by The End of the 00s
I’m skeptical about this whole “decade from hell” business. I mean, just because financial karma finally arrived to kick the U.S. in its bulbous consumer-driven ass, that means the entire decade is somehow linked to Satan? The last four months of 2001 were from hell-that’s certainly true. And the entire summer of 2009 (when hell’s photogenic spawn ruled the media with her red heels). But seems to me this ten-year span should have been dubbed “The Decade We’ve Been Setting Ourselves Up For During the Three Previous Decades, and Now We Act All Shocked That We’re Broke and the Rest of the Developed World Wants to Lob a Shoe Up Our Ass.” Anyway, fuck politics-let’s talk about horror movies.
Yes, the oughts or the zeros or whateverthehellthisdecadeiscalled admittedly had their share of real-life horrors. But it was actually a pretty good decade for horror movies. The thing about horror is, while on the one hand it slaps us in the face with brutal realities like death and evil and penis-smashing, on the other hand it offers a useful window into what’s happening in society. Horror movies have long been great barometers for current cultural attitudes-back in the day, it was the moral code of Halloween and Friday the 13th exposing our Puritan origins (teens who do drugs and have sex must die by asphyxiation with a pitchfork). This decade, we had our collective desire to punish the rich and naughty-not to mention our obsession with torture-espoused in the Saw series (the social significance and gouge-your-eyes-with-a-screwdriver awfulness of which we’ve discussed before). Meanwhile, our cultural hard-on for “reality” onscreen was mirrored by the slew of “recovered footage” films- some of which were even good.
There was also the constant string of ’70s remakes, in the old Hollywood tradition of “Shit, we’ve got nothing original, so let’s just start cranking out retreads of stuff that did well a generation ago.” Still, it was an interesting time to drudge up all these thirty-year-old films, many of which set the standard for what horror movies could do onscreen. Remaking them now offers a pat cultural contrast-in 1977, when The Hills Have Eyes was first released, audiences were repulsed by the scene where a young mother is shot to death. Nowadays the sequence packs far less of a wallop, considering we read about that shit on our Google reader every day.
A few directors had breakout decades, and did some innovative things-yes, I’m talking about Rob Zombie and Eli Roth. Though this carnage-soaked duo doesn’t hoard all the credit-Neil Marshall gets estrogen-laden props for The Descent, and Greg Mclean did some truly medieval shit in Wolf Creek. But the box office grosses of all the Roth/Zombie torturefests combined still wouldn’t equal the cash pulled in by a Saw sequel on opening weekend. Which means the Get Rich From Gore trophy goes to a little Asian man from Melbourne. (I composed an entire ode to James Wan at one point, but it’s too embarrassing to print, even for me.)
Also, you can’t talk about the last decade of horror without talking about women. (Ok let me rephrase-I can’t talk about the last decade of horror without talking about women.) The 2000s may have ended with the near-decapitation of feminism (yes, Twilight, we’re looking at you) but the decade really did bring girl-violence to a level that would make any Dworkin acolyte proud. It started with Ginger Snaps, the first (and best, by far ) film about unleashing the raging beast inside every teenage girl. The fact that it spawned two shitty sequels can only be interpreted as success. The rest of the aughts brought an onscreen evolution for female characters, from “The Final Girl Who Shrieks and Flails” to “The Girl Who Will Sling a Tire Iron Through Your Pancreas.” All over the place, girls were showing up as aggressors-The Ring, High Tension, Hard Candy, Audition, The Devil’s Rejects, and of course The Descent, which finally gave women their well-deserved Lord of the Flies treatment (British schoolboys aren’t the only ones who’ll off each other if driven to the brink).
Granted, all these Chicks-With-Chainsaws films had to work to counteract Roth’s fecal cauldron of Asian schoolgirls getting their eyeballs yanked out and D-list starlets having their faces cleaved by power saws (Eli, for Adonai’s sake, get some therapy and drop the mother issues). But still, it’s a good start. Just think where we’ll be 10 years from now-maybe watching an emotionally bruised wife punish her husband by smashing his genitals and boring a hole in his leg. Oh wait, that’s right. Who says Lars Von Trier isn’t innovative?
Melissa Lafsky regrets nothing!