Like 2003, horror movies in 2005 weren’t all top-shelf productions. They tended to show a lot of growing pains from the unexpected success of Saw the year prior and paralleled the kinds of extreme horror that was already going strong in Europe (and in France) at the time. For as generally solid and interesting a time as it was in the genre, it was ultimately a quick transitional period from the last dying gasps of the 1990s and the full-blown nihilism that would mark the rest of the decade. In short, there’s a lot of great movies just under the surface, but only a couple that really make the grade for this list. This was, for example, when Torture Porn really took off. Drawing on the reactionary narrative and viscerally intense set pieces of Saw just months prior, Wolf Creek, Hostel and Saw II all built on the shock-and-awe skeleton of James Wan’s breakout hit. Hostel was arguably the most interesting of these, as it really tapped into the rank xenophobia that permeated the American psyche in the wake of September 11 and coupled it with some of the most arresting scenes of gore of this cycle.
While there had always been horror remakes (the versions of Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Phantom of the Opera that you think you know were hardly the first versions of those stories committed to film), the 2000s saw a massive influx of remixed horror stories from decades prior. While most of these films are justly derided by horror fans (with a particularly notorious instance being The Fog from this very year), I’ll admit that I have a particular fondness for movies like House of Wax (which is easily the best version of this oft-repeated movie), the more action-adventure oriented King Kong (a passion-project of onetime horror wunderkind Peter Jackson) and the fourth Romero zombie movie, Land of the Dead. And even though the movie itself was bad (there’s no getting around that fact), Amityville Horror star Ryan Reynolds goes so hard in his role as the murderous patriarch of the Lutz family that it’s almost worth sitting through the entire movie just to see how utterly unhinged he gets by the end of it.
And no 2005 retrospective would be complete without at least paying cursory attention to the critically hailed The Descent. Unfortunately, the material as presented never quite clicked with me, as the film had the makings of an excellent, claustrophobic, psychological thriller about strained friendships brought to the literal breaking point when a groups of women are trapped in an unexplored cave system… right up until the mole people attacked and stripped the proceedings of any emotional depth or deeper meaning that they had up until then been building to. It’s worth a watch, certainly, but the movie absolutely falls apart at the halfway point and just becomes a beer-and-pretzels beat-‘em-up after that.
The Call of Cthulhu (2005)
In 2021, silent movies are certainly an acquired taste. They’re a sharp left turn from everything that movies have strived for in the past 90-odd years. They’re stylistically exaggerated (even the ones that aren’t outright expressionistic), they inherently demand so much more of our rapt attention than we’re used to giving and they completely derive us of one of the central ways that movies these days draw us in. And yet, despite – or perhaps because – of these restrictions, they are the perfect vehicle for terror. Lovecraft in particular, an author that is notoriously hard to adapt off of the page, clearly benefits from the dizzying surreality that silence provides. Nothing makes a case for that more than this terrifying adaptation of THE seminal Lovecraft tale, which here perfectly captures the existential dread that is so often lost in more straight-forward film translations.
Cigarette Burns (2005)
One of the seminal works of horror cinema of this decade was Masters of Horror: an anthology series of horror films made by some of the genre’s biggest names. The “episodes” are pretty much a murderer’s row of passion projects and pithy little yarns from the likes of Takashi Miike, Dario Argento Stuart Gordon, Tobe Hooper and many, many more. And while there is some pretty stiff competition out there for the title of best among them – particularly Miike’s Imprint, which was deemed too extreme for even premium cable and is one of the most gloriously outlandish things this series ever produced – I ultimately have to lay the laurels down at the feet of John Carpenter for his entry. Cigarette Burns is a disorienting piece of occult paranoia that feels like something that’s been gestating in Carpenter’s brain since heyday in the 1980s, slotting comfortably between Prince of Darkness (1987) and In the Mouth of Madness (1994) in his Apocalypse Trilogy. The story, which follows an investigator sent to track down a rare film, ratchets up the terror scene-by-scene before culminating in an all-time blowout of a finale that will sear itself onto your brain for the rest of your moviegoing life. It is absolutely not something to overlook like so many unfortunately have over the years.