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Posted on Thu, Oct 20, 2011 : 1 p.m.

The best new horror films of the last ten years

By Ryan Levin

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.


Michael Dougherty's "Trick 'r Treat" (2007)

Like sharing ghost stories around a campfire, watching horror movies in the dark off a flickering screen is a must-do Halloween tradition for the cinephile.

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.

2. "Let the Right One In" (2008) / "Let Me In" (2010)

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.

4. The Mist (2007)

"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.

6. Troll Hunter (2010)

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.

8. Dead Snow (2009)

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.



Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 6:09 p.m.

I also recommend watching 2008's The Strangers. One of the scariest movies I've seen in recent years. Cheap plug - I just reviewed it on my blog. :) <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 6:52 p.m.

Many of you are missing the fact the list is &quot;of the last ten years.&quot; :) @DDOT - The Ring was really good, and one of the scariest movies I saw; but I wouldn't put it in the top 10 - and some of these other films are actual HORROR as well. I guess Old Boy deserves a mention, but I'm not sure it counts as horror.


Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 6:08 p.m.

Great list! I recently saw Dead Snow and Trick 'R Treat for the first time and have added them to my &quot;must-watch&quot; October lists.

Ryan Levin

Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 3:21 p.m.

For those who have Netflix, &quot;Trick 'r Treat,&quot; &quot;Let the Right One In&quot; and the remake, &quot;The House of the Devil,&quot; &quot;Troll Hunter&quot; and &quot;Dead Snow&quot; are all available on Instant Stream. @Ariel &quot;Frozen&quot; sounds intriguing. I'll check that out! It just so happens to be on Instant Stream too. I like the idea that someone could take something that relatively everyday and turn it into a thriller. @jns131 Absolutely. All classics. Though I don't think the original &quot;A Nightmare on Elm Street&quot; aged well at all. It plays really hokey these days. It did spawn a great franchise though. Frank Darabont (of the Mist and the Walking Dead) wrote &quot;A Nightmare on Elm Street 3.&quot;


Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 2:40 p.m.

House on Haunted Hill, the 1963 version not the remake, Night of the Living Dead, The Fog is another good one in addition to The Mist. Phantasm, the original Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween and Friday the 13th. A lot of classics can be found on Net Flix. I also recommend the silent version of Phantom of the Opera and Nosferatu. I could go on and on.


Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 12:36 p.m.

I have seen about more than half of your list and I gotta say, you're pretty right. There's one I'd like to add and that's Frozen (2010) about 3 teens that get stuck on a ski lift and one by one they try to get off the lift. It's thrilling and so true because there are wolves in the mountains where people go skiing!


Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 12:32 p.m.

I haven't seen half the movies on your list so I can't speak to your personal rankings, but didn't you like The Ring, or the Japanese original, Ringu? I thought Hollywood actually did a better job in the remake, and that movie stands as one of my favorite horror movies of all time. I'm making it a point to see the ones you've mentioned that I haven't viewed, though, because I'm a fan of the genre and like your intelligent endorsements.


Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 2:42 p.m.

The Ring creeped me out. Then Ring II our child saw at a birthday party and I wasn't too happy about that one. But o well. Not sure I want to see the Ring II.

Ryan Levin

Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 3:57 a.m.

@Lovaduck No apology necessary! I appreciate the replies. As to the feminist political correctness, I had a long back-and-forth with a coworker a couple days before I submitted this about that very topic. He took your side and defended it admirably. I do, however, still have that problem with horror as I grow tired of seeing movies with some variety of ego porn for the male viewer (whether it's sweeping in to save the girl, being stronger in the face of adversity, or just straight nude scenes). I find such base elbow-nudges from filmmakers insulting. But this is purely subjective. More to the point, and on topic, while I absolutely agree it is just a movie, I find this chauvinism troublesome not for its presence for what it indicates about the type of people who make and promote these films. On the sexualization of a fear. It's men who are most often the writers and directors of horror and it's men who write and create the female characters whose written stupidity gets them into the situations where they are horrified, pursued and brutally whacked. What is it doing? Showing off the virility of the killer and titillating the audience? That's too far on the side of exploitation for me. And the exploitation is too much the norm. There's just too much stroking the ego of and patting the male viewer on the shoulder. But correct me if I'm wrong here, isn't the fact that &quot;The Descent&quot; is a cast of all tough, fierce women part of what makes it such a great movie? Isn't it refreshing to see such a relatively unique cast of female characters?


Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 2:44 p.m.

This brings to mind Scream I. Remember when the guy said if you leave the room you won't come back? Then again the bedroom scene. I agree. The bedroom seems to be a filler for most movies. I like the originals. No bedrooms, just a lot of chills.


Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 2:57 a.m.

Oops, a partial apology is in order, since I ddn't read the &quot;last ten years&quot; part of the title on THIS page. My comment is irrelevant (except for my annoyance at the political correctness view of the role in women in horror, which I feel is more complex than it is often portrayed). Mea culpa!


Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 2:54 a.m.

Not a bad job with recent films (spare me the feminist political correctness, please) but omits classics (perhaps for that reason) by Argento (SUSPIRIA), as well as any films by DePalma, Mario Bava, and Hammer horror, etc.

Josh Taylor

Thu, Oct 20, 2011 : 11:21 p.m.

The Mist? During the suicide scene, I accidentally laughed out loud in the theater when the woman was all &quot;but there's four of us.&quot; Awful movie.

Ryan Levin

Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 3:27 a.m.

Experience has definitely told me that movie is not for everybody. But I loved it and I stand by it. If you haven't fallen for the characters by the end, the finale could definitely edge over into hammy melodrama. I think it's a wonderful character movie. Thomas Jane and Marcia Gay Harden were excellent.

Brandt Hardin

Thu, Oct 20, 2011 : 11:12 p.m.

The original Saw definitely should have made the cut- what a great indie film. Glad to see Snyder's Dawn of the Dead on there though! If you like (or loathe) zombies as much as I do, check out the Top 10 Zombie Movies of all time at <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> and let us know which your favorites are!


Thu, Oct 20, 2011 : 6:30 p.m.

Great list! To turn this into a &quot;Top 10 in the Last 10&quot; I'd add in &quot;The Host&quot; and the original &quot;Saw&quot; [because I don't have my collection in front of me to find something better].

Ryan Levin

Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 3:37 a.m.

'Saw' deserves a rewatch for me. I think the fact that it started spurting sequels like a severed jugular soured the legacy of the first one in my head. I had a friend send me an impassioned text just this evening defending it.