Tag Archives: Cormac McCarthy

The 2000s: Horror’s Best Decade (Part 3: The Final Chapter) by Paul J. Williams

Please allow me one last time to preface this article with a warning and a statement: Beware! Dozens of movies are discussed and spoilers may exist, so please keep that in mind as you read.

And, I’m not a movie historian or expert; I’m just a cinephile, probably like you, who enjoys horror movies. I also like to reflect upon times and situations in our history and ask: Why? I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic as well.

NOTABLE DIRECTORS

As we entered the 2000s, one filmmaker seemed to lead the charge for a resurgence in the horror genre: M. Night Shyamalan. Coming off the monumental success of 1999’s The Sixth Sense, he dipped slightly with 2000’s Unbreakable, before reconnecting with audiences with 2002’s Signs, which unfortunately has not stood the test of time in terms of its plot or an ending that makes sense. After that, poor Night descended that proverbial slippery slide with one miscalculation after another. However, I’m happy to report that the past few years have been a rebound for Mr. Shyamalan with the success of The Visit in 2015 and Split in 2017. While Night might have slumped in the 2000s, several other filmmakers rose to prominence in the horror genre, aside from the aforementioned Eli Roth, Neil Marshall, et. al.

TI WEST started with a couple of independent features before directing the sequel to Cabin Fever, which he now disowns. Afterwards, though, he started the run he has become known for with The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers, The Sacrament, and segments on V/H/S and The ABCs of Death. His latest feature-length film was the 2016 non-horror, but critically acclaimed, In the Valley of Violence.

LUCKY McKEE brought us the now cult-classic May in 2002. Several years later, he returned with The Woods in 2006, followed by The Woman in 2011. His latest movie, Misfortune, is scheduled for release in 2017.

IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT: Post-Apocalypse

Another oldie but goodie subgenre that resurged in the 2000s was post-apocalyptic movies, with many in the zombie subgenre as well. Here are a few survivors, though admittedly, some are more drama than horror:

REIGN OF FIRE, starring the not-as-yet-popular Christian Bale and the always great Matthew McConaughey, in a 2002 UK movie where dragons emerge and destroy half the planet.

TIME OF THE WOLF is a 2003 Michael Haneke post-apocalyptic drama that nobody saw during its initial run, but has become appreciated years later.

WAR OF THE WORLDS is Steven Spielberg’s 2005 loosely-based adaptation of H.G. Wells’ 1897 novel about an alien invasion. Tom Cruise plays a longshoremen from Newark, NJ (remember, this is science-fiction) who must flee with his kids as the war-machines destroy everything in their path. With awesome set-pieces and special effects, the movie went on to receive positive reviews and hundreds of millions of dollars.

CHILDREN OF MEN is a 2006 UK movie set in a near-future where women, inexplicably, can no longer become pregnant. Alfonso Cuarón directs Clive Owen to a great performance as the man who may be able to help mankind. Surprisingly not a hit at the box-office, the movie earned critical acclaim and always pops up on “Best of” lists.

THE ROAD is the 2009 adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel about a father and son trekking along a post-apocalyptic landscape in search of that elusive safe-ground.

DAYBREAKERS is a 2009 vampire tale starring Ethan Hawke, who must love acting in these genre movies. Ultimately a fun ride, the film made double its budget.

STAKE LAND, from 2010, also sets us in a post-apocalyptic world overrun with vampires. A touching story executed on a low budget with some great scenes and a moving soundtrack.

“THE ORIGINAL WAS BETTER”…Yeah, No Shit…

Remakes, reboots, reimagining, whatever you call them, they were everywhere in the 2000s and the horror genre was the biggest victim. This was really the only low point, in my opinion, for the genre this decade.

Look, I like to think I’m not naïve or a prude; I get it, I really do. Hollywood is a business, and businesses’ goals are to earn profits. I’m an American trying to turn a buck as much as the next guy, so maybe if I were in these producers’ shoes I’d do the same, but they all reek of capitalism. There appears to be no artistic or creative goal to them at all… Okay, maybe I am a little naïve after all…

Anyway, let’s take a look at some of these:

THE FIRST: Announced in 2001 and realized in 2003, the first remake of an original horror classic in the 2000s was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Besides Jessica Biel running around in a skimpy white tank-top, the movie offers or adds nothing to the iconic 1974 original.

THE MOST CONTROVERSIAL: Touched upon in Part 2, after the relative successes of Rob Zombie’s early/mid 2000s horror-films, producers who owned the rights to John Carpenter’s 1978 classic, Halloween, tasked Zombie with remaking it in 2006. He would go on to write, produce, and direct it entirely in his own broad, bloody vision, abandoning what made the original so special. It didn’t stop Millennials and scores of others from rushing the theaters, and the movie went on to huge box-office grosses, which spawned the 2009 sequel. A feud of some sort, that might be total nonsense, between Carpenter and Zombie has emerged over the years, but the two seem to have made amends recently.

THE WORST: Hands down, unequivocally, without any doubt, 2006’s unintentional spoof-remake of the 1973 UK classic, The Wicker Man, takes the prize. Nicholas Cage leads the way in this turd, playing the detective searching for a missing girl on a remote island. An unmitigated disaster all the way around… “Not the bees!”…

THE VICTIMS: All of these tried and essentially failed at remaking their original classics: Willard (2003), The Amityville Horror (2005), The Fog (2005), House of Wax (2005), The Omen (2006), When A Stranger Calls (2006), Black Christmas (2006), The Invasion (2007), April Fool’s Day (2008), My Bloody Valentine (2009), Friday the 13th (2009), The Last House On the Left (2009), The Stepfather (2009), The Wolfman (2010), I Spit On Your Grave (2010), and last but not least, A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010). That list is way too long.

THE EXCEPTION: Let Me In is the 2010 American remake of the 2008 Swedish vampire drama, Let the Right One In. Perhaps why this was one of the very few remake successes in the 2000s is the ingredients of talented professionals that collaborated to make it: Written and directed by Matt Reeves and starring Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloë Grace Moretz, and the always great, Richard Jenkins, the movie received critical acclaim, though wasn’t the biggest hit at the box-office.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Before we finish, I’d like to mention other movies of note that prove this was one of the best decades for horror:

THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, a 2005 “young girl possessed” movie adds the unique aspect of also being a legal drama. That, along with great performances from both veteran and novice actors, separates this from other ubiquitous demonic possession stories.

HARD CANDY, a two-hander directed in 2005 by David Slade, stars Patrick Wilson and Ellen Page, a year before she would explode as Juno, in this disturbing revenge tale set in the modern, technological era.

BUG, a 2006 psychological horror from William Friedkin, who directs a sparse cast, made double its budget, and was well-received, despite many disappointed with its conclusion.

TRICK ‘R TREAT, technically a 2007 film, is a horror anthology directed by Michael Dougherty, set on Halloween, that was released straight-to-DVD in 2009. Of course, with hindsight being 20/20, not releasing this was a detrimental decision by Warner Brothers, as the movie was eventually received with critical acclaim and has gone on to develop a big cult following. It undoubtedly would have earned a significant profit at the box office.

THE MIST is a 2007 adaptation of Stephen King’s 1980 novella by director Frank Darabont, who seems to be one of the only filmmakers to successfully transfer King’s stories to movies. The film is faithful to the pages up until the ending, I’m sure most of you know by now, which is very different from the novella that had an ambiguous, yet hopeful finish. It’s a real kick in the balls.

THE ORPHANGE, in 2007, is a scary ghost story (with kids!) from Spain.

EDEN LAKE, a highly disturbing 2008 UK film, starring Kelly Reilly, a then little-known Michael Fassbender, and an unknown Jack O’Connell. A young couple are attempting to enjoy their vacation, but a gang of local hoods have other plans for them. Some scenes are hard to watch, for sure.

TRIANGLE, a UK release in 2009, is a mind-fuck of a movie that, despite Melissa George running around in short-shorts and heels, is a very cleverly structured film.

ANTICHRIST, a 2009 experimental horror from the mind of the infamous Lars von Trier, stars Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a grieving couple whose infant son dies in the prologue. No hyperbole: It’s some of the craziest shit you’ll ever see on screen.

GRACE, from 2009, stars Jordan Ladd as a grieving and pregnant widow, who may also lose her baby. Directed by Paul Solet, it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

DRAG ME TO HELL is the 2009 supernatural movie written and directed by the accomplished, Sam Raimi.

BLACK SWAN, though not 100% horror, is Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 companion-piece with 2008’s The Wrestler, about a performer’s obsession with their craft, ultimately leading to their demise. Natalie Portman’s performance would go on to earn her an Oscar for Best Actress. Creepy scenes, mild “gore,” and foreboding atmosphere allows me to list this as a horror.

MONSTERS is the 2010 feature-film debut of Gareth Edwards, who would go on direct Godzilla in 2014 and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in 2016. It’s not surprising that Edwards would be selected to helm these big budget movies, considering what he does with the visuals and effects in Monsters with only $500,000. The movie puts a great twist on the alien “invasion” subgenre and explores themes way more relevant today than in 2010. Dialogue was adlibbed a la Before Sunrise, however, the actors in that film were much more up to the challenge than the cast in Monsters.

Last, I’m embarrassed to admit I omitted in Part 1, the South Korean movie, A Tale of Two Sisters, from 2003. Unseen by me until some years later, the film is loosely based on an old Korean fairytale and has since been adapted several times.

2010: THE BUBBLE BURSTS

With a decade like the 2000s filling up with so many notable horror movies, the inevitable bubble would burst, which it did, right on cue in 2010 with two films: Human Centipede and A Serbian Film.

One rare thing these two movies have in common is that in this modern, digital, social-media age, each film had an old-fashioned word-of-mouth aspect to them. This was more so with Human Centipede, which I think more US viewers have seen or at least heard of. 2009’s Paranormal Activity was the last horror movie I remember having more of that pre-internet dialogue amongst folks.

HUMAN CENTIPEDE Technically, it’s The Human Centipede (First Sequence) and was written, produced, and directed by Dutch filmmaker, Tom Six (Oh, the Dutch!). Just from the movie poster, you know you’re in for it. The film starts out torture-porn-esque, with three tourists kidnapped in Germany by a deranged scientist, but devolves much lower than other movies of this ilk. If you haven’t watched it, I’ll just come out and say it: The victims are surgically attached to each other, mouth to anus, hence becoming his human centipede. Themes and inspirations in the film are evident and, of course, this received what you could call “mixed” reviews at best, but it has spawned two sequels which, admittedly, I’ve passed on.

Before we move on, I want to formally recognize three professionals. I’ve been on movie sets and have asked actors to reach down into some deep emotional and physical territory to accomplish a scene, but what is asked of the three actors in Human Centipede goes above and beyond. Here’s to Ashley C. Williams, Ashlynn Yennie, and Akihiro Kitamura for what they endured in this movie. It wasn’t for nothing.

A SERBIAN FILM Co-written, produced, and directed by Srđan Spasojević, A Serbian Film is an obvious indictment of the filmmaker’s country, Serbia, and its government. Also classified in the subgenre of “just when you thought you saw it all,” A Serbian Film tells the story of poor Milos, a financially strapped, retired porn actor called back to duty by the craziest fucker ever to live. Just how crazy? I’ll give you a hint: “Newborn porn” becomes a porn subcategory.

Somewhat surprisingly, the movie is photographed very nicely, and has way more of a professional look for a movie of this nature. A Serbian Film would ultimately become one of those movies defending itself against censorship in many countries, creating various edits. No matter which cut you’ve seen, or will see, the movie is like no other.

POST-MORTEM

So here comes the arbitrary part where I try to figure this all out. Why, in my assertion, was the 2000s a great decade for horror?

It could be because we became a global society and gained access to movies from around the world that we may have missed twenty years earlier. You’ll notice many, many of the films discussed did not originate in the United States.

It could be because cameras and equipment became much more affordable, opening up filmmaking to those who are truly independent and outside the Hollywood studio system. Everything went digital, as well. DSLR cameras shot HD and became an accepted norm. Expensive film-stock was no longer necessary. Editing software could be downloaded on a laptop. Creative, talented filmmakers were no longer on the outside looking in.

It could be because so many events of the 2000s were so painful, filmmakers thought they had to raise the bar in the movies they showed us. They didn’t want us to pause our movie to turn on CNN and watch something in the world more horrific.

It could be that filmmakers thought they could only explore themes with certain subgenres of horror. The zombie and post-apocalyptic movies jump to mind.

It could be just the ebb and flow of life. The 1980s were an important, prolific decade for the horror genre, which was then followed by a horror dearth in the 1990s.

But, enough of me blabbing. What do you think?

Before I go, I’d like to thank Billy Crash, proprietor of Crash Palace Productions and close friend, for hosting this series on 2000s Horror. I had a blast.

Until we meet again, everyone…

(Photo of Stake Land from Confessions of a Film Junkie.)

Crash Palace Support Team

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Paul J. Williams is an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker, and his short films have appeared in numerous festivals. Although Paul’s the man behind Rolling Dark Productions, he’s also a detective in Morris County, New Jersey. Paul’s a Medal of Honor recipient from the City of Newark for actions on December 14, 2002

Sinners in the Hands of an Indifferent God – CARNAGE PARK (2016) by Jonny Numb

(Author’s Note: this article is not intended as an endorsement or condemnation of Christian belief. Mentions of God and Christ will defer to the pronoun “he.”)

This review contains SPOILERS.

“The coin don’t have no say.” – Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald), No Country for Old Men

There’s a scene following a bank heist that’s ripped straight out of Reservoir Dogs.

There’s opening narration by loony loner Wyatt (Pat Healy) that waxes moral and existential, not unlike the opening narration by Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) in No Country for Old Men.

There’s an attention to production design and gritty staging that winks at the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes (the gore also shows a flair for traditional, in-camera FX over CGI).

With Carnage Park, Mickey Keating is going for his Tarantino homage (or, maybe more accurately, the films that Tarantino homages). Granted, the indie-movie landscape never really stopped being littered with posers trying – and almost always failing – to craft their own unique Reservoir Dogs (Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, anyone?). So to pay tribute to a film that’s a cornerstone of savvy-cool-ironic-iconic was bound to struggle against a wave of preexisting imitators and the challenge of extracting something unique from a well-worn premise.

For what it’s worth – and to give Carnage’s critics some credit – the film doesn’t touch its influences. It’s also a fair distance from the aesthetic and narrative complexity of Darling, Keating’s previous film.

That being said, it’s still a worthwhile ride…but not for the (visceral) reasons genre fans will expect.

The originality that emerges from all of Carnage’s borrowed parts is curiously existential (in the Cormac McCarthy, No Country vein): if there is an omniscient “God” monitoring creation, where and when is his role in intervention? Does he owe humankind anything? And how can he ignore a world in which awful things happen with disturbing regularity?

Keating is too tasteful a filmmaker to allow his concept to unravel into glorified sadism (see Rob Zombie’s similarly-themed 31), and there is a bizarre innocence at the heart of Carnage: when financially desperate farm girl Vivian (Ashley Bell – The Last Exorcism) is abducted by Scorpion Joe (James Landry Hebert – Gangster Squad) following a botched bank robbery, we are given the immediate impression that both characters are in over their heads. Vivian is resourceful and assertive, while Joe is all violent swagger; both are oblivious to their roles in the world outside of their immediate circumstances, which is perhaps why, once the violence of the situation relents, they are able to share in an eerily even-toned dialog.

From the initial panoramic montage of open hills and sky, Keating establishes a sense of the existential: yet for all the open space, Carnage Park never seems to wander beyond its tight, character-based intimacy. (Given the grandiose title, perhaps the biggest surprise is that the violence is doled out with erratically-paced deliberation.) Does this require a suspension of disbelief in that Wyatt could preside over miles and miles of desolate terrain? Sure. But it also brings some intriguing observations to the surface.

The skyline – seen mostly from a “puny mortal staring upward” POV – is punctuated by bright light pressing through clusters of clouds. Characters’ pleas for rescue fall on deaf ears, suggesting an omniscient sadism that correlates to the homicidal mischief perpetrated by Wyatt (who intones, right at the beginning: “Out here, God don’t play favorites”). One early scene in particular – of Vivian tumbling out of a car, handcuffed to a very dead Scorpion Joe – glares from an overhead POV as she cries for help (to no avail). Vivian is our conduit for empathy, but her efforts to assist random victims (played by Darby Stanchfield and Larry Fessenden) are either thwarted by an off-screen Wyatt, or left behind and forgotten in the name of her own survival. She can’t save the family farm, or anybody else; she’s in a no-win situation where self-preservation takes precedence over altruism.

Complementing the Alice in Wonderland tone Keating establishes early on, the film’s idiosyncrasies possess a randomness that still feels reflective of the real world. Instead of devolving into a Saw-styled funhouse of torture devices, the landscape of Carnage Park is a string of mournful monuments to death and decay (including a nod to Christ’s crucifixion). This is reflective of Wyatt’s opening narration about the government closing mental institutions and leaving veterans damaged from war (mentally and otherwise) to wither on the vine. As a “fuck you” to the bureaucracy, his dried-up chunk of the American Dream being used as the equivalent of General Zaroff’s playground isn’t off base.

Even the spray-painted “God’s Country” sign on the gate of Wyatt’s property is presented without irony, and establishes him as judge, jury, and executioner of this contained world. The fact that his sheriff brother, John (Alan Ruck – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), is not only complicit in covering up his crimes, but also intimidated and emasculated in his homicidal brother’s presence, is a testament to their shared psychosis.

At the bridge between the second and third act, Vivian finds herself in a shack (adorned with macabre, homemade wind chimes and lawn ornaments – another Texas Chainsaw echo) that, for all intents and purposes, is Wyatt’s command center. She’s taunted via CB radio, and when she asks, “Who are you?” the straightness with which Wyatt answers, “Me? I’m nobody” delivers a chill on par with the everywhere-at-all-times presence he’s exhibited up to that point. Perhaps it’s a reach, but if Christ or Satan visited planet Earth today (in the most literal sense), it makes a certain amount of sense that they would walk among humanity incognito, rather than drawing excessive attention to themselves.

I’m not sure I can rationalize Wyatt as an analogue for Christ or Satan – Keating’s treatment of the character and Healy’s performance renders him almost innocuous –  but he judges his fellow humans based on his own perception (the film is light on explicit psychological insight). Does Scorpion Joe, with all his macho bluster, get a bullet to the head because of his lack of humility in the presence of someone – or something – greater than him? What of Wyatt’s absurd kindness (“HOW YA DOIN’?”) when he first meets Vivian? And what, especially, of Vivian getting the drop on Wyatt midway through, only for him to seemingly rise from the dead? “God’s Country,” indeed…

In an interesting aesthetic choice, Keating chooses to obscure Wyatt with a gasmask during the last half of the film, which raises the question: if John was covering up his actions, then who is to say that Wyatt also didn’t have other men prowling the hills? It seems unlikely that a solo sniper could orchestrate all of the sinister tableaus on display (including a camouflaged vehicle dumping-ground), given the area that would need to be covered. Also noteworthy: outside of the scene at the gate, there’s no definitive indicator as to where Wyatt’s land begins or ends; another subtle allusion to nature’s arbitrary boundaries, as well as the intangible, subjective spiritual boundaries that distance God from humankind.

An explanation that dances around the edges of Carnage Park is the possibility that Vivian, not unlike Sally Hardesty in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, has been so driven to madness that her POV is unreliable by the end. Unfortunately, this doesn’t hold much weight, as the film is initiated by Wyatt’s narration (and his murder of an unrelated victim). Nonetheless, I love Keating’s approach to the ending, which excises the deus ex machina of the Black Marina savior from Texas Chainsaw in favor of something as simple as a literal light at the end of a tunnel. While this may fluster some viewers, I found it perfect – in a place where God doesn’t play favorites, it’s up to us to find our way out of dire situations, whether self-imposed or foisted upon us.

Crash Analysis Support Team:

unknownJonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) only plays favorites when it comes to review sites like Crash Palace Productions and loudgreenbird.com.  He co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes, and can also be found on Twitter and Letterboxd.

(Carnage Park photo from AV Club.)