We weigh in the very best!
1.) The Descent: Talk about defying a sophomore slump. Director Neil Marshall – coming off the werewolf siege picture Dog Soldiers, an admirable if not flawed sweat ‘n testosterone-ridden film – proved he could play with the big boys of horror. Within the first fifteen minutes, we’re introduced to loss, heartbreak and survival – themes that would resound through the protagonist Sarah’s journey – and during this short time Marshall swiftly pulls the rug out from under us with two shocking, jump-out-of-your seats moments. Two! And just when you’re ready scoff in dismissal presuming he’s blown his wad early, Marshall layers on oppressive isolation and unbearable claustrophobia which collapses, like so many of the rocky tunnel systems the film is set in, under the weight of a level of ferocity few expected to find in this female-dominated tale. The cast, emotionally and physically limber to take on whatever comes their way, are a troupe to root for. And the Crawlers proved to be effective adversaries; with their alabaster skin, eerie blind eyes and communication abilities, these things renewed your fear of the dark and guided Marshall’s hand in reinvigorating the creature feature genre. It’s a shame the ending was re-tooled for the American release, but that hasn’t stopped its fans from seeking out their preferred, somber and less hopeful cut. – Ryan Rotten
2.) 28 Days Later: The past decade’s worth of genre films have been host to a number of trends â J-Horror, the rise (and fall) of “torture-porn,” the “hand-held” horrors of [REC], Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity â but for my money, the single greatest horror trend of the last ten years has been the triumphant return of zombie cinema. Some purists might say that some of what’s considered to represent modern zombie movies â even the recent Zombieland â actually belongs in the category of “infection” films, as in the vein of Romero’s original The Crazies or Cronenberg’s Rabid; but the definition of “zombie” has become broadened over the past ten years so that term doesn’t just refer to the living dead anymore. Spearheading the new image of the zombie film was Danny Boyle’s rousing shocker 28 Days Later. Dealing not with the undead, but with living victims infected with a virus that instantly turns them into crazed, homicidal maniacs, 28 Days Later put a vicious new face on zombie cinema while featuring knowing references to Romero’s Dead trilogy (and the 1962 sci-fi fave Day of the Triffids as well). While Umberto Lenzi’s Nightmare City and Dan O’Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead had already introduced the concept of fast-moving zombies, the startling verisimilitude of Boyle’s shot-on-DV film made zombies seem like a fresh new threat instead of cast-offs from Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Fans can argue about whether other zombie films later in the decade (such as 28 Days Later‘s acclaimed 2007 sequel, 28 Weeks Later) surpassed Boyle’s achievement but 28 Days Later stands as the film that brought zombie cinema up to speed in the new millennium. – Jeff Allard
3.) The Mist: Ever since Stephen King’s novella “The Mist” was first published in Kirby McCauley’s 1980 “Dark Forces” anthology (and later found an even wider audience after it was republished in King’s 1985 “Skeleton Crew” collection), a movie adaptation seemed inevitable but it took until 2007 for writer/director Frank Darabont to finally make The Mist a reality. The resulting film was a thing of bleak beauty, well worth the almost thirty year wait. In depicting the escalating, and often opposing, reactions of a handful of small town residents trapped in a supermarket that’s been enveloped by an otherworldly mist harboring an unknown number of creatures (an awesome array of monsters supplied by Greg Nicotero, Everett Burrell, and CafÃ© FX, with design work contributions by comic book legend Berni Wrightson), Darabont does not have many encouraging things to say about human nature. But as zealotry needs very little incitement to flame out of control (human history, right up to the present day, offers enough appalling examples of this) it shouldn’t be so hard to believe that the very real possibility that the world as we know it has abruptly ended would provide the all-time Mother of Excuses for us to tear each other apart. For audiences, however, the most divisive moment of The Mist proved to be its shattering climax in which Darabont extends his film’s narrative past the novella’s ambiguous conclusion. While some have perceived these final moments, as the mist subsides and the normal world returns, as representing nothing more than a matter of catastrophically bad timing on the heels of a tragic decision by father David Drayton (Thomas Jane), the call for a “blood sacrifice” from the manically religious Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) earlier in the film suggests the possibility that the mist might not have cleared at all had David not taken the lethal action that he did. Mrs. Carmody’s predictions proved to be eerily true throughout the film and the miraculous banishment of the mist after David fires his last bullet can be interpreted as either a bitter coincidence or a crushing, confounding example of Mrs. Carmody’s accuracy. Or perhaps it all goes back to the nameless woman (Melissa McBride) who fled the supermarket after the arrival of the mist to return home to her unattended children. After this mother’s pleas for help were rebuffed, her final words to those remaining in the market were “I hope you all rot in Hell.” Perhaps from that point on, everyone left in that market was consigned to serve time in purgatory and that their trial in the mist was a test of character. As an allegory involving matters of faith versus reason, Darabont leaves The Mist open to various interpretations. With the caliber of talent called on to tell this tale that alternates confidently between politically charged social commentary, philosophical conundrum, and full-on monster movie, The Mist is arguably the best A-class B-movie of the decade. – Jeff Allard
4.) American Psycho: From the canon of books many thought “couldn’t be filmed,” arrived – with polish and a sinister smile – director Mary Harron and screenwriter Guinevere Turner’s adaptation of Brett Easton Ellis’ controversial 1991 novel, a scathing look at vapid ’80s decadence and relationships through the eyes of a face mask-wearing, immaculately chiseled, axe-wielding young psychopath named Patrick Bateman. Once groomed for a good-looking dude from Titanic named Leonardo DiCaprio, the film wisely called in the charming Christian Bale (at the time, to me at least, known as “that kid from Empire of the Sun“). Dropping his accent and in tip-top shape, Bale fluctuates between the smarmy and the charming. The vulnerable and the predatory. His performance truly is the heart of the film (complimented by Chloe Sevigny and a hilarious Willem Dafoe). Harron’s camera and Turner’s dialogue relish his every move, much like Bateman would admire a nail gun, a Phil Collins tune or a business card. While American Psycho dropped many of the violent dealings found in Eastonâs prose (I’ll never forget the images he roused of a woman, a plastic tube and a rat), Harron’s mean slice of cinema proved to be both an excellent adaptation – not shying from ambiguity – and a bold, boisterous beast that stands on its own. – Ryan Rotten
5.) Trick ‘r Treat: Horror anthology films became something of a rarity post-“the new millennium,” so not only did writer-director Michael Dougherty’s love letter to the Halloween holiday succeed in bringing something original and unique to the format, but it managed to perfectly encapsulate all the things we love about Halloween by telling a beautifully-crafted story in which all the segments intertwine, connect and share characters. Each story showcases the point of view of Halloween from four different stages of each character’s ages, hence making it appealing to everyone that’s ever celebrated All Hallow’s Eve. It also introduces us to the wicked little Sam (short for “Samhain”), a mascot worthy of the holiday. This fan favorite will often be referred to as the “Pulp Fiction of horror”, or, “A Christmas Story for Halloween”. And multiple generations will celebrate Trick ‘r Treat for years to come by watching it every Halloween. – RobG.
6.) The Devil’s Backbone: Pan’s Labyrinth, while beautiful and fantastic, arguably could have made our top 25, however, I think this, Guillermo del Toro’s profound coming-of-age ghost story, deserves to make the cut. After the likes of Cronos and Mimic, Del Toro tells the story of an orphan deposited at a remote boys school haunted by another child. Backbone represents the remarkable maturation of Del Toro. He embraces the hardship, camaraderie and frivolity of adolescence with his array of young characters and defies expectations. Where the revelation of Santi, the specter, might have been a jump scare in the hands of less-competent directors, Del Toro introduces him with a quiet grace. Touching, tragic and frightening, this is one of Del Toro’s best films to date. – Ryan Rotten
7.) Let the Right One In: Some say that the Swedish vampire film Let The Right One In is a love story, but if it is, it’s a love story of the most despairing sort. The two people who find each other in this film – Eli (Lina Leandersson), an immortal vampire trapped in a child’s body and Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), a real child trapped in an unhappy world of bullies and mostly inattentive adults – may appear to be the answer to each other’s needs but their future together is not destined to be a happy one. While the film’s title ostensibly refers to the long-standing myth of vampires not being able to enter a home unless being invited in (and for the first time, we see the dire effect it has when an invitation is not given), on another level “let the right one in” addresses the choice that Eli makes over the course of the film in trusting the troubled Oskar to be a caretaker/companion. When we first meet Eli, she/he (?) is in the company of Haken (Per Ragnar), a middle-aged man who procures blood for Eli and acts as her daytime protector. Although the details of their relationship are left pleasingly ambiguous (the beauty of the film is that it’s left open to multiple interpretations), it’s possible (even probable) that Haken first met Eli when he himself was a child. Now that Haken has grown old, careless and unable to fulfill his duties, their long relationship is forced to come to an end. That Haken’s fate will likely one day be Oskar’s as well makes it difficult to properly call this haunting film a romance. Instead, it’s more like a cautionary tale about how loneliness in a child can prematurely turn their life into a living death. Director Tomas Alfredson, working from John Ajvide Lindqvist’s screenplay (based on his novel), has made a movie that proves that even though the archetype of the vampire has often been given infantile treatment, in the right hands a vampire movie can still be surprising, lyrical (this film makes the most evocative use of winter landscapes since David Cronenberg’s The Brood), and artistically important. – Jeff Allard
8.) Rec: Despite Sony’s blatant attempts to try to hide the fact that Quarantine was practically a shot-for-shot remake of this Spanish cult classic, Jaume BalaguerÃ³ and Paco Plaza’s Rec is destined to stand the test of time and find its hardcore audience amongst horror enthusiasts. Not only does the movie supply a pure adrenaline rush by putting the viewer smack in the middle of a zombie outbreak in a quarantined building, it’s by far one of the best to implement the cinema verite style without making it overt, obvious or simply a gimmick. It’s one of the rare cases where, while watching it, you immediately question what you would do if you were a character in this situation. Top it off with that chilling ending, steeped with religious undertones (something lacking from it’s American counterpart) and you’ve got a modern horror classic that will stay with you long after the screen abruptly cuts to black. – RobG.
9.) Dawn of the Dead: Remakes are hard to defend, especially when filmmakers venture out to “update” undeniable classics, in this case George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. Certainly not the first of the decade to tamper with fan favorites of the ’70s (here’s lookin’ at you Texas Chainsaw Massacre), Universal’s Dawn of the Dead can be regarded as one that arguably got it right. Who knew? A biting (figuratively speaking) script by James Gunn landed in the untested hands of Zack Snyder (commercial and video director who’d go on to helm 300 and Watchmen) resulting in an unforgiving, audacious zombie entry parading about with very definite modern sensibilities. Themes from Romero’s original picture remain intact but the “survivor bond” among the film’s disparate bunch of characters is strengthened in our post-9/11 world. Simmering beneath the surface is new millennium cynicism, anger, blackest of black humor and sadness – Sarah Polley is hardly given a chance to mourn the loss of her husband who attacks her in what will be regarded as one of the best opening scenes in horror history (followed by an equally cool credits sequence with Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around”). Snyder, who fills the film’s color scheme with sickening rich hues, embraces the idea of “the running dead” giving the action a steroid shot for a generation suckling from the bosom of video game companies. Dawn of the Dead plays like a terrific, memorable cover song and no we’ll never forget Romero’s film which will always be at arm’s length (we have Anchor Bay and their endless re-issues for that). – Ryan Rotten
10.) Inside: It is rare that movies live up to excessive hype; it is even more rare for them to actually surpass the hype. Inside falls into the latter category. An absolute nightmare played out over (approximately) 80 increasingly excruciating minutes, the twisted and morbid terror on hand hits hard because this has happened before. While Freddy and Jason are iconic genre villains, they can’t compete with Beatrice Dalle’s character here. She is a villain for the ages, a woman capable of unspeakable things, things I never imagined seeing on screen. The gore is plentiful and the effects work is astounding, but what really makes it work are the performances and the sheer horror of the idea that an innocent human being is seen as nothing more than a temporary shelter easily disposed of. – Paul Doro
11.) Session 9: It is criminal that this didn’t receive a wide theatrical release. Proving that no set is a match for a real location, director Brad Anderson expertly used Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts to create a supremely spooky setting. Anderson wisely took a subtle approach here, realizing that the location is freaky enough without resorting to cheap scares or excess gore. He slowly builds unease and establishes an authentic mystery as to who (or what) is responsible for picking off the asbestos cleanup crew working in the hospital. This work immediately announced Anderson as a major talent in the genre. – Paul Doro
12.) Drag Me To Hell: In an advance review of The Evil Dead that appeared in the November 1982 issue of “Twilight Zone Magazine,” Stephen King noted that while the familiar ingredients of The Evil Dead‘s storyline may not “sound like much,” director Sam Raimi had turned the simple, stock scenario of kids being possessed by demons one by one in a woodland cabin into a “black rainbow of horror.” Raimi performed a similar act of alchemy with Drag Me To Hell, his long-awaited return to the genre after a prolonged tour of duty helming the blockbuster Spider-Man series. Telling the story of a young loan officer (Alison Lohman) who finds herself on the receiving end of a vengeful gypsy curse, Raimi and his brother and co-writer Ivan Raimi weave a tale that, in its narrative bones, has a mordant directness but Raimi shoots the works throughout its 99 minute running time with giddy, ghoulish touches. With the nostalgic sight of Universal Studio’s â80s logo opening the film, Drag Me To Hell plays like a mythic “lost” picture made between the famously gonzo Evil Dead II and Raimi’s first foray in the big leagues with the more character-minded Darkman. Embroidered with Raimi’s distinctive style, the best compliment that can be paid to Drag Me To Hell is that this supernatural barnburner feels like the hungry debut of a newcomer out to make a name for himself rather than the return of a veteran filmmaker. – Jeff Allard
13.) Cloverfield: When people look back at the post-Blair Witch to examine the films employing the “found footage” or cinema verite style, Cloverfield will easily stand among the best of the lot. It’s simplicity and clever execution (courtesy of director Matt Reeves and, in part, by Hud’s trusty camcorder) are what make it such an effective first-person monster movie – everything that the American Godzilla film should have been. This is one of those rare cases where the brilliant marketing campaign (which featured the head of the Statue of Liberty tumbling down the middle of a busy New York City street and cutting simply to the release date) might be equally as remembered as the film. (Paranormal Activity will probably share this trait.) The basic premise of the movie, one character in the middle of a crisis who seeks to be reunited with his loved ones is a universal one that will resonate with any viewer. Top it off with a unique and cool-looking monster that looks like something straight out of a Lovecraft story, and you’ve got a film that warrants multiple viewings. Not to mention, it’s actually terrifying! – RobG.
14.) Shaun of the Dead: Skating the thin line between comedy and a flat-out zombie movie, Shaun of the Dead not only succeeds in perfectly marrying both horror and comedy in the same way An American Werewolf In London had done it a decade earlier, but it also manages to stand right beside all the best zombie movies as its own unique entry into that specific sub-genre. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg literally wear their love of the zombie movies on their sleeves and it shows in all the subtle nods they drop in homage to all the classics. At the same time, they also manage to follow the formula that’s worked so well from the zombie greats, including the Romero movies, and add their own touch of humanity and humor through the eyes of Shaun, an every man struggling to preserve the lives of the people closest to him. There’s no possible way to catch all the great references and foreshadowing in one sitting, hence multiple viewings are mandatory and rewarding to the fans that return to the flick. With an over abundance of zombie features on the market (often first time horror directors start with a zombie film), this one sets a high standard of how to do it right. – RobG.
15.) Funny Games: Embraced or reviled. This isn’t a fun film. It’s not an audience participation film although it reminds you several times that you’re very much participating in the events as Michael Pitt breaks the fourth wall and questions your allegiance to his prey or speaks of “plausible plot movement.” Director Michael Haneke relishes and establishes the banalities of life then snuffs them out in a surprisingly reserved yet unflinching fashion that’s no less nerve-racking than any of the on-screen torture we’ve seen of the last two years. Most of Funny Games‘ atrocities occur off camera, but he captures the raw, dirty impact of the situation through sound effects and, more startling, the complete absence of a score. It’s tough to shake off this one’s sadistic streak. – Ryan Rotten
16.) Hannibal: When he penned his long-awaited follow-up novel to “The Silence of the Lambs,” author Thomas Harris seemed to be deliberately throwing down a challenge to Hollywood. As the follow-up to one of the greatest genre successes of all time, “Hannibal” was inevitably going to be adapted into a movie once Harris had completed his secrecy-shrouded book (even Jodie Foster demurring from reprising her Oscar-winning role of FBI agent Clarice Starling couldn’t stop it from happening), but rather than give studio executives with dollar signs in their eyes an easy slam dunk to work with, Harris took his tale of Hannibal Lecter’s return to baroque, “I dare you to film this,” Grand Guignol extremes that few believed could be replicated in a major Hollywood production. But director Ridley Scott, in top form, working from an adaptation by Steven Zallian and David Mamet, stayed remarkably true to the book’s most outrageous grotesqueries â including a climatic set piece in which a character is forced to dine on their own brain that, even in the splatter-happy early â80s, would’ve been found exclusively on the outer fringes of Grindhouse cinema. Dividing opinion in a way that the almost universally-praised Silence of the Lambs hadn’t, both the book and novel of “Hannibal” proved much more difficult for fans to digest. But as an operatic and unapologetic work, Hannibal was a creative triumph â a macabre love story for the ages as well as one of the most garish gorefests Hollywood has ever served. – Jeff Allard
17.) Ginger Snaps: Until this Canadian treat came along, the werewolf genre was stray dog rooting around the gutters in need of nourishment. The injection of a little girl power did the trick and while the metaphors are none too subtle, the dynamic between Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and “B” (Emily Perkins) is refreshing and the gloomy mood of the film compliments the nature of the misfit sisters. Ginger’s transformation is a deranged and sexy blend until she goes “full wolf” and the film takes on the tone of a Shakespearean tragedy making this a transcendent teen horror entry. – Ryan Rotten
18.) The Ring: Of the J-horror remake lot, Gore Verbinski’s was the most elegant. An excellent American translation of 1999’s Ringu. Set against the backdrop of the Pacific Northwest, a baroque atmosphere washes over the picture like a slow miasma threatening to choke its audience. The (literally) jaw-dropping opening is just one of this film’s goosebump-inducing sequences and the “diced horse” was a welcome addition to mix. A strong performance by Naomi Watts lends palatability to the unfolding, macabre events. Thematically, Verbinski, with screenwriter Ehren Kruger, do a fine job of Americanizing the material by focusing the tale on a workaholic young mother and son living in a broken which roots the drama even further. It explores the importance and family which is compounded by the history of Samara, a particularly creepy little girl. Hans Zimmerâs score oozes with dread and sorrow; and let’s not forget Brian Cox’s electrifying exit. Too bad the success of the film paved the way for a weak follow-up by original Ringu director Hideo Nakata, nevertheless, The Ring showed audiences early on in the new millennium that horror can be mature again . – Ryan Rotten
19.) May: It’s hard to not find yourself intrigued and easily drawn into the awkward world of May, as illustrated with finesse by filmmaker Lucky McKee. Considering that most genre fans find themselves to be an outcast of some sort in the eyes of most normal movie-going folks, May manages to capture that lonely longing of just wanting to be accepted for all your weirdness, which is one of the reasons I think fans will always enjoy rediscovering this gem over the years. Add to it a stellar cast fronted by Angela Bettis giving what will arguably be considered her best performance on film ever, and the object of her affections Jeremy Sisto, fan of The Breeders music and Dario Argento films and you’ve got a recipe for the closest thing that can be described as the ultimate romantic horror movie. Then there’s the ending – it’s the type of ending that I recall a friend saying made them immediately want to take a shower afterwards because they just couldn’t shake how they felt. An ending with that powerful an effect is the testament of a long lasting genre movie. – RobG.
20.) Jeepers Creepers: With Jeepers Creepers, writer-director Victor Salva managed to not only capture and marry the old school creature feature formula, a slasher movie and a traditional gothic story ripe with mythology, he also managed to tell an original horror tale that strayed from tradition and create a new horror icon (the Creeper). Breaking the mold for the “slasher” film by having the two lead characters be brother and sister rather then boyfriend and girlfriend immediately introduces the audience to a unique and unfamiliar dynamic. The first half plays out like it could be part Texas Chainsaw Massacre with a strange, creepy looking stalker in a truck dishing out a healthy serving of roadside scare tactics. But then it evolves into something more, something unexpected. The more we explore the Creeper, the more he becomes a creature, and the more his back story starts to come into focus. It’s surprising that this film launched a franchise only to stale after the second entry. There was enough in this first film to springboard numerous tales of the Creeper, which is why I think people will always hold this one in high regard. – RobG.
21.) The Hills Have Eyes: Anyone who has spent time taking road trips with their family knows exactly how much bickering goes on. That is a big reason for the potency of the carnage in Alexandre Aja’s remake. These people feel real, and it helps that an extremely talented cast brings them to life. When the bloodshed begins, you cringe and squirm; you feel every blow. This is why character development is critical. All of the gore would be useless window dressing if the audience didn’t care about the people being slaughtered, or at least recognize them as human beings as opposed to one-dimensional stereotypes. The bloody mayhem here is a blunt instrument pulverizing the viewer, making this an extremely unsettling experience (which of course is a compliment). – Paul Doro
22.) Frailty: Who would have thought that great character actor Bill Paxton would direct and star in one of the decade’s great horror films? While there are a lot of twists and turns in Frailty, frankly they are probably the weakest link. Paxton goes a little old school, suggesting rather than showing a majority of the killing, which is ideal for the story he is telling. He amps up the tension and creates a highly disconcerting mood, due in no small part to the fact that children are taking part in the bloodshed. By the time the credits roll, what resonates is not who was responsible for what but the lasting impact a father’s actions has on his children and the eternal struggle between faith and reason. Like Session 9, Frailty deserved better. – Paul Doro
23.) Zodiac: While this title may not be straight-forward, traditional horror, it is a tension-filled and suspenseful masterpiece that is one of the decade’s best films period. It is simply in a class of its own. The sequence with Jake Gyllenhaal in the creepy man’s basement carries more trepidation than most horror movies in their entirety. The kill scenes are some of the best ever put to film. Even in broad daylight in beautiful California the killer is horrifying. Has the act of stabbing someone ever been done better? This is the kind of film that makes you look under your car and check under your bed. It is an unnerving and haunting picture that will stand the test of time and be talked about 50 years from now. – Paul Doro
24.) A Tale of Two Sisters: Within the ranks of the recent Asian horror cycle, A Tale of Two Sisters did not have an impact comparable to Ringu or Ju-On but this lyrical supernatural tale is a film of rare artistry. In lesser hands, its story might’ve been fodder for a conventional suspense thriller (and sure enough it was, with the tepid 2009 U.S. remake, The Uninvited) but writer-director Kim Ji-Woon elevates this potentially pulpy material (inspired by the Korean folktale “Janghwa Hongreyon-jon” â reportedly the source for four earlier films, with A Tale of Two Sisters being the first contemporary version) into something special. Nerve-fryingly scary at times, A Tale of Two Sisters is just as concerned with real-world melancholy as it is with supernatural shocks. That its exploitative and emotional elements are able to dovetail so beautifully is a testament to Ji-Woon’s skill (and it should be noted that composer Byung-woo Lee’s uncommonly lovely score provides an invaluable assist in creating the film’s mood). Although the performances here are uniformly strong (Im Su-jeong and Mun Geun-yeong have a natural rapport as the sisters), Yeom Jeong-ah arguably delivers the film’s best work as Eun-joo, the seemingly sadistic stepmother. While The Uninvited took the standard horror movie route and turned its heroine into a psycho killer, in A Tale of Two Sisters Ji-Woon takes a much more poignant view of Su-Mi’s plight. The choice we see her unknowingly make in the film’s final flashback causes A Tale of Two Sisters to resonate as a great tragic tale, not just as a simple shocker. – Jeff Allard
25.) Kairo: Not the first J-Horror offering but without question one of the best, Kairo is an incredibly eerie film. The gloomy mood is established in the first moments and never lets up. The way it employs technology for scares was fairly prescient at the time and allows for some seriously disconcerting imagery. While we have been inundated with creepy ghosts in the years since, the specters here remain highly effectual. Their presence, appearance and movements are perfectly in synch with the dour atmosphere. It gets under your skin early on, a feeling that only intensifies as the mystery over what exactly is happening progresses. Almost oppressively gray and murky, you want to turn all the lights on as soon as it’s over. – Paul Doro
Source: Jeff Allard, Paul Doro, Rob G., Ryan Rotten