Every decade is a seemingly thin decade for horror movies. Outside of romantic comedies, it might be the most poorly executed genre that Hollywood has to offer. We are ceaselessly and ruthlessly bombarded with wave after wave of derivative, rushed, brainless, cheesy, and most of all — not scary — horror movies on an almost monthly basis. I find that I’ll eventually see almost all of them, and my satisfaction rate is so low its almost unmeasurable. A good horror movie can be many things — scary, spooky, atmospheric, gory, clever, interesting. It should have characters that you care about, and whatever the source of the horror is, be it ghosts, demons, serial killers, or family members, it should make you grip your armrests a little, make you gulp, make you feel some kind of tension.
There have been some decent horror movies during the course of this decade that didn’t make the list — I thought that Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake was far better than it had a right to be, and the Final Destination films were entertaining and strangely riveting, and suffered from consistently mediocre writing. There were also some truly horrendous ones — Uwe Boll’s resume reads like a murderer’s row of how to not make a horror movie. Cast members from a dozen different teen television shows inevitably end up in horror movies that should never have seen the light of day. For the love of Cthulhu, someone actually even thought it was a good idea to cast Paris Hilton in one. At the same time, filmmakers frequently mistake the gross and twisted for actual quality horror — I’m looking at you, Captivity and Hostel — and sacrifice good storytelling, compelling characters and pacing in the process.
But there were some gems, too. Some genuinely entertaining, freaky, disturbing, and yes, at times, funny horror flicks that graced the multiplexes over the last ten years. So without further ado, I give you The Ten Best Horror Movies of the Aughts.
10. Dog Soldiers (2002): Dog Soldiers already made our random list of the Best Werewolf Movies of the Last 30 Years, and thus it’s inevitable that it finds its way here. Released in 2002, we weren’t able to review it here, but someday it’ll no doubt get its own. It’s a frenetic, claustrophobic affair, creatively done on a limited budget. A group of English soldiers encounter werewolves in the countryside. There’s little more to be said than that. But the acting is solid, the sense of menace is palpable, and the werewolves are the genuine article — monstrous beasts with no sympathy or emotion other than a serious bloodlust. It’s a bloody, hectic, gripping movie that didn’t get much popular attention, which is a shame. Instead, theaters would later be treated to films like Blood and Chocolate and Skinwalkers. Yeah. That’s fair. — TK
9. Slither (2006): The threat of violation is what makes horror films so scary, which is why the concept of some masked psycho stalking babysitters pales when compared with an alien face-hugger laying eggs in your stomach. There’s a world of difference between your body getting beaten and your body getting invaded; the latter takes on the fear of being pursued and couples it with a terrifying loss of control. The bad guy doesn’t kill you when he catches you; he takes you over … An avowed Stephen King fan and Troma associate, Gunn infuses Slither with the love of a true fanboy, creating a detailed backstory and inhabitable world just to watch giant worms try to eat it. Kind of like Eli Roth, only without the homophobia and with a sense of humor. — Daniel Carlson
8. Saw (2004): Saw is undeniably disturbing, even for hardcode horror geeks; it is an ideal film for those who relish cinematic brutality. The plot devices are smart — if not slightly flimsy — twists on old serial killer machinations, taken perhaps a bit too far. Indeed, the unsettling feeling that overwhelms as you leave the theater may be an intended effect, distracting the viewer from thinking about the too clever way in which the film wraps up. Still, even the outrageous plot contortion that ends the film cannot dim the remorseless terror that Saw inflicts. — Dustin Rowles
7. The Ring (2002): Another entry from 2002 that we weren’t able to review, The Ring is one of those movies that relies on outright weirdness, a bit of the grotesque, and a growing, worming sense of dread to creep you the hell out. One of the wave of spooky-little-kid movies, this is one of the few that handles that concept effectively. The story, about a videotape that kills you seven days after you watch it unless you show it to someone else, sounds absolutely moronic, but it’s the depth of the backstory and the chilling, dreary atmospherics that make it work. A remake of the Japanese 1998 film Ringu, The Ring managed to effectively convey all the the disturbing, visceral tension from its source material, while throwing in a bit of its own. You’ll never think a horse jumping off a boat could be so damn creepy. — TK
6. Let The Right One In (2008): Let the Right One In is creepier, and more visually beautiful, than anything else you’re likely to see this year. Or next. Directed by Tomas Alfredson and adapted by John Ajvide Lindqvist from his own novel, it could be — and has been — called a horror movie, but it’s also an exceedingly unusual love story … The movie is quiet and deliberate by any standard, especially the current one for the genre. Horror fans raised on torture porn hoping for something like the Saw series with more umlauts will be disappointed. There’s plenty of gruesome material on display, but almost none of it is the pop-out variety that sends you flying from your seat. — John Williams
5. Shaun of the Dead (2004): Shaun of the Dead is to the flesh-eating Dead movies (Night, Dawn, and Day) what the Evil Dead franchise was to the horror films that preceded it — a genre satire that doesn’t stray from the genre formula, brilliantly lampooning while also paying homage. And like the Evil Dead franchise, Shaun of the Dead is the sort of future cult classic that will someday inspire drinking games, the kind that our children will watch at midnight screenings years from now, no doubt half-baked, decked out in zombie attire, and sporting broken records around their “bloody” craniums. — Dustin Rowles
4. Drag Me To Hell (2009): Take an adult diaper, folks, because when DMTH isn’t making you piss yourself with laughter, it’ll be scaring the shit out of you, which makes for an awfully messy movie-going experience. But it’s worth a few Depends undergarments and half a pack of wet wipes. And only a director as talented as Raimi could force a series of X-Rated exclamations out of you while you’re watching a PG-13 movie … And because nothing is more satisfying than telling the world that a movie was so scary that your tattooed, 6’2” metalhead music editor shrieked like a 12-year-old girl who’d espied a protuberance in the crotch area of a Jonas Brother. Hell, I didn’t leave this movie feeling wretched; I left reinvigorated, giddy, and absolutely sure of one thing: That Drag Me to Hell is as successful a horror film as you’re likely to see for a long time. — Dustin Rowles
3. 28 Days Later (2002): Another neglected entry from 2002, which was probably the most successful year of the decade for horror movies. 28 Days Later was Danny Boyle’s effort at taking the zombie genre, slapping it in the mouth, and pushing it down the stairs. It changed the game substantially, and it did so beautifully. When Cillian Murphy wakes up in a world gone mad from “the rage virus,” the movie rockets off to become one of the most genuinely freaky, scary flicks in a long time. The “zombies” aren’t actually the living dead, which in many ways makes the dispatching of them that much more affecting. It’s not the living dead you’re shooting/stabbing/beating to death, its just a sick person. A sick person that you can’t save. Adding in the brilliant plot device of the high level of contagiousness, and 28 Days Later became genuinely horrifying. But a fantastic cast and a gripping, spectacular story are what made it not just a great horror movie, but a great movie, period. — TK
2. Audition (2000): To call it twisted is almost an understatement. But at the same time, it’s not unnecessarily gory, and sometimes its most effective parts involve none of the conventional horror devices — there is an amazing scene of Asami simply sitting on the floor, watching an old rotary phone that made me want to crawl out of my skin, not to mention a sex scene that shows no sex, no sense of the erotic at all, no nothing really, that was so uncomfortable that I could barely sit still through it. That’s not to say that there aren’t scenes of blood and terror, but (and I realize this doesn’t make sense) it’s such a quiet, methodical carnage that it’s far more frightening than any torture porn. In the end, that’s what makes it ultimately so satisfying. —TK
1. The Descent (2005): Once the movie arrives at its core crisis, the disturbing tension gives way to a nightmare of visceral movement and violence. Marshall doesn’t relent to give the audience a breather when this happens but bashes it over the head with rapid-succession images and carnage in such a way that the viewer will probably forget to be scared. It’s some of the most intense filmmaking I’ve seen in recent horror flicks. — Phillip Stephens