Christina "DZA" Marie's Favorite Horror Movies of the 21st Century
Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I don’t even get dressed up in a costume and bang on people’s doors anymore. No, I love this because I love horror. And candy. But mostly horror. And this time of year, you turn on the television at nine in the morning and at least five different channels have horror movies playing.
We’ve all heard of (and have hopefully seen) the classics: Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Shining, et cetera. And these are great. Nobody is denying the awesomeness that is the classic horror movies of the 1980s. But they tend to eclipse the modern horror movies of the 21st Century.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking. The 21st Century sucks in terms of new, creative movies. Everything is either a remake or a sequel, or it’s all fake blood and pretty blondes with no actual substance.
Well sir (or ma’am), this list is for you. Because I decided to expel sequels and remakes from this list--which is a shame, because 2017’s It was incredible. These five movies were all made within the last decade, and all of them are new, creative, and downright terrifying.
Get Out is one of those insidious movies that gets under the skin and stays there long after you leave the theater. This is in part because the big theme is about race, and how seemingly nice white people still play in active role in oppressing black people. However, there are some real terror elements here. There’s hypnosis, brainwashing, liars and schemers.
One of the freakiest moments is during a party, where Chris (the guest of honor and the main character) leaves the room. Everyone is chatting and otherwise acting normal, until he goes upstairs. Then everyone stops talking and looks up, listening to him and following his moments. I literally shivered just remembering and writing this down.
The Cabin in the Woods
You know those comedies like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland that make fun of horror movies? Cabin in the Woods does the same thing, and still scares the shit out of you. It’s the same guy who wrote Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so there is strong comedic elements--especially with the “villains.” (I’m using quotations here because, in the end, you have to ask yourself if they are truly the bad guys.) But it’s still terrifying. The idea of every one of your movements being watched and manipulated by people who want you dead. The risen zombies who worship pain and therefore go out of their way to make every moment as agonizing as possible. The fact that any decision or possible outcome that happens is a shitty one because it’s just that big of a clusterfuck. This one will probably remain a favorite of mine for a long time.
A Quiet Place
Some people are skeptical when they find out a horror movie is rated PG-13. Not me. The Ring (another favorite of mine) is PG-13, relying on dread and suspense instead of blood and guts. A Quiet Place uses similar strategies, and it does it beautifully.
It’s a post-apocalyptic world where everyone has to make as little noise as possible to avoid being killed by these horrifyingly fast (alien?) monsters who operate on sound. So 95% of the dialogue in the movie is American Sign Language, which the characters probably already knew because the main protagonist (and the actress who plays her) is deaf. The movie deals with guilt, family, and how to survive a world overrun by terrifying monsters. A good time all around!
I literally couldn’t even watch this one. I kept ducking behind my hand and looking away from the screen as the characters entered dark rooms and got hunted by the ghost-lady. The main character’s mother spent her childhood in a mental health institution, where she met another, much more disturbed girl around her age who also had a rare skin disease that made her ultra-sensitive to light. An experiment gone wrong ended with that girl being dead, but not gone, as she continued to haunt and emotionally abuse her “friend” throughout her life.
There are some concerns about this movie being less-than-friendly to those with mental health problems, particularly depression, which is one of the conditions the mother suffers from. It’s not nearly as bad as, say, Halloween or The Roommate. But it’s enough to warrant a heads-up.
This is a movie that took a mildly ridiculous premise--a haunted mirror--and executed it to perfection. It also has a dual timeline: we see the main characters as children encountering the mirror for the first time as it drives their parents insane, while simultaneously watching those characters as adults try to destroy the mirror.
I love this movie because it’s smart. There are zero stupid horror movie mistakes, and the only (ultimately fatal) mistake made by the characters is that of pride, which is a legit character flaw. The kids did what any child could do in that crappy situation, and then proceeded to spend ten years researching the shit out of the mirror and coming up with a plan of how to destroy it. The acting is great, the writing is better, and the results are horrifying.
But wait, there’s more! If you want a list of all of my favorite horror movies, head over to my Favorite Movies page. I update it every time I hit the theaters.
Have a happy Halloween! :)
Unlucky thieves invade a house where Home Alone seems like a playground romp. An antique bookseller and a mob enforcer join forces to retrieve the Atlas of Hell. Post-apocalyptic survivors cannot decide which is worse: demon women haunting the skies or maddened extremists patrolling the earth.
In this chilling 21st century companion to the cult classic Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror, Ellen Datlow again proves herself the most masterful editor of the genre. She has mined the breadth and depth of ten years of terror, collecting superlative works of established masters and scene-stealing newcomers alike.
Normally, I don’t read horror. As much as I love horror movies, something gets lost in translation when I try reading it on a page. Which is one of the reasons why (don’t hate me) I don’t read Stephen King, despite the fact that I love the movies inspired by his books. Just look at my review of It.
However, I got Nightmares: a New Decade of Modern Horror, among many other books, as a present this past Christmas. (Yes, I am a Buddhist. Yes, I still celebrate Christmas. Because, free food and presents and time off from work. That makes me sound like a crappy Buddhist, and I don’t care.) So as I looked at my growing To Be Read pile, I thought I’d give it a shot.
Anthologies are, by their nature, hit-or-miss, but I can honestly say that most of the stories in here were very good. There was suspense, creeps, and a couple of them even managed to be funny. It made me laugh one minute and squirm in my seat the next, which was undoubtedly very confusing to anyone who happened to be in the room with me at the time.
My favorite top five stories from Nightmares are:
“The Atlas of Hell” by Nathan Ballingrud
“Ambitious Boys Like You” by Richard Kadrey
“Our Turn Too Will One Day Come” by Brian Hodge
“Sob in the Silence” by Gene Wolfe
“Strappado” by Laird Barron
I recommend this book to everyone, even those who, like me, honestly aren’t that interested in horror literature. It’s well worth the read.
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This week I went to see the new movie Flatliners. Next weekend I'll be seeing it again, this time with my mom. Yes, it is definitely good enough to pay to see twice.
Not everyone agrees. A lot of those who saw the original saw the remake as a disappointment. Apparently, it doesn't bring any newness to the story. I will not be comparing this movie to the original. Mostly because I never saw the original (it came out five years before I was born), but also because I want to judge the movie on its own merits.
Med student Courtney (or as I refer to her, Dr. Juno) gets into a car crash that kills her sister, and as a result becomes obsessed with death and reaching the other side. She ropes in a handful of other medical students into an experiment that involves stopping her heart, then reviving her. After seeing how flatlining has "improved" her (she has perfect memory recall, which is a huge advantage in the medical field), all but one of the other students takes a turn.
Of course, what Courtney neglects to mention before everyone else jumps in is that, in addition to awesome Limitless-style memory, she also starts experiencing not-so-awesome hallucinations of her dead sister. Everyone else soon gets the same problem: Jamie keeps seeing the girlfriend he abandoned, Sophia sees the girl she bullied in high school, and Marlo gets creepy blood-notes painted across the walls.
My only complaint about the movie was that the climatic scene at the end was a little underwhelming. The story does a great job of ramping up tension as the hallucinations get worse and characters start dying. But then that tension doesn't really go anywhere, or rather it gets interrupted. One of the characters flatlines herself in what was probably an attempted suicide to face her guilt, but this is after the other characters face their guilt in a much more mature, less dangerous manner and take responsibility for their actions. As a result, that character that had until now come across as rather intelligent (if a bit bitchy) looks incredibly stupid. The two sequences should've been reversed: near-death guilt trip, then heart-warming real-world forgiveness.
I also wish that they'd gone deeper into Ray's character. He's the logic/moral compass of the group, being the only one who doesn't flatline but sticks around because he's the most competent and experienced. We get a hint of a tragic backstory when he mentions being a firefighter, but nothing else. Having a scene with him sharing some gut-wrenching story with the other characters in an attempt to convince them to own up to their mistakes would've added an excellent emotional layer.
Other than that, it was a great movie. James Norton (Jamie) was what I would argue the best actor of the group, although they were all fantastic. In the span of a single scene--the one where Courtney convinces her friends to legally kill her before bringing her back--he goes from "Sure, whatever, you wanna kill yourself I'll help you, mostly because I'm just pissed that I'm not getting laid tonight" to "This is more nerve-wracking than I'd thought it be, you sure you wanna do this?" to "#^%^#$%%#!" freak-out.
And there are very few horror movie mistakes. Most people would argue that flatlining in the name of science, especially when you aren't actually a medical professional, is a pretty stupid thing to do. But when you consider Courtney's obsession, along with the academic edge she receives in this extraordinarily stressful, fast-paced environment, their decisions do make sense.
So I'll definitely be seeing this movie again next week. And if you haven't seen Flatliners yet, then I hope to see you there.
Monday Movie! Wish Upon
This post will have literally ALL THE SPOILERS for Wish Upon. It’s actually more of a scathing, sarcastic synopsis than a review.
I’m not going to say this movie was horrible. But it definitely didn’t earn more than three out of five stars, and that’s being generous. It’s like if Final Destination and The Monkey’s Paw had a kid who became a total deadbeat who refuses to work and lives in his parents’ basement at age forty.
Admittedly, I came into the theater a few minutes late, so I missed the opening scene where Claire’s (the main character) mother Joanna kills herself about ten years in the past (in a later scene, Claire’s dad, Jonathan, muses that Joanna probably had a secret that was too heavy for her to handle. I’m sure that won’t come up later in the film). I came in just as Claire made it to school and was getting bullied by a Regina George rip-off named Darcie, while looking longingly at the Popularity King; this year’s model is named Paul.
Meanwhile, Jonathan, a notorious dumpster-diver, finds a Chinese music box and decides to give it to Claire, since she’s taking Chinese in high school. She knows just enough Mandarin to read “seven wishes” in the calligraphy, but nothing else. She dismisses it, then makes a half-serious joke about wishing that Darcie would “just rot.”
The next morning, Darcie gets necrotizing fasciitis, an honest-to-god real infection that kills the body’s soft tissue, effectively causing a living person to “rot.”
Not so coincidentally, Claire’s dog Max is found dead beneath the house.
Claire now knows that the box truly does grant wishes, but hasn’t yet made the connection between the wish and death. And because she’s a teenage girl, her next wishes are:
2 - having Paul fall “madly in love” with her (which causes the death of her rich Uncle August)
3 - inheriting everything August left behind (which causes the garbage-disposal death of a close family friend, Mrs. Deluca)
4 - for her dumpster-diving dad to “stop being so embarrassing” (which eventually leads to the death of…)
Claire asks her Chinese classmate, Ryan--the real love interest, being the halfway-decent male with sad doe eyes for our heroine--for help translating the rest of the box. They end up going to his cousin Gina, who studies ancient Chinese. She manages to translate most of the rest of the box: seven wishes, you have to be touching it, if you lose or sell the box all of the wishes come undone...she also finds out that the box’s original owner, a woman in the early 20th Century, made it magic by praying over it for seven days and seven nights, thus summoning a Chinese demon into the box. Fun fact: all of the woman’s enemies were vanquished, she became rich, and she died young via suicide.
There’s still one phrase left in the box they can’t figure out while Claire is oh-so-conveniently still in the room, so Gina takes a picture of it and sends it to her friend who might know.
Barely hours later, when Gina’s alone, she gets the translation. We only hear that “that’s messed up,” and she calls Ryan while freaking out about it. She’s then killed by tripping and falling head-first into the horn of a bull statue. (Death #4)
Wish #5: Claire wishes to become the most popular girl in school.
She’s immediately invited to a party and is the talk of the town. She also realizes that her shiny new boyfriend Paul is a total creep who’s been spying on her and taking pictures as she sleeps. In the first smart decision she’s made the whole movie, she dumps his ass.
Ryan finds Gina’s corpse. After some more research, he goes to Claire and tells her the translation: “When the music ends, the blood price is paid.” As an added bonus, after the seventh wish the demon comes to collect the wisher’s soul. He tells her about all the other box’s owners, all of whom had seemingly idyllic lives after finding the music box, only to have everyone around them die before they themselves either A) committed suicide, or B) were killed seemingly by accident.
Claire finally decides to tell her two BFFs June and Meredith about the box. They don’t take it seriously, although Meredith does take the time to scold her for being a selfish bitch (“If I had seven wishes, you know what I would do? I’d wish for world peace, I’d cure cancer…”) June suggests throwing the box away, but Claire still hangs onto it.
Later, during a scavenger hunt, the three go to a hotel. Meredith separates from the rest of the girls to play what looks like a much cooler version of Pokemon Go. At the same time, Jonathan is driving down a dark and windy road. The music box opens, and they’re both put in dangerous situations as Meredith’s elevator is stuck twenty stories up and Jonathan’s car threatens to squash him while he’s fixing the tire.
Who’s it gonna be? The father whose death would have the most emotional impact if he was the last to die rather than now, or the sceptical black friend? Hmmm…
As the coroners are taking Meredith’s body away, June declares the whole thing Claire’s fault and tearfully storms off. Claire goes to Ryan, and after a brief argument they attempt to destroy the box, only to find that it won’t burn or be smashed by a sledgehammer. She hides it away again, but the next day it goes missing.
Ryan is relieved, but it all unravels for Claire. She and her dad lose all the assets her uncle August left them, she goes from the school’s queen to the pariah, and Darcie’s back and bitchier than ever.
It turns out June stole the music box, stashing it in her locker to keep it out of the hands of her two little sisters. Claire takes a very Gollum-ish turn and fights June for it, ends up throwing her down the stairs, then threatens Ryan when he tries to take the box from her.
Claire returns home and uses her sixth wish to bring her mother back.
Joanna comes into her bedroom alive and well. And look, Claire has two little sisters that she’s overjoyed to have! That right there is enough to pull anyone still invested in this movie right out. There’s no way a seventeen-year-old would be thrilled to suddenly have two nine-year-olds invade her bedroom.
Jonathan’s happy, Joanna’s happy, it’s Claire’s birthday and she’s prompted to make a wish when she blows out the candles. Everything’s literally sunshine and roses.
So of course the next thing the Magic Box of Ironic Doom does is kill her dad.
Really, Claire? You didn’t see that coming? You bring back one parent, obviously the other one is out the door.
We also learn that (surprise!) Claire’s mother also had a run-in with the music box, and that was why she killed herself ten years ago.
That’s the last straw. Claire decides that if the music box can so completely warp reality as to rewrite the past, it can send her back in time (because that makes sense). She uses her final wish to go back to the morning her dad found the music box, and wakes up the morning of with her dog Max on her bed, her father getting ready to dumpster-dive, and her mother still dead as a doornail.
Everyone else is alive and well. Claire calls a grumpy, decaffeinated Meredith just to make sure, hugs her dad, talks to Ryan about Gina, etc. Even better: no siblings! Claire goes with her dad on the dumpster-dive, finds the box before he does, and hides it. At school, she goes to Ryan and asks him to get rid of it. After some awkward flirting, dinner plans, and a sporadic kiss, Claire skips off across the parking lot…
And gets run over by Darcie.
(Honestly, all I could think about was Mean Girls with Regina getting hit by a bus. It almost made me laugh.)
Was it worth the $5 movie ticket and ninety minutes to watch this? Yeah, I’d say so. But I wouldn’t go see it again. Not until we can get it for free in the “Meh” Movie Section of On Demand.
What were your thoughts on Wish Upon?
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!