Top 50 Horror Movies of the Decade
Well, my friends, we’re nearing the end of that venerable era known to some as the Naughty Aughties. As the 2000s dwindle, it’s a time for introspection, reminiscence, contemplation, and my favorite of all year-end rituals, the arbitrary ranking of things! Therefore, I give you:
Okay, if I’m going to go and call it The Definitive List, I suppose that means I need a disclaimer or two. This list may seem to you to have some glaring omissions, but that is mostly due to the fact that I have not actually seen every horror movie that came out in the past ten years. Believe it or not! I did my damnedest, but if you’re all ‘WHY THE HELL ISN’T ___ ON HERE?!”, I’m not trying to provoke anyone. I just probably haven’t seen that movie yet. Or maybe I thought your favorite movie was stupid. Either way, stop yelling! This is supposed to be fun!
Disclaimers over! Listing now! In alphabetical order by the year they were released:
Battle Royale (Batoru Rowaiaru)
Directed by: Kinji Fukasaku
Screenplay by: Kenta Fukasaku from the epic novel of Koushun Takami
Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Taro Yamamoto & Aki Maeda
Battle Royale speaks to the grotesque Schadenfreude of reality television. It’s brutal and surprising and totally kick-ass. As fights to the death tend to be. Oh, did I mention that this is a fight to the death between a few dozen 9th-graders? On an island? With exploding neck collars if you break the rules? Yep!
Directed by: James Wong
Screenplay by: Glen Morgan, James Wong & Jeffrey Reddick
Starring: Devon Sawa & Ali Larter
The film that spawned the sequels that spawned my maybe-joking obsession. The quality of the first FD, however, is not to be taken lightly. The relentless pursuit by Death, the realization that these pretty young stars are actually NOT going to triumph over their gruesome fates, and that first vision of the plane explosion? WHAT?! Awesomest premise ever. Mindy Kaling said it best: “Final Destination is amazing cuz Death is the psycho killer. The same Death from like, The Civil War and Titanic.”
Directed by: John Fawcett
Screenplay by: Karen Walton & John Fawcett
Starring: Emily Perkins & Katharine Isabelle
You know how when you’re a tween girl and you get your first period, it’s kind of scary? (Okay, so half of you know). And also how maybe your menses are a beacon for the looming lycanthropy that will soon turn your life upside down? Extra scary! Ginger Snaps is a werewolf movie about the good-looking pubescent Fitzgerald sisters, and in spite of that, it’s shockingly not exploitative. It’s sharp and feminist and funny and has some seriously impressive set designs and outstanding grue for its $5mil budg. More horror movies for the ladies, by the ladies, please!
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Screenplay by: Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan
Starring: Guy Pearce & Carrie-Anne Moss
As with every Nolan film, the genre is not easily categorized here. Memento’s twisty psychological tumult messed with me a lot harder than most straight up horror films do. Guy Pearce’s tormented Leonard is in turns heartbreaking and scary, and as the audience tries to piece together the bedlam of his tragic memories, the situation steadily declines into misery and terror. Brilliant editing transforms this flick from novelty into substance.
Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Screenplay by: Dennis Paoli
Starring: Ezra Godden & Raquel Meroño
The film that kicked off my Stuart Gordon Retrospective because it’s just so damn weird and beautiful. Dagon is a film for the Lovecraftians among us, capturing that ethereal strangeness that permeates each Lovecraft story. This movie can be watched two ways: laughing at how silly it is or marveling at how brilliant it is. I recommend both strategies. Simultaneously.
Devil’s Backbone (El Espinazo del Diablo)
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Screenplay by: Guillermo del Toro, Antonio Trashorras & David Muñoz
Starring: Marisa Paredes, Federico Luppi & Fernando Tielve
2001 was a good year for me, as that was the year I was introduced to two of my now favorite directors: Stuart Gordon (above) and Guillermo del Toro. And yeah, I probably should have known who they were before 2001, but I’ve always been more of a Marla-come-lately than a Marla-on-the-spot. But then I always throw myself whole-heartedly into that TV show/film/director/band that you’ve been following for years, so you can’t fault me for enthusiasm! The Devil’s Backbone takes place during the Spanish civil war at a haunted orphanage, and it’s one of the most elegant, piercing, eerie films I’ve ever seen. Three or four dozen times.
Directed by: Richard Kelly
Screenplay by: Richard Kelly
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone & Patrick Swayze
I don’t know if this film qualifies as horror, but I do know that Frank the rabbit haunts my freaking dreams. Don’t look to Richard Kelly to come up with another dark, quirky film about the horrors of teenage suburbia, because apparently he sucks now. Thanks for The Box, jackhole.
Ichi the Killer (Koroshiya 1)
Japan/Hong Kong/South Korea
Directed by: Takashi Miike
Screenplay by: Sakichi Satô
Starring: Tadanobu Asano, Nao Omori & Shinya Tsukamoto
This film, about sadomasochism and torture between warring Yakuza clans, is a Miike special: outrageously violent and sort of confusing. The plot’s a bit circuitous, but it’s absolutely worth seeing it through to the bloody, poetic conclusion. If you can make it through one of the toughest-to-watch scenes of torture in cinema today, that is. Ichi really shouldn’t be much fun to watch, but it sort of is, you dig?
Directed by: Victor Salva
Screenplay by: Victor Salva
Starring: Gina Philips, Justin Long & Jonathan Breck
Jeepers Creepers is the type of slick Hollywood PrettyFest that should reek of vanilla, but is sort of…awesome?! The Creeper is one magnificent specimen of monster, just horrifying to behold, and Philips and Long play siblings whom you actually DON’T want to die, a marvel in and of itself in this genre. The film came out with a fairly generic sequel and a third film is in the works, but the original had that element of pleasant surprise that you just can’t duplicate.
Directed by: David Lynch
Screenplay by: David Lynch
Starring: Naomi Watts & Laura Elena Harring
Another controversial choice! But I’m sorry, if David Lynch directed it, you can bet it’ll be horrific. AND AMAZING. I also really like that Wikipedia describes it as a “neo-noir psychological thriller.” I find that lengthy combination of words scary! And excuse me, that thing behind the diner? BLURG! Naomi Watts is positively revelatory here, and Laura Elena Harring is no lightweight, either. Mulholland Drive is just hot, hot spookiness with a little bit of crazy and then some more hot thrown in.
Directed by: Alejandro Amenábar
Screenplay by: Alejandro Amenábar
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Alakina Mann & Fionnula Flanagan
If it’s good enough for Charles Band, it should be good enough for you! Exquisitely paced with brilliant suspense, Amenábar’s only English-language film is a doozy. 2001 was the year Nicole Kidman could do no wrong, and that includes her portrayal of a grieving WWII mother who is fiercely protective of her two light-allergic children. When three mysterious servants arrive, things get a little scary. Okay, a lot scary.
Directed by: Brad Anderson
Screenplay by: Brad Anderson & Stephen Gevedon
Starring: Peter Mullan, David Caruso, Stephen Gevedon & Josh Lucas
This little indie chiller builds suspense the old-fashioned way, with minimal gore and few jump-out-and-scare-yous. No, Session 9 works through atmosphere and lighting, acting and intensity, gradually building apprehension until a terrifying climax. What a fantastic film, and one you absolutely have to take seriously, despite the presence of Mr. Caruso and his acting-by-sunglasses.
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Screenplay by: Alex Garland
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Brendan Gleeson & Megan Burns
Directed by: Don Coscarelli
Screenplay by: Don Coscarelli from the Joe R. Lansdale short story
Starring: Bruce Campbell & Ossie Davis
I’ve written up this baby before, but enough simply cannot be said about the Elvis/East Texas/Egyptian mummy extravaganza. Bruce Campbell as Elvis, people!! Ossie Davis as JFK!! Sharp and funny and weird as hell, Bubba Ho-Tep is like no other. And the fact that a seriously decent horror movie is based in Nacogdoches, TX, where I once lived, from the short story by my favorite East Texan writer (other than my dad, that is)—well, it does good for my heart. There’s not a lot of scary action behind the pine curtain, y’all. OH AND LOOK! A sequel called Bubba Nosferatu is planned, starring RON MOTHERLOVING PERLMAN as Elvis!! And co-starring Paul Giamatti! It’s so strange that Don Coscarelli’s career consists entirely of writing and directing every Phantasm flick ever, and then he just happens to be able to cast these brilliant actors in the awesomest Elvis horror movies of all time.
Directed by: Eli Roth
Screenplay by: Eli Roth & Randy Pearlstein
Starring: Rider Strong (??), Jordan Ladd, James DeBello, Cerina Vincent & Joey Kern
I have quite a soft spot in my heart for this movie, as I saw it as a sneak preview in one of the earliest premiere dates, at the horror movie marathon hosted at an abandoned insane asylum by the original (thus only, imo) Alamo Drafthouse. And Eli Roth was there, and he served me lemonade! (Gettit? Well, if you haven’t seen the movie, you probably don’t). And he asked me what movie I was most excited to see, and I told him I’d heard Cabin Fever was going to show that night, and I really hoped it would, and he smiled hugely at me, and then I realized later he was the director! And much, much later, I broke back into the abandoned insane asylum with some friends and discovered evidence of animal sacrifice and other gothic high school douchebaggery. But enough about me! Cabin Fever was the original (although not as good) The House of the Devil, an old-school 80s throwback with no holds barred when it comes to gore, nudity or scares. And it’s fitting that The House of the Devil director Ti West is directing the prom-heavy sequel to Cabin Fever, as West shows as much promise, originality and enthusiasm as Roth did when Cabin Fever first hit the scene. (read the review for Cabin Fever 2 here.)
Directed by: Neil Marshall
Screenplay by: Neil Marshall
Starring: Kevin McKidd, Sean Pertwee, Emma Cleasby & Liam Cunningham
Dog Soldiers is a gritty, dismal werewolf film that brought writer/director Neil Marshall a lot of well-deserved attention. Kevin McKidd is part of a squad of British soldiers who are astonished to find themselves fighting against an invasion of werewolves in the Scottish mountains. The film is bloody and brutal and absolutely surprising, with no CGI and superb creature work.
The Eye (Gin Gwai)
Directed by: The Pang Brothers
Screenplay by: The Pang Brothers & Jojo Hui
Starring: Angelica Lee & Lawrence Chou
A polished, compelling ghost story told from the perspective of concert violinist Mun after she receives a cornea transplant to restore her sight. She can foresee death with her new eyes, and she fears that she is losing her mind. The Eye is a quiet film, but the scares mount steadily and unrelentingly as Mun and a psychologist, Dr. Wah, investigate the source of her visions. This film is really elegant and beautiful and just creepy as hell.
Directed by: Lucky McKee
Screenplay by: Lucky McKee
Starring: Angela Bettis, Anna Faris & Jeremy Sisto
May is an unusual little film with a tiny budget and a lot of nerve. Angela Bettis plays the title character, an odd, lonely girl who wants desperately to be accepted and loved. Jeremy Sisto (mmm, siiiigh) plays the object of May’s ardor (and mine!). May has some surprisingly deep themes, and Bettis gives an unnerving, moving portrayal of the fragile, unhinged character. May’s finale is twisted and bloody and outright awesome, and the chilling build-up really earns it.
Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Screenplay by: Ehren Kruger
Starring: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson & David Dorfman
Okay, so before you get all het up, Ringu was released in 1998, so that’s the reason its American remake made the list and it didn’t. And I know, it’s uncool to like American remakes of Japanese horror, especially this one which opened the door for the States to ruin every other awesome J-horror flick ever. But, you guys, The Ring is a great film. It’s gripping and stylish and makes lots more sense than (the obviously superior in every other way) Ringu. Naomi Watts makes her second appearance on this list, because she is a phenomenal actress who can indicate so much through the most minute change of expression. And obviously Samara and her beautifully frightening video haunting are simply duplicated from the original film, but it’s still scary as hell, and Verbinski did a brilliant job updating the film.
Directed by: David R. Ellis
Screenplay by: J. Mackye Gruber & Eric Bress
Starring: A.J. Cook, Ali Larter & Michael Landes
I know, I know. Unless you’re director David R. Ellis or FD2 champion Henri Mazza, right about now, you’re all: “Seriously? I mean, maybe the first one, but Final Destination 2?!” Which clearly means you’ve only seen this film as the watered down version they show during FD marathons on TBS in October, so shut up! Final Destination 2 kicks ass! The multi-car pile-up at the beginning is aaaaawesome, and the writers took the premise from the first film and gave it a clever and intriguing twist. Also, TONY TODD IS IN THIS MOVIE! As is Smallville cutie (and Mr. Marla crush) Sarah Carter, for like 2 seconds! The kills are ever inventive and Death is ever ruthless. I highly recommend watching FD2 with a chili dog, a bottle of champers and a friend at 3 in the morning. Also, don’t worry, I left the final two sequels off this list. Grudgingly.
High Tension (Haute Tension)
Directed by: Alexandre Aja
Screenplay by: Alexandre Aja & Grégory Levasseur
Starring: Cécile De France & Maïwenn Le Besco
Yikes. Haute Tension has some plot holes, okay? And I’m not actually 100% sure of its placement on this list. But it’s a movie that shocked the hell out of me and I found myself thinking about it days later, and that proves its merit. It’s incredibly violent and brutish, with an interesting spin on The Last House on the Left formula. I always applaud horror films that are predominantly female-driven, and De France and Le Besco turn in some superb performances. Haute has a distinctly 70s vibe and it’s pretty solidly scary, for sure.
Directed by: Takashi Shimizu
Screenplay by: Takashi Shimizu
Starring: Megumi Okina, Misaki Ito & Misa Uehara
Ju-on is a film that has mastered the Art of Creepy. With some creative editing and superb sound effects, Shimizu is able to build unbearable suspense through several vaguely-linked vignettes connected by a lasting death grudge imprinted on a building. The American remake is unsurprisingly biteless, and enough films have ripped off the spooky effects that it may not feel fresh anymore, but Ju-on was original and scary as hell when it debuted.
Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Screenplay by: Charlie Higson
Starring: Chris McKenna, Daniel Baldwin, George Wendt & Kari Wuhrer
King of the Ants is such a departure for Stu! Filmed in the States, written by someone other than Dennis Paoli, and it’s not even straight horror! Well, it’s horrific, but not supernaturally so, much like Gordon’s later, inferior Stuck. I also just remembered I meant to review King of the Ants for my Stuart Gordon Retrospective and totally forgot. Oh well, I’m reviewing it now! This is a great, grim, tight little film. Not an ounce of fat on it, just a straightforward, cynical portrayal of the depths to which mankind can sink when threatened. Much like Stuck again, actually. But again, much better! Chris McKenna plays Sean, a down-on-his-luck house painter who becomes embroiled in Baldwin’s criminal element when he’s hired to kill a pesky accountant (Ron Livingston). Sean is NOT to be toyed with, and he survives some of the most gruesome and extended acts of violence Stuart Gordon can offer (which says a lot) only to turn around AND FUCK SOME SHIT UP OLD SCHOOL! Both incredibly depressing and surprisingly triumphant simultaneously. Again…just like Stuck! Man, I really can’t believe I didn’t recognize any of these similarities when I reviewed that movie.
Directed by: Julian Richards
Screenplay by: James Handel
Starring: Kevin Howarth & Mark Stevenson
The Last Horror Movie takes the audience into the mind of serial killer Max, who has presumably taped over the horror movie “you” rented, filling it with recordings of his many gruesome kills. It’s kind of funny that I saw this one in the theater, because the premise would be so much more effective if I had rented this film from the video store without knowing anything about it. I still enjoyed the flick immensely, as it’s clever and voyeuristic and truly frightening. Kevin Howarth is intensely charismatic, and The Last Horror Movie takes the legendary Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and turns it into something modern and inclusive by tearing down the fourth wall. Great, great movie, and it was released by Fango!
Directed by: Chan-wook Park
Screenplay by: Jo-yun Hwang, Chun-hyeong Lim, Joon-hyung Lim & Chan-wook Park
Starring: Min-sik Choi, Hye-jeong Kang, Ji-tae Yu
Oh boy. Oldboy. This movie…wow. I just love this movie so much! It’s another that isn’t necessarily straight horror, but the themes and consequences are so utterly horrific that Oldboy is one of the most chilling films on this list. Family man Oh Dae-Su is kidnapped and imprisoned for fifteen years, with no hint as to his captor or the reason for his incarceration. He is just as suddenly released and left to investigate the circumstances leading to his captivity, and with each revelation he uncovers, the situation grows more sinister and complex. I don’t want to say anything else, because this film is so cryptic and intricately plotted that to divulge the smallest clue would be a disservice to anyone who hasn’t seen it! Min-sik Choi is wildly brilliant here, so committed that HE ACTUALLY EATS A LIVE FREAKING OCTOPUS ON CAMERA. Outstanding.
Directed by: Glen Morgan
Screenplay by: Glen Morgan
Starring: Crispin Glover, Laura Elena Harring & R. Lee Ermey
Crispin Glover as Willard. That is some absolutely flawless casting, ya heard? Willard is a remake of the 1971 film of the same name, and Glover plays the awkward, anti-social mama’s boy who befriends a colony of rats living in his basement. He becomes sort of creepily intimate with one, named Socrates, while a gargantuan rat named Ben starts taking command and creating all sorts of rodent mischief. I know, this movie sounds stupid, but instead, it’s just awesomely gothic and macabre. Glover is so weird in this, abso perfect, and the inevitable conclusion is magnificent. Glen Morgan of Final Destination and X-Files fame did a great job of updating this odd, twisted little flick. Willard also features my favorite random song written for a movie ever, the Michael Jackson song “Ben,” also featured in the original film. So romantic!
Directed by: Rob Schmidt
Screenplay by: Alan B. McElroy
Starring: Desmond Harrington, Eliza Dushku, Emmanuelle Chriqui & Jeremy Sisto
A great 70s throwback to such splatter-in-the-woods flicks as The Hills Have Eyes, Wrong Turn actually surprised me. I caught it in the dollar theater on the way back from a vacation—”Honey! Pull over! That dollar movie is showing Wrong Turn!” (I have the most accommodating fella ever)—and I was fully engrossed for 90 inexpensive minutes. It helps that this is one of those roles that doesn’t stretch Eliza Dushku’s acting ability whatsoever (unlike you-know-what), as she plays a tough girl who’s willing to roll with the punches in order to survive, Faith-style. It’s a character I admire, and of course you know Marla’s got a soft spot for any horror film with a strong female lead. Harrington, Chriqui and Sisto (mmm…siiiiigh) are also all great here, and what sets Wrong Turn apart from other Pretty “Teens” In Trouble movies is that they’re likable, authentic characters…making it that much more grave when one by one, they begin falling to their bloody fates.
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Screenplay by: James Gunn
Starring: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames & Jake Weber
Directed by: Brett Sullivan
Screenplay by: Megan Martin
Starring: Emily Perkins, Tatiana Maslany & Katharine Isabelle
A sequel that improves upon its already stellar original in every way! In Unleashed, Brigitte (Perkins) is fighting against the lycanthropy she contracted from her late sister at the conclusion of the first film. Ginger appears to her in taunting hallucinations, and to further complicate matters, Brigitte must now plot her escape from a mental institution after some of her wolfier characteristics direct unwanted attention her way. Unleashed supplies an entirely new adventure that is slick and compelling, along with an intriguing new character in that of Ghost (Maslany), Brigitte’s ally in the institution. Martin, replacing Karen Walton as the screenwriter, does a fine job of crafting a gothic yarn with plenty of lady awesomeness.
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Screenplay by: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Ron Perlman, Jon Hurt, Doug Jones & Selma Blair
YES! del Toro waited years, outlasting studios that wanted him to cast Bruce Boring Willis, to finally get his way and create a truly great comic book/horror movie: Hellboy with no one less than RON MOTHERLOVING PERLMAN as the bearer of that Right Hand of Doom! This is a movie I can watch over and over, and del Toro’s signature creature work and Perlman’s flawless performance never tires. Doug Jones is a marvel as Abe Sapien, and Blair is spot on as Liz. And DANG, Kroenen is one of the coolest-conceived comic villains, and del Toro just nails the adaptation. My only complaint in this massively entertaining triumph is Rupert Evans as Jon Myers. Seriously?! That guy? He bores to snores and claims far too much screen time that should be devoted to Perlman petting kitties, cracking wise and kicking ass.
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Screenplay by: Simon Pegg & Edgar Wright
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost & Kate Ashfield
Shaun is another movie that I can’t say enough about, as it’s the most sublime example of horror comedy created this decade. Pegg and Frost are brilliant as a couple of clods who are uniquely equipped to battle zombie apocalypse due to their love of video games and setting things on fire. The in-jokes are endless for lovers of Romero and British television, and Wright, Pegg and Frost improve upon their unbeatable comedy connection that will serve them greatly in films to come.
Three…Extremes (Sam gang yi)
Hong Kong (“Dumplings”)/South Korea (“Cut”)/Japan (“Box”)
Directed by: Fruit Chan (“Dumplings”)/Chan-wook Park (“Cut”)/Takashi Miike (“Box”)
Screenplay by: Lilian Lee (“Dumplings”)/Chan-wook Park (“Cut”)/Haruko Fukushima (“Box”)
Starring: Ling Bei (“Dumplings”)/Byung-hun Lee (“Cut”)/Kyoko Hasegawa (“Box”)
So this one’s sort of cheating, as it’s actually three short films in one, created by three Asian masters of horror. “Dumplings” by Chan is a matter-of-fact portrayal of the gruesome lengths a woman will go to in order to retain her youthful appearance. “Cut” by Park is sort of a good version of Saw (weird concept, right?), when an extra kidnaps a movie director and his wife and plays lots of sick games with them. Miike’s ”Box” is an elegant Kurasawa-esque dream of a segment detailing a woman’s search for her sister. The three segments could not be more different and each has its own twisted merit. The result is a creative and well-crafted two hours of eerie entertainment.
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Screenplay by: Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson & Morgan Freeman
So I know there are a lot of comic book movies on this list, which may be controversial as they’re not strictly horror, but whatevs, this is my list and I do what I want! Also, Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow juice is POSITIVELY TERRIFYING. Christian Bale is a wonder as the tortured caped crusader, before he turned into a growly caricature of himself. The film deals with some seriously dark themes as Nolan is wont to do, and Liam Neeson should play the criminal mastermind in every single movie ever. Seriously, like, even the Chipmunks Squeakuel movie.
Directed by: Neil Marshall
Screenplay by: Neil Marshall
Starring: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Jackson Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder & MyAnna Buring
Marshall strikes again! The Descent is even more fresh and frightening than Dog Soldiers, and it has the added bonus of being cast entirely with women! I repeat: this is a bloody, kick-ass, terrifying horror movie whose cast is made up ENTIRELY of women. And they’re not topless or making out with each other! OMG! I LOVE THIS MOVIE! A group of adrenaline junkie friends reunite for a spelunking expedition after one of them (Macdonald) has suffered a grievous tragedy. The cave turns grave as they realize they are literally in uncharted territory and have no way out. Morlock-type creatures begin to approach from the shadows as the women try to make their escape. The Descent is rife with emotional weight and deep scares, and this is a movie that stays with you far longer than your typical slasher flick.
Directed by: Eli Roth
Screenplay by: Eli Roth
Starring: Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson & Barbara Nedeljakova
Although Hostel contributed to what quickly became the most tedious trend in horror history (torture porn? More like BOREture porn! Or torture BOREn! Or…you get the idea.), this is an excellent film with unique pacing and a breathless conclusion. For the entire first three quarters of this film, nothing scary happens at all, just lots of nudity and laughs. And then the end comes up out of nowhere and bites you on the face. Hostel is definitely one-of-a-kind, or at least it was, until every movie thereafter was exactly like it.
The Host (Gwoemul)
Directed by: Joon-ho Bong
Screenplay by: Chul-hyun Baek, Won-jun Ha & Joon-ho Bong
Starring: Song Kang-ho, Byeon Hee-bong, Park Hae-il & Bae Doona
There is no other movie like The Host. In parts quirky familial comedy, environmental commentary, and old-school monster movie, The Host is one of the most purely entertaining films on this list. A gargantuan river monster (borne of an ill-advised formaldehyde flushing incident) terrorizes Korean citizens, setting off a chain of events that affects one eccentric but affectionate family in profound ways. The Host is legitimately scary, but it’s also beautiful, hilarious, moving and sad. A true South Korean gem that has no equal in Hollywood.
Pan’s Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno)
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Screenplay by: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Ivana Baquero, Maribel Verdú, Sergi López & Doug Jones
Why yes, I am moderately obsessed with Guillermo del Toro, why do you ask? Pan’s is a gothic fairy tale of a film, equal parts breathtaking fantasy and menacing nightmare. Ivana Baquero as Ofelia is a study in whimsy and the underground kingdom to which she is drawn is one of the most exquisite spectacles in recent cinema. del Toro doesn’t shy away from brute violence in what could otherwise be considered a children’s film, and López’s terrifying Captain Vidal makes for a frighteningly capable villain. Doug Jones is, as always, absolutely magnificent.
Directed by: James Gunn
Screenplay by: James Gunn
Starring: Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Tania Saulnier & Michael Rooker
Damn, but I love this movie! Slither is just so much freaking FUN, a zombie/alien/parasite gross-out fest that satisfies on every score. James Gunn won my adoration for bringing such a nostalgic, B-movie sensibility to this boisterous and raunchy ride, and the fact that there are several intelligent, brave women taking care of themselves and of their clumsier menfolk certainly doesn’t hurt! Nathan Fillion is as Maladjusted as ever, which is always fun. A new classic and Halloween staple in my house. (You can read a longer review of Slither here.)
Directed by: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Screenplay by: Rowan Joffe, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, Enrique López Lavigne & Jesús Olmo
Starring: Robert Carlyle, Catherine McCormack, Rose Byrne & Idris Elba
This is another film that I was all set to despise due to my affinity for Danny Boyle and the original, only to be thwarted when the sequel was a damn fine piece of genre filmmaking. Robert Carlyle makes for another likable everyman for whom you can root as strongly as Cillian Murphy’s Jim, and as the repercussions from the original viral outbreak mount and the stakes grow ever higher, I found myself accepting that this visceral and relentless story does, in fact, make for a pretty cool franchise. Look for 28 Months Later in 2011, although we can hardly hope that our luck will hold out that long.
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez (“Planet Terror”) & Quentin Tarantino (“Death Proof”)
Screenplay by: Robert Rodriguez (“Planet Terror”) & Quentin Tarantino (“Death Proof”)
With mock trailers written and directed by Eli Roth, Edgar Wright, Rob Zombie & Robert Rodriguez
Starring: Rose McGowan, Josh Brolin & Michael Biehne (“Planet Terror”)/Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell & Rosario Dawson (“Death Proof”)
Another bit of cheating here, as Grindhouse is actually two movies in one with loads of fun trailers to boot. Tarantino and Rodriguez can certainly annoy independently and together, but I have nothing but respect for their rousing throwback of gritty cinema fun. Both movies have plenty to recommend them: the bio warfare story of “Planet Terror” and the high-octane motor adventure of Death Proof each make for pure absurd diversion, and the wacky horror trailers in between bring lots of laughs.
Inside (À l’intérieur)
Directed by: Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury
Screenplay by: Alexandre Bustillo
Starring: Béatrice Dalle & Alysson Paradis
Inside is one of the most singularly disturbing and terrifying films I have ever seen, rife with blood and scares and plenty of the unexpected. Pregnant Sarah (Paradis) loses her husband in a car accident, and months later (on Christmas eve) is preparing for her delivery the following day, when a woman (Dalle) appears in her house. The majority of the film takes place in this one location over one evening with only Dalle and Paradis onscreen, and it is absolutely riveting. Dalle is an monstrously ruthless villain, terrifying beyond measure, but Paradis is hardly a passive victim. I’m sure by now you don’t need me to state how much I appreciate that the film centers around two strong, multi-dimensional women, but I’m going to do it anyway, because dammit, it matters. The motivations behind La femme (as Dalle is credited) are shocking and the conclusion is unparalleled in its terror. I haven’t been able to watch this film since I saw it in the theater, but you know, I think I’m ready for a rewatch. With the lights on and my teddy bear Henry in my lap, that is.
The Orphanage (El Orfanato)
Directed by: Juan Antonio Bayona
Screenplay by: Sergio G. Sánchez
Starring: Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Príncep & Óscar Cases
The Orphanage is thematically quite similar to The Devil’s Backbone, as both Spanish-language films take place in a haunted orphanage. And none other than—you guessed it!—Guillermo del Toro was responsible for executive producing The Orphanage. But the film has a great deal of its own virtue outside of the admittedly attractive del Toro connection. Bayona’s direction is light and refined, and the scares are substantial. Laura (Rueda) and her husband purchase the abandoned orphanage where she grew up, with the intent of turning it into a home for children with disabilities. Her son Simón begins communicating with an imaginary friend, and if you don’t know what that means, welcome to your very first horror movie! Although The Orphanage treads on rather familiar ground, Bayona’s fresh perspective and Sánchez’s meaningful screenplay give this old story something new and very scary.
Directed by: Frank Darabont
Screenplay by: Frank Darabont from the Stephen King novella
Starring: Thomas Jane, Andre Braugher, Amanda Dunfrey & Toby Jones
We’re getting to the point that these films are recent enough that I just wrote about them! So no, I don’t have a lot to add to what I said only a few weeks ago: surprisingly bad-ass, exceptional gore and creature work, dark themes of grim humanity, yadda yadda AWESOME.
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Screenplay by: Drew Goddard (!)
Starring: Michael Stahl-David, Odette Yustman, Mike Vogel & T.J. Miller
A sneaky viral campaign made Cloverfield one to watch without ever being sure of what exactly you were going to see. Fangoria featured the film without being allowed a glimpse of the immensely terrifying monster, because the producers were so apt to keep the bulk of this film under wraps. And the hubbub delivered–-Cloverfield’s shaky cam brought the audience into the thick of a monstrous attack on New York City, told through the perspective of your typical run-of-the-mill gorgeous 20-somethings. It was clever and surprising and very, very cool.
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Screenplay by: Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Cain, Heath Ledger, Maggie Gyllenhaal & Morgan Freeman
So you’ve probably caught on to the fact that I find Nolan joints to be pretty horrific, even though none of them is billed as such. Ledger’s nihilistic portrayal of The Joker is one of the most effectively intimidating bad guy performances to date, and that sliced grin and haphazard make-up is made of nightmares. As is Bale’s ludicrous Batvoice.
Directed by: Marcel Sarmiento & Gadi Harel
Screenplay by: Trent Haaga
Starring: Shiloh Fernandez & Noah Segan
I also just reviewed this recently, and I’m sticking to it. Incisive, disturbing, well-made and hard to watch.
Let the Right One In(Låt den Rätte Komma In)
Directed by: Tomas Alfredson
Screenplay by: John Ajvide Lindqvist from his own novel
Starring: Kåre Hedebrant & Lina Leandersson
Oskar is lonely; a strange little guy with no friends and plenty of bullies. He meets Eli, the strangely beautiful girl next door, and they forge a unique and powerful friendship. Eli happens to be of the vampire persuasion, but this is a story of friendship, bravery and staying true to oneself. Elegant and breathtaking, this snow-covered masterpiece will soon be butchered by Cloverfield director-turned Marla nemesis Matt Reeves in a useless and infuriating American remake that is sure to have lots of blood and absolutely no heart.
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Screenplay by: Sam Raimi and Ivan Raimi
Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long & Lorna Raver
My favorite film of 2009, Sam Raimi roars back into the genre with guts, laughs, ingenuity and buckets of bodily fluids. My review says it all, if I do say so myself.
Directed by: Ti West
Screenplay by: Ti West
Starring: Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan & Mary Woronov
Another recent review! West’s 80s throwback is long on novelty and also happens to be long on atmosphere, intelligence and scares.
Directed by: Karyn Kusama
Screenplay by: Diablo Cody
Starring: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried & Adam Brody
Although I very well may have been the only person in America to see this movie, that just sucks for the rest of America! Jennifer’s Body suffered from a completely backward marketing campaign directed towards teenage boys with hard-ons for Megan Fox. Those boys then went to see the movie and discovered that it’s a feminist opus with no nudity whatsoever, so they went back and told their friends to skip it. Ladies and men of taste, rent Jennifer’s Body! This movie is HILARIOUS and so freaking rad. Just bloody and brilliant, and Adam Brody as a devil-worshipping Brandon Flowers is maybe the best villain ever.
Well, there you have it, folks! After having spent three full weeks on this post, I find myself asking a tad belatedly if anyone is actually even going to read it. So if you made it this far, thank you! Thank you for caring enough about my totally arbitrary list (or more likely, just caring about me because you’re a good friend) to read through this whale of a post!
Out of my own curiosity, I just counted which of these films I caught (often as a premiere, part of a festival or with the filmmakers in attendance) at the original Alamo Drafthouse, and the result is an impressive 13 out of 50! So thank you, Alamo, for introducing me to a worthy 26% of my favorite horror films this decade. I miss you.
Now excuse me while I completely restructure my Netflix queue, as my little walk of nostalgia has me dying to rewatch all 50 of these brilliant fright flicks tout de suite. And don’t be afraid to holla back at me, y’all! What doesn’t deserve to be on this list? What is tragically lacking? Let me know, and happy New Year!
Update (July 2010): Well, I’ve finally gotten around to seeing some horror flicks that came out in the latter part of the 2000s that definitely should be on this list. I hope you won’t chastise my imprecision, as this will now be a list of the *54* greatest horror movies of the decade. Check out my reviews for Zombieland, Paranormal Activity, [rec] and Thirst.