This was going to be a simple list for Halloween, no explanation or exposition, the best horror movie each year for the millennium, but I had a problem or two. To quote Hail, Ceaser, “Would that it were so simple?” or “It’s complicated”; Some years where I would have to pick a film that wasn’t that great, other years with two or three modern classics. Then we come on to the many great films that don’t make the list, films that belong more to other genres than horror, for example: Black Swan (2010), I Saw the Devil (2010), Zombieland (2009), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Shaun of the Dead (2004), Mulholland Drive (2001). So as a result I decided to go for the best seventeen movies of the decade, one per year, if not exactly one from each year:
Ginger Snaps (2000): Whilst these days we are inundated with Vampire movies, 2000 saw the first good and original werewolf movies since An American Werewolf in London. The eponymous Ginger and her sister Brigitte are slightly weird and moody outcasts at school to begin with, then Ginger becomes a werewolf. This complicates matters somewhat! The film works as a visceral horror as well as a metaphor for puberty.
The Devil’s Backbone (2001): Set during the Spanish civil war The Devils Backbone is one of visionary director Guillermo del Toro’s best films. More an eerie ghost story than an outright horror. Told from the point of view of an abandoned child in an uncertain situation, the characters mirror the political turmoil of the era and setting. The film is both beautiful and unnerving.
28 Days Later(2002): Zombies got reinvented as The Infected in Danny Boyles modern horror classic. Cillian Murphy awakening to a deserted London is an amazing creepy and memorable scene. Subsequent scenes offer some gruesome horror and genuine scares. Many have argued that the infected are not zombies. Who cares if it looks like an zombie and the film is good does it really matter if it walks or runs or if it is dead, un-dead or infected?
Switchblade Romance(2003): Original title Haute tension, released as High Tension in some countries is a French horror/thriller directed by Alexandre Aja whose remake of The Hills Have Eyes nearly made the list too. It is a simple story of two young women who are terrorised by a crazed killer, or is it? The film is graphic, bloody and violent, it really lives up to the tag horror!
A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003): How do I talk about this film without giving anything away? All I can say which is probably too much, it that it has the perfect twist, like Fight Club (1999) it has a twist that you never see coming, but as soon as it comes you can’t believe you didn’t see it coming. Don’t be followed by the terrible American remake; The Uninvited (2009).
The Descent (2005): With a relatively unknown cast Neil Marshall created a fantastic film. There is a great sense of foreboding from the start as the group of female friends descends into the darkness of a cave system. Foreboding gives way to unsettling before becoming seriously tense and scary. Great characters, strong performances and horrific images what more could you ask for. If I were to rank by favourite , this would be number one by a mile.
[•REC] (2007): Fake documentary horror films with shaky cameras will always be compared to Blair Witch Project but once in a while there is a great example of the genre. This Spanish film is one such example. Set in the confines of an Barcelona apartment block the film chronicles’ the beginning of a zombie outbreak. The simple story with minimal plot and down to earth dialogue is elevated by charismatic performances and some really scary moments. Like the successful Japanese horrors of recent years the film has also had the Hollywood remake treatment.
The Orphanage (2007): Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona the film had Guillermo del Toro attached as a producer, you would be forgiven for thinking it was one of his films. Full of layered characters and strong performances the film is more chilling and disturbing than actually scary but it will still make you jump from time to time. Like any film with Guillermo del Toro’s name on it the photography is nothing short of stunning.
The Mist (2007): unless you are a millennial (I think that is the first time I have ever used that word) who know him from The Walking Dead, Frank Darabont is best known for a couple of prison movies based on Stephen King stories. But he is also responsible for another King adaptation, one in the genre the writer is best known for horror. I have only seen The Mist Once, I loved it but will probably never see it again, is this the sign of a great horror? A solid, gripping and interesting movie for most of its run time but just when you think it may turn silly the ending is brilliant and devastating.
Eden Lake (2008): A British horror thriller with a relatively low budget. From first time director James Watkins. The success and failure of the film relies on a great leading performance from Kelly Reilly. The chav, asbo, hoody kids of the movie are a clichéd Daily Mail representation of all that is wrong with modern society. The characters make stupid irrational decisions that symbolise bad horror. Despite these problems it is still a great little film.
Martyrs (2008): Often dismissed as torture porn, and on the surface it basically is, but beyond that it has a certain beauty, in a fucked up visceral way. It also doesn’t go where you expect it to, there are some genuine twists in the plot that will keep you on the edge of your seat if you are not too repulsed by it.
Let the Right One In (2008): When you mention a vampire movie based on a book all people can think of these days is Twilight. While I don’t have a problem with the teen romance vampires of that particular saga this Swedish vampire movie offers so much more. The film centres on the relationship between a twelve year old boy and a girl who appears to be a similar age who turns out to be a vampire. The film explores lots of issues and lingers in the mind long after you have seen it.
Drag Me to Hell (2009): 2009 is a special year, Sam Raimi is back to doing what he does best, horror with a comic twist. I shouldn’t have to describe the film, if you are reading a movie blog and you haven’t seen this film yet what is wrong with you? For those that haven’t seen it, it is the story of a young woman who becomes the victim of a supernatural curse that threatens to drag her to hell. It is funny, scary and shocking with no Lycia clad superheroes, everything a Sam Raimi film should be!
Kill List (2011): The juxtaposition of the mundane make the horror, and it is seriously horrific more shocking. As is often the case with Ben Wheatley, it esoteric and ambiguous in the extreme, but is a strength not a weakness, it leaves so much unanswered that you can’t help think about, and the more you think about it the more disturbing it gets.
The Cabin in the Woods (2012): Horror movies live any other genre are full of conventions and clichés. What would happen if you pulled them all together, play with them, parody them and subvert them? Meta horror films, as we now know them are often considered a product of the 90’s (Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990), Army of Darkness (1992), Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994), Scream (1996), Funny Games (1997)), but it could be argued they go back at least as far as Peeping Tom (1960). Whatever your thoughts it is impossible to argue with the audacity of The Cabin in the Woods.
It Follows (2014): The problem with new horror movies is that all the best villains have been done, that is why it is so refreshing when something original comes along. It is even better when that original idea is more than original, it is good too. Taking the slow moving but impossible to escape menace of Halloween or Friday the 13th and giving a supernatural twist the promotes desperation and inevitability as much as fear in the characters and audience. It also helps both subvert and promote the genre in the way it plays on the ideas of the role that sex plays in horror.
The Babadook (2014): On the surface the film is a scary supernatural horror. If it was just that, it would be fine as it is a really great example of the genre, but is goes deeper. The deeper and more disturbing film isn’t even subtext, it is as on the surface as the horror, it just takes a little time to become clear, and the horror is in the reality. The supernatural can be dismissed as hokum, but a mother dealing with grief and mental illness exacerbated by a young some with behavioural problems is real and totally terrifying.
Honourable mentions: Bug (2006), Timecrimes (2007), Paranormal Activity (2009), Triangle (2009) The Conjiring (2013), Oculus (2014), Lights Out (2016), Train to Busan (2016).
A list thrown together from the top of my head with little research,what have I missed?