50. Train to Busan
Yeon Sang-ho’s blockbuster zombie film proves there’s still plenty of life left in the subgenre. Stylish and tense, with varied action and a strong emotional core at its center, Train to Busan takes the best part of Romero and streamlines it for a high-energy ride. Tackling class, ageism, and the expectations of parenthood amidst the zombie apocalypse, Train to Busan gets the most out of its runtime and remains compelling all the way through.
49. Dog Soldiers
Neil Marshall’s first feature doesn’t explore quite the same depths as his later and more confidently horrific film, but Dog Soldiers is a blast of a creature feature. Despite its B-movie aim, Marshall’s werewolf vs soldiers film is given dramatic weight by the gravitas of its lead actors. Marshall’s ability to stage memorable battles makes the film a worthwhile addition to the ‘siege horror’ that’s most often populated by vampires and zombies. But it’s the complexity of the characters, and the distinct personalities of each, that makes Dog Soldiers such a gripping and rewarding experience.
48. Be My Cat: A Film for Anne
Both our review of Be My Cat: A Film for Anne and our interview with Director Adrian Tofei touch on the danger of the project and its auteur. While the film is currently premiering at a number of horror festivals, gaining traction and buzz, it is very likely that early audiences are going to be bothered by the realness of the screen. Some have already confusedly perceived the dark events as having actually happened. But even beyond that, the dangerous precedent set by Be My Cat and the director’s approach to film is more pointedly aimed at the cinematic form. Tofei is aiming for an entire new film language and philosophy, a way to approach stories while eliminating the disconnect of our mind’s recognition of typical narrative tells. Perhaps this is why the closing exchange between the movie’s last intended victim and her would-be killer offers an exploration of the Final Girl stereotype that is as fresh as either of the films named for the trope that were released the same year.
The horror blockbuster of 2017 that changed the conversation about what the genre was capable of box-office wise, Andy Muschietti’s IT understands what makes Stephen King’s work so compelling in both its small-town humor, large-scale horror and the sincerity that brings them together. Well-crafted and casted, IT delves into the fears of growing up and the realization that adults can’t protect you from the world they created. Muschietti’s IT and its focus on nostalgia in a shifting world makes King’s story just as topical and frightening as ever. Oh, and that clown Pennywise, is scary as hell too. Through in some blog geysers, a leper, and one of the genre’s best cold opens and you’ve got a hell of a summer horror movie.
46. Starry Eyes
Taking a page from Rosemary’s Baby, Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer’s Starry Eyes explores the cost of fame. But what starts as a psychological slow-build that creates kinship between the audience and the lead quickly moves into body horror and copious amounts of blood. The film incorporates elements of ’70s, ’80s, and modern horror to not only pay homage but create a contemporary exploration of the parallel evils found in both the Old-Hollywood studio system and the independent film circuit.
2012’s Maniac starring Elijah Wood is one of the best horror remakes of our time. Director Franck Khalfoun managed to take the grimy ‘80s version and reframe it through a remarkably successful POV slasher. Our small hobbit friend is surprisingly sinister as our killer with mommy issues, and his gruesome killings never get easier to watch. Bolstered by an epic soundtrack and written by Alexandre Aja, it’s another one to check out if it slipped under your radar.
44. Kairo (Pulse)
Many will remember the Kristen Bell-led American remake as yet another goofy attempt at stealing the cult success of J-horror through English-language remake, but the original film is at once a deliberate look at technology enhanced loneliness, a modernized take on the traditional ghost story, and a haunting, convincing vision of an abrupt apocalypse. Singular scenes are unnerving in the mournful vision of spiritual revisitation, but it’s the collective vision that does the frightful damage here. This is a film tied deliberately to a specific instant in technological history, the horror movie that touched all the right nerves of a very precise moment.
Park Chan-wook’s 2013 psychological near-masterpiece is wholly atmospheric. Chan-wook is a student of the art form who unleashes his learning as an expression of rebellion. He recalls Hitchcock, only to obliterate the obvious comparison in the second act. He constructs a vampire movie then obfuscates it in narrative shadows. And Mia Wasikowska’s performance as young, menacing India is predictive of an undeniable rising star.
42. American Psycho
While Mary Haron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel is more often viewed as a black comedy than a horror film, there’s a convincing argument to be made that there are few things more frightening than a total lack of empathy and conscience found in those who handle our financial well-being. Like another film of its era (Fight Club), American Psycho is often celebrated for questionable reasons by those who consider it a way of life. While there are certainly aspects of the film that are humorous and quotable, American Psycho’s cold disinterest in humanity make it a film that shows only a cursory interest in its impenetrable characters who cast the illusion of being a human beings. These empty things dressed up in human form, Patrick Bateman and his kind are entrusted with the security of what our nation holds in highest esteem, which raises the question of whether they created America or if America created them. Holding more in common with Frankenstein than Hitchcock’s Psycho, American Psycho’s horror lies in its larger creation of monsters both on and off-screen.
41. Dark Water
After the success of Ringu, Hideo Nakata returned to deliver another exceptional example of J-horror. While J-horror films are frequently criticized for their rather muddled plots and dull set designs, Dark Water is not only accessible and emotionally powerful, but its set becomes a character in its own right. Nakata delivers a film that is more depressing than frightening by opting to make the ghostly antagonist relatable in her dependency and need for a mother. In the halls of a run-down apartment building, Dark Water presents a frightening custody battle where natural ownership pales in comparison to supernatural power.
40. Bone Tomahawk
A pitch-perfect cast of familiar Western archetypes discover an unfamiliar savagery in the wild west, in a film that adds some much needed versatility to the genre. S. Craig Zahler displays a deep-understanding for the Western that goes beyond aesthetics. He gets the language and intent and is therefore able to infuse horror into it in a way that feels genuine and earned. It takes a little while for the horror aspects to fully come to fruition but once they do they are unforgettable in their knee-gripping intensity.
39. The Nightmare
Rodney Ascher’s 2015 documentary has real-life subjects speaking toward what the rational viewer recognizes to be a medical condition (sleep paralysis). But, because Ascher simply illustrates the testimonies and never disrupts with expert medical explanation or narrative counter-balance of any sort, the psychological trauma of the condition’s sufferers becomes almost contagious for the viewer. The disrepair of the patients is measurable and terrifying. For the viewer, the human mind’s potential for betrayal is just as frightening as the material of more supernatural films. But for those suffering through the betrayal, it is indistinguishable. So, when The Nightmare makes the offhanded suggestion that thinking about and knowing of sleep paralysis may enhance one’s chances of experiencing it, the fear is as intense and obsessive as any offered by more traditional horror.
38. Gerald’s Game
With multiple adaptations of the writer’s work scheduled for release, 2017 was meant to be the year of the Stephen King renaissance. With The Dark Tower and It both slated for release within the same cycle, no one could have comfortably predicted that this small scale Netflix release would be the most powerful, affecting, and in someways, scary of the bunch. Well, at least no one except for attentive fans of Mike Flanagan, whose previous work gives every indication that he is one of the more layered, complex, and creative horror directors at work, and the perfect filmmaker to elevate an astounding performance from Carla Gugino.
37. Ginger Snaps
Before Ginger Snaps, werewolf movies just didn’t work. Really, they have succeeded rather infrequently since. Ginger Snaps earns its anomalous status as a fun, entertaining, and intelligent werewolf film by way of its feminist embrace of the lunar cycle metaphor and by allowing a rather exceptional character struggle to unfold within the boundaries of the legend.
36. Stake Land
What makes Jim Mickle’s apocalyptic movie fascinating isn’t the horror that diminishes the population, but the subsequent culture built by the survivors. Mickle takes creative liberty with his vampire story (in Stake Land, vampirism is a pandemic), distancing itself from the fantasy foundation of the standard lore. As a result, his movie is earthy, gritty, and, at times, brutal. Which helps comfortably contextualize the film’s initial rough and calloused hero, simply named Mister, a horror hero to stand alongside all-time greats.
35. Green Room
A punk band find themselves under siege by a group of Neo-Nazis in a visceral battle that showcases the dark soul of America in a world that neither music or righteous violence can keep together. Jeremy Saulnier refuses to soften the film’s violence or wrap it in a shroud of fantasy, instead he forces us to gaze upon the wounds of our characters that make up the wounds of our country. Upon initial viewing it’s a bit debatable whether Green Room actually qualifies as a horror movie, but so many of tenets are there, displayed in a framework that explores the human condition in a way that’s nothing less than haunting.
34. Eden Lake
Kelly Reilly is, on her own, a striking screen presence, so seeing her limp, scratch, and crawl through the dirt for survival is, on its own, a challenging film experience. Writer/Director James Watkins seems to recognize this, as he places Reilly’s character (and, for a shorter period of time, Michael Fassbender’s character) at the mercy of her attackers and an antagonistic landscape and then he gets out of her way. As much as any hopeful horror hero, the devastation when things turn bad for Jenny is devastatingly real.
33. The Devil’s Backbone
There are several storylines floating around in Guillermo del Toro’s haunted war-time tale, each of them driven by the director’s distinct approach to the ways in which the past haunts us, sometimes literally. There’s a lot to unpack in this movie—political, emotional, philosophical, cinematic—but at its heart, there is just an expert ghost story told by a legendary storyteller.
32. The Endless
There’s a reason directing duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s entire filmography has made this list. They are, without a doubt, two of the best working filmmakers in the horror genre today and they continue to improve with every film they make. The Endless is their most ambitious work yet, dealing with sci-fi, time, and brainwashing. Once again, they have created and star as characters with depth and unique motivation, and though the scares aren’t as strong they’re meaningful and point to a great understanding of the human condition which is perhaps the scariest thing of all.
31. The Conjuring
With The Conjuring, James Wan makes a massive departure from his earlier, grimier horror films. While his ability to give audiences magnificently creepy dolls didn’t change, his direction become more patient, ultimately resulting in a film that feels distinctly like the ’70s era during which the events take place. The clapping game scene remains one of the strongest within the genre, and while the film’s finale is never able to replicate the success of those earlier, tension-filled scenes, it provides an emotional catharsis that horror films rarely deliver. The Conjuring is just as much a tribute to Steven Spielberg as it is to Stuart Rosenberg, in that it is deeply interested in its human characters (more so than its supernatural ones) and trusts the actors to give even the most saccharine elements a sense of weight and dignity. Wan may leave us with a since of comfort but not before he’s thoroughly given us all a good shaking.