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, particularly of late, 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.
So it is with an unhinged sense of giddy, fanboy excitement that we present to you, our readers, what we think of as the 100 Best Horror Movies of the 2000s so far. The only hard-set rule 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:
What better way to start any horror countdown than with mention of the King of horror himself? The fan-favorite 2007 adaptation of the Stephen King short story starts with a sense of pervasive dread and builds into a mind-bending exploration of character and nightmare circumstance, underlined with the slyly cynical humor of John Cusack’s performance.
99. Cheap Thrills
After the recession and financial crisis of the late 2000s, a handful of 2010s films showed interest in observing struggling middle class characters in contests of desperate depravity. But E. L. Katz’s Cheap Thrills elevated itself above the rest by falling in love with the escalating violence of its onscreen competitors, and sidestepping any pretentious over-insistence on under-riding themes. In this case, it’s more fun to cringe at the metaphor than to contemplate it.
Before the numerous sequels ran the idea into the ground, James Wan’s Saw presented a clever concept that remained far more interesting in its revelations than its production quality throughout the course of the series. There’s an element to Saw, in its grainy dreariness, sharp angles, and industrial metal soundtrack, that makes it feel like one of David Fincher’s leftovers. But the mostly single-set location, mounting sense of tension, inevitable doom, and twist no one saw coming, propelled Wan’s first effort that captured a cultural zeitgeist caught up with notions of morality and torture in a post-9/11 world. Jigsaw’s mission of making people better through pain and the possibility of death remains compelling. While Saw leans too heavily on cheaply produced exploitation films to convincingly deliver that message, the film’s impact ushered in a new era in DIY horror movies, the results of which we’re still seeing today.
97. The Children
The Children‘s straightforward plot doubles down on the theory that creepy kids are always scary. The simplistic set-up for the survival narrative and its bare storyline intensifies the frigid cold of its setting, a combination that serves a very chilling final product.
96. Cabin Fever
Eli Roth’s over-the-top gruesomeness is best served unhinged and free from narrative weight. That’s why Cabin Fever stands as his most enjoyable film for audiences. Roth’s empty characters and narrative shortcomings actually loosen the choking stranglehold of the director’s disgusting visuals, allowing for a little air between the gagging.
95. 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.
New Zealand Director Gerard Johnstone applied a striking balance in Housebound between sly humor, top-notch suspense, haunt-based horror, and makeshift detective story. The movie is a refreshing throwback to its apparent influences while partially disguising what ends up being a brilliant coming-of-age tale built on the performance of Morgana O’Reilly.
93. The Caller
While The Caller starts off as a normal, though entertaining, thriller about a woman who keeps receiving calls from a mysterious old woman, director Matthew Parkhill soon takes the film around a sharp turn into unexpected territory. The film, rather elegantly, blends time travel into horror to create a film that takes the notion of being haunted by the past literally. Continually suspenseful, and never convoluted, The Caller manages to use the viewer’s imagination to make that which they can’t see all the more chilling.
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.
A sort of hybrid film combining elements of creature horror, invasion horror, zombie horror, and even slasher horror, this largely overlooked claustrophobic gem is a prime example of the smaller budget creativity that kickstarted the current moment’s richness in horror quality. A single setting and excellent special effects make for an astonishingly engaging and high-tension film experience.
90. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
When a young, untested Zach Snyder took on the task of remaking George A. Romero’s classic zombie follow-up, it was a decent indicator of the boundless ambition that would define the director’s future career. Strange then that the success of his first film is established by its concern for its characters. 2004’s Dawn of the Dead is richly sympathetic and unbearably desperate, and for the viewer it’s an apocalypse felt firsthand.
While it feels like practically all of the best horror filmmakers of the 2000s participated in the V/H/S anthology series, no contribution was more standalone perfect than Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Edwards’ bloody, hellish Safe Haven. While surrounding chapters are commendable for any number of reasons, it’s this pulse pounding, cult-expose-turned-demon-chase that elevates the totality of the sequel collection.
88. Funny Games (2007)
Michael Haneke’s second version of Funny Games, the English-language one from 2007, is nearly a shot-for-shot, line-for-line remake of the first. That’s because the director intended both films to function as a filmic essay and he intended it to be received by specific audiences. The accusatory tone aimed at American audiences is deeply felt by American viewers, partially for its accuracy regarding the implicit involvement of horror fans within the film violence, and partially because the point is made in juxtaposition against one of the coldest crime films in recent memory.
87. The Crazies (2010)
Breck Eisner’s remake of George A. Romero’s tale of a small town that becomes infected with a rabies-like virus creates an entertaining realism. Both the infected and the government’s reaction towards those who have potentially been exposed is grounded in our own 21st century fears of disease and terrorists. The lack of trust to be found in both neighbors and the government is a horrifying reflection of our own reality and ability to jump to conclusions. Hell, the way some acted in the face of last year’s ebola “epidemic” and police protests isn’t so far from some of the scenarios in The Crazies.
In terms of cinematic techniques, Frailty has aged a bit more than many of the other entries on these list. But Bill Paxton’s directorial debut works within the long tradition of the Southern Gothic in that it presents a strangeness that hinges on faith, and the oldest horror concept: Good versus evil. There’s always an earnestness to Bill Paxton’s performances that make us buy that his characters believe in what they’re saying, even if we don’t. In Frailty, Paxton uses this trust and likeability both in front of and behind the camera to create a seed of doubt that his character, Dad Meiks, isn’t chosen by God to hunt down demons, but is only a serial killer who believes he’s been chosen. Even if we choose not to take the film literally, Frailty‘s final reveal and penultimate twist pale in comparison to its open-ended thematic exploration of self-fulfilling prophecies and causalities.
85. Scream 4
Wes Craven’s final film is the best Scream since the original, thanks largely to the cast of flesh blood introduced and the killer opening sequence. While the film doesn’t play with enough modern horror tropes and the found footage element seems ancillary, Scream 4 delivers a worthy dissection of horror remakes, reboots, reimaginings, or whatever else we’ve called them over the past decade plus. By introducing us to characters who serve as modern interpretations of the familiar favorites, Craven feeds into our expectations for the formula these reboots follow, before snatching them away and delivering a twist that not only foils expectations but also condemns our fascination with instant celebrity status achieved through viral videos and random acts of violence.
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.
82. 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.
81. 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.
80. Pirahna 3D
Alexandre Aja’s modern exploitation film doesn’t offer much in terms of complexity, but as a festival of gratuity, it is an essential modern splatter film. With hammy performances from Ving Rhames, Christopher Lloyd, Adam Scott, and a whole bunch of supermodels, Piranha 3D is feeding fest for fans who know the SyFy channel’s original movies will never come close to this sweet combo of sincere absurdity and practical gore effects.
79. The Final Girls
The past fifteen years of horror have been hyper-fascinated with meta-awareness, but we’re not sure any film had as much fun with self-referencing as the recently released The Final Girls. But what stood out most about Todd Strauss-Schulson’s horror-comedy isn’t its playful boundary awareness as much as its ability to stay emotionally effective in spite of its ironic approach.
78. Jennifer’s Body
Though Diablo Cody’s distinctive handle of dialogue lost some of its luster after the late 2000s, as did the stardom of Megan Fox, Karyn Kusama’s Jennifer’s Body remains a unique, if slightly dated, horror-satire that neither embarrasses nor exploits those involved. It’s exploration of the deterioration of the BFF phase for teenage girls may not be subtle, but it manages to balance exaggeration and honesty through a rather clever body horror element that speaks to teenage preoccupations with sex, music, and friendship. While it may all seem a bit trite for older viewers, Jennifer’s Body successfully manages to tap into that which is most horrifying for adolescents.
Like any anthology film, not every segment works to its full potential, but the ones that do deliver terrifying images and concepts that last well beyond their runtime. David Bruckner’s Amateur Night is the stand-out short in the collection, but all of the entries display an effort to experiment with both narrative and format. Horror shorts may not receive the same kind of attention as feature lengths, but they are absolutely necessary for the evolution of the genre and V/H/S and its successors are a more instrumental part of that than they’ve been credited for.
76. 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.