The horror genre gets a bad rap. Regrettably, that’s because many films within the genre believe they can skimp on one aspect of storytelling, such as characters or dialogue, and replace it with cheap pop ups. That would be like replacing witty banter with fart jokes in a comedy – it’s cheap.
Scares are the horror genre’s punch lines, and as such, they aren’t easy to pull off. But scares aren’t the only thing that makes up a good horror film. Like any good work of art, an excellent horror film needs depth and character.
Since 2000, we have seen the horror genre change shape and scope in a multitude of ways, whether it’s the explosion of torture porn to the more somber, character driven foreign films. This list seeks to honor some of the best horror films of the new century.
30. The Mist (2007) – Frank Darabont
The Mist takes some liberties with its source material, a Stephen King novel of the same name, but even King himself has admitted that these changes have transformed the film into a horror classic.
The film explores what lengths the average person would be driven to in extraordinary circumstances. In this case, the extraordinary circumstance is a foreboding mist that contains terrifying creatures inside. What this danger eventually leads our heroes to is one of the darkest endings in American horror.
29. Splinter (2008) – Toby Wilkins
Shot on a relatively tight budget, Splinter manages to be one of those rare B-movies that outdoes itself, especially in regards to production value. It features a common horror concept: people get stuck in a building as a monster tries to kill them all.
Without giving away too much, the monster in the film manages to be unique without feeling forced or contrived. The writing is slick, starring three main characters that go outside of horror cliché. All of this wrapped up in Wilkins taut, fast-paced, balls-to-the-walls directorial style makes for one of the most enjoyable horror movies to come out in recent years.
28. Eden Lake (2008) – James Watkins
Eden Lake tells the tragic tale of a proposal vacation gone wrong. Sneaking onto a beach about development, the couple, played expertly by Michael Fassbender and Kelly Reilly, are berated and then attacked by a gang of unruly teenagers. This leads to a series of escalating events that eerily feel all too plausible.
The film is a warning bleat against the dangerous attitudes of the hive mind. Watkins directorial debut doesn’t shy away from bleakness, making it a terrifying powerhouse to be reckoned with.
27. Inside (2007) – Julien Maury/Alexandre Bustillo
This French horror film has a horrifyingly simple premise: a stranger invades a pregnant woman’s house with the intent of stealing her baby – from within her. As a word of caution to all who are curious, do not prepare a meal before watching Inside. Inside is a prime example of the new wave of extreme French horror, wasting no time in being completely and totally disgusting. It features some of the most disturbing images you’ll ever see, most starring a pair of knitting scissors.
However, there is lost potential with the idea. At times, the shock and awe of the film’s brutality seems to be all it has going for it. The structure is rigid, with any of the heroine’s potential saviors being cut down by the villainess almost as soon as they appear.
The characters fall flat, but as with most horror films, this isn’t a kiss of death. And the film could have done without the CGI shots of the fetus in the womb. Still, Inside manages to push boundaries in ways few others can measure up to, and it is for this reason that it is commendable.
26. Infection (2004) – Masayuki Ochiai
Infection is an amalgam of the J-horror genre. At times, it wants to disgust you with gore. Other times, it wants to impress you with plot twists. The film manages to be a delightful melting pot (if you’ve seen the film, excuse the pun). But what makes Infection impressive isn’t its plot twists or horrific executions, it’s in the story.
Infection is a story about how guilt is a cancerous emotion, and how what’s eating us on the inside often has a way of getting out. Taking place in a hospital, it features a slew of broken doctors and incompetent nurses who are struggling with personal demons. This isn’t made any easier by the film’s catalyst. During an operation, a patient is administered the wrong drug, and dies. The doctors and nurses attempt to cover up the accident, but find that each of their consciences are working against them.
Masayuki Ochiai blurs the line between madness and reality as we watch an entire hospital crumble beneath the simple emotion of guilt. Part of what makes Infection a great time is that, like any good work of art, it offers new insights into the story upon repeat viewings, particularly in regards to the directors’ use of color.
25. REC (2007) – Jaume Balaguero/Paco Plaza
After the success of The Blair Witch Project (1999), an oversaturation of found footage films made their way into the mainstream. Most of these couldn’t hold a candle to Blair Witch and even more used the shaky camera as a gimmick for cheap scares. REC makes the found footage element seem organic to the story at the same time that the films direction is flawlessly executed, creating a tense atmosphere up until the last minute. Out of all the found footage films, you won’t find one better than REC.
It follows a young crew as they film a group of firefighters for a reality television segment. The firefighters receive a distress call from an apartment building where an elderly woman has been locked out of her apartment. After coming to her aid, the firefighters and crew are quarantined within the building and find themselves fighting for their lives.
Part of the anxiety driving REC is that it feels all too plausible. If a dangerous, rabies-like virus ever infected an individual building or area, it’s not ridiculous to think that authorities would quarantine the area. Even more frightening is the idea of being healthy and not being allowed to leave.
Don’t waste your time with the lackluster American remake, Quarantine (2008). Watch the original, and introduce yourself to the very best of Spanish horror.
24. Trick ‘r Treat (2007) – Michael Dougherty
A bit different from the other films on this list, Trick ‘r Treat is a horror anthology film, centered around four stories occurring on Halloween. Each story features a mysterious trick-or-treater named Sam who wears a burlap sack over his head and appears whenever someone breaks Halloween tradition.
Equivalent to a roller coaster, the film is an exceptionally crafted love letter to horror films of all kind. It features werewolves, undead children, serial killers, anything one could want out of such an anthology. Many horror films occur on or around Halloween, but somehow Trick ‘r Treat feels more festive than the rest. Like one would watch A Christmas Carol during the winter season, Trick ‘r Treat has become a staple for any Halloween tradition.
Surprisingly, the film was a straight-to-DVD release, but managed to gain a cult following. Michael Dougherty, the films director recently announced that he plans on making Trick r’ Treat 2 with Legendary Pictures. Hopefully you’ll be able to see this one in theaters.