We’ve officially crossed the halfway point of this incredible countdown and are rolling quickly towards the number 1 movie of the decade!
This week our ghostwriter tackles the top 46 – 26 slots, narrowing in on what aspects really make a horror movie special and stand out compared to all the rest.
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45. Beyond the Black Rainbow (2012)
Panos Cosmatos’ mesmerizingly slow-paced debut is one of the strangest and most hallucinogenic films of the decade. It’s something that should only be watched as a midnight movie, in that state somewhere between tiredness and sleep. But make sure you’re awake enough or else this is gonna be one hell of a bad dream.
44. The Loved Ones (2012)
Gleefully demented Australian film, one of the clear peaks of the first couple years of the decade and likely the second-best prom-centered horror film ever made. Its darkness is matched by its exuberance, often evident not only in its performances, but its bang-bang rhythmic editing.
43. Piranha 3-D (2010)
The best and most comprehensive use ever of shlocky 3D, and one of the most entertaining, unadulterated and unashamed B-movies of its time.
42. The Snowtown Murders (2012)
Pulls no punches in depicting the true story of Australia’s most notorious serial killer, as tragically seen through the eyes of one of his young, impressionable accomplices. It’s not exploitative at all, but rather a pure drama that is so good at depicting something so increasingly bleak that it will probably make you feel worse than any of the ghastliest pure horror films on this list. It’s endurance without catharsis.
41. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
One of the most fun art films of the decade, an Iranian vampire spaghetti western hybrid set in the skewed reality of a fictional town and filmed in haunting black and white, both contributing to similarities to Eraserhead. The film is as compelling for showing the shrouded specter stalking the streets as it is during a swooning bedroom-set, disco ball-lit romance scene scored to White Lies’ “Death.”
40. The Love Witch (2016)
A technicolor melodrama that pays pitch-perfect homage to witchy European horror films of the 1960s while turning them on their heads with a smart feminist twist. Though it functions mostly as a witty art film inversion, its central plot still contains all necessary horror elements, and since it so perfectly recreates the look and style of the films of the era, it qualifies as a horror movie by at the very least seeming like it’s always existed alongside the horror films it’s so deftly mimicking while mocking; one hilarious strength of the film is that its dialogue actually seems like it could have been penned 50 years ago, as though the feminist commentary writes itself. Which is to say, hardly scary, but irresistible.
39. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
The exacting tone of this film is its own demonic presence, holding the viewer at the same emotional knife’s edge as the protagonists. The rules of this world are left ambiguous, an undefined but clearly malevolent force pulling every string, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it but abide.
38. Suspiria (2018)
There is no remake that I know of that remained as true to the original while venturing so far off course. As I said before, it’s best thought of as a conflation of both real-world happenings and unreal film experiences that Luca Guadagnino felt and observed while first watching it and then mapped onto events occurring just outside the theater; it’s one again set in 1977, history playing a major role in the narrative. Ambitious, tedious, loopy and insane. One thing the film definitely gets right is the gaggle of witches, performed with off-kilter delight by a game cast, whose subtle tics are unsettlingly gleeful. I’ve also recently considered how Lutz Ebersdorf’s dialogue is dubbed after the fact, and how that works, intentionally or not, as a nod to the giallo. There’s still just so much to say and dissect and critique and enjoy about this movie that it’s a shame (or perhaps a blessing!) that this list isn’t about going in-depth.
37. The Neon Demon (2016)
Bursting with vibrant colors, this thoroughly mesmerizing exercise in beautiful emptiness is one of the few films that actually expresses its themes through its all-surface style. The unexpected, batshit climax is as invigorating as the characters are vapid.
36. Maniac (2013)
A remake of one of the grittiest horror films ever made, Maniacretains the grit while adding some gloss. As visceral as it is psychological, the film is shot almost entirely from the killer’s POV, forcing the audience into his endlessly disturbed mind. Aesthetically masterful in its marriage of sound and image, atmospherically capturing the city at a crossfire of reality and dream, and never shying away from emphasizing the deeply ingrained sickness in the killer’s heart, Maniac is a thrilling film on so many levels that nonetheless never tips into something I’d describe as purely entertaining.
35. Under the Shadow (2016)
A Persian-language supernatural horror film that blends the political war zone with the personal drama of a mother and daughter left in its wake. It’s one of the most unanimously praised horror films of the decade, a film with real weight and tense, original scares.
34. Sinister (2012)
Easily one of the scariest and most unnerving films of the decade, a pure horror film that is smartly self-reflexive without being one bit pretentious. When I first saw, it had thought it was a noticeably better film than the previous year’s Insidious, despite receiving similar reviews; years later, even with only one lackluster sequel, Sinister is referenced and cited as a great horror film far more often.
33. Black Swan (2010)
A combination of The Red Shoes, Showgirls, Suspiria and Aronofsky favorite Perfect Blue, Black Swan is one of the few awards-winners on this list, but don’t let that mainstream status fool you. Though it is more literal and breathes less than I’ve come to prefer in my cinema, Black Swan is as visceral, unnerving and surreal as almost any film on this list, and arguably a more virtuoso work as well. Big budget effects have become the norm at the multiplex, but what remains truly impressive and still surprising are the ways Aronofsky unexpectedly and seamlessly blends CG effects into Natalie Portman’s transformation into the black swan, which is exhilaratingly in service of the visceral and not at all the literal-mindedness I was talking about.
32. Kotoko (2011)
Shinya Tsukamoto’s intense drama about a single mother’s failing grip on sanity is peppered with viscerally terrifying, sharply cut waking nightmare sequences that depict paranoia and all matter of fear concerning her ability to keep her child safe in a dangerous world.
31. Der Samurai (2014)
Moody and mesmerizing yet energetic and way off-kilter, Der Samurai is a queer take on werewolf lore that ends with the most exuberant final kill scene in horror history.
30. Don’t Breathe (2016)
More than lives up to its title. Its first two-thirds display bravura technique and choreography that coincides with narrative twists to provide the most flawlessly executed nail-biting suspense of any horror movie this decade, while at the same time blurring the line and crisscrossing sympathies between victims and villains.
29. Let Me In (2010)
An American remake of a Swedish film that was only two years old and happens to be the most acclaimed horror film of the previous decade doesn’t sound like a good idea, yet Let Me Intweaks the formula just enough and contains its own kind of somber, fairy tale atmosphere that makes for a film that is nearly as good as its predecessor while welcoming, thanks to that atmosphere, compulsive repeat viewings.
28. The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Earlier I had stated that Tucker & Dale was probably the second best horror-comedy of the decade while I was thinking of What We Do in the Shadows, but I had briefly forgotten about the existence of The Cabin in the Woods. One of the ultimate, all-encapsulating horror films of the decade, Cabin provides clever genre commentary amidst an equal amount of gut-busting laughs, surprising twists and frightful thrills, culminating with a climax so gloriously over the top that it still feels unprecedented, and could only exist within the guidelines of this film. The oddest thing about it is that it felt dated upon its release in 2012, and not because it sat on a shelf for a couple of years. The film looks and feels like it would have come out in the late 90’s, and so I suppose it’s fitting that it’s the first post-Scream film to actually be a great horror movie that adds something to the genre.
27. A Quiet Place (2018)
A fresh concept scripted and filmed in a way that is not much different from schlocky 50s B-movies, A Quiet Place is nonetheless smart and tense beyond the more outsized, silent-film-like dramatic elements of its presentation. It’s a horror movie for everyone and everybody, and beyond being surprisingly rewatchable it’s just inventive enough for that to be fine by me.
26. Oculus (2014)
One of the very few horror films in which there is truly no escape, Mike Flanagan’s breakout film established a template for the films that followed in terms of both editing and the way it would set viewers up to believe that things could actually end very badly. The latter point is a facet that Flanagan has since lightened on – his Gerald’s Game and Haunting of Hill House turn out to have big soft hearts in the end – but the former remains his calling card. Oculus is a fresh, lean re-envisioning of Stephen King’s “IT,” where young adults return to a promise they made in their childhood to defeat an evil mirror that may have supernatural properties. Via Flanagan’s masterful editing, you see both the present and the past play out side by side, both the older and younger version of the characters, sometimes within the same frame as the film increasingly comes to destabilize the viewer and resemble a Lynchian trip into repressed memories.
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