Best of lists are funny things. They are highly personal, subjective and easy to argue or agree with. So when you put a list together based off the Internet’s tastes and votes you know it’s going to get odd results based off the demographic that may be coming into it.
The AV club posted a link to site with a vote of the best horror films of the 21st century. While there are some good ones on here, like all lists this one will cause some controversy among fans. I have my own opinions particularly about the #1 choice.
For the record, here is the top 10* from that list:
10. Drag Me To Hell
9. Mulholland Drive
8. Shaun Of The Dead
7. The Babadook
6. It Follows
5. Let The Right One In
4. The Descent
3. 28 Days Later
2. Pan’s Labyrinth
1. The Cabin In the Woods
The Cabin in the Woods for #1?
Really? Now I LIKE that movie, but it is certainly not the BEST horror movie of the first decade and half from this century.
I think this choice is one the represents the love of the ironic on the internet. It’s a horror movie making fun of other horror movies all the while being a horror movie. Got it? Like I said, its a good movie, fun even, but the best? Hardly. It may be in the top 20 0r 30 but not #1 for me.
The rest of the films are worthy from one degree to another. I mean Lynch is on there, C’mon! Lynch is a damn genius! It’s just a shame he has not done more film work in this last decade. All of these movies are good examples of some of the better horror films from the early 21st century. A lot of them show how horror transcends the genre and speaks to larger issues around the stories themselves.
For a personal list like this I want to think about other things that go into and influence good genre films and how these movies support and reflect those ideas back at the culture at large.
If we take in the whole of the pop cultural landscape of horror in the early 21st century we can see a lot things, #1 being the prevalence of the Zombie into mainstream audiences. Never before has so much blood and gore been spilt and consumed by such a large number of people thanks to the success of “The Walking Dead” on TV. Zombies have been chomping their way thru movies since Ol’ Uncle George revamped them from their voodoo origins in the late 1960’s. What used to be a fringe nook of the horror genre has gone wildly mainstream with people of all ages and genders tuning in on a Sunday night for what used to be an R (or even X) rated gore show on the big screen. There’s a whole new convention culture based around this now too where people pay hundreds of $ to meet the stars of the show, not to mention all the Zombiewalks around the country. Some of the characters from Walking Dead have even become heart-throbs thanks to those fans.
Found footage of course is another one that came on strong in these last 15 years. It may even top Zombies for the most over used gimmick in horror movies in the early 21st century. It makes sense given the success of the Blair Witch in ’99 if you tie that aesthetic with what happened on 9/11 and how we consumed so much terrible real world “found /documentary” footage on the news in the early part of the American century. From there you can see how that filters into the cinema and gets sent back out as “horror”. 9/11 gets repeated back to us in metaphorical ways and horror films allow it to be consumed by the viewer and we get a cathartic way to process all those feelings.
And we must really mention the French contribution to horror in this last decade. Kind of surprising so much came out of that country which is usually known for it’s more upscale films and arthouse fare. They came into the decade with a vengeance with films like Haute Tension, Martyrs, Inside, Ils, Irreversible, Frontiers and many more. The French were pretty much on the forefront of a lot of tough and ballsy horror films. Some of the films were really bloody and vicious in tone and style. All of the things American horror did in the 70’s got repeated by the French in the 00’s. Definitely check them out if you have not.
In addition to those major things, we also have some of the usual suspects of the genre; killer kids, vampires, exorcisms , hauntings and home invasions by strangers. The latter also reflects a subconscious feeling that even if we try to hide away from the outside world in our homes, the horror will come find you regardless. It may be one of the most unsettling themes of the last decade and a half. No one is safe at home, at work, or in the street.
Here is my list of the my horror favorites from the first 15 years of the 21st century. Again the listing can change from day to day for me. But I think my #1 is solidly in that place.
1. The Conjuring – Hands down this movie is the first one in the modern era I can say sits up in the pantheon next to great horror like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist and The Exorcist. This takes the well known story beats and makes it new and fresh, James Wan was just warming up with his other films like Dead Silence, Saw and Insidious. This is near perfect horror film making with the correct nods to the past.
2. Shaun of the Dead – Zombies! Comedy! Romance! The one that created the Zom-Rom-Com. Launched the careers of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright. Hard to believe they hit this one so far right out of the gate. Hilarious and fun. It satirizes and updates the zombie genre all at once.
3. The Descent – Neil Marshall’s film about a group of women who go cave spelunking and find more than just each other in the darkness down there. The cave itself is frightening enough with it’s claustrophobic twists and turns. Then you add the interpersonal tension between the women , heck you don’t even need anymore after that.
4. The Mist -Frank Darabont’s controversial take on Stephen King’s novella. Way too dark for the mainstream where the ending left people really angry. I thought it was pretty genius and gives it a fucked up twilight zone zinger. Aside from that the movie is just plain harrowing and bleak overall. I really enjoyed this monster movie even though it is a tough one to watch. Check out the B&W version on the disc.
5. The Strangers – It Follows got a lot of attention this year for it’s style and how it was like Carpenter’s back in the 70’s/80’s. The Strangers for me has that in spades and seemed to be forgotten quickly. This is the first of a few unsettling home invasion films in the decade and also on of the most confidently directed and assured films overall. I’m not sure why it got so overlooked. The French take on this “Ils” or “Them” was also very good.
6. Let the Right One In – The Swedish take on the vampire genre brings its idea of an open society’s fear of the immigrant into play as we see a child befriend another one who is slightly different than even what he seems on the surface, delving into the fear of the ‘other’. This chilly, thoughtful take on modern vampires eschews flashiness for more depth and thoughtfulness about loneliness and being an outsider.
7. Ring/Ringu – Ringu kicked off the J-horror craze in the early 2000’s so I am cheating by listing both. Both films are great for the exactly the same reasons that make them different. The settings. One is Japan, one is America. Both settings make the films unique to each. I did not think the remake would be any good but it certainly is. Fear of technology, something that is more and more relevant today than yesterday, is all over this story. These films could be remade over and over I bet and still have something to say about us.
8. Paranormal Activity/Cloverfield – Going back to found footage horror there has been a lot of bad ones this decade and also a lot fo good ones. Again, I am cheating by listing both , but these two are my favorites of this part of the genre. Both had great hype and marketing schemes as well lending itself to the mystery and the scares. Cloverfield takes on post 9/11 culture and allows us to see it and process it in more archetypal terms as a monster movie invasion while still invoking that feeling we all remember too well. Paranormal Activity is a home invasion of sorts, just more ethereal and evil. The movie is creepiest in it’s quietest moments. Both use the found footage gimmick rather well and are the best of the genre.
9. Drag Me to Hell- Raimi returns to his horror roots with this Twilight Zone-like fable about a woman who crosses the wrong gypsy. You get the full on Raimi horror slapstick treatment here with Alison Lohman standing in for Bruce Campbell as his object of torture. This felt like Sam trying to flex his muscles after dealing with large scale comic book movies and the failure of Spiderman 3. I really liked this return and felt much more evenly mixed between the horror and the comedy than his previous horror comedy efforts.
10. Trick ‘r Treat- Finally a movie set on Halloween that actually captures the feeling of Halloween! This debut from Michael Dougherty was almost lost in the shuffle by the studio and then released without much fanfare. A collection of short stories anchored by a new character Sam, who is sort of the guardian of Halloween. We have all the trappings of the holiday with costumed characters, tainted candy, jack o’lanterns, the movie is an anthology of stories mixing werewolves, vampires and killer kids among other things. Working off the cliche’s of the holiday as well telling it’s tales around them, this movie has what you want when you think about that time of the season. A sequel is forthcoming.
Dawn of the Dead, REC, Grindhouse, Lords of Salem, Sinister, Insidious, 28 days/28 weeks Later, Haute Tension, Inside, House of the Devil, The Last Exorcism, What we do in the Shadows, It Follows, The Babadook and a Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.
While creating this list and article I realized we have had some pretty great horror films in the first 15 years of the new millennium. A lot to enjoy and a lot more to discover for sure. It’s a good sign the genre is alive an well and any notices saying otherwise are probably lying. Now like I said earlier, this is MY list. The great thing is you can tell me what your top list consists of below in the comments.