Welcome to part four of our countdown of the 100 best horror movies the past decade. This final entry tackles entries 50-26. You can read part one right here, part two over here, and part three over yonder. Here are the absolute best horror movies of the past decade.
We’ve made it. Homestretch time. The Crème de la Crème. This was the hardest feature I’ve ever had to order in my entire journalistic career because every single one of the films below will live on as an “all-timer” (in my opinion). I killed many darlings, fought countless internal disagreements, and gift unto you my selections for the decade’s “Top 25 Horror Films.”
25. Piranha 3D
Take a bow, Alexandre Aja. Piranha 3D is officially my favorite aquatic horror film of the decade. A spring breakdown that coats Lake Victoria’s shores slick with blood in the way Saving Private Ryan splatters Omaha Beach red with gore. Greg Nicotero’s practical effects carnage withstands sunbeams and impresses almost as much as character actors like Ving Rhames and Elisabeth Shue when battling munch-happy carnivore fish. Essential vacation horror viewing for House Donato.
I’ve watched Deathgasm going on double-digit times, always headbanging and howling at the moon. Jason Lei Howden orchestrates heavy metal horror of the loudest decibel, like if the worlds of Sam Raimi and Bathory collided in unholy bliss. A few of my favorite horror-comedy gags this decade are packed into Howden’s apocalyptic mosh pit (“AGAIN!”), as Deathgasm won me over by summoning every bit of the gnarly, fire-fretted, face-melting demonic warfare promised. Always remember: LOWERCASE IS FOR PUSSIES! (But also much easier to read so I couldn’t fully commit.)
23. Satan’s Slaves
In 2018, I dubbed Satan’s Slaves “the scariest film of 2018 you haven’t heard of yet.” I then spent every opportunity making damn sure you heard about Joko Anwar’s Indonesian answer to James Wan’s catalog, rife with atmospheric despair and relentless ghostly myths. I first watched this movie on a screening link, in the morning, and still spent most scenes cowering in the comfort of my own bed. Anwar’s command of brooding tone is confident, and his scares inarguably earned. If you haven’t pressed “play” on one of Shudder’s finest snags to date, it alone is worth the subscription (that, a few more nods to come, and Demon Wind, of course).
“Action Horror” is an underserved subgenre, but Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade makes up for lost potential. Think John Wick meets Her meets Weekend At Bernie’s meets The Matrix and then still add enough gore to film three more straight-to-video Hellraiser sequels. Logan Marshall-Green’s turn as a paralyzed revenge-seeker granted assassin skills and mobility via “Stem” implant grounds itself in empathy, but nails robotic motions when fight sequences get complicated. Such an accomplished, multi-faceted genre role, and shout out to Stefan Duscio’s smooth-as-silk choreography that keeps stride with Green’s inhuman motions. As previously stated in my SXSW review: after watching Upgrade, it’s hard to tell who I enjoy more – Leigh Whannell “The Writer” or Leigh Whannell “The Director.”
Yes, 2017’s It reboot is a horror movie. Yes, Andy Muschietti’s brand of funhouse dread plucks a chorus of strings from heartbreak to grief to childhood trauma versus outright jump scares. That doesn’t make it any less of a genre film, as Muschietti reprograms how our minds have been trained to perceive mainstream horror. Bill Skarsgård’s work in “Chapter 1” is nothing short of mad clown mastery, hiding behind shadows while snarling and jigging about with infinite horror villain moxie. It Chapter 2 was *fine* in my book, but It saved what could have been a catastrophic year for Stephen King adaptations (remember The Dark Tower, lol).
Alice Lowe’s directorial debut is punishing prenatal mayhem that oozes breastmilk and blood, sometimes in the same scene. Prevenge is a fresh revenge arc told from the female perspective that skimps not on kills but remains poignant throughout. A mother left to fend for her unborn child, voices from the womb, *brutal* slasher kills – a wild revamping of classic subgenre normalities. Expect fed-up and fierce direction from Ms. Lowe, boasting mommy madness and that dark English humor I’ve come to love oh so dearly.
19. What We Do In The Shadows
Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi struck pure comedic gold with their Real World style vampire mockumentary. Every subgenre period from Nosferatu to Twilight is represented by bloodsucking roommates who bicker over “meals,” chores, and rival werewolf gangs. As a horror fan, you have to respect how What We Do In The Shadows never defangs vampires outright but still maintains roll-on-the-floor funny material. Waititi’s juvenile innocence, Clement’s dead but delicious musk, Jonathan Brugh’s bad boy partier – what a trifecta of geniuses responsible for one of the decade’s funniest horror comedies.
18. The Conjuring 2
I’m going to say something very brave and very controversial right now, but here goes. As time marches on, The Conjuring 2 will be remembered alongside movies like [REC] 2, Dawn Of The Dead and Aliens as one of horror’s shining examples of sequel continuation. James Wan has taken control of Hollywood’s horror output, and The Conjuring 2 picks up exactly where The Conjuring leaves off in terms of quantity and quality scares – yet number deuce is no retread. The Conjuring 2 plays to wider horror marketability and bigger studio elements by introducing crooked demons and daylit screams, proving Wan’s stranglehold as a horror auteur worth any generation’s heap of recognition.
17. The Final Girls
Todd Strauss-Schulson slashes through horror satire with his touching ode to grief and redemption, The Final Girls. What a special film that exudes enough wit and humor to metatextually roast 80s-era campfire slashers while expressing heartfelt notes of familial tragedy. Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes?” Ruined forever, now a cue for waterworks. Almost as memorable as Angela Trimbur’s “seductive” strip-tease distraction to Warrant’s “Cherry Pie.” This is a special horror hybrid pumped-to-burst with laughs and emotions, all played out by a cast firing on every cylinder. So sweet, so fulfilling, so not what genre generalists wrongly presume horror to narrowmindedly entail.
It’s shameful how Derek Lee and Clif Prowse have no sophomore feature after blending vampire mythos and “found footage” horrors to near perfection. Two adventurers, played by the writers/directors, traversing Europe as Derek contracts vampirism from a late-night hookup who’d just heard about his life-threatening AVM condition. From here it’s all the sickness and superstrength beats we’ve seen throughout vamp cinema, but Afflicted succeeds in being a CO2 canister full of pressurized intensity. Part Hardcore Henry thrills, part The Last Exorcism contortion transformation, all invigorated vampire cinema.
15. Green Room
I mean, holy shit. Green Room. Find me a more punishing crescendo reliant on aggression, tension, and grimy punk-rock filmmaking. Jeremy Saulnier’s boot-stompin’ venue siege is the very thesis for societal horror, as rebellious rockers face an onslaught of white supremacists who care not about lawful justice. A movie so carnal, so unforgiving, I still haven’t shaken *multiple* death sequences since Fantastic Fest 2015. Patrick Stewart, Macon Blair, Anton Yelchin (RIP), Alia Shawkat, Imogen Poots – all fodder for the human meatgrinder we call life.
Hi again, James Wan and Leigh Whannell! This time teamed up (one of the genre’s greatest decade duos) and introducing us to “The Further.” Insidious is a modern haunted house mainstay anchored by the disturbingly charming Patrick Wilson and frequently impressive Rose Byrne. A film of many moods, compelling scares, and proper genre usage of Tiny Tim. Wan is a master of shadowplay, and Insidious bares no exemption. A crash-course on building an entire horror universe within a modest suburban home.
13. Tigers Are Not Afraid
Are you sick of me writing about Tigers Are Not Afraid here on /Film? Too bad. Issa López’s dark fantasy should be heralded as a guiding beacon for culturally representative cinema in a time of bland studio interpretations (The Curse Of La Llorona). A movie that causes your heart to swell, stomach to drop, and eyes to fixate on López’s “tremendous balance between social rot and “Lost Boys” (Peter Pan) brand adventuring.” A film so important, Guillermo Del Toro called to its brilliance during his Hollywood Walk Of Fame acceptance speech, dubbing it one of the best horror movies of the decade. Seems we agree, amigo.
12. The Conjuring
James Wan’s contribution to horror cinema from 2000-2020 is nothing short of miraculous. The Conjuring shattered box office records and caused one of my friends to shield his eyes countless times during our premiere watch, all a testament to Wan’s vision macabre. There’s a “Conjurverse” for a reason – well, multiple reasons. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. Wan’s meticulous dedication to haunted house architectures. Conceptual understandings of the primal nature of fears. There may be no horror film more influential this decade than The Conjuring. Mr. Wan, thank you for your service thus far.
11. I Saw The Devil
Kim Jee-woon toys with monsters of the flesh in I Saw The Devil, cutting to commentaries on revenge that offer no closure. Choi Min-sik plays a pitch-sadistic serial killer. Lee Byung-hun his hunter, grieving after the death of his fiancé aka one of Min-sik’s victims. A chase ensues that effortlessly turns the gears of depravity faster and louder. I Saw The Devil is violent, remorseless, and hellbent on portraying revenge as an act that fills no holes left by unspeakable horrors. Translation: you’ll hurt so, so good.
10. Attack The Block
Bruv, you better believe Joe Cornish’s Attack The Block is sci-fi horror goodness I’ve worn out on DVD and Blu-Ray. The birth of John Boyega, really. Fuzzy black aliens with glowing green chompers level a genre commentary against impoverished citizens defending their “block” aka housing complex. “Thug” teens taking matters into their own hands, beating baddies senseless while KRS-One blares in the background. A story of hood perception, bad attitudes, and breaking out of the lifestyles we may find ourselves stuck within – a massively fun story, at that.
9. Evil Dead
Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead is how you remake, reboot, and follow-up a beloved cult property all unto new beginnings. Sam Raimi’s originals are always remembered for their sense of humor (starting in Evil Dead II, mind you), but Alvarez is here to get down with the sickness that is crystalized terror. Jane Levy’s Mia boasts one of the decade’s finest female performances, blood rains down in a way that’d make Slayer blush, and do I spy a lethal injection of Donato Reds™?! An existing property rebranded with identity, propelled by a desire to stuff standing frameworks with as much original life as manageable.
8. [REC] 2
Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s [REC] 2 is The Godfather Part II of horror sequels. Yes, I’m stating – on the record – that [REC] 2 is the tiniest hair better than [REC]. For how competent a refurbish Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead remains, [REC] 2 is equally proficient in expanding [REC]’s quarantine universe while returning to the scene of zombie crimes. Spain’s filmmaking tandem kicks the doors down and jumps right back into the proverbial fire, evolving the Medeiros curse outward with such compelling faith to outbreak horrors. The golden standard for “found footage” cinema.
Gaspar Noé’s Climax is a horror movie. It’s an interpretive dance straight into the depths of disco-freaky hell. Trance bass-thumping and frantic motions synchronize with paranoia that increases as inhibiting toxins dissolve moral boundaries. It’s a filmed de-evolution of humanity as records twirl, mixing sexuality with apex predatorial chest-beating and so much amplified anxiety. Exasperating unease spotlighted by a nightclubby haze despite writhing bodies crying out in more and more angst. Climax is no mere movie, it’s an experience. One, like it or not, that’s unique beyond its tracklist.
6. Ready Or Not
You know what’s nice? When horror movies are packaged and sold exactly as advertised. Radio Silence’s Ready Or Not delivers on lavish deconstructions of the rich and famous, powered by the radioactive talents of Samara Weaving. I’m already planning multiple rewatches with different groups of friends for when Ready Or Not hits digital, because all horror fans should experience the jubilance and glee that is “Hide and Seek” but with satanic offerings, loaded weapons, and a final girl who’s not about quitting. Elegance, classism, and sophistication speared on a pike.
I’ll never forget my South by Southwest screening of Hereditary. Seated between two journalists who’ve both appeared on /Film, one breathing heavily throughout the film’s duration while the other turned to me at one time, dry heaving, and whispered, “I’m so anxious I think I might throw up.” What Ari Aster accomplishes in Hereditary is noose-hung tension sustained for over two hours worth of feature debut magnificence. Toni Collette deserved Oscar recognition for her turn as a grieving mother dealing with ancestral influences worth inescapable horrors, selling her soul to King Paimon. Aster’s usage of visual despicableness – Charlie’s head – knows no bounds. Talk about swagger out the gate.
4. Train To Busan
Yeon Sang-ho’s Train To Busan feels like it could be a World War Z chapter, except vastly more accomplished than the previously mentioned adaptation. Non-traditional zombie execution unleashes “runners” on a KTX commuter locomotive hurtling towards its inevitable destination. As a viral outbreak rages outside, characters must fight car-by-car through immediate undead threats as storytelling highlights the frantic nature of man at its most desperate lows. Sure helps that pacing is stuck on hyperspeed, as some might say once you pop the fun don’t stop.
3. The Cabin In The Woods
What Wes Craven’s Scream did for meta-horror in the 90s, Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s The Cabin In The Woods does the same for the 2010s. Underground laboratory workers engineer horror movie situations in reality and control each trope, puppeteering nightmares as ritualistic offerings of entertainment. Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford punch buttons and pull levers while cabin inhabitants choose their fate – but then infiltrate what lies beneath. The whiteboard of captured threats, releasing of said captives in retaliation, genre adoration baked into each scene’s DNA – Cabin In The Woods is sharper than a merman’s fang.
Love is Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s monster in Spring. “Linklater meets Lovecraft” became the film’s marketing slogan, as Lou Taylor Pucci seeks wanderlust romance with an Italian beauty who’s more than meets the eye. Nadia Hilker dazzles as Benson and Moorhead’s lusty dreamgirl while creature engagements are often slimy, reptilian, and presented through transformative practical effects. A masterful relationship drama about the sacrifices we make for romance and the bonds that withstand, as only the horror genre – also Benson and Moorhead – can depict.
Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac remake (written by Alexandre Aja) is, after LONG internal deliberations, my favorite horror movie of this passing decade. A vile, in-your-face, scrub-your-skin-with-bleach “found footage” stalker flick that honors the dirtiness of William Lustig’s original through a reinvented lens. Elijah Wood is our eyes, our voice, our hands as he “battles” childhood traumas while snuffing life dim through whimpers and screams (Wood is operating on performance levels unmatched). Pure, delusional evil that’s evil nonetheless. This is the bubbling cesspool where horror is cultivated, paying perfect homage by offering the decade’s most ruthless watch without reasonable doubt. A devastating genre fever you can’t sweat out, meant as the highest compliment.
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