The reason that B-movies became a hotbed for creative filmmakers of all types in the 1930s and 40s is largely because their relatively miniscule budgets never garnered the kind of attention big prestige pictures did. The movies Howard Hawks, John Ford, Val Lewton, and Jacques Tournier (to name a few) directed were never going to win the Academy Awards, at least in the eyes of the studio heads, and therefore, the productions didn’t need to be controlled and looked over so diligently. But then, of course, producers began trying to force prestige onto these same pictures and the rest is groan-worthy history.
Horror has, in many ways, taken up the mantle of the B-movies code of creativity, using often itty-bitty budgets to create atmospheric, expressive visions of terror and the grotesque side of humanity’s desires. Directors like Wes Craven and John Carpenter emblemized this kind of thinking in the 1980s and early 90s, but the scene exploded with the advent of digital filmmaking in the oughts and, soon enough, the market was flooded with…well, mostly junk. The ease of production didn’t necessarily mean that those who envisioned and made these films had the scrappy problem-solving abilities that Walter Hill had, or even had the heightened sense of composition that made Carpenter a legend. It just meant that anyone who had a fondness for cheap scares and cheaper effects in the same vein as Sean S. Cunningham could now make something similar with a production budget well under a million. The same went for most genres of filmmaking that were given brand-new vistas with digital becoming the new norm.
And yet, at the same time, a slew of smart, young filmmakers used the freedom that digital allowed to start making films of astonishing ferocity and intimate detail, as much in horror as in drama, comedies, musicals, or film noirs. At the same time Joe Swanberg and Andrew Bujalski came on the scene, so did Ti West and Adam Wingard, arguably the most talented of this youthful generation of horror hounds. This was also when Rob Zombie put down the down-tuned guitars and picked up a camera, and his filmmaking has increasingly suggested a liberated artistic vision unlike anyone else in the horror racket, or really anywhere on the cinematic spectrum.
Internationally, France, Mexico, Japan, and Italy have all put out works of stirring fright, films centered on the psychological and supernatural relationship between humans and bodies, their own or those of others. Here in America, however, horror has become a cottage industry today, and we produce more of this particular genre than any other country, which arguably says something not entirely pleasant about our tastes. Whether from South Korea, Canada, or New York City, the best of these films ruminate on that very thought and there are plenty of just such items on our list of the best horror films of this decade so far, which, not unlike the B-movies of old, features more than a few entries that show more ingenuity and artistic spirit than most so-called prestige pictures.