The best horror movies of the 2000s came from independent filmmakers in the US and Europe who found new ways to weave unique tales around traditional genre tropes…
10. Dead End (Andrea/Canape, France/USA, 2003)
Of a whole host of entertaining horror-comedies to be released during the decade “Dead End” stands out as the most frightening. I liked “Bubba Ho-tep”, “Severance”, “Shaun of the Dead”, and “Zombieland” but Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa’s film follows the formula set out by comedy-horror’s godfather John Landis. Landis still maintains that “An American Werewolf In London” is a horror film with a few funny bits but he has to admit it was the first to fully bring horror and comedy together to be at once gut-wrenching funny and gut-evacuating scary. “Dead End” is funny, but unlike the others, it makes sure it has some genuine scares up its sleeve and maintains a foreboding, suffocating tone throughout.
Discover More: Read my review (which I wrote way back in 2003)
9. Them (Moreau/Palud, France/Romania, 2006)
If “Dead End” won the comedy-horror battle, “Them” (or “Ils” as it is known in its native language), won the middle class nightmare bout. It isn’t a new idea – “The Hills Have Eyes” was steeped in this concept of wholesome, morally well-meaning people meeting their doom when encountering a god-less under-class. America had a go with “The Strangers”, Britain had a go with “Eden Lake”, and German Michael Haneke had a go with “Funny Games”. But the stand out was “Them”, a film with so much tension you might need to buy a new sofa after finding you’ve dug your nails through the outer lining and are now spitting out foam. Directors Moreau and Palud favour a stylish, fast-paced thrill ride over character musing that grabs you from the first reel and never lets go. Even the shocking climax will stay with you long after the credits have rolled. The two talented directors would head to Hollywood after the success of “Them” and partake in some of that remake madness, making “The Eye” with Jessica Alba. True to their talent, the film was one of the better remakes during the decade.
8. Switchblade Romance (Aja, France, 2003)
So far we’ve had the best horror-comedy and the best middle class nightmare, now is the time for the best of the torture porn. A sub-genre I’m not fond of is sometimes served with a film that features character and suspense as well as ultra-gore. “Switchblade Romance” was run close by Greg Mclean’s Australian shocker “Wolf Creek”. Both films feature seemingly unending terror that increases with every minute. You care for these characters and you feel their pain. “Switchblade” is the better of the two because it has the better ending and has a little more up its sleeve than the more straight-forward “Wolf Creek”. Both films are worth checking out if you haven’t done so already – it would make for a great double bill!
7. The Devil’s Backbone (Del Toro, Spain, 2001)
Now we get to that good old ghost story. I’m always reminded of the camp fire from John Carpenter’s “The Fog” when thinking of ghostly tales – how they take on a new lease of life when told around the flickering orange and red colours of an open fire. “The Devil’s Backbone” was one of the earlier horror films released in the decade and one of the first times audiences were wowed by Guillermo Del Toro. He would follow the film with “Blade II”, “Hellboy” and “Pan’s Labyrinth”. The film is a well-told tale of ghostly happenings at an orphanage in Spain during the Civil War. It features one of the best jump-out-of-your seat moments of the decade. If you like “The Devil’s Backbone” also check out Alejandro Amenabar’s “The Others” and Juan Antonio Bayona’s “The Orphanage”.
6. [REC] (Balaguero/Plaza, Spain, 2007)
There were several Blair Witch-esque home-video style horror films released during the 2000s including a remake of “Rec”, renamed “Quarantine”. The one that made the most money was, unsurprisingly, Hollywood’s big-budget attempt – “Cloverfield” – which was backed by a mammoth marketing campaign. However, the only film running “Rec” close for the Blair Witch Award for best filming of ones own death was “Paranormal Activity”. Both films found the scares through an authentic setting that wasn’t afraid to acknowledge traditional convention while creating something fresh. “Rec” has a bit more going on to merit its place in this top 10, but both films deserve to be recognised as two of the best horror films of the 2000s.
Discover More: Top 10 Found Footage Horror Films
5. Let The Right One In (Alfredson, Sweden, 2008)
Heralded as a refreshing look at Vampire myth, “Let The Right One In” benefits from director Tomas Alfredson’s limited knowledge of gothic horror fiction. By toning down much of the mythology he focuses the film on its characters – a bullied 12 year old boy and a similarly aged vampire girl who form an unlikely friendship. It reminds me of one of my favourite 1980s vampire films “Near Dark” which also looked to streamline the mythology and focus on the inherent needs of the characters – namely, survival.
4. Frailty (Paxton, USA, 2001)
“Frailty” was a surprise on two counts. It was a surprise firstly because actor Bill Paxton directed it, and even more surprisingly he did such a great job with it. It was the first feature-length film he had ever directed. It was also surprising because it quickly established itself as one of the most unique horror films ever made. It is like the “Double Indemnity” of horror movies – a retrospective story told through flashback via the conversation between Matthew McConaughey’s Fenton Meiks and Powers Boothe’s ultra-smooth FBI Agent Wesley Doyle. It is seeped in religious iconography yet it deals with its tale of demon-hunting without resorting to silly special-effects. Like a great book, it lets your imagination do the talking. The ending contains more than one twist and makes for a wholly different experience when you watch the film again.
3. Dead Man’s Shoes (Meadows, UK, 2004)
In the mould of “Last Half On The Left” and “I Spit On Your Grave”, British filmmaker Shane Meadows looks at the revenge movie from the perspective of the wronged male rather than the exploited female. Paddy Considine delivers a strong performance as Richard, who returns home to avenge the suffering felt by his disabled brother at the hands of a local gang. Richard is cold and calculated, and like the best revenge films, the audience is placed firmly on the side of the avenging aggressor.
2. The Descent (Marshall, UK, 2005)
Another fine horror film from the UK comes from “Dog Soldiers” director Neil Marshall. Marshall is not afraid to steal from classic horror films of the past and his work is laced with references to the films of John Carpenter, George Romero, Wes Craven, and Ridley Scott. “The Descent” is his best film to date, following a group of friends as they explore caves in the Appalachian Mountains, North Carolina. Marshall sets the tone by locking his characters in an unrelenting darkness, perfectly capturing the claustrophobia of cave exploration. It is a great setting for a suspenseful film – there is no exit, no escape.
1. American Psycho (Harron, USA, 2000)
The best horror film of the decade is also the most fun!
Introducing us to the infamous Patrick Bateman, Mary Harron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel is a slick tale of a greedy New York investment banker who goes crazy and starts offing various people while listening to the music of Phil Collins.
Christian Bale makes it all work with a wonderful performance as Bateman, mixing suave sophistication with zany psychosis.
Written and compiled by Dan Stephens
Discover More Horror on Top 10 Films: Dan Grant looks at the horror movies that scare him the most and the dumbest moments in the Friday the 13th franchise while Neal Damiano checks out a selection of the most disturbing slices of cinema. Elsewhere, I take a look at the best horror film beginnings, the scariest movie monsters, and the curious horror sub-genre that sees television become the bad guy.