Horror films have been scaring and delighting audiences for more than 100 years. In the early days they were silent and Gothic in style, developed from folklore, fables, literature, and myths. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) was the very first vampire movie, and remains to this day a disturbing adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic tale. Horror has come a long way since then, with special effects, new concepts and big budgets. But themes haven’t changed all that much, and the goal remains the same — to frighten the pants off the viewer. Here are the top 10 horror movies of the new millennium.
10. Jeepers Creepers (2001)
The first half of Jeepers Creepers is extremely eerie and unsettling. Trish and her younger brother, Darry, are driving home from college when a crazy driver tries to run them off the road. They later spot him dumping what looks like a body down a drainpipe. Darry decides to investigate, but has no idea what evil they’re about to encounter. Overall a very disturbing movie, one that most horror fans will enjoy, with a unique monster, the “Creeper.”
9. Final Destination (2000)
Final Destination might be targeted at the “teen dating crowd,” but the themes in this movie, such as predestination and precognition, appeal to horror fans of all ages. A group of teenagers cheat death when they’re thrown off a plane that explodes on takeoff. But death, the monster of the story, is not giving up, and hunts them down one by one. The sequel was also good, but maybe they should have left it there.
8. The Descent (2005)
This British movie by director Neil Marshall features an all- female cast, a rare scenario in the horror genre, and a welcome change. A spelunking trip goes horribly wrong for a group of six girlfriends. They become trapped in an unmapped system of caves and are hunted down by subterranean humanoid creatures, reminiscent of the morlocks in H.G. Wells’ Time Machine. There is adequate character development at the beginning of the movie, making the girls’ subsequent tragedy all the more horrific. It’s a great story and a film well worth watching.
7. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (remake, 2003)
A surprisingly good remake of the legendary 1974 slasher flick, this movie sticks mostly to the original plot, with some story changes and added gore to whet modern appetites. The remake takes place in 1973 — Erin Hardesty (Jessica Biel) and her friends are driving to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert in Texas. They pick up a hitchhiker who commits suicide in their van. While seeking help, they end up, as do the youths in the original version, at an old dilapidated farmhouse, where they meet the Hewitts (Sawyers in the original). Enter the chainsaw-wielding maniac Leatherface and his psycho family. The remake is far more violent and bloody, leaving little to the imagination.
6. Frailty (2001)
Bill Paxton’s directorial debut is hard to categorize, a psychological thriller with supernatural elements, but one that easily slots into the horror genre. Most of the story is told through flashbacks, as a mysterious man, Fenton Meiks (Matthew McConaughey) tells an FBI agent he suspects his brother is the notorious “God’s Hand” serial killer. He also recounts the night their father announces that he’s been recruited by God to slay demons that walk the earth in human form. Great cinematography and good acting all around, with a satisfying twist at the end.
5. Saw (2004)
The directorial debut from filmmaker James Wan, Saw is original both in its story and its bad guy/villain. Two men wake up in a rundown industrial old bathroom with their feet chained to pipes. Between them lies a dead man with a gun in one hand and a tape recorder in the other. They discover tapes in their pockets with instructions on how to get free. They realize they’re the victims of a psychopathic killer known as Jigsaw, who sets gruesome and elaborate traps for his victims. Saw gives us a fresh idea, a new take on the serial-killer theme, and a great story. The sequels are not so good, however.
4. 1408 (2007)
A list of top 10 horror films cannot be complete without a serving from Stephen King. Adapted from a short story of the same name, 1408 is a classic tale of haunting. Cynical novelist Mike Enslin (John Cusack) writes books discrediting paranormal events in haunted places. For his latest project, Ten Nights in Haunted Hotel Rooms, he’s determined to stay in the notorious room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel in New York. Defying the warnings of the hotel manager, Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson), Enslin settles in for what’s going to be a very long and disturbing night. The film is a welcome change from action-packed slashers, a good slow-paced psychological scarefest.
3. 28 Days Later (2002)
A British sci-fi/horror movie directed by Danny Boyle of Trainspotting fame is a new take on the zombie theme and it’s very effective. Infected chimpanzees released by animal rights activists have spread an incurable virus throughout the United Kingdom. 28 days later, bicycle courier Jim wakes up from a coma in a deserted hospital. He steps outside into empty London streets, with no idea what’s going on. This is one of the best scenes, setting up the tension and mood for the rest of the movie. Those infected by the virus turn into rabid lunatics out for the kill. Jim teams up with other survivors and tries to find sanctuary. A well-made movie with good writing and acting.
2. The Ring (2002)
Is it just an urban legend or are people really dying after watching a cursed videotape? Skeptical journalist Rachel Keller decides to find out. After watching the tape herself she receives a phone call saying she will die in exactly seven days. One of the creepiest movies of the decade. Who could forget that scary woman crawling out of the television, or those quick, jerky cuts? The Ring is a remake of the Japanese movie Ringu, which is also entertaining, but the American version is overall a better horror film.
1. Hostel (2005)
Directed by Eli Roth, and presented by Quentin Tarantino, Hostel is possibly the best slasher movie of all time, and definitely one of the most gruesome and twisted. This is horror at its best and truly deserving of the No. 1 spot. The plot is simple: American backpackers Paxton and Josh are visiting Amsterdam when they meet a man who tells them of a Slovak hostel where there’s an abundance of beautiful local women. The guys arrive at the hostel ready to party and have a good time, but have no idea what horrors lie in store for them.
What’s truly horrific about this movie, as opposed to paranormal and supernatural themes, is that Hostel claimed to be inspired by true events. Roth said a friend showed him a website offering the opportunity to shoot someone for $10,000. Unable to locate the website, critics claim that such a notion is absurd and it was just a marketing gimmick. Yet in a world where human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise, and where human rights groups estimate there may be some 27 million slaves worldwide, is such a notion really that far-fetched?
One More: Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Shaun of the Dead is a hilarious British horror movie spoof directed by Edgar Wright, that’s actually scary at some points. Shaun (Simon Pegg) wants to turn his life around by winning back his girlfriend and improving relations with his mother and stepfather. Unfortunately his good intentions coincide with a zombie apocalypse. Now, he and his slobbish best friend, Ed, have to save everyone from flesh-eating monsters. Brilliant humor, awesome editing, superb acting. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this movie, it’s all good. It’s very seldom that two actors work so well together as Pegg and Nick Frost. If you haven’t seen this one yet … go out and rent it tonight.
As a child, Alison Hill used to stay up long past her bedtime to watch scary movies, and she’s been a fan ever since. Her all-time favorite is A Nightmare on Elm Street. She has written two horror novels and is currently searching for a publisher.