With only two weeks to go until Halloween, the world is again in the process of fully embracing its spooky side. Soon, kids will be choosing their costumes for trick or treating and hoping that no one gives them fruit or nuts instead of candy. The television listings will be full to the brim with horror movies and scary TV shows and documentaries, and our multiplexes will have a good amount of macabre viewing options as well.
Horror has always been a viable genre in movies, and while it goes through boom periods and less successful cycles like any genre, it has never fully gone away. Horror movies are (generally) cheap to produce and so, don't have to make a whole lot of money to be profitable. But the ones that do catch on with the public? They are incredibly profitable, which is why so many horror franchises have entries that stretch into the double digits. People just love being scared in the safe environment of the cinema or snuggled up on the sofa at home.
This article will look at the best horror movies that have been released since the year 2000. You'll see a healthy mix of franchise fare mixed in with some smaller indie movies. What you won't see, however, is any foreign language horror. This is not because we don't like J-horror or the gory offerings of the French and Spanish; it's because there were simply too many of them to list.
Now, on to our list...
14 Evil Dead (2013)
Released in 2013, Evil Dead was both a remake and a sequel to Sam Raimi's original 1981 film, according to director Fede Alvarez. Whether this was a way to appeal to fans who were unimpressed at the idea of their beloved horror classic being remade, or the creative people involved genuinely felt this way, is up in the air. The movie certainly has a lot of similarities to the original, but it also forges its own path as well.
Either way, this Evil Dead is a gloriously entertaining and relentlessly brutal horror movie. Director Alvarez does a great job with the look of the film, and also stacks up well next to Raimi when it comes to camera tricks and ingenuity. The film is insanely bloody and will make even the most hardened gorehound wince at times. Some reviewers called the movie an assault on the senses, but meant it in a positive way, and we think that sums up the movie's charms pretty well!
13 The Devil's Rejects (2005)
The Devil's Rejects is a very unusual film. In some ways, it's a sequel to director Rob Zombie's directorial debut House Of 1000 Corpses. But, some have said that it's more like a few characters from that movie went on to appear in a very different story; these people would say the tone and style of the movie is so utterly separate that it can't truly be classified as a sequel.
Whatever your opinion on this matter, there is no doubt that the movie is a tough, gruelling watch, and certainly not one for the faint of heart. It is relentlessly nasty and brutal, and follows a group of despicable characters with absolutely no redeeming features. Even the 'heroes' of the film are as violent and depraved as the 'villains'. But the film has gained a cult following over the years precisely because of these things. It is no cookie-cutter horror movie, but rather a horrifying journey into an ugly world that we somehow can't look away from.
12 Wolf Creek (2005)
Speaking of relentlessly nasty and brutal...
Wolf Creek was released in the same year as The Devil's Rejects, and is equally as distressing a watch. The thing about Rob Zombie's movie, however, is that even though it is dirty and disturbing, we know it is a movie. Its characters are so far over the top that they could never be seen as 'real' people. They are horror movie characters, through and through.
Wolf Creek, on the other hand, gets under the audience's skin because it is so plausible. It feels real. We can't help feeling like the awful situation that befalls the trio of backpackers in the film could happen to us, or to our family or friends. Director Greg McLean films everything with a lived-in realism, and captures a terrifyingly nihilistic performance from John Jarratt as the outback serial killer hunting the backpackers. The movie was ambiguously marketed as being based on true events; it was, in fact, inspired by the real-life backpacker murders perpetrated by Ivan Milat and Bradley Murdoch.
11 Eden Lake (2008)
As the last couple of entries should show you, the 2000s gave us a number of horror movies that found deep wells of fear in the real world. Eden Lake is another example of this.
Released in 2008, the movie was one of Michael Fassbender's earlier roles. He and Kelly Reilly play a young couple, Steve and Jenny, who are taking a trip to the remote Eden Lake in the wooded English countryside. As they relax beside the lake, they are interrupted by a group of delinquent teenagers.
The movie then follows events as they ratchet upwards; an initial altercation and exchanging of words becomes something more physical. Eventually, everything spirals out of control because of the gang's ringleader, Brett, played with venomous zeal by Jack O'Connell. The film shows how sometimes one or two people can convince others to do things they otherwise wouldn't, and how once certain choices have been made, there is no going back, even if you want to. The film is one of a sub-set of British movies dealing with concerns of 'Broken Britain' and hoodie culture.
10 Jeepers Creepers (2001)
Ah, we're back in the relative safety of monsters for this entry! No more uncomfortably realistic nastiness here. Nope, this time, it's a monstrous winged bat-demon that feasts on human body parts every 23rd Spring for 23 days! Yay?
In all seriousness, though, Jeepers Creepers does not start out this way. At all. In fact, one of the chief complaints levelled at the film is that for the first act, it is a completely different film than what follows. The film is incredibly tense for this first piece of the story, as we follow Trish and Darry Jenner (Gina Phillips and a youthful Justin Long) on a road trip home from college. An old truck drives them off the road, and they later pass the driver of the truck sliding what looks like a body wrapped in plastic down a pipe into the basement of an abandoned church.
For a good while, the audience thinks that the teens have become caught in the crosshairs of a serial killer. So, when it's revealed that the killer is actually a demon and it becomes a monster movie, some critics felt that this ruined the suspense. Not us, though, as we felt the story was still well told and the monster is very memorable. The movie has a great downbeat ending, too.
9 Sinister (2012)
Sinister features some of the best use of sound in any horror movie of the 2000s. The film deals heavily in the Super 8 footage found by true crime-writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) in the attic of his new house. They are snuff movies, featuring some truly gruesome murders, and director Scott Derrickson and his team make these movies miniature works of macabre art all of their own. The sound design here is wonderfully unsettling. As we watch the movies, the soundtrack is not quite a score, but rather an unnerving collection of discordant noise. It's all designed to put the audience on edge, and boy oh boy, does it succeed.
Some may not like the reveal that the person behind the murder movies is actually Bughuul, an ancient Pagan deity that kills families and then takes their children into its own realm to consume their souls, but we didn't have an issue with it. The supernatural aspect of the story worked for us, although admittedly the real star of the movie is not Bughuul; it's those harrowing home movies.
9. The Ring (2002)
We said that this list would include no foreign language films. But, we didn't say there wouldn't be any remakes of foreign language films...
The Ring was a remake of Ringu, a 1998 Japanese horror movie. The US version starred Naomi Watts as Rachel, a woman who watches a cursed videotape and comes to understand she will die in seven days. The movie is notable in that it eschews the usual blood and guts of many horror movies, instead preferring the slow-burn feeling of dread that permeates every frame.
Watts is fantastic, bringing a true reality to her role, and she sells the audience on the story even as it becomes more and more far-fetched. By the time the ghostly Samara is crawling out of the television screen to exact her vengeance, the audience will be suitably on the edge of their seat. The movie is also notable in that it helped give birth to a wave of lesser J-horror remakes in Hollywood: The Grudge, Dark Water, Pulse etc.
8 Dawn Of The Dead (2004)
The third and final remake on our list, Dawn Of The Dead 2004 is arguably the best horror remake around. In fact, it might even be one of the best remakes of any genre— it's that good.
Directed by a young Zack Snyder (who would, of course, go on to helm the likes of 300 and Man Of Steel), and written by a young James Gunn (the man who would give us Guardians Of The Galaxy), this is a rare remake that found its way into the hearts of fans. While it may lack some of the dark humour and biting satire of the original, it makes up for it with pulse-pounding horror action and top-notch visual and makeup effects.
The cast is great, with Sarah Polley and Ving Rhames being particular standouts. And the movie also helped popularise (though not invent) the notion of a fast-moving zombie. When you see Snyder's ravenous creatures sprinting towards their victims, it's a thing of thrilling terror.
7 The Descent (2005)
The Descent is a white-knuckle ride, a claustrophobic journey into the deepest darkest areas of an unmapped cave system filled with ravenous flesh-eating humanoid creatures. Director Neil Marshall is smart with how he structures the film. He gives the audience time to get to know the six women who will be our eyes and ears in the cave; by the time they begin their expedition, we feel like we know them and understand what makes them tick. We see the potential areas for tension between a few of them, but overall feel like they are fully-formed characters that we identify with.
Then the terror starts.
On the big screen, The Descent was a legitimately frightening experience. For most of the second half of the movie, the audience's hearts are in their mouths as the women encounter the bald, cannibalistic creatures that have adapted to living in the caves with no sunlight. The movie doesn't skimp on gore, but isn't gratuitous. In this story, the blood and guts feel warranted and Marshall directs the action with a vicious flair.
6 The Conjuring (2013)
The Conjuring franchise is one of the most financially successful in horror history. Both movies made over $300 million worldwide, which is a crazy high number for horror. They have also spawned two spin-off movies, Annabelle (which is also getting its own sequel) and the upcoming The Nun. The reasons for the success of The Conjuring franchise are all there to see in the first movie, which was released to great critical acclaim in 2013.
Director James Wan (who will definitely be appearing on this list again) lovingly recreates the 1970s' aesthetic in this movie, which follows the (supposedly) true case of the haunting of the Perron family in Rhode Island in 1971. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga play Ed and Lorraine Warren, noted real-life paranormal investigators who documented the Perron case.
Whether or not you believe Ed and Lorraine to be on the level is, to a certain extent, irrelevant when it comes to whether or not the movie is good. And it is. It's scary and emotional, with great performances from the cast and a director at the top of his game.
5 Insidious (2011)
Hey, it's James Wan again! (Also not the last time he'll show up in this list. Fair warning.)
Insidious was put together at a time when Wan was not the all-conquering horror king of Hollywood. He had experienced one massive success in 2004 (which we'll detail soon), but had gone on to deliver a few misfires: Dead Silence and Death Sentence didn't exactly set the world on fire.
So, he went back to the drawing board, teaming with old pal Leigh Whannell again to craft an old-school haunted house movie. Made on a shoestring budget of $1.5 million, Insidious was a return to form for Wan, a loving homage to classic scary movies like Poltergeist. With this film, he proved that he didn't need gore or elaborate death traps to scare audiences. He didn't even need much money. He just needed some good actors, a spooky story and a smoke machine. And he helped create another mega horror franchise from it. Nice.
4 28 Days Later (2002)
To have gotten this far down the list with only a single zombie movie is surprising, especially when you consider that the 2000s saw the brain-eating hordes dominate the multiplexes and TV screens like never before. But here is our second entry and, while we realize that there is some debate about whether or not 28 Days Later actually qualifies as a zombie movie, we've always believed that it's a zombie movie in spirit, if not technical definition.
Directed by Danny Boyle, one of the most celebrated and versatile directors to have ever come out of Britain, 28 Days Later was a searing film. It is intense and terrifying like few other films, and the zombies (or 'rage' infected humans) are some of the best horror movie monsters of all time. Before this, zombies were slow-moving. After this, zombies that could sprint after their victims became commonplace, and that introduced a whole new world of terror to the concept.
The sequel, 28 Weeks Later, is pretty darn good too.
3 Saw (2004)
Saw is another movie that is hard to judge simply on its own merits, due to the fact that it now comes packaged in people's minds with the six (yes, six!) sequels released yearly in the wake of its huge success. This was truly a franchise that the studio milked until there was nothing left, and as such it can leave a bad taste in the mouth.
But cast your mind back to 2004, when no one knew who the Jigsaw killer was, and had no clue what to expect from an uber-low budget horror film written and directed by a pair of ambitious young Aussies (the aforementioned Wan and Whannell). This was a time when the gruesome death-traps were something new for audiences, and worked perfectly within the context of the story. They weren't there purely to show a new way for the human body to be brutalized.
This was a horror movie that actually told a good story and showcased some decent acting (and some not-so-decent, admittedly). The movie also has, in our estimation, one of the best twist endings ever; it floored us when we first saw it.
2 The Babadook (2014)
"If it's in a word, or it's in a look, you can't get rid of the Babadook."
These words should send chills of recognition up the spine of anyone who has seen the 2014 Australian horror film The Babadook. A minor financial hit upon its release, the movie went on to gain recognition in North America and Europe, as well as universal acclaim from critics and moviegoers. We are unlikely to see a sequel, and perhaps that is a good thing in this case. The Babadook deserves to stand on its own; a deeply unsettling cult hit that you can revisit every Halloween on Netflix.
One of the best things about the film is that it functions very much as a story about depression. It is not simply about a ghost going bump in the night; it is an exploration of the fear many women have of going mad and losing control of your own faculties. Director Jennifer Kent also says that the theme of the negative aspects of parenthood is embedded in the film. The idea that parenting is anything but a perfect experience for a woman is often a taboo subject, and Kent wanted to explore this idea through the prism of the Babadook.
1 Paranormal Activity (2009)
Paranormal Activity was a genuine phenomenon when it was unleashed onto the world in 2009. 'Found footage' horror movies had existed since the late 1990s, when the grandaddy of them all, The Blair Witch Project, virtually created the sub-genre. But, truthfully, there weren't very many good found footage movies (and there arguably still aren't). But Paranormal Activity was different. It was frightening and unsettling. It made your skin crawl and stayed with you long after the credits rolled.
Made by Oren Peli for the princely sum of $15,000, the movie was ingenious in its setup. It was filmed in Peli's own house, which he had prepared for filming by adding a stairwell and painting. The cast is largely two people and dialogue was semi-improvised, to make it appear more natural. The cameras placed around the house to capture the ghostly activity are static during the night scenes, with Peli making expert use of the shadows and negative space of his framing.
When the movie was first screened in 2007 at a horror film festival, people began walking out of the screening. It wasn't because they didn't like the film, though; they were leaving because they were too scared. We don't blame them.