classic 1950s fare, with a modern twist and a gut-punch ending, it may not have pleased all the King fans out there, but it had to be considered better than the other King adaptation of 2007, Mikael Håfström's 1408.

As alluded to previously however, we were also bombarded with more than our fair share of remakes and sequels in 2007. And although remakes and sequels are not necessarily bad by definition, looking at the catalog of releases from that year, one could not be blamed for coming to that conclusion.

With long-time favorites like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Hitcher served up in tepid "re-imagined" form, it was a tough year for some long-time horror fans. Most egregious of all would have to be Rob Zombie's Halloween, a film which managed to enrage the legions of fans of John Carpenter's 1978 original, with its post-modern deconstruction of the Michael Myers character, and less-than-creative regurgitation of much of the material of its predecessor. Although the extensive Myers' backstory added depth and was appreciated by some, in the end, the film sometimes unaffectionately termed "Zombieween" came off as a largely unnecessary affair.

On the sequel front, it seemed like every notable film/franchise of the decade was being pumped for all it was worth by the studios desperate for the next fix of genre-derived revenue. There was Saw IV, Hostel 2, and The Hills Have Eyes 2, each of which either killed off, or should've killed off, their respective series.

George Romero followed up 2005's Land of the Dead with Diary of the Dead, a fresh, cinema verite approach to his zombie series which unfortunately came off poorly thanks to being released in the wake of [REC] and, to a lesser extent, Cloverfield. Although this blogger enjoyed the film, most felt it to be the nadir of Romero's revered zombie cycle to date. As far as zombie sequels go, 28 Weeks Later was received a bit better, with some (including yours truly) finding it to be superior to Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later. Once again, it seemed that Uncle George had been beaten at his own game--a game which, in 2007, also gave us such less-than-memorable fare as Resident Evil: Extinction and Flight of the Living Dead.

An erratic year of highs and lows, and perhaps a bit of a comedown from the heady days of the mid-2000s, 2007 was still a very good year to be a horror fan, with lots of quirky, soon-to-be cult classics emerging as well, such as the vagina dentata chestnut Teeth, the Australian giant crocodile picture Rogue, and the cheesy send-up Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer. One could certainly never say that there wasn't a little bit of something for everyone, and all in all, I'd have to say that The Vault of Horror picked a pretty cool time to be born!

Also in 2007:
  • Dead Silence
  • The Deaths of Ian Stone
  • I Know Who Killed Me
  • Mother of Tears
  • Primeval
  • The Signal
  • Vacancy
Part 1: 2000
Part 2: 2001
Part 3: 2002
Part 4: 2003
Part 5: 2004
Part 6: 2005
Part 7: 2006


deadlydolls said...

I take minor issue with a dismissal of Hostel 2, as I think it's one of the better and highly underrated sequels of recent years. Also, totally agree on 28 Weeks Later!

Andre said...

I'm with Emily as usual on Hostel 2!

And I sir am SHOCKED JUST SHOCKED that you didn't elaborate on my favorite movie/ the best movie ever made- I Know Who Killed Me!

hehehe. Just kidding. great job as usual. The Orphanage was certainly my favorite out of these. So sad and beautiful.

B-Sol said...

Alright, alright people, write your own history of the 2000s then, dang... Kidding aside, I do recognize that I differ from many on the whole Hostel 2 thing. And The Orphanage is amazing.

Thanks for reading, guys :-)

Christine Hadden said...

I also agree with the 28 Weeks Later thoughts. The first one was haunting, but Weeks was more visceral and frightening.
I hated Diary of the Dead, loved Rogue and Sweeney Todd, and worship The Orphanage.

As for which '07 French film was worse, I couldn't really say. But being a woman and all, À l'intérieur was pretty gut-wrenching.

Great post, as per usual.

B-Sol said...

Thanks! That opening to 28 Weeks Later has to rank as one of the strongest opening scenes to any horror film, ever.

gord said...

Yeah the Weeks opening was great, shame the film took a nosedive shortly thereafter.

And can I just say that while I hadn't forgotten about this series, I did forget that you had not yet finished it. So hurray for surprises.

B-Sol said...

Thanks for reading, Gord. I know they're few and far between--it's quite strenuous putting these babies together! Two more to go...

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