Sunday, October 31, 2010

9 Good Horror Movies Made in the Last 10 Years

I am of the opinion that the late 1960s and early 1970s were the pinnacle of the horror genre.  The 80s and 90s definitely had some good entries, but the endless sequels and copycats drove the genre into the ground.  I have been patiently awaiting a rebirth, but the new trend seems to be producing sacrilegious remakes like Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street, which just makes me feel depressed (and old).  Yet, in the spirit of the season, I present a list of 9 good horror movies made since 2001.  Why only 9?  Because I honestly couldn't think of a 10th.  (Possible spoilers ahead)

Frailty (2001) - A very impressive directorial debut of actor Bill Paxton that looks like it was made by a veteran of the genre.  The beautiful cinematography is full of shadows and masterful compositions, creating an atmosphere of constant dread.  Paxton is fantastic as a schizophrenic who murders people on orders from God with the help of his two young sons, one of whom begins to suspect that his father is not actually talking to the Almighty.  The most impressive thing about Frailty is that Mathew McConaughey does not ruin the movie as the adult version of one of the sons.

Session 9 (2001) - A construction crew takes on the task of removing asbestos from an old abandoned psychiatric hospital.  Do you think everything goes as planned?  Director Brad Anderson shoots on location at the closed-down Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts where the film is set using hand-held digital cameras.  This, along with the solid performances from Peter Mullan and David Caruso among others, gives the film a raw realism that sets the film apart from more stylized horror films.  Session 9 moves at a deliberate pace, but is never boring and frequently unnerving.

28 Days Later (2002) - Oscar-winner Danny Boyle helmed this modern zombie flick.  A virus has swept through England turning everyone into a blood-spewing monster with a taste for human flesh.  It's an old story, but Boyle is an expert at pacing and the acting from Cillian Murphy (in his first major role) and Naomie Harris add the pathos that other zombie movies tend to gloss over.  Many critics disliked the last third of the film when our heroes hide out in an abandoned mansion with a band of soldiers, but I found this sequence, and the film as a whole, a fun and scary ride.

The Ring  (2002) - This American remake of the Japanese classic Ringu is a triumph of style over substance.  Yes, the film has some excellent jump-out-of-your-seat moments and a solid anchor in Naomi Watts as a reporter investigating a videotape that kills anyone who watches it, but what keeps me coming back to The Ring is the look.  Director Gore Verbinski adds a blue-green tint over the film that blends perfectly with the Pacific Northwest setting.  Every scene is overcast, damp, and beautiful.  The cinematography should have been Oscar-nominated.

Open Water (2003) - A married couple goes scuba-diving and ends up stranded in the middle of the shark-infested ocean.  That's about it for plot.  Just about all 79 minutes of this movie feature two people floating with water in all directions.  And yet this film is absolutely terrifying.  The directors use no-name actors and digital photography to play on fears that everyone experiences at one point or another.  Fear of the ocean, fear of being alone, fear of the dark, fear of sharks.  I dare you to watch this movie and go swimming in the ocean afterwards.

The Descent (2005) - Director Neil Marshall, who has been making intriguing British horror movies for years, finally breaks out with this tale of a group of women who go spelunking and get trapped in a vast underground cave.  This would be scary enough, but then the cave-demons make an appearance.  The first half of the film creates such a claustrophobic atmosphere that I almost needed to leave the theater for fresh air.  The second half is not as good, which makes me wish that the director trusted that the audience wouldn't need a supernatural element to love the film.  No matter.  The Descent delivers the goods.

Wolf Creek (2005) - Roger Ebert famously gave this Australian film a dreaded zero-star review, a designation that he reserves for films that he deems "evil".  I understand his point.  The film moves along well for the first half-hour or so as we get to know three twenty-something protagonists road-tripping through the Outback.  But then it becomes clear that the whole point of the movie is to watch the characters that we have come to love be tortured by a deranged killer.  When it comes to horror, I personally respond to the movies that provoke a physical reaction and I must admit that Wolf Creek got to me as I watched it at home alone in the dark.  I wanted to turn it off at certain points, but the movie was so damn well-made that I couldn't bring myself to do it.  Then I watched it again.

Ils (Them) (2006) - I had never heard of this French film when I added it to my Netflix queue a few years ago.  It turns out that this is a hidden gem - a relentless thriller that may be the best horror movie of the decade.  It's about a couple that lives out in the country who are tormented by a group of mysterious strangers in the middle of the night.  The plot was loosely recycled in the Liv Tyler/Scott Speedman film The Strangers, but Ils is the real deal.  While it basically amounts to a chase film, the director knows how to keep the tension high right up until the fantastic conclusion.

House of the Devil (2009) - Ti West has been anointed the future of horror and I was skeptical until I caught up with this movie on DVD earlier this year.  An affectionate homage to the Satanic horror films of the 80s, House of the Devil gets all of the details just right.  A college student takes a babysitting job to pay for rent.  Warning bells should go off when her employers turn out to be elderly couple who don't seem to have children.  West sets the film in the early 1980s and fittingly eschews the newer trends of horror.  He shoots on 35mm film and uses long takes.  There are no big setpieces - just a slow buildup of suspense.


  1. I'd either add Silent Hill or the Spanish film [REC] to the list for a 10th best film of the last 10 years.

  2. I haven't caught up with either of those yet. I hear a lot of good things about Rec (and not about the American remake Quarantine...)

  3. What about The Orphanage?

  4. I haven't seen The Orphanage, but it's on the Netflix queue. I can't wait!

  5. I think you are mostly right here. Of course anyone could chop and change the list but whether there are 9 great movies or 12 great movies over the last 10 years, it certainly represents a drought in the genre.

    However, I'm truly looking forward to next years adaptation of the period ghost story "The Woman in Black" starring Daniel Radcliffe.

    The 1989 adaptation of the same novel is amongst the most terrifying movies I have ever seen; if you haven't seen it, I suggest avoiding all spoilers.

  6. Cool list, thanks. Out of a poor decade for horror, I think you've caught the highlights. Haven't seen House of the Devil, though, I'll have to check it out.

    Freddy costume for your baby is awesome beyond belief, I've never seen that. May do that for my boy next year, he'll be about 2. Giving credit to the source, of course...

  7. You should definitely use the Freddy costume! I think every child in America should dress up as a filthy child-murderer for Halloween!

  8. If you have not seen REC or The Orphanage, it makes me wonder what OTHER great horror films you've missed in the past 10 years and also makes me question how credible this list is.

  9. you should watch MAY it is an amazinglly entertaining movie, and pretty creepy at times

  10. Horror movies are the weak of mind.

  11. Kenneth, I have seen May and enjoyed it, but I must admit that it wasn't very scary...

  12. It wasn't scary, but it was AWESOME.

  13. what about these ones below ?

    Dawn of the Dead (2004)

    The Amityville Horror (2005)

    House of Wax (2005)

    Frontiers (2007)


  14. i forgot to add:

    Creep (I) (2004)

    there are many more.. those were very impressed for me the first time i saw them.. i really like them.


  15. Came here via your IMDB link. Nice list. I'm surprised you don't have any Asian films. I highly recommend the Japanese film "Audition" and the Korean film "The Tale of Two Sisters."

  16. I agree with the above poster. "Audition" is unforgettable, and "Tale of Two Sisters" is quite satisfying once you understand it. (it may require two viewings; like "Session 9", a good story that is at times deliberately misleading)

  17. Not all of the following are strictly pure horror, some of them remain fully in the genre and even go beyond to subgenres like gore or (the horribly coined) "torture porn". Others have horror elements mixed up with suspense and thriller, but they are all very dark and have perfect atmospheric tension.

    - Martyrs (2008) - Highly recommendable!
    - À l'intérieur (2007)
    - Haute Tension (2003)

    - Triangle (2009)

    - Oldboy (2003)
    - The Chaser (2008)
    - I Saw The Devil (2010)

    - [Rec] (2007)

    - Night Watch (2004)

    - Drag Me To Hell (2009)
    - The Gift (2000)

    - Låt Den Rätte Komma In (2008)
    - Ondskan (2003)

  18. Let the Right One In!
    High Tension!
    Dead Snow!