00′s Retrospect: 2003, the Year Horror Explodes!

Y2K, 9/11, war and a a horrid recession, a major escape we had this decade was in the form of film, notorious for thriving during National crisis. Leading up to New Year’s Eve where we’ll ring in 2010, Bloody Disgusting will be looking back at the entire decade year by year through the eyes of various staff writers. Check back each day for a profound reflection from Ryan Daley, David Harley, Tex, BC and yours truly. Inside you’ll find my own personal look back at the year 2003, the year horror explodes!! Please share your memories for each year below, there are so many stories to be told!

’00 | ’01 | ’02 | ’03 | ’04 | ’05 | ’06 | ’07 | ’08 | ’09

More Retrospects:
-Top 20 Films of the Decade: 21-16 | 15-11 | 10-6 | 5-1
-Dead on Arrival: Ten Horror Duds of the Last Decade

2003

While horror started to gain momentum in 2001 and 2002, things didn’t really explode until 2003. In my humble opinion, this is the year when horror once again became popular in mainstream culture. Before that, the genre had been all but abandoned by studios, yet a few small recent hits had given momentum to projects that would soon set off the fireworks and lead to the return of horror in the 2000s.

After nearly a year of heavy hype, Sony Pictures’ DARKNESS FALLS finally hit theaters on January 23. This was not the way I’d hoped to start the year off, but at least the pic took in $32m, a high amount for a straight horror release. I remember this release vividly, mostly due to early test screening reviews on Ain’t it Cool News (and another site I can’t recall) that raved about the project. In fact, the reason these reviewers loved the film was because Jonathan Leibesman had opted to keep the “Tooth Fairy” in the dark (hence the rather misleading title). Soon after, Sony had announced a string of heavy reshoots and bragged about the new creature designs by Stan Winston (sketches followed, ruining any element of surprise the film might have had). The plan was to bring the Tooth Fairy out of the shadows and into the light, because apparently that’s what audiences had complained about in the early test screenings. What hit the screen was utter garbage, sans the incredible opening sequence that appears to be the only scene to have kept the tone and technicality of the original cut. I’ve asked Leibesman if there’s a version of his cut floating around somewhere, but unfortunately it looks like it might just be lost to history. Those who attended one of the early test screenings should consider themselves lucky.

DARKNESS FALLS immediately became last week’s news as New Line Cinema’s FINAL DESTINATION 2 hit theaters only a week later, a release that would signal the beginning of a wonderful year. It’s rare when a sequel is nearly as good as its predecessor, but FD2 proved to be quite a treat, featuring some of the most entertaining kills ever to grace the big screen. The movie took in a whopping $46.5m, which was only a small taste of the massive year in horror New Line was set to enjoy in 2003.

Years of wondering and painful waiting finally came to an end on April 11, when Rob Zombie’s directorial debut, HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES, was released by Lionsgate. Originally produced by Universal Pictures, the trailers for Zombie’s HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES had been incredibly misleading. The lot of us in Chicago had been under the assumption it was a zombie film. After being initially disappointed by the movie, a second trip to the theater proved far more enjoyable, and HOUSE went on to become a genuine cult classic (not to mention a favorite in my own collection). Quirky, fun and quite violent, the film managed $12.6m in a limited theatrical release; its relative success would bring Lionsgate on board for its sequel, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS.

One of my personal most anticipated releases of 2003 was the John Cusack thriller IDENTITY (April 25). While the movie didn’t live up to my delusional hype, I still remember the Columbia Pictures film rocking one of the best trailers of the decade. At the time it came out, I literally watched it over and over again. Of course, the real shocker wasn’t that the pic was just “meh”, it was that it banked $51.5m at the domestic box office.

Even though 20th Century Fox’s WRONG TURN (May 18) only pulled in $15.4m at the box office, the backwoods mutant slasher spawned two direct-to-disc sequels and featured Eliza Dushku, rocking an ultra hot wife-beater, in her prime. The brutal film also featured Jeremy Sisto, who became popular among horror fans during that time after he starred in 2002′s MAY. Personally, I found having such a violent film in theaters a welcome breath of fresh air, even though its lack of mainstream success didn’t bode too well for similar films (you know how studio execs can get). Fortunately none of that would matter soon enough, with the release of the TEXAS CHAINSAW remake right on the horizon.

The most anticipated movie of my entire life (at the time) was FREDDY VS. JASON, a film that was teased when JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY hit theaters in the summer of ’93. Yes, I’d started talking about the battle of horror icons when I was still in junior high but didn’t have the benefit of seeing the film until I was legally able to drink. Go figure. At the time, the only studio Bloody Disgusting had contact with was New Line, and I begged them to allow me to attend the red carpet premiere in Las Vegas, where Robert Englund was due to show up in full Freddy Krueger make-up (to weigh-in against Ken Kirzinger as the new [sympathetic] Jason Voorhees). Following would be the first screening to show the ending that had been so closely guarded. The studio cleared me to go, I purchased my tickets and was ready to roll…and then the premiere was cancelled. At least there was to be a special screening in Chicago, and sure enough my friend and I rolled post haste to be the first in line (yes, I’m a fanatic). Call it over-anticipation; call it a patent refusal to believe the film wasn’t as good as I hoped it would be; whatever it was, I LOVED IT. I saw it multiple times in theaters, and apparently I wasn’t alone. FREDDY VS. JASON made bank, taking in $82.2m at the domestic box office, a total so shocking that the only thing even more so is that New Line never greenlit a sequel (you stupid f*cking dolts – no wonder you were absorbed by Warner Bros.).

Two weeks later, MGM busted out with JEEPERS CREEPERS II (directed by that piece of sh*t child molestor Victor Salva), which made an impressive $35.1m. To this day that has to be one of the worst movie-going experiences of my life. Kids were talking on cell phones, throwing popcorn and money at each other, and aiming their f*cking laser pointers at the screen. You’d have thought I was in the Bronx.

On September 3rd Lionsgate began their limited release of Eli Roth’s highly anticipated CABIN FEVER, which they had acquired at TIFF the summer before. Critics were raving about it, likening it to Sam Raimi’s classic film THE EVIL DEAD. It was no such thing. At the time I HATED the movie, mostly because it just didn’t live up to the hype. It wasn’t until recently that I was able to appreciate what Roth had done with the film. Like it or not, it was a game-changer. It pulled in $21.2m and gave Lionsgate a lot of clout in the acquisition world. They were quickly becoming know for high-caliber indie horror, which would lead to the release of films like SAW, HIGH TENSION and THE DESCENT.

A week later Sony Screen Gems would release Len Wiseman’s UNDERWORLD, a film horror fans were quite excited for at the time (mostly due to the “Romeo and Juliet” angle between the vampires and werewolves that had been pitched). The movie sucked, except for the fact we got to watch Kate Beckinsale run around for an hour and a half in pleather. Yum. At the end of the day, that’s all it took for the movie to pull in $51.5m and create a new franchise (the fourth is being released in 3-D in 2011).

Another momentous occasion that year was Uwe Boll’s HOUSE OF THE DEAD, which arrived in theaters on October 10. After all the cool sales art, and having watched people made up as zombies walking around the Chicago Comic Con (or was it Wizard World?) that summer, we were all a bit excited…that is, until the revelation that actual game footage would be integrated into the feature. What followed was Uwe Boll earning an early reputation as a peddler of unbearably bad video-game adaptations. This was truly the beginning of it all, my friends. Uwe Boll = the Ed Wood of the 2000s.

New Line Cinema had already made box office gold with FINAL DESTINATION 2 and FREDDY VS JASON earlier in the year; now the “House That Freddy Built” was also bringing Leatherface back to the screen with THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (October 17), a remake of Tobe Hooper’s classic film produced by Platinum Dunes. This was the first Michael Bay/Platinum Dunes-produced horror remake to hit theaters, and was one of the early culprits that led to this becoming the “decade of remakes”. Still, I’ll defend this specific remake, as at the time it was brutal and uncompromising. Considering the rash of garbage in theaters the previous 13 years, CHAINSAW was something we hadn’t seen in horror since the `70s; it was a ballsy move by New Line to produce such a hardcore movie. Say what you will about Platinum Dunes, but the CHAINSAW remake deserves some street cred, even though in the light of 2009 it already feels a bit dated. Nevertheless, the film took in $80.1m, making it the second $80m horror blockbuster of the year for New Line.

My experience in seeing that movie was pretty incredible as I saw it in Chicago sitting right next to Roger Ebert in his own screening room (that’s where a lot of press screenings are in Chicago, it wasn’t some special event or anything). I couldn’t help but watch him during the screening, I mean, he’s a legend. How would Roger Ebert react to a hardcore horror film? I was shocked to read in his review that he HATED it. “This movie, strewn with blood, bones, rats, fetishes and severed limbs, photographed in murky darkness, scored with screams, wants to be a test: Can you sit through it? There were times when I intensely wanted to walk out of the theater and into the fresh air and look at the sky and buy an apple and sigh for our civilization, but I stuck it out.” While I 100% respect the man’s opinion, I couldn’t help but feel that he was expecting something different with CHAINSAW. Did he want a Disney movie? Anyways, glancing over the few times during the showing, it was obviously affecting him. He looked like he was in physical pain. Like it or not, the movie pulled on his strings and that says something about it…

One of my all-time favorite moments in the site’s history revolves around GOTHIKA, Dark Castle’s pic starring Academy Award winner Halle Berry, when the studio flew Bloody Disgusting out to Beverly Hills to watch the film and interview its star. When we arrived at the hotel room, we were suddenly denied access when Berry told studio reps, “The name of their site scares me.” No joke. (For the record, we thought it was f*cking hilarious.) Anyway, hitting theaters November 21, GOTHIKA took in nearly $60m and ended a widely successful year for the horror genre.

A few other film to hit theaters in 2003: New Line Cinema’s WILLARD, which starred Crispin Glover and his pet rat(s), took in a miserable $6.8m at the box office; the Stephen King adaptation DREAMCATCHER was quite successful pulling in $33.7m; and Disney’s horrid theme-park ride adaptation THE HAUNTED MANSION made an undeserving $75.8m.

Outside all of the theatrical releases, there were some notable DVDs to arrive in stores. Lionsgate Home Entertainment released JU-ON: THE GRUDGE 2, Takashi Shimizu’s Japanese remake of his JU-ON TV series. Lionsgate also released the highly anticipated BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR, along with the hilarious MONSTER MAN, Tobe Hooper’s disappointing TOOLBOX MURDERS remake and the solid supernatural thriller DEAD END (the first movie Bloody Disgusting ever was quoted on).

As a horror fan, being quoted on a DVD was not just exciting, but something I always thought was a sore subject that could have detrimental results. I spent a good portion of my youth watching horror films that I randomly grabbed at my nearest Blockbuster (or other various rental chains). First, a cover would catch my eye. Then I would go over, flip the case over and see what company was releasing it (at the time Lionsgate was the tits). Lastly, I would see what the quotes would say and see if I knew the director or stars. Of all of the years I was renting films, I would say I was burned 95% of the time and typically because of a shill quote from some horror magazine. After we were marked on the DEAD END DVD from Lionsgate, I made a pledge to myself that I personally would only allow my name to be put on quality films — films I personally loved. I’d say I’ve been pretty successful in my endeavor, whether you agree or not, and even most of my staffers have been pretty cool about it too. There’s no feeling like being proud of seeing your name on something and not shuttering in shame. I’ve never felt the latter.

Anyways, more horror DVDs that arrived that year: Media Blasters released Takashi Miike’s ONE MISSED CALL, Elite Entertainment released the fun Troma-esque slasher THE JANITOR, TLA Releasing brought us the Korean ghost pic A TALE OF TWO SISTERS and the amazing 2LDK (why haven’t you seen this yet?!) and Dinsdale Releasing shared with the world the artist MANSON FAMILY.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: DARKNESS FALLS

FINALLY! FREDDY VS JASON

DOUBLE FINALLY! HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES

AND THEY’RE OFF…REMAKES IN FIRST PLACE: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE

FUNNY OLD NEWS

Fiddling with our database I was able to find some random news stories that I thought were funny to look back on. So without further adieu I give you some of the big stories on 2003. Get ready to ROFL (yup, I said ROFL).

March 28: “According to one of the stars of the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, Jessica Biel, this Chainsaw is going to be alot scarier and more disturbing than the original…

March 28: Rob Zombie Explains ‘Crow 2037′ and More! “Click here to read an interview with Rob Zombie. He talkes about everything from The Crow 2037 and why it never panned out to his upcoming horror flick House of 1000 Corpses which hits theaters April 11th.

March 26: ‘Jurassic Park IV’ Filming News. “It’s not really horror news, but why not? Reports are saying that Jurassic Park IV could begin filming in Fall of 2004…

March 18: Candy Man Vs Who? “Well weather you’re a big fan of crossovers or not you should be glad that Candy Man 4 is actually moving forward, and if what Tony Todd has told Movie Hole has any truth then we have something to be excited about…

March 17: “The X-Files 2″ Still A Go. “If you’re a big fan on the tv show or movie then this comes as good news X-Files 2 seems to be moving closer and closer to us with Gillian Anderson letting out a few details she knows. Dark Horizons Reports.

April 25: Possible ‘Dawn of the Dead’ Location Picture! “The remake to the classic zombie flick Dawn of the Dead was reported to be filming in Toronto as they were showing interest in the Eatons Center Mall. Check out this link to get a small picture of the mall. Definately looks like a cool place to make this movie!

April 25: ‘Halloween 9: Retribution?’ Not So Fast! “Keep the thorn away I say! According to this next scoop, Halloween 9 has a title and some plot ideas floating around. Hopefully this news came from a reputable source, but I’m unsure. Here’s an update, according to a few emailers, this post could be completely untrue, but only time will tell…

June 21: Finally Some REAL ‘Halloween 9′ News “Myersfan31 writes in, that the most reliable Halloween website, Halloween Movies reports, “You asked for it and here it is… some OFFICIAL news on Halloween 9! Moustapha Akkad reported today that a storyline has been chosen and the screenplay is being written right now. With discussions taking place with actors and the film set for a summer 2004 release, shooting isn’t too far off. We will, of course, keep everyone updated as things progress. Happy Halloween!”

April 23: ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon’ Synopsis. “It doesnt get more official than this, right from Guillermo del Toros own mouth, the synopsis for Creature form the Black Lagoon…

February 9: ‘Sixth Sense’ Sequel Possible. “Moviehole also reports, “A film so unnecessarily needing a follow-up, The Sixth Sense, might be headed for the sequel treatment. While talking to E Online, Spyglass Productions Roger Birnbaum said it’s not out of the question. “We have an interest in it,” Birnbaum says. “We have the rights. If we can put it together the right way.” The site reports no word if Bruce Willis or Haley Joel Osment would return.”

July 27: You Won’t Last the Night! “Glenn G. took the time to emails us the poster for Uwe Boll’s House of the Dead. I’m assuming this came from the Comic Con, anyways, read on to take a look at this pretty kick ass poster…

October 6: ‘House of the Dead’ Interesting? “LordMangusZombie writes in from the premiere of House of the Dead in Puerto Rico, where he enjoyed the film, but found some parts to be very unappealing (ahem, the video game footage). Read on for a SPOILER filled positive review of the film that will battle it out with Kill Bill this Friday!

October 11: ‘Evil Dead 4′ News Same As Always. “I’m really starting to get sick of old news being reiterated over and over again, but I guess it’s good for people who missed it the first 1000 times. Well over at Aint it Cool News, they posted some comments from Sam Raimi indicating once again that he would still love to do an Evil Dead 4. If you didn’t know already, he has said this numerous times and so has Bruce, read my interview with him to see. Point is, Army of Darkness flopped, and Ash really isn’t a well known name, I get the weirdest look from people when I tell them about the Freddy vs Jason vs Ash idea, ended with a “who’s Ash?” So until something solid gets posted, don’t get your panties in a bunch, there’s been talk for years now, and maybe one day you’ll hear the words “green-light.”

December 12: Zombie to Shoot ‘House 2′ in the Spring. “According to an interview with Rolling Stone, Rob Zombie finally gave another update on his sequel to House of 1000 Corpses (review). He confirmed our report that the script is done, and that a spring release is out of the question. What he did do is elaborate, casting is about to begin, and the film is now set to shoot in the spring, with a Halloween release in mind maybe? He also explained more about the plot, “It’s not going to be ‘House of 1,000 Corpses II’ or anything like that…I wanted to so something like Star Wars, where you have that first film and then you have The Empire Strikes Back. You get a totally different thing. It’s truly the sequel to the movie, but it’s a continuation of the story, not just the same story again.” Follow the link for more…