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Saturday, September 18, 2010

21st Century Terrors, Part 9: 2008

Welcome back, after quite a long hiatus, to the Vault's rather exhaustive look back at the decade of horror cinema that ended last December. It's probably for the best anyway, since the more distance that accumulates, the easier it is to properly judge exactly what it was that went down, and exactly what it all meant. When last we left off, we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of the late '00s, right at the moment when the remake craze had truly strapped the horror genre to the speedboat like Fonzie...

One of the decade's most egregious remake offenses occurred this year, when American filmmakers took what had been one of the most talked about foreign films of the previous year, [REC], and turned it into Quarantine, a virtual scene-for-scene English translation of the Spanish original, with Dexter's Jennifer Carpenter in the lead role. It was a very cynical affair, too, with the Spanish version being purposely withheld from home video or theatrical release in America until the inferior remake had had a chance to run its course with a public who generally believed it to be an original work.

Quarantine may have been the most obvious and most cynical of the bunch, but it was far from the only. Alexandre Aja, who had previously given us the admittedly well-made redo of Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes, this time dished up the Keifer-Sutherland vehicle Mirrors, a remake of the 2003 South Korean film Into the Mirror. Jessica Alba headlined The Eye, a vastly inferior rehash of a 2002 flick out of Hong Kong. And the utterly inane One Missed Call, taken from a 2003 Japanese movie, assaulted our senses as well. The bankruptcy of ideas was reaching epic proportions.

But it didn't end there. Cult classics and long-time favorites of American horror cinema continued to be liberally raped, as well. Take the PG-13 version of Prom Night, which took an enjoyable little Jamie Lee Curtis slasher of the early 1980s and turned it into something that could've aired in prime time on Nickelodeon. And then, although it pains me to even bring it up, there was the tragically wrong-headed remake of George Romero's Day of the Dead, undertaken by '80s veteran Steve Miner, who should've known better. The less said about that abortion, the better.

But although the heyday of the early-to-mid portion of the decade was decidedly over, there was still enough original, engaging material out there to keep the die-hard fans entertained, even while the masses were being spoon-fed Hollywood's easily digestible pap. For example, for those savvy enough to seek it out, there was The Midnight Meat Train, a grim and unrelenting adaptation of one of Clive Barker's classic short stories that stands as possibly the finest Barker screen adaptation since Hellraiser (superior in fact, if you ask this blogger.)

And although they divided fans--as most horror films of the recent past always seem to do--films like The Strangers and The Ruins were fresh and interesting enough to provide some relief from the onslaught of garbage. The former, borrowing liberally from the grand tradition of home invasion cinema, was a taut psychological thriller that threw in a sprinkling of torture porn sensibility for good measure. And the latter, an adaptation of the wildly successful 2006 novel by Scott B. Smith (author of A Simple Plan, brilliantly adapted by Sam Raimi in 1998), took the painfully trite teen horror sub-genre and gave it a much-needed supernatural kick in the ass.

On its last legs, the zombie subgenre offered up Dance of the Dead, an endearing take on some well-worn territory that managed to succeed by grafting familiar tropes into a high school setting, resulting in something like a John Hughes-esque response to Shaun of the Dead. And although nowhere even approaching the sublimity that rom-zom-com achieved, this one at least gave us some hot zombie sex, and cemented Pat Benatar's "Shadows of the Night" as one of the most memorable rock songs ever featured in a horror film.

But of course, no discussion of horror film in 2008 would be complete without bringing up Darren Lynn Bousman's Repo! The Genetic Opera, one of the most unique, confounding, and possibly ingenious movies to hit the genre in some time. A bold rock opera with a star-studded cast, it scores major points for effort and originality, even if the finished product is admittedly not without significant flaws. Most impressively of all, however, is the way the film managed to become more of a cultural event than most horror films do these days--even if that status was achieved in a much more carefully orchestrated and less organic manner than with such films as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, for example.

And then, there was Let the Right One In. The film, which for my money, was the most memorable, best-made and most evocative the horror genre gave us for the entire decade. Yes, it was not entirely a horror movie, but whatever it was, this unique Swedish adaptation of the vampire novel of the same name was a damn fine motion picture. Standing out head and shoulders in the crowd of mediocrity that was 2008, Let the Right One In was the kind of film that reminded many--this blogger included--of not only why they love horror film in the first place, but why they love film, period.

The touching tale of Oskar and Eli, the young mortal boy and the otherwordly vampire girl with whom he falls charmingly and platonically in love, LTROI was the finest of all the foreign horror that washed ashore during this period. It may also very well be one of, if not the best vampire film ever made. If the 2000s in horror is remembered for nothing else at all, it will always be remembered for giving us Let the Right One In.

With the decade creaking to a close, the horror genre was stumbling toward the '10s with all the grace of an unraveling mummy. There were gems to be found, no question--it was just taking more and more effort to look for them. But for those willing to trudge through the muck spewed forth by the remake machine, it was still a pretty decent time to be a horror fan. And fans certainly had more than enough movies over to which argue vociferously--and if that's not what being a fanboy is all about, I don't know what is.

Also in 2008:
  • Saw V
  • Shutter
  • Splinter
  • Teeth
  • Zombie Strippers
Part 1: 2000
Part 2: 2001
Part 3: 2002
Part 4: 2003
Part 5: 2004
Part 6: 2005
Part 7: 2006
Part 8: 2007


D. Hay said...

I’ve been reading up on your “21st Century Terrors” blog posts lately, and I’ve got to say, you have done terrifically so far in covering a lot of nice insight on the horror genre in the 2000’s in such a well-written and engaging manner, and this entry is no exception. Shame "Let the Right One In" (so far, my favorite horror film of the previous decade) wasn’t covered, but then again maybe that’s just me. Looking forward with great interest to the finale!

K. Frankenstein said...

Another great article. After reading it I realized that 2008 really was a pretty sloppy year for our beloved genre. Out of the films covered, the only ones really worth viewing are Dance Of The Dead, Repo! and Midnight Meat Train. Strangers was good, but I found it to be very hit or miss.

R.Sterling Carody said...

The day of the dead remake was not only a bad remake, but a horrible movie in general. Here are some words to live by...if a movie stars a rapper....DON'T watch it. 11 times out of 10 this is gooood advice.

Pax Romano said...

You had me until The Midnight Meat Train and Dance of the Dead - I despised both of those films for various reasons, but since you are usually right about everything horror (and because you are such a hep cat) you get a pass.

As for the Prom Night and Day of the Dead remakes; the less said about them the better.

The Strangers (which put me in mind of the French Film, Them) had to be one of the most unnerving cinematic experiences I have had in a long time.

B-Sol said...

Great Caesar's Ghost! How could I have possibly left out Let the Right One In??? Talk about a brain fart... Hmmm... Looks like I'm going to be updating this baby a little later today...

Morbidementia said...

I gotta stick up for Quarantine, Jennifer Carpenter does an amazing job (as always), and its actually a very scary movie. That being said, no, its not as good as the original, but yes, sadly there are a LOT of Americans who are too dumb to read subtitles and too xenophobic to watch anything that doesn't star white people, so they are at least partially to blame for making Amer-remakes like this so viable.

Speaking of movies that got the Amer-remakeover, missing Let the Right One In was an unfortunate oversight, I still may not have seen a better horror film since. But overall, incredibly excellent job, these recaps of each year of the decade can't be easy to do!

Michele (TheGirlWhoLovesHorror) said...

Mmmm, Midnight Meat Train. Great little film. Also big love for The Ruins, The Strangers, and yes, I'm going to say it, Mirrors. It doesn't have THAT much rewatch value, but I have to give it props for that freaking jaw rip death. I still can't get over that shit.

B-Sol said...

Well there, now the Let the Right One In omission has been rectified...

Missy Y. said...

Martyrs. Martyrs. Martyrs.

Missy Y. said...

Also, The Strangers enters the realm of unbelievability rather quickly and then never recovers itself, but the first thirty are very tense.

B-Sol said...

I'm going leave Martyrs for 2009, since that was when it first became available in the United States (on home video). Yes, Ameri-centric of me, I know...

Mikki said...

Speaking of brain farts...the tub picture...what movie is it from?

B-Sol said...

That scene is from Mirrors.

Mikki said...

B-Sol, thanks. I knew I recognized it, but couldn't place it!

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