Mike Thorn returns to Kendall Reviews with another fascinating discussion piece on horror cinema. The response to Mike’s first contribution which detailed his 10 favourite Horror films from the 2010s, was incredible. I’m delighted to welcome Mike back, this time to offer you chronologically his favourite horror films released between 2000 – 2009.
Mike Thorn is the author of the short story collection Darkest Hours. He completed his M.A. in English literature at the University of Calgary. His fiction has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Dark Moon Digest, Behind the Mask – Tales from the Id and Straylight Literary Arts Magazine. His film criticism has appeared recently in MUBI Notebook, The Seventh Row and The Film Stage.
Favourite Horror Films from the 2000s (2000-2009)
Ghosts of Mars (John Carpenter, 2001)
This film energetically and radically reframes John Carpenter’s career-long allegiances to genre cinema, merging Western, science fiction and horror conventions. It also showcases the director’s unique riff on Hawksian character dynamics, reimagining classic Hollywood reference points within a multiple-frame narrative that plays out against maroon-orange space panoramas set to thrash guitar solos and heavy synthscapes. The film is aesthetically and formally adventurous, no doubt, but Carpenter holds it together with his trademark craft and unmistakable point of view. This is not the kind of pandering “greatest hits” work too often demanded of late-career auteurs; while incorporating a filmography’s worth of interests and trademarks, it still comes together as something wholly new and exciting. If you ask me, it’s one of the very best films from one of the very best American directors.
Sleepless (Dario Argento, 2001)
The first half of Dario Argento’s Sleepless plays a familiar tune, full of elegantly filmed giallo sequences testing the uneasy boundaries between sex and death. Midway through, the film ventures off its established path and into a borderline stately procedural that sometimes cracks at the seams to show glints of the director’s distinctly disturbing perspective. Edgar Allan Poe’s work has clearly influenced Argento’s career-spanning images of oneiric and creepily romantic violence, and Sleepless now shows the auteur paying homage to the meticulous plotting of Poe’s detective stories. It’s a conflicted film, openly pitting two different frameworks against each other, but Argento’s masterful execution keeps it running just fine.
Signs (M. Night Shyamalan, 2002)
Next to Steven Spielberg’s horrifying War of the Worlds (2005), this might be American genre cinema’s most overt response to 9/11. Signs distills the key elements that make Shyamalan such a special auteur, and not only in the big picture sense of genre-codified narrative acting as a catalyst for individual and social revelation. Scene by scene, it’s also an excellent example of the director’s sensibility and point of view—there’s a sincere sense of awe (both optimistic and dread-afflicted) for that which exceeds human understanding, which plays into the meticulous, deliberate sound design and image composition. Signs is as much about the textures and vibes of its rural setting as it is about plot (and it’s worth mentioning that Shyamalan writes plot better than most of his contemporaries).
Freddy vs. Jason (Ronny Yu, 2003)
By the time Hong Kong auteur Ronny Yu took on Freddy vs. Jason, he had already made his mark on the horror genre with The Trail (1983), The Occupant (1984) and the Sam Raimi-tinted Bless This House (1988) (not to mention his acerbic, deconstructive Bride of Chucky , the most ambitious entry in its franchise). Freddy vs. Jason benefits from its director’s clear acquaintance with horror, but its steely blues and manipulated camera speeds draw from his non-horror work, such as The Bride with White Hair (1993) and his Hollywood debut Warriors of Virtue (1997). What stands out above all else is an attentiveness to the value and impact of images—Ronny Yu recognizes and visualizes Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees on two levels: first as cartoonish pop cultural icons with the larger-than-life qualities of TV wrestlers, and second as contemporary manifestations of deeply rooted unconscious fears given mythological form. He foregrounds the elemental qualities of both characters (fire for Freddy, water for Jason) and imaginatively places those ancient symbols against a backdrop of early 2000s rave culture, adolescent ennui and televisual overload. It’s big and it’s stupid and it’s gaudy (Ronny Yu claims the production used over three hundred gallons of fake blood), but it’s also beautifully committed to its icons, myths and dream symbolism. Yes, I’ll say it: Freddy vs. Jason is its own weird brand of masterpiece.
The Toolbox Murders (Tobe Hooper, 2004)
Before The Toolbox Murders, Tobe Hooper showed an intuition for using space and architecture visually and thematically (it’s all over everything from Poltergeist  to Spontaneous Combustion ). Topped maybe only by his sadly undervalued swan song Djinn (2013), The Toolbox Murders shows Hooper at his most space-conscious. Like so many of his films, it’s all about repressed atrocity rearing its ugly head, but Toolbox localizes the atrocity and makes it one with the queasy-yellow, decrepit building in which it resides. Here’s the slasher sub-genre stripped down to tonal and atmospheric basics: an exercise in grimy, leering, persistently uneasy build-up and horrible release.
Hostel (Eli Roth, 2005)
As a filmmaker, Eli Roth shows many faces: he’s a nuanced social diagnostician, a shameless provocateur, a foreverteen gore-hound and a trash cinema historian. Hostel shows those faces intermittently and sometimes all at once, contending directly and brutally with the 2003 Abu Ghraib photographs (said photos showed United States military and Central Intelligence Agency personnel mercilessly torturing Iraqi prisoners). Hostel encompasses and reveals contemporary national attitudes while also laying bare long-denied xenophobia, misogyny and imperialist aggression. Roth has never been prone to finger-wagging didacticism, though; instead, he situates us within a synonymously nasty network of twisted value systems before dragging us deeper, and then even deeper still, into hell.
Land of the Dead (George A. Romero, 2005)
George A. Romero’s Dead series gives us various sociopolitical critiques by way of zombie outbreaks. Land of the Dead (2005) builds off Night of the Living Dead (1968)’s Civil Rights allegory, Dawn of the Dead’s (1978) anti-consumerist warnings and Day of the Dead (1985)’s reflections on the unsettling relationships between U.S. military, scientific research and capitalist pursuit. Pre-dating Occupy by six years, Land takes on the long-cultivated injustices made loudly public by that movement. It’s the most expressly and fixedly anti-capitalist entry in the Dead cycle, filtering Romero’s career-long progressive outrage through a large-scale, epic zombie apocalypse. Like almost all of the director’s horror films, it’s packed not only with political insights but also with expertly staged sequences of both character interaction and carnage.
Inland Empire (David Lynch, 2006)
David Lynch’s first fully digital feature is an essential showcase of the format’s unique possibilities. Playing off its images’ uncannily intimate and real-not real qualities, Inland Empire might be Lynch’s most thorough and convincing translation of nightmares. To be perfectly honest, I have always struggled to write about Lynch’s work, because it so often deliberately (and crucially) resists interpretive strategy—like Eraserhead (1977), Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) and Lost Highway (1997), Inland Empire’s language really is built into its own subconscious-triggering rhythms.
Retribution (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2006)
I have used the word “dread” when describing some of these other films, but very few filmmakers transcribe this sensation with the affective conviction of Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Retribution is at its core a love story revolving around a man who reaps no satisfaction from life and a woman who wishes no longer to be dead. Kiyoshi Kurosawa sidesteps conventional techniques of withholding the supernatural to develop suspense—in Retribution, ghosts are as matter-of-fact as the living characters. This film mines fear from sources of existential anxiety and loss.
Halloween II (Rob Zombie, 2009)
In both his music and his films, writer-director Rob Zombie constantly cites the influence of Universal’s 1930s and ‘40s monster movies. Before Halloween II, this source of influence was exemplified by the filmmaker’s persisting interest in his own work’s most monstrous characters. His first Halloween (2007) began complicating the vicious nihilism of House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and The Devil’s Rejects (2005), looking to the connections between socialization and violence. Halloween II takes its predecessor’s interests one step further by oscillating between its killer’s dissociated point of view and an unflinching, empathetic study of victims and survivors. Part of what makes Halloween II so remarkable is that it never carries itself like an “essay film,” even when it’s explicitly upending generic conventions. Zombie focuses instead on his singular knack for atmosphere and image-making, quietly but effectively culling profound observations from the very genre he is working within.
Thank you very much Mike.
You can find out more about Mike by visiting his official website www.mikethornwrites.com
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In the bleak landscape of Darkest Hours, people make decisions that lead them into extreme scenarios – sometimes bizarre, often horrific, always unexpected. Between this book’s covers you will find academics in distress; monsters abused by people; people terrorized by demons; ghostly reminiscences; resurrected trauma; and occult filmmaking. Ranging from satirical to dreadful, these stories share a distinct voice: urgent, sardonic, brutal, but always empathetic.