23. The Ring (2002) – Gore Verbinski
Beginning the trend of J-Horror remakes, Gore Verbinski’s The Ring, coincidentally, also stands out as one of the best. Visuals drive the fright-fest as we are forced to sit through one of the most terrifying VHS tapes to ever be recorded. Somehow, Verbinski managed to craft a truly frightening PG-13 horror film with nearly no gore
While most horror films play off our fear of mortality, what’s unique about The Ring is that we’re not worried about some unexpected killer or booby trap, appearing out of nowhere to swiftly end us. Instead, we know exactly when we’re going to die, it just so happens to be very soon, and there’s nothing we can do to prevent it. One of the creepiest things about the film is it’s ending, letting us know that in this universe, death can never be prevented, only passed on.
22. Ginger Snaps (2000) – John Fawcett
Inspiring a trilogy of horror films, Ginger Snaps adds to the mythos of werewolf movies. Many other werewolf films have used the transformation as an allegory for puberty, but Ginger Snaps was the first to do so from a female perspective. This coupled with Fawcett’s direction of flair and peppered black humor is what made Ginger Snaps into a cult classic.
The film reads as an ode to Cronenberg, capitalizing on the terror of the human body. Sisters Brigitte and Ginger are modern rebels, refusing to be like everyone else. They’re so rebellious that they’re a few years late in having their first period, which they hilariously refer to as ‘the curse’. After a werewolf attacks Ginger, she experiences the whole of puberty in a compressed expanse of time.
The fun of Ginger Snaps comes mostly in the first half, where Fawcett employs a certain sly humor. There’s a scene where the sisters are sat down to have “the talk,” about what’s happening to their bodies. Knowing Ginger’s fate of being a werewolf makes this all the more hilarious. The second half slips and slides as it becomes a by the numbers horror account, but luckily, it doesn’t detract from the whole.
21. The Descent (2005) – Neil Marshall
A year after losing her husband and daughter in a horrific car crash, Sarah is lured to the USA by her friends to embark on a spelunking trip. They come into contact with horrific, violent creatures within the cave, and have to fight for their lives.
There are many things that make The Descent an excellent horror film, but only one that makes it a superb story: it’s title. It allows the film to stew in ambiguity, leaving things up to interpretation. It could be the literal drop these women take to enter the cave, or it could be a reference to Sarah’s loosening grip over reality. Throughout the film, Sarah has flashbacks to her daughters’ birthday. Appropriately, the repeating image in her flashback is of her daughter blowing out a candle in the dark, mirroring her journey through the cave with a singular torch.
This film is not for the claustrophobic. Caves are frightening enough, as is, but Marshall employs impeccable use of black space, sometimes in an oppressive way. There’s a terrible emptiness felt, as the characters struggle through the vacuum, letting us know that Sarah’s rebirth out of tragedy will not end well.
20. Suicide Club (2002) – Sion Sono
Although it sometimes hits the nail too hard on the head, Suicide Club is a disturbingly relevant horror film. It deals with a series of mass suicides confounding the public. Kiyoko, a young hacker claims she’s found a link between the suicides and a website. Yes, the film makes commentary on the thing you’re using at this very moment: the Internet.
Suicide Club does require its audience to put on their thinking cap for the ride. Much like the answer for suicide itself, the film doesn’t offer any easy answers. By the end of it, Sono gives the viewer just enough information to contemplate the subject matter, making the topic it deals with all the more chilling.
19. Dumplings (2004) – Fruit Chan
Starting off as an extension of a short film, Dumplings is a methodical horror film about an actress trying to regain her youth by eating dumplings made of human fetuses. Yes, you read that right. The main protagonist, Mrs. Li, doesn’t look a day over thirty, but her and her husband can’t conceive a child. Coinciding with her loss of fertility, Mrs. Li’s husband begins having affairs with younger women. Aunt Mei, played immaculately by Bai Ling, suggests that her special fetus dumplings can cure her infertility and restore her husbands’ love.
In some ways, the film feels like a contemporary satire of the implosion of plastic surgery, poking fun at the ridiculous ways people try to retain their youth. Fruit Chan never beats it over your head, though. As an audience, we aren’t seeing fetuses get cut up left and right, but the fact that we know what is in the dumplings is enough to make your skin crawl every time we see Mrs. Li eat them.
One element, in particular, that deserves high praise is the sound design. You can hear the meat sloshing around as Mrs. Li tries to hold down her gag reflex. However, the most revolting choice comes from when she bites into the dumplings. You can hear the cracks of tiny partially developed bones with each and every bite. We can’t be sure where our nausea comes from – the fact that Mrs. Li is consuming fetuses, or the hopeless pursuit of immortality that leads her to such a choice.
18. The Others (2001) – Alejandro Amenabar
Cheap slasher films are always in abundance, but for every one of them, there’s also a film that takes chances and dares it’s audience to use their imagination. What The Others has over other horror films is its style and atmosphere. It feels very much like a modern classic in that it relies on suggestion and suspense over flashy jump scares.
Grace, played by Nicole Kidman, is a young mother of two, raising her children alone at the end of World War II. They wait in their Victorian mansion for the return of Grace’s husband. When a trio of servants mysteriously appear, strange things begin to happen in the mansion.
By the time the film is over, it won’t matter that the plot was a tad predictable. The form through which Alejandro executes the film is what surprises and engages. He’s even able to make a girl wearing a sheet over her face one of the most terrifying images in the film. It’s an old-fashioned horror film in every sense.
17. Funny Games (2007) – Michael Haneke
In 2007, Haneke decided to remake his 1997 Austrian horror film, but this time with an American cast and crew, with the intent of criticizing the violence used in today’s media. What this resulted in is one of the most unenjoyable horror films of all time. Oddly, I mean that in a good way.
The film follows a family at their vacation home as two young men subject them to torture and ridicule. Haneke pokes fun at the audience, having the two sadists address us directly. Ironically, Haneke comes across as a sadist for subjecting his audience to the film. It’s a middle finger from Haneke to anyone who takes pleasure in the vicarious act of watching horror films and anticipating an eventual catharsis.
It can be judged positively on the merit of a horror film as a thesis statement, or it can be judged negatively as one of the most frustrating films to watch all the way through. Haneke’s contempt for his audience can be dismissed as pretentious garbage, but as a horror film, it certainly succeeds in leaving its audience with a heavy heart for having watched it.
16. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) – Kim Jee-woon
A Tale of Two Sisters features a myriad of horror clichés, but the story is told in such a unique fashion that this doesn’t matter. Kim Jee-woon’s tale is a slow-burner, reveling in its vagueness for most of the runtime.
This may frustrate many out of finishing the film; especially since it doesn’t placate the viewers attention span with jump scares or random creepy images. It’s a self-confident work of art that proves less is more.