The first thought one has when asked to compose a list of the best of anything for an entire decade is “Oh shit.” Not necessarily because it’s going to be hard, but because you actually have to work at it. It’s kind of hard to crap out a relevant “Best of the Decade” without actually reviewing the decade. Once one overcomes that, they must then contend with “What is the best?” Not “what are the best” but what is. What qualifies a movie to the point that we stamp it the best of an entire decade? Is it the one I enjoyed the most or the one that was the most meaningful? Do I get to put Freddy vs Jason on this list or not? What I decided was something of an inbetweener. The movie had to be enjoyable, but it also had to hold some kind of significance. While I enjoyed the hell out of FvJ, it’s not really that significant of a film. Whereas Haute Tension was significant in being one of the first French films to really get our attention this decade and introduce us to Alexandre Aja, it didn’t really meet my other requirement of being both enjoyable and good, on top of significant. I liked Haute Tension, but it didn’t blow me away.
All of that decided, I churned through a list of movies that had been released between 2000 and 2009, ten full years. I had gone expecting to compose an initial list of dozens, if not a hundred or more possible films to include. Then it hit me. This has been a pretty shit decade for horror movies. In a given year, the average number of films I pulled for consideration of the list was 3. The highest was 6. Being generous, that’s saying the list had a possible 45 great films. But chopping that down even further was a cake walk. Eventually I was down to 16 titles. Knocking off the last one to get to 15 took all of 30 seconds. Not a great decade for horror, but we did get some good films.
Now when it comes to the selections, I had a few rules in my head. Only one film per franchise. If I pick Saw, then I don’t pick Saw III. The movies must be predominantly horror based, so Shaun of the Dead is out. It had to be in a wide release, either via theater or DVD, between but not before 2000 and 2009. Sorry, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane. Maybe one day I’ll be allowed to consider you. So what we end up with is not necessarily the 15 best horror films of the decade, but 15 you need to have watched. I’m sure I’m missing some obvious films other lists will pick up (The Orphanage) but have some stranger picks they’ll have avoided. Anyway, enough of this mishmash, let’s talk about the 15 Greatest Horror films of the Decade. In loose, descending order.
28 Days Later… (2002)
Zombies had a pretty good decade, leaving behind their shambling Romero origins and escaping their Italian villas to once again become an American commodity. Err. English. Danny Boyle didn’t make a “zombie” movie if you listen to the nerds who will argue this sort of thing, but the Rage Virus was simply a way to politely side-step normal zombie conventions and make a more menacing creature. This film makes the list primarily for giving a shot in the arm to zombie movies and helping legitimize digital filmmaking for the big screen.
Just because this is the best of the 2000s, doesn’t mean I can’t sneak a little 1980s love into this list. Growing up young in the 80s and then reliving that decade of devilry through VHS and DVD, I fell in love with 80s horror. The boobs, the over the top kills, the iconic characters. When you want to ID someone as a horror fan, you ID me as an 80s Slasher fan. So when I watched Adam Green absolutely nail the 80s slasher genre with Hatchet, I was blown away. I really dug this film. I thought then, and still do know, that Victor Crowley can be this generation’s Jason Voorhees. The movie makes the list for being a modern flick that perfectly emulates 80s horror and packs in some decent boobs and plenty of awesome kills.
Even if the series has struggled through most of the following installments, there is no denying that Saw is the defining horror franchise of this decade. It would be irresponsible to leave it off of the list. The first film made headlines for its humble, low budget origins and a twist that no one saw coming. For spawning a still running power-house franchise and being an original and violent good time, Saw was a shoe-in.
If France managed to do anything in the past decade to convince us they weren’t a bunch of sissies, they made the most impact with their slate of violence filled horror films. Martyrs has a well deserved reputation for being fantastically violent and fairly deranged. The average viewer might not be able to stomach it, but the avid horror fan will swallow it whole – without feeling the need to ask for more. This film easily finds a place on the list for its unique nature and willingness to spread the red.
Dog Soldiers (2002)
Barring introducing us to director Neil Marshall, what’s significant about this movie? Simple. It’s a werewolf movie and it’s not just good, it’s great. That’s all it takes when the world of werewolf films is full of dog crap. Dog Soldiers is that movie you dream of making when you’re 12 – Special Forces soldiers fight Werewolves. Not only does the film live up to what you want from it, it adds in some laughs and one of the coolest werewolf designs of all time.
The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
Yes, a remake on the list. Not only is this remake better than the original, when the sequel was handed back to Wes Craven, he proved just how good of a job Aja did. So while we can’t call this one on originality, we can praise it for its gritty realism and strong violence that do a better job of hitting hard than its source material. Strong acting, good characters, plenty of blood and violence make this a remake worth having.
The Mist (2007)
If there is a director who knows how to bring the Michael Jordan of written horror to the screen, it’s Frank Darabont. With The Mist, he takes an already bleak story and manages to make it even bleaker with an ending approved of and preferred by Stephen King himself. The film features strong performances from site favorite Tom Jane and crazy lady Marcia Gay Haden. Add in some impressive creature design and some absolutely disgusting alternate dimension spiders and you get a solid story about people, religion, and madness. The unexpected and shocking ending leaves you depressed and in awe of the film.
Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Mary
It almost assaults my patriotism to put another French film on the list (kidding), but here we are with Inside, another brutal French film with a female swinging the shears instead of a more traditional male killer. When I review horror, there are a few categories I reward. “Scary” isn’t often one of them because scary can be many things, but most often its something paranormal or not real. Horror, terror, stuff like that can be horrible and real. No ghosts are necessary when it just comes to a disturbed woman out to turn your insides into your outsides. For a cool story, excellent villain, and disturbing premise, Inside is a bloody good choice.
This is perhaps my oddball choice, but Frailty is a fantastic film (just released on Blu-ray) that is underappreciated. Co-starring and directed by Bill Paxton, Frailty follows a family of demon slayers – or maybe just murderers. The story expertly keeps you guessing as to who is who, who is doing what, and whether or not these people are doing the Lord’s work or the Devil’s. With excellent acting, strong direction, a great story and wonderful twists, Frailty is one you may have missed, but need to go back and watch.
Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)
If you hated (and I didn’t love) the Japanese invasion in the early years of this decade, you can blame either Ringu or Ju-On. I think the latter is the better film, with more instances of creepy images and a scary design overall. Dead kids are creepy to the point of cheating – toss them in your movie and its scary. Ju-On packs in dozens of creepy faces in creepy places. You feel that strange sensation in the shower? Ghosts. That glimmer in the elevator window? Ghosts. Something brush your leg in your sleep? Ghosts under the covers, ghosts over the covers, ghosts floating in your God damn face. For better or for worse, Ju-On played a huge role in horror in the early part of this decade, but the original Japanese flick is scary and significant enough to be on this list.
Let the Right One In (2008)
While not the first vampire film to deal with idea of pre-adolescent blood suckers, it is one of the best in general and one of the best vampire movies there is, though to me, that’s not really saying all that much. Let the Right One In is a widely popular and engaging tale with strong child actor performances, an excellent story, and a fair amount of blood spilled. Lina Leandersson proves kids can act – and also proves that little girl vampires are clever, cunning, and capable of awesome ruthlessness. The film makes you love this little girl even though you know she’ll take the lives of not just the innocent, but the good, to survive. Life, love, it’s a bitch. This film, it’s a hit.
One of my favorite films of recent memory, Splinter is a throwback (again) to the good old days of horror. Aside from the lack of nude female boobs, the film delivers. We get an awesome, practically created monster and plenty of red stuff spilled. There is an inventive use of a severed hand a la Evil Dead II and the performances from hottie Jill Wagner and veteran actor Shea Whigham are excellent. Toby Wilkins takes his first real shot at writing/directing and nails a fun, atmospheric, throwback genre piece. Definitely worth checking out.
Jaume Balaguero, Paco Plaza
You know the film is good when it’s already been remade before most people had heard of it stateside. This Spanish horror film manages to do what few can – make that in camera shakey bullcrap interesting. While that’s not groundbreaking technique, it has perhaps not ever been as effective as it is here. The performances ground you into the story and the atmosphere wears you down before excellently grotesque zombies dart out of the darkness. Rarely do zombie movies manage to actually scare or frighten the viewer, mostly they’re just gross. Here, the entire atmospheric film is tense and scary.
Dawn of the Dead (2004)
With most of these examples, I went with the original, however, this is the second remake to make the list. The reason is the same – this is the better film. Romero fans can whimper, cry, and point out all the social points they want but when it comes down to it, this is an exciting, thrilling zombie film. Where 28 Days Later made up some excuse to put speed in the zombies, Zack Snyder just burst onto the scene and said “Let’s do it, fast is scary.” This was Snyder’s feature debut to the world, and he nailed it. There was tremendous zombie action, explosions, gunplay, nudity, sex, humor. My favorite zombie movie of all time.
The Descent (2005)
If Neil Marshall’s film wasn’t a horror film, it would undoubtedly be listed as one of the best thrillers or one of the best spelunking movies there could be. We’re not even introduced to our cannabalistic underground foes until well into the flick yet we’re never bored. The sets and locations are used perfectly to create a claustrophobic sensation while the strong performances from the all female cast sell the characters and the situation. The film manages to be truly creepy, surprising, and scary.
Well, folks, that’ll about do it. Fifteen horror films of the past decade that you should have seen. Some of them are the best of the best, others might have a little wiggle room there. In my opinion, these are some of the more important and more entertaining horror entries of the past 10 years. I will say that Final Destination almost made it for spawning a big franchise and being somewhat original and I’ll also saw that Hostel, neither original nor entertaining, never had a shot of making the list. If anything, Hostel hurt the genre rather than helping it by bringing lots of negative publicity against a movie that wasn’t worth the discussion.
What are you favorite horror movies from the past decade?