Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Best Horror Movies of the 2000s: 40-31

Keep reading, faithful horror fans - they'll be coming fast and furious!

40. The Devil's Rejects (2005, Rob Zombie)

The second Rob Zombie film on this list, I found "The Devil's Rejects" singularly unpleasant upon first viewing. It was only upon my first rewatch that I found the film in any way rewarding. Zombie revisits the clan of murderous misfits that populated his sensory-overload "Texas Chainsaw" homage "House of 1000 Corpses"---but this time, the humor lands, the homages work, and Zombie's classic-rock soundtrack nails the marriage of music with image. That final, tragic ride set to "Free Bird" is the capper---Mr. Zombie knows how to make a movie, even if he's only two for four thus far.

39. The Ring (2002, Gore Verbinski)

The answer to "Asian horror remakes are always, always an awful idea", "The Ring" may be the only one that works, but man, does it ever work. Gore Verbinski's movie works in terror, building up dread with an impressively stifling atmosphere, rather than in shocks or starts. The original film, "Ringu" isn't nearly as effective, and that atmosphere is a large reason for that. That, and a terrifically hysterical Naomi Watts performance. Disturbing imagery and a sense of urgency are the name of the game here, and it still holds up almost a decade later. Judge it for what it is---NOT what it ushered in.

38. Dawn of the Dead (2004, Zack Snyder)

Romero's original "Dawn of the Dead" is untouchable. Wisely, first-time filmmaker Zack Snyder decided to use the setting as a loose framework, gutting Romero's zombie epic, and stocking a shopping mall with hungry zombies and delicious humans. Oh, and they're fast. The movie is a breathless survival tale, peppered with a few memorable setpieces and grisly kills. What more could one ask for?

37. Zombieland (2007, Ruben Fleischer)

Well, I suppose one could ask for a hilarious zombie movie. Edgar Wright and his crew delivered that with "Shaun of the Dead", sure, but this welcome entry into the "horror comedy" subgenre doesn't step on the Wright masterpiece's toes, preferring to show the aftermath of a zombie holocaust instead of its genesis. The results are terrific, imbued with verve and wit and terrific performances. Perhaps the only movie to date that I decided was great after seeing the trailer.

36. Frozen (2010, Adam Green)

Like "Open Water", "Frozen" benefits from putting a small cast in a confined space with no discernable way out. Three skiing collegiates get screwed by an ill-advised last-minute run on the slopes, which leaves them stranded on the lift. Oh, rescue won't come for the better part of the week. OH, and hungry wolves have started to circle below. Gimmicky, to be sure, but director Adam Green gets the best performances possible out of three young upstarts, and benefits from an intensely visceral atmosphere. Dread starts to take hold, and desperation starts to seep from the film's pores as poorly-conceived ideas creep into our heroes' heads. Positively gripping.

35. The Midnight Meat Train (2008, Ryuhei Kitamura)

A truly gruesome late-night tingler, tinted in unsettling hues of septic blue. Bradley Cooper turns in a nervy, idiosyncratic performance as the photographer who discovers a pretty unnerving murder ring. Echoes of De Palma's "Blow Out" and Coppolla's "The Conversation" fused with good old-fashioned splatter abound, and this sadly swept-under-the-rug chiller emerged destined for a cult audience. Old-fashioned, spellbinding, and bleak.

34. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007, Tim Burton)

Love or hate Tim Burton's sensibility, there's no denying this blood-splattered adaptation of Sondheim's stage play, which dials down Burton's colorful aesthetic to a single standout hue: red. The elements of Greek tragedy are here---this is certainly the bleakest musical to make the jump from stage to screen, and Burton and company not only leave the despair intact, but dial it up several notches. The humor is pitch-black; the story of a barber who loses his mind and starts taking his revenge on humanity at large both frightening and tragic; and the buckets of spraying blood utterly savage. See, kids, opera can qualify as horror too.

33. Piranha (2010, Alexandre Aja)

The creature feature is a notoriously hard archetype to perfect, but Alexandre Aja, having perfected the 3 a.m. slasher ("High Tension"), the dusty country-road nightmare ("The Hills Have Eyes"), and the Asian-style horror ("Mirrors"), turns his loving lens on Joe Dante's "Piranha" and decides to go for broke. The result is one of the most gleefully evil films of recent years, a masterpiece of destruction that scores most of its points for utter, unhinged mayhem. The all-out assault on a mass of collegiate spring-breakers amidst a debauched beach party alone is a sequence for the ages, an epic, hectic tidal wave of blood and guts that puts most other movies to shame. Added bonus: if you've been reading carefully, you know I'm a sucker for a well-played, dastardly final shot, and "Piranha" gives us a superb one, even if you do see it coming a mile away. Throw in Christopher Lloyd playing Doc Brown one more time, and "Piranha" is a brutal delight.

32. Paranormal Activity (2007, Oren Peli)

I suppose the "found footage" gimmick is bound to get old---but, if "Paranormal Activity" is any indication, that time is far from nigh. The plot is perfectly simple: young couple experiences haunting, puts cameras up to document said haunting, terror ensues. The devil's in the details with this one---small, barely perceptible flourishes provide tidal waves of fright until the tension becomes unbearable. A small-scale triumph.

31. Drag Me To Hell (2009, Sam Raimi)

Touted as Sam Raimi's return to form after his foray into big-budget superhero flicks, if "Drag Me To Hell" doesn't reach the dizzying heights of Raimi's "Evil Dead" heyday, don't blame Sam---he's been out of practice. What "Drag Me" does accomplish is presenting the mainstream with it's very own benchmark for b-movies, an old-school-style ickfest replete with supernatural entities, eroding corpses, talking goats, freaky seances, and pretty much stuffed to the gills with everything that makes grassroots occult pictures awesome. Destined to be a modern classic, "Drag Me" is a drive-in picture on a big-screen budget. And once again, a humdinger of a parting shot.

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