The Evolution of the Horror Movie, Part 7: 2000s-2020

For horror fans, a cinematic centenary is just around the corner (2022 in-fact) and to celebrate this monumental moment of the monstrous Rob Mclaughlin takes a close look at the key points of the evolution of the horror movie. Today we end our journey by looking at the 2000s right up to the modern-day and the renewed popularity of...

Found Footage to Folk Horror

The past two decades have seen a resurgence of horror, bringing the genre into the mainstream and seeing the comeback of the horror ‘blockbuster’.

The move away from the bottom shelf of video stores to the big screen and of course onto streaming services has seen not only the found footage and shaky cameras well and truly played out – with some absolute stinkers such as George Romero’s Diary of the Dead (2007) sitting side with clever takes on the genre such as REC (2007) and the unquestionably successful yet paralysing dull Paranormal Activity (2007) the genre made has made full use of the tools available to it, embracing the world of digital editing, post-production effects and CGI, again with questionable results – doing things ‘in-post’ has broadened what can be seen on screen but at the same time has proven to render some of the monstrosities, creatures and scares within horror as unconvincing as practical replaced digital.

Paranormal Activity (2007)

The past two decades have also a time unnecessary horror, providing the trifecta of the lazy Hollywood system go-to’s, the dreaded sequel, prequel and remake strategy. While this short-cut has allowed film-makers like Rob Zombie to indulge his fascination of horror with mixed results the past twenty years has created a symbiotic relationship with youth culture and music with the likes of Marylin Manson, Nu-Metal, WWE and the ‘stormer’ generation of ‘Suicide Girls’ and ‘Beautiful People’ and the fully embracing of the mournful teenage experience with ‘emo’ replicating and replacing the ‘goth’ and ‘punk’ from two decades prior.

With Screamo and the Black Parade in full force and bodies hitting the floor providing the soundtrack for every horror movie, the beginning of the 2000s saw acceptable remakes such as The House on Haunted Hill (2000) take William Castle’s 1959 original and update to the cinematic equivalent of an escape room as well as Zack Snyder and James Gunn updating Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (2004) with terrifying results. However, this remake mentality also saw icons such as Jason Vorhees venture into the future and into space (which was inhabited with nubile teens decked out in cargo pants, belly tops and chokers) and Van Helsing do away with numerous CGI villains in 2004’s film of the same name.

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

The move for studios to go full multi-media and to embrace transmedia storytelling of websites, podcasts and digital guerrilla marketing campaigns to either sell or widen the ‘mythology’ of the film processes through heavily edited ‘nu-metal’ twitchy/glitchy filters or horror film based on other medias horror franchises based on Resident Evil (2002), Doom (2005) and Silent Hill (2006) all showing that sometimes the scares can only really be generated through their initial points of origin – namely the games they were adapted from.

While music, media and multi-platform all intermingled the pixels, production and presentation of mainstream horror throughout the early 2000s these mixed messages driven by demographics and delivery platforms provided was very thin on social commentary as horror was now an integral part of youth culture. The uniqueness in design of horror icons and even new interpretations of classic monsters such as vampires and werewolves were decked out in figure-fitting leather and latex with Blade (1998/2002) and Underworld (2003) were very thin on scares with action and slow-motion kung-fu replacing the usual vampire traditions of seduction, biting/feeding and drawing blood. While Edgar Wright put Shaun and company through a homage to horror of yesteryear in 2004 it wasn’t until Saw (2004) that horror felt like it was turning a corner and providing an ‘extreme’ look horror – admittedly films like Saw did see the propagation of the torture-porn genre but James Wan’s low budget thriller/horror also opened the doorway for new directors to challenge the audiences with films such as Insidious (2010), American Mary (2012) and Sinister (2012), allegedly the most frightening horror film according to a recent ‘scientific’ survey.

Sinister (2012)

This resurgence of intelligent horror has also widened the genre to allow much more innovative film-making with ‘horror’ framing stories of loss, madness and cultural appropriation. Directors such as Jennifer Kent uses the Babadook (2014) for example as a physical monstrous manifestation of trauma and guilt while Robert Eggers uses the backdrop of folklore, American Pilgrims and Salem to explore themes of oppression and the patriarchy in The Witch (2015). These ‘elevated horror’ movies which also include Get Out (2017) and Midsommar (2019) are showing that horror is once again evolving and allowing film-makers to explore new realms to haunt, scare and unnerve audiences and while we may never see the likes of horror ‘icons’ such as Freddy, Jason and Michael again the current new wave of horror does more than enough to sate any horror fans fascination for all things menacing and macabre.

Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse (2019) – Shot in 4:3 aspect ratio, hence the unusually shaped screenshot

Five Recommended Horror Films from 2000 to 2020

13 Ghosts (2001)

A perfect horror movie for a Nu-Metal generation. While the film can easily be dated due to its cast of early 2000s stars such as Matthew Lillard and Shannon Elizabeth this is a creature feature gem that still has a lot of fans due to the highly creative monster designs, featuring a plethora of creepy manifestations such as the Jackal, the Hammer and the Torso, the visual effects, make-up and originality of both the creatures (and an ecto-containment unit Egon would die for). 13 Ghosts sees the spooks imprisoned in rune etched mystical ghost containers in an ever-moving house full of glass walls by the maniacal Cyrus Kriticos (F. Murray Abraham). The film is a great blend of shocks, scares and gruesome kills which were hugely innovative by the use of the internet to fully exploit the world that the ghosts in the movie inhabit. Each one has their fascinating and intricate background, all of which could be tracked down by keen ghost hunting fans of the movie – making it one of the first films to fully use transmedia as part of its wider marketing and fan appeal – a gimmick that William Castle, the originator of the 1961 movie of the same name on which this film is based would be more than happy to see.

The Conjuring (2013)

The first small budget horror from James Wan (who is now a huge name in Hollywood) the Conjuring is a love letter to prior horror movies from the 1970s and 1980s – adapting and reconfiguring suburban horror movies, creature features and signposted jump scares into a whole new franchise. Introducing the wider world to the real life ghost-hunting team of Ed and Lorraine Warren. While other successive films have played in the shared cinematic universe as the Conjuring (such as Annabelle, The Nun and subsequent sequels) the original movie is still a creepy up to date horror that is a fantastic modern interpretation of classic possession films such as the Exorcist and The Entity.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Edgar Wright’s love letter to those horror directors that have come before him this is the most successful of the ‘Cornetto’ trilogy as its nods and winks to the audience range from the obvious to the very very subtle with the fun of the movie being how many in-jokes you can spot as well as the actual action itself. The more of a horror aficionado you are the more you will get out of this and while there is always talk of a sequel/companion movie which focuses on the other team of zombie hunters they run into, my personal feeling is to leave this classic alone and to have just the one unique movie in its own sub-genre of zom-rom-com.

Antrum (2018)

A small and overlooked movie which the film-makers dubbed the ‘The Deadliest Film Ever Made’ provides audiences with a new take on the ‘cursed’ film stereotype and is a ‘mockumentary’ explaining the history and origins of the film. We then, in the same way as other ‘films within films’ movies such as Demons, Cannibal Holocaust or Ringu provide audiences get to see the cursed footage. While this take is nothing really that new the documentary elements are convincing but the actual cursed film element is excellent – and really captures the overly saturated oranges and yellows of a 1970s grindhouse movie.

Rabid (2019)
Rabid (2019)

Taking us right up to date, this remake of David Cronenberg’s 1977 classic by the Soska Sisters shows that even in a time of constant remakes and re-imaginings that there are unique takes in the horror genre that push the boundaries and have something unique to say. Contextualised by the backdrop of the fashion industry the film has a lot to say about fast-fashion, style and the worship of beauty. A clever film for the Insta-filter generation which mocks the pursuit of perfection the film takes body-horror into a whole new territory and proves the adage that beauty is skin deep.

And that’s your lot! We hope you’ve enjoyed this week-long jaunt through a century of horror cinema.

Nobody knows where the next hundred years will take the genre but it’s going to be scary fun finding out!

Robert Mclaughlin

As well as writing for Den of Geek and Your Truth, Paul also runs Badgers Crossing, a site for ghost stories. He loves the 1980s and thanks to a keen interest in Public Information Films he has never been electrocuted or set himself on fire.

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