15. Antichrist (2009) – Lars von Trier
It’s hard to describe any von Trier film as accessible. That being said, Antichrist is by far and away Lars von Trier’s least accessible film, which in this case is neither a positive nor a negative. It is a transitional piece, born out of von Trier’s deep depression (beginning his ‘Depression Trilogy’ which was followed with Melancholia and Nymphomaniac).
The film follows a couple (named He and She) after the death of their infant son. He, played by Willem Dafoe, takes it upon himself to psychoanalyze his wife, She, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, and treat her depression. He administers exposure therapy by taking her to the place where She feels most afraid – their cabin, which is in the middle of a forest, appropriately named Eden.
In terms of horror, the film manages to make the forest, and nature itself, feel like a violent, threatening force. Whether it’s the stifling sound of pinecones falling against a roof, or the more metaphorical image of a fox disemboweling itself, von Trier creates an unsettling atmosphere that succeeds where it intends to. With the film featuring several intense sex scenes between the two characters, von Trier wants us to be aware that human nature and sexual nature are just as equally to be feared.
Although the film was banned in multiple countries for its display of violence, despite the last twenty minutes of the film, the tale is quite tame. Antichrist spends the majority of its time building a mood and establishing the characters in a way that resembles and pays tribute to the films of Ingmar Bergman (Antichrist, in particular, shares many similarities to Through a Glass Darkly).
14. The Cabin In The Woods (2012) – Drew Goddard
Although it’s not an anthology film like Trick r’ Treat, The Cabin In The Woods is similarly a tribute to horror films, directly referencing and paying homage to horror classics. The tribute is intentionally on the nose. What sets Cabin apart is that instead of just referencing old horror films, the film breaks down the fourth wall to question and critique why we, as an audience, love watching films that follow such a similar formula.
A film like Cabin could have easily been weighed down by attempting to make a scathing commentary on horror. Goddard has called the film a, “loving hate letter,” to the genre, but thankfully, it doesn’t feel as such. Cabin doesn’t spend time telling it’s audience what’s good or what’s bad about the horror genre, but simply offers up ideas for conversation, as any film attempting to make critique should.
13. American Psycho (2000) – Mary Harron
Christian Bale gives one of the best performances of his career in this slick adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s novel. The reason for the films success lies in that it doesn’t box itself in as a horror or slasher film, but instead allows itself to be, like the book, a character piece.
It walks a tightrope between tongue-in-cheek humor and being a haunting portrayal of a sociopath. Shedding a light on the psychological defects of the bourgeoisie, American Psycho stabs at the narcissism and greed that comes with wealth and power. The film also features exquisite supporting performances from Jared Leto and Willem Dafoe.
12. Ichi the Killer (2001) – Takashi Miike
Directed by one of the most prolific Japanese filmmakers, Ichi The Killer features some of the most over-the-top gore and violence. If you stomach is easily turned, we advise you to seek your horror thrills elsewhere. Based on the manga by Hideo Yamamoto, the action is sadistic as Ichi literally slices people in half.
Its position on this list is deserved for the craft with which Miike executes his insane cinema. The editing is deliberately confusing, and sometimes feels like an act in creativity for the sake of creativity. Fortunately, the film succeeds in every facet.
Unlike Funny Games, Ichi the Killer seems to be making commentary on the use of violence in media without condoning or purposefully angering those who enjoy it. The film has been banned in multiple countries on the grounds that it is potentially harmful to children and adults. Any horror film with that title deserves praise.
11. The Devil’s Backbone (2001) – Guillermo Del Toro
Named by Del Toro as his most personal film, The Devil’s Backbone feels like a sibling to his later success Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). An elegant fantasy, The Devil’s Backbone tells the story of Carlos, a young boy abandoned at an orphanage in the final year of the Spanish War. As Carlos wanders around, he discovers a ghost that haunts the grounds.
This is Del Toro at his best, mixing the horrific elements of the ghost story, with the charming tenderness of childlike innocence. In many ways, The Devil’s Backbone is a bedtime story for adults. Del Toro is able to balance a number of plotlines and characters without the film feeling too overly ambitious and at the same time, with none of them being underutilized.
10. 28 Days Later (2002) – Danny Boyle
It’s difficult to take zombie movies seriously. They tend to be either B-movie fluff or horror comedies, both of which can’t give their premise any gravitas. Only a director like Danny Boyle would be able to handle this weight with ease, as in typical Boyle fashion, he contrasts moments of hair-raising horror with moments of bliss and beauty.
The zombies aren’t t even the most terrifying aspect of 28 Days Later. The emptiness that Boyle is able to capture in a city wiped out by a plague is truly haunting. Instead of watching the apocalypse play out, we’re seeing it’s lonely aftermath, and the primitive nature it brings out. The depth with which Boyle approaches the material elevates 28 Days Later above most zombie films.
9. The Host (2006) – Bong Joon-ho
The Host is superb monster movie born out of the same vein as Godzilla – political commentary of biological actions on Asian soil by the United States. Thankfully, this time it wasn’t a nuclear incident. The specific event The Host was inspired from was in 2000 when a Korean mortician working for the U.S. military dumped a large amount of formaldehyde down a drain. This is also how the film starts, and how the films monster is created.
There is a vengeful satiric voice running throughout the film, but because it’s critical of both the US and South Korea, the film does not read as Anti-American. In relation to other monster movies, where you’d typically have supped up platoons firing every gun and missile in their arsenal at the creature, The Host portrays the South Korean government as inept in their attempts to both destroy the creature and contain a deadly virus they’ve supposedly made up.
One of the most brilliant things about The Host is that we are denied the typical grandiosity of most contemporary monster movies. Although the reptilian beast doesn’t have the strength of King Kong or the size of Godzilla, it manages to elude attacks, mostly due to the government’s inaction. We aren’t treated to an airstrike or a nuclear quarantine, but a harsh guerrilla battle between our heroes and the creature.
8. Shaun of the Dead (2004) – Edgar Wright
Arguably the best of Edgar Wright’s Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, Shaun of the Dead came as a breath of fresh air to the zombie genre. As a comedy, the film took a unique take because instead of the zombie invasion being the points of humor, the film is filled with sitcom banter and conflicts between it’s characters, and the undead are minor annoyances that get in the way.
The movie shares many stylistic similarities to Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s television sitcom Spaced, featuring kinetic editing and making references to various films and video games. Together, these elements showcased Wright’s concise, visual directing style, which would be apparent in all his releases to come.