In this first installment of Bloody-Disgusting’s “Top 20 Horror Films of the 2000s” list, voted on by the staff of B-D, we begin the countdown with one honorable mention followed by numbers 20-16. If there’s a theme running through the following picks, it’s that bigger isn’t necessarily better. With the exception of one of the films (which itself had a relatively small budget), all of them were made for $11 million or less. From gory, surreal slasher films to subtle ghost stories, these movies represent cases of resourceful directors managing to do a lot with very little.
Frailty, a film about a delusional man who forces his two sons to accompany him on a killing spree and which deals with the crimes’ after-effects on one of the grown-up sons in the present day, came and went quietly in 2002. But its reputation has grown over the years, mostly due to good word-of-mouth from those who have since discovered just what an underrated gem it really is. Bill Paxton directs and stars, in a creepy performance as the aforementioned father who hallucinates a vision he believes was sent by God ordering him to seek out and kill “demons” that have taken on human form. The nature of the murders is grisly, although there’s not much blood in the film; Paxton wisely chooses to focus on the moral implications of the killings rather than their gruesome details. What results is a small-scale, thought-provoking horror film that deserves a second look.
Just when we all thought we were over the “shaky-cam” craze, along came Cloverfield, the J.J. Abrams-produced monster movie that melded the terrifying first-person realism of The Blair Witch Project with the large-scale destruction of the Godzilla movies. A brilliant conceit, to be sure, backed by a genius early marketing campaign that followed the less-is-more philosophy to tantalizing effect. Luckily for audiences, it was a philosophy carried over from the film itself, which particularly in the early going milked our anticipation with maximum effectiveness while showing only brief glimpses of the creature. Much like Blair Witch nearly ten years earlier, Cloverfield helped prove, particularly in its first half hour, that what you don’t see can be the scariest thing of all.
Considered a disappointment at the time of its release, this adaptation of the novel by Bret Easton Ellis has grown in stature through the years and become something of a cult classic. Much of this can be attributed to Christian Bale’s disturbing/darkly hilarious turn as serial killer/Manhattan businessman Patrick Bateman, a role that in hindsight couldn’t have been played by any other actor. Along with The Rules of Attraction, the film is also perhaps the purest distillation of the Ellis aesthetic ever put to celluloid; it’s “Me Decade” as surreal, blood-soaked horror show. At its best, the film reflects our own narcissism, and the shallow American culture it was spawned from, with piercing effectiveness. Much of the credit for this can go to director Mary Harron, whose off-kilter tendencies are a good complement to Ellis’ unique style.
Following the Weinstein-butchered Mimic, his disastrous first foray into American filmmaking, Guillermo del Toro went back to his roots and crafted this elegant and deeply-felt ghost story set during the Spanish Civil War. Like Pan’s Labyrinth, which del Toro has called Backbone’s “spiritual sequel”, it’s alternately a gut-wrenching portrait of childhood in a time of war and a skin-crawling, evocative nightmare. It’s also the rare horror film that functions equally well as a human drama, and that’s due to del Toro’s skill at writing full-blooded characters we can truly care about. At the end of the day, the film ultimately works so well because del Toro understands that at the core of every good horror story, whether explicit or not, lies a beating human heart.
Lucky McKee’s twisted tale about a miserably lonely and awkward young woman who resorts to murder was criminally under-seen at the time of its release (no thanks to Lion’s Gate, which essentially dumped the film), but its standing has grown among lovers of idiosyncratic horror over the years. Playing the title character is Angela Bettis, who manages to remain sympathetic even as she begins her killing spree late in the film; her performance is so generously complex that we continue to hope for her redemption even as the blood begins to flow. The plotting itself manages to sidestep the usual slasher tropes as it slowly and inexorably unravels, all leading up to a quietly haunting conclusion that is as heart-wrenching as it is unnerving. If you haven’t seen it yet, give this one a try.
Sure it was just released this year, but don’t discount Paranormal Activity just because it’s so recent. Forget the lame tacked-on studio ending; overall it’s a genuinely scary film that turns the screws of audience anticipation with merciless skill. Director Oren Peli understands well the art of suggestion, and by the end he manages to build an atmosphere of almost unbearable dread. Of course, with a budget of only $15,000 you don’t have much choice but to keep the source of all the spooky goings-on off-screen, but Peli deserves props for milking the maximum amount of tension out of the spare, modern setting – an ordinary, cookie-cutter tract home in San Diego. It doesn’t sound very scary, but Peli manages to make it terrifying. If you aren’t white-knuckling your armrest at least once or twice while watching it, you probably don’t have a pulse.
Editorial written by Chris Eggertsen
*Editor’s Note: For those of you interested in knowing how the list came to be, here’s an explanation. Bloody Disgusting writers collaborated on a list of some of the best films this decade. The entire list was given to the Bloody Disgusting staff who then built their own Top 20 lists. Each film was given a point value. 20 received 1 point, 19 received 2 points, and so on all the way to number 1, which received 20 points. The numbers were tallied and the result are the top films listed. The bonus film had tied with #20 and the tie was broken by the number of actual votes.
The following participated in the project: Mr. Disgusting, Tex Massacre, BC, David Harley, Ryan Daley, Chris Eggertsen, Jeff Otto, John Marrone, Horror_Guy, Mr_Bungle, Klown, Caustic Coffee and Tool Shed