A couple years ago I did a 30 horror movies for 30 days of October in celebration of my favourite “holiday” – Can you guess it? – Of course it’s Halloween. Part of being an individual with eclectic tastes involves constantly changing your mind, so in lieu of making an entirely revised “top-10”, “top-30”, “top-whateverthefuck”, I’ve decided to instead try and narrow down my list. I’m also attempting to celebrate the plethora of new voices and visions emerging in this dynamic genre while not feeling bad for excluding my favourites and classics.
Note: This list came at no easy lengths, as I watch the purposefully bad, downright terrible and truly disgusting. As any great horror fan knows, a true gem is a rare find indeed, the right combination of scares, tropes, music and atmosphere – among other criteria. For every one of these films there are at least 5 crap-tacular films which isn’t to discredit those that were so very close, the ones that could have been but just failed to ultimately deliver the goods.
In no definitive order, here follows the (indisputable) best horror films the last 5 years has to offer:
Evil Dead (2013) – Fede Alvarez
My expectations were as high as any other die-hard Evil Dead fan. In fact, when this was announced I almost decided to boycott the film entirely. After all, why try and improve upon perfection? But this film really surprised me – It had great scares, great over-the-top gore, and just enough homage to the original that it was a delight for any fan of the original. This film managed to straddle the line between delightful pastiche to the original, while keeping it fresh and unique unto itself. It also managed to expand upon the Evil Dead Necronomicon mythology without stepping on too many shoes.
The Sacrament (2013) – Ti West
Most film buffs have giant boners for Ti West and I’ve never ever been one of them. I hated House of the Devil and despised The Innkeepers possibly even more. Now that being said, this film is characteristically Ti West. I guess the format of his films finally seemed to fit for me in this project, rather than in the pseudo-throwback used previously. This often just came off gimmicky and cheap to me. West’s characteristic slow-buildup worked perfectly in this film, which follows a film-crew as they enter an unnamed country attempting to research an elusive cult. It’s also quite masterful in the telling how such little outside influence managed to destroy the foundations of the entire congregation. The slow buildup of course, implodes into an exciting and violent buildup – I say this was West’s best work to date, taking his “signatures” and signing a work that is original instead of his usual throw-back to a decade of film long ceased.
The Cabin in the Woods (2012) – Drew Goddard
Possibly the most paused scene in the film
This movie speaks for itself. Joss Whedon broke everyone’s brain when this was released and horror-nuts rejoiced. Actually, even non-horror fans rejoiced. This movie is just great. It subverts a genre while simultaneously embracing and celebrating everything and anything horror. Just the right mix of horror-comedy without being campy or bridging on lame, this movie had it all : hot babes, stoner comedy, zombies, the unicorn, secret societies, gore, violence and the end of the world (?). This tops almost everyone’s list of Top horror films of the 2010’s let alone top horror of the last decade, and some even arguing top horror EVER. There are tons of pages out there dedicated to spotting the tiniest of nerdy detail from the mise-en-scene, and as such this film instantly garnered a massive cult following.
V/H/S 2 (2013) – Assorted
While there was the first V/H/S and the newer V/H/S: Viral which both have some notable submissions, V/H/S 2 really throws it out of the park. Following the faux-snuff anthology format from the first film this one went into hyperdrive. It’s like the first one going down the highway 200KM/ph and nailing a sudden turn in the road – while viral stopped short, for example. Of course the entire thing came to a jaw-dropping climax during Gareth Evan’s “Safe Haven” – which perhaps is my one complaint during the entire thing, because they should have ended with this beaut. I feel sorry for the poor bastard that came after because I barely remember it. I doubt it was a weak spot or anything, it’s just… how can you compare to the balls-to-the-wall ridiculousness that just went down? The best anthology film of the early decade, but not the biggest, 2012 had The ABCs of Death which had some great contributions but as a whole failed to deliver.
Sinister (2012) – Scott Derrickson
The opening sequence.
While not terribly original necessarily, a very admirable and well done additional to any ghost/demon themed horror movie. It’s got all the usual tropes – a mystery to solve, faux-leads, twist ending, jump scares, etc. – but nails them all perfectly. My favourite of all these was the jump-scares which definitely had me tensing pretty hard, and even had my boyfriend asking me to walk him down the hall to the bathroom afterwards. A nerd’s note: the sound design was also very interesting in this film, as displayed most strongly when Ethan Hawke’s character is watching the old tapes but also in that freaky scene where the children’s ghosts are running around silently in the dark, bounding in and out of shadows. The sound design in itself was responsible for some of those jump scares I mentioned earlier, while simultaneously it was the lack of sound in some of the murders which made them all the more disturbing to watch. Apparently there is a sequel coming out soon, but I doubt it could be as good, as it has minimal involvement with the original crew, which is never a good sign. I’ll still watch it though.
You’re Next (2011) – Adam Wingard
Same-same… or is it?
Any favourite horror movie of mine will either nail a genre right on the head, or else subvert it – playing off your expectations, literally using your expectations to gain a certain explorative power over you as a viewer. This film is the latter. It uses your expectations for a typical “home-invasion” type horror thriller to pull off it’s twists. While I normally derive this genre of horror film, such as, infamously, The Strangers (2008), this film excelled by subverting viewer expectations, taking a new, powerful approach to the genre altogether. I would consider that a success.
The Conjuring (2013) – James Wan
A movie so good it sparked it’s own – albeit crappy – spinoff, Annabelle (2014). I chose this one versus Insidious (2010) and the sequel because, although James Wan really kills it in both (literally and figuratively, natch), The Conjuring managed to take everything that makes James Wan an excellent horror director and roll with it even harder and without remorse. My favourite thing about Wan as a director would have to be his use of pace – there’s no slowing down in this film, no unnecessary leads, and no time wasted at all. There’s a problem – okay let’s deal with it – instead of going through the typical motions of denial and doubt. Wan also manages to artfully employ just the right amount of comedic relief at just the right time, almost exclusively to keep you from having a heart-attack from the tension. His biggest success is my favorite in the jump-scares though, as the most frightening moments happen when you most expect it but almost always from a direction you are least suspecting it – think it’s coming from in front of you? It’s above you. Behind? Below. Beside? Infront. This never fails to give me a huge jump. Can’t wait for the sequel of this bad-boy to come out either.
Kill List (2011) – Ben Wheatley
No surprises here: I wrote a post a few years back about this being one of the best horror movies of 2011, it still is and clearly extends to the 2010’s. I’m not sure what’s left to be said about this movie that is at times relentlessly violent, disturbing and at times even humorous. A new take on an old classic: cults, this film will leave you deeply troubled as the ending comes to a cataclysmic, disturbing conclusion. Although somewhat depressing, there are many small details that are worth entailing a second viewing, and memorable moments seared into your mind whether you want them to or not. Powerful visuals and strong story telling come together to make this an exceptional horror film.
The Skin I Live In (2011) – Pedro Almodovar
A ceaseless, unrelenting, non-stop thrill ride that somehow ends on a more disturbing note than it began. This is a film you cannot look away from – the storytelling is masterfully woven together in a non-linear fashion and Banderas plays a perfect psychopath, who is twisted, cruel and at times even sympathetic. This was the Antichrist (2009) of 2011, in that everyone had something to say about it. Mixed with artful cinematography and a touch of science fiction, this is a truly unique film – something that has never come before, and I would employ anyone to try and come afterwards.
The Babadook (2014) – Jennifer Kent
Quite arguably the most talked about horror movie of the year, The Babadook came out with a big splash. Things seemed to have quieted around the film recently, but if you’ve seen the film, the shadows surely haven’t. This film is deeply psychological and extremely sympathetic – a great testament to loss, grief and melancholy as a mother and her son try and cope in the wake of a terrible catastrophe. The main protagonist comes in my favourite form of power – the acousmatic: that which we never truly see the figure, we are only given hints to it’s appearance, and can hear only through what can be described as a disturbing guttural groan. As far as I know, it’s never been done before but I have a feeling children’s storybooks may become a new trope in horror.
Oculus (2013) – Mike Flanagan
One of my personal favourites, Oculus is a wonderful mix of surreal, absurdity and hallucinogenic realism that you never truly know what is happening to our protagonists until the very end. The film literally keeps you on your toes, and starts to make you feel very near well mad by the end. I’ve never seen a horror movie with such a great pace, diving into the action only to give you some backstory interspersed throughout the action, all climaxing simultaneously. This movie was a wonderful combination of all that I love in a horror movie: mystery, a bit of blood, jump scares, and madness.
What do you think? Did I miss anything? Disagree?