Since we’re a little more than halfway through 2013, I had the itch to create 23 horror films of the last 23 years. No, this isn’t my best of list but rather a categorical list to help you choose your next horror film to watch.
The Most Entertaining – The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Oh boy, this is a fun one. Original, entertaining, funny and scary all rolled into one memorable horror film, The Cabin in the Woods is a definite must-see for any fans of the genre. Avengers director Joss Whedon penned the script and didn’t hold back. Quite simply, this is a madly enjoyable film that throws bore out the window.
The Most Fun – Army of Darkness (1992)
Just plain fun to watch. Bruce Campbell is maybe the greatest hero in horror history. Damn shame he never became a huge star but he remains an icon for horror fans. You can pretty much sit back and enjoy this Sam Raimi flick with a laugh.
Most Original Werewolf Film – Ginger Snaps (2000)
This a great horror film, one that takes a classic monster (the werewolf) tale and turns it on its head by using twin teenage girls. It does a wonderful job of using teenage angst to fuel the story and the werewolf itself. It also delivers some comedic moments while remaining a frightening film. Canada should be very proud of this movie.
Bloodiest Werewolf Movie – Dog Soldiers (2002)
My personal favorite werewolf movie, Dog Soldiers is another great horror film by director Neil Marshall (The Descent). Here, you see his strengths as a director in the way he builds tension before delivering the horror. He also has a unique way of showing gore in the dark, where you see the blood, you see the guts, but it’s always hidden in the shadows. Still, it’s very effective.
Most Unique – Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
You would think there would have been a popular adult-style fairy tale movie years before this but, in truth, there wasn’t. Not only does Pan’s Labyrinth tell a great story, it creeps the shit out of you the whole time. The scenery crawls over you like a spider and doesn’t let up until the credits role. Guillermo del Tora hits a home run with this film.
Best Vampire Movie – Let The Right One In (2008)
This may just be the best vampire movie ever. The story of a great friendship, the only difference is that one of the friends is a vampire. Everything about this film, from the plot to the scenery is top-notch and while the American remake, Let Me In, is good, it still isn’t as good as this superb horror movie.
Most Polarizing – Event Horizon (1997)
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Event Horizon??!! But the film has scared the shit out of more than a few people and still garners attention after 16 years. That has to mean something, doesn’t it? That being said, this seems to be a movie that horror fans either love or hate with no middle ground. Some think it’s poorly written trash while others feel it’s a great spine-chilling film but nobody ever seems to think it’s merely so-so.
Worst Ending to Ruin a Great Movie – High Tension/Haute Tension (2003)
While director Alexandre Aja has a great visual eye and should continue to make movies for a long time, he screwed the pooch here on what could have been what of the best horror films ever. Disturbing, disgusting and wicked, the film follows two female college students as they try to escape a deranged killer. It gets you on the edge of your seat for a good 80 minutes and then the end completely fucks it all up. Sometimes twists work but this one is a total cop-out. I hated this one so much because I thought it was awesome up until the twist ruined everything for me.
Swankiest – American Psycho (2000)
I’m sure this choice doesn’t surprise you. Into the Wall Street culture of the 1980’s comes American Psycho, a maniacal portrait of a stockbroker with more than a few screws loose. Part of the great thing about the film is how much fun Christian Bale has playing the role of Patrick Bateman.
Most Miserable Ending – The Mist (2007)
The Mist is probably the best Stephen King adaptation since Misery. Well acted and directed, it’s a monster movie that strikes up the fear in you through the humans in the movie, not the creatures. But that ending, holy shit! Some horror fans absolutely loved it but I found it damn tough to swallow.
Best Zombie Movie – 28 Days Later (2002)
The movie opens up perfectly and gives you an understanding of how horrific the situation is right off the bat. One thing we loved about it was Danny Boyle’s visuals, some that seem almost impossible to have pulled off in a huge city like London. Keeps you on the edge the whole way through. Best zombie film we’ve ever seen.
Funnest Zombie Movie – Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Because I consider Zombieland & Shaun of the Dead more comedy than horror, I’m going with Zach Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake here. Snyder’s 2004 remake kicks ass in every possible zombie way it can. The roof scenes where the survivors communicate by large signs is worth a viewing all on its own.
The Most Overrated – Saw (2004)
Why so many people loved the original (and the 100 sequels) is beyond me. My main problem with Saw is that it’s really not believable even in the context of its own world. The villain has terminal cancer, is fragile and weak and yet somehow, he can manhandle people and kidnap them? While I like a complicated plot, this one twists and turns in ways that, again, just weren’t believable to me.
Most Significant – Scream (1996)
Agree or disagree but the reason I have Scream as the most significant horror film of the last 23 years is because it helped resurrect slasher films and put horror back on the map in a big way. Obviously, Wes Craven knows how to do it and this movie made an absolute killing at the box office and gave teenagers something to be scared of again. And yes, it’s a good film too.
Most Enjoyable Monster Movie – Attack The Block (2011)
Perhaps my favorite horror film of the last three years, Attack the Block takes the urban youth tale and adds an alien invasion to it with great success. The characters in the film are memorable and I liked the reasoning for the aliens being on earth. They also looked quite original with their gorilla-dog bodies and glowing blue fangs.
Scariest Child – The Orphan (2009)
This is the most frightened I’ve ever been of a child since Damien from the original The Omen. Ah, but Esther is not exactly what you may think she is, a revelation you won’t find out until the end but when you do, it catches you by complete surprise. The filmmakers do a wonderful job of keeping the secret wrapped up while providing scares until the end.
Scariest Ghost Story – The Devil’s Backbone (2001)
Sometimes, a ghost movie delivers perfectly. The Devil’s Backbone provides a great story to go with its scares set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. In its scenes with the ghost, Guillermo del Toro is able to make the hair on the back of your neck shoot straight up as you try to figure out exactly what’s going on. Superbly directed as the story is tied together perfectly from beginning to end.
Craziest Family – The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
Interesting battle here between the families of all the Texas Chainsaw and The Hills Have Eyes remakes but I’m giving the edge to the nutty clan from The Devil’s Rejects. Somehow, Rob Zombie mixes wickedness and terror with gut-busting fun. A film about a family of violent maniacs who get a kick out of torturing and killing their victims shouldn’t be this entertaining but it is. William Forsythe is also great as the vengeance seeking Sheriff Wydell.
Best Found Footage Film – The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Some may argue that Paranormal Activity should claim this title but don’t forget the influence that The Blair Witch Project had not only on horror films, but filmmaking in general. With 95% of its horror deriving from the audience’s anticipation, the movie proved that fear is still a powerful asset at the box office. Made for only $35K, it is one of the most profitable movies of all time. Paranormal Activity owes a lot of its success to The Blair Witch Project.
Most WTF Horror Film – Braindead/Dead-Alive (1992)
Long before his Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson was making hilariously vile horror films. Braindead, in my opinion, is the best of his splatter flicks after it takes a mutant rodent infection and unleashes it in the most disgusting way possible. There are moments in this film where you won’t believe what you’re watching and then it gets even more ridiculous. Probably not the movie you want to watch when eating dinner either.
Most Slept On – May (2002)
I wouldn’t say this movie gets no recognition, but it definitely doesn’t get nearly enough. This is a great horror film, one with a creative way to portray the nerdy, anti-social girl. But more than that, it’s a very human story about a depressed and lonely woman who can’t make friends. The way it unfolds, however, is highly effective and ends in a sad yet horrific way.
Most Painful – Audition (1999)
This wasn’t any easy movie for me to watch and mean that in a good way. You feel the man’s pain in Audition, pain that you makes your cringe. The story revolves around a man auditioning women to be his new wife but the one he chooses is far from the right choice. By the way, the girl in this movie may go down as the coldest woman in horror movie history.
The Best Horror Film – The Descent (2005)
I’ve had people agree with me, disagree and flat-out want to kill me over my choice for best horror movie I’ve ever seen. When I’m asked why, however, this is what I usually mention: I can’t find a flaw in the film. I was engaged the entire time, the characters were well-developed, the story had no holes, the villain was terrifying and the horror made it hard for me to sleep. The way Neil Marshall creates the claustrophobic atmosphere inside the caves coupled with the ferocious cave crawlers left me in awe. It’s the first movie I recommend to anyone when asked what a good horror film is.
Films left off the list
Hostel – It felt like Hostel and Saw were competing in Torture Porn Wars for a few years.
The Eye – I refuse to place a PG-13 horror film in my list. If that’s not a good enough reason then that’s your problem.
Ju-On – Very good J-horror film and almost made the list but I couldn’t find a place for it above the others.
Paranormal Activity – Yeah, I know, people cream in their pants over this film but it didn’t make my list because it’s found footage horror and The Blair Witch Project came first. Sorry.
Zombieland & Shaun of the Dead – Great zombie films but too comedic for me to call horror.