The best new horror films of the last ten years
What are you favorite Halloween horror classics? Want to see more "Best of" lists? Can you think of something I missed? Leave your comments and suggestions after the jump.
The classics of the genre have left indelible marks on our popular psyche, from the shower scene in "Psycho" to the iconic serial killers of the '80s. While shock and gore splatterfests are the horror movies that get the most attention these days, the genre is as rich and diverse as the human imagination as it stares into the impenetrable darkness at the foot of our beds.
Halloween is an evening of ghosts and ghouls, monsters and demons, so in putting together a "best of" horror list I omitted the entries to the genre that deal in serial slashers busting up rowdy teenage camping trips with a butcher knife or a chainsaw blade. In the tradition of the season, these are films that deal with the supernatural, the inhuman and otherworldly.
1. "Trick 'r Treat" (2007)
Michael Dougherty's "Trick 'r Treat" was a straight-to-DVD release that missed its chance in theaters due to some poor release scheduling and studio execs who didn't know a classic when they saw it. It's since become a major cult hit. After I saw it on Netflix, it became instantly one of my favorite horror films of all time, and it is a movie that is quintessentially Halloween.
Composed of four loosely connected vignettes about a small town on Halloween night, the movie deftly subverts the viewer's expectation at every turn with surprising and clever plot twists. It is as smart as it is entertaining, weaving its stories together all the while incorporating with the customs and traditions of Halloween. Bad things happen to those who don't follow the rules of the holiday. Anna Paquin, Bryan Cox and Dylan Baker lead the pitch-perfect cast in this cult horror anthology.
It's not often that a Hollywood remake comes anywhere close to the original, but in the case of this Swedish vampire movie, the American version really nails the tone and style. "Let the Right One In" is not a traditional vampire story. It's dark, tender and sporadically and viciously violent, a story about the first love between two dysfunctional 10-year-olds, one of whom happens to be a vampire. And not a castle-dwelling, cape-swooping vampire but the vampire-next-door in a sprawling urban apartment structure.
The great thing about the movie is that it really gets you sympathizing with the diminutive vampress even as the bodies pile up around town. The affection between the two central characters is the focus of the film but it's a relationship colored by the lifestyle the vampire is forced to lead and the morbid worldview of the boy who falls for her. While the American version of the film is tighter and slightly better produced, the Swedish original really nails the haunting depiction of a 10-year-old who could love a vampire. It's a story that really sticks with you after you've seen it, a horror movie that transcends the genre.
3. The Descent (2005)
Horror is often—and correctly, in my opinion—bashed for its exploitation of women. Though there's usually a heroine who survives to the end, there's a whole host of other problems of representation including the sexualization of terror, the obligatory pre-massacre nude scenes and the vast stable of cut-out, expendable female victims.
"The Descent" is having none of it. This tense subterranean horror film boasts an all-female cast who are not only tough and capable but possess a tenacity and vengeful action-movie heroism that you rarely see horror giving females credit for. Just the opening sequences, where they go spelunking through narrow passageways and vaulted caves, is suspenseful enough to rivet you to your seat. The caves are claustrophobic and disorienting, feelings that play directly into a constant, palpable dread. The creatures they eventually encounter are positively Lovecraftian and the make-up effects are stellar and horrifying—without CGI.
"The Mist" was Frank Darabont's (formerly of "The Waking Dead") directoral feature horror debut. Based on an early Stephen King short story, it's a brilliant character piece about how the most horrifying thing might just be the other people in the room. The movie takes place in a supermarket as a thick white mist blankets the streets of a small town. Horrible creatures are lurking somewhere out in the fog, a story element which is a terrific device for feeding on our fear of things that might be lurking just out of our sight.
And the fog is really why you ought to see the movie in black and white too, if it's available to you. The studios refused to do anything but color, but B&W really plays to the opacity of the mist and makes the creatures look even better. As a warning, this is not a movie that ends well. While the ending is one of the movie's great strengths, I've known people who have grown genuinely angry at the way things turn out, which is a shame, because Hollywood so seldom does un-happy endings and does them this well. The acting, as well, is superb.
5. "The House of the Devil" (2009)
This movie was made just two years ago, but by watching it you'd never know it. It nails a perfect period look of a horror film made in the '80s with grainy film stock and feathered hair. Though it sports a rather bland-sounding name, it's an extremely tense and suspenseful horror film of the slow-burning kind that had its heyday in the pre-slasher era.
In a similar vein to "Rosemary's Baby," the movie deals in the ghoulish rituals of satanic cults and is positively unnerving from beginning to end. The casting wonderful created the classic creepy family and when it gets to the finale the film jumps into a sprint with some great make-up effects and horror editing.
The only PG-13 movie to make it onto the list, "Troll Hunter" is a Norwegian, troll-hunting mockumentary that's a bit like crossing "Jaws" with "Shaun of the Dead"—with trolls. Though it's made in the now-overdone found-footage style, the movie nonetheless makes the contrivance feel fresh and suspenseful, going out of its way to rewrite traditional trollish folklore into behavioral and biological explanations. It has a perfect cast, particularly the grizzly old troll hunter himself and both the cinematography, which highlights Norway's gorgeous, feral countryside, and the creature effects are superb.
Calling it true horror is stretching the definition of the genre a bit, but for the Halloween theme of creatures, ghouls and monsters, it fits perfectly. It still has a lot of the features of traditional horror film; it just doesn't milk them for scares. And, of course, it's already been picked up for a Hollywood remake.
7. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Zack Snyder made a surprisingly good remake of George A. Romero's "Dawn of the Dead," a zombie horror classic that did not need to be redone. While the remake jettisons the social criticism in Romero's original, it replaces it with a positively fantastic opening sequence. It's an introduction that deftly and succinctly catches us up to speed on everything that is at stake in a world taken over by the living dead and it's even punctuated with a brilliant credit sequence of newsreel riot footage and dramatized zombie attacks with Johnny Cash singing about vengeance in the background.
Snyder's "Dawn of the Dead" settles down into a bit more familiar horror/action mold after that but great writing by James Gunn ("Slither," "Super") means it is packed with great set pieces and doesn't have the now somewhat hokey motorcycle gang attacking the mall from the original that doesn't stand up to time the way the rest of Romero's classic does.
The premise alone is all the incentive I needed to see this one: Norwegian youths on a ski trip up in the mountains are attacked by zombies, Nazi zombies. Done in the spirit of "The Evil Dead," the movie takes a more horror bent than the wild camp that ruled its spiritual predecessor but it still has a lot of fun with its subject matter. These aren't the brain-dead walking dead like in other movies, they'll engage in full-on Hollywood style punch-outs with characters. There's some fantastic improvised zombie slaying and great dark gags in this movie, including a moment where one of the characters goes after the Nazi undead with a hammer and sickle.
After maybe a bit too much time watching young people have fun with snowmobiles, "Dead Snow" sets off running and doesn't disappoint with its horror scenarios. Like "The Descent," it's smart enough to use its environment to horrifying and suspenseful effect. Though it does suffer from a particularly bad rendition of the hot-chick-falls-for-fat-guy nerd fantasy. You'll know it when you see it.