Best Horror Films 2004

:: BEST HORROR FILMS 2004 By Marco Lanzagorta

The dead returned to life during 2004, with Zack Snyder’s mall-set remake and Edgar Wright’s pub-set spoof. Most of the year’s horror films were bleak, gory, and deeply distressing; some attempted to be politically conscious. Below, the year’s most intriguing and/or spectacular scary movies (those released in previous years are noted in parentheses).

1. Dawn of the Dead (Zack Snyder)
Cult film connoisseurs may rightly claim that this film’s dazzling action sequences involving fast-moving zombies are more like Umberto Lenzi’s Nightmare City than Romero’s original. Amid the carnage, the new Dawn criticizes U.S. gun culture and aptly exploits post-9/11 fears. It also features characters who come together to survive, an altogether more promising scenario than in the first version.
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2. Ju-On (Takashi Shimizu 2003)
One of the scariest movies I have ever seen, this macabre Japanese flick features a rather simple plot and ghosts resembling those from Hideo Nakata’s The Ring and the Pang Brothers’ The Eye. Still, it far surpasses the tepid U.S.-financed remake.
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3. Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright)
This wacky and bloody independent British production may well be the best zombie romantic comedy since Peter Jackson’s Braindead (a.k.a. Dead Alive). Shaun (Simon Pegg) has a dead-end job and plenty of troubles with his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield), but when the dead rise up, he becomes a an oddly adept leader.
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4. Van Helsing (Stephen Sommers)
Stephen Sommers’ tribute to the classic Universal monsters leans heavily on its over-the-top action. Here an adventurer combining the charm and gadgets of James Bond with the self-reliance and self-consciousness of Indiana Jones, the titular hero (Hugh Jackman) presides over grandly exaggerated CGI effects.
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5. Tattoo (Robert Schwentke, 2002)
In a grim German city, a serial killer is stealing his victims’ tattoos. Here tattoos are traded on a black market, to the point that some street derelicts sell their own skin for a handful of euros. While it’s obviously indebted to Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs and David Fincher’s Seven, the movie also stands out, for its bleakness if nothing else.

6. Close Your Eyes (a.k.a. Doctor Sleep (Nick Willing, 2002)
Michael Strother (Goran Visnjic) is a hypnotherapist with an unusual method to make patients quit smoking: he manipulates their dreams. When the British police recruit him to search for a ritualistic killer who has kidnapped a young girl, Dr. Strother is swallowed in a complex plot that involves alchemy, ancient cults, and immortality.

7. High Tension (a.k.a. Haute tension (Alexandre Aja, 2003)
After killing her entire family in a remote country house, an intruder kidnaps teenager Alex (Maïwenn Le Besco). Her only hope is her best friend, Marie (Cécile De France). Violent, gory, and deeply distressing, Aja’s intense film is true in spirit to the gritty independent horror movies of the 1970s. It also marks the return of Giannetto De Rossi (notorious collaborator with Italian horror maestro Lucio Fulci), here providing a few scenes of mayhem. If this is not enough, the finale is actually shocking.

8. Undead (Michael and Peter Spierig, 2003)
In the Australian wasteland, a meteorite shower turns the members of a small Pacific community into cannibalistic zombies. Soon thereafter, mysterious aliens abduct everybody in sight. Produced with limited resources, it also reveals lots of imagination and talent.

9. Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation (Phil Tippett)
Directed by renowned special effects master Phil Tippet, this sequel offers non-stop action. Overtly inspired by horror films like Jack Sholder’s The Hidden and John Carpenter’s The Thing, it also recalls John Ford’s The Lost Patrol. This may be the result of an outstanding score, by John Morgan and William Stromberg, gesturing toward the work of Max Steiner and Bernard Herrmann.

10. Hellboy (Guillermo del Toro)
If there was ever a comic book that deserved to be adapted for the big screen, that was Mike Mignola’s, and Guillermo del Toro’s movie does not disappoint. The film teems with energy and intelligence, in its manic plot, weird characters, and Ron Perlman’s charming incarnation of the demon superhero.
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