Guest Blog: John Wiswell's Top Ten [er...18?] Horror Films of the Decade

by John Wiswell.

My top ten Horror movies of the decade, starring eighteen movies! Yeah!

[REC] (2007) - The 2000s were the decade of the zombie, so I'll start my list with my favorite. I saw it before it was remade as Quarantine in the U.S. and didn't know what it was about. I thought it was about a contagion. I wish everyone got to go into this not knowing zombies showed up. ... I just ruined it for you, didn't I? Crap. This list isn’t starting well.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) - There 2000s were also the decade of the docudrama. Behind the Mask is my favorite of the humorous movies of the decade, following a documentary team that films a lovable killer who wants to be the next Freddy Kruger or Michael Myers. The most unashamedly referential (opening bits are actually "shot" in Haddonfield and Elm Street) and wackily-acted, this is the only movie I've ever bought two DVDs of. They were on sale, but still.

The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007) - An indy docudrama that has existed in pre-release-Hell for years. Unlike [REC] and Cloverfield, Poughkeepsie Tapes is presented like a real documentary about a serial killer, with his disturbing home movies cut between interviews with the police and experts who pursued him, and the families of his victims. Bit actors who might never get a chance in a major motion picture filled out a world that feels way too authentic. Whenever you can finally see it, if the subject matter interests you, please see it.

Cloverfield (2008) - I may have watched Blair Witch Project more than any other movie. I have certainly owned more Godzilla movies than movies in any other series. Then they had a baby! This movie was made for me! I'm told this isn't Horror, but there's a giant monster, bugs in the subway, and kids puking in the theatre. That's lifetime achievement award material right there.

Dawn of the Dead (2004 Remake) – Remember when I said this was the decade of the zombie and the docudrama? You knew I was full of crap, right? This was the decade of the remake! And Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead is a landmark Horror remake for three reasons. 1) It's good. 2) It convinced studio executives that every Horror movie should be remade. 3) It doesn't try to be a remake at all, it just has the premise of zombies at a mall. 1) and 3) are quite novel. I wish it had a different title, going the Hatchet route of merely showing its influences on its sleeve, but what can you do? It's dumb fun and zombies running gave so many of my college friends nightmares.

Shaun of the Dead (2004) - Randall will probably tell you why this is funny. So in lieu of praising it, I'd rather relate that I thought it was okay on my first viewing. Pretty funny on the second. Really funny on the third. Hurt myself laughing the next time. Six viewings and it's still funnier every time. I don't know how this happened. All I know is, "We're coming to get you, Barbara!"

28 Days Later (2002) – Slumdog Millionaire if you replace “India” with “Zombies.” I love Danny Boyle, but this is an exercise in crapping on your characters, giving them a couple of minutes only to crap on them even harder, in the effort to make your audience beg for a happy ending. In a cynical world where happy endings are cliché (despite happening less often in serious dramatic films than sad endings), I respect the heck out of them for making it work. The movie is packed with great moments, from wandering the barren streets of London, to the Ave Maria grocery shopping scene, to that one infection. You know that one infection! That one that made the girl in the next row jump up, turn around and scream at me, “That’s not fair!” No movie this decade, no matter how blockbuster huge or art house emotional, has done anything like that to an audience. I also respect the heck out of 28 Days Later for coming up with something more ridiculous than Night of the Living Dead’s radioactive satellite from Venus: it’s infectious monkey anger. That’s the sign of a great movie. Turn infectious monkey anger into something that makes my friends cry with relief.

The Descent (2005) - Not a remake, not based on a Japanese one, not a documentary thing, not a referential comedy or anything. This was just an amazing Horror movie. Remarkably non-slutty, non-moronic women go cave diving and go too deep. They have personalities, charm, and when the beasties show up they aren't hapless pansies. They're mortal and some die, but it's earned in a way you don't even think about in most Horror. The star of the movie is the cave - so huge, so dark, so cramped, channeling every kind of environmental fear, often in ambience if not utter silence.

Hatchet (2006) - Actually advertised as not being a remake or based on a Japanese one! Instead of remaking Friday the 13th, they paid grotesque homage and drew cameos from Robert Englund, Tony Todd and Kane Hodder. Where Descent broke the mold of female stereotypes, Hatchet broke the mold of characters in a slasher movie I didn't care about. Almost everyone was at least funny. The death scenes are so lovingly crafted that I can only hope the special effects crew got counseling afterwards.

Devil's Backbone (2001) - One of two movies on this list you could argue me into agreeing isn't Horror. The ghost child in the basement is a Horror trope, but the whole movie's Gothic sensibility sometimes works as a hard look at children's stories, a civil war picture and a movie about incurable failures in adults. It's like Guillermo Del Toro baked just a quarter of his pizza with Horror toppings. Blood is the sauce all around.

Ginger Snaps (2000)- I mock True Blood for doing a bad imitation of X-Men's tolerance and difference themes with the girl who played Rogue. Ginger Snaps actually taps the same X-Men vein, but it does it well: the split between friends, the sex drive awakening, the changes. The morbid leads helped give it style before the plot broke them up, but the maturation is something that's obvious with most of its allusions, yet never violates the fiction. They're living those examples, rather than playing out examples to make points. Also, holy crap a good werewolf movie!

1408 (2007) – One of the best ghost movies in years. Samuel L. Jackson may always play the same character, but as the warden and eventual personification of a haunted hotel, he experienced one of his best casting opportunities. The randomness eventually tied together and that room was light and wallpapered authentically, but rather than the traditional eeriness of many ghost movies, what shone were the little things. Cusack rests his hand on the window exactly where the suicidal ghost had. That’s layers of creepy that beat actual creepiness. And a ghost movie that had the guts to rip into skeptics for their motives? Wow.

The Host (2006) - Joe Lynch said this was like Jaws meeting Little Miss Sunshine. A mildly demented family is caught in the wake of a genuinely unique-looking beast. It makes you question how far into the movie they'll go before they'll stop having gags (spoiler: they won't stop) and how bad things can get (spoiler: surprisingly sad).

Silent Hill (2006) - That's right, I liked it! It was great. Get off my lawn! It helps that I deeply love the games and know exactly the mindset necessary to understand this movie. In fact, I entered it without thinking, as did the friend who accompanied me. By far the best videogame movie (there's an Ignoble Award waiting to happen), sporting one of the best soundtracks of the decade, and set and creature design that have way more thought in them than they get credit.

Freddy Vs. Jason (2003) - That's right, I liked it! It was great. Get off my lawn!

Trick 'r Treat (2008) - There were three movies that appeared almost at the end of 2009, right before the decade ended. If you think the decade ends in December 2010, we can have a fist fight about it later. Trick 'r Treat was the first of those three, popping on video in time for Halloween, relishing in the traditions of Halloween and so many twists you expect the top to come off and pumpkin-flavored booze to pour off the screen. It peaked early with the principle story, but was still a blast.

Let the Right One In (2008) - Like Silence of the Lambs, one of those Horror movies so good that you do a double-take when people call it Horror. This is the genre where Jason lives, right? Above invoking fear, it's about two desperately lonely children and three amazing performances (including the voice of Eli) that puts it up there with Lord of the Flies, Devil's Backbone and Stand By Me in terms of great movies about children. One of those kids rips a lady's neck open, so it's Horror. Case closed. Heart touched.

Paranormal Activity (2009) - I saw it Halloween day in a theatre sparsely populated by stereotypes. Their shrieking made this so much more fun. It's a great piece of work on its own for being such a slow burn. It could be downright boring in the first twenty minutes, but it's not for bad acting. It really is like people taping themselves. So when spooky things actually happen to them? It was perhaps the first time since the Lord of the Rings films that I forgot what I was watching wasn't real. Anything that can achieve that deserves huge props.

There you go: the top ten Horror movies of the decade. If you don’t like the top ten being eighteen, pick ten of them. Pick the ten you’ve heard of. Pick the ten you like. Pick the ten artsy ones. All I ask is you watch what you love.

John Wiswell is prolific fiction writer currently residing in an undisclosed location called Hillsdale, New York. The majority of he and Randall’s conversations revolve around proofreading, word placement, and whether or not that wrist lock seems believable. This entire thing was his idea, and don’t let him deny it for a single minute. You can read his short form fiction on his blog “The Bathroom Monologues” which he updates with new work daily, or follow him on Twitter.

3 comments :: Guest Blog: John Wiswell's Top Ten [er...18?] Horror Films of the Decade

  1. I liked Freddy vs. Jason too. Where you at haters?

  2. As for "Hatchet," the book was definitely better. I can't believe they took out the part with the moose.

  3. it's weird how some of your top movies, I agree with totally, and the others I totally disagree with. It's weird how I'm not neutral on any of them.