We’re well into October, the month dedicated to one of my personal favorite genres: Horror. As such, I am in the middle of a series of top ten lists highlighting some of the best horror films out there.
For this list I am going back to the year 2005 and recounting the single best horror film from each year of the past decade.
2005: The Descent
This movie is terrifying. And, in a strange way, it feels like it would have been equally terrifying without the mutant cave cannibals. When six spelunkers get trapped inside a cave, they have to search for a second way out. Only, you know, there are mutant cave cannibals around. Before these pale monsters show up, though, there is still a claustrophobic atmosphere that dominates. Add to this characters that actually have dimension (yes, in a horror movie), and you get a concoction dripping of dread and suspense.
Author’s Note: I used the U.K. release date for this one (it came out in 2006 in the U.S.). Call me a cheater, but 2005 was a bad year for horror.
Honorable Mention: The Devil’s Rejects
Why it didn’t make the cut: A superior follow up to Rob Zombie’s gaudy House of 1,000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects is an interesting blend of horror and western. However, Rejects is similarly gaudy in its violent content, whereas The Descent blends gore and atmosphere.
2006: The Host
The Host is a special blend of genres. It is at once a creature feature. But it is also satirical and campy in its humor. And it is also, at its heart, a rescue film about the unity of family. At the time of its release the highest grossing film in South Korean history, The Host is a film experience. Certain scenes are filmed beautifully. The connection to the lead character looking for his daughter is strongly felt. For a movie about a large mutant sea monster, it delivers in spades.
Honorable Mention: Slither
Why it didn’t make the cut: A bit too under the radar, Slither is a bit of an acquired taste as far as horror comedies go.
Honorable Mention: The Hills Have Eyes
Why it didn’t make the cut: The remake doesn’t quite hold up to the Wes Craven original, although it puts forth a good effort.
One of the best found footage movies out there, [REC] uses its cinematographic medium well. Shots are framed purposefully, as opposed to flailingly. There is real terror around every turn, and the mythology behind the contained zombie epidemic is interesting.
Honorable Mention: Paranormal Activity
Why it didn’t make the cut: The original Paranormal Activity packs a punch given its shoestring budget, but it doesn’t deliver the found footage scares like [REC] does.
Honorable Mention: Grindhouse
Why it didn’t make the cut: Both films of this double feature are passionate homages, but neither of them show their directors at their strongest.
2008: Let the Right One In
Let the Right One In is the kind of film that people are quick to say isn’t actually horror. Indeed, Google labels it a “Drama film/Romance.” But that is doing a disservice to the horror genre. Just because it doesn’t shove its genre in your face doesn’t make it any less of a horror film. Let the Right One is a masterpiece of vampire cinema. It paces elegantly, has numerous characters with considerable depth, and is filmed with sophistication.
Boil horror down to its core and you are left with two substances: suspense and scares. Too often people lean on scares as the basis for the horror genre, but both are equally important. They need each other to work effectively. And Let the Right One In masters suspense in a way that lessens the need for scares. So, is it a horror film? Yes. Is it one of the best horror films of the past decade? Absolutely.
Honorable Mention: The Strangers
Why it didn’t make the cut: It is a wonderfully quiet home invasion film, reminiscent of Funny Games yet less in-your-face. Disturbing in its silence and lack of villain motivation, it only misses the mark due to Let the Right One In‘s cinematic decadence.
A bit kitschy, Zombieland still brings a well-paced romp of a movie. Using the done-to-death zombie subgenre as its basis, Zombieland uses the conventions to its advantage and threads together a worthwhile survival narrative. Add to this a band of great actors and one of the best cameos in film history, and you have a horror comedy for horror fans and non-horror fans alike.
Honorable Mention: Antichrist
Why it didn’t make the cut: A very divisive film for audiences and critics alike, Antichrist is a personal favorite. However, its strange, surreal diversions are questions with fleeting answers. Not to mention its clear shock cinema influence borders on violence for violence sake.
Honorable Mention: Drag Me To Hell
Why it didn’t make the cut: I love Sam Raimi, but Drag Me To Hell isn’t his most memorable outing. And, although it lives up to its title, I wasn’t a huge fan of the ending, personally.
2010: Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is one of the most clever uses of horror conventions in recent history. This horror comedy turns the entire premise of a “cabin in the woods” slasher film and makes it riotously hilarious with lovable leads and unexpected gags.
Honorable Mention: Insidious
Why it didn’t make the cut: Personal preference, really. I understand it is a loved horror film, and I enjoy its sequel (the first sequel, not the third installment). But I couldn’t get into Insidious when it first came out.
Honorable Mention: Let Me In
Why it didn’t make the cut: Still enjoyable, but Let Me In in no way supersedes the Swedish original.
2011: The Cabin in the Woods
Possibly the best horror movie on this list. That is to say, perhaps the best horror movie of the past decade. The Cabin in the Woods is a masterful, tongue-in-cheek take on the conventional slasher. An off-the-wall turn takes the film to a whole new dimension that no horror movie have ever attempted to reach. It’s great. Drew Goddard. Joss Whedon. They mastered it. If you haven’t seen The Cabin in the Woods, what are you doing?
Honorable Mention: Red State
Why it didn’t make the cut: Even with its wonderful performances, particularly from veteran actor Michael Parks, Red State is too unbalanced to be a truly great horror film.
Honorable Mention: The Innkeepers
Why it didn’t make the cut: Although purposeful, the slow pace can understandably take some viewers out of it. I found it crawling too slow at time, myself.
A bit rough around the edges, the anthology horror movie V/H/S has an interesting narrative through-line. Taking its short films from an eerie room filled with VHS tapes, the movie has some seriously unique and scary segments. As an indie, it stands up against the mainstream Sinister and ultimately is a more novel take on horror. All you need to do is watch the first short of the film to know that V/H/S can stand up against the best 21st century horror films.
Honorable Mention: Sinister
Why it didn’t make the cut: Heavy on jump scares that are hands-down unnecessary. I’ll give you the lawnmower scene, but there at least two jump scares that are completely non-diegetic.
Honorable Mention: The Bay
Why it didn’t make the cut: Loses traction as it goes, but the premise is solid, especially considering the real-world ecological horror it is based on. Comparing the two found footage films, The Bay doesn’t blow V/H/S out of the water, but instead just kind of swims lazily around it like a mutant Cymothoa exigua.
2013: The Conjuring
You could say I’m jumping on the bandwagon, but what it comes down to is that The Conjuring is the most well-rounded horror film of 2013. Is it my personal favorite: not quite. But, it has the atmosphere, the performances, the pacing, and the scares for a quality horror movie. The Evil Dead may be gory fun. You’re Next may be an indie darling. But The Conjuring used carefully calculated suspense and scares to impress a mainstream audience.
Honorable Mention: Evil Dead
Why it didn’t make the cut: Having to deal with the impossible task of living up to its source material, Evil Dead delivers the best romping bloodfest that it can, but it still isn’t quite enough.
Honorable Mention: You’re Next
Why it didn’t make the cut: It is a slasher turned on its head and a strong indie, but certain moments stray from good pacing. Overall, it could have been tighter in the middle given the strong ending.
2014: The Babadook
The Babadook is a chilling allegory about depression. And there’s also a monster that whispers creepily. Definitely not your standard horror affair, this Australian hit is ominous and bleak. But it also has a legitimate story with strong characters, as opposed to an over-reliance on static teenage eye candy and jump scares to draw a crowd.
Honorable Mention: A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
Why it didn’t make the cut: Really a neck and neck race, but the personification of depression through a child’s boogeyman is too inventive a horror movie premise to not give kudos to. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night has the atmosphere, but The Babadook has the terror of realism.
Honorable Mention: Tusk
Why it didn’t make the cut: Off the wall (yet props for originality), Tusk is not the film for audiences or critics. It may have another wonderful performance from Michael Parks and a perfect cameo by Johnny Depp, but it just isn’t a quality film from start to finish. I personally find it a lot of fun, but I understand why others don’t. It has less of a narrative and more of a premise that was formed through podcast ramblings.
2015 (So Far): It Follows
I still really enjoy It Follows. It holds up as a tonal homage to the ’80s slasher. Its score is visceral and synth-tastic. And the conceit is novel and convention-bending. It’s hard to know if it will stand the test of time, but, for now it is a quality addition to the genre.
Honorable Mention: Goodnight Mommy
Why it didn’t make the cut: I haven’t seen it yet, and I am severely saddened by that fact. But, clearly, I have high hopes for it. 2015 hasn’t proven to be a fantastic year for horror, so I don’t feel bad naming a movie I haven’t seen yet as my Honorable Mention.
It’s just one man’s opinion, but there you have it. Ten years of pure horror. What did I miss? What are your favorite horror movies of the past decade? Let me know in the comments!
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)