A common myth among casual horror fans is that the genre died a brutal death some point after 1980 and has since been savagely beaten and raped, like a victim of too many ‘torture porn’ movies. I am usually quick to defend the modern era as producing a number of classics, though this is commonly followed up with ‘aye, but in the 70s you’ve got Dawn of the Dead, Chainsaw Massacre, Carrie and Halloween. Now we’ve just got Hostel.’ ”Hostel this’ ‘Hostel that’. It’s always bloody Hostel. And sure, while in some ways Hostel may seem a sad indictment of our times, it really is no more so than Vampiros Lesbos or The Excorsist II is of the 70s. Sure, it’s different in that it made a lot of money and went on to (for a lot of people) define a limited subgenre that consisted of its own franchise, some Saw sequels and a tonne of imitatators. But good horror has also always existed outside the mainstream. The thing is that this so called golden era horror is less The Wicker Man and more a straw man (see what I did there?). It has never really existed. In every era the amount of good has been repeatedly bogged down by the bulging weight of some shite. However, because this is the modern era we remember said shite a little more. The horror genre has always been about finding the diamonds in the rough. And just before I go to Fright Fest to go mining for of that shiny prize, I would like to offer you a brief list of some modern classics. Every film here has come out post Hostel and are, in my opinion, well worth a watch. If I had covered the whole post 2000 era then other entries would have included Hard Candy, Session 9, Saw and The Big Finish. For now though, this list should do the trick in enertaining you and giving a good retort next time someone says the genres gone to the hulking man-eating dogs.
So in chronological order:
Behind The Mask; The Rise Of Lesley Vernon (2006): Struggling for relevance in this post-slasher age, but still a much more accomplished send up of the genre than either Scream or Cabin in the Woods. A video diary of the next Freddy or Jason, this has commentary, black humour and some fun cameos.
The Host (2006): A modern monster movie, this is a brilliant story of a family under strain as well as being an action packed beast of a horror. Recommended.
Funny Games (2007): A remake, albeit one wherein the themes are a lot more relevant to contemporary American horror than they ever were to the 90s European output. Says a lot about the genre and its fans, staying on message while at all times remaining intense and disturbing.
Inside (2007): Gory, violent and very tense. This is a Christmas film minus all the festive cheer. The ending ‘goes there’ but feels not in the least gratuitous.
Exhibit A (2007): The recession meets horror in a pitch black comedy. Owing as much to Ricky Gervais’ school of awkwardness as it does horror, this suburban tale shows domestic and familial abuse through an entirely empathetic lens. Flawed, but constantly captivating.
The Orphanage (2007): Some really memorable bits that make this one of the best haunted house movies in years. Not scary, but definitely boasts a long lingering creepy factor.
The Poughkeepsie tapes (2007): Found footage lives up to its full potential in this downright dark serial killer diary. Hard to come across, but very worth it when you do.
Paranormal Activity (2007): For my money this is much better than Blair Witch. Minimalist horror with a power that is likely to be diminished with every new sequel.
REC (2007): More found footage, this time the zombie sub-genre. With a great pace, this slowly gets under your skin then snow balls to one of the most tense climaxes I’ve seen in a long time.
Plague Town (2008): Creepy kids in a horror that’s very conventional but never less than thrilling. Takes a while to get going, but utterly worth it once it does. Just wait til you meet Rosemary…
Lake Mungo (2008): The best After Dark Original by a mile. This is done like a documentary and tells a sad (if a little laboured) tale of a family divided. Doing a very good job of leading you one way, then turning you the other, Lake Mungo is unsettling as well as moving.
Martyrs (2008): A film of two halves, both of them good. Martyrs is a powerful experience, with some of the most visceral horror around.
Dead Girl (2009): A coming of age horror as two young men flirt with adulthood and the pains of growing up a misfit. Oh, and they also have lots of sexual intercourse with a zombie. Sadistic, brutal but also surprisingly human at points.
Drag Me To Hell (2009): A ghost-train experience with jumps all over the place. As someone who isn’t much of an Evil Dead fan I approached this with caution. How wrong I was. Great fun.
House Of The Devil (2009): Only just making it on this list, this highly atmospheric horror is about a girl needing to babysit to make ends meet. It soon becomes apprant that things are not what they seem, and after a prolonged start comes a fabulous final act. Very rewarding.
The Loved Ones (2009): Lola is one of the most memorable villains of recent years. With cuts, drills and a pit of boyfriends past, she is not your average teenager. A modern prom horror that’ll make you cringe next time you hear the music of Kasey Chambers.
Dead Snow (2009): Forgetting guff like Outpost or War of the Dead, this is the only Nazi-zombie movie you need to see. With some fantastic deaths and a lot of belly laughs, the snow doesn’t stay white for long.
Trick R Treat (2009): An anthology that mostly hits the spot. Telling the story of some Halloween shenanigan, Trick R Treat is gruesome, funny and memorable. Here’s hoping for seconds.
I spit on your grave (2010): A remake that savagely violates the original. Less misogynistic and more horrific. You feel the protagonists’ pain and route for her no matter how extreme she gets. The piss-poor original, and other movies of its ilk, had many imitators, though this is definitely one of the better ones.
The Human Centipede (2010): Surprisingly restrained, Tom Six showed a skilled caution that was mostly absent from the sequel. You probably know the plot by now. If you haven’t seen it though, no matter how nasty the idea sounds the film will only disgust you with its suggestion. Don’t let the reputation fool you.
Attack The Block (2011): Convincing character arcs, original ideas and strong set pieces. Ignore the adverts, this is nothing like Shaun of the Dead. But it’s much better for that.
I Saw The Devil (2011): Superior to other Asian revenge flicks, this is entirely uncompromising and really pushes the boundaries of audience identification. Will not be easily forgotten.
The Skin I Live In (2011): Another modern classic. This may seem a little dull, albeit edgy, for the first half. But stick with it to see a truly disturbing twist and a very creepy relationship.
The Woman (2011): The only particularly good Bloody Disgusting Presents, Lucky McKee builds on the success of May with a very different film indeed. A feral woman is taken in, with the intention of civilising here. Gender politics are explored to the tune of blood spray and hard to watch torture.
Absentia (2012): A great indie horror from earlier this year. The lore may not be fully realized, but the scares are at once haunting, effective and moving. With a bigger budget the same team could make a classic.
Crawl (2012): Caught this at Fright Fest Glasgow. It’s a very slow burner that never puts you anywhere but the edge of the seat. So far this year’s finest, and one that I hope will find its audience on DVD.
I have maybe missed a number of quality movies out, and would very much like to know any I may have missed. May even find a few I haven’t heard of. Oh, and for the record I thought Hostel was ok…