Top 10 Horror Films of 2003

Judging by the horror films released in theaters and on video in the U.S. during 2003, the genre is undergoing yet another renaissance. Following the self-consciously ironic period (perhaps best represented by Wes Craven’s Scream) has given way, post-9/11, to both increased brutality and renewed social consciousness.

Several current horror filmmakers are looking to the famously politically engaged 1970s for inspiration. Not only did this year see a remake of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and a new director’s cut of Alien (1979), but studios are promising new sequels to Alien, Omen, and Exorcist sequels, as well as remakes of Dawn of the Dead, Halloween, Straw Dogs, and Suspiria. Moreover, the U.S. no longer has a monopoly on the production of high quality horror films. As a matter of fact, half of the films listed below are from United Kingdom, Australia, Chile, Japan, and Hong Kong.

The top 10 horror films from 2003 are:

1. Alien: The Director’s Cut (Ridley Scott)
After 24 years, three sequels, and countless imitations, Ridley Scott’s generic hybrid remains a deeply frightening film. Dealing with male fears of penetration and pregnancy, and interrogating corporate corruption and biological weapons, Alien remains as timely today as it was back in 1979. The new director’s cut adds a few scenes and trims some others. But these changes hardly change the original, which is a masterpiece of visual style and narrative rhythm.

2. 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle)
British director Danny Boyle reinvigorates the zombie genre. But while greatly indebted to George A. Romero’s Living Dead trilogy Night 1968, Dawn 1978, and Day 1985), Boyle’s film is actually more akin to Romero’s The Crazies (1973). Exploiting current fears of biological weapons, infectious diseases, and the authority institutions’ unpreparedness for a devastating catastrophe, this subversive movie recalls the films made in the wake of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal.

3. House of 1,000 Corpses (Rob Zombie)
A group of city boys trespass on the territory of a cannibalistic clan far from civilization and suffer terrible consequences. Strikingly similar to The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, is gory, bleak, and intense, true in spirit to the grim and gritty independent horror movies that shocked audiences in the 1970s.

4. Cabin Fever (Eli Roth)
A group of teenagers vacation in a cabin in the woods. Isolated and soon infected with a pernicious flesh-eating bacteria, they’re more crucially afflicted with uncontrollable paranoia. This gruesome film exploits our fears of disease and biological contamination.

5. The Eye (Oxide Pang Chun and Danny Pang)
After years of darkness, a cornea transplant brings sight to Mun (Angelica Lee), as well as the ability to see ghosts. Clearly influenced by The Sixth Sense, this North Korean film is full of creepy moments. Without a doubt, the specter in Mun’s building elevator and the one that tastes the kebab meat, are two of the most chilling apparitions in horror cinema. Nevertheless, what distinguishes the film are Mun’s struggle to make sense of her unwanted gift, as well as its various meanings of vision and reality.

6. Visitors (Richard Franklin)
Not as appalling as the other entries in this list, this well-crafted, intelligent, and suspenseful Australian horror film follows the efforts of Georgia (Radha Mitchell) to circumnavigate the globe, alone on a sailboat. After months of isolation and sleep depravation, she’s haunted by the ghosts of her dead parents and other terrifying apparitions. Like The Shining (1980), it’s s more preoccupied with its protagonist’s psyche than the supernatural entities.

7. Nightstalker (Chris Fisher)
Films about serial killers have become popular in recent years, but they rarely dare to immerse viewers in the killer’s psyche. A fictional account of Richard Ramirez (Bret Roberts), the real life serial killer who terrorized Los Angeles during the summer of 1985, Chris Fisher’s 2002 film, like many other serial killer movies, focuses on (largely ineffective) police and forensic procedures. But it also showcases Ramirez’s own terrifying hallucinations, using space and time dislocations to create a truly nightmarish world.

8. Ichi the Killer (Takeshi Miike)
The prolific Takeshi Miike’s film follows Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano), a Yakuza who hunts down those responsible for his boss’ disappearance. Notorious for its explicit images of dismemberment, castration, child abuse, sadomasochism, rape, battering, torture, drug abuse, and self-mutilation, even more disturbing is its resistance to any clear moral lines. The Yakuza, the kidnappers, and even the police are all ambiguous, making it difficult to distinguish who is “good” and who is “evil.”

9. Eternal Blood (Jorge Olguin)
Chilean director Jorge Olguin deconstructs vampire mythology and challenges viewer expectations. At the same time, the film blurs reality and fantasy in a series of stories within stories.

10. Flesh for the Beast (Terry M. West)
A group of female demons kill, dismember, and sexually abuse a group of parapsychologists investigating a haunted house. An uncompromising combination of these bloody onslaughts and soft-core porn, Terry West’s film is less concerned with narrative development than sensory overload.

Honorable Mention:

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Marcus Nispel)
Marcus Nispel’s visually extravagant remake is produced by Michael Bay, and clearly aimed at kids who may not even know Tobe Hooper’s movie. Even though special effects and fancy camera tricks cannot compensate for the hideousness of the original, the new version offers truly intimidating monsters in Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski) and Sheriff Hoyt (R. Lee Ermey).