by D.W. Lundberg

Thursday, November 4, 2010





Slasher pics. Zombie flicks. Dismemberment, monsters and murder. The Horror film has evolved since the days of early cinema, when genre pics kept their horrors mostly off-screen. Now, though, filmmakers leave very little to the imagination, as if the simple act of scaring us just isn't enough. 2000-2009 saw the return of the "splatter film" in significant numbers, with prolonged sequences of torture, mutilation, and gore. While titles like Hostel and Saw dominated multiplexes, other trends included remakes of American classics (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween), remakes of Asian Horror flicks (The Ring, The Grudge), and "found footage" films (Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity). There was, in short, no shortage of frights this decade.

The Top Five:

5. Shaun Of The Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004)

Just when you thought zombie movies couldn't get any funnier. Part end-of-the-world scenario, part Romantic Comedy (billed, in fact, as the world's first "zom rom com"), Edgar Wright's side-splitting Horror-Comedy is a mishmash of so many genres it's hard to guess what'll come at you next. Wright co- scripted with star Simon Pegg, based off an idea from their British slacker sitcom Spaced, about an aimless appliance salesman who's settled into such a routine – hanging out with his ne'er-do-well flatmate at the local pub, and generally disappointing his girlfriend – that it literally takes scores of the undead to shake him from his stupor. This mix of shrieks and laughter has been done before, of course (George A. Romero's Dawn Of The Dead springs immediately to mind, as does Sam Raimi's Evil Dead series) – but never quite at this pitch. One minute the dry British wit floors you with its typical indifference, the next someone's getting ripped to pieces during zombie attacks. For anyone with the stomach for it, Shaun's a real hoot.

4. [REC] (Jaume Balagueró / Paco Plaza, 2007)

The faux "found footage" formula gets the full-throttle treatment from Spanish directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, who could teach other filmmakers a thing or two on how to build a ruthlessly efficient scare machine. The plot? A TV reporter (Manuela Velasco) and her loyal cameraman accompany firefighters on what appears to be a routine emergency call, only to find themselves trapped in a quarantined apartment building where a rampaging virus runs amok. Just your typical haunted house type stuff (with zombies!), with characters running for their lives inside increasingly confined spaces. What really sets it apart, though, is the sheer frenzied force of the thing, with shocks that come at a different tempo than we're used to; the pacing is so furious, in fact, you might not even realize that certain shots go on for a matter of minutes, the requisite makeup effects looking like they happen live, on camera. This is a movie that wants to rattle you, and does, right on through its terror-drenched finale, which actually had my hair standing on end. It's proof that there's life in the old shaky-cam first-person formula yet.

3. Noroi (The Curse) (Kôji Shiraishi, 2005)

Speaking of "found footage" mockumentaries, you're forgiven if you've never heard of this one – it's not yet available outside of Japan, and it took me a while before I was finally able to locate a decent copy on YouTube. I think coming across it this way only adds to its mystique, like getting your hands on something forbidden and secret. Shot entirely on digital video for added creep factor, director Kôji Shiraishi stages Noroi like a puzzle with supernatural undertones. A journalist (Jin Muraki) renowned for his investigations into the paranormal stumbles upon an ancient curse linking a random series of people and events, including a trio of psychics, a recluse and her young son, mass suicides, mutilated pidgeons, and demonic rituals. Muraki, with his cherubic cheeks and undaunted quest for "the truth," approaches each new discovery with an all-too subjective eye; he forgets that real horror lies just beyond our realm of understanding. This is gore-free, hair-raising stuff, a Horror-Thriller infinitely more terrifying for what it suggests than for what it actually shows.

2. Låt Den Rätte Komma In (Let The Right One In) (Tomas Alfredson, 2008)

If you're sensing a pattern here, you're right: Americans have lost the ability to make a quality Horror movie. There's a spooky, dreamlike quality missing from our recent genre titles, which other countries seem to have gotten down pat. This Swedish gem, practically dripping with atmosphere, is a vampire tale with a mournful beating heart, in which two lost souls are drawn together at a deeply emotional - rather than physical - level. (It's been called the "anti-Twilight" on more than one occasion, and for good reason.) Oskar is a fey, hapless 12-year-old who's poised to become a monster – his divorced parents ignore him, he's bullied regularly at school, and he fantasizes nightly about revenge, with a pocket knife he keeps hidden under his bed. No wonder he falls for Eli, the mysterious little "girl" who moves into the apartment next door – she's every bit the lovelorn loner that he is. The mood here is so delicate that even the sudden outbursts of violence have a tinge of poetry to them, and the character relationships are handled with such subtlety you're hardly sure whether to be creeped out or genuinely moved. Based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also wrote the screenplay.

1. Kairo (Pulse) (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2001)

As we've become increasingly dependent on our chat rooms and social networking sites as a substitute for actual human interaction, no movie this entire decade felt as eerily prophetic as Kiyoshi Kurosawa's dread-ridden Kairo, which predates Facebook by a full three years. It's also one of the first J-Horror titles without a single black-haired, vengeful spirit girl in sight, which earns it extra points for originality. Oh, there are still plenty of ghosts – spooky ink blot blur-thingies that move in and out of frame at horrifying, shuddery-slow speeds – but they're sadder, lonelier, and they've found a way to drag us into their existential limbo via the Internet. The movie's tone is equally morose, and meditative too, a fact that may frustrate fans of simpler-minded genre efforts. The most unsettling Horror masterpieces have always been metaphors for the mundanities of everyday life - think Dawn Of The Dead as commentary on brain-numbing consumerism, or the political/economical anxieties of Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Kairo suggests something even scarier: that the longer we lose ourselves to the technological "advances" of today, the lonelier our existence will be.


There. This one's a little late, I know, but what can I say? Nothing says "scary" like getting a few steps closer to the holidays, right? Right? Anyway, that's eight down, two to go. Horror not your cup of tea? Well, ladies, you're in luck. Up next: Romance. A great opportunity to show off my swoonier side.


  1. I loved Shaun of the Dead, but I have to say I actually think Fido is funnier. If you haven't seen it, check it out.

    Are REC and Quarantine the same movie? I saw Quarantine but not REC, but by the way you described it, it sounded like the exact same movie with a different title.

    I haven't seen the other three. I started watching Let the Right One In, but couldn't get passed the first scene. Maybe I'll give it another shot, oh, and check out Noroi and Kairo, too.

  2. Yes, [REC] was remade as the terrible QUARANTINE. I can't put my finger on it, but something about the remake just lacked the same kind of thrill as the Spanish version. A sense of style and menace, maybe. (And what a cheat to see the ads for QUARANTINE give away the last shot of the movie!)

    LET THE RIGHT ONE IN was also remade recently stateside, by the director of CLOVERFIELD. It was pretty good, from what I hear. I'm sure there are many people who have a hard time with the original, which is too bad. It's a movie that hints at everything and tells you nothing flat out, and moves at a dreamlike pace that I thought was mesmerizing.

    And yes, please check out KAIRO. It's the one J-Horror that actually has a point. Thanks for the comment!