tn_highwaymenYou guys know how it is when two men in separate cars drive around the country, one trying to stalk and then run over women, the other trying to hunt the other guy. The one is a perverted serial killer, the other has gone mad from the first guy running over his wife, so he rammed into the guy disabling him and making him even more hellbent on murder. They are antagonists, arch-enemies, villain and dark avenger. You know, a couple of highwaymen.

This is the 2004 movie from Robert Harmon, director of THE HITCHER. I remember the trailer but it didn’t catch my interest – just looked like another studio serial killer movie, at best on the level of JOY RIDE, probaly worse. But seeing THE HITCHER made me more curious and I’m glad about that because HIGHWAYMEN turns out to be way weirder and more interesting than advertised.

mp_highwaymenThe first sign of life is in the first big crash scene. Two women in a car are being blatantly followed by a big old Caddy with only one headlight. Then they go into one of those big multi-lane tunnels and suddenly have to swerve because there’s a wheelchair sitting in the middle of their lane. Then there’s a horse running around in the tunnel, and a huge pileup happens. I think maybe the horse came from a truck that already crashed, but the wheelchair – I don’t know. The Caddy doesn’t show up to run people over for a few minutes. He must’ve been supposed to set up the whole thing, but I like to think it was a coincidence. The sicko highwayman just lucked out and came across a multi-car/wheelchair/horse tunnel pileup. I don’t know man, whatever’s going on it just feels like a weird nightmare, and I like that.

(The horse thing was probaly inspired by the great scene in the American remake of THE RING, but it still works. Horses creep me out, and not just because of ZOO.)

Jim Caviezel is the guy trying to hunt the killer. We see his wife’s death in flashback – he was on a hotel deck across the street and saw the car coming. I think maybe he blames himself because instead of yelling “HEY, LOOK OUT FOR THAT CAR!” he didn’t say anything, just tried to run down the stairs and across the street to… what, push her out of the way? A really boneheaded reaction, but you can’t always be your best under pressure like that. I feel sorry for the poor guy having to live with that. And we know he relives it every day because we see the flashbacks.

So now he obsessively follows the guy around, talking to him on a CB, snooping around accident sites, following clues. And he has a trunk full of the prosthetic arms he’s found. Strange. He tracks the survivor of the tunnel crash (Rhona Mitra) and basically kidnaps her to use as bait, or more like an entrance fee into an exclusive game between him and the killer. I like this implication that he’s become as crazy as the killer, so I was kind of disappointed when the girl quickly warmed to him. Might be better if he was way out of line in bringing her along.

The car mayhem isn’t as good as in THE HITCHER, and some of the action is a little confusing (not too bad). But I like the grim mood of the thing, treating it deadly serious even though it gets pretty absurd. The other main character is not a homicide detective but an unarmed accident investigator named Macklin (Frankie Faison, I guess from The Wire). Caviezel won’t even talk to the cops, because he has enough experience in following this guy to know that nobody fuckin believes him. All he can do is drive his badass orange not-street-legal Barracuda and try to catch up. He says that the car is the guy’s body, without it he’s nothing. Macklin asks what happens when he separates the driver from the car. “Then you can go home,” Caviezel says. He’ll take it from there.

It’s true, the guy’s pretty pathetic without the car. Nobody wants to see a turtle without its shell.

I guess in a way this overlaps with DEATH PROOF, and a little bit with Cronenberg’s CRASH. It’s this sick fuck who gets off on car crashes, who uses his vehicle as a murder weapon, as an extension of his body, who pretends it was an accident and gets away with it, who takes pictures of his prey and thinks of them as his girlfriends or something. He’s a mean bastard – in one of the crueler attacks he hits a car, sending it flipping, then drags it by a chain upside down, catching it on fire with a survivor still inside. He’s not cool like Stuntman Mike (before he starts crying). He’s an obvious coward hiding inside his car. But would it interest you if I told you he was kind of a cyborg? Caviezel says they “rebuilt him from the ground up,” like ROBOCOP or one of those clunkers on Pimp My Ride. His arms and lower half of his face are covered in mechanical exo-skeleton. Like Darth Vader loose on our highways.

There is reason to believe he never leaves the car, either. I bet he has some way to take a shit through the bottom of the car.

The writers are two guys who did the movie KOMODO, which I haven’t seen, but I have some hunches about based on the fact that it’s called KOMODO. Seems like they did a good job on this one though, or if not then Harmon knew how to handle it. Crazy ideas, not too much dialogue, and when they put in little things that you know they have to follow up on they don’t hammer you over the head too hard. For example Mitra’s character doesn’t drive because of something that happened to her as a kid. So you know she’s gonna end up having to drive at the end. But when it happens the movie doesn’t act like you’re surprised. Just that it’s inevitable.

I think there might be something to this Robert Harmon. He has enough solid and unusual movies under his belt that I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

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120 Responses to “Highwaymen”

  1. Hey Vern,

    I’m stoked you got to this movie, it’s easily one of my favorite unapologetic B-movies along with The Hitcher and Blood of Heroes. It’s weird that Highwaymen is so new, it feels like eighties schlock through and through what with the mood and story.

    Now that you’re on something of a Rutger Hauer theme, if you haven’t seen Blood of Heroes I highly recommend it: Hauer, Delroy Lindo & friends play a kind of football with dog skulls in some god forsaken badlands. Written by David Peoples who later wrote Unforgiven and 12 Monkeys. Unfortunately the American edit ends on a fake happy still shot while the original edit ends on a note of grim badassery; to get the latter I had to order the DVD from Australia!

    Oh, and I’m sure you get this a lot, but I’d love to read your review of The Limey….

  2. I am very much enjoying this Hitcher kick you have been on of late, Vern. I fucking love The Hitcher and it feels a bit like you are hunting down all the people responsible for it to see if they ever made a movie that cool again. As far as I know, they didn’t, but I also didn’t know that the writer Eric Red slashed his own throat in a (spoiler) failed suicide attempt after a vehicular homicide, so maybe you’ll turn up an undiscovered gem. Highwaymen as I remember it is pretty badass in its not-quite-as-good-as-The-Hitcher-but-pretty-close kinda way. This review also reminded me of a long-standing theory of mine that people who drive cars can technically be considered cyborgs.

    Also, Mats, I’ve never heard of this Blood of Heroes business in even the slightest way but holy fuck does that sound great.

  3. Harmon’s Nowhere to Hide ranks as a middle-tier effort by Van Damme, inferior to most of his Asian-filmmaker collaborations like Hard Target (his best ever for my money), Knock Off, Double Team, Maximum Risk, and Replicant (In Hell is pretty lame), but it’s sure as hell more worthwhile than those confoundingly overrated films he did with Peter Hyams (yes, Sudden Death and Timecop both really suck).

    Harmon also did a mainstream horror film called They that I vaguely recall being sufficiently moody but by no means memorable.

  4. Frankie Faison is the only person to be in all Hannibal Lecter films (MANHUNTER, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, HANNIBAL and RED DRAGON) apart from the prequel, but that doesn’t count ’cause of its sheer and utter pointlessness.

    Nice review – I see the director popped up on the iMBD boards to discuss the movie; wonder if he’ll turn up here too?

  5. “…just looked like another studio serial killer movie, at best on the level of JOY RIDE…”

    You say that like it’s a bad thing. I love JOY RIDE, I think it’s one of the best horror/thrillers of the decade. The cast is strong, it looks really good, it’s funny, the set pieces are well crafted, and it’s genuinely suspenseful, especially the finale, which lays it on so thick and draws it out so long that it would make Brian DePalma anxious. If only more horror movies were like it.

    Anyways, sounds like HIGHWAYMEN is going on my Netflix queue in anticipation of my October horror movie marathon. Thanks, Vern.

  6. A vehicular carnage theme night is brewing. Duel, The Hitcher (technically)
    and this. Also Breakdown with Kurt Russell and JT Walsh. The ending is a
    bit pat but that’s a great little movie.

  7. Dan – I like JOY RIDE too, but maybe not as much as you. What I meant to say was that I expected something similar to that but most likely not as good.

  8. From time to time I’m just in the right mood for a road / vehicular carnage movie marathon . [ Right now I’m in a Italian post-apocalyptic / Mad Max clones mood , so ,for me , later it will be a Bronx Warriors – New Barbarians double feature . Fred Williamson Rules.] A couple of years ago I re-watched Cannonball , Death Race 2000 and The Hitcher.I always liked watching those movies together . Then I found out about Highwaymen and I was glad to add this little movie to my Bartel-Harmon collection . And , Dennis , yes , THEY it’s nothing special , but it’s well directed , with a good atmosphere and good creature design by Patrick Tatopoulos . From this recent group of movie reviews , the one I’m DYING to see is Cohen & Tate , I hope to be able to find it !

  9. Dirty Mary Crazy Larry has to be my personal favorite, “I just want to see some engines revving” movie. I mean Susan George riding around with Peter Fonda and that other, facing down Vic fucking Morrow in a helicopter? Come on. And that ending…dear God in heaven that ending. One of the top five “Did that just fucking happen!” moments in movie history.

  10. Thanks Vern. Nobody seems to like JOY RIDE as much as me. So it goes.

    On a side note, your horror movie reviews are always my favorite, because you’re one of the few critics I enjoy who actually likes the genre. Too many respectable critics just seem to write the genre off (hence the largely negative-to-hostile reviews of ORPHAN this year), and most horror-movie-specific critcs are idiots or bad writers (Arrow in the Head, a lot of the folks at Bloody Disgusting, etc.) Any chance we’ll get another glut of horror movie reviews from you this October?

    Also, just a broad thing to throw out there for everybody: what are some of your favorite horror movies of this decade? I named JOY RIDE as one. I’m also quite fond of MAY, 28 DAYS LATER, THE SIGNAL, 3…EXTREMES. What does everybody else feel are the modern classics?

  11. Oh man, don’t get me started on Arrow in the Head. I hate all that cutesie alliteration bullshit. The substance of their writing is almost nil. They’ll say shit like “This mutant movie maven found himself buying two tickets for the gore gravy boat and pouring himself a soup tureen of scare sauce. It revved my macabre motor but good!” (WARNING: NOT AN ACTUAL QUOTE) It’s all just masturbatory, amateurish fluff, and it makes my teeth hurt to read it.

  12. If it was only cutesy alliteration, I could stomach it. My problem with AitH is his constant need to describe everything is sexual innuendo and bring up his sex life at every given opportunity. Everything is “ate this movie up like a fat lesbian eating pussy” or “this movie is drier than the snatch of the girl I banged last week.” The guy is in his fucking 30’s or something and it’s the most juvenile bullshit I’ve ever read.

  13. The Host may be my favorite horror movie of the last decade or so. That first attack is so fucking beautifully put together and ballsy in revealing the monster so early and in such a badass way, it’s an instant classic sequence, and then the rest of the movie lives up to it perfectly. So that’s my take.

  14. Shit, good thing we have Vern; no way I could turn to “scintillating shit” like that for my horror kick.

    Nice review Vern. I dug Highwaymen when I saw it. At times it had an almost Fight Club vibe to it. The way the support groups lead to this vehicular homicide underground, his strapping Rhona into the Barracuda in the salvage yard, getting her to face her trauma while surrounded by the wrecks of old accidents (last parts my imagination; they could have just run out of gas). And the way the car extends from the villain’s body is great. The movie had me in the opening scene, when Jim kneels down in the abandoned barn, recently vacated by the villain. He finds an oil patch, and how does he know that it’s the enemy’s? Not just by touching it to see if it’s still warm, but also tasting it, to . . . what? See if it’s still high in fructose? It was such an odd moment, like it wasn’t just an oil slick but also blood and who knows what else from this metallic madman; I had to push through to the rest of the film.

    For what it’s worth, I saw Blood of Heroes. Definitely one of the odder post apocalyptic movies from the 80’s. Peoples really put some thought it the rules of the game, so you actually get involved as the time rises to the championship. I saw it on a local channel that was always running movies like Dead End Drive-in (thanks for the review: I thought I was the only person to see it), Steel Dawn, Death Camp 2000, Def-Con 4, Warlords of the 21st Century, and other exploitation gems. However, I recently saw Steel Dawn again, and realized that man, Swayze does A LOT of walking in that one. Ending was still good, but overall it didn’t hold up. Maybe Blood of Heroes will be different.

  15. Mats – Love the “Blood of Heroes” name drop. I LOVE that movie and it is a great flick without caveats. It is fantastic on all counts.

  16. Dan — I think I might have to call THE RING (American version) a horror classic of the last decade. Nevermind that it spawned tons of awful remakes; its then-unkown leading lady and director really elevate the material and its packed with great moments (the horse scene really being one for the history books).

    I’d also like to call Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s KAIRO (PULSE) a classic work of genius. And of course LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, everyone agrees on it now so there’s hardly any reason to mention it, but yeah, its fucking amazing. SESSION 9. THE DESCENT. Probably THE ORPHANAGE, THE MIST and DEVIL’S BACKBONE (though those aren’t exactly horror). DRAG ME TO HELL may also have a place in there. MAY is brilliant. And I personally found the original THE EYE absolutely terrifying (the first half, anyway. the second half is pretty tepid). FRAILTY is pretty great until the twist at the end ruins everything.

    If you want to call it horror BELOW is a really unique little movie. Couple people have suggested GINGER SNAPS or [REC]. I dunno though, those are good but maybe not classic.

    Haven’t seen A TALE OF TWO SISTERS or INSIDE yet, although people keep telling me to.

  17. Blood of Heroes is fucking fantastic . Here in Italy it’s actually called Giochi di Morte ( Death Games ) , a less awesome title , but it’s also known as Salute of the Jugger , my favorite title for this movie. I always wanted to see Salute of the Jugger and Flesh+Blood back to back.

    And , yes , I also hate lazy movie critics. From time to time I look at BoxOfficeMojo to see if a movie I like is doing well in theaters and this are the latest headlines :

    “Inglorious Basterds’ Scalps the Box Office”

    “G.I. Joe’ Doesn’t Roll Snake Eyes”

    “Humans Welcome District 9”

    Wow that’s some fine work right there. This shit is everywhere , I’m starting to think that writing this kind of “smart” references to the movies you’re talking about is REQUIRED to land a job as critic.Same thing for the sexual innuendo issue , especially on AICN ( even if I find some writers over there funny to read ).

  18. Dan Prestwich : Recent horror movies ? For the atmosphere alone , the Burrowers , I really like the western-horror feel of that movie. For pure , solid genre movie , Dog Soldier , I like the werewolves , good old school plastic puppets !

  19. Pan’s Labyrinth. Not sure if that’s a horror, or a fantasy or a war movie, but it’s probably my favorite movie ever, not just of recent releases.

  20. Brendan,

    THE HOST is a movie I should probably revisit. It underwhelmed me when I saw it, but so many different people seem to love it for so many different reasons that I should probably give it another shot. I did very much enjoy Bong Joon-ho’s MEMORIES OF MURDER, maybe I just wasn’t in the right mindset when I saw host.


    I actually have PULSE at home from Netflix right now. I’ve seen 2 other Kiyoshi Kurosawa movies and dug them quite a bit. I might include FRAILTY on my list of the best… granted that the ending is awful, but the rest of the movie is still tense, disturbing and engrossing in a way few horror films are. Personally, I fucking hated INSIDE, so I wouldn’t recommend expending any effort in trying to see it.

    I would also probably add HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES to my list.

  21. Dennis – Hey, I wont tolerate no hatin’ on SUDDEN DEATH.

    I challenge you to…a shootout!

    Mr. Majestyk – Your description for Arrow in the Head almost matches how I would describe much of AICN.

  22. Dan — stop whatever it is you’re doing, turn off the lights, unplug the phone, uncork a good bottle of red wine (I’d pair a Zinfandel, or maybe a Malbac with it, but thats a matter of personal taste), and watch the shit out of that thing. All Kiyoshi’s movies are pretty great (A particular favorite of mine is SAKEBI aka RETRIBUTION, but CURE is also pretty amazing) but KAIRO (PULSE) is an absolute masterpiece, full of incomperable horror moments, saturated in apocalyptic atmoshphere, and filled to bursting with layers of meaning and emotion. There’s absolutely nothing like it. Just be sure those fuckers didn’t send you the Repugnant American Remake.

    HOUSE OF 1000 Corpses was kind of in the “trying too hard” catagory for me, although Sid Haig is a treat, and the film eventually builds up some surreal momentum. Probably for me it falls in with stuff like DOG SOLDIERS and THE UNBORN as close-but-not-quite contenders.

  23. Kermit,

    THE BURROWERS wasn’t half bad, but you really think it holds up as one of the best of the decade? Also, if you dug that one, you might like DEAD BIRDS, which was a similar western/horror combo deal.


    When you say “close but not quite” do you mean close to good, or close to great?

  24. I like HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, but lets admit it….the movie suffers from Zombie (which he admits) kinda losing track of his budget, and somehow someone had the bright idea of shooting it on the Universal lot.

    In the MIDDLE of the fucking studio tour route.

    Which might explain why REJECTS kicks awesome in the balls.

  25. I love this film. Tight, no nonsense storytelling.

  26. Best horror of the decade is a good question. We’re almost at the end of a decade, huh? I would have to look at some release dates to be sure but the ones that come to mind are THE DESCENT, THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE and MARTYRS. Possibly WOLF CREEK although I’ve only watched it once. And I’m still really fond of that HILLS HAVE EYES remake, despite the “Big Brain” speech scene that I hate. I know I’m the only one but I actually have watched that a couple times and it holds up.

    There’s gotta be a million things I’m forgetting, but those go to the head of the pack.

  27. “The Devil’s Rejects” is Zombie’s home run. I think it’s the one film he’s made that really meets his ambition—because it’s about something, namely, the hypocrisy of others, and how that hypocrisy causes them to relate to the monster. The rejects, for all their viciousness, for all their cruelty and wanton acts of violence, know exactly what they are, and how their very nature places them out of step in the world. Other characters wear masks, from the sheriff, whose piety disguises a bloodlust all as savage as those he hunts, to the victims, who pretend fidelity only to jump at the first chance of random sex (the husband), and the other family members, all of whom pretend to get through life.

    These themes are in all his movies, but “Rejects” really brings it front and center, and redeems tropes that have since become creative crutches; the constant redneck stereotypes, the monster being the sole redeeming character in films where characters are their to be killed, or are too callous in their own self-interest to see the horror coming their way (Dr. Loomis in the revamped Halloween immediately springs to mind). Frankly, the treatment of Loomis strained the hypocrisy theme; it worked for one movie, but I believe there’s more to horror than the butcher and the slaughtered; heroes can exist too.

    And since we’re throwing out our favorites of the past decade, I’ll have to go wit “The Descent” as my number one. It has everything I love, the careful laying out of fault lines below the groups surface (the traumatic accident; the affair behind the accident), the slow build in tension the deeper they get, the first kill, the disintegration of the group—all very effective.

    I’m also tempted to list “28 Weeks Later.” Several friends had problems with the coincidence factor (magic card that opens every—single—door; rabid father who magically tracks family through napalm), but man, when this thing opens up she roars like a motherfucker. That farmhouse in the beginning, when the mourning girlfriend gets caught through the wall; what a great way to show how fast Rage hits. One second she’s getting gnawed on, desperate for help, the next she turns, another killer. That’s just one instance of how effective this film was for me, redeeming it from the gymnastics the script sometimes performed.

    And there you have it.

  28. I’ll back Vern up on THE HILLS HAVE EYES remake. Falls short of greatness but is, if not one of the very best horror films of the decade, definitely one of the best slasher movies. As far as 2000’s slashers go, I’m also very fond of the HOUSE OF WAX remake, but I know not a lot of folks agree.

    I can think of a lot of really good 2000 horror movies (HARD CANDY, THE RUINS, CABIN FEVER, KING OF THE ANTS, most of the movies folks have named here) but I’m having trouble thinking of any more movies that go the extra mile.

  29. Dan — probably closer to good bordering on great, but not yet pushing classic.

    Bad Seed — if you like 28 WEEKS, you ought to check out the director’s INTACTO, which in my opinion is a far stronger film which absolutely nobody saw. It’s not a horror, but its absolutely riveting, and includes a great supporting role from someone you probably don’t expect to see in a Spanish-language film. WEEKS was a worthwhile effort but I thought it had some compromising problems with its pacing and geography, while also struggling without strong enough central characters (except for Robby Carlyle, who’s brilliant as always). Liked the film a lot and was glad it got some respect, but I’m waiting for the director to get the opportunity and budget to hit one out of the park.

    Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. That’s his name. Weirdly enough, looking at IMDB, he’s attached to direct BIOSHOCK. I though Gore Verbinski was still on that one? Well, either way, great source material for him.

  30. INTACTO was sold to me on scene where the “contestants” have their hands tied behind their backs and run through the woods as fast as they can… blindfolded. I liked it (loved that scene), but I reckon it’s one of those things whose concept (a contest based purely on luck) was a lot stronger than the execution.

    If you liked it, I’d recommend 13 TZAMETI, a very low-budget French film which has a similar theme but does it in a much more grungier style…

    And it may not be strictly horror per se (in the same way that THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE and PAN’S LABYRINTH aren’t) but LET THE RIGHT ONE IN?

  31. “Intacto”—check, it’s in my queue. Premise sounds great!

    As for “28 Weeks Later,” I can partially agree on the characters, although I was interested in the soldier, the pilot, and the nurse—and of course Carlyle. However, that I don’t list the family could be a dig against the film; the kids were a non-presence for me, but still, the moments that just really got to me make up for it. For instance, when the father does in the mother, it gave me chills.

    Of course, maybe the fact that I was one my honeymoon when I saw it had something to do with it. They do say you can’t step into the same river twice, and brother that was one hell of a river. But there were many other scenes that had that impact for me, and overall the geography and pacing didn’t really impact me the way they did you. I could always tell what was going on, i.e. the relation of objects to one another, and didn’t feel that parts were too rushed, or that a scene was too drug out.

    But, perhaps I need to see it again before firmly declaring it “one of the best of the decade.” I do think the coincidences could detract from it—and I have been married for a few years now! We’ll see how strong the river is next time out.

    Next up, Intacto. Looks good Mr. S.

  32. Say this for 28 WEEKS LATER: structurally speaking, it was the most ballsy mainstream horror movie of the decade. Usually in a horror movie you can tell who the major characters are; this one kills off so many characters willy nilly that every time you assume someone is the hero, they end up dead 5 minutes later.

  33. I have to agree with with Mr. Subtlety. PULSE is a masterpiece. The other Kurosawa movies I’ve seen are great, too. Though PULSE is the one that seems the most firmly situated in the horror genre. The others tend to have less straightforward takes on the genre. Sort of like DEATH PROOF. If that counts as a horror film I would definitely consider it to be one of the best in last decade, but I’m not sure it counts as a horror film.

    And though he hasn’t seen it yet, I also agree with his inclusion of A TALE OF TWO SISTERS.

    Some others I really love that I haven’t seen mentioned yet are BUBBA HO-TEP, GOZU, SUICIDE CIRCLE, SWEENEY TODD, THE OTHERS and TROUBLE EVERY DAY. I agree on THREE… EXTREMES and would also include the full length version of DUMPLINGS, as well. And for a body horror vibe I think IN MY SKIN is great. Also it looks like AMERICAN PSYCHO was a 2000 release. That would definitely be up there.

  34. I wouldn’t have thought of GOZU as a horror movie, but if so it might be on my list too.

  35. Yeah, that is questionable. The only reason I sort of include it in the horror genre is because of the longer translated title, YAKUZA HORROR THEATER: GOZU. So I assume they were going at least partially for horror. But I never considered Miike a horror director myself, so I could easily see leaving it off the list. I don’t even really consider AUDITION to be a horror film, just a love story with some horrific elements. The only really straight horror I’ve seen from him (besides the BOX short) is IMPRINT which I’d probably also put on my list if TV episodes count.

  36. I’m on board with The Descent and Martyrs, but I gotta fill out my top three with The Mist. I know that’s controversial because some motherfuckers got icewater running through their veins and think the absolutely devastating final scene is hilarious, but I think it’s the The Thing of our times. Its day will come.

    And Vern, I agree that the Hills Have Eyes is the best of the recent remakes and the best of the batch of horror movies that were unfairly labeled torture porn.

  37. Patrick Stephenson

    September 2nd, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    I’ve seen “Komodo.” It’s better left unseen.

  38. I’ve seen KOMODO and I’ve also seen KOMODO VS COBRA, which much to my disappointment does not pit Stallone’s cop-on-the-edge character against the fearsome dragon lizard.

  39. Best horror films of the decade? MARTYRS and THE DESCENT immediately spring to mind. I really liked INSIDE, even if the ending pissed me off so much I was yelling curses at the TV. I also really liked THE ORPHANAGE and DRAG ME TO HELL was one of the most fun movie-going experiences I’ve had in recent memory. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, if it counts as horror. I can’t believe someone else mentioned MAY… I love that movie so much and I thought I was the only one. I also agree that THE HILLS HAVE EYES is one of the best things to come out of the horror remake boom, and I’ve still got high hopes for Alexandre Aja even if I thought MIRRORS was pretty stupid. I guess I could put some Takashi Miike on the list, but I consider his films a genre unto themselves.

    I should really check out PULSE. I guess it came out at a time when I was burned out on J-horror so I never bothered seeing it.

    Mr. Majestyk: Sorry, I’m one of those heartless fuckers who thought the ending of THE MIST was hilarious, even though I thought the film was really good.

  40. Mr. Majestyk – Just want to throw in my support for The Mist as one of the best of the decade. No ice water in these veins; between Shawshank and his decision to end The Mist the way he did, Darabont gets a free pass for life*, as far as I’m concerned.

    *free pass on a film-to-film basis, of course

  41. I believe CJ Holden explained that it was the timing of the last scene of The Mist that through him. It just happened to fast for him. I can see that. I would have liked them to have dragged it out a little longer to extend the agony. I just love that it makes you feel that getting yanked into the maw of an unimaginable monster would actually be a positive thing at that point. That’s horror.

  42. *threw* Jesus, I edit for a living. I must be exhausted.

  43. Mr. Majestyk – Yeah, I also agree on THE MIST. And I think you might be right with your comparison to THE THING. I could definitely see it becoming as widely regarded as a classic as that one has become. Maybe more likely than any of the other films everyone came up with here.

    Do you have a preferred version? I’ve only seen the black & white one. Part of me is kicking myself for not seeing it in the theater, but the other part of me is high-fiving myself for seeing it for the first time in black & white.

  44. Yeah, I can see how the speed of it could be funny to someone. But I think that is also what makes it so devastating. Because you know pretty much every minute for the rest of his life he is going to be saying to himself, “If I had only waited a few more seconds. Just a few more seconds.”


    September 2nd, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    As for recent horror that has not been mentioned yet (or reviewed by Vern I don’t think *ahem*)… I am really partial to “Severance”.

  46. HILLS HAVE EYES REMAKE for me is the perfect example of a film which has impeccable execution but still never really justifies its existence. As far as that story goes, I think Aja tells it about as well as it could possibly be told (even big-brain-man speech doesn’t bother me, although it does remind me of the awesomely awful HEAD OF THE FAMILY). And yet, in the end, it just kind of sits there, inertly aware that its rehashing something else with a few minor changes.

    On the other hand, watching it made me so damn angry (at the part you’re thinking of) that I had to stop, turn the movie off, smoke a dozen cigarettes, and call a friend to complain about how fucking mad I was. So yeah, its effective. Just not all that necessary.

    I also had the same reaction to the end of THE MIST, so count me among the warm-blooded. Although I do have to concede that it’s very darkly hilarious, inasmuch as poor Tom Jane basically has a string of luck so unrelentingly abysmal that you can’t help but be aware that its kind of funny.


    Crusty — glad to hear about the love for MAY. Dunno why that film never got its due. I think its absolutely a classic. Assured, deliberate, brutal, and deeply sweet on some level, too. Have you seen THE WOODS? Its not quite as great as MAY, but its still pretty great slow-burn old-school atmospheric horror which gets the most out of its unique setup (and fuck — it even has Bruce Campell acting! Actually acting! Like, playing a character!).

    Jake — oh yeah, I forgot about Sweeny Todd. Dunno if I would put it in the top classics of the decade, but I have to admit I never thought Burton had something so visceral in him. I’d given up on the guy as a frou-frou art design pimp who was more interested in showing he’d seen some German Experssionism in college than telling a new story. And although Johnny Depp’s great in the right hands, Burton’s been the wrong hands for him plenty of times. But that movie’s got a real evil streak, which I dug. Never seen SUICIDE CIRCLE or TROUBLE EVERY DAY, but you can be sure I’m acquiring them legally right now.

  47. I dig THE MIST a lot too, although I’d put it more in the category of minor classic.

    What the hell, I’ll just start throwing out horror movies I really like, regardless of if they are great. Just watched MARTYRS this week and I don’t seem to esteem it as high as everyone else, but it was really good. 1408 is very effective. RETURN TO SLEEPAWAY CAMP is probably the most fun slasher movie of the decade. This year’s ORPHAN and A PERFECT GETAWAY both rocked. THE STRANGERS. Did anyone se THEM? It was very suspenseful. I know Vern didn’t like it, but I thought STUCK was awesome.

    And fuck it, I know everyone thinks he’s gone way downhill in his later years, and maybe they’re right, but I like Dario Argento’s THE CARD PLAYER. A lot.

  48. oh fuck me!! Since I’m thinking about great foreign horror, I’d like to submit the deeply weird and disturbing UZUMAKI aka SPIRAL. Its bizzare, surreal, and upsetting on a level which I personally have only ever experienced with Lynch’s LOST HIGHWAY.

    I consider one of the greatest nights of my life the night I settled down early and drank through a blue rasberry MD 20/20* as I watched ERASERHEAD and UZUMAKI for the first time. Pure surreal horrific bliss.

    Given that train of thought, I’d also like to suggest SPIDER and oh shit, SILENT HILL is almost a classic in spite of itself.

    *For some reason, drinking this particular flavor just makes everything in the world alright. I highly reccomend it, even over their other fine flavors (excluding the rare and possibly discontinued “Purple Rain” flavor which apparently was only sold in the midwest) I’ve been told that the secret ingredient is formaldehyde. If that’s true, keep it coming, Magen David.

  49. Dan — if you’re going to go Argento, I’ve been toying with the notion of putting SLEEPLESS on the list, so I’ll throw it out there. I think its Argento’s strongest in years, although Von Syndow almost completely anchors it and it deflates as soon as he goes out. But is full of great, creepy idea and unlike most Argento films, it actually kind of has a story which makes sense and builds to something.

    although of course, nothing will ever touch INFERNO. I’m a huge sucker for surreal horror dream logic weirdness (hence my love of LOST HIGHWAY, UZUMAKI, KAIRO, SILENT HILL, VIDEODROME etc). I’d be forever greatful for any tips on movies in that vein of which I am yet unaware.

  50. If THE MIST is the best of the genre for this decade….then its been a poor decade.

    Really guys, Darabont to religiously* following King’s cheap cop out writing that he calls characterization…sorta underminded Darabont’s earnest attempts at supposed tension and suspense.

    Not a bad film, but good? Not really. But I won’t begrudge anyone who does like it.

    *=I know I know the ending is different – But shit, maybe he should have stuck with the original ending? I actually thought the new ending was sorta funny. Then again, I laughed at Nite Owl’s “reaction” to Rorschach’s fate in Zach Snyder’s bullshit WATCHMEN movie.

  51. Subtlety,

    SLEEPLESS was this decade? I thought that was 90’s for some reason. I should probably rewatch that one at some point, it has a lot of craziness to it, although I didn’t find it as elegantly shot as his best films (might be because I watched it on VHS). Mainly I remember the awesome part where the person is stabbed in the mouth with a clarinet, and the fact that Argento tries to convince you that the killer is a midget.

  52. Dan P – Maybe you were confused with that SLEEPLESS something movie that some women like for some mysterious reason.

    What? I once as young lad confused MATRIX with THIRTEENTH FLOOR. I kid you not.

  53. There’s also SLITHER. I don’t think it would end up on my absolute favorites of the decade list, but it was very enjoyable. Does BLINDNESS count as horror? That is one of my favorite zombie movies despite the fact that there are no zombies in it. I know it got a pretty lukewarm reception from most people but I thought it was excellent. I just like artsy genre movies.

    There is also SHAUN and DAWN. Both, respectively, OF THE DEAD. I’m not sure if either would make a favorites list but SHAUN (if it even counts as a real horror film) is pretty close. Another viewing might put it over the top.

    Mr. Subtlety – Yeah, UZUMAKI is another real good one. I was going to offer you a caveat that SUICIDE CIRCLE was a little weird and not for all tastes, but it seems like it should be in pretty good hands with you.

  54. oh fuck. SHAUN OF THE DEAD. If we can count horror comedies, then that would be high on my list.

    SLITHER is pretty good, too. Didn’t seem to me to hold up as well on repeat viewing, but still a funny movie.

    I’m also glad to see some other MAY lovers here. Lucky McKee seemed like he was going to be the next horror god to me, but it hasn’t quite panned out that way. I love his MASTERS OF HORROR episode, but THE WOODS is a big step down (although still a good movie). RED was good, but it’s impossible to tell how much of it actual represents his vision. I wonder when we’ll hear from him again?

  55. Is SUICIDE CIRCLE the same movie as SUICIDE CLUB? If so, I bet it would be right up Subtlety’s alley.

  56. Yeah, SUICIDE CIRCLE is the same as SUICIDE CLUB.

    Another, good weird foreign horror film I thought of is TAXIDERMIA. Unless you are Hungarian. Then it’s just a good weird domestic horror film. But, c’mon, let’s face it, you are not Hungarian, who are we kidding here. (Unless you are. In which case I apologize for assuming you are not) It’s another one that sort of doesn’t really fit in the standard horror category. But it is just so unsettling and disturbing that I have a hard time thinking of it as anything but a horror film. It’s one of the most horrific films I’ve seen. It is just a nightmare of a movie. I mean that as a compliment.

  57. caruso_stalker217

    September 2nd, 2009 at 8:22 pm

    I love THE MIST. Best theater-going experience of my life. And, yes, the ending made me laugh. Not because it was directly funny, I just really enjoy a good “fuck you” ending.

    Anyway, I cried during BENJAMIN BUTTON.

  58. MR SUBTLETY: Have you read the UZUMAKI comic? It’s way better than the movie, really unsettling.

  59. One more to add to the “best of the 00’s” list: LAND OF THE DEAD.

    No, it’s not as good as (the original) DAWN OF THE DEAD, but what is?

  60. DAY is still the best DEAD movie, in my opinion. LAND was a lot of fun, though. Reminded me of a Carpenter flick.

  61. Yeah, LAND certainly has that fun post-apocalyptical/ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK action narrative and environment.

    Hell those original 4 Dead movies are all good in their own particular reasons. And yes, DAY OF THE DEAD did kick all sorts of ass. I guess people got mad that for a movie about the world already having ended, it was depressing. Gee I wonder why.

    I mean really, doesn’t matter who survives DAY. They’re fucked regardless. Either you become lunch in a dirty tomb of a bunker, or stranded alone on a deserted island with no chance or hope for escape. I wouldn’t imagine a good fate for anyone who survives those DEAD pictures.

    And yeah, I didn’t count DIARY OF THE DEAD or Romero’s upcoming (paycheck) SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD. Not seen DIARY, nor really interested. I guess his “fifth” Dead movie is…well, dead.

  62. Has anyone heard much about SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD? I thought DIARY was pretty bad but this new one doesn’t use the handheld gimmick and doesn’t appear to be about college students.

  63. SURVIVAL sounds a bit like the Stephen King short story “Home Delivery.”

  64. Dan Prestwich : Thanks for the tip , I will track down DEAD BIRDS as soon as possible . I like the “western with fantasy elements ” since The Valley of Gwangi and I’m looking forward , for example , to GallowWalker.

    And , yes , I think the Burrowers is a really well made movie. A modern classic of the decade ? I don’t know , but I also don’t think that this is one of the best decades for horror , considering the fact that most of the movies are remakes. When even Vern is really fond of a remake , there’s something wrong in the air . I like the Burrowers because :

    2-Not a remake.
    3-It’s not part of the current popular “genre” of horror movies, labeled by some as torture porn ( but I still have to catch up with Saw and Hostel movies , I don’t find them interesting enough), and it’s not a slasher , zombie or stupid-kids-running-around movie.
    4- It really feels like a western at times and like a horror movie at other times , all the while with its own pacing and atmosphere.
    5-I like the portrayal of cowboys and Indians , and the ending.
    6- Clancy Brown.

  65. Okay, I’ve found a list of horror movies of the 2000s at http://www.filmsandtv.com/genre.php?gs=2000Horror (although I wouldn’t classify some of those as horror. Especially X-Men.)

    In addition to the ones I already mentioned I gotta include AMERICAN PSYCHO, I AM LEGEND (another heavily flawed one, but I love it), ROGUE, SILENT HILL. I did enjoy MAY and GINGER SNAPS and THE TOOLBOX MURDERS. And THE RING and RINGU if that was 2000s. For goofy slasher movies I enjoyed JASON X, SEED OF CHUCKY, RETURN TO SLEEPAWAY CAMP, SEE NO EVIL and JASON VS. FREDDY. None of them classics except maybe JASON X but I kind of didn’t like it as much last time I watched it.

    Shit, not a very good decade for horror. Lots of stuff I liked but not much that is truly great.

  66. I saw on the list that Vern linked too “The Attic Expeditions”. I totally forgot that movie. That’s some crazy shit, with Seth Green, Ted Raimi, Jeffrey Combs and a cameo by Alice Cooper. It’s obviously very low budget (It looks like a pilot for a TV series. But not one of the modern ones, that look like theatrical productions.) and by the end I felt it was sometimes weird, just for the sake of it, but I remember that I really enjoyed it. (Note, it’s been a long time since I saw it.)
    I also would say that the first “Final Destination” is one of the best of this decade. A nice variation of the usual teenie slasher formula and unlike the sequels, it didn’t play the deaths not just for laughs, but also tried to build some serious suspense with them.
    “Hellraiser: Inferno” might be Scott Derrickson’s best movie (I know, that means nothing.). And yes, it’s a bad Hellraiser movie (Come on, Pinhead wants to teach a bad cop a lesson, to prevent him from ruin his life?), but if you forget everything you know about cenobites, you get an interesting, supernatural detective story.
    “They Nest” is not as good as Ellory Elkayem’s (intentional) hilarious follow up “Eight Legged Freaks”, but I love the scene with the hampster!
    I totally forgot “The Watcher”. All I remember is that the whole video clip editing made me think more than once that the DVD was scratched.
    “Doctor Sleep” was a surprisingly atmospheric supernatural thriller, but unfortunately ends with an absolutely ridiculous moment.
    “Dog Soldiers”!!! One of the best Werewolf movies ever! (Okay, there aren’t many good Werewolf movies for whatever reason, but this one is seriously great!)
    Wait, there was a remake of “The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari” in 2006?

    I also would like to say that just because I nemaed a few titles from the list here, it doesn’t mean that they are the best horror movies of the decade! I think the only one that really deserves it is “Final Destination”. And “Dog Soldiers” gets an honorable mention for being a fucking good Werewolf movie!

  67. caruso_stalker217

    September 3rd, 2009 at 2:57 am

    I am also an unrepentant lover of I AM LEGEND.

  68. I really don’t get the I Am Legend love. The beginning is cool, but once the CGI vampires show up, it’s a wrap for me. They just completely kill the eerie mood , which leads to the total cop-out ending. It’s not “I am legend because the new vampire civilization will tell tales of me” but “I am legend because I blew myself up heroically and saved some people.” That’s enough of a deal-breaker for me that I don’t really care about the movie’s good points anymore. It was doomed from the start.

    Another to add to the top ten list: Bubba Ho Tep. Forget the mummy. The real monster is old age. And that’s scary.

  69. I rented this movie when it came out and thought it sucked pretty badly unfortunately, I can;t remember much about it

    anyway I agree with Mr. Majestyk about The Mist though

  70. My one complaint about the Mist: so I was watching the movie in a mostly empty theater with an elderly couple sitting behind me, who had apparently read a plot synopsis on Wikipedia or something, because they were talking about plot and stuff (it was movie plot, not original story) beforehand, but nothing really major so I didn’t care. So then it gets to the ending and Thomas Jane does what Thomas Jane does, gets out of his car, ‘Holy shit’ I thought what’s going to happen next. “Alright,” says the old lady to her husband in a loud voice “Now comes the part where he gets rescued.” Guys, I don’t think it’s right to yell “SHUT UP” at senior citizens because they just ruined one of the great horror endings for you. But I did do that thing, and honestly I don’t feel entirely bad about it.

    If War of the Worlds counts I would put that up there, that shit was intense.

  71. Jake, it’s weird how the two versions of The Mist feel like two different kinds of movies. I wrote a review when the DVD came out that I will quote from here:

    In color, The Mist seems like a seventies verite thriller, like Dog Day Afternoon with giant tentacles instead of cops. The cameras are always roving, catching little details on the fly. It gives the film a sweaty urgency, but I don’t think it does the acting or the writing any favors. Stephen King has always written mannered dialogue that often reads better than it sounds, which lends itself to a certain form of overacting that can either be a lot of fun to watch (see Piper Laurie in Carrie for a great example) or like nails on a chalkboard (The Stand comes to mind). For the pseudo-documentary style of the color version of The Mist to really soar, the acting and writing would have to be a lot more naturalistic. The dialogue would have to feature more organic rhythms of speech, with a lot more stops and starts and a lot more Altman-style overlapping. As it is, the camera is in chaos while the words are perfectly controlled, with every clause connected and every thought completed. I believe this disconnect between the realistic visuals and the theatrical performances is what alienated a lot of people.

    That’s not a problem in the black-and-white version. Removing the color from an image automatically moves it a step away from reality, creating an expressionist world of light and shadow. The movie now feels more like an eerie existential low-budget sixties horror film like Carnival of Souls or Night of the Living Dead. The unreality of the visuals now matches the theatricality of the acting and writing, emphasizing the allegorical quality of the narrative that was largely drowned out by the color version’s somewhat misguided naturalism.

    The lead-up to the kick-in-the-nuts ending is particularly improved. Beyond our hero’s car windows there is now only an endless sheet of white, as if the entire world had been erased, creating a blank canvas on which some mad god could scribble fresh horrors. It makes that controversial ending seem more honest, since the movie has left the real world and its attendant standards of behavior behind and entered the realm of the purely psychological, where emotional truth trumps petty cause-and-effect every time. Then, when reality suddenly bursts through the mist at the very end, it’s even more jarring, as if we’ve awakened from a nightmare to find that things are even worse in the waking world. I almost wanted it to suddenly turn to color at that point. Even so, it’s the best ending that a horror film has ever had. There’s no final jump scare, no cynical sequel set-up, no parking lot full of ambulances to let you know that the status quo has been restored. This is a film where actions have repercussions and decisions can’t be rescinded. Just like in real life.

  72. The thing I have always found fascinating about Stephen King books is just how much the stories suck. Well, not suck, but they are always hodgepodges of 50’s B-movie plots, ‘real world’ incidents, old books about ghost stories and folk lore, and almost all of them are just variations on plots we’ve seen a thousand times before. But he’s just such a fucking good writer, you don’t care, you just want to keep reading. Usually translating the books to films is a bad idea because once you take away his use of language, you’re left with a not-that-great story and bad resolution (his endings suck). It takes a very particular kind of filmmaker (Kubrick, De palma, Cronenberg, and yes Darabont) to find the wicked little heart in his stuff and use it against the audience.

  73. loved I AM LEGEND up until the out-of-left-field Jesus-y ending. What was up with that?

    In response to Vern’s comment that it wasn’t a good decade for horror… I don’t know, man. I’m seeing a respectable number of excellent movies being named here, and tons more really, really good ones. The 70’s are still probably king, but I bet the 00’s beat the 90’s and at least tie with the 80’s.

    Maybe we should all submit our personal top 10 of the 2000’s list and try to compile a definitive list. Someone here has to have a background in statistics and tabulate that shit, right?

    Also, I’m going to come down in favor of the B&W version of THE MIST. Honestly, I think it’s a fucking shame that almost no movies these days are shot in b&w, especially horror and crime films, where the contrast between shadow and light are often a crucial part of the visual design. And what’s hilarious is how so many movies now go for a filtered, desaturated, moody look that they might as well be b&w, but for some reason there’s a fucking stigma about the format and most audiences won’t go see a monochrome movie. I guess SIN CITY is a rare example of a popular modern b&w movie, but I guarantee you that only because it was so stylized by mixing in a bunch of color. If it had been only b&w, I have a feeling fewer people would have seen it.

  74. Majestyk,

    Great post, and you raise another good topic: best horror movie endings. I think THE MIST has a really good one, but I can think of plenty that have it beat. John Carpenter made two: HALLOWEEN and THE THING, which both end brilliantly in unnerving ambiguity. THE THING is especially great, as the whole movie is founded on paranoia, and Carpenter allows no release from it. The paranoia continues right on through to the ending credits and stays with you long after the movie is over. (No surprise that noted pothead Carpenter would be able to evoke paranoia so well). The ending of THE MIST is great, but it’s also definitive and ironic. You feel a sense of resolution, even if that resolution is horrible. The reason THE THING may have my favorite horror movie ending is that it denies the audience resolution. The nightmare continues.

  75. Yeah, I’m with Dan on this one, I think the 00s, while occasionally lurching in the gutter (J-horror remake fever, unimaginative torture porn) actually produced some of the all time great horror films, and probably did way better than the 90s and probably even 80s (in part, because more films are being produced these days, and more indie films get venues where we can see them). In the interest of trying to calculate a definitive list, here’s mine 10 (not in any particular order):


    I think each one of those (with the possible exception of SILENT HILL, which in spite of its greatness is riddled with crippling script issues) is a bona fide timeless classic, which will continue to resonate with generations for decades to come. Many have already had a major impact on filmmaking (some negative, but come on, that’s like blaming Nirvana for the rest of the nineties) and I think all will eventually get their due. And to get down to that list, I had to leave off a few other major ones I think are pretty classic (FRAILTY, GINGER SNAPS, THE SIGNAL, X-FILES [oh shit, that came out of the fucking blue, didn’t it? but I think its bloody brilliant]). So I’d say while we had our share of criminally awful crap, this decade ended up treating horror fans pretty nicely. and THIRST isn’t even out yet!

    I’m of the camp that I AM LEGEND starts out classic and gradually goes downhill until it ends with mediocrity. Why must they futz up a really solid attempt with goofy CG vamps THAT JUST LOOK LIKE HUMANS WITH BIG MOUTHS ANYWAY. Why not just put some makeup on an actual person and have it look, you know, real? On the other hand, had they gone with the original ending, I might have actually liked it a little better, since it does explain the title more or less along the same lines as the original novel did. (spoilers –) Its one of the few cases ever where the original ending, where he doesn’t die, is actually a better, darker ending than the new one. Even so, by the end it felt like they had taken a great horror movie and turned it into a middling sci-fi action movie, and it just lost me at some point.

    and Crusty — no, I haven’t read the funnybook which inspired UZUMAKI. I hear that the movie is only the first part, and that the book explains things a little more, which frankly made me kind of not want to read it (for fear it would spoil the sheer inexplicable nightmare of the movie). But I guess now I’ll have to see if I can get my hands on it.

  76. Just in case any fans of SUICIDE CIRCLE / CLUB hadn’t heard of it, NORIKO’S DINNER TABLE
    is worth checking out. Although not exactly a sequel, it has several narrative and thematic connections

    Glad to see the original PULSE mentioned in so many lists. Such a shame that the American
    remake was so awful.

    It’s not a horror movie, but A SNAKE OF JUNE, by Shinya Tsukamoto of TETSUO fame,
    is a great creepy erotic drama, similar in tone to LOST HIGHWAY. A really gorgeous, unnerving film.

  77. I saw THIRST a few weeks ago. Read my (very brief) thoughts on it here:


    And Subtlety, bless you for at least considering THE SIGNAL. I’ve watched it 3 or 4 times and it holds up as probably the best made, best acted, most celever low budget horror movie of the decade.

  78. This has been a weird decade for horror, because even though there are many more independent films of superior technical quality, I find almost all of them disappointing. Dead Birds: Looked great, made no sense, and not in a good way. The Signal: Awesome first segment + amusing second segment + total letdown third segment = unmemorable and unsatisfying movie. Dead Snow: Completely generic showreel of a movie. Hatchet: Amusing and with some good gore but not really a real movie.

    And the list goes on. It all just seems like calling cards so the director can get a job making Pulse II. Which is ironic, since none of these movies really have much of a pulse.

  79. Clever Majestyk. Oh so very clever.

  80. That line from Fight Club has haunted me for a decade now.

  81. Strictly in terms of the horror genre, it has been a pretty weak decade. After MARTYRS, I found that the
    candidates for my “best of” list were getting pretty mundane. I enjoyed SHUTTER and SILENT HILL, but
    no one is going to confuse them with masterpieces.

    Still, what I find fascinating is how horror tropes have bled into other genres over the past 20 years.
    Mainstream films like SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and SEVEN have not only borrowed horror conventions,
    but have become thematcially rooted in many of horror’s chief preoccupations, so much so that more
    recent films like A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE and shows like MILLENNIUM or CARNIVALE are constructed
    entirely on thematic concerns that were once only found in classics like VIDEODROME.

  82. Is Uzumaki the one where everybody turns into spirals or some shit like that? Because, seriously, that’s one damn bad movie.
    I think that J-Horror is overrated anyway. I tried to watch so many different movies of the genre, but none of them convinced me completely. Some of them had some great scenes (I think the girl climbing out of the TV in “Ringu” is one of the scariest moments in movie history), but they failed to build up anything substancial around them. Sorry, I hate to be always the guy with the unpopular opinion (because thanks to the hipster trolls at AICN, IMDB and co. we lost way too much credibility) but I never founs out what’s so great about J-Horror anyway.

  83. CJ, I agree.For the most part, J-Horror is just a few eerie shots surrounded by a whole bunch of boring shit about possessed blenders and keychains and shit.

  84. CJ Holden I think it has to do with the wall-to-wall craziness and surrealness those movies contain. Unlike, say, Cronenberg where he shows you the real world and then perverts and deconstructs that reality with his imagery, Japanese horror has no basis in reality, no calm before or after the storm. It’s just an endless parade of fucked up images with little to no attempt to have nay of it make any kind of sense. That off-balance is what has people returning to watch those movies over and over again. There is a genuine sense of danger, like not only does the movie have the oppurtunity to go to bizarre fucked up places, but there’s a solid chance it is actually going to go there.

    Contributing to the horror discussion: Why no love for 1408? It’s no classic but it is a solidly made, well put together movie that never shits the bed I am Legend style (I do enjoy that movie though). It also has the balls to just be a stroy about a guy in a haunted room, and never tries to add any sort of explantion or wrap up to what it is we’re seeing. I guarantee you somewhere there’s a draft for that movie somewhere where at the end the room developed some kind of physical monster body that Cusack had to destriy, lest it conquer humanity, blah blah blah. So props to them for that.

  85. Jacks Lack of Motivation

    September 3rd, 2009 at 9:37 am

    I wouldn’t say Uzumaki is necessarily scary but it is eerie and a very surreal experience. The comic does explain things a little more but it also makes things a lot weirder to compensate.

    As for J-horror that hasn’t been mentioned (sorry CJ) Marebito is an interesting one although it sorta fizzles out by the end.

    About my only favourite of the ’00s that hasn’t come up already is Stuart Gordon’s Dagon. It’s probably the best thematic adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s work we have yet (the best not created by the HPL Historical Society, at any rate) and just a tight, nasty horror movie in general.

  86. Wikipedia has a much larger list of 2000’s horror movies if folks out there are still thinking of compiling a list of the best:


  87. Like any popular genre, J-horror is filled with its share of junk. I don’t even think that the name is very accurate,
    as most of these films are ghost stories, not real horror.

    I’d say that the main failing of many of these films is that there is way too much emphasis on the ghosts
    and not enough on the psychology. True horror only works when it plays with your head. That’s the
    staggering accomplishment of MARTYRS; once you’ve seen it, you just can’t get that fucker out from under your skin.

    Having said that, I thought that the original DARK WATER was kind of moving, and I like JU-ON’s structure.
    Some of the films that were influenced by the trend still hold up for me,
    like the original version of THE EYE and MEMENTO MORI.

  88. If I had to pick 10 favorites today I guess I’d go with these, though some made it to the list by me just randomly picking from some favorites since I couldn’t really decide which I liked most:


    With BUBBA HO-TEP, THE OTHERS and IN MY SKIN as alternates if some of those don’t really count as horror.

    Since I had trouble narrowing it down to 10 I’d have to agree with Dan that this has been a good decade for horror. I think I could easily come up another list of 10 I think are on par with the ones I listed. And I still haven’t seen a lot of the ones mentioned as being great, like SESSION 9, MAY and MARTYRS.

    By the way, well played, Mr. Prestwich, turning a low budget Jim Caviezel vehicle’s comments thread into one of the longer ones on the site.

  89. I agree that this has actually been a decent decade for horror. I think people are forgetting the doldrums of the nineties, when there were no horror movies for about five years and then it was all Screamalikes. I’m not knocking the post-modern horror boom, because there were some fun movies that came out of it, but the ’00s have had much more variety in its mainstream horror trends, including, for better or worse, torture porn, remakes, J-horror, ghost stories, zombie revivals, etc.

    Also, as far as J-horror, I think the measure of a true fan of any genre is when you even kind of like the bad entries. I can watch a terrible slasher movie whenever, but even a pretty good J-horror movie will bore me to tears.

  90. Jake,

    All part of my master plan…

  91. Good catch on THE OTHERS. I had forgotten about that one.
    It wouldn’t dislodge SUICIDE CIRCLE or MARTYRS from my top three,
    but it holds its own with THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE and ORPHANAGE.

    Another also-ran would be Bill Paxton’s FRAILTY, which I think is an
    interesting failure. BUG was another interesting borderline case.
    Not sure if either would qualify as true horror, though.

  92. Mr. Majestyk: I figure we can credit BLAIR WITCH PROJECT with getting horror out of the
    SCREAM rut of the 1990s and into the current wave of horror. Whether or not that is a good thing will
    depend on your taste.

  93. I think we also have to credit The Sixth Sense for that. It was a big mainstream hit and proved that non-teenage audiences still had a taste for the macabre.

  94. Sorry guys, I still have to go on record as defending the 00s as a great decade for horror. I mean, seriously, you think there were more classic films in the 80s and 90s? Or even the 70s? Part of the disconnect here may be that there are just so many MORE movies being made today. Look at that link Dan put up there in wikipedia… literally a thousand+ horror movies this decade (OK, so maybe AGAINST THE DARK doesn’t quite count, but most of those are legit). They just weren’t making em that fast any decade previously. So now there are way more also-rans (like the ones Mr. M mentions, above) and just plain awful movies (most J-horror remakes) to wade through to get to the good stuff, and probably a lot more dissapointments along the way (plenty of recent indies I really wanted to like, but ultimately had to give up on).

    But, despite all the crap, there are a good number of real gems from this decade, many of which I believe will rightly find themselves mentioned along the classics (I pick my top ten above, I challenge you to name yours). And we can recognize a lot of greatness already — given time, I think our memory of films like 1408 or FRAILTY or THE SIGNAL will probably be more forgiving than we are now, establishing them in the pantheon
    of worthwhile horror.

    This has, of course, been the decade of Asian genre film, so if you just don’t like any Asian horror at all, well, I guess the pickings might be a little slimmer than the 80s, where Italian horror was king. Still, you’ve got to at least recognize all the striving for excellence that went on here.

    I love that this decade has both pushed the limits of extreme violence (AUDITION) and uncomfortable perversity (TAXEDERMIA) and nurtured a number of slow burn, atmospheric class acts (THE ORPHANAGE). Its given us great postmodern stuff like SHAUN OF THE DEAD but also kept an eye to Oleg, with earnest and imaginative horror like SILENT HILL. I mean, I know we all hate remakes, but what more could you ask for? This decade has produced some of the most seriously great horror shit of all time. Bask in its glory, and in the way it has found its way into other genres (as Jareth points out).

    My friends, if the next decade is half as kind to horror fans as this one was, I’ll consider myself sublimely blessed.

  95. The 70s and 80s were the best decades for horror, but the 90s weren’t all bad. I don’t think many of the movies on these lists are as good as CANDYMAN. RINGU it turns out was ’98. There was SCREAM, BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, SEVEN, CRONOS, MISERY, VAMPIRES, THE FRIGHTENERS, THE SIXTH SENSE, WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE, BRIDE OF CHUCKY, TREMORS, and plenty of other enjoyable stuff.

    I AM LEGEND – I consider the alternate ending on the DVD to be the real ending, it all fits together much better and is more faithful in spirit to the book. (And would’ve let them do a sequel!) But with the theatrical ending I do sort of like that he never figures out what’s really going on, he still thinks they’re animals and is too stubborn to understand that they are in love.

    I agree that the CGI vampires don’t cut it (they tried makeup but didn’t think it was working and therefore I think rushed the effects) but that issue bothers me less on repeat viewings and it’s a flaw that is overpowered by the great performance by Will Smith, the classic story and the definitive portrait of a city abandoned by humans which is a gimmick I’ve always been a sucker for. And the whole thing with the dog, man. Only horror movie of the 2000s that made me tear up.

  96. I’m with Caruso on the I Am Legend lovetrain.

    I also cried at the end of Benjamin Button, not for the same reason That ten dollars would’ve been better spent on some form of pornography.

  97. Yeah, the ninties were by no means a complete wasteland; in fact, the Asian horror revival that eventually hit the US in the 00s began in the 90s. I’m just sayin, we ought to appreciate that there are lots of really fantastic horror films tied to this decade. And maybe a few more if I SELL THE DEAD, THIRST, and GAILLO don’t dissapoint. Just because it turns out M. Night Shamalayn wasn’t as cool as we thought he was going to be doesn’t mean we need to call the whole decade a bust.

    Vern- I hear ya on I AM LEGEND; It is an indisputably great performance with impeccable atmosphere… I could even have dealt with the CG guys I guess, but I just feel like the film starts out so good that its third-act decline (esp. introducing other humans, who aren’t acting at anywhere near Smith’s level) and then its weak climax (even the alternate ending isn’t quite a home run) drags it out of classic status to merely “solid.” For me anyway. But I wish I could love it the way you do, its definitely a great effory, could use more like it.

  98. Ok, here’s my top 10 list in alphabetical order. It’s not so much a list of the “best” or my personal favorites, so much as it is the ones I most hope are remembered 30 years from now.

    FRAILTY – most psychologically disturbing and most effective at using the audiences’ imagination to fill in the gaps
    HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES – most unique/distinct debut horror film
    HOUSE OF WAX – all-around best slasher film
    JOY RIDE – best old fashioned/Hitchcockian thriller of the decade, a dying breed
    LAND OF THE DEAD – best sociopolitical commentary horror film
    MAY – it’s CARRIE for the 00’s
    SHAUN OF THE DEAD – hands down best horror/comedy of all time
    THE SIGNAL – best achievement in low budget horror movies, showing that you can do an apocalyptic thriller without a lot of money by shifting the focus off of carnage and on to character, humor and a healthy dose of paranoia
    THREE… EXTREMES – Asian catchall
    28 DAYS LATER – most humanist/emotionally involving horror film (shout out to 28 WEEKS LATER as well)

    And honestly, with the exception of SCREAM, I like all of these better than the 90’s movies Vern named. And I’m shocked at how many awesome movies that you people named that DIDN’T make my list.

    A shoutout I’d like to make because I don’t think anyone else has: JEEPERS CREEPERS.

  99. Looking at the wider context of horror releases on those yearly Wikipedia lists seems to level out
    the accomplishments of each decade.

    One thing seems obvious: the 1990s didn’t produce any big names like Romero or Argento who stuck
    with the genre into the next decade. Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro come closest, but they moved on
    to more prestige projects. Which doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It’s not like either guy left his sensibility behind.

    It’s also fascinating to look at how far the studios were willing to drag out long-dead franchises.
    While TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and LAST HOUSE were rewriting the formula, the studios were still pumping out
    wolfman and Dracula junk that would have been better left in the 1950s, while in the thick of BLAIR WITCH and
    SIXTH SENSE there were still CHILDREN OF THE CORN and HELLRASIER sequels.

  100. well this comments page pretty much blew up. haha.
    good to hear you seem to like the same horror movies that i do. i wouldn’t put it on the list, but i just saw that Last House on the Left remake. quite good. i’d even dare to say more effective than the original.

  101. I’m very careful about the quality of decades, that are too far away already. (Like the 70’s or already parts of the 80’s.) Of course the 70’s produced some of the greatest horror movies ever (Jaws! The Exorcist! The Omen!), but don’t you think it’s possible that the shit ratio could have been higher than today – but we just don’t remember the bad movies anymore?
    I think part of the “movies were better back then”-argument, is that most people only remember the good stuff. Many people think that cranking out quick and cheap sequels are only a problem of today. Well, they obviously never saw “Son Of Kong” (1933). And I just recently watched “Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman” (1943) which ironically follows the formula of modern sequels pretty exactly. (More effects, more monsters, more of everything the audience liked in part 1, less story…)
    So, y’know, all I wanna say is that there is no real proof that any decade was “the best”. Each one had their masterpieces, that will stand the test of time and the stinkers, that nobody will ever remember 10 years from now.
    I know that I wanted to say more and go more into detail, but I was interrupted and forgot it. I will probably continue later.

  102. CJ Holden: I’m inclined to agree with you, but, just as food for thought, let me run this past you:
    we know that all sorts of good horror movies were made in each decade, but I wonder if most of what
    we’re seeing these days fails to re-define the genre in the way that the best films from previous decades
    have done. THE STRANGERS was fine, but it really didn’t tell us anything new.

  103. In defense of the 70’s, I know there was a lot of shit that came out then too, but also a rather high number of classic films and filmmakers to emerge. John Carpenter, Dario Argento and Wes Craven all got their starts then. The decade gave us, in addition to the ones you mentioned, DAWN OF THE DEAD, HALLOWEEN, BLACK CHRISTMAS, PHANTASM, DEEP RED (and several other classic Argentos and giallos), THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. It was the era that truly gave birth to the slasher film (yeah, yeah, PSYCHO and PEEPING TOM and Mario Bava and other influences, blah blah, but if official became a genre in the 70’s). Brian DePalma made CARRIE. The influence of a lot of these films are still reverberating in the genre today, I would argue moreso than any decade before or since. As for the 00’s, it’s too early to tell.

  104. If you guys like Lucky McKee try seeing ROMAN. It’s written by Mckee and directed by Angela Bettis from MAY. Also Lucky plays Roman. I’d like to mention the remake of Dark Water as a pretty good ghost story movie.

  105. Man, I’m loving this thread. First, thanks to those of you who pointed out some movies I’m checking out: Taxedermia, Intacto, Uzumaki, Gozu are all on my to-watch list.

    Here’s my top 10, more or less off the top of my head, and and always subject to change depending on how the wind blows—and what I forgot.

    In no particular order:

    The Orphanage: (which asks, is a haunted house only scary when viewed from the outside? I love how the ending can play as both a tragic or happy depending on how you view it).

    The Descent

    The Devil’s Backbone (Del Toro is best when working in Spanish—Blade 2 being the big exception. I’m tempted to put Pan’s Labyrinth on here. I loved it more, but feel it it encompasses a whole spectrum of genres, which isn’t bad at all, but takes it out of the running for me).

    Devil’s Rejects

    Ju-on (Aided by the fact that I was living in Japan the first time I watched it, and made do with no subtitles; made a creepy, rule breaking movie—shit, they get you even under the covers—that much more surreal).

    28 Days Later (Honorable mention to 28 Weeks)

    May (This played for me through the idea of a freak in the subculture. Yeah, you may listen to metal and watch foreign horror movies, but as the man says when May says, “But you like weird,” “yeah, but this is too weird.” Also, the scene with broken glass, both horrifying and heartbreaking).

    Shaun of the Dead (At this point zombies have only one place to go—World War Z. We’ve seen extinction, we’ve seen satire, and now I want to see the war, how people rally, the prices they pay to pull back from the brink. I love Max Brooks’ novel, and would love to see it on the big screen).

    American Psycho (what’s not to love? I’m a sucker for ambiguous/ open endings, and this is a killer—shit, no pun intended).

    The Others (I loved—absolutely fucking loved—the atmosphere in this. It reminded me of the Incident at Owl Creek Bridge, the short film based on the Ambrose Bierce short story. When the father comes home, haunted in his own way as the family is in theirs, it really shows the mercurial cross section of those who wander the after life, and the way they each harbor their own hells).

    Funny, I realized that three of my picks—The Orphanage, The Devil’s Backbone, and the others—are all foreign haunted house tales. All in some way tell the story from the ghost’s perspective (at least in The Others) and all offered a fresh take on the nature of existing after your death. In some ways this follows from The Sixth Sense, which I guess got this cycle rolling.

    Mr. M and other “Mist” lovers—I’m throwing in my support for this one too. I loved it, but had to choose only ten for my list. And no, I didn’t laugh at the end. However, to those of you who did, I can almost—almost—see why you did. The guy really is experiencing a run of shit luck to end all runs (shit, I really didn’t mean that pun either).

    Vern—I liked I Am Legend too—good call on the dog—but couldn’t get passed the CG vampires. They worked best when kept in the shadows (when Smith comes across the group, panting in the dark building . . . very creepy and effective) but really went down hill the more you saw them. For me the book will always remain the best take on the tale.

  106. The best decade of horror for me is the 70s, because it gave me my two favourite horror films of all time… TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and DAWN OF THE DEAD. Also HALLOWEEN, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, BLACK CHRISTMAS, SUSPIRIA and THE EXORCIST. You’ve also got JAWS, ALIEN and ERASERHEAD if you want to call those horror.

    Mr Subtlety: Definitely give the comics a go. The UZUMAKI movie was a few issues of the comic haphazardly mashed together. The comic actually has some tension to it and an ending, which kind of reminded me of H.P. Lovecraft. Nothing gets explained away rationally, so don’t worry about that.

  107. One question I keep wondering about: what has to happen to horror in the next ten years to keep it vital? Are we okay with variations on the the classic templates that were established in the 1970s and 1980s? Has the genre run its course? Is there nothing left but remakes?

  108. someone mentioned “eraserhead” above, which i don’t really think counts as horror, but since it’s come up, i will say that the most scared i have ever been by a movie probably in my adult life (i’m 32) was “mulholland drive” during the scene behind the diner. HOLY JEEZUS! also, the tiny old couple at the end were pretty creepy. one of my top all-time flicks. though lynch doesn’t technically do straight-up horror, i think he dabbles in it (“eraserhead,” “twin peaks,” “lost highway,” “mulholland drive”), and he does creepy and unsettling better than almost anyone.

    yeah, i got nothing on topic, really.

  109. oh also, forgive me if someone mentioned it already (i didn’t read ALL the posts but skimmed), but how about “drag me to hell”? how does that stack up? i don’t know because it doesn’t get released here in japan UNTIL FUCKING DECEMBER. not that i am fully opposed to DLing movies, but movies that i am looking forward to i always wanna see on the big screen first. the life of a movie nerd. i’m sure y’all understand.

  110. Jareth, the problem with all these remakes is that they’re so cheap. That’s not to say that they’d get better if they spent more money on them. Heavens no. But until one of them bombs spectacularly, they’ll continue to sound like a good idea to the paper pushers, and that’ll never happen as long as they can make back most of their budget in the first weekend just off of bored teenagers. We need someone to get the bright idea to remake Shriek of the Mutilated as a $150,000,000 special effects extravaganza.

    Actually, that sounds pretty awesome. Bad example.

  111. Virgin Gary – I could easily have included DRAG ME TO HELL on my list of favorites. It is excellent. I think it definitely holds it’s own with the best of the decade. A good one to wait and see in theaters. It gets a real good crowd reaction with some of the scares.

    We didn’t get PONYO over here in America until just last month. And it is only available dubbed in English. So I think you still get the better end of the deal even if you have to wait until December for some new Raimi.

  112. Jareth, as long as there is fear there will be horror. The styles will change, and the subgenres will disappear, but there will always be something hanging about whenever we feel the tug of our own mortality.

    Since you asked, here’s a book that provides a good example of 21st century horror: “House of Leaves,” by Mark Z. Danielewski.

    It’s topic is nothing less than the horror of absolute relativity in a nihilistic universe. No God to bale you out, and no rules to follow when everything you counted perverts to something wholly unnatural. What used to be a five step walk to the front door becomes ten; the clean unblemished hallway that connects the kitchen to the bedroom sports a new doorway, one you don’t remember. When the doorway is opened the door passes through darkness and only darkness. Being curious and only human you enter. Maybe not on the first night, or even the second, but in a week, with a friend, fortified together in bonhomie and beer, you step out, and discover a void of endless dimension.

    This is told to via a fragmented narrative. You main narrator relates his knowledge through the first person, based on the discovered—and unfinished—records of a third person narrator based on a house that is not haunted, but rather an place where the laws of physics do not apply. Even the words you read are subjective, and not to be trusted.

    Fuck me, I live for this shit.

    On a separate note, I believe we’ve only started to explore the ways horror can unfold. Specifically, with new media such as the internet there are all sorts of wicked, unsettling stories out there. Here’s one of my favorites. You all are a savvy bunch, so you might have come across it before.

    Ted the Caver

  113. And here’s one more, The Dionaea—or Flytrap—House. Another twisted house tale that uses the internet to tell horror in a fresh, innovative way. HTML, web pages, and text messages combine for something . . . memorable.


  114. Bad Seed — your description of House of Leaves sold me — I’ll be reading it next week. But I have to tie it in Virgin Gary’s point and note that David Lynch has been playing with this type of horror for a long time, and Maya Deren was doing it before him. I firmly believe ERASERHEAD and LOST HIGHWAY and TWIN PEAKS are horror; just a kind of horror which goes strait to the subconscious rather than our fight-or flight instincts.

    Jason wants to kill you, which is scary, but look, if you dodge that machete long enough you’re gonna be able to get away. You know how to escape him if you want, you just have to be sharp enough to do it.

    Freddy also wants to kill you, which is a little scarier since he doesn’t have to obey the same rules that you usually use to protect yourself. But still, you know what he’s up to and you can probably figure out how to use the rules in order to protect yourself.

    Lynch doesn’t care about killing you. But he knows that its not death that’s scary, its helplessness. His are worlds of horror where you are completely powerless to comprehend or fight whatever is going on. Everything you might normally turn to for comfort, especially your ability to control a situation through planning and action, is gone when you take away your fundamental understanding of what’s going on. Ghost stories are
    sometimes effective because they also take away your ability to help yourself (especially Asian ghost stories) but Lynch
    likes to drop the bottom out of the whole thing, so your whole life is caught in a dark, nameless horror from which there is no escape. No explaination, no way out, nothing that would offer you any possible foothold to try and help yourself. No hope. That’s my idea of hell.

    What’s the future of horror? Well… if I had to guess I would say I think the genre is likely to continue to merge into drama (ie, films like DEVIL’S BACKBONE) and into surreal macabre stuff like TAXADERMIA. I think we may have gone about as far as we can with zombies, vampires, werewolves, etc – the metaphors which guide those tropes have been pretty thoroughly explored by this point – and both slashers and torture-porn have become about as extreme as they could get, yet still haven’t really found much new to say in awhile. I think, particularly if the next few years see a major shift in people’s lives, that existential horror is due for a comeback. There will always be ghosts and vampires, but I think issues of identity, isolation and purpose are going to be increasingly important, and we’ll need new icons to better represent those things.

    Also, I predict more HELLRAISER sequels, of decreasing quality. Possibly another PHANTASM too.

  115. btw Seedy, I took a look at Ted The Caver, and I have to admit, pretty solid effort. A little too labored to really make it believable, even for those (like me) who want to believe, but I appreciate the effort. You’re right, its very interesting to see people trying out new forms of horror writing.

  116. Sorry I dozed off… does Rhona Mitra take her clothes off?

  117. Just watched the Highwaymen… good little flick with a very nice Barracuda. Probably not an original Hemi Barracuda, but still nice. After few years of collecting, it’s getting hard to find good car related films anymore… at least on DVD.

  118. Hey Bad Seed, this’ll probably get lost in the shuffle now (is anyone still visiting this thread?) but thank you for posting that link to Ted the Caver. It freaked me out last night and freakt out a friend of mine this afternoon. I too love “House of Leaves.” This strikes me in the same way. If you know of anything else like this on the Internet, please please post the link.

  119. My online video rental sent me this movie today, which left me stunned for a while, because I seriously couldn’t remember putting it on my queue. Shit, I couldn’t even remember ever hearing of this movie before!
    Then I had the idea to check if Vern wrote a review for it,and BAM! Here it is! I guess that’s why I put it on my list more than a year ago and then forgot about it. (Haven’t watched it yet, though.)

  120. Robert Harman now makes those JESSE STONE TV movies with Tom Selleck, which I personally think are pretty darn good.

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