15. Zombieland (2009)
Mixing a blend of comedy in the vein of Apatow humor and typical (not necessarily a bad thing) zombie- horror violence, Zombieland rose above a mediocre trailer and a genre that was tired years ago and still plagues film and television to this day. I like the zombie genre when it’s done right and with an apparent conviction and not just an obvious cash grab. That said the good of this genre is too few and far between. Zombieland was an unexpected but welcome addition to an oversaturated brand.
14. The Mist (2007)
I listed this movie in my “Best Movie Endings of the last 25 Years” as my #1 and for the same reason among others, I added it to this cluster of horror goodness. It did what I consider to be one the trademarks of a great horror film and that is when the inevitable ending comes, it is anything but pleasant. The Mist contains an amalgam of mystery, religious horror, creature violence and gore. It also brings up themes of loyalty and family and poses the question of how far would you go for those you care about? Would you face the space hell that has spilled onto your town and the religious nutjobs that have misinterpreted the meaning of these creatures’ presence? Religious people misreading something for their own agenda? Now that’s just crazy.
13. The Strangers (2008)
Without question The Strangers is one of the darkest home invasion films of the last decade. One of the best attributes of a horror villain is a motivation that lacks logical sense. The main characters rack their brains trying to explain their sudden misfortune. When it becomes apparent that these particular “guests” have the most insidious of motivations all hope seems to dissipate. Once again, the end is horrific and the perpetrators get away to violate in every sense of the word yet again.
12. 30 Days of Night (2007)
I’ll admit, a big deciding factor with this one is simply due to the over-abundance of wimpy, sparkly, so-called “vampires” that were crapping all over a genre that has existed since 1819. To take something so beloved and dumb it down and make it marketable to tweens who had no interest in vampires prior to the god-awful Twilight “movies” is an insult to horror lovers everywhere.
30 Days of Night was a welcome return of vampires that demanded fear. They created menace and existed in nightmares come true; they ARE the nightmare. In a place that sees constant dark for a full month, the setting of this horror is a blood suckers paradise and a hellscape for anyone unable to escape the cold tundra. A plus is the wonderful color contrast of blood red and stark white snow. Not to mention the steam emitted from freshly drained crimson. It creates wonderfully dreadful imagery.
11. Sinister (2012)
Another trait of a great horror is a minimalist approach. Sinister created a story ripe with chances for immense amounts of gore and gratuitous violence and yet a more levelheaded idea thankfully prevailed. Instead of buckets of blood the audience is forced to let their imagination loose to think of what might be transpiring on these murder reels that the main character is researching. You see reaction rather than mutilation. Once again, the motivation of the antagonist is unclear and in this case, is motivated by something ancient. And the ending is left to the imagination consistent with the rest of the film and makes for great unease about the possibilities of what’s to come once the credits roll. A plus is the big reveal of who and why everything takes place.
10. The Descent (2006)
Yes there are monsters and unhealthy amounts of blood but more than this, what makes The Descent so special is the utilization of space or lack thereof. It is claustrophobic regardless if you have a fear of small spaces. It continuously reminds you that every surface below the ground is unstable and inescapable. Add murderous creatures into the situation and you have the potent mixture of a nightmarish plot. Every turn these characters take seems to be nothing more than a foreshadowing of what evil lies ahead. There is no hope here and that is a great setup for a memorable horror film.
9. Under the Skin (2014)
Not strictly speaking a horror film, Under the Skin still poses a story that contains elements of blood and gore and a villain with unclear motivations. The main character is a beautiful thing on the outside and an otherworldly monster just beneath the surface. Although it contains a linear, straightforward storyline in part, it also creates a mirror of sorts that is aimed at the human race’s affinity for superficial encounters. It asks why we hold image in such high regard and not the qualities that really matter and it does so knowing there is no hope for a clear-cut answer. The overall tone to this film is hopelessness and life doesn’t get much more frightful than having nothing to live for.
8. The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Not particularly scary and not exactly original, it’s the lack of originality that makes this one unlike anything else before or since. In the same way that the Scream franchise poked fun at the slasher genre, The Cabin in the Woods makes fun of the countless films that always have stupid teens in the middle of nowhere trying to screw and drink naughty water. And like Scream it does it in a way that is not insulting and in fact acts as an homage to the very films it’s jabbing. There’s a respect there but a mutual agreement that these films can be pretty ridiculous.
Even more surprising is the major twist that in a way explains every psycho killer, zombie, giant spider and ghost not to mention countless other real nightmares that existed before nightmares were a thing. It’s a simple but ingenious explanation as to why people in horror films are so stupid. As it turns out, it’s not their fault. And I’ve said it repeatedly but that’s only because it’s true, the ending is tragic and not just for the characters on screen but for all of us.
7. Insidious (2010)
Now here is a rare sight to see; a PG-13 horror film that manages actual scares and tension. Proof that blood isn’t necessary for a great horror, Insidious utilizes old-school style horror of practical effects and makeup. Real people in frame creates a sense of dread not attainable through excessive CGI use. Instead any use of computer enhanced imagery is used to piece real in-frame images together seamlessly. It’s an enhancement tool, not a takeover which is something a lot of filmmakers seem to have forgotten.
On top of this is a group of characters that matter and have something to lose that is relatable to all of us. A family is threatened by unknown forces that have only ill intent as their motivation. A large element but simple factor that helps create helplessness is the refusal to suspend belief among the characters. Demons are attacking a family that doesn’t believe in them and so to combat them they must acknowledge something that contradicts everything they know to be true. As they quickly realize though, seeing is believing.
6. Let Me In (2010)
Yes, a remake. Imitated nearly shot for shot, Let Me In recreates a story for American audiences that showed what elegant, well-crafted horror looks like. Steady, sure-handed camera work from director Matt Reeves and a propensity to take things slow and develop characters and their relationships makes Let Me In a step above the rest in the vampire genre. In fact the horror elements almost take a backseat to the relationship of children outcasts and their impact on the world around them however small. In a lot of ways it’s about bullying and what that can do to the psyche of a child with little to no friends and an outlook of the world that seemingly hates them. It’s about how much of an impact it can be to a person’s life when someone simply says hello. Acknowledgement can go a long way and in this case maybe a bit too far.
5. Honeymoon (2014)
One of the most surprising films on this list, I found Honeymoon on Netflix and decided to give it a chance. What I saw was an unexpected horror that had twists and turns with dark implications the entire runtime. From the beginning something is off in the surrounding woods of this isolated cabin. The newlyweds begin to change in more subtle ways in the start and more drastically as time goes on. Their memories of one another begin to flicker like a dying lightbulb on the verge of burning out. Their trust begins to diminish as outside forces seem to be making their way into the cabin. There is character work in the first part of the film that sets up the more intricate or personal aspects of these character’s lives. And when all is revealed it changes everything for them in the worst ways imaginable. Before their marriage even begins, everything they know goes away.
4. The Conjuring (2013)
Another effort from James Wan, The Conjuring used many of the same methods as Insidious – It used practical effects combined with minimal CGI to create an old-school haunted house thriller that doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel but rather it shows admiration for the wheel and does so confidently and convincingly. This is nothing new but it’s executed well in a time that has accepted mediocrity in place of actual horror films. Movies like Ouija and the cash grab prequel to The Conjuring, Annabelle are prime examples of the rampant infestation of garbage that has for some reason replaced real horror. These sad excuses for horror are making people forget that this genre has the ability to be just as significant as any drama up for numerous awards. The Conjuring uses the audience’s imagination to create things far more terrifying than anything they could put up on screen. Generally speaking we imagine things far worse than reality and The Conjuring uses this fact to its advantage. This is classic horror at its modern best.
3. Trick ‘r Treat (2009)
One of the greatest Halloween gems of the last thirty years, Trick ‘r Treat was shockingly great. Plagued by delayed release dates over and over it finally had its day in the limelight and since the amazing debut, this has become a yearly tradition to celebrate the best holiday of the year. It is comprised of numerous storylines intertwining into one overall message: Respect All Hallows’ Eve. If you don’t, and these characters don’t, little Sam will have a thing or two to say about it (and he’s not the only one). And no one wants Sam paying them a visit. Keep the jack-o’-lanterns lit all Halloween night, don’t taint the candy and respect the fact that on this day, it is the ghouls and goblins and the undead’s time to frolic and own the night.
Sticking to practical effects and brave storytelling, Trick ‘r Treat is unique and timeless. It is set in an Ohio town that could be stuck in the past or present day, it’s as ambiguous as it is ambitious. Only six years young and already a classic in my eyes. If you are a fan of horror and you haven’t seen all of its tricks and treats you should change that as soon as possible.
2. The Babadook (2014)
Equal parts horror and drama, The Babadook is a transcendent movie experience that combines these elements seamlessly. In many ways the drama is its own element of horror. Then to add a make-believe come to life monster only fans the flame and burns down what little remains in the life of a widowed woman and her unstable child. The Babadook is an exaggerated look into the effects of immense loss and the endless heartache it can cause. Unlike some of the horror films on this list, there is no light here. There is nothing but gloom and despair that turns mother and son against one another which is another tragedy all its own. She must combat her own depression while dealing with her disturbed son’s behavioral problems and a monster that may or may not be real. To be real would be unfathomable but as time goes on it’s becoming more and more likely. If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look… you can’t get rid of The Babadook.
1. It Follows (2015)
This immediately reminded me of a horror version of the indie thriller Brick. Much like that movie there is no definitive time period to identify and there is no real presence of adult supervision. These kids are left to deal with their monsters themselves. It Follows creates a constant unease both through its imagery and it’s phenomenal soundtrack. Composed of a lot of synth and electronica, the music sets an ominous tone that creates a dreamlike vibe throughout. In many ways The Babadook and It Follows are equal for me but the deciding factor that puts It Follows ahead is the euphoric music. Featuring a completely unknown cast and a second time director, this had a lot of potential for failure. Rather than flop, a horror classic was born.
This is not a movie for everyone but for those that can appreciate its beauty know all too well how amazing this movie truly is. This is 90 minutes of absolute love for the genre. It Follows gives me hope that despite the rampant shit that gets repeatedly thrown together and called horror, there are still people out there that care about this crazy genre. Movies like these on this list give life to a dwindling artform and makes its demise feel not so close to being a reality.
I’m sure I missed some movies that should be on here but for my money these are at least SOME of the best horror films of the last decade (2005 – 2015). This is all just my opinion and if you disagree I would love to talk about it in a rational manner. More than anything I think the best thing all of these movies accomplish is they act as a reminder that Halloween is always on its way and I think that’s just dandy (Yeah I typed dandy). I wrote this because I love Halloween and I love horror movies and I hope you do too.
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