I confess that I don’t intend this list to have anything to do with 9/11 – it’s just a convenient cutoff point to review the best recent horror films. 10 years, 10 films. After reviewing a list of all the horror films from this period, I don’t really detect any real influence of the events of that tragic day, except perhaps the sustained interest in apocalypse/zombie/contagion movies.
If there was one overriding trend the last ten years, it was remakes. For the most part, it was an unfortunate trend, wasting millions of studio dollars on terrible or pointless movies. There were a few (very few) gems among the dross, but not one surpassed the original that it was based on.
And the intrusion of the new genre of paranormal romance into horror? Shudder…
I’m sure there are one or two obscure movies I missed, but I feel good about every movie included here and have about a half dozen more that were hard to exclude.
Let the Right One In (2008) – My personal favorite on this list and a film I think deserves consideration as one of the greatest horror movies ever. This is a perfect example of why the best horror films are about something other than monsters or death. In this case, the something else is the tragic nature of childhood alienation. It is also a great vampire movie, returning to the time tested depiction of vampirism as a curse and a source of death and horror.
Matyrs (2008) – This is a close second on my list. On the surface, it seems like yet another torture porn movie, but instead it is a mind-bending descent into bleak horror worthy of another French classic Les Diaboliques (1954). As each twist unfolded, I marveled at the artistry of its conception and its willingness to forswear any easy outs for the audience. Deeply satisfying and original.
The Mist (2007) – Speaking of bleak horror, here’s another movie that’s not afraid to go there. This is based on one of my favorite Stephen King works, by his best adaptor, Frank Darabont. Like any good King story, realistic characters drawn from real life confront intruding horror, aided here by a great cast. And the ending! I walked out of the theater, shaking my head, amazed that they went there.
The Descent (2005) – The Cave, released the same year, explored (spelunked?) the same territory: a group trapped in a cave with monsters. The difference? Neil Marshall and an all female cast. Marshall wisely refused to resort to exploitation and put real characters into believable danger. The weird ending was wonderfully ambiguous.
The Road (2009) – Based on Cormac McCarthy’s nihilistic masterpiece, the film adaptation spares little of it’s apocalyptic power. The horror springs from the nearly hopeless situation – you want to root for the last flickering lights of humanity to triumph, but you know that it’s a false hope. It’s the journey that matters, but it’s not a trip to anyplace nice.
Paranormal Activity (2007) – There may be one or two other movies that might be more deserving, but I had to acknowledge a movie that did a great job of wringing scares out of audiences with mood, tension, and misdirection. The fact that this series has been successful at the box office is heartening, and I hope that studios follow suit with more of the same. The found footage thing, however, is getting close to being played out. Can’t we just stick to spooky scares?
Rec (2007) – Speaking of found footage, here’s the movie that did it best. Just a tour-de-force of filmmaking.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) – If Guillermo Del Toro isn’t the master of horror, I don’t know who is. A little girl escapes either into her own dark imagination or a real, nightmarish underworld – which may be better than the grim reality of her real life. Del Toro suspends her between two dark universes, and this fairy tale may have no happy ending. This film proves Del Toro was born to adapt Lovecraft.
The Wolfman (2010) – This film has it critics, but I think they’re all wrong. This is exactly what Universal Studios should be doing with its goldmine of monster properties. It is just reverent enough to the original to soothe hardcore fans but savvy enough of a modern studio horror movie to appeal to a wider crowd. It was dumped into the market in February, when it should have played during Halloween. Why couldn’t Universal release a new monster movie remake every year in the spooky season, helmed by fanboy directors like Guillermo Del Toro or Joe Dante? (sigh)
Cabin Fever (2002) – My last choice is the winner of the “Best Dead Teenager Movie” award, narrowly edging out The Ruins (2008), mainly due to a better horror ending. If you are going to kill a bunch of teenagers, kill them all. I like this movie more than Eli Roth’s more successful Hostel (2006), mainly because of the gleefully crazy tone this movie sometimes adopts. I also really like that most of the characters are horrible and selfish, but the two nice kids also meet awful fates, despite their intact virginities. Good horror is random.