The last 10 years have been especially kind for horror movies. We transitioned out of the torture porn era of Saw and Hostel into something approaching a punk rock, indie revolution. This list is what we have to show for it. For every terrible haunted house movie that was birthed sloppily on-screen, for every half-baked found footage movie that stumbled into theaters, there is a movie on this list that is the antithesis of that kind of nonsense. (For the record: I like found footage horror movies.) We even did a podcast episode about it. Granted, the audio went to garbage, because the horror movie lobby doesn’t want our list getting out into the world — sorry; just watched Halloween III — but we accomplished it, so feel free to sort through that document. So, without further ado, here it is: our list of the top 10 horror movies of the last decade.
10. The Battery
Directed by: Jeremy Gardner
I read about The Battery on a horror website (the name of which escapes my memory). I love zombies but had grown tired of the genre. Yes, the movie has zombies but the movie is not about zombies.
The Battery is about two teammates dealing with the end of the world and what that means to them. It’s a struggle for surviving each other as much as it is a struggle to survive the forces outside of your control. It’s basically marriage …
In our conversation we batted around the description “if Cormac McCarthy wrote a zombie film.” It’s beautiful in its horror and in its examination of the human condition. (Bryan)
9. You’re Next
Directed by: Adam Wingard
You’re Next is the horror equivalent of an elbow to the face at a Slayer concert: you expect it, but even when it happens, you’re sort of shocked by it. I mean, this movie came out of nowhere.
You’re Next about a family supper gone completely wrong is at times hilarious and uproariously bloody, while also being tense and vicious. The kills are reminiscent of actual slasher movies from years’ past, which are something I totally miss about the post-Saw era in horror movies.
Of all the films to come out of the Adam Wingard / Simon Barrett camp, You’re Next is by far the most cohesive, horrifying, and mainstream. It moves along with a violent, uncompromising speed and ends with one of the best and most sardonic turns in a horror flick in the last few years.
I mean, even the You’re Next soundtrack is killer. (Tyler)
8. The Witch
Directed by: Robert Eggers
The Witch is a film that I’d heard rumblings about in horror subreddits and through social media. On my first trip to Fantastic Fest, I made sure this was a film I got to see. It’s a slow and steady slog to the eventual climax that delivers in a way I was not expecting. You see, in today’s films, the strange occurrences plaguing this family would’ve been explained by something happening internally.
It may have been insanity a la The Shining or this family was (gulp!) actually living in a community cut off from the modern world. The sense of dread The Witch creates and then delivers on is horrifying. A family cast out for holding onto beliefs too strongly is tested and fails to hold off the evil that is so close. Black Phillip also manages to be an asshole, and the movie delivers one of the most haunting lines in recent horror film history. (Bryan)
7. House of the Devil (2009)
Directed by: Ti West
Ti West is someone we felt as though should absolutely have been represented on this list. He was part and parcel to the emergence of the indie horror movement of the last decade, and it would be a shame to leave him off the list here.
The only question in the discussion was: which film should we choose? There is The Sacrament, his bloody and tense foray into the world of found footage. There’s also The Innkeepers — my personal favorite — which is both haunting and hilarious, thanks to a comedic turn by our personal hero, Pat Healy. (Loved you in Cheap Thrills!)
Well, why not go back to the original? House of the Devil is basically the complete horror package. A babysitter gets drawn into a dark hellscape of the occult. What’s not to like? Oh, and it’s not just the subject matter. House of the Devil is well-paced, moody, and visually striking. You’ll mow through your fingernails during an initial viewing of the movie, and it’s a difficult one to recover from. (Tyler)
Directed by: Pascal Laugier
How many movies can you name that involve a human flaying? I’d venture to say very few, but Pascal Laguir’s Martyrs offers up a nice one, and also serves as a reminder that we too can transcend such horrors, be them a skinning, a presidential election or food poisoning. Associated with the New French Extremity Movement, this film moves from an abattoir to an underground chamber controlled by a philosophical society seeking to create martyrs in order to learn the secrets of the afterlife. After helping her friend Lisa take revenge on a family that abused her, Anna is left to discover the sinister world from whence her friend came — and ultimately ends up suffering the ultimate abuse, and receiving the ultimate, albeit skinless, award, and it’s a treat in the most uncomfortable way to go along with her for the ride. (Lona)
5. The Babadook
Directed by: Jennifer Kent
The scariest thing about death is that you know that not only is it going to happen to you, but it is also going to happen to everyone you love. And some of those deaths are going to come far too soon — which is what happens in The Babadook. How do you move beyond your own sorrows when you and your son have a grief monster living in your house? Can you ever really move beyond it? Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut paints a frustrating, heart-wrenching, nerve-wracking picture of Amelia Vanek’s life. It’s already not that great, but it gets worse once she reads her son a pop-up book called Mr. Babadook. The Babadook is low on gore, but high on tension and offers the reminder that the bad in this world will always exist alongside the good — and that it is up to us on how we prioritize it in our lives. (Lona)
4. Paranormal Activity
Directed by: Oren Peli
Oren Peli out Blair Witchs the Blair Witch Project with his subgenre-redefining found footage flick. What happens to annoying Micah and pretty Katie is sparsely depicted and terrifying. It feels real too, overcoming a major weakness of most found footage. Stationary cameras account for the movie ruining question as to why the character is still filming whatever horrors they are encountering.
The franchise’s diminishing returns–two and three deserve credit and an occasional rewatch, the later sequels can be forgotten–and increasingly younger focus may have dimmed many a horror fan’s recollection of the original. Don’t sleep on one of the current horror gen’s most effective entries, and the progenitor of the first true horror franchise since Saw. (Drew)
3. A Serbian Film
Directed by: Srdjan Spasojevic
“Should I be watching this? I shouldn’t be watching this. Am I going to get in trouble for watching this?” A Serbian Film, the only movie to date from Srdjan Spasojevic (other than the “R Is for Removed” short from The ABCs of Death), engenders all these thoughts and more. My viewing was made even more seedy as I was watching a copy on my computer when it, at least in my inner narrative, was not available due to censorship and distribution woes (i.e. the whole “The Movie They Don’t Want You to See” angle).
As washed up porn star Milos’s last gasp bid for respectability in an “art film” turns the dark corner into unsettling -philias such as necro and pedo, the viewer realizes you have finally found that horror film that goes there. Beyond there, even. If you have never seen A Serbian Film, I would hate to ruin its disturbing surprises, and surprise you they will; no matter how twisted you think you are, you will still (most likely) not anticipate what Spasojevic has in store for you. If you have seen the movie, you probably don’t ever want to again. That’s how good it is at what it distastefully does. (Drew)
2. It Follows
Directed by: David Robert Mitchell
Sex in horror is nothing new. Slashers dealing out instant punishment to promiscuous teens like some Old Testament wrath of God is nothing new. It Follows made it scarier. Unlike a slasher popping up and relying on the element of surprise, “It” is slow and prodding. You can see it coming but all you can do is run, hopefully passing it on to someone else. The movie creates such a strange world. You’ve got the pulsing, synth soundtrack by Disasterpeace. There’s the odd bits of technology that seems out of place like the friend’s seashell/internet/e-reader device. Wrapping it up nicely is the hollowed out husk of Detroit that provides us with a sense of emptiness that the characters carry with them. It’s a rare film that pulls you into a world as effectively as It Follows. It’s the sense of emptiness along with the idea of something always following you that makes this movie so great. Add in the fear of STDs and never being able to escape the sins of your past and it’ll stick with you.
It Follows was kind of a revelation for me. I saw it at the Chattanooga Film Fest among a crowd of hardcore fans. I was working the festival at the time and had to basically elbow my way into a seat. From the opening frames of It Follows, with that phenomenal soundtrack by Disasterpeace, I was hooked. The other guys have already discussed how the movie basically turns casual sex into a really horrible metaphor, so I won’t go into that, but the atypical subject matter certainly casts a really specific pall over It Follows. You get a similar vibe from Don’t Breathe, which I guess has to do with Detroit and the death of the American Dream, but It Follows does it better in almost every conceivable way. I proselytized for this movie over the course of its run and beyond, and I think it deserves every bit of acclaim being heaped on it as a modern classic.
A horror film about sex and the dangers inherent in having it, It Follows does everything right. The wicked electronic score by Disasterpeace may be the aspect of the film that has stuck with me the longest, but when I think back on David Robert Mitchell’s horror debut, I cannot shake the memory of how constantly foreboding the film was. Sure, Jason is unstoppable, but he still takes a break every now and then, right? (Otherwise, wouldn’t he just kill everyone in a mass murdering minute span?) Whatever is after the teenagers of It Follows is like a slow-moving shark, always moving, always following. It may take minutes, hours, or days, but it will find them. No other recent horror film has planted such a terrifying notion in my brain.
Perpetual horror film “Detroit” takes a co-starring role in It Follows, an abstinence tale if ever there was one. After Jay is sexually assaulted she learns that she’s not only been left with the scars of such a violent act, but that she is also being stalked by a malevolent entity intent on ending her life, unless she pay it forward via sexual transference. Teenagers have been told sex is bad for years, but David Robert Mitchell creates a world, devoid of all identifiable time markers that we are used to seeing in modern horror flicks, where something much worse than unplanned pregnancy or chlamydia will threaten your life. This film makes you consider celibacy briefly — until you realize it might be worth it to be chased by an unidentified monster as long as said chase is scored by Disasterpeace.
1. The Strangers
Directed by: Brian Bertino
The most horrifying thing about The Strangers is how random it all is. It reminds us that there is no rhyme or reason for the bad that happens to some of us. Being home, which is usually a safe place, is enough to get you killed. When The Purge came out, the baddies reminded me a lot of the three killers from The Strangers. The antagonists in The Purge may have been killing random people but it was their right, there was a reason. The Strangers eschews that for a simple response when asked “Why?” and that’s “because you were home.” It’s the randomness of living a life, daily arguments and attending a friend’s wedding only to come home to people there to torture and kill you that drives the fear behind this film into you. After all, if it’s random, it can happen to you.
Okay, so I’ll tell the story about seeing the movie opening night in Athens. I went into The Strangers thinking that it would be an acceptable horror movie, a mostly forgettable home invasion tale. I went Drew, actually, and we kind of went about the normal business of sitting through a flick.
What ended up happening was that the entire audience got into that movie in a way that was not typical. People were genuinely screaming. A mood hung over the audience that was entirely palpable. At one point, a woman in the audience started shrieking, and it felt seriously like something bad was actually, literally going to happen. I left feeling haunted and off-put in a way I hadn’t experienced since leaving the theater after The Blair Witch Project. It was an indelible experience.
Of all the top 10 horror movies on the list, The Strangers viewing experience is the closest to the ones you always hear about. Psycho, The Exorcist, Spice World. It is brutal and horrific and it came basically out of nowhere. I’m also a fan of Bertino’s follow-up, Mockingbird, so much so that I feel as though it could squeak onto the Top 10 horror movies list, but I kept that to myself until just now.
Put simply, The Strangers is the most effective home invasion horror flick yet to be made despite starring Liv Tyler and Scott “Whispered Hey” Speedman (see “Felicity”). Tyler and I saw this movie together in a packed theater on opening night, while the girlfriends watched Sex and the City: The Movie. This viewing experience was the closest I have ever had to the green-tinted night vision shots of terrified patrons shown during trailers for movies like Paranormal Activity. Bryan Bertino has yet to make good on the potential shown by The Strangers (his long awaited followup, Mockingbird, would have seemed better were it released first), and if he never does, he’ll at least be the guy who made The Strangers. Bonus points for an appearance from Glenn “Dennis Reynolds” Howerton.
The Strangers is a film that’s deeply effective because it could happen to you. Everyone knows that there are horrors in the world, but you want to believe that in the safety of your home you can hide from them. You justify crimes by touting off Investigation Discovery facts like, “Most people are murdered by someone they know.” And that may be all well and good — but that means someone is being murdered by someone they don’t know. For fun. For sport. Just because. Bryan Bertino reminds you that you are never really safe, no matter how many doors or windows you lock. Watch The Strangers, and get a dog or a roommate or an alarm system because when it’s over, you’ll never quite feel completely safe again.