It’s time to steady our nerves again as we plunge deeper into our list of the 21st century’s very best horror films with the next five spooky and gruesome entries:
After concentrating on spectacle-lavished blockbusters, Hellboy 2: The Golden Army and Pacific Rim, for the best part of a decade, celebrated Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro returned to the genre where he started his career way back in 1993 with Cronos.
While perhaps not Del Toro’s very best work, Crimson Peak is arguably the best showcase for his most formidable talent of distinctive and imaginative production design. This supernatural murder mystery may be overwrought and melodramatic at times, but it is the director’s most sumptuous looking film to date. As such, Crimson Peak earns a place in our top 20 as a magnificent visual piece from one of the few true visionaries still working in the horror genre today.
The Mist‘s director and screenwriter, Frank Darabont, already had a tremendous reputation for working from Stephen King’s source material after producing two bonafide classics with The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile and only added to it with this adaptation of King’s 1980 novella of the same name. Just as Darabont’s previous King adaptations had been set in prisons, this monster-laced horror also features a bunch of mismatched characters trapped in a single location. This time, however, it concerns customers in a supermarket who become stranded thanks to a mysterious mist descending on their town containing many unusual and terrifying creatures.
The Mist certainly won’t win any awards for subtly with its attempts at portraying “man is the real monster” being more “text” than “subtext” as the survivors squabble and fight amongst themselves, the film is extremely entertaining and enjoyable as it revels in its B-movie tone. That is, of course, right up until the tale’s devastating ending that had audiences audibly gasping in theaters nearly a decade ago. So traumatizing was the denouement, it’s debatable as to whether audiences have ever forgiven leading man Thomas Jane for his character’s tragic decision in those closing moments since the talented actor’s career has shown few signs of life since.
This 2009 box office triumph (Oren Peli’s directorial debut took an incredible $193 million from just a $15,00 production budget) is possibly the most divisive film on this list. The found footage format was already causing a lot of fatigue with audiences by the time Paranormal Activity released and it proceeded to split audiences straight down the middle as either “the scariest movie ever!” or “that movie where a door moves a bit”.
Regardless of whether the film cast its spell on you or not, one has to commend its effective use of static shots and a Lynchian-style sound design to produce maximum tension as we waited, wide-eyed, to see what the demonic presence had in store next for its housebound victims, Katie and Micah. Among those who were truly terrified by Paranormal Activity‘s bumps in the night was a certain Steven Spielberg who apparently refused to finish watching the film until the safety of daylight returned the following day. Its unprecedented success also unleashed a slew of sequels that both diminished in returns and quality with last year’s universally panned Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension seemingly exorcising the franchise once and for all.
This glorious throwback to the horror anthology format that proved so popular in the 80’s (Creepshow, The Twilight Zone: The Movie, Cat’s Eyes, etc) added a neat little twist to proceedings by setting all of its four stories during one Halloween night in a small town causing a seamless overlapping of its gruesome little tales. As with all horror anthologies, some segments are better than others with the undoubted highlight being the final section which is a clever subversion of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as Brian Cox’s Halloween scrooge is taught a terrifying lesson about the true spirit of the holiday by the film’s instantly iconic cloth-sack imp, Sam.
After warm receptions on the horror festival circuit between 2007-2009, this American-Canadian Halloween delight could only muster a straight-to-DVD release in 2009. It has, however, gone on to gather quite the cult following since and it is one we urge you to join if you’re looking for a genuine Halloween treat this October 31st.
This underrated South Korean horror is further proof that there are few more capable than East Asian directors in pushing cinema to its most extreme limits as Kim Jee-Woon delivers gore and violence at an unprecedented level here. I Saw the Devil‘s plot may be utterly preposterous but with so many memorable and unflinching scenes, it’s unlikely many will notice during its running time.
But what truly elevates Jee-Woon’s graphic tale of revenge and victimization above other extreme cinema stablemates, such as Martyrs and A Serbian Film, is the serene beauty that enshrouds so many of the film’s visceral shots. The unquestionably talented Korean director is at the height of his powers here and Choi Min-Sik’s villain is one of this century’s most nightmarish characters so far. However, as if this wasn’t clear already, viewer discretion is very much advised here as the film is unrelenting and unapologetic in its many depictions of torture and rape. But, those that can stomach it will find this to be one of the most unforgettable films on this list.
So, another 5 down on our countdown to this century’s very finest horror films. Stay tuned for #15 through #11 coming to these pages soon… if you dare.