Thursday, October 22, 2009

Weekly Top Tens: The Scariest Movies of the Decade

Let me be clear right off the bat and say that this is not a list of the “best” horror movies of the decade, but rather the scariest. Some of these movies are not even all that good, but I have to admit that they did their job in that they scared me. I don’t often get scared at the movies anymore – I know the tricks too well – but I still love the sensation of being scared out of my mind at the movies. A great horror movie need not scare the crap out of you. But these ones did. I got inspired by watching Paranormal Activity this week, a film as you can see by this list has earned its reputation, and since I already made myself look like a little girl this week by posting my top ten kids movies that make me cry, I figured this couldn't make me look any worse.

10. May (Lucky McKee, 2002)
May is the only film on this list that doesn’t have a job out of your seat terrifying moment, which is why it is number 10. But what it does do is brilliantly ratcher up the tension scene by scene, so that by the end of movie you are completely glued to your seat and terrified. Angela Bettis gives one of the best horror movie performances of the decade as the lonely title character – a painfully shy girl, whose only friend his her doll. She meets and becomes fixates of two people – Jeremy Sisto and Anna Farris – but both are eventually creeped out by May and betray her, setting her off. After her doll is destroyed (in the single most disturbing scene in the film, as a she and a group of blind children grope about on a floor covered in glass), she decides to make a new doll – this one out of people. The final scene of the movie – where May gouges out her eye to complete the doll, is among the creepiest endings I have ever seen in a movie.

9. The Ruins (Carter Smith, 2008)
While Carter Smith’s film is nowhere near as terrifying as the Scott Smith novel on which it is based, The Ruins is still an extremely effective, extremely scary horror movie. A group of young Americans on vacation in Mexico decide to go on a daytrip to some ancient ruins. When they find them, and set foot on the ruins, the locals surround the ruins and won’t let them leave. At first confused, they finally realize that there is something not right about the plants growing on these ruins. They are alive, and they are hungry. While it seems strange to say that a movie about killer plants is scary, this one truly is. Try not to be terrified when the group have to amputate the legs of one of their friends. Or on any of the trips down the darkened mineshaft in search of that ringing cell phone. Or finally, when you see the vines under one of the groups skin. This is an effective horror, that while it doesn’t live up to the source material, still managed to scare me.

8. Wolf Creek (Greg McLean, 2005)
I don’t much like Wolf Creek, as it is an ugly, vile little film, yet I cannot help but admit that the film did its job as it truly did terrify me as I watched it in the theater. A trio of young Australians – two girls and a guy – head out into the outback, only to have their car breakdown and be “saved” by a seemingly nice older man. What they don’t know, is that the man is a psychopath hell bent on killing all three of them. The three of them are drugged and separated. One of the girl wakes up, and discovers her friend being tortured by the killer, manages to free her, and the duo try to escape, but it is futile. The scariest scene comes in a car, where one of the girls watches in horror as she discovers cameras with videos of other young people having the same thing done to them, only to have the killer pop out from the backseat and make her a “head on a stick” by severing her spinal cord. This is a repulsive film, yet it does what it sets out to do – scare the crap out of you, so in that regard, I have to be honest.

7. The Loved Ones (Sean Bryne, 2009)
In The Loved Ones, a kid who is trying to forget his sins by drowning himself in drugs and music seems to finally turn a corner and reconnect with his girlfriend, and is then put through the most horrifying experience of his life. A shy, yet mentally unbalance classmate, has an obsession with him and gets her father to kidnap him on the night of the prom, and forces him to be her date to her families twisted little prom of their own. The torture scenes in the film are tough to bare, but it’s the moments after our hero is thrown into the pit, and has to fight with her other “dates”, who have become ravenous freaks, that is truly terrifying. That and the performance by Robin McLeavy who is far and away the most horrifying female horror movie villain in recent memory. She even makes the cute song “Pretty Enough” seem like scary. I saw this film at this year’s Toronto Film Festival where it won the Midnight Madness people’s choice award, so watch for it.

6. Eden Lake (James Watkins, 2008)
A young couple decide to head down to a remote lake for a romantic weekend away from everything. They have a series of escalating run-ins with a group of juvenile delinquents out in the middle of nowhere, culminating when the kids steal their car. When the couple find them, the man (Michael Fassbender) confronts them and demands their keys back, leading to a fight where he kills the main hooligan’s dog. Thus sets off an even more terrifying sequence of events that have the two running for their lives. Eden Lake takes a standard premise, and executes it brilliantly, thanks in no small part to the performances of Fassbender and Kelly Reilly as the couple, and Jack O’Connell you is terrifying as the leader of the kids. You wonder where these kids went so wrong, and then in the films final sequence – the most horrifying in the entire movie – you meet their parents, and everything snaps into focus. This is proof that the English know how to make good horror films.

5. Frontier(s) (Xavier Gens, 2007)
In Frontier(s) a group of French criminals – mainly made up of young Muslims – take advantage of the riots following a far right wing party’s election to orchestrate a robbery, that goes horribly wrong. On the run from the cops, they end up at an out of the way bed and breakfast, and do not know what they are in for. The family who runs the B&B are neo-Nazis, led by the patriarch, a former SS officier, who take their time to torture and kill most of the criminals, but want to save the women for “breeding” in order to expand their Nazi regime. Frontier(s) is as graphic and as bloody as any film I this decade, but it is also genuinely terrifying as things go from bad to worse in a hurry. Directed by Xavier Gens, the film is an intelligent horror movie, but one that knows how to get under your skin and stay there.

4. The Mist (Frank Darabont, 2007)
Perhaps the most underrated horror film of the decade, Frank Darabont’s The Mist is terrifying because of what it doesn’t show you, much more than what it does. A mist moves in to a small Massachusetts town and traps the residents, including Thomas Jane and his son, in a grocery store. Strange things keep happening outside, and anyone who ventures out, never makes it back in again. For much of the movie, the mist itself is the bad guy, hiding the horrors that wait outside the door. When the creatures do attack, is becomes a truly terrifying movie. The Mist also boats the most downbeat ending of pretty much any film this decade – but one that makes complete sense. This is one of the very best adaptations of a Stephen King novel ever.

3. Paranormal Activity (Oren Peli, 2009)
It amazes me what director Oren Peli was able to do with just $15,000 and a video camera. The film is a truly frightening experience, and does so with almost no special effects, and almost nothing being seen. Shot entirely from the point of view of a couple who think their house is haunted, they set up their video camera at night to try and capture the activity as it happens. What they capture is truly creeping, although we see almost nothing. The performances, especially by Katie Featherston, are brilliant in the way that we never catch them acting, and the final scare (which some people do not like, but screw them), I think is utterly brilliant. A truly frightening film experience.

2. Them (David Moreau & Xavier Palud, 2006)
I often think that scary movies really only work in the movie theater, but Them is a movie that completely dispproves that point. Watching this at home by myself on a dark night, I wanted to spend most of the movie underneath my comforter, but could not take my eyes off the screen for a second. A couple in a secluded house starts to hear strange noises, then has their car stolen. They then start to see a group of people seemingly everywhere outside their house, and eventually inside. What do these people want? Who are they? The movie takes its time answering these questions, gradually ratcheting up the suspense through the first two acts, before shocking us in the third. A old concept I know – people trapped inside an isolated house – but the directors do a brilliant job of making this movie appear real, and truly terrifying.

1. The Descent (Neil Marshall, 2006)
The Descent takes out fear of the dark and the unknown to entirely new places. A group of women go spelunking in North Carolina, and end up getting lost down in the caves. That would be bad enough, but it appears that they are not alone down there. The Descent spends a lot of time in the beginning setting up the suspense, with little more than darkness and strange noises drawing us deeper and deeper into the setting. By the time the “crawlers” appear, we are beyond scared, yet Marshall is a talented enough director that the film never falls into horror more clichés, but instead continues to ratchet up the suspense. This is the only film in recent memory that actually had me scared not just during the movie, but for days after. A great film.

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