Happy Halloween! The big day is finally upon us. In celebration, we’ve been counting down the best in modern horror cinema and we’ve finally reach the top of the list. The following films have come to redefine the genre for a generation. They’re modern classics that are certain to stand the test of time, haunting audiences for decades to come.
5.) SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004)
Edgar Wright’s British-made masterpiece isn’t the first film to mash zombie horror and comedy, but no one has done it so effectively. Shaun of the Dead debuted to uninspiring box office results, but quickly found a massive cult following upon video release. Audiences fell in love with its dynamite script and endless sequences of comedy genius.
Shaun was a sharp and introspective film about the pitfalls of a hapless existence. The titular character is a retail wage slave, slumbering through life in hopes of winning back his ex-girlfriend when a zombie plague infects London, which goes mostly unnoticed due to his cluelessness. Even when the severity of the situation is revealed, his plan to save his loved ones is lazy and unimaginative. Shaun is forced to finally confront the deadness outside and within himself.
Though incredibly “British” in humor and approach, Shaun of Dead’s message resonated with young people across the world who were surviving a stumbling economy and dead-end jobs with little hope for a better life. It also served as an astute satire on the growing trend of zombie horror kicked off by Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later. Its impact on the horror genre was unprecedented and still continues to this day. It has since spawned a near endless list of zomcom progeny, from Zombieland to Cooties. That may be a dubious attribute, but make no mistake of its importance. Shaun of the Dead is the standard-bearer, the film all horror/comedies must now live up to.
4.) LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008)
At a time when Stephanie Mayer’s abysmal YA vampire romance saga Twilight was dominating both bookshelves and the box office, out came this little Swedish thriller and struck like a bolt of lightning. Based on the novel of the same name, Let the Right One In is a simple story of boy meets monster. Timid 12 year old boy Oskar meets and befriends Eli, a young girl that lives in his apartment complex who just so happens to be a vampire.
Rather than fall into the over-romanticized tropes that often pervade the vampire genre, the film explores themes of loneliness and isolation, all depicted beautifully by director Tomas Alfredson. Oskar and Eli’s relationship has a tender innocence that makes the film’s gruesome violence all the more frightening. Eli isn’t just the cute vampire pixie from across the courtyard, she’s a vicious killer who poses a real threat. However, there’s a vulnerability to her that makes her a sympathetic character Oskar is understandably attracted to. The development of their relationship feels natural, as things often are between children. Just in this case one of the children may be a couple of centuries old. Consider it the anti-Twilight.
Let the Right One In is widely regarded as one of the best horror films ever made and few can argue. It’s not perfect, but the central story is rich and fascinating, giving it an emotional impact few films in the genre ever accomplish.
3.) DRAG ME TO HELL (2009)
Though the horror has mutated to broad, inclusive genre over the years, its films often are still gauged by their ability to frighten and disgust. Few in recent memory have done that as well as Drag Me to Hell. The film follows the story of banker Christine Brown, who turns away a creepy old gypsy woman pleading for an extension on her mortgage. Shamed and outraged, the old lady assaults Christine and places a curse on her. Christine is plagued by series of nightmares and supernatural happenings, each more disgusting than the one preceding it. She has but days to remedy the curse or she’ll be dragged off to Hell by demons.
Co-written and directed by one of the greatest visionaries in horror, Sam Raimi, Drag Me to Hell was a return to form for the director that ignited the genre way back with 1981’s The Evil Dead. The film carries Raimi’s trademark over-the-top, grossness that evokes as many laughs as scares. It transports you back to a simpler time when horror movies sought to entertain as much as they frightened. There’s not a lot of depth to be found here and that’s the point. Drag Me to Hell is kept fun and engaging throughout. It exhibits the gruesome spectacle that draws fans to horror without being bogged down by heavy themes on the human condition. Drag Me to Hell is a raucous and delightfully ridiculous two hours of terror.
2.) THE ORPHANAGE (2007)
This 2007 Spanish film from director J. A. Bayona is a the pinnacle of “creepy child” horror. The story centers on Laura, the newfound operator of a long abandoned orphanage. When her son Simon goes missing within the orphanage, Laura’s frantic search uncovers ghoulish ongoings and unspeakable secrets.
Every minute of The Orphanage is absolutely unnerving. Though beautifully shot, Bayona captures a sense of impending dread that keeps you on the edge of your seat. The film is a master class in building atmosphere. Not a single scare comes cheaply. The story is by far one of the more well-developed, character driven pieces to come from horror in a long time, maybe ever. Laura’s descent into desperation and possible madness makes sure the viewer is emotionally invested in what happens, making the fear all the more real. The Orphanage presents itself as the thinking man’s horror movie, methodically staging its story and scenery for maximum effect.
1.) PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006)
Simply put, Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is one of the best films ever made, in horror or any other genre. It transcends the genre and in some ways the medium of film itself to become modern-day mythology. It’s a macabre fairy tale of shocking brutality and endless imagination.
Featuring some of the greatest (and most disturbing) practical creature effects ever seen, the film has an eerily tactile quality that grounds its fantasy elements, resulting in something that feels like a lucid nightmare. Further grounding the film is the story’s relationship to the real-life events of the Spanish Civil War. Fantasy horror collides with realistic context and the reality of surviving in a post-war society. The awards and praise lumped upon Pan’s Labyrinth are nearly too numerous to catalog. It’s collected nearly unanimous critical praise, topping the list of many who consider it one of the most essential modern cinema experiences. Seldom, if ever, has a horror film reached this level of praise and importance. It’s an accomplishment that may not happen again for a long time, solidifying Pan’s place at the top for a years to come.
Well, there you have it folks. All 25 in the books. Agree? Disagree? Have more suggestions? Be sure to share your thoughts in these selections and more. Just in case you missed them, be sure to visit our commentary on the other selections.
1.) PAN’S LABYRINTH
2.) THE ORPHANAGE
3.) DRAG ME TO HELL
4.) LET THE RIGHT ONE IN
5.) SHAUN OF THE DEAD
6.) THE BABADOOK
8.) IT FOLLOWS
9.) 28 DAYS LATER
10.) THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
11.) THE DESCENT
13.) THE OTHERS
16.) I SAW THE DEVIL
17.) TRICK ‘R TREAT
18.) PARANORMAL ACTIVITY
19.) THE MIST
20.) CRIMSON PEAK
21.) TUCKER & DALE VS EVIL
22.) AMERICAN PSYCHO
23.) DAWN OF THE DEAD
24.) THE RING