by Sam Roman.
I chose to focus on the best horror film of each year and give a thoughtful explanation as to why I chose that film out of the others in the year. That way, I still get a list of 10, but no year is neglected. And once I decided to do that and took the time to slog through a list of every single film released in the decade, something amazing happened...I discovered there really WAS only one good horror movie per year! (At least, in my humble opinion.)
So here is my list, free from torture porn, awkward pop culture spoofs, empty headed running bimbos and everything else that made horror in the 00's so awful- the standouts which I felt were not only scary or unsettling but also had elements beyond simple scariness to make them movies worth watching more than once. Some were funny, others profound, but all deserve to be seen.
American Psycho (2000)- More of a psychological thriller/extremely dark comedy than a horror movie despite the horror genre label, this is still the closest thing to a horror film worth watching that 2000 spit out. Luckily, between brutal chainsaw murders and maniacal screaming axe chopping it also happens to incredibly well made, intelligent, and holds onto a tinge of wild hilarity that keeps it fresh and unsettling years later. A fabulous social satire, if not a traditional "horror" film, and in my opinion (though not always the popular one) far easier to handle than the much more in depth and tedious novel. Bale adds a level of smoothly barely-buried insanity to the character that was not as easy to picture from the novel's descriptions, and gave a whole generation of girls a reason to pause and think hard before approaching smiling attractive men in suits.
The Devil's Backbone (2001)-One of the first horror films by Guillermo Del Toro before he perfected his slick CGI and impressive resume of creepy crawly monsters to give you nightmares. A profoundly upsetting piece highlighting the darkest sides of childhood in the bleakest of settings, and putting a nice solid twist on the typical haunted house tale. If you don't cry and/or feel creeped out by this one, you're dead inside, end of story. Del Toro is a master of atmosphere and the whole thing feels like a bad dream burned on film. His use of children in his horror films never feels half-assed or patronizing, there is precious little treacle or meaningless sentiment, and it has the overall feeling of what a ghost story SHOULD be.
The Ring (2002)-If nothing else than for the huge thumbprint it left on pop culture, both positive and negative. There's not much I can say about this movie that hasn't been beaten to death already but even that is an impressive feat when modern movies are so often generic and bland that they barely warrant discussion. This American remake fell far short of the creepy Japanese original (which lacked that hilarious horse jumping sequence) but still was laced with enough spookiness and darkness to make an impact in a year of extremely weak horror films and give girls with long dark hair a Halloween costume option for life.
28 Days Later (2003)-Changing the very scope of the "zombie" genre, this movie proved that zombies do not have to be paranormal corpses lurching from their graves in an often goofy and unbelievable manner for no apparent reason to feast upon the brains of the living; they can be regular people, taken over by a disease they cannot control, fast and deadly and as scary as any movie monster could ever be. The method of filming was impressive (closing one of the busiest areas in London for a sense of complete desolation) and the acting exceptional. Truly a film that lingers long after the end credits.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)-Another horror movie that straddles the comedy genre, but with a firm foot planted on either side, this movie was one of the funniest of the decade while still maintaining the cliche and typical zombie tropes: plenty of gore, jump moments, and shuffling living corpses by the barrel full. Any film which sets a fight to the death with a massive angry zombie to the cheery tunes of Queen deserves a special place in horror movie history. It easily outshines the boring generic horror movies of the year and has achieved the status of a classic-something no one but George Romero ever managed with the use of zombies.
Oldboy (2005)-In a year when the best horror America had to churn out was "Saw II" and "The Devil's Rejects" (the latter quickly taking its place proudly among the worst films of all time), this stood out as a shining beacon of creepiness. A film from South Korea released in 2005 after a critically acclaimed showing at Cannes, it harnesses some of the greatest essential human fears- isolation, loneliness, loss, helplessness- and rallies them all behind the revenge tale of one scorned man who shoulders an immense and mysterious burden. It is effective, suspenseful, and in many ways truly terrifying because of its disturbing plausibility.
The Descent (2006)-A film that suffered from a misleading trailer, this movie looked for all intents and purposes like any other bland poorly written horror flick involving women in tight sweaty clothing. What it actually was, upon viewing, was anything BUT typical. It is a tense and heart-stopping movie with jump scares unlike any in decades, constant oppressive silences broken by nightmare creatures and of course a healthy dose of "people are the worst monsters" psychological anxiety. The women involved are not horror movie trollops but instead are strong athletic and intelligent women who fight hard for survival and are never obnoxious stereotypes. It is nearly impossible to see this movie without coming away terrified of small enclosed spaces, at least for a little while, and in my experience does for caves what Jaws once did for oceans.
Sweeney Todd (2007)- A musical?? Bear with me here. The play was brilliant and groundbreaking for bringing horror to the stage in a wild spectacle not before seen, and the film does the play justice with room to spare. The atmosphere is thick and grim, the songs adding much needed levity to what would otherwise be an unwatchable cartoonish slaughter. Without the musical aspect of the film it would be a slasher in the truest traditional sense, throats slit and gushing with impunity and a Hamlet-style mass cast execution for a finale. With the songs, however, there is a layered and complex balance that happens to bring depth to this revenge tale and make it almost as amusing as it is disturbing.
Cloverfield (2008)- J.J. Abrams has made it his mission to drive the world insane one complicated concept piece at a time, and with this movie he took his unique brand of guerrilla advertising to the extreme. Once actually viewed, the hype was very clearly justified. It is a huge sprawling monster movie filmed in a handheld technique that lends a deep sense of realism to an otherwise ridiculous premise. The monster itself is a nightmare out of Bosch or Giger, and one can imagine this is what the makers of Godzilla have always been trying to get right and never have. Seeing it up close for the first time is genuinely unsettling, the grainy digital film obscuring the lines of CGI and making it look very much like a real hulking terror passing dangerously close by. The characters seem like real people, even if they are not always likeable, and they literally carry the viewer through the disaster that unfolds. It may have been slightly weak on writing, but overall this was an ambitious attempt at resurrecting the grand monster movie tradition and I feel it was mostly successful in doing exactly that.
Paranormal Activity (2009)- Last year was actually loaded with horror and suspense movies, and not all of them bad. In fact, it was incredibly difficult to pick one single standout when there were a few which deserve serious recognition. In the end, I chose this movie over the rest because it is a horror movie in the strictest and truest sense. Movies like Drag Me To Hell (hilarious) and District 9 (unbelievable) were worthy of all kind of praise, but they are movies which are not primarily intended to scare. They want you to laugh, to feel, to empathize and think, to take away something deeper than the heebie-jeebies. Paranormal Activity, on the other hand, just wants you to watch and grow ever more unsettled until every little noise in the house sends shivers up your spine. It is a classic horror film, done in a modern and interesting manner and acted beautifully by two unknowns. The ending feels a little abrupt but everything leading up to it is slow and tense, building and growing until the viewer can't help but glance behind them and turn on a couple lights. It is effectively creepy, a classic horror freshened up for a new era, and very much deserves to be recognized as the best in the genre for the year.
*Special Nod to*
Pan's Labyrinth (2006)- While again a film which is not strictly horror (I was surprised to discover it falls into the official horror genre), and which comes in less traditionally terrifying than The Descent for the same year, it must be acknowledged that this is one of the more magical and disturbing films of the decade. Touching on everything from historic Spanish military corruption to ancient folklore, the film is transporting and deeply emotional. The horrors here serve not to simply scare but to enhance the empathy felt for the abused young protagonist, a little girl running from the real life terror of her evil stepfather and dying mother into an imaginary world lush with fantastical dangers but with, inevitably, tragic rewards. Far sadder and more touching than scary, despite the horror movie genre in which it resides, it proved Del Toro is a master of his craft and is worthy of mention on any "Best of" list.*
Sam Roman is an illustrator from West Haven, Connecticut, who also paints and makes jewelry and fiber art. She was a frequent collaborator with Randall at Bennington College, where they produced several comics together, and regularly attempted to murder one another in ways befitting the films on this list. She now lives peacefully with her boyfriend Tom, and her kitten Bogart. To see Sam’s other work, visit her website portfolio at http://samantharoman.weebly.com, or follow her on Twitter.