One of the questions we asked multiple subjects in our Horrortown interview series (which you can read here) is, “How would you respond to those people who say there are no good horror movies right now?” This question was inspired by our shared belief that “right now” is an exceptional moment to be a horror fan. More quality horror films are premiering at festivals, being made available On Demand, and opening in limited and wide-release than ever before. The 2000s have seen some of the best working filmmakers experimenting with the form, altering and enforcing the storytelling genre, opening new boundaries, and consciously working within the confines of established principles. Bottom line, horror filmmakers are finding new ways to scare audiences and new cinematic applications for that fear.
In 2017, we’ve seen this upward trend reach unpredictable heights, as now, most measures point to this being the most successful year in the history of the genre. So maybe it’s time we revisit an old favorite.
When David Shreve and Richard Newby initially originally compiled this list in 2015, they explained their joy as being elevated by “fanboy excitement.” But given AE’s stated mission statement of lifting all diverse voices and considering how many recent horror hits excel at exploration of non-male perspective, this revisitation seems as good a time as any to mix things up a bit. So, our own Nightmother, Becky Belzile, has joined our discussion to correct, adjust, confirm, and expand our selection of the 100 Best Horror Movies of the 2000s so far. The only hard-set rule we set for this list is that we only selected films in which horror was the primary concern. We hope you enjoy the list, maybe discover some new favorites of your own, and, as we love to be educated and instructed on anything we may have missed, feel free to tweet us or leave your reactions or suggestions in the comments section below:
100. A Dark Song
Liam Gavin’s film takes an honest, grounded look at the occult. While so many horror films portray the supernatural as something with effects that are almost immediate, A Dark Song lingers on the process and steps of ritual at the heart of the film, testing our patience as much as it does the characters. In its careful concentration tension and spirituality, Gavin gives a unique voice to the idea that grieving, like the occult, is no easy process.
99. American Mary
The Soska Sisters’ dive into the underground world of the body modification community in a film that balances gore with empathy for the so-called “freaks” of the world. American Mary is not only a vehicle for some rather ingenious prosthetics, but also features a coolly detached performance from Katherine Isabelle as surgeon Mary Mason. In a slight twist on both the rape/revenge and body horror sub-genres, American Mary uses surgery as the transformative power to make people into exactly what they are on the inside.
Pre-empting the zombie explosion of 2009-10, Pontypool presented a claustrophobic, bottle-episode structure, wherein the outbreak was presented to the viewer via panicked, radio call-in witness testimony. Zombie films are traditionally rich in cheap social metaphor, but Pontypool articulates something extraordinarily complex: A deconstructionist look at language and communication that should make any English Major giddy.
Neil Jordan’s underrated vampire gothic delivers a mother-daughter story that uses familiar vampire tropes to explore the horrors of feminism and class in two European eras. Where sex, romance, and misogyny are integral elements to vampire lore, here they are given a weight and outcome that asks viewers to question why these elements are so important to the genre. Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan make for convincingly troubled vampires, but Sean Bobbit’s German Romantic-inspired cinematography is the true star.
96. The Devil’s Candy
Sean Byrne’s follow-up to The Loved Ones, explores the pull between success and family, with heavy metal as the communal bond. Led by strong performances from Ethan Embry and Pruitt Taylor Vince, The Devil’s Candy paints a hellscape of artistic passion with haunting physical and psychological ramifications. Expertly shot, and briskly paced, Byrne creates another successful allegory about parents and children, and the cost found in both roles.
Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s exploitation team-up was either ahead of or behind its time. Distributed in the era of horror remakes, and divided into two films by theater chains, Grindhouse never stood much of a chance. Those lucky enough to catch the double feature of Planet Terror and Death Proof in its original format, complete with fake trailers, caught a movie experience unlike anything since. The flourishes, hang-ups, and flaws of both filmmakers are unabashedly on display, making Grindhouse a wonderfully self-indulgent film that’s more for the most invested of Tarantino and Rodriguez’s fans than general audiences. Neither Planet Terror not Death Proof are the directors’ best work, but the Texas-fried zombie feature, and the slasher/revenge car flick, both display electric enthusiasm that giddily embraces the over-the-top elements of a bygone era.
The 2006 invasion/creature/plague film Slither is so gleefully generous in its gross-out factor that even when the parody and caricature of the film expand into ridiculousness, the disgust always stays at the front of the screen. Some of the most joyfully convulsive reactions of the decade can be found here in the outrageous gross-out effects.
93. Bakjwi (Thirst)
At once bitingly funny, spiritually cold, and heatedly erotic, Thirst tears into the contemporary standards and traditional marks of vampire stories as if director Park Chan-wook has been waiting to test its blood and tear its veins. Anchored by two astonishingly engaging performances, Thirst pursues success by its own standards, and is a wildly original take on a too-familiar subject.
92. Ju-on: The Curse
While it suffers to the same discombobulating non-linear narrative of its American remake, and ended up establishing a precedent which would become a tired trend in presentation of malevolent entities, Ju-On: The Curse was a fresh and frightening new vision when it made its way to American audiences. Takashi’s Shimizu’s nightmarish vision of the film’s pale, haunting spirits shocked its way into the cultural nightmare.
91. The House At the End of Time
Venezuela gave us a precious gift with The House At the End of Time, a supernatural murder mystery of the highest caliber. The dark and heady atmosphere hits hard and never lets up, accented by standout performances and a story as strong as iron. Haunted houses have been done so wrong, but this one does the genre justice and it’s easy to cheer on Dulce, our protagonist who does everything in her power to prove what really happened 30 years ago.
90. Under the Shadow
Babak Anvari’s Iranian horror film set in war-torn 1980s Tehran is one of the most necessary additions to the genre that seemed to come out of nowhere. Female-led and quietly feminist, it took the real life horrors of war and combined them with the supernatural to create a constant sense of tension and dread. A creative use of Arabic folklore, timely politics, and fierce motherhood ensure that Under The Shadow stands out as an exceptional horror movie of our time, one that hasn’t had its real time in the spotlight yet.
89. Paranormal Activity
While the found footage format didn’t quite take off the way many expected it would after The Blair Witch Project, Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity ushered in a major shift for modern horror. His film made found-footage movies one of the most recognizable and accessible forms within the genre and re-sparked the public’s interest in paranormal, which had been replaced by masked killers and torture rooms. While the series became more ambitious in later installments, that first film is wonderfully barebones. Peli truly understands that horror is not found in what is seen but what isn’t seen. Never has watching video camera footage of a couple sleeping and going about their daily lives been so nail-biting and unforgettably terrifying.
From the outset, Hush seems like a seemingly straight-forward slasher film, with the wrinkle being a deaf woman as the lead. But Mike Flanagan never does anything straight-forward, and Hush surprises as a shadow bound and tension filled examination of the effect that private and public spaces have on those society has labeled victims, and the gender dynamics that emerge because of that status. With a standout performance from Kate Siegel, and cleverly orchestrated twists, Hush is one of the decades most inventive slashers.
87. The Loved Ones
The Loved Ones is an insanely gory, punk-rock, love ballad straight out of the outback. Director Sean Byrne offers the darkest take yet on the ‘rejected for the school dance’ trope. Robin McLeavy’s performance as Lola “Princess” Stone is one of those exceptional horror performances that only come around every so often. She presents Lola as a kind of ignorantly innocent child whose violent sexuality also suggests a maturity beyond her years. While her sadistic torture of her high-school crush make for unsightly scenes in the film, the true horror stems from fathers who give into their kids’ every whim while failing to teach them coping methods.
86. We Are What We Are
Jim Mickle’s remake of Jorge Michel Grau’s Mexican film, Somos lo que hay, is one of those horror films that’s more effective the less the viewer knows about its plot beforehand. Moody and unhurried, the film paints a sad portrait of this particular family’s values. With quietly intense performances by its lead actors, and a stunning finish, We Are What We Are finds the subtlety in shock value.
85. The Sacrament
It’s been said hundreds of times, plenty on this site alone, but many (if not all) great horror films have their narrative scares tied to some very real fear. Often, this nerve is embedded, something subconscious, likely knotted with a dark psychological knowing. But Ti West’s The Sacrament is a very figurative application of this standard. Directly recalling the Jonestown Massacre, and its star performance directly recalling Jim Jones himself, The Sacrament explodes into a hellacious carnival of onscreen death, each presented with biting realism, its found footage format making the viewer feel more like a witness than an audience
84. Friday the 13th
Michael Bay’s horror remakes through Platinum Dunes often receive a lot of shit for “ruining the classics.” With Marcus Nispel’s Friday the 13th reboot, there was nothing to ruin. The Friday series is one of the most fun horror franchises to come out of the ’80s, but it’s not particularly progressive or inventive in anything outside of kill scenes. Here, Nispel coalesces the best aspects of the series to deliver the definitive Friday film that is an extremely effective example of well-executed fan service. Unlike other horror remakes, Friday the 13th doesn’t try anything radical or give Jason more of a backstory. It simply gives audiences a bunch of horny, funny, and sometimes annoying teenagers to watch get picked off one by one by a hockey-mask wearing brute and asks them to enjoy the sleekly made simplicity of it all.
83. Don’t Breathe
Fede Alvarez once again puts Jane Levy through the ringer, and she once again emerges as one of our finest, most acutely expressive horror actresses. A real crowd-pleaser, Don’t Breathe taps into the fears of the collapsed American Dream amidst the cracked sidewalks and derelict buildings of a fictional Detroit. Like Evil Dead, there’s a perverse sense of playfulness to Don’t Breathe and Stephen Lang’s committed performance as “The Blind Man” certainly allows him to carve a place for himself in upper echelon of memorable modern horror villains.
82. The Transfiguration
Taking inspiration from Martin and Let the Right One In, Michael O’Shea creates a compelling and harrowing portrait or black mental illness through the lens of vampirism. O’Shea captures the loneliness of certain areas of NY and the urban decay that situates its inhabitants as monsters within a white world that rejects and fears them. Eric Ruffin and Chloe Levine give exceptional, and heartbreaking performances that don’t allow for any easy answers or clear feelings by the end. The Transfiguration is the vampire film for today’s America and an essential part of the vampire movie canon.
81. The Devil’s Rejects
While it’s likely that known horror-aficionado Rob Zombie will be remembered more for his divisive reboot of the sacred Halloween property, it’s this grainy serial killer-on-the-run story that stands out as the most assured example of the rocker’s cinematic voice. The Devil’s Rejects is a hyper-violent film that unfolds with no need to pander or apologize. The firefly family—Otis, Baby, and Captain Spaulding—stand as one of the most loath-able entries into the canon of movie killers, and yet when a renegade sheriff upends the narrative, viewers are likely to be confused by the desire to shift sympathies, establishing The Devil’s Rejects as an intelligent film investigating the shallow roots of wicked deeds and evil hearts.
The Super 8 snuff films featured in the film are far more frightening than anything that takes place in present-day storyline in Scott Derrikson’s Sinister. But thanks to Derrikson’s skilled manipulation of shadows, a demonic figure who remains in the background, and a compelling mystery, made all the more compelling by Ethan Hawke, Sinister offers something different and darker from its paranormal/supernatural contemporaries. And with the fact that children, who are already creepy, are central culprits of the film, Sinister is one of more memorable Blumhouse Productions that doesn’t have James Wan attached to it.
Though countless movies have been inspired by The Lonely Hearts Killers, only one has managed to capture the euphoric frenzy of two killers in love. To Gloria and Michel (Lola Dueñas and Laurent Lucas), nothing else matters but their goals and their love. It is the same for us, thanks to electric performances from both and the kind of steady and stylish direction from Fabrice du Welz that keeps this movie seared into the mind. Watch one out-crazy the other until they’re both trapped in the chaos and you realize we’re all along for the ride together.
There’s little outright violence in the majority of Creep and even the most unnerving situations can be chalked up to awkward humor. For most of the film’s runtime, Patrick Brice tests the audience’s belief in humanity, asking them to decide whether Mark Duplass’ Josef is dangerous or simply weird. The found-footage format allows us to be voyeurs—creeps in our own way with the power to judge and misjudge, just the central character Aaron does with shocking results.
James Wan’s Insidious bridges the gap between the shock value horror of his early days and the refined craftsmanship displayed in The Conjuring. As a result, Wan delivers old-school horror house scares and atmosphere alongside the imaginative introduction of The Further, and a matured attention to characters. While many familiar horror elements are on display, Insidious actively creates its own mythology and set of rules.
May is a bit of a wonder, a slasher film that suffers to none of the tired familiarity or ruinous predictability of normal slasher films and a progressive movie whose feminist edge is sharpened by the strength of its monster. Writer/Director Lucky McKee lends to star Angela Bettis the perfect script to support the actresses’ oddly-beautiful performance and somehow the two find the perfect note on which to end their hypnotic symphony.