13 Modern Horror Movies That Give The Genre A Good Name

In today’s movie market, great horror movies can be hard to find. But fear not, dear readers, they do exist! For instance, if you live in a city that’s playing We Are Who We Are, you can check out that this weekend instead of the tepid Carrie remake. If you’re a fan of the genre, you can do better than The Devil Inside and whatever version of Paranormal Activity is being dumped into theaters. There is hope.

Presented in no particular order, here are 13 movies released in the last decade that do horror right.

1. Drag Me to Hell

From Sam Raimi, Drag Me to Hell is one of my favorite horror movies ever made, an endlessly inventive fusion of a thriller and a live-action cartoon. Drag Me to Hell recalls the Looney Tunes in the best way, all eye-bugging, anvil-pummeling B-movie glory. Like The Evil Dead on a sugar high, Drag Me to Hell finds Raimi at the peak of his powers, unleashing everything in his brain. The plot is silly, as Allison Lohman gets chased down by a “gypsy” she denied a bank loan, but Raimi’s revenge thriller doesn’t apologize for it. Parts of the movie are cringe-worthy with Raimi’s trademark gore, but the movie is better at being funny than scary. Like Scream, Slither and Fright Night before it, this isn’t a criticism but another reason to love it – a movie firing on just about every cylinder it’s got. Sam Raimi holds nothing back, not even a ruler.

2. The House of the Devil

Directed by The Innkeepers’ Ti West, The House of the Devil does modern Wes Craven better than the master still can. A throwback to the director’s The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes and other 70s fare like The Little Girl Who Lives down the lane, West blends modern mumblecore with vintage horror. The movie is pure old-school throwback, requiring a great deal of patience as the movie reaches its explosive finish. While we wait for the blood, however, the movie has many of its own pleasures, showcasing a great before-she-was-famous turn from Greta Gerwig, the indie It Girl du jour. West fills the screen with Gerwig’s effortlessly fizzy charisma, a reminder that actors aren’t just meat for murder. For death to have power, the movie must first be filled with life.

3. You’re Next

West also lent his acting talents to this 2013 South by Southwest favorite, one of the most purely entertaining horror movies in years. Directed by Simon Barrett — a compatriot of Joe Swanberg, who also appears in the film – You’re Next is like Home Alone meets Reservoir Dogs. The Purge and The Strangers got to the home-invasion thriller first, but this did it better. Barrett succeeds by focusing both on thrilling use of gore and the small details that stick with you, like animal masks that will haunt you in your dreams forever. But on top of being effectively jumpy, You’re Next is also unexpectedly witty, a tongue-in-cheek horror film refreshingly aware of itself. At a time when too many horror films take themselves deadly seriously, we need to remember to have a little fun with our bloodshed.

4. Let the Right One In

Blending horror and a coming of age drama, Let the Right One In is both profoundly disturbing and affecting, a preteen romance that puts Twilight to shame. Tomas Alfredson’s 2008 classic is one of the best movies of the decade, in any genre. It’s complicated in a way we rarely even let adult love stories be, a movie about accepting what comes into your life, even if that person happens to be a vampire. Alfredson’s vision of Sweden is as unsparingly dark as the winter sun but compellingly gorgeous, a horror flick that feels like more a fairy tale. When the author of the book the film was based on watched the film adaptation of his work, he reportedly cried because the movie was “so beautiful.” It’s easy to see why, a reminder that horror brings out the strongest emotions in us. What we fear and what we love might not be so different after all.

5. The Descent

Neil Marshall’s 2005 thriller is one of the most grueling experiences you’ll ever have at the movies. Claustrophobia is currently in at the box office — between Captain Phillips, Gravity and All is Lost — and The Descent is a master class in how to manipulate space for maximum discomfort. Like John Boorman’s Deliverance, The Descent is an exploration of how friendship is tested when our lives are on the line — what we must sacrifice for survival. As a group of female friends find themselves trapped in the darkness of a cave during a spelunking expedition gone wrong, the movie fuses B-thrills and psychological horror as the girls find themselves hunted by something in the shadows. The film is sadistically effective, so much so that after it ends, it’s hard to find your way out of the darkness again.

6. The Orphanage

Director Juan Antonio Bayona was a protégé of Guillermo del Toro’s, and his auteur fingerprints are all over this 2007 nail-biter, which Del Toro produced. The Orphanage is one of those “creepy kid communicates with the dead movies,” a genre that Hollywood rarely gets right. It’s nice to see the Spanish do it right. Reminiscent of Alejandro Amenabar’s The Others, Bayona plays The Orphanage for the utmost Hitchockian thrills, a movie that sacrifices blood for being unbearably suspenseful. Bayona slowly builds the tension and the palpable sense of dread, a movie that’s more subtle and elegant than one would expect from the genre, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t utterly terrifying. The Orphanage shows us that the best horrors are worth the wait — a beautiful, slyly profound movie about kids that will scare the shit out of their parents.

7. The Conjuring

Aside from Insidious: Chapter 2, James Wan continually is improving as a horror director, and The Conjuring is his finest hour. A mash-up of The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror and the classics of the 1970s, Wan looks back while surging forward. What makes The Conjuring sensationally effective isn’t just its many genre trappings — including demonic possessions, evil dummies and kamikaze birds — but the sheer skill of the filmmaking. With the help of seamless camerawork, Wan feels effortlessly at home in this haunted house, getting some of the best performances yet out of horror pros Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson. However, top honors go to the ethereal Lili Taylor, channeling her inner Sissy Spacek as a woman haunted. The handclap games Taylor plays with her children are some of the scariest sequences you will ever see on film. This is a movie you watch between your fingers.

8. Splice

Splice earned a rare D Cinemascore when it debuted in theatres. A Cinemascore that low isn’t reserved for “bad” movies (even Jack and Jill got a B+) but films that push our buttons — and might piss us off a little. The brilliance of Splice is that it’s a genuinely uncomfortable, cringe-worthy experience, a movie that burns itself onto your brain. I initially hated Splice for making me not be able to unsee its gruesome imagery, but when you get over your resentment, Vincenzo Natali’s sci-fi horror film insinuates itself as a minor classic. This is the kind of movie that stares back at you when you watch it. In Splice, two scientists experiment with blending human and animal DNA, creating something that’s not quite human in the process. Splice asks grave questions about the morality of science, as the plot spirals downward into an unrelenting hell. This is a film in which there are no happy endings.

9. The Evil Dead/Dawn of the Dead

The horror remake is a much-maligned task, understandably so. For every success, there’s the next Texas Chainsaw Massacre installment, culminating in Texas Chainsaw 3D, a movie so bad it made me almost wish Leatherface never existed. I wanted to hit the “Undo” key on the series. However, this pair of reboots proved that horror can live again — updated classics for a new generation. The Evil Dead upped the gore, giving us the most violent movie ever made at the studio level, less a horror move than a blood opera. But the criminally underrated Dawn of the Dead remake even improved on its predecessor by toning down George Romero’s ham-fisted social commentary. It was the rare horror movie that didn’t need to beat over the head with a sledgehammer of death. Dawn of the Dead trusted us follow along — and giving us one hell of a ride in the process.

10. Paranormal Activity

Remember what fun the original was until they couldn’t stop remaking it? We’ve now seen the same movie four times, but the first time around Paranormal Activity felt like a wake-up call, a reminder of everything that horror could be. The film featured almost no blood and little of the ultra-violence we’ve become accustomed to in modern horror. Instead Oren Peli’s found footage classic relies pure on long takes and unbearable suspense. Like in Antonioni’s Blow Up, Peli forces the audience to actively watch the screen, searching for traces of the terror to come. This is the hurry up and wait of death, where silence and stillness become the film’s most terrifying tools. The film’s minimalism strips horror to its rawest materials, reminding us why we watch scary movies to begin with.

11. 28 Weeks Later

Fun fact: Did you know that the sequel to 28 Days Later got better reviews than the original? There’s a reason. It’s a better movie. Juan Carlos Fresnadilla’s installment is a very different movie. Where the previous installment was moody and atmospheric, Weeks was pulse-pounding and lightning fast, high-octane filmmaking at its very best. This was a movie where the zombies don’t slow down for death. They outrun you. Fresnadilla’s film is reminiscent of Children of Men, bracing in its visceral depiction of a grim dystopia without feathers and without hope. A ferociously intelligent script also gets paired with stellar turns from its then up-and-coming cast, including Idris Elba, Jeremy Renner, Imogen Poots and Rose Byrne, who gives the film a quiet dignity and gravity. Although Fresnadilla is as fast as its caffeinated zombies, the performances keep the film grounded in humanity.

12. The Host


From auteur Bong Joon-Ho, The Host is a genuine monster movie at a time when the horror genre has all but left monsters behind — in favor of creepy kids and pervasive demons. (Seriously, is any family not being possessed these days?) The director’s critically acclaimed 2005 science-fiction masterpiece also functions as a dark comedy, an involving family melodrama and a surprisingly sharp satire, reminding us that horror movies can have a political edge. The Host got branded as the “thinking man’s” horror movie, but The Host has something for just about everyone, a box-office sensation in the director’s native Korea. Like the Pang Brothers’ The Eye and Ringu, don’t let the subtitles deter you from one of the smartest genre-benders in recent memory. If only Cowboys and Aliens could’ve been this good.

13. The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods is one of the few films I’ve ever seen that gets better every time you watch it. Produced by wunderperson Joss Whedon, the film is an incredibly multi-layered metahorror masterpiece, both a genuinely scary thrill ride and a necessary satire on the costs of our own entertainment. Michael Haneke’s abominable Funny Games attempted the same thing, punishing us for our Hitchcockian desires, but Cabin isn’t as judgmental in its commentary. The film is a loving homage to the history of the slasher film, from Friday the 13th to I Know What You Did Last Summer, and The Cabin in the Woods actually rewards you for having seen other horror films. That’s right, readers: A horror movie exists that applauds audiences for being smart and ahead of the curve. This is a game that Joss Whedon wants you to win. After all, humanity’s fate may depend upon it. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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