Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends. Last time, we looked at my top ten list of ‘90s horror films; this time, it’s time for the 2000s, the turn of the millennium. Be warned: this list has a lot more foreign films on it and even — gasp! — two Canadian films. So prepare yourselves for some 2000-2009 horror film goodness.
Let’s start with one you may not have heard of — in fact, one you probably haven’t heard of, considering that it was a Canadian horror film released eight years ago. However, it’s also one of the most inventive zombie movies I have ever seen.
The basic plot is thus: Stephan McHattie plays a shock jock in the small town of Pontypool, Ontario. One evening, however, reports come in of people speaking gibberish...and then the government quarantines the entire town and warns the people not to use “terms of endearment, baby talk, rhetorical discourse, or the English language.”
What’s left is a slow burn horror film consisting primarily of two people trying to fend off a horde of zombies and the language plague that causes them. And it is fantastic. If you’ve never seen it, you definitely should.
Speaking of zombies, sometimes you just want to watch a movie without a lot of subtext. No “zombies as a metaphor for the decay of society” or “zombies as a metaphor for the Other”; no, sometimes you just want to watch someone bash some zombies in their fucking teeth.
And so I give you Zombieland. Where Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigal Breslin have tons of fun driving, smashing, meeting (and accidentally killing) Bill Murray, and shooting a lot of zombies.
Also, it’s pretty much the only zombie film that features a Zombie Kill of the Week where a zombie is taken out by a little old lady and a piano.
The Devil’s Backbone (2001)
Some of you may be asking where Pan’s Labyrinth is on this list and I have an answer: it’s not on this list because it’s not, technically, a horror movie. No, it’s a dark fantasy movie. However, Guillermo del Toro did make a horror movie before Pan’s Labyrinth and it is incredibly creepy and it’s called The Devil’s Backbone.
The plot is this: during the Spanish Civil War, Casares and Carmen operate a small home for war orphans and those whose parents can no longer take care of them. However, the home is haunted, not just by the ghost of a dead boy, but also by an unexploded bomb in the middle of the compound and the schemes of Jacinto, who looks to rob the place and leave it for the fascists.
It may not be for everyone, but it’s a fascinating and exceedingly creepy Spanish horror film that derives its horror not just from the supernatural but from regular people, too.
Ginger Snaps (2000)
Let’s get this out of the way: the horror genre is often male dominated. That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of female characters — there is a reason the Last Girl is a trope — but they don’t often drive the plot. The plot is driven by the male slasher or monster or mad scientist or whatever.
Not so with Ginger Snaps. Ginger Snaps is another Canadian horror film about two sisters, Ginger and Bridgette, who are one day attacked by a creature that bites Ginger. Later on, Ginger finds herself...changing.
Vampires have long been metaphors for unbridled sexuality, but this is the first time I’ve seen a werewolf movie use that trope and it uses it well, as Ginger goes through her transformation and Bridgette is forced to figure out how to cure or kill her.
Also, fun fact: the director, John Fawcett, went on to co-create Orphan Black.
Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
Imagine Bruce Campbell playing an elderly Elvis Presley, who teams up with an elderly black John F. Kennedy to fight against an elderly mummy who drains people’s life forces out from their assholes.
Got that? Good, because that’s exactly what Bubba Ho-Tep is about.
Bubba Ho-Tep is a film directed by Phantasm director Don Coscarelli, based on a novella by Joe R. Lansdale, and if the description of what it’s about interested you, you should definitely see it. It’s a film that is as much about the ravages of time as it is about the ravages of a deadly mummy. Who, might I remind you, eats people’s souls through their assholes.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
What can I write about Shaun of the Dead that has not been written yet? What self-respecting horror fan has yet to see this pitch perfect zombie parody? This shining example of rom-zom-com (romantic comedy with zombies)?
Well, in case you were one of the few: go see it. Now. Shut down your computer, go find the film, and watch it. I’ll wait. Okay, you’ve seen it now? Good. Then I don’t have to explain how it’s about Shaun and his friend Ed and Shaun’s girlfriend Liz and how they survive a zombie apocalypse. Because you’ve already seen it.
How’s that for a slice of friend gold?
Before James Gunn hit it big with Guardians of the Galaxy, he made smaller indie films, one of which was Slither. It’s a twist on every ‘80s alien invasion and body snatchers film there is and it is quite good.
The plot is thusly: Nathan Fillion is the sheriff of a small town in South Carolina when a meteorite falls in one of the fields. What’s in the meteorite infects a dog and then a hunter named Grant Grant, who happens to be married to Starla, whom Fillion is also in love with.
Things get complicated, however, when the alien infects more people, causes slugs to come out of their bodies and infect nearly all of the townspeople. It’s a brilliantly gory and funny horror film. Or, as Fillion’s character says, “Well, now that is some fucked up shit.”
The Descent (2005)
So hey, remember how I praised Ginger Snaps for being about two women? Well, okay, The Descent is about five women who decide to go spelunking in a cave. However, one of them chose the wrong cave to go spelunking in and they quickly find themselves lost and also followed by some mysterious creatures.
The director, Neil Marshall, creates a wonderfully claustrophobic atmosphere as the women go deeper and deeper, not only into the cave, but also revealing their own personal sins to each other. (Marshall went on to win an Emmy for directing a few episodes of Game of Thrones.) The monsters, too, are mainly seen via shadows and it’s not known if, in fact there are any monsters or if they are merely hallucinations by the main character. Watch the film and see for yourself (try to see it with the original ending, though).
Let the Right One In (2008)
This is quite possibly the only Swedish horror movie I have ever seen, but it’s already set the bar high. Let the Right One In is a movie about a vampire, but not the kind you expect.
The plot is about Oskar, a 12-year-old boy in western Stockholm in 1981. Although often bullied and ridiculed, one day he meets a young girl named Eli. Eli says that she is thirteen, but that she’s been thirteen “for a very long time.”
What ensues is both sweet and creepy and incredibly bloody. I couldn’t bring myself to watch the American remake, Let Me In, because Let the Right One In got everything right on the first go and left a lasting impression. Even if that impression was one of shivering in fear.
The Orphanage (2007)
And now we return to another Spanish horror film, this one only produced by Guillermo del Toro and directed by J.A. Bayona (who went on to direct the first two episodes of Penny Dreadful).
The movie is about Laura, a woman who is returning to live in the former orphanage she lived in before getting adopted. Now she is bringing her husband and son, Simón, and wants to reopen the orphanage for disabled children.
Unfortunately, Simón soon tells her that he befriended a boy named Tomas, who wears a sack mask. And then Simón goes missing.
The Orphanage redefines the “slow burn” horror film and turns up the tension to eleven, often shocking without using any jump scares at all. And the ending...well, the ending is one of the saddest endings I’ve ever seen. If you’re in the mood for something that makes your skin crawl and heart ache, then watch The Orphanage.
Man, so many foreign horror films. The aughts were not a good decade for American horror films. So let’s take a look at the Twenty Tens next, shall we?