Over the last decade, Hollywood horror has been a melting pot of mediocre remakes, sequels, and once promising franchises turned rotten. Although there have been some great scares at the box office, cheap frights, regenerated ideas and predictable plots just aren’t making the cut anymore. We have to look elsewhere, then, to find the absolute best horror films of the last ten years, the majority of which are in fact found much closer to home.
With the exception of one little Australian film, it’s the Europeans that have come out on top, as they have been at the helm of the most brilliantly thought-provoking, psychologically disturbing, emotionally draining and nail-bitingly tense horror films of the decade. Unfortunately, a top ten always means that some fantastic contenders get left out, and, of course, no such list could ever be definitive, but we hope that you enjoy it and we look forward to your comments!
Without any further delay, here are the Top 10 Horror Films of the Decade:
10. 28 DAYS LATER (2002, dir. Danny Boyle)
The number ten spot is probably the hardest decision to make, and so some honorary mentions need to be made, as films like Antichrist, A Tale of Two Sisters, Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield narrowly missed the cut but are still well worth a watch. It’s 28 Days Later, though, that kicks off this list.
The disaster begins as animal activists break into a lab where scientists are conducting experiments on chimpanzees. Unbeknownst to them, the chimps are infected with a horribly contagious ‘rage’ virus, and as their cages are unlocked, the virus is spread with immediate and catastrophic results. 28 days later, Jim wakes up from a coma in a derelict hospital. The streets of London are deserted, populated only by hordes of infected, zombie-like, humans. Jim, joining a group of other survivors, travels across the UK in an attempt to find safety, but soon discovers that the savagery of mankind is far more terrifying than that of the infected.
The incredible images of a completely desolate London are enough to instil fear in any viewer. The experience of seeing its streets devoid of any traffic, commuters, tourists and shoppers is truly unique. The film, entirely shot on DV, is grainy and gritty, and the characters, as well as the situations they find themselves in, are believable. As a result, we are brought on an unsettling journey, where emptiness, helplessness and shattered hopes reign. 28 Days Later, as well as being a sombre allegory on modern society, is a fascinating and hauntingly realistic post-apocalyptic zombie film that is likely to stay with you long after the credits roll.
9. THE ORPHANAGE (2007, dir. Juan Antonio Bayona)
Much in the vein of films like The Others and The Devil’s Backbone, The Orphanage is a superbly crafted ghost story driven by suspense, mystery and subtle chills. Laura moves back to the orphanage where she grew up, along with Carlos, her husband, and Simon, her adopted child. Since closed down, she plans to re-open it as a home for children with disabilities. Simon begins telling his parents about his five imaginary friends, but these stories are brushed off as mere products of his imagination. Things take a sinister turn as he disappears during the home’s opening party, and a strange masked boy is spotted. Laura realises that if she is to ever see her son again, she must uncover the mystery behind the home’s disturbing past.
The Orphanage manages to rise above the average horror lark as the story weaves masterfully in and out of the paranormal, whilst conveying a powerful message of love and devotion. Despite a more restrained approach to horror, Juan Antonio Bayonne blends moments of sheer terror within a dramatic and, ultimately, deeply saddening film. The Orphanage goes to show how horror can go above and beyond blood and gore, as it remains just as effective in its frights but manages to crawl far deeper under your skin.
8. THE DESCENT (2005, dir. Neil Marshall)
The Descent is undoubtedly one of the finest British horror films of the last decade, rivalled only by Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later. A year after her husband and daughter are killed in a car crash, Sarah’s friends decide to take her cave diving in an attempt to rebuild the adrenaline-junkie relationships they once had. Once inside, though, things don’t go quite as smoothly as anticipated as the girls discover the truth about their excursion. Their adventure rapidly becomes a descent into hell as they realise that they are not alone.
As soon as the girls plunge into the dark depths of the cave, the clever and superbly effective lighting and sound design makes the film as visually compelling as it is aurally eerie. Although the dialogue leaves a little to be desired, the acting, the score, the scares and the gore make for an intense and incredibly unsettling experience. And at last, these girls are not forehead slappingly stupid. And this is where the film gains its real depth, as it is their emotional reactions to the horrors that far outweigh their physical ones. Now that is a breath of fresh air.
7. THE OTHERS (2001, dir. Alejandro Amenabar)
The Others may well be the odd one out on this list, but is without a doubt one of the most stylish, suspenseful and chilling. In the midst of World War II, Grace takes care of her two light-sensitive children and awaits the return of her husband. After the suspiciously well-timed arrival of three new housekeepers (the previous ones mysteriously disappeared), the children begin making contact with ghosts, and strange occurrences begin happening around the manor – the piano plays by itself, voices and footsteps are heard, and the curtains, closed at all times to protect the children from the light, are frequently opened. The film follows Grace as she tries to solve the mystery – who is haunting her home, and why.
Typically, a horror film is defined by its gore levels and body count. You won’t find a single drop of blood here, though, as The Others relies solely on atmosphere to achieve its thrills and chills. The closed curtains inside and the thick mist outside give the film a very sombre and eerie mood throughout, providing the perfect backdrop against which to tell this elegant, superbly written and creepy ghost story. And if that isn’t enough to keep you on the edge of your seat, just you wait for the final jaw-dropping twist…
6. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008, dir. Tomas Alfredson)
This beautifully shot Swedish film finds its charm through the budding relationship of two lost souls. Oskar is a lonely boy, bullied at school and misunderstood by his peers. He creates an unlikely bond with Eli, a 12 year old girl – well, more or less 12 – she’s a vampire. She can only survive on blood, and so her father/helper routinely kills for her, hanging his victims up like cattle in a slaughterhouse and siphoning their blood. This is just a small layer of the story, though, as there is so much more going on – from Oskar seeking ways to get revenge on his bullies, to Eli trying to resist the temptation of feeding in the middle of the street, to the sexual undertones between both protagonists. The chemistry between them is immaculate and the performances of both young actors are truly incredible.
The moments of violence are indeed brutal and horrific in every sense of the word, though they come few and far between. Director Tomas Alfredson doesn’t rely on them to get his story told, preferring subtedly over harshness and an almost inconspicuous use of CGI. The unsettling mix of horror with the otherwise serene stillness of the snowy landscape provides a haunting atmosphere far superior to any other vampire film, or indeed any other horror film, of the last decade.
5. PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006, dir. Guillermo del Toro)
Some may get their horror rule books out here, but Pan’s Labyrinth is undoubtedly one of the most beautifully brutal films produced in the last decade and beyond. Ofelia, a young girl enchanted by fairy tales, moves in with her sadistic stepfather, a captain for the Spanish army, as her mother enters the final months of pregnancy. One night, a fairy guides her through a labyrinth to meet a faun, who tells her she is a princess. However, before she is allowed into their alternative world, she must pass 3 gruelling tests to prove herself worthy.
Pan’s Labyrinth is a fairy tale like no other; bleak, ruthless and violent, but mesmerising, magical and extraordinary all the same. It is a dark masterpiece, where death lurks around every corner and where innocence collides with horror, corruption and violence. The historical drama subplot of the film complements the fantasy as they seamlessly weave in and out of each other, giving the magical elements an incredibly, and sometimes disturbingly, realistic dimension. And it’s not just the visuals that are wonderfully executed, as every other aspect of the film is tuned to perfection, establishing Pan’s Labyrinth as one of the filmic highlights of the decade.
4. LAKE MUNGO (2009, dir. Joel Anderson)
Lake Mungo is an Aussie docu-horror which has accomplished the seemingly impossible task of setting itself apart from the recent string of mediocre shaky cam horror flicks. It tells the story of the Palmer family as they cope with the death of their daughter, Alice. Through interviews with family and friends, we are given an insight into how the family cope with the tragedy. However, the story takes a sinister turn as strange and inexplicable events start happening in and around their home, which prompts their son to set up video recording equipment around the house. Alice’s disturbing secret past is soon revealed.
The film then turns into an original, tense and thought-provoking ghost story, with twists and turns you’ll never see coming. The focus remains on the family’s grieving process and the emotional dilemma they find themselves in, but the film equally delivers moments of genuine, heart attack-inducing, fear. Lake Mungo is in fact an emotionally charged and deeply moving drama, blended to great effect with elements of horror. It is definitely a slow burner, but the tension is built up perfectly throughout and, when the final blow eventually hits, even the hardest of nerves will be left quivering.
3. INSIDE (2007, dir. Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury)
The DVD cover says it all really; a pair of scissors held up to the very pregnant belly of a young woman. Yes, if you thought you had seen it all, think again, as this French horror holds no punches delivering litres of blood and insane gore throughout. It’s Christmas Eve, and widowed Sarah is home alone the night before her baby is to be delivered. Her peaceful evening is disrupted as an unknown woman knocks at the door and invades her home. It won’t be long until she finds herself locked in the bathroom, terrified and drenched in blood, as the intruder brutally kills all who come in her way of getting what she wants. That is, Sarah’s unborn baby.
If gore is what you’re after, look no further. Inside leaves very little to the imagination as every atrocity performed is explicitly shown. Throughout the film, the suspense is kept at solid and unflinching level, and the uncompromisingly graphic imagery and the brutally extreme horror escalate relentlessly. And just when you thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse…well, you get the idea. You probably won’t find any deep psychological themes or any groundbreaking artistic achievements here, but it is a truly horrific film that goes above and beyond what many other filmmakers would ever dare recreate onto celluloid.
2. MARTYRS (2008, dir. Pascal Laugier)
Over the last decade, films like Switchblade Romance, Inside and Frontiere(s) set the tone for French horror, but it was Martyrs that pushed the boundaries beyond anything we’ve seen since Irreversible. Martyrs, the latest addition to the French Extreme Wave – films bound together by their brutal levels of extremity – and perhaps the most accomplished, is a film of two halves; the first plays out just the way you’d expect a horror to, although this time there is no enjoyment to be found as Lucie brutally murders the family she suspects to be behind her kidnap and torture as a child. The tension in these opening scenes is harsh and the mood unbearably bleak, but still, the ante is upped tenfold as Anna, Lucie’s best friend, stumbles across the disturbing truth of Lucie’s childhood traumas.
If the first half ferociously multiplies the violent elements from the aforementioned films, the second elevates the already excruciating experience into something deeply emotionally involving, with a forgivably pretentious ‘art-house’ air. The powerful message behind the film serves as justification for the disturbing imagery, and avoids ever appearing exploitative. Is this one of the most intensely disturbing films of the decade? Probably. But Pascal Laugier manages to transcend the violence to deliver a heavily philosophical and psychological journey, as we bare witness, and in turn make realistic parallels, to the extreme lengths humans will go to to find meaning through pain and suffering. It’s hard to substantiate Martyrs’s superiority to other torture-porn fodder, but suffice it to say that it goes way beyond merely testing your gut; it is a rare gem that not only leaves you so emotionally drained and so heart broken, but that stays with you for days if not weeks after.
1. [REC] (2007, dir. Jaume Balaguero, Paco Plaza)
The number one spot goes to this minimalist and claustrophobic hand-held zombie film that reminds us what it feels like to be truly terrified. REC follows reporter Angela and her cameraman as they cover the usually uneventful night shift of a local fire station. After receiving a seemingly ordinary call from an old lady in distress, the firemen and TV crew arrive at her apartment building. The horrifying screams coming from one of the apartments are anything but ordinary, however, and things quickly get from bad to worse as the government suddenly seals the building from the outside. Trapped inside, the group are left to face the horrors alone, and the TV crew keep filming as the nightmare unfolds.
REC doesn’t rely on special effects, it doesn’t rely on gore, and it certainly doesn’t rely on any cinematic conventions you may be used to. The aim here is to achieve the highest sense of realism possible, and the film goes above and beyond this, as you are sucked into the apartment and made to experience the night along with the characters. The people seem real, their reactions seem (and sometimes actually are) real, and most importantly the situation they’re in feels all too real. The pace and tension build in a perfectly timed manner until all hell breaks loose in the unbearably nerve-shattering climax. Many films have tried and failed to blend realism and horror so convincingly and so naturally, and despite a few unashamed clichés, REC feels fresh and has certainly redefined the genre, making it a true masterpiece of modern horror.
Find Out How You Can Enter Our Halloween Horror Competition Here: http://www.raindance.org/halloween-horror-film-competition/