The Best of 21st Century Horror Films: Volume 01October 28, 2016
You don't need Halloween to enjoy a good horror flick. But it sure does help add to the atmosphere! And what is a good horror film without the right atmosphere, be it a dark theater or simply watching it alone at home? You could probably name the classics but what about the 21st century? There have been some simply brilliant terror flicks that have left you queasy, uneasy or just afraid to look behind you.
But horror is not a singular entity, is it? When you say you love horror movies, what are you thinking of? Are you referring to the sustained tension present throughout The Shining or the harrowing bloodlust of Evil Dead; the head-twisting child of Exorcist or creature fests like The Fly?
Keeping that in mind, instead of the usual countdown, for a change, I thought we could make up a list of the best horror films of the 21st century, dividing them based on genres (which, I accept, will often overlap).
1. Slow-brewing dread
2. Gore fest
3. Old School Terror
6. Found footage
7. Meta horror.
When I started making this list, I had no idea, the article would get so big. So, to make this an easy read. I will be dividing it into two parts.
The first part - this article - will deal with the first 3 sub-genres of horror.
Part 2 will deal with the other 4 sub-genres so don't forget to check it out as well.
Without further adieu, shall we walk along the dark side?
OrphanageA mother returns to the abandoned orphanage where she grew up, looking to turn its fortunes around. Her own life, however, is turned around when her son - who had been communicating with his invisible friend - suddenly disappears.
Why It Makes the List - El Orfanato (Spanish) won 7 Goya (the Spanish equivalent of Oscars) Awards. Very few cheap thrills reside in this tale and yet, it will leave its mark on you as the mystery unfolds.
A group of women decide to go for a fun weekend spelunking trip. Within the claustrophobia of the cave, they find themselves confronting their darkest secrets and emotions. But are their hidden feelings the only thing lurking in the darkness?
Why It Makes the List - Claustrophobia Masterclass. 'Emotional Vulnerability' meets 'Creatures in the dark'.
A devout Catholic mother and her two children - both of whom suffer from photo sensitivity - live in a country house after World War 2 under strict rules and guidelines to keep the children safe. The arrival of three servants starts a chain of events, leading the mother to realize that 'others' too are living within the premises.
Why It Makes the List - 8 Goya Awards including Best Film & Director. A very good mystery.
Let the Right One In
A young boy prone for being bullied at school befriends a strange girl who moves in to the next door apartment.
Why It Makes the List - A lovely film with beautiful visuals, there is romance, coming-of-age and horror all within this (the Swedish version, there is an American version 'Let Me In' that is pretty good too). Brilliant acting by the young leads.
The Devil's Backbone
Set in the time of the Spanish Civil War, a recently orphaned child arrives at an orphanage that doubles as a treasury for the Republicans. Slowly, he begins to get visions of a ghostly being wandering the premises.
Why It Makes the List - Guillermo del Toro as a director is always reliable. Few jump scares or outright terror moments, it is the sense of dread and sorrow that adds to the overall atmosphere of this movie.
A mysterious mist covers an entire town and soon terrifying monsters appear. Barricaded within a grocery store with strangers, the survivors are about to realize that the people within are just as bad as the creatures outside.
Why It Makes the List - The only Stephen King - Frank Darabont collaboration with actual monsters, this remains vastly underrated. The critique on what fear does to people and how religious beliefs can be misused by fanatics was far too real here. Still features the most heart-breaking ending I have seen in a movie.
In 1630, a farmer and his wife are heartbroken when their youngest child goes missing while under the care of the eldest daughter Thomasin. When their twin children accuse Thomasin of witchcraft, religious beliefs and love for the family collide.
Why It Makes the List - Perfectly captures the atmosphere and mindset of that time. A good mystery. A very creepy goat.
Old School Terror
There is a cursed videotape. If you watch it, you will die 7 days later.
Why It Makes the List - The original Japanese version does not make the list as it was released in 1998. But the American version does a brilliant job with a tighter screenplay, a good mystery, effective jump scares and an iconic ending.
A tired widow and her child begin to find themselves terrorized within their house at the hands of a tall, thin creature that resembles the one in the child's pop-up storybook.
Why It Makes the List - Slow horror. An allegory to how grief affects us all. Creepy original monster. Genuinely emotional mother-child storyline.
Woman In Black
The ghost of a woman dressed in black haunts a small English town in the 1880's, driving young children to kill themselves.
Why It Makes the List - Genuinely scary. Gorgeous visuals. Haunted house. Daniel Radcliffe finally finding someone scarier than Voldemort.
There is something wrong in the house the Perron family has just bought and inhabited. Or rather, everything wrong with the house.
Why It Makes the List - Based on a real case investigated by husband-wife duo / paranormal investigators the Warrens, The Conjuring is the gold standard for 'modern day old-school horror.' The terror builds up effectively and long before you see the 'thing behind the deeds', you already want to leave that house. While it was not to everyone's liking, I would recommend its sequel 'The Conjuring 2' as well.
Director James Wan has been slowly sharpening his horror skills over years with Saw 1-3 and the Insidious series (FYI, Insidious does not make the list because the brilliant first half gives way to a hokey second). With Conjuring, you see the fruition of those years.
A true-crime author takes on a project involving a serial killer and chooses to reside in the house of the late killer. Coming across a box of films in the basement, he discovers the killer may not yet be truly gone.
Why It Makes the List - Genuine scares. Some smart twists. Creepy villian.
A horror writer famous for investigating 'haunted houses' decides to spend a single night in Room 1408 of the Dolphin Hotel to disprove the spooky stories behind it.
Why It Makes the List - A very underrated horror movie, in my opinion. Once the horror starts inside the room, it never really quits.
Saw (1 and 2)
Two strangers wake up chained in a room with a dead body between them. They are about to play a game of choice, courtesy the killer psychopath, Jigsaw.
Why It Makes the List - Though it got convoluted as more and more sequels followed, The original Saw series was a game changer. A creepy premise, some terrible choices to make and a real badass villain alongside a brilliant twist-in-the-tale... and oh, yes, that iconic theme tune too that heralded the twist!
Two college kids travelling across Europe find themselves victimized by a mysterious group that kidnaps people for the pleasure of torturing and killing them.
Why It Makes the List - The genre 'Torture porn' probably began from this movie. Not for the faint-hearted.
A bunch of friends meeting at a cabin in the woods come across a book of witchcraft, the 'Naturom Demonto' unfortunately releasing the evil of the land.
Why It Makes the List - Many were not sure a remake of the classic Sam Raimi movie would be effective. Director Fede Alvarez (whose 2016 film 'Don't Breathe' also makes the next list) proved them all wrong. Bloody violent and gory, it is unrelenting.
A young woman returns with her friend to a house where she claims she was held captive and brutally tortured as a child. Her actions within the house start off a devastating sequence of events.
Why It Makes the List - There are two halves to this movie. The first is the part I have revealed. The second half is what makes this movie one of the most controversial of the 21st century and involves some very tough-to-watch scenes.
A pregnant woman finds herself alone in her house with an absolute stranger who is hell-bent on taking the child within her.
Why It Makes the List - The French have some very good entries in horror, if you choose to check it out. À l'intérieur stands out because of how realistic it is at all levels - within the movie and also in a possible real-life scenario. This is a brutal, brutal movie.
Those were my picks for this genre. In part 2 of this article, we will list Asian horror, found footage, creatures that chase us and meta horror.
So tell me, which of these movies have you watched and loved (or hated?)
Which other horror films deserved to make the list of slow brewing psychological terrors, old school horrors and outright gore fests?
Update: This post went on to be chosen as one of the best posts on #AnythingGoes