After reading many best-horrors-of-the-last-decade lists, I decided to throw my hat into the ring. Here are my top 25. After this list, I will post another of my favorite horror-comedies. I separated them because it isn't fair to compare the sub-genres. And I didn't want to taint this list with the hilarious-but-not-so-scary stuff. Anyway, here we go...
25) House of the Devil (2009, Ti West)
This one is gradually growing on me. It is slowly paced, but I gotta give it credit for perfectly mimicking the look of a 70s/80s horror flick. It is about a young college student who is hired to "babysit" and ends up in a Satanic ritual. Some of it is hard to swallow, and the story moves along slowly, but the mood, the music, the actors are all great.
24) Hostel: Part II (2007, Eli Roth)
This one gets a bad rap, and I have no idea why. In this sequel, some young American girls get nabbed and tortured. Roth could have easily copied-and-pasted his formula from the first film here, but instead he took a new route. We get to see behind-the-scenes of the Elite Hunting organization, and we get new types of victims - no, they're not just female this time, they are truly different characters with different purposes. As with the first film there is plenty of gore and a wicked twist.
23) 1408 (2007, Mikael Håfström)
An underrated Stephen King adaptation (there aren't many good ones anymore). Cusack plays a former writer who chases ghosts in hopes there is an afterlife. He is invited to an upscale hotel where one room has knack for killing its tenants. I love how the room tortures him - I still get chills when I hear "We've Only Just Begun." And just when I thought the movie sold out, it pulled the rug out from under me.
22) Frailty (2001, Bill Paxton)
Religion is one of the scariest things I can think of. This film uses that to its advantage. Paxton plays a crazy Christian zealot who forces his children to kill people who he thinks are demons in disguise. It's tense, frightening, and has a nice twist ending.
21) The Others (2001, Alejandro Amenábar)
Often dismissed as a cheap cousin to The Sixth Sense, this actually stands alone as one fine ghost film. Nicole Kidman plays a matriarch of a family haunted by ghosts. It's an old story with a unique spin. I love the film's spooky atmosphere, the actors are good, and the ending...whew. I still love that ending.
20) The Hills Have Eyes (2006, Alexandre Aja)
One of those rare remakes that is actually good - possibly even better than its predecessor. The story is simple - a family on vacation is assaulted by a bunch of mutant rednecks. What is great about this one is how relentlessly brutal it is, and how Aja makes it so much fun to watch.
19) Dog Soldiers (2002, Neil Marshall)
Think Aliens but with werewolves. British soldiers face off with a family of werewolves in this kickass action-horror. I LOVE this movie, and should mention that it's only ranked low here because it's not a great horror persay. But it's a fantastic movie all-around. Kevin McKidd and Sean Pertwee are awesome, as are the other soldiers. The wolves look amazing, too - men in suits! God bless old-fashion FX!
18) The Ring (2002, Gore Verbinski)
There is no denying this film made a big impact on the horror scene - perhaps for the worse. Either way, it was something fresh for American audiences. It looks good and it scared the bejesus out of everyone. The televison; the nose bleed...don't pretend you didn't like it.
17) Inside (2007, Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury)
In a word: BRUTAL. No film will scare you away from pregnancy like this one (Grace is the runner-up). A young woman carrying a baby is stalked by a crazy lady who wants to cut the fetus out of her. What makes this even scarier is how often this has happened in real life! The film really is intense, frightening, and gory - what can I say, the French are sick fuckers.
16) Hostel (2005, Eli Roth)
Yes, another trend-starter. This and #15 below started the whole torture-porn theme that Hollywood still hasn't really shaken. But to dismiss Hostel as mere torture-porn is unfair because it is actually a smart horror flick. For a society obssessed with violence, a story about people torturing others for sport and pleasure has relevance. Furthermore, Roth takes conventional horror cliches and turns them on their head. My favorite twist unveils about halfway in!
15) Saw (2004, James Wan)
Another movie that takes a lot of heat from film snobs, but I still love it. An unseen villain kidnaps and tortures his victims to teach them the value of life. Despite its smaller flaws (ie: bad acting, worthless Danny Glover), the movie is unique and scary. Unlike its sequels, it doesn't rely on cheap, gory traps - it has an interesting cat-and-mouse story with an inventive twist. The "killer" is revealed in a unique way, and in fact, he never really kills anyone. And with his motives, he's kind of a bizarre hero. I still haven't recovered from that ending.
14) Cabin Fever (2002, Eli Roth)
I probably stand alone here, but this remains my favorite Eli Roth film. The story is a familiar one - a group of college-aged kids go to a cabin in the woods. But instead of a sadistic killer or evil spirit, they are victimized by a deadly virus. Well, more specifically, they are driven against each other by the FEAR of a virus. Biological menaces are nothing new to modern horror movies, but usually they manifest as zombies or something similar. Not here - the villain is unseen and often not even responsible for the carnage ensuing. Furthermore, the movie is freaking hilarious.
13) Dawn of the Dead (2004, Zack Snyder)
Another rare, good remake. A zombie outbreak forces a group of survivors to hide out in a mall, just like in Romero's original film. But Snyder does mix it up - in fact, the mall is virtually the only similarity between the two zombie flicks. This "remake" is visually cool and gory fun. It's even quite funny at times, and has some kickass music (ie: Johnny Cash, Richard Cheese). It even made me accept the idea of fast zombies.
12) Trick R Treat (2008, Michael Dougherty)
A great throwback to 80s horror anthologies. Each small story involves Halloween and the "rules" that must be followed. The primary villain/mascot is a small pumpkinheaded child named Sam - beware his lollipop. Dougherty's film is not very intense, but not very light, either. It is a nice blend of spooky campfire story and gory slasher flick.
11) Let the Right One In (2008, Tomas Alfredson)
Proof that not all vampire films are shit these days. Based on a Swedish novel, this one is about a young boy who falls for a vampire girl. The story gets a lot more complicated than that, but why ruin it? Go watch it. In addition to its amazing script and great child actors, the film is beautifully shot and quite scary when it wants to be.
10) The Signal (2007, David Bruckner, Dan Bush, Jacob Gentry)
A three-part horror movie, each section directed by different people. All parts involve a signal that broadcasts through radios, TVs, and phones to cause a portion of the population to go crazy. It's New Years Eve, and the main character is trying to escape the city. As you're watching, you think you know who the sane people are, but in reality, you don't. All three parts are intense and scary, but I especially like "Transmission 2" because it is darkly comical.
9) Drag Me to Hell (2009, Sam Raimi)
Sam Raimi's return to horror! I prepared for the worst, but Raimi delivered the best. The movie is hilariously over-the-top and splattery fun. Loan officer Christine pisses off a gypsy and winds up with a curse on her head. Consequently, she is haunted by a demon and is told it will pull her down into Hell in three days. She does whatever she can - no matter how depraved - to escape it. I love Alison Lohman in the lead, she's like a modern Bruce Campbell with all she puts up with.
8) American Psycho (2000, Mary Harron)
Based on Bret Easton Ellis' sick novel, this is about a high-class businessman who kills "yuppies" to escape his monotony. The story blurs the line between what is real and what is only inside Patrick Bateman's head. To this day, the ending inspires long debates. While I love the look of the film and its story, what really makes this film is Christian Bale's performance. He is at his absolute best here - ranging from cool and reserved to manic, chainsaw-wielding psychopath.
7) Thirst (2009, Park Chan-wook)
Further proof that good vampire films are still being made. This entry comes from Korean director Park Chan-wook, who I already love dearly for his Vengeance trilogy. This one is about a priest who volunteers himself for a medical experiment and winds up getting turned into a vampire. His new urges lead him to a young woman, with whom he falls in love. I don't want to give away any more than that, but the movie is scary, funny, gorgeous to look at, and has an amazing, talented cast.
6) High Tension (2003, Alexandre Aja)
Back to those brutal French! In this one, a young woman strives to save her kidnapped friend from a psychopath. It is intense, shocking, and gory, gory, gory. I would have placed this film even higher if not for its one tragic downfall - the horrible, anger-inducing "twist" ending. So how does a movie with a ridiculous climax make #6 on my horrors-of-the-decade list? Because the other 90% of the film is that damn good.
5) Session 9 (2001, Brad Anderson)
About a team of asbestos workers hired to clean out an abandoned mental hospital. They are slowly haunted by what may or may not be ghosts. Hardly anyone makes films like this anymore. It has a slow-boiling kind of tension that mainstream audiences can't seem to tolerate but horror geeks like me love. Kubrick's The Shining comes to mind. The story is bone-chilling, the performances are great, the directing is perfect, and the ending blew me away.
4) The Mist (2007, Frank Darabont)
The closest thing to a modern creature feature. Townspeople hide out in a grocery store to escape a deadly mist filled with giant creatures. Even more frightening than the man-sized insects are the crazy people inside the story turning against each other - namely, a Bible-thumping bitch played by Marcia Gay Harden. She reaches a level of villainy like Nurse Ratchet in this. The cast, led by Thomas Jane, are all fantastic. You will absolutely love some characters, and loathe others, but either way you become engrossed by them. The movie is scary of multiple levels, and never lets up. And while some of you may hate the kick-in-the-balls ending, you cannot deny the impact it has upon you. Personally, I LOVE it.
3) [REC] (2007, Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza)
Just when I thought I was sick of the docu-style horror movies, this one changed my mind. It is supposed to be the POV of a Spanish camera crew who follows fire fighters on a routine call. They end up quarantined in an apartment building where a zombie outbreak has occurred. I ranked this one high because few films scare me like this one does. The hand-held style feels 100% authentic at all times, which is probably why it's so frightening. I give a lot of that credit to the Spanish actors for being completely convincing in their roles. There are so many scenes that had me clenching my seat, not the least of which being the outstanding ending.
2) 28 Days Later (2002, Danny Boyle)
Boyle puts a fresh spin on what is essentially a zombie movie. A man awakens from a coma to discover that London has become a ghost town thanks to a rabies-like outbreak. The infected become crazed and dangerous. What makes the "rage" virus so deadly - and the film so scary - is how fast it infects - within seconds - and with only a small drop of blood. The infected are not zombies in the traditional sense, but they are scarier than any zombie ever put to film. They are exactly what you might expect a rabid human to look like. The FX are good, the actors are great, and the movie just looks badass. Boyle's gritty, face-pasted style has since been mimicked countless times by other horror movies.
1) The Descent (2005, Neil Marshall)
I already knew Marshall could make a kickass action movie, but with his sophomore effort he proved that he could make an amazing, bonafire horror film. When a group of female friends go spelunking in an uncharted cave, they face the usual dangers of the sport - falling, hypothermia, dehydration, flash flooding, cave-ins - and in this case, cannibalistic humanoid monsters. Even before the latter shows up, the film is tense as shit. It begins with a bang, then slows down to introduce you to the characters. Then it grabs you again and doesn't let go. Even just watching the girls squeeze through tight spaces and descend dangerous drops had me literally holding my breath. I'm not usually the claustrophobic type, but I could feel pangs of it just watching this movie. The character development and story are also fantastic. The six leads are more than token horror victims - they are realistic, sympathetic women. Furthermore, the film toys with the idea that the greatest danger to the women may come from within themselves. While the American ending is not terrible, I much prefer the UK one and recommend you watch that.
**A few honorable mentions: Final Destination, Grace, 28 Weeks Later, Hard Candy, Frontière(s)
**Before anyone asks - no, I didn't forget about Devil's Rejects and Audition. I'm not a fan of either. Deal with it.