8. The Conjuring
Ed and Lorraine Warren, renowned paranormal investigators, are called to the home of Roger and Carolyn Perron. The Perrons, along with their five daughters, have recently moved to an isolated farmhouse, and a demonic presence has started haunting them. The manifestations grow increasingly menacing, especially after the Warrens learn about the house’s past.
The Conjuring is, hands down, one of the best-crafted horror movies of the 21st century. Based on the Warrens’ real-life 1970s case files, it uses old-school scares effectively. Director James Wan knows when to go for an in-your-face scare and when to use suggestion. It might not reach the same heights as classics like The Exorcist, but it comes close.
7. A Tale of Two Sisters
After the death of their mother, teenager Su-mi is institutionalized in a mental institution. But she is eventually released and goes to live with her sister, Su-yeon, her father, Mu-hyun, and his new wife, Eun-joo. The sisters immediately dislike Eun-joo. Su-mi soon starts to have disturbing visions which convince her that Eun-joo has a dark secret.
Kim Jee-woon’s masterpiece is a hugely atmospheric horror movie that works without showing as many scares as most of the other films on this list. Right up to the ending—one of the most shocking of any recent horror movie—it builds dread without much hurry. And it’s not just the horror that works. A Tale of Two Sisters also explores the relationships between a widower, his second wife and their teenage daughters.
6. Drag Me to Hell
Christine Brown, a loan officer, is eager to prove to her boss that she can make hard choices. She decides to deny an extension on an old Romani woman’s mortgage, even when the woman, Mrs. Ganush, begs on her knees. In retaliation for being shamed, Mrs. Ganush curses Christine to suffer for three days then to be plunged into Hell and to burn for all time. Sure enough, she starts to experience disturbing encounters.
With this movie, Sam Raimi showed that he can still make good horror. Just like the Evil Dead series, Drag Me to Hell is full of funny moments, genuine scares and gross-out scenes that dare you to look away.
5. The Others
Grace, a young mother, is waiting for her husband with her two young children, Nicholas and Anne. They are in an isolated Victorian mansion on the Isle of Jersey during World War II. Three servants arrive to replace their usual servants, who have vanished, and that’s when strange things start to occur. The children claim that they see ghosts, and soon enough, Grace starts to have similar experiences.
The Others is not like most other supernatural horror films. It doesn’t rely on jump scares or bucket-loads of gore. Instead, it steadily builds dread and suspense until the shocking reveal at the end.
4. The Babadook
Six years after her husband’s death in an accident, Amelia struggles to discipline her 6-year-old son, Samuel. He dreams about a creature that he’s sure is coming to kill both of them. Then a horrific storybook turns up at their home, called “The Babadook”. The creature in the book, according to Samuel, is the one he’s been dreaming of. Amelia unsuccessfully tries to get rid of the book, and meanwhile, Samuel’s condition grows worse; he becomes harder to control, more violent and he hallucinates more.
Jennifer Kent’s debut film works on two levels: as a frightening horror movie about a ghost tormenting a young boy, and as an earnest drama about a mother coping with grief and having difficulties with her son.
3. Ju-on: The Grudge
Nishina Rika is a volunteer home care worker who enters the home of a bed-ridden patient. She discovers a demonic presence hidden behind a door which had been shut and sealed with duct tape. She unwittingly releases the entity, and soon discovers that several people who entered the same house before her went missing soon after. She fears that she might be the next victim.
Ju-On is among the best examples of J Horror. It’s atmospheric, tense, terrifying and the suspense is always building. It’s also responsible for one of the most terrifying horror icons not from Hollywood: Kayako. The third in a long line of Ju-On films, The Grudge is arguably the best and most terrifying.
2. The Orphanage
Laura convinces her husband to buy the orphanage in which she spent her childhood. She hopes to restore the place and turn it into a home for sick children. One day, however, her adopted son, Simon, vanishes. He is suffering from HIV, so when he fails to reappear for several months, he is presumed dead. Laura then starts to hear spirits who might be trying to help her find Simon, or who could have ulterior motives.
The scares in The Orphanage are never cheap, yet they are made simply. Instead of CGI ghouls or things floating around, masks and dolls are the main sources of terror. Laura’s desperation to find Simon also adds to a more human horror, especially to parents.
1. The Devil’s Backbone
After his father passes away, 10-year-old Carlos arrives at Santa Lucia, a school and shelter for orphans. He is admitted by Carmen, the tough headmistress, and Cesares, the kind professor. Carlos slowly uncovers the dark mysteries of the school, like the ghost of Santi, a student who wanders the grounds.
This is Guillermo del Toro’s most personal film and it shows. Like Pan’s Labyrinth, which would come later, The Devil’s Backbone is a supernatural story with an outstanding political and human dimension. Each character is relatable, including the ghost himself. It works as a low-key horror film and also as an allegory of the Spanish Civil War.
Author Bio: Fredrick is a copywriter-cum-scriptwriter with a passion for the macabre. When he’s not watching movies, he’s reading Lovecraftian novels and devouring manga.