Horrorfest 2014 Presents: Grabbers (2012, Jon Wright)

The British have given us plenty of quality and classic horror films over the years, and Grabbers continues that nice tradition. It’s a horror comedy science fiction movie that once events spiral out of control the film becomes relentlessly entertaining, even though like many films this one borrows from other classics. Still director Jon Wright and a really good cast offer a unique and humorous spin on the whole “Aliens invade small town and try to eat the residents” shtick that has been done before. And the creature effects are quite good in this case for a cult film that doesn’t have a big budget; one of the things I like about horror movies is that since many of them are not well funded you get to see directors trying to create fictional realities the best they can on a limited scale and budget.

There is also a bit of a romantic element, as cops O’ Shea (Richard Coyle) and Lisa (Ruth Bradley) fight and argue while suppressing a growing attraction for each other. Also in the cast is Russell Tovey as Dr. Smith, and David Pearse as Brian, the local pub owner. Most of the jokes are alcohol related in nature, because the aliens are repelled by booze-if the people drink the aliens cannot suck out their blood. One of my favorite parts is when a drunk Lisa stumbles around-something that recalls many a night out either drinking or being around drunks. Even though the last act does borrow a tad from Aliens this film is really awesome, and I enjoyed watching it. Sometimes a horror movie doesn’t have to be really scary or gore filled to be a good or great movie.

Top 20 Horror Films of the 2000s Presents: Monsters (2010)

5.    Monsters (2010, Gareth Edward)

As much a love story as it is a monster movie, Monsters is a tender and moving film, one that is a classic journey story with a twist: a photojournalist and the woman he has been hired to bring back to the states are forced to trek through a Mexican wilderness populated by aliens. Creatures that descended from the sky a couple years prior, taking over the country and forcing the government to enact quarantine areas in an attempt to contain a menace they do not understand.

Andrew and Samantha are two different people, and and such do not get along. She doesn’t understand his job, he likes her but cannot seem to connect with her on any level. The fact that this film was made on a low budget is rather impressive, and that rests not only on the freaky looking aliens but also the two leads, who help carry the movie and give you enough reason to care about them. All great or good monster films rest on that concept, the idea that people are experiencing an unreal nightmare and are forced to deal with that nightmare: that a beast from who knows where has invaded their lives, impacting their ability to survive.

Plus I loved the shots of the Mexican countryside: the beauty of nature juxtaposed with the often constant danger of the aliens, the slowly growing connection between Sam and Andrew, the realization from both that maybe their lives could have greater meaning. Monsters is actually frightening at times, particularly during a night scene with a creature attack straight out of Jurassic Park, and that underlying thought of danger potentially happening is a running theme of the film. I’m glad that the young budding filmmaker Gareth Edwards is directing the new Godzilla film, because he has a clear eye for visuals and has already displayed that he can create a wonderful and yet sad experience in Monsters that left me wanting more.

Top 20 Horror Films of the 2000s Presents: Ginger Snaps (2000)

6.    Ginger Snaps (2000, John Fawcet)

Blood. So much blood. Perhaps its to be expected of a movie that is really about young girls going through puberty, experiencing their period for the first time-and so the red stuff flows. Yet in the end its all about a nasty problem that one sister tries to help the other sister with: being a werewolf. Its bad enough becoming a woman when you also have to be concerned with trying to eat the ones you love once the full moon arises. Ginger Snaps is freaky, weird, gross, and tragic, a sexual opera played out among its main characters, utilizing body horror perfectly-because after all werewolf films concern themselves with body transformation and mutilation, skin covered in hair, the body once human now beast. Having been aware of this film’s well known reputation I wasn’t sure what to expect at first, however after everything starts to go south and the body count starts to rise I knew I was viewing something unique and frightening.

As to why most of the truly good or great werewolf movies exist after 1981 is interesting. Maybe the special effects just were not up to par for decades, although I love the original The Wolfman and think its a classic. The Howling has excellent werewolf makeup and FX, and the only knock against Ginger Snaps is that the werewolves look sort of fake here. That doesn’t take away from the crazy relationship between a pair of sisters, one who ends up changing and the other who feels even more alienated than usual as a result. More feminist driven horror movies need to exist, and one can thank Ginger Snaps and others for helping lead the way or at least breaking the mold.

Top 20 Horror Films of the 2000s Presents: Black Swan (2010)

7.    Black Swan (2010, Darren Aronofsky)

This is one of those entries on my list where people say “Well is this really a horror movie?” I think it fits the basic criteria, which is  disturbing, nightmarish, completely insane by all means, and haunting to the max. Featuring a powerhouse acting job by the lovely Natalie Portman, Arnonofsky takes a rather ordinary plot-a ballet company doing Swan Lake-and turns into a frightening experience combing fantasy with reality, and featuring body horror that would be right at home in a David Cronenberg film. Having Mila Kunis act as Portman’s more outgoing, adventurous counterpart/rival was a great touch, and I loved how expertly creepy and slimy Vincent Cassel was in the role of her director. A man who gets way too close to his dancers, commanding high respect and demanding extreme perfection to the point of causing his performers to be exhausted. This literal balancing act is what causes Portman’s Nina to slowly and then rapidly become unbalanced, giving the movie its bleak center: the pressure causing what little sanity the poor girl had to begin with to ebb away.

Something I truly love about this film is how the darkness builds up to a fevered pitch, as Nina goes from being only able to portray the White Swan to embracing the Black Swan of the title, going inwards into herself and uncovering the madness necessary to let go. Perhaps this is a bloody and sad tale of method acting gone utterly wrong, or simply just another fine psychological driven movie from Arnonofsky, who with Black Swan, The Wrestler, Pi and others is one of the best of the modern directors. Whatever the case the transformation is something I still brood upon from time to time, pondering whether art attracts insane people. Maybe people are driven insane by art. Something in the middle, perhaps.

Top 20 Horror Films of the 2000s Presents: Slither (2006)

8.    Slither (2006, James Gunn)

After years of putting this movie off I finally decided to see what all of the fuss was about and finally watched it one or two Horrorfests ago. Needless to say I get why people love this movie so much (and I’m now included in their company): its gross, really darkly funny, and incredibly entertaining. Slither exists as a throwback to films such as Night of the Creeps while also channeling Shivers, two equally disgusting movies about creepy bug creatures invading people’s brains and turning them into brain dead zombies. In Slither’s case the aliens are from outer space, popping out of a meteor and infecting the town’s local millionaire-Grant Grant, wonderfully played by famous character actor Michael Rooker-which leads to him infecting others in the process since he ends up becoming a mutated beast. Things just get progressively worse from there, and the rest of the movie features the town’s sheriff (endlessly dependable Nathan Fillion) and Grant Grant’s wife (the lovely Elizabeth Banks) trying to end the infestation.

As great as Fillion is in this movie-his sheriff is equal parts humorous and completely bewildered by the situation-its really Gregg Henry’s slick mayor who has some of the movie’s best lines. “Bitch is hardcore” is one of my favorites, among others; hell I could quote most of the entire movie. Not too many films succeed in combing comedy with horror, and Slither pulls that feat off really well. Especially in the scene where Fillion fights a deer: you just have to see it to believe it. Its a shame that this movie was not a box office hit, especially since its so well made and is a blast to watch. Hopefully more people seek out this movie on DVD and Blu Ray, although I would not recommend watching this while eating. The monster version of Grant Grant is enough to cause some people to vomit. Some horror movies really are not for the faint of heart.

Top 20 Horror Films Of The 2000s Presents: Saw (2004)

9.    Saw (2004, James Wan)

Looking back I’ll admit I was wrong to bash the Saw series, even though I still don’t have a great interest in watching all of them. From what I hear after the third or forth entry things start to really go downhill, which is a shame because based on what I have heard/read the mythology of Jigsaw is fascinating. This is a man who plans elaborate traps for his victims, and yet in the end gives them a choice: life or death. You feel sorry for his victims even though they are people who if they had chosen a better path more than likely would have not ended up in Jigsaw’s warehouse, forced to struggle for their own survival. Also those affected by Jigsaw who are not among his participants feel the after effects of his work, as showcased by Danny Glover’s haunted and obsessed police detective who frantically searches for Jigsaw, his life reduced to desiring retribution. That is no way to live, either, although based on what happened to Glover’s character you feel sorry for him as well.

Oh and this movie is absolutely brutal in ways that did actually shock me. I didn’t expect a certain famously spoofed moment to be so jarring and horrifying to watch, and this is coming from someone who has viewed many gory horror movies over the past decade. I’m rather amused that the sequels feature way more carnage and yet its the limited blood and violence that happens in this movie that felt unreal and disturbing to me. Even though I knew the twist when it happened I still felt its full power: Saw is a movie that does not deserve the silly “Torture Porn” label that I now hate and really never should have ever used, either. “Do you want to play a game?” is a chilling question that resonates long after the final haunting scene.

Top 20 Horror Films of the 2000s Presents: Dog Soldiers (2002)

    10.    Dog Soldiers (2002, Neil Marshall)

In 2002 Neil Marshall burst onto the horror movie scene with Dog Soldiers, a film that is owes its existence to Aliens, Tremors, and a ton of other horror movies. I love that the film references those other movies while also building on its own mythology, in turn becoming a pretty good-maybe even great-werewolf movie. The werewolf sub-genre of horror films has seen many great entries over the last couple of decades, and the original classic The Wolfman cannot be forgotten, either. Dog Soldiers is a brutal, nasty and entertaining werewolf movie, full of humor and gore, anchored by memorable characters-particularly Spoon-and being rather twisty and surprising right until the end. The siege elements work particularly well, bringing together some of the film’s unlikely bedfellows and resulting in some of the movie’s best moments. And of course one cannot forget how the film opens in typical cool and violent werewolf fashion. Never go camping in the woods on a full moon people.

Taking place in the Scottish woodlands, Dog Soldiers is about a group of military men who end up battling an unknown enemy that turns out to be very supernatural. At first operating in disbelief, the men come to realize that they are up against a force that cannot be killed by ordinary bullets. Creatures that are furry, angry, and very hungry. For human blood and flesh, with a nasty bite that results in the surviving victim turning into the monsters themselves. From that point on Dog Soldiers is relentless, never letting up and etching its place in horror movie history as being one of the best direct to video movies ever made. Beware the full moon, and if you closely you can hear the growling and the howls of a beast of the night, hunting your every move. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Top 20 Horror Films of the 2000s Presents: Zombieland (2009)

11.    Zombieland (2009, Ruben Fleischer)

Look I am well aware that a few scenes aside this movie isn’t even remotely scary, and that are more entertaining and better zombie films out there. Yet Zombieland makes the list because I loved watching it in theaters, and because its a really well made zombie comedy with a great cast and plenty of gory fun moments. Woody Harrelson takes this movie over and is its best character, slaughtering hapless zombies with reckless abandon while a before The Social Network Jessie Eisenberg has a solid voice over narration with some good jokes sprinkled in that doesn’t managed to be annoying. We all like to think we would be Tallahassee in the Zombie Apocalypse, but most of us would be Columbus instead. That’s not a bad thing since Columbus slowly evolves into a likable human being actually capable of dealing with existing in a world gone horribly sour-a place where one wrong move results in a hungry formally human monster devouring your flesh. Oh and I loved the opening scene of the film followed by the Metallica scored credits, mostly due to it being hilarious but also surprisingly creepy.

Having Columbus keep a series of rules to surviving the end of human civilization is one of the movie’s best running jokes, and the film even sees him adding new ones. Too bad they didn’t have time to go through all of them, although maybe they were planning to save some for the sequel that has sadly not materialized yet. For the record I had only heard of Emma Stone at the time of this movie’s release, but I didn’t realize she had a natural gift for comedy in addition to being rather beautiful. I should view more of her movies. Everyone gear up for a trip to Pacific Playland. And don’t forget to double tap.

Top 20 Horror Films of the 2000s Presents: Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2007)

12. Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2007, Scott Glosserman)

Imagine that Freddy, Michael, and Jason-even Leatherface-are real and not fictional characters. In this world a person like Leslie Vernon would be inspired to follow in their legacy and not be inspired by people who really exist in real life-Jack the Ripper, The Zodiac Killer, Charles Manson, The Night Stalker, etc. Leslie is a charming young man, highly charismatic and willing to let a video crew led by a young wannabe journalist videotape his ultimate goal: to become a famous serial killer, a masked menace terrorizing people and becoming a legend in the process. Whether or not he succeeds isn’t the point here, its how naive the video crew is-they actually don’t think that Leslie is serious until things spiral out of control and the danger becomes very real. Considering that Leslie gave them numerous clues you would imagine the video crew picking up on what was really going on, however in this day and age its hard to tell if people are being serious or not.

What’s even more awesome about this film is that its a mostly smart, well made slasher movie that even features slasher genre deconstruction: Leslie even mentions his “Ahab,” a man who tries to stop him, played by horror legend Robert Englund in a nice meta inspired joke performance. Scott Wilson, who actually played a killer in the classic In Cold Blood is here as Leslie’s mentor, an older man who claims to have survived numerous deaths. Even though the “Found Footage” style camerawork oddly goes to a halt once Leslie dons his makeup, mask, and grabs his weapons of carnage, this is a pretty good use of the gimmick. Stick around for the credits by the way, and give this movie a chance-its got a dark sense of humor also that it used all too well. “I choose to be the opposite of all that is good and pure and holy in this world. You choose journalism.”-Leslie Vernon

Top 20 Horror Films of the 2000s Presents: Pulse (2001)

13. Pulse (2001, Kiyoshi Kurosawa)

Honestly out of all of the movies on this list I was really freaked out by Pulse the most. The film exists in those quiet lonely spaces where you don’t think anything will happen, and when the ghosts finally appear and take aim at your soul, draining your existence and slowly bringing you into the darkness you realize its too late to scream or run. The fact that this movie was made in 2001 around the tech boom makes it all the more relevant, and the rise of social media, blogs and message boards has me wondering what this film would possibly be like now. T.S. Elliot famously said “This is the way the world ends This is the way the world ends This is the way the world ends Not with a bang but a whimper.” Without saying more I will note that Pulse in a way fulfills that eerie quotation, especially as the film’s victims are slowly destroyed by the very technology they embraced.

Especially since the character’s alienation and lack of connection with real people because of technology and computers is what starts the entire chain in motion in the first place. Society crumbles and breaks down as people fail to be in touch with actual people-talking to them, interacting with them in person, going beyond the technological walls they imprisoned themselves in. Pulse is as much a tragedy as it is a horror movie, for the loss of humanity and one’s soul is far worse than actual death itself. You power up your large glowing machine, listening to its strange hum and log onto your favorite website. Only then do the ghosts begin to whisper and echo in your mind, filtering themselves through your ears and into your brain. When you finally realize what is happening, its already too late. That is the genesis of Pulse.

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