Top 10 Best Horror Films of the Decade

The deepest, darkest corners of Hollywood…

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This has been a decade in which lots of things have become worse. Music. Politics. My hairline. But in the dark corners of a deserted cinema screen, horror movies have thrived. After a couple of decades in the wilderness, the last ten years has seen horror movies enjoy a renaissance bordering on the unbelievable. Of the ten highest grossing horror movies of all time, nearly half of them have been released in the last decade. We are living (and dying) during a horror golden age people. So, lock all your doors, board up the windows and do NOT investigate that maddening dripping sound from upstairs. Let’s do this…

10. The Babadook (2014)

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This was a tough one for me. Normally, I’d be loathe to add something to a best of list purely because of social impact but there is no denying that the release of The Babadook marked a sea change for the horror genre. Jennifer Kent’s allegory for depression reminded us that horror can have a conscience and this paved the way for a slew of similarly socially minded horror films such as It Follows, Get Out and Mother! More on them later…

9. Get Out (2017)

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American comedy writer/actor Jordan Peele was probably not the most likely candidate to direct a blistering social commentary on race relations in America but he forced people to sit up and take notice with his wildly successful directorial debut Get Out. Not only was the writing incendiary and brilliant, but the look of the film was grotesquely beautiful as well. Think Soundgarden’s ‘Black Hole Sun’ video but weirder. More unsettling.

There are so many horror films that have so little to say. This made it doubly refreshing when Get Out arrived and demanded that people confront an issue, even if it made them feel uncomfortable. Especially if it made them feel uncomfortable.

8. Halloween (2018)

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Halloween is a franchise that has struggled in terms of sequels because really what is left to say about Michael Myers after John Carpenter’s legendary original? He is pure evil. He feels nothing. He can’t be stopped. To stretch this out over ten films seems a little daft.

This cold reboot was different. By reuniting Michael Myers and Laurie Strode and allowing Michael more screen time then he has perhaps ever enjoyed in a Halloween movie, director David Gordon Green and co-writer Danny McBride gave the fans what they wanted.

The dark and unpleasant truth is that we don’t really go see horror films for the Laurie Strode’s of this world… we go for Michael Myers. Maybe, we all go a little mad sometimes?

7. Black Swan (2010)

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Let me begin by dismissing a tedious argument right out of the blocks. Black Swan is a horror movie. Whether you want it to be or not. Natalie Portman’s performance as the haunted ballerina Nina Sayers was as iconic as it was emotionally bruising. Portman would never be as good again but she has a shiny Oscar to show for her troubles.

Claustrophobic and delirious, Black Swan was a movie that was impossible to ignore. Watch it again with the lights off and the wind howling outside and then tell me it isn’t a horror film…

6. The Witch (2015)

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I love the clever satire of Scream and the campy mythology of A Nightmare on Elm Street. I love the jump scares of Insidious and the psychological horror of The Shining. In reality though, I love horror films because I want to feel scared. I want to be shocked. I want to be ripped from my comfort zone kicking and screaming into the obsidian sky with tears in my eyes and a godless scream catching in my throat… Sorry I lost myself there for a second.

Quite unlike anything I have ever seen before, The Witch had me jumping at shadows and flinching at footsteps. The jarring score is as brutal as the (mostly implied) violence and the implications of what unfolds will stay with me for a long time.

My Catholic upbringing has made me naturally terrified of everything related to the dark lord and has also instilled a worrying fascination with the occult, but that doesn’t necessarily mean The Witch was always going to be a home run for me. The medieval dialogue was a big risk that could have ended up sounding daft but all the actors cope well with the unfamiliar vocabulary. Crucially, the acting is exceptional throughout, with Ralph Ineson and Anya Taylor-Joy bouncing off each other to deliver a pair of emotive and powerful performances.

The best part of a horror film should be the growing sense of dread that has you reaching for the light switch whilst simultaneously making you more gripped. The Witch captures that panic and terror and bottles it, ready to unleash hell at any moment. It is an exhilarating but uncomfortable sensation.

5. Grave Encounters (2011)

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Arguably the most underrated horror movie of the decade, Grave Encounters is a ‘found footage’ movie, so yes, it is influenced by both The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity and yes, it is a horror film so the usual horror cliché’s abound (hot girl, tough black guy, ‘I’ll be right back’, characters needlessly splitting up) but this is not your average throw away horror.

In its third act, Grave Encounters tumbles down the rabbit hole and soon becomes an unfathomable dive into metaphysics with horrifying implications. Not the smartest movie on this list, but definitely one of the most unsettling.

4. Mother! (2017)

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This pitch black retelling of the Genesis myth could also be read as an allegory about the price of being an artist, an extended metaphor about the anxiety of bringing a child into such an uncertain world, a comment on the cyclic nature of abuse or even a criticism of the fragility of the male ego. Most of all however, Mother! is a waking nightmare from start to finish that goes beyond being horrible and ends up being downright cruel. Director Darren Aronofsky captures the blind, bewildering panic of a nightmare perfectly and having the story unfold through the eyes of the Mother (Jennifer Lawrence – none of the characters are named) allows the feeling of dread to linger and accumulate before finally exploding into what is surely one of the most upsetting conclusions ever committed to film.

If art is defined by expressing your emotions through your passion, then Mother! is one of the finest examples of that I have ever seen. If good cinema is something to be enjoyed however, this film can lay no claim to that. A lot of people will hate it, but everyone should watch it. This is quite simply as powerful and visceral as cinema gets.

3. IT (2017)

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IT is not considered a children’s book by any stretch of the imagination. It is almost unique in this sense as a work of fiction, in as much as the characters are barely teenagers but the reader is expected to be much older. I would say however, that there is an argument that IT should be considered a dark, children’s fable. A natural extension of the often disturbing fairy tales by the likes of the Brothers Grimm.

I did read IT as a child and while it scared me and some parts I didn’t fully understand, I fell in love with each and every character, to the extent that IT defined my adolescence as much as any other work of fiction. The point I am trying to convey here is that any film adaptation has a whole lot to live up to and I always found the 1990 version to be sorely lacking. Could Andy Muschietti fare any better in 2017? Hell. Yes.

Pennywise the dancing clown is one of the most iconic characters in horror history and pretty much invented the ‘fear of clowns’ trope. Any adaptation of IT ultimately stands and falls on Pennywise. Luckily, Bill Skarsgård absolutely nails it. He is psychotic, terrifying and obscene, often within the same breath. It is a performance that recalls Heath Ledger’s joker whilst still being glorious in it’s own right. In a film of high points and vindicated decisions, Skarsgård is probably the best thing about IT.

It is nigh on impossible to capture the true essence of a book that sometimes strays into meta physics and often feels more like the unauthorized history of the fictional town of Derry than an actual novel, but Muschietti shrugged all of that off to produce one of the most successful and critically acclaimed horror movies in history. 2017 was some year for horror fans!

For a list of the top 10 Stephen King film adaptations, click here.

2. Sinister (2012)

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Sickeningly frightening and wildly influential, Scott Derrickson’s underrated game changer arguably paved the way for nearly every other film on this list whilst also putting Blumhouse Productions on the map. Forget the patchy sequel, the original inspires such an unnerving, onyx dread that it is almost paralysing at times.

Sinister starts out as a classic haunted house movie but it becomes something else entirely through the inventive originality of the story and the visceral power of the films within a film that make The Ring look like In the Night Garden. It may not be sophisticated but it sure is terrifying.

1. Hereditary (2018)

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There is a scene in the 2006 remake of The Hills Have Eyes in which the horror and violence are ramped up over a ten minute period culminating in the grotesque breastfeeding of a repulsive mutant and two people being burnt alive at the stake. It is a powerful scene and one that is still difficult to sit through. What would happen if you could bottle that intensity, and drag it out over two hours? Welcome to Hereditary

Hereditary harks back to films such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist. It is serious, it is unflinching, it is visceral. This is what horror, true horror is supposed to be like.

In recent years, only the similarly divisive Mother! comes close to matching the sheer horrific intensity that first time writer/director Ari Aster has cultivated here. There are numerous literal nightmare sequences and other nightmarish moments that give the whole film the feel of decadent unreality.

Fear is really about three things, fear of the unknown, fear of physical harm and the fear of going insane. Hereditary plays on all of these fears in a way that is genuinely exhausting at times.  Just being frightening doesn’t necessarily make a film good, however. Luckily, the disorientating cinematography, combined with a career best performance from Toni Collette, ensures that Hereditary is more than just a very effective haunted house attraction. It is an exciting director combining superbly with a talented and determined cast.

An effective horror film is about moments. If I mention The Shining or Halloween or Carrie, your mind will instantly replay the scene from those films that affected you the most. Hereditary has many, many scenes and single shots that will return with a chill in the middle of the night. Lazy critics will often include a poster ready exclamation along the lines of ‘Not for the faint hearted!’ or ‘Don’t watch alone!’. Let me say this, without an exclamation mark, if you don’t have the stomach for films like Insidious and Sinister, then skip Hereditary. It is about as visceral, powerful and chilling as cinema can possibly be.

This film is a degradation of it’s characters. It is a cruel and it is bleak. You must ask yourself if you want to watch that. What kind of person are you?

And so, we are done. An exhausting if not exhaustive wade through the sludge that is modern horror. I can’t wait to see what the next ten years of jump scares, sequels and nightmares holds.

Happy Halloween!

Honourable Mentions:

Let Me In
You’re Next

The Cabin in the Woods
The Woman in Black
Evil Dead
As Above, So Below
Happy Death Day
A Quiet Place