Top 20 Horror Movies of the Decade-Part 1

16 Dec

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December 16th, 2009–

When I think back over the last decade in regards to horror, it seems like a relatively barren landscape. However, when I sat down to prepare the list, I realized there has been some quite excellent work done in the past ten years. Granted, we have suffered through such irritating trends as the J-horror ghost flicks, the pathetic ‘torture porn’ genre, and the done-to-death supernatural thriller.

I’ve tried to limit the list to proper horror films—i.e. they try at some level to thrill or unnerve you—and have left off comedies like Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland. In addition, I’m not a fan of the overly violent exploitative trash like Chaos or the Hostel films, so you won’t find any of those here (including stuff like Inside or Martyrs, which I was unfortunate enough to have seen). Like the last round-up for animation, we will start with five runners-up”, followed by slots 20-11.

Honorable Mentions:

The Shadow of the Vampire (2000) Directed by: Elias Merhige

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Merhige’s Shadow of the Vampire is a clever and visually grimy little bit of historical speculation that wonders if Murnau, the German director of Nosferatu, recruited an actual vampire to film his masterpiece.

Dafoe, as the decrepit and near impotent bloodsucker, is perfectly repugnant and genuinely unsettling. The centerpiece of the film is his relationship with Malkovich and together they bring all the moral rot inherent in the story to the surface.

This isn’t a film of shock or scares but a movie with a deep internal dread that must creep into the heart of every artist; the prospect of being faced with the decision to sell your own soul and the choice you might make when that day comes.

Isolation (2005) Directed by: Billy O’Brien

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This is a taut and atmospheric little movie that takes the biological terror of films like Alien or The Thing and relocates them to a struggling cow farm in rural Ireland. It took me two viewing to warm to this one, mostly because the central monster is an almost indistinct jumble.

But beyond what it looks like, the genetic end-game it is playing is wholly terrifying and the actors are all on point, anchoring an oppressive and lonely setting and adding spice to some overwhelmingly tense suspense pieces.

There are plenty of reasons to see this one, including a scene that suggests that the scariest place in all of the universe just might be the inside of a cow’s anus.

The Signal (2007) Directed by: Dave Bruckner/Jake Gentry/Dan Bush

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The Signal reminds me a lot of late 70’s/early 80’s horror films where the fall of civilization is met with madness, fear and bloodshed. The idea of a lone signal scrambling the brains of humanity and  sending them on murderous rampages is the kind of thing Cronenberg specialized in back then.

This film, carrying three separate directors, suggests Cronenberg in its final segment, and there’s plenty of Raimi inspired slap-stick madness in the middle section. The first part, that introduces us to the signal and its effects, reminds of films like 28 Days Later. Ultimately, no one segment is better than the others, although I suspect many will recall the second one most vividly. Versatility is The Signal’s strength.

This is one of those films that keeps topping itself with each new ludicrous event, and if you have ever secretly feared/hoped for that day where the social walls would fall and pit you against your own neighbors for survival, then you might want to seek this one out. It’s off its rocker.

 

Rogue (2007) Directed by: Greg McClean

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Greg McClean, the director of the grimy and needlessly grotesque Wolf Creek returns to the concept of savagery in the Australian outback. This time though, he cuts down on the sadism and hits a home-run by telling a man-vs-nature survival story about a tourist boat attacked by a large and hungry crocodile. Radha Mitchell and Michael Vartan, along with Sam Worthington, round out a strong cast.

Adding much to the film are the suspense of night-time river attacks and the ominous cinematography that evokes the brutal and haunting landscape of Australia’s wilderness.

By the time the movie has wound-down into a formidable monster pic, McClean has already run his audience through the ringer. This an exceptionally unnerving and beautiful creature feature.

Buppah Rahtree (2003) Directed by: Yuthlert Sippapak 

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Buppah Rahtree is a stand-out example of Thai horror cinema. An exemplary midnight movie in ever regard, Buppah crams about four or five different genres and tones into one movie and manages to tell a story that has significant and emotional impact.

You will care for the main character and mourn her loathsome downfall at the hands of a young, rich cad. You will rupture organs laughing at the manic ways her ghost torments and taunts the residents of the apartment complex where she dies. Finally, you will be put on edge as the final threads of her revenge draw together against the unsuspecting man who caused her pain in the first place.

Although it has its share of effective thrills, Buppah is best defined by its wicked sense of humor; my favorite scene involves two Thai priests trying to use dialogue from The Exorcist to ward away a pissed-off ghost with a bow staff.

20. In My Skin (2002) Directed by: Marina De Van

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Mental deterioration and physical disfigurement. In My Skin has the unpleasant and fearsome job of imagining my most extreme nightmares in a tangible and unrelentingly gruesome manner. This film, about a girl who comes to gain a fascination for self mutilation—and later self cannibalism—after a personal accident, is as repulsive and suspenseful as they come.

A fascinating character study about a woman struggling with an addiction that causes her body great harm is thought-provoking at the same time it’s stomach churning. Self mutilation is about as morbid an obsession as one could want, but more mundane addictions like alcohol, cigarettes, or even food (gets a lot of us where we live) take specific and altering tolls on our physical person. This film examines the sickness and its toll up close and personal and the results are devastating.

If it weren’t so single-mindedly unpleasant, this would be much higher on the list.

19. Dog Soldiers (2002) Directed by: Neil Marshall

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Dog Soldiers is one fun B-movie! Werewolves never got the respect that vampires got in the 80s, and in the 90’s they were virtually non-existent. They have been underappreciated this decade too, but the ’00s have at least brought us a couple good flicks to call our own.

Among them is this beastie; an action-horror that sets up a group of British mercs against an army of hungry werewolves and lets the fur and the fury fly. Marshall is an expert director when it comes to schlock. He imbues silliness with a real and thrilling energy. Some of my fave bits feature solid actors like Sean Pertwee firing off quips and automatic weaponry at gangly men in rubber wolf suits.

In addition to the delicious absurdity, Marshall keeps the humor and the thrills cranked unreasonably high. This is an excellent and invigorating popcorn splatter-fest.

18. The Living and the Dead (2006) Directed by: Simon Rumley

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Possessing a refreshing intelligence and dreamlike visual style, Dead tells the story of an mentally disturbed young man in a falling-down Victorian manse who is left to care for his disabled mother while his father is away. When he stops taking his meds, things go down a short road to Hell and before long we are trapped in this moldering husk of a home with an increasingly insane son and the mother at his mercy.

One of the occupational hazards of horror films is that quite often they cannot sustain suspense in the same way that other thrillers can. The Living and the Dead is not like this. It is an uncommonly anxious film that starts at strung-out levels of discomfort and moves precariously through so many scenes of harrowing drama that as a viewer I quickly realized that any resolution, if it came, would not be sufficient to wash away the film’s sting.

What we have here is a movie of unflinching dread that follows one man down the rabbit hole of his own mind. A creepy, underrated gem that deserves to be seen.

17. Drag Me To Hell (2009) Directed by: Sam Raimi

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Drag Me To Hell isn’t just classic Raimi. It’s also a classic Universal horror picture that utilizes all of the mad props and genre trimmings to tell the kind of overwrought chiller that one would have seen in the 40s or the 50s, or read between the pages of Tales from The Crypt.

This one features a terrific performance by Allison Lohman and nearly no restraint from Sam in the viscera department. Best of all, the movie is both good-natured and spooky and sinister. When it lets loose, it really manages to get crazy. At the same time, Raimi doesn’t let Lohman’s character or the audience off the hook.

Raimi plays his morality close to the hilt, and the universe he sets up here revolves around the chinks in Lohman’s integrity and charity. It’s a great, goofy, ghoulish time and that séance scene is one of Raimi’s all time best moments.

16. Ginger Snaps (2000) Directed by: John Fawcett

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Prior to Stephanie Meyers turning them into leering Native American jocks, werewolves and teenagers didn’t mix much. The strength of John Fawcett’s Ginger Snaps is that it combines both elements—the wolves and the teens—and doesn’t short-change either.

The relationship between the two  sisters, played with real connection by Katherine Isabelle and Emily Perkins, is the lifeblood of the story and I’ve rarely seen such a confident and believable portrayal of siblings in a genre film. It is often stated that the Ginger Snaps uses lycanthropy as a metaphor for puberty, with Ginger’s dark, wolfy side standing in for hormonal upheaval and blossoming lust. Ehhh, not quite.

Instead, Isabelle’s werewolf ‘curse’ overrides and interacts with her ‘feminine curse’ in such a way that both are amplified and volatile as a result of mixing with the other. Adding more fire to the satirical fire is the fact that not even Ginger’s mother (an on-point Mimi Rogers) can tell the difference between the ravenous appetite of a monster lurking within her daughter and just a case of menstrual anxiety. Oh, to be a teenager again!

15. 28 Days Later (2002) Directed by: Danny Boyle

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Art-house and horror had been courting on and off prior to 2002, but when Danny Boyle unleashed this thoughtful and downright scary apocalypse to our cinema screens he brought both back together with a resounding crash. And 28 Days Later is nothing, if not artistically  accomplished. Danny is playing with cinematic motifs and camera styles, as well as color palettes that he would go on to experiment with heavily in later films. Many of them are better than this, but none of them have the intensity displayed here.

I love the look, love the way the end of the world is handled, and the rage-infected remainder are an interesting and aggressive take on Romero’s shambling zombies. There is a real poignancy behind those scenes of Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris and Brendan Gleeson on the road together, taking in the last remnant of humanity.

Yes, it gets a little weak in the film’s final third, but ultimately this is the movie that breathed life back into the rapidly decaying zombie genre. And yet, it stands alone and above most of its contemporaries as a horror film with both bite and brains. Bring on 28 Chanukahs Later.

14. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) Directed by: Scott Glosserman

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Behind the Mask is as good as it is because it breathes life into a terribly stale genre—the slasher flick—and on the way to lampooning the whole thing, inadvertently discovers some un-mined nuggets of potential. I love the mockumentary packaging of the first two-thirds and the performance by Nathan  Baesal as an excited yuppie hiding a dark bogeyman is actually cleverly shaded.

By the time the third segment hits and the movie becomes the kind of film it’s been kidding about, Baesal has given Vernon what none of his heroes had—humanity and personality, and he’s actually creepier for having it. Watching him beaming with excitement and joy right before he sets off on the big spree is the kind of moment the movie has earned.

Scott Wilson as the murderous mentor and Englund as Vernon’s ‘Ahab’ are both predictably good, but the other stand-out is Angela Goethals as Taylor Gentry, the would-be documentarian that gets faced with her moral and ethical dilemma just as Vernon is revving up to face-down his survivor girl. Ultimately, what this movie delivers is what all the critics have been moaning about for years; an interesting, multi-faceted heroine and a villain with real menace.

For my money, the slasher film has never been done better.

13. The Mist (2007) Directed by: Frank Darabont

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I first read Stephen King’s The Mist in the summer of 1991, right in the middle of an earth drenching thunder storm not unlike the one that opens the story. Back then, I was much younger and the tantalizing images of prehistoric creatures terrorizing a small enclave of survivors in a grocery store lodged in my mind and have been there ever since. So, for 16 years I’ve been imagining what the film version of King’s drifting fog banks, giant spiders, reptilian bats and six-legged behemoths would actually look like.

I must admit complete surprise at how well Darabont nails the particulars in his own version. This is a late-night drive-in monster film come to life with style and imagination and artistry. Artistry? In a movie with carnivorous pterodactyls and giant land-based lobsters eviscerating people? Absolutely.

Jane is good as the leader of the more rational collective of survivors and Marcia Gay Harden channels the cackling false prophet Mrs. Carmody perfectly. In smaller roles, Toby Jones and Jeffrey DeMunn give the film some added flavor. The monsters, especially the roving, Lovecraftian juggernaut at film’s end are spectacularly designed and suitably mind-bending.

Some hate the ending. I don’t. It brings the film’s themes of misplaced faith full circle. Once the world shrinks down to those four bullets, you’ll never find your way out of the mist.

12. The House of the Devil (2009) Directed by: Ti West

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I have long held John Carpenter’s Halloween as one of the perfect specimens of it’s place and time. It captures that late 70’s universe of suburban suspicion and fearful urban legend so precisely that watching it is like being transported. Then there is the knotted web of suspense and apprehension that the film weaves. Very, very few films—including any of Halloween’s sequels or remakes—have managed to achieve that sense of style and urgency. But, in my opinion, Ti West’s House of the Devil does exactly that.

It is a complete throw-back to early 80s horror movies. Like Halloween, Devil has very little onscreen violence and a limited number of casualties. The atmosphere of the leaf littered college campus, the winding, wood-shrouded back roads and the big sprawling mansion that  may or may not have a secret in the basement is gloriously immersive.

For large stretches of House we are on edge just waiting for something to happen while precious little actually does. This could kill a film dead, but the casting of Jocelin Donahue alleviates any attention span problems you are likely to have. Like Curtis before her, Donahue has a gawky, clumsy girl-next-door cuteness and charm. She’s also resourceful and carries the psychological weight of the film’s final events on her narrow but resilient shoulders.

11. Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001) Directed by: Christophe Gans

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I wrestled with whether or not Brotherhood of the Wolf is actually a horror film or not. It certainly features a frightening beast, some terrifically suspenseful set pieces and a landscape and characters that might as well be dipped in gothic excess. It’s not based on much of a ‘true story’ outside of some residual details regarding The Beast of Gevudan and I don’t imagine there’s anyone out there to account for the Iroquois martial artists, one-armed counts, secret Vatican societies or giant wolf-like monsters.

Visually, I am overcome by the movie’s artificial world that recalls Anton Furst’s Company of Wolves or Burton’s Sleepy Hollow. Brotherhood is a more deliberately entertaining film than either of those and its more conscientious. Just as we have had the monster defeated, the sidekick slaughtered, the girl poisoned, and the society revealed, and we can’t possibly expect anything more from the film, out comes Vincent Cassel wielding a retractable bone sword. Boo-ya!

In the end, I think it is a horror movie, one fabulously in-tune with a great many different genres and styles and ideas. The entire film may be baffling on a strictly narrative level but I really appreciate the way it takes so much detail and research and mythology and then just dumps it haphazardly into a pot to stew.

 

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30 Responses to “Top 20 Horror Movies of the Decade-Part 1”

  1. Frank Marmoset December 17, 2009 at 5:27 am #

    Good list. I’d be hard pushed to come up with 10 great horrors of the last decade, but there are some really good choices here.

    Drag Me To Hell is the most fun, but my favourite of these is The Mist. Very good film, and I agree the ending is perfect. The film is as much about the terrible choices people make when they’re scared as it is about beasties in the fog, so the ultra grim conclusion works brilliantly for me.

    Looking forward to reading the second half.

  2. Jarv December 17, 2009 at 8:11 am #

    Drag me to hell?

    What?

    Aside from that, all these that I’ve seen I’d have also picked- and I agree, it’s very hard to call Brotherhood of the Wolf horror.

  3. Droid December 17, 2009 at 8:27 am #

    I haven’t seen 10 of these. Want to see House of the Devil. Supposed to be good. Rogue was a bit disappointing for me, although I never saw Wolf Creek. The Mist and BotW are great. Didn’t really get in to SotV either. Good stuff, Jonah.

  4. Bartleby December 17, 2009 at 8:44 am #

    I went in expecting nothing from Rogue due to having seen Primeval and Black Water previously. I thought it was a really well done creature feature, and everything was mostly top shelf on it. It was still a goofy monster movie, but there was some intensity and fun to be had with it. I’m a sucker for monster movies anyway. Give a good monster movie over a slasher anyday.

    Shadow of the Vampire is a bit slow, but I like so much about it I felt it deserved a place on this list over others. Honestly, aside from the few I chose–on the next list actually–asian horrors were mostly off limits to me because I find them almost all unified in their dreadfulness. Just the same plot over and over and over. A few semi-distinguish themselves, but it’s rather dire otherwise.

    Jarv, why don’t you like Drag Me To Hell? I surely thought you would.

  5. Bartleby December 17, 2009 at 8:47 am #

    All are worth seeing Droid, even if you don’t love them. I just would warn about In My Skin. That one is pretty difficult viewing. Watching her keep skin chunks in her purse the way most would keep a ziplock bag of carrots or raisins was a bit much.

  6. Jarv December 17, 2009 at 9:39 am #

    Haven’t seen it. I’m not a fan of PG13 horror, and think Raimi has lost it badly.

    However, I’m reserving judgement until I see the top 10- it’s if you miss something that I really rate, then I’d drop DMTH.

  7. koutchboom December 17, 2009 at 10:24 am #

    Wow cool list. Need to see some of these. Can’t wait to see your top ten, really wondering if your going to give Saw its just due or not.

    • Bartleby December 17, 2009 at 4:52 pm #

      don’t hold your breath. I didnt hate Saw, nor did I like it. I was actually frustrated with it. I was expecting some brilliant little indie film at the time, and it just didn’t come together. The opening was so promising, and it just ended up being far more pedestrian than I was expecting. Also, the over-edited style was getting on my flippin nerves.

  8. Hawaiian Organ Donor December 17, 2009 at 11:23 am #

    Not being a fan of horror, I can’t really comment on most things on this list but The Mist and Dog Soldiers certainly deserve to be there. I had Brotherhood of the Wolf on my ten best adventure movies of the decade list. So yeah, good job.

    • Bartleby December 17, 2009 at 4:53 pm #

      thanks HOD. I think you have more you like on the top ten. I’m pretty happy with those. Getting them up soon.

  9. koutchboom December 17, 2009 at 11:46 am #

    Does Year One count as horror? Maybe an honorable mention?

  10. koutchboom December 17, 2009 at 3:21 pm #

    I hate the ending to the Mist. Totally ruined it for me.

  11. koutchboom December 17, 2009 at 3:22 pm #

    Inside rules, you baby.

    • Bartleby December 17, 2009 at 4:05 pm #

      baby? go see In My Skin and come back here and tell me that.

  12. xiphos0311 December 17, 2009 at 5:31 pm #

    I’ve only seen about half of these but of those half they were all good. the only real quibble I have is with the Signal. First vignette is excellent, the last vignette is interesting and makes you think a bit but damn that misfire in the middle really hurt the movie.

    Behind the Mask is a top notch movie and works on many levels and I agree it did blow some new life into a very stale genre. I was pleasantly surprised by the movie, maybe because I didn’t know anything about when I watched it helped.

  13. Bartleby December 17, 2009 at 5:47 pm #

    xi..I more or less agree with you about signal. The last sequence is the best in my opinion and the one that really was unnerving–and the first was just fun and sort of frightening. The second one, however, is the one I always think of when I think of the movie. You think it was a misfire, but I found it really just surreal and it has the most awful death of the entire sequence–Im sure you know the one Im talking about. Still, it goes for this comedic slant that doesn’t really suit the material as well.

  14. Bartleby December 17, 2009 at 5:53 pm #

    xi you see Ginger Snaps? I find it interesting that both Isabelle and Perkins have had extended cameos on Supernatural. I’ve seen Isabelle’s–it was a good one actually–and I think Perkin’s is either happening now/or just happened. Either way, don’t tell me.

    I just saw the first lackluster ep of the show I’ve seen–the one where Dean is attacked by a ghostly illness that targets douchebags. I thought the idea was dumb, and the way they defeat the ghost just silly and sort of meanspirited. Honestly, best part of the ep was the extended scene of Ackles singing Eye of the Tiger.

    I did like the fact that Bobby knows Japanese. Nice touch. Even so, this ep was still better than most ‘good’ episodes of other shows.

  15. xiphos0311 December 17, 2009 at 6:06 pm #

    Oh yeah I’ve seen Ginger Snaps that’s a fun movie I really like it. I never made the connection between SN and GS but now that you point it out I get it.

    I like that episode of SN or maybe I liked how freaked out Dean acted, he lost it when the little rat dog was following him or when they were at the mine he just started screaming. I throw it in the comic side of things and the eye of the tiger bit cracks me up every time I see it.

    That middle section in Signal was so jarring that it took me out of the movie all together. I think if they had played it less broad it would have helped to sell what they were doing. And yes that death was awful.

    Shadow of the Vampire, nice choice, I really like that movie. Its way off the beaten path for a fairly main stream production. It was smart to cast DaFoe as the vamp, they saved tons of money on make up.

  16. drmorbius December 17, 2009 at 8:18 pm #

    With all the talk about Katharine Isabelle, Freddy vs Jason must be in the Top Ten.

  17. drmorbius December 17, 2009 at 8:20 pm #

    Which Final Destination will make the…wait for it…cut!

  18. drmorbius December 17, 2009 at 8:31 pm #

    My Bloody Valentine 3-D at #1. Just because of the long scene of Betsy Rue, totally starkers except for the high heels, humping away and then running out into the motel parking lot to meet her untimely demise!

  19. koutchboom December 18, 2009 at 10:55 am #

    Have you ever seen Begotten? Its Elias Merhige first movie. I’ve been dying to see it, but you can’t find it anywhere. His next movie after Vampire, Suspect 0 sucked though.

    WOW i just looked up the movie on Amazon: 1 new from $712.00, 10 used from $84.90.

    I wish I had rented or seeked it out when I first heard about it.

  20. Bartleby December 18, 2009 at 11:20 am #

    Koutch:

  21. koutchboom December 18, 2009 at 11:32 am #

    Are you putting videos in your reply? I can’t see anything? I guess you can watch the movie on You Tube? My work someone has it so you can’t even see you tube videos even if they are there.

    • Bartleby December 18, 2009 at 11:33 am #

      yea, if you open this page in a site where the videos aren’t blocked, I put all seven there in order. I can see them on my computer so I know they are there…

      • koutchboom December 18, 2009 at 11:35 am #

        Cool can’t wait, been wanting to see that movie for a long time. Thanks man.

  22. goregirl December 18, 2009 at 1:35 pm #

    Some interesting picks. Curious to see what your TOP 10 looks like. Happy to see IN MY SKIN make your list! That one along with Ginger Snaps made my top 25 of the decade also. Putting this list together is quite frankly making my head spin! Every film on my 25 of the decade are films I rated 5/5 so ranking them is a challenge.

  23. lord bronco December 18, 2009 at 1:54 pm #

    Really dig this list-Dog Soldiers and Les Pact des loups-very nice. I’m with a lot of people who have to say that there isn’t/hasn’t been much in the way of good horror this decade. theres been tons of gore/releases, but not much of substantive releases. Dang John carpenter-save us all! crap Hurt locker was a better horror movie than most of the stuff they call horror. Again, though, great list i will have to check some of these out.

  24. hagiblog January 4, 2010 at 10:19 am #

    Impressive list that I’m only finally reading now. Some great flicks in there like The Signal or Buppha Rahtree but I’m one of those people that hated the ending of The Mist. I mean really hated it, it still makes me angry. I still say if it ended 45 seconds earlier it would have been great! HAHA!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Top 20 Horror Movies of the Decade Part 2 « Cinematropolis - December 22, 2009

    […] If you want to read the first part of this article, where I counted down the 20-11 choices and gave same honorable mentions, go HERE. […]

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