Tuesday, June 16, 2015

13 Great Horror Movies of the 2000s

by Patrick Bromley
Celebrate New Horror day with some of the great!

After the disappointment that was most of the 1990s, horror has made a huge comeback in the 2000s. The rise of the indie film, the proliferation of streaming and VOD platforms and the accessibility of filmmaking technology have all helped contribute to the renewed vibrancy of the genre, giving birth to some of my favorite horror movies not just in recent years but probably of all time.

Is this list comprehensive? Of course not. There are omissions. More than 13 great horror movies have been made in the last 15 years. Is the list pretty traditional? Yes, because the greatness of many of these movies is pretty widely accepted. I did try to include a few surprises, though -- mostly personal picks for movies I love and consider great even if not everyone agrees.

More than anything, this is a chance to talk about horror movies and to champion a bunch of films that I love for the hundredth time. Here they are, presented in an almost completely random order:

1. The Descent (2005, dir. Neil Marshall)
I still think this is the best horror movie of the last 15 years. It's not one I go back to very often because it's genuinely terrifying even before the cave monsters show up and I am a big baby. Unrelenting, brutal and nightmarish.

2. Starry Eyes (2014, dir. Kevin Kolsch/Dennis Widmyer)
Can you guys believe I'm talking about Starry Eyes? It's so unlike me, right? I use any excuse I get to sing the praises of this movie, which crept up on me more than any movie in the last five years. I liked it with reservations when I first saw it (and wrote my review); now I think it's a new masterpiece and one of the best horror movies of the last decade and a half. Alex Essoe's performance is one for the ages.

3. The Cabin in the Woods (2012, dir. Drew Goddard)
Again, nothing new here. This meta-commentary on the state of horror is both a critique of what is wrong with the current state of the genre and (yes) a celebration of what we love about horror. It's more polarizing than I ever would have expected, because I think it's impossible to deny the film's greatness. Even if you can't get on board with its messages, it's just so much fun.

4. May and The Woman (2002 and 2011, dir. Lucky McKee)
I couldn't choose just one of Lucky McKee's two brilliant horror films from the 2000s, so I'll call this a tie. May is a flat-out masterpiece, with an Angela Bettis performance that's one of my favorites in a long, long time (both the character and Bettis' take). The Woman is rougher around the edges and messier in its damnation of American masculinity, but no less powerful. We're lucky to have them both.

5. The Innkeepers (2011, dir. Ti West)
This may not be a popular pick, as I know most fans of the great Ti West consider House of the Devil to be his masterpiece, while West himself would call last year's The Sacrament the best work he's done. My heart still belongs to The Innkeepers, his wonderful horror comedy about a haunted hotel that serves as a beautiful metaphor about twentysomethings in a state of arrested development. Sara Paxton and Pat Healy are so, so good in this movie that, as I've said dozens of times, I would watch a movie about them even without any of the horror stuff.

6. Slither (2006, dir. James Gunn)
This darker-than-dark homage to '80s horror movies (chief among them Night of the Creeps) is both a great practical effects horror movie and a brilliant comedy, featuring an insane cast of great character actors (Michael Rooker, Gregg Henry) and a fantastic leading man turn by Nathan Filion. It's a miracle this got made inside the studio system, even if it did pretty much bomb at the box office. Here's hoping that people outside it's ever-growing cult of fans discover the film now that Gunn is making hugely successful space operas for Marvel.

7. Drag Me to Hell (2009, dir. Sam Raimi)
One of the most underrated horror films of the 2000s is also one of Sam Raimi's most underrated efforts, a return to form for the Evil Dead director. Few horror movies in the last 15 years have this much energy, invention and LOUD NOISES. It's so much fun and such a great audience movie that it's a shame it never seemed to find one in theaters. Like most great horror movies, this is one that has been embraced by the horror community but deserves an even bigger following. Maybe the PG-13 rating kept some people away. It shouldn't have.

8. Let the Right One In (2008, dir. Thomas Alfredson)
Certainly the best vampire movie of the 2000s (and maybe one of the best of all time), Let the Right One In is dark and haunting and poetic and sad -- the exact opposite of the next movie on this list and a reminder of just how wide a spectrum horror can cover. I've also grown to love the American remake, Let Me In, but if there's only room for one adaption on this list it's got to go to the original.

9. Final Destination 2 (2003, dir. David R. Ellis)
This might be better served on an 'underrated' list, but the sequel to Final Destination -- a movie that's fine but not great -- is the one that gets it all right. The set pieces are brilliant, the violence clever and it's the only entry in the series that understands it ought to be a black comedy. If you only ever see one Final Destination movie, make it this one (5 is good too, but you need to have watched the whole series to really appreciate it).

10. Contracted (2013, dir. Eric England)
Another polarizing pick, I know, but I can't deny my affection for Eric England's third movie (released as his second). It has a lot in common with Starry Eyes both in the way it examines decay -- both physical and of the self -- and in the strength of its leading performance (here it's Najarra Townsend). England takes a single concept and explores it to its breaking point, with a number of truly memorable moments and images that make this one fun to revisit.

11. Insidious (2010, dir. James Wan)
James Wan might be the single most important horror filmmaker of the 2000s, having reshaped it once with Saw and again with both Insidious and The Conjuring. Here's another instance in which I think The Conjuring is the film that's more classically "good" and will probably have a longer shelf life, but Insidious is the James Wan film I suspect I'll return to most.  It's a blast of a haunted house movie, one in which we care about the characters and have fun being scared all while the movie goes to intentionally wacky places. I like it more every time I see it.

12. The Devil's Rejects (2005, dir. Rob Zombie)
Even people who hate Rob Zombie's movies -- and there are a lot of them -- seem to give this one a pass. This, the sequel to his debut House of 1,000 Corpses, remains his best movie, and I say that as someone who has liked every one of his films to one degree or another. It's a nasty, grimy masterpiece right out of the '70s and a really fascinating exercise in audience identification. Give it a few more years and I'll bet The Lords of Salem also makes this list too.

13. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006, dir. Scott Glosserman)
Another "meta" horror movie (ugh) that's part faux-documentary and part traditional narrative, Behind the Mask is so clever that you can't believe no one had already thought of it. It features another incredible central character and lead performance by Nathan Baesel, which raises the question of why people don't give more credit to the acting when discussing what makes horror movies lasting and great. We talk about the effects, the atmosphere, the scares, the directorial choices, but rarely the acting and the characters. There are a lot of movies on this list that make an argument for the importance of both.


  1. Glad to see Drag Me To Hell on this list. I saw it in the dollar theater with some buddies expecting the worst and we all came out loving how much fun it was.

  2. Great list. Like to see the love for Behind the Mask. I don't hear enough about that great movie. And not only is The Descent terrifying to watch, but it also gets my vote for some of the greatest unnerving use of surround sound. Turn out the lights, crank up the stereo, and get freaked the hell out by those cave dwellers surrounding you. Yikes!

  3. Wow, finally a list where I've seen every one! A few there that might not make my personal Top 13 but all great picks for sure.

    I was thinking of watching Under the Skin for the second time tonight because I'm dying to watch it again - should I take its exclusion from your list to mean that you don't really consider it horror?

    1. This is by no means by Top 13. Some of them would be, but probably not all. And I'd call Under the Skin a horror movie -- it's honestly only on the list because I didn't think of it in time.

    2. Gotcha. And man, I'm loving Junesploitation and all, but this list and everyone's New Horror Day picks have me itching for Scary Movie Month big time - I want to watch all of these right now!

    3. Same here Sol. I'm also missing the hell out of reading through all those hilarious seven word reviews. Four more months!

  4. Great list. I like them all, The descent is the most ive felt uncomfortable, the first half climbing through those tight crevices kills me, its really effecting to me, I can handle the monsters just not getting stuck in those caves :(

  5. Great List! I love lists and as far as lists go, it would be very high on my list of lists.
    If I haven't said lists enough, here is the list of my top 13. I'll put mine in descending order because I like fucking lists(not literally) but these could change tomorrow:
    13. Dawn of the Dead - I like it better than the original
    12. The Innkeepers - My favorite of Ti West
    11. The Den - Won't get a lot of love but it scared the crap out of me
    10. The Orphanage - Just watched it again, still great
    9. The Babadook - It's great, everyone knows it.
    8. The Grudge - I have a weakness for SMG but this is still scary
    7. The Conjuring - I'll take this one over Insidious
    6. Paranormal Activity 3 - Best of the series, hand held camera on a fan, awesome
    5. It Follows - Can't stop thinking about this one, Blu-ray is mine next month
    4. The Happening - Just because...it's great...you fuckin assholes
    3. Slither - Like Patrick said, it's tremendous, James Gunn is the best
    2. The Descent - I like it better every time I see it
    1. The Cabin in the Woods - I'd put it in my top 10 all-time, awesome

  6. Final Destination 2 really caught me off guard. As far as I know I've never seen that particular one, but I sort of wrote those movies off as mean-spirited kill parties for audiences who just have a blood lust. Now you make me want to give them another shot. I'd put The Babadook on this list as well, but I understand that it's been talked to death on this site and pretty much everywhere else.

  7. I'm still hoping for a Behind the Mask. Realistically, I know I shouldn't get my hopes up.

    When I was still working for Movie Gallery, I had to do a lot of defending on Drag Me to Hell's behalf.

    1. Behind the Mask SEQUEL, rather.

  8. Maniac remake
    Hills Have Eyes remake

  9. I love this list. My wife and I had a great time watching Cabin in the woods and Starry eyes for the first time