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By the pricking of my thumbs, a holiday-themed list feature this way comes. Yep, All Hallow’s Eve is almost upon us, and while the temptation to do some kind of “Before I Go To Sleep“-themed feature was a great one, we thought we should put together something appropriately spooky to get you in the mood for tomorrow night’s festivities.
So, during a break from making our costumes for the annual Playlist Halloween party (popular choices this year: the Babadook, Kevin Feige, Alexander from “Alexander and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” box-office receipts for “Sin City 2,” a GamerGater), we’ve been considering the state of recent horror.
We’re now fifteen years into the new millennium, and while the horror genre is as ever responsible for more dross than most, it’s also been an exciting time for scary movie fans, with a new wave of filmmakers emerging from all around the world with smart new takes on how to make you scream. So after much deliberation/arguing, we’ve picked out the 25 best horror films since the turn of the century. Take a look at our picks below, and let us know your picks in the comments.
25. “Orphan” (2009)
Dark Castle Entertainment, the genre production arm formed by “Tales from the Crypt” principals Joel Silver, Robert Zemeckis and Gilbert Adler, started off by making above-average remakes of films originally produced by the king of gimmicky thrillers William Castle. Eventually, the studio started to produce different types of films, and “Orphan,” an original chiller co-produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, might be the company’s very best film. Helmed by Spanish stylist Jaume Collet-Serra, the film is an endlessly fascinating take on the “evil child” horror sub-genre, this time centered around a young couple (played by Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard) who, following the stillborn birth of their third child, decide to adopt an odd Russian girl named Esther (a haunting Isabelle Fuhrman). At 123 minutes, the movie is a decidedly slow burn, but it ramps up to a rare (and essentially unguessable) twist that doesn’t totally discredit the rest of the movie. Instead, it makes the climax, set in Connecticut but turned, thanks to Jeff Cutter‘s chilly cinematography, into a snowy world more reminiscent of the ice planet Hoth, even more powerful and perverse. Even if you’re not a fan of this particular genre sub-set, it’s hard to argue with the effective and stylistic verve of “Orphan.” And even before the twist blows your mind, chances are you’ll already be shaken up.
24. “The Ring” (2002)
In the early 00s, J-horror was big news and Hollywood was quick to catch on, with studios greenlighting remakes of everything that had been even mildly successful in Asia with CW-friendly casts. For the most part, the results of movies like “Pulse,” “The Grudge,” “The Eye” and “One Missed Call” were disastrous, but the first of the batch, “The Ring,” was against the odds excellent. Directed by a pre-”Pirates of the Caribbean” Gore Verbinski, the film follows roughly the same plot as the original, with a journalist and single mother (Naomi Watts, who’d just broken out in “Mulholland Drive”) discovering that her niece has died a mysterious death, her body frozen in a position of horror. Digging into the case, she finds that the death may have been linked to the urban legend of a mysterious video tape that causes the death of anyone who watches it after seven days. It’s probably not superior to the 1998 original as such, but Verbinski retains much of what worked about Hideo Nakata’s film, and beautifully amps up the atmosphere, with an almost painterly feel to the photography by Bojan Bazelli, and a halting, jolting score by Hans Zimmer. And though the shock of the film’s ending was probably lessened for those who’d seen the original, those coming to the remake fresh almost certainly never forgot it.
23. “You’re Next” (2011)
If the names Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett aren’t familiar, then you should bookmark their IMDB pages. On the strength of this clever, funny, subversive home invasion movie and their latest “The Guest,” which sadly all but disappeared from theaters due to stiff competition in a very crowded market, they’re two upstart genre filmmakers whose careers you’ll want to follow. Without question what they do next is an exciting prospect (a remake of the excellent “I Saw the Devil,” the Korean revenge film to end all Korean revenge films, was recently announced), but for now we have “You’re Next,” currently available to stream on Netflix.. It’s a thrill ride, a reminder of when horror films were fun, and almost never disappoints. It stars a rogue’s gallery of former mumblecore elites and current/past indie mainstays —Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, Ti West, AJ Bowan, Kate Lyn Sheil, Larry Fessenden— all upstaged by the film’s MVP, Sharni Vinson, who takes what must have already been a great character on the page and infuses it with humor, bloodlust and urgency. We’ll leave it for you to discover what we’re getting at, because “You’re Next” works best when characters turn the tables and expectations are upended.
22. “It Follows” (2014)
When you think of movies premiering at the Cannes, chances are you don’t think about supernatural teens-in-jeopardy chillers, but this year “It Follows” debuted in the Critics’ Week sidebar and by all accounts managed to be one of the highlights. As directed by David Robert Mitchell (“Myth of the American Sleepover“), “It Follows” is many things —it’s a fairly on-the-nose metaphor for the dangers of promiscuity, a superb modern campfire tale, and a loose imagining of what would happen if the cast of “The Breakfast Club” banded together to fight a horrifying otherworldly evil. It is also scary as hell. Mitchell captures the action in a series of queasy long takes, a welcome reprieve from the quick-cutting assault that helped define the “torture porn” slate of films, so the viewer is waiting for something terrible to happen instead of being bludgeoned with it; it’s artful and eerie at the same time. The mythology that Mitchell sets up makes a whimsical kind of sense (hopefully it will be left mercifully unexplored, should sequels be in the cards) and Maika Monroe (who starred in another killer genre film from this year, “The Guest“) is one of the most compelling female horror icons since Jamie Lee Curtis in “Halloween.” She is a girl whose fumbling one night stand ends up haunting her —literally.
21. “Berberian Sound Studio” (2012)
British director Peter Strickland made a hell of a debut with his first film, the Hungarian-language drama “Katalin Varga,” but it went severely underseen, despite winning awards at the Berlin Film Festival. The result was that “Berberian Sound Studio,” his horror-tinged follow-up, was very much under-the-radar when it arrived, but the film successfully broke open the skulls of pretty much everyone that saw it. Influenced by both David Lynch and classic giallo horror, the film starred the great Toby Jones as Gilderoy, a sound engineer who travels to Italy to work on a horror picture called “The Equestrian Vortex” (the film’s director takes exception at calling it a horror film: one imagines Strickland might say the same). Gilderoy begins his meticulous work but finds himself rapidly unraveling. It’s in part a horror film about the effect of horror films, and that we barely see anything of the film-within-the-film only lets your imagination play havoc with the unpleasant squelches and screams that are being created by the sonic wizard (and Jones is absolutely terrific in the part). Pure genre fans might come away disappointed with the lack of jump-scares or actual gore, but this is a truer kind of horror, one that reaches in and shakes your skeleton through your ears.