The horror of it all

Last year seemed to be a tough one for the horror film genre. All of the well-advertised, high-budget horror movies seemed deficient. Vincent Price’s classic House of Wax was remade with Paris Hilton, the Japanese horror film Dark Water was brought to American audiences as a diluted drama and the John Carpenter classic The Fog was regurgitated as a malaise of mediocrity. Despite these well-publicized and highly funded lesions on the skin of the horror genre, 2005 was not such a bad year for horror films if one considers the horror movies that most didn’t see.

Bunhongsin (The Red Shoes)

The Red Shoes is about a pair of red shoes that are cursed. Partaking in the widespread “Cursed Item” phenomenon in Asian horror (see The Phone, The Ring), this movie is visually stunning, occasionally to the point of being elegantly beautiful. The Red Shoes seeks not to frighten with its depictions of gore, but to terrify with its visual reflections of tortured psychologies, the struggle of individualism vs. social norms and attempted illuminations of the inner recesses of troubled female minds. Scream never made anyone think, but this movie does.

The Devil’s Rejects

Rob Zombie’s first movie, House of 1000 Corpses, was good in its own way, but seemed relatively cheesy and unrealistic. The Devil’s Rejects is troublingly realistic and perhaps even sadistic, seeming to take exquisite pleasure from making the audiences squirm. The Devil’s Rejects begins with the police catching up with the Firefly family. Otis (Bill Moseley), Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) and Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) escape from the authorities and go on a killing rampage. They shoot, stab, torture and even drive to suicide any innocent person who gets in their way. What Zombie seems to have done is taken old horror conventions and portrayed them in House of 1000 Corpses and then, having dealt with history, did with The Devil’s Rejects what Night of the Living Dead did in 1968: He has changed the face of horror as well as its limitations. Whether this is an acceptable or desirable change is hard to say, but the 100 minutes one spends finding out are a rollercoaster.

The Descent

Philosophically profound, disturbing and extremely intense, The Descent is easily one of the best British horror films ever made. Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), Juno (Natalie Jackson Mendoza) and Beth (Alex Reid) are old friends who once participated in a wide variety of extreme sports until Sarah’s husband and daughter were killed in a car accident. Trying to get over her loss, Sarah decides to join Beth and Juno, as well as other friends, for a weekend spelunking trip. As it turns out, they are not alone: The cave already has inhabitants. The Descent is exceedingly interesting philosophically, borrowing various disturbing truths from Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Plato and Kafka and portraying them visually. The Descent is one of those precious, fantastic horror films that provide sensational scares as well as brain food.

Wolf Creek

Wolf Creek is a lot like The Blair Witch Project. The only difference is that Wolf Creek is well-made, scary and is based on things that actually happened. On Sept. 19, 1992, Ken Seily was walking in the bush of Australia about two hours north of Sydney when he found a corpse. The discovery of that corpse led to the discovery of others, and eventually, a disturbed man named Ivan Milat was put in prison for multiple murders. No one knows how many people Milat actually killed. Wolf Creek is based on what happened there. Visually gruesome and deeply troubling, this movie keeps viewers on the edge of their seats by showing them the things they don’t think – or hope – they will see. It is a brutal, horrific descent into the depravity that human beings are capable of. Exciting for the morbidly curious and disgusting to the more sensible, Wolf Creek, like good horror in general, is something that people either love or hate. The real horror of 2005, far removed from the bland, unchallenging banality that Hollywood so often produces, proves to be no exception.