75. The Innkeepers
Ti West turns the volume of traditional haunted house movies down to its lowest setting in The Innkeepers. While some may complain about the non-events of the first half, the tension established in Sara Paxton’s investigative wandering eventually finds its payoff and helps the viewer realize that that waiting tension is a very important part of good horror films.
74. Session 9
Brad Anderson’s Session 9 is proof that the right setting, set, pieces can carry a story a very long way. That isn’t to take anything away from the movie’s intense ensemble cast, as each performer carries the material a long way. In the end, Session 9 takes a turn that would be ruinous for a standard movie, but there, the twist sits atop an already strong narrative and reinforces rather than erases what we know and feel for established characters.
73. Crimson Peak
Guillermo del Toro may not classify his latest film as horror but since we’ve long classified other Gothic romance works and adaptations of authors the film draws inspiration from (Mary Shelley, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Oscar Wilde, and Henry James) as horror, it stands to reason that Crimson Peak can be viewed in that same regard. The ghosts in the film, while ethereal and creepy are not the true element of terror within the film. Rather, Crimson Peak is about the horror in trying to hold onto something that isn’t yours. With its extravagant and meticulously detailed production design and costumes, del Toro’s film is not only a look back on cinema’s past but to also a reflection on the very foundations of the horror genre, before it evolved into what we associate it with today.
A blend of Chronicle and An American Werewolf in London, Derek Lee and Clif Prowse’s expertly shot found-footage film, Afflicted, takes its time to explore the physical and psychological transformation that goes into changing from man to vampire. What begins as a amusing arc of discovery becomes terrifying as the romantic notions of the vampire are stripped away. Instead of a refined Gothic prince, we’re left to stare at a uncaring, and unloving primal savagery that’s too long been softened in vampire lore.
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.
70. You’re Next
Despite what the marketing led audiences to believe, the animal-masked killers aren’t the most interesting part of Adam Wingard’s slasher film. Instead, survivalist Erin’s systematic take down of the intruders is the film’s biggest talking point. While the film could have gone further with Erin capabilities and the idea of her being someone the masked killers should fear, she still stands as a memorable final girl (though the film leaves her in a needlessly cruel and powerless position). The strength of You’re Next resides less in its script and more so in its direction which displays skillful framing that ensures no shot is wasted.
Bears are terrifying and they will tear you apart. Okay, so while this isn’t always true, Adam MacDonald makes a convincing argument otherwise in his survival horror film, Backcountry. With standout performances from both leads that quickly dismiss survival man machoism, the use of a real bear (!), a mounting sense of doom, and perhaps the most grisly animal attack scene ever put on film, Backcountry captures the full ferocity of nature. Even if it doesn’t haunt your dreams, it will make you think twice, and then again, about venturing off the trail.
68. Kill List
In our recent interviews with up-and-coming horror directors, we asked the subjects about their favorite up-and-coming genre filmmakers. Ben Wheatley’s name was mentioned more than once, specifically, there seems to exist among horror fans and horror filmmakers a distinct appreciation for Wheatley’s film Kill List. In the calmest way possible, Wheatley upends standard horror approach with his 2011 film. At first, a slow burning hitman film, Kill List spirals with reckless control into material that is so bitterly dark, engaging, and frightening that even David Lynch might need to watch with a safety blanket.
67. The Visit
Fitting that M. Night Shyamalan used the most maligned format in all of film to catch his second breath this year. Even at his worst, Shyamalan is both a magician and scientist in cinematic form. Though recently weighted down by his narrative shortcomings and the internet’s meme-ification of his reputation and name, the still-young director’s precision in camerawork-as-storytelling-language has never really suffered. So it’s of no surprise that The Visit managed to cover all of the questions that most found footage films gloss over (Who is filming? Why do they keep filming? Who edited the footage and why?) to put forth the most airtight found footage horror film since The Blair Witch Project. And The Visit is praise-worthy for more than the accomplishment within its form. Immediately empathetic characters, Shyamalan’s trademark thematic sentimentality, and a visual horrorscape built of a remote domestic location all combine for a high-stress horror experience.
Plenty of horror films have dealt with the fear of children or childbirth, but Orphan focuses on the fear of adoption, and not knowing where that child comes from. While the reveal is the most talked about aspect of this film (and what a reveal it is) Orphan works because it positions itself like a dramatic thriller when it could have easily gone a more traditional horror route. There are still elements of camp in the film, but they’re anchored by strong performances by Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, and Isabelle Fuhrman who never trade-in emotional trauma for simple screams and malevolence.
65. Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead
On paper, Wyrmwood is a bit much. The script might have one too many “WTF?” moments to capture the confidence of horror traditionalists. But somehow, first time filmmaker Kiah Roache-Turner pulls it all together with young George Miller-like cinematic balance. Gasoline breathing zombies? No problem. A tiny tortured badass gaining telepathic control over the undead? Sure, why not. Bianca Bradey steps in as one of our favorite 2000s Final Girls to drive this over-the-top apocalyptic farther and faster than any of the zombie action-adventure works of the 2000s more mainstream mass media.
64. The Blackcoat’s Daughter
The Blackcoat’s Daughter might fumble its payoff reveal and, in terms of narrative surprise, it folds its cards forward too quickly for a twist to work However, Oz Perkins’ chilly winter tale of murder, Satanism, and possession has much more to offer than a cheap surprise. As deftly executed and acted as any film on the list, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, through its iced over setting and its Hanging Rock-like detachment, leaves a coldness on the bones that’s hard to shake.
63. Drag Me to Hell
Sam Raimi very apparently loves making horror films. Nearly three full decades after the release of his now-fan favorite Evil Dead, Raimi released Drag Me to Hell, a movie that exhibits the same fanboy zeal as his original. It also showcases that Raimi still loves playing by his own rules, and those rules haven’t changed all that much over the year. The story of a young woman cursed by an elderly gypsy in need of her assistance, Drag Me to Hell splashes about in its onscreen bodily fluids and cinematic campiness like a child playing with his food.
Easily the most layered found footage movie of all time, Noroi’s narrative collects fictional material from home camera footage, reality shows, news broadcasts, and documentaries within its own mockumentary frame. Noroi is a film about how modern stories are told, and the darkness and fear that persists even as our storytelling principles and language evolve.
61. Ils (Them)
Whatever David Moreau and Xavier Palud’s film lacks in terms of polished cinematography, it makes up for with its grounded approached to horror. A succinct blend of elements found in The Strangers and Eden Lake, Them’s take on home invasion predates those films and finds fear in the possibility of harm rather than the outright harm itself. The hooded intruders rely on sound instead of masks to instill fear, but once those hoods are removed by the film’s end we’re left with a conclusion that doesn’t beg questions but only depicts a stark, faith-shattering, reality.
60. The Others
The Others succeeded because it had the perfect setting, the perfect pacing, perfect child actors to hide the script’s mystery, but most of all, because it had the perfect central performance. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Nicole Kidman could use a growing insanity to hide a deeper insanity. It is somewhat comical to watch this film a second time and realize the thoroughness of the evidence laid out on screen, buried only by our investment with Kidman’s performance and the eeriness of an assured directorial effort from Alejandro Amenábar.
59. 10 Cloverfield Lane
The funny thing about 10 Cloverfield Lane, the surprise sequel to 2008’s viral sensation, is that it’s a deceptive film that doesn’t lie to its audience. In fact, pretty much everything that the movie narratively says, foreshadows, or suggests turns out to be true, and yet, this is a movie that still twists itself into several reveals and surprises. All of that is navigated by two powerhouse performances from Mary Elizabeth Windstead and John Goodman working in a standard cat-and-mouse-and-alien exercise.
58. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
Ana Lily Amirpour’s Persian film isn’t a traditional horror story, or vampire story. While the traditional aspects of bloodsucking, invitations, and darkness still make up aspects of the film, vampirism is less about bloodlust and more of about trying to feel alive in an existence steeped in loneliness. While the titular Girl is the only true vampire in the film, all the characters who populate the nights in Bad City are metaphoric vampires in their own right, driven by vices that leave them without the ability to connect to other people. While some have offered more sinister readings of the film’s conclusion, it stands to reason that A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night isn’t looking to conclude on a note of impending dread, but instead emphasize that life is found in companionship, love, and a willingness to change.
Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza make a skillful use of the found-footage format in their zombie outbreak film by giving the characters a reason to continue filming the entire time. [REC] is simple in its setup but its continual forward motion creates a complexity of fear, excitement, and sometimes humor. The finale, filmed in night-vision, not only hints at a larger story but also provides a confrontation guaranteed to give viewers a jolt.
56. The Void
Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie’s Lovecraftian creature feature is a practical effects lover’s dream. The Void is a body horror nightmare, and unofficially, the best Resident Evil movie ever made. An immersive experience that turns a hospital into a house of horrors with such mad fervor and flourish that the film’s sometimes messy plot and unanswered questions fail raise much concern. A dark downward spiral into human fragility, grief, and our failure to understand what lies beyond death, The Void has all the makings of a modern cult classic.
It was easy to predict that Lars von Trier would approach his horror project Anti-Christ with some non-standard twist, but it’s hard to imagine anyone could expect the indescribable experience of watching this film. Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg are two of the most powerful screen performers of this or any time, and that is measurable in their commitment to their performances as a mourning couple seeking healing in the woods, under the influence of some darkly destructive forces. Von Trier’s horror, like his sadness, is a thing of power, Biblical, unnerving, and unshakable.
Darren Aronofsky’s controversial film explores the horrors of domestic responsibilities through a biblical perspective, navigating a textured descent into madness that is equal parts absurdist comedy and terrifying tragedy. mother! stands as a stark reminder that horror should be uncomfortable and challenge our notions of the familiar. The film suggests that God’s love is counter-productive to our survival as a species, while also highlighting certain sects of Christianity’s inference that women are a lesser species, creating a horror that’s abrasive in its search for truth and liberal permission for multiple readings.
53. The Taking of Deborah Logan
The most innovative thing about Adam Robitel’s as-yet underseen 2014 film is its insistence upon doing things by the book. But it isn’t so much just how strictly how it adheres to proven standards, but in how many of those standards it employs. The Taking of Deborah Logan manages a dozen different forms of fear, without ever feeling imbalanced. At any given time, viewers might find themselves shocked or creeped out or even psychologically shaken.
52. Trick ‘R Treat
Traditional monsters, serial killers, ghosts of local lore—Trick ‘R Treat is a movie built from the best of the Halloween season. There’s a lot of orneriness in Michael Dougherty’s compilation film, a sense of smirking delight that holds through each of the film’s chapters. There’s a spiritedness to this seasonal film that is slowly taking hold of the horror community and, for a growing cult following, the film is deservedly supplanting the films that carry the holiday’s name as the singular best Halloween movie.
51. We Are Still Here
Ted Geogehan enlisted Horror Royalty when he assigned Re-Animator star Barbara Crampton to the role of mourning mother Anne Sacchetti. He proceeded to construct a haunted house film that directly recalled the work of legendary Lucio Fulci. Crampton turned in an astonishingly emotional performance of quiet weight, and the film itself earns its inspirational company through the sort of pacing uncanny for a first time director. The ghost work here is unsettling in its basic-ness, and the score stands with the best in the horror business.