In case you want skip my ramblings, feel free to do so. I want be offended, since they are for me mostly anyhow.
There’s two reasons I wanted to do this list. First, What the Flick?! started a series about the best horror movies of this century, which got me thinking about this and I brought it up on our forums as well, where it sparked a little bit of discussion on the subject. Second, I’ve done my Top 100 favorite movies every five years (so, once during the history of this blog, and I’ve done it two times before) and I always enjoy doing those lists, but I also need to give them space, so I don’t want to do them more often. This is more about giving me something to do in between those. I’ll probably do others with different focuses as well.
Now, what constitutes a horror film here? If I would just look at the list of my favorite movies, the highest placing horror movie on that list is Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, a movie I positively adore and cherish. On the other hand, it’s not the kind of movie I gravitate towards when I look for that horror experience. Again, Caligari is an incredible movie, but now it feels more like a strange fantasy movie rather than horror, because it doesn’t creep me out the same way I would like horror films to do.
Other films I very much enjoy, but left out to similar reasons, include other German Expressionist films from the 20s, such as Nosferatu and Faust, Les diaboliques, which I see more as a mystery movie, or perhaps a crime movie than horror, even if the tension is there, Shaun of the Dead, which is definitely a horror movie, but at the same time the reason I enjoy it is more about the relationships and the comedy, or various Jan Svankmajer films, which I find to be more funny or exhilirating than horrific.
I decided to keep the list to ten, but here’s some of the other movies that I considered as honorable mentions: Psycho, The Babadook, The Others, Evil Dead and it’s immediate sequal, Baghead, Kaidan, Freaks, The Loved Ones, Ginger Snaps, A Tale of Two Sisters, Excision, Get Out, Neon Demon, Martyrs, Trick’r’Treat, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, You’re Next, Goodnight Mommy and Krampus. I guess 20 honorable mentions is enough.
You might note that I tend to gravitate towards newer movies here. In fact seven out of the ten movies are from within the last ten years. Why is this? I don’t really know. There isn’t a common thread to these. Some are quite experimental, while others have quite traditional stories. I do tend to go for a great atmosphere rather than scares, although there are some of those in these movies as well. I just like those weird, slow builds much more in general.
Therefore, what does creep me out? Well, on to the list (in chronological order)..
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
This is a legendary film in many ways. It was the first film to have a primarily white cast with a black lead. It was one of the better known films of the Midnight Movie scene in the 70s. It was one of the last films before MPAA started to enforce it’s rating system. It’s now in the National Film Registry as an historically important movie, which is certainly deserved on many levels, because this was also an inspiration for probably hundreds of low budget horror movies over the decades. And of course it’s a precursor to the way we think about zombies these days.
Of course, none of this should (and really doesn’t) affect my enjoyment of the movie. If you are interested in history of movies, you should see this, but for me personally, it’s something I saw as a young kid for the first time and it definitely made an impression. It’s gory, it’s claustrophobic and it’s always topical. It’s held up really well among horror movies, most of which on this list are quite a bit newer than it.
The Shining (1980)
When someone of the caliber of Stanley Kubrick does pretty much anything, any fan of movies will take notice. And what a glorious thing it is, when every little detail gets that Kubrick-style attention. If you haven’t seen it for some reason, why are you even reading this list?
Audition or Ôdishon (1999)
As one of the six movies to come out that year that were directed by Takashi Miike (no, I’m not kidding, there was also a miniseries by him as well – you don’t get to 102 directing credits in 26 years by wasting time), you might think he wasn’t really paying too much attention to each of his projects, but the way this constructs this sordid little world is meticulous.
We have a middle-aged guy, whose wife died seven years earlier. His friend suggests they find him a new woman by holding auditions presumably for a role. There he meets Asami, for whom he falls for quickly, because she’s beautiful and apparently submissive. However, not everything is as it seems. Of course. The weirdness seeps in until the dam breaks. The end result is quite shocking, but also leaves you uneasy, because you don’t quite follow what exactly is going on.
Låt den rätte komma in or Let the Right One In(2008)
This is a Swedish movie and as a Finn, I am definitely familiar with the greyness of the setting.
Oskar is a kid, who gets regularly bullied and is pretty much on his own. He meets Eli, a girl who happens to be a vampire, who becomes his friend and protector, while they try to make life together work. The horror is quite subtle, but the theme is so different it makes the whole thing quite unique.
Oskar is easily identifiable for most of us as a marginalized kid, but at the same time, if you look closely, he is clearly troubled in other ways as well. Eli just helped him skip some steps in the process of him becoming a serial killer. He was well on his way on his own.
Kill List (2011)
Jay and Gal are professional killers, who have been out for a while, while Jay has been recuperating. Now Jay is out of money and has to take on new jobs. They get a list of three people, who they need to kill. Turns out, it goes way deeper than just this short list, but getting out of the deal is impossible.
It dwells deep into the weird territory. We, as the viewers, know a little bit more than our hapless pair from the beginning, because we see Gal’s girlfriend Fiona carve a mark on the back of the mirror in Jay’s house’s bathroom. She also takes a sample of blood from him by stealing a tissue. Later on we see that mark here and there, when the pair goes out and kills their first targets. In both cases the target thanks Jay for killing them. The pair also receives information we don’t know about. The second victim has some footage that makes Jay outraged and makes Gal want to drop out, but we never get to see what it was about.
Things are clearly out of their control soon enough and there’s something going on around them which is never really explained, even as the movie comes to a bloody conclusion involving pretty complicated way to sacrifice people.
Lords of Salem (2012)
Heidi is a radio DJ with a history of drug abuse, but she’s clean now. One day, she receives a record from a “The Lords”, which she tries out. It’s weird, repetitive music with quite archaic sound… and it triggers something in Heidi, who begins to experience weird things.
The movie is quite uneven, but when it pays off, it pays off well. There’s a certain 70s feel and even though I’m not a big fan of the 70s horror movies, or movies in general, I really enjoyed Heidi breaking down. The budget imagery is interesting to say the least.
Green Room (2015)
A punk band, who seem to be quite dedicated to the DIY ethos, are touring, when one of their gigs falls through. They are offered another one, which pays nicely (well, on their scale) and they decide to take it. Turns out, it’s a club for neo-Nazi bikers, which also acts as a base of operations for their illegal dealings. After the band witnesses a murder, they lock themselves in and have to deal with the situation.
By the description, you might be thinking “action”, but no, it’s not like that. They band aren’t action heroes (well, one of them turns out to be). They are just young adults in a difficult situation, where they are pushed into fighting for their lives. The interesting-slash-funny thing is that the opposing side isn’t a gang of competent criminals. They are just morons, who happen to work together due to a common interest in (not very) casual racism. It’s pretty intense, but it does have a weirdly funny side to it as Patrick Stewart gets frustrated with his men.
The VVitch: A New-England Folktale (2015)
William and his family is banished from a puritan settlement for being too puritan (okay, different intrepretation of some passages in the Bible). They build a new life for themselves near a forest that holds some strange secret. When their youngest child goes missing basically from right under the nose of their eldest daughter, things start spiraling as their religious dogma isn’t quite enough to find an answer.
I think I experience this differently from most viewers, because to me (as a Finn) the forest doesn’t do much, while for others it might be in itself a source of horror. I find the strict religion to be the horrific thing, even though there is an actual witch behind all this. The family might have been able to survive, if they acted more rationally.
There is so much to love here. The language seems era-appropriate and while I’m not sure it’s actually that, it works. The actors bring their best and the lead (Anya Taylor-Joy) has had a fast rise after this (she’s starring in The New Mutants next year as Magik). It’s amazing that this was actually someone’s directorial debut (he had a couple of shorts under his belt, but this was his first feature).
Under the Shadow (2016)
Shideh and Dorsa are left on their own in the worn-torn Tehran of the 80s, when Shideh’s husband has to do his stint in the army medical units. After a missile hits the building, strange things begin to happen.
The most traditional movie on this list. It’s basically a combination of a western ghost or possession story through the lens of a Persian setting, so instead of a demon, you have a djinn. What makes it interesting is how the local culture makes the situation even more horrible. When Shideh and Dorsa flee to the streets to look for help, they are detained by the police and reprimanded for not being properly dressed. Women can’t catch a break.
It Comes at Night (2017)
A family of three is living in their boarded-off house in the middle of the forest. They don’t know much about the rest of the world, but they do know some mysterious disease has been killing people all over. One night they find someone breaking in to their house. Instead immediately murdering him, they decide it would be better to have more hands on deck at the farmhouse, so they invite the man and his family in.
“It” of the title is just fear or distrust. There is no actual outside threat, except for the disease, but we don’t even know much about that. For us, it’s just an excuse to be fearful of other people. Our family has tried it’s best to isolate themselves from the world, but they are willing to take a risk and take in others, but having them under the same roof is just too much. It’s a very interesting take on horror movies, because the worst enemy here is ourselves.