The horror genre has had a particularly anemic decade. Vampires - which starter the decade on a strong note during the heyday of Buffy - now occupy the shameful realm of teen heartthrobs. The trend of remaking horror classics that Gus Van Sant pioneered in 1999 with Psycho bravely marches forward, having claimed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Omen, The Wicker Man, The Hills Have Eyes, House of Wax and many many more as victims (on the upcoming slate is Suspiria, and for that I'll have to cut a bitch.) Worse still, Hollywood has found a way - dozens really - to make zombies lame. Oh, and torture porn has achieved mainstream respectability, which I'm sure art house theaters would have loved to see happen 35 years ago when it was actually kind of interesting.
And that's why it was almost impossible for me to find 10 films from these last 10 years worth singling out for my column de jour. In fact, the bottom 5 on my list I don't find scary in the slightest, which I would normally consider criteria for great horror films to be. Hell, #10 is practically cheating, but there really was nothing else I would have felt OK with filling its spot with. Not surprisingly, the majority of this list is foreign. Only 3 of the 10 are American, and one of those comes from an Austrian director remaking his own film in specifically to lash out at American audiences. I could bitch and moan some more about how this batch just doesn't stack up to what my 10 from the 60s or 70s would look like, but in all actuality, there's some damn fine films here. Something for everyone, at that. Even you torture porn fanatics.
10. Shaun of the Dead (dir. Edgar Wright)
Cheating, I know. It's got as much place on a best horror film list as Young Frankenstein, but the thought that my 10th spot might have to go to The Ring was scarier than these ten movies combined, and frankly I couldn't handle that. So instead, as a compromise, I'll give credit to one of my favorite comedies of the decade and get my obligatory zombie movie out of the way straight off the bat. Hot Fuzz is still better, maybe even scarier, but at least here we get to see Harry Potter's guts get tossed around like a kid discovering spaghetti for the first time.
9. The Orphanage (dir. Juan Antonio Bayona)
Ok, again not so scary, save for a handful of memorably creepy images like Little Baghead above. But holding the film together is a gripping ghost story that doesn't take the easy way out. And ghost stories are never scary anyway, so I had my expectations in check right from the start. Totally worth checking out, regardless if you're a horror fan or not.
8. Trouble Every Day (dir. Claire Denis)
Two of the scariest things I can think of are cannibalism and Vincent Gallo. And here the two are perfectly paired, except of course that means we have to watch Gallo slunk around Paris at length and he's just uneasy on the eyes. But by chance he crosses paths with a sexy lady cannibal and it's like a match made in a Peter Greenaway film. That's right, cannibal erotica. The pacing is comparable to watching blood red paint dry, which means you'll probably fall asleep before anyone starts gnawing on each other, but it's certainly stuck with me and I'm happy to give it a spot on this list.
7. Shadow of the Vampire (dir. E. Elias Merhige)
A revisionist take on F. W. Murnau's production of the classic to end all horror classics, Nosferatu. The supposition is a simple one - what if Max Shreck, legendary portrayed of Murnau's Count Orlock, was really himself a vampire? As crew corpses start turning up, suspiciously sucked dry, the production woes pile higher and deeper. It's a blast to watch, especially for those familiar with the original Nosferatu or Werner Herzog's equally creepy 1979 remake.
6. The Host (dir. Bong Joon-ho)
I probably could have kicked this a few notches higher. I think it may be a better film than the next three to follow, but I'm critiquing fright value here to some degree and this doesn't get under my skin like quite like any of the top 5 do. Instead, it's a delicate balance of horror, comedy, family drama and environmental commentary that works against all odds.
5. Funny Games (dir. Michael Haneke)
There's no natural place on any list for Funny Games, in either incarnation, to show up without seeming a little out of place. Maybe though, a list of horror films is its most natural habitat. Because it's nothing if not deeply terrifying, largely because it doesn't play by the rules. Like in the way Brecht didn't. It's more an experiment on the moral threshold of audiences than a film as we perceive it, and having already seen the German original (Haneke's earlier film, which he remade here shot for shot) I was all to eager to catch this in theaters, just to see how an actual audience would react. Stunned silence might be the term for it.
4. Audition (dir. Takashi Miike)
Along with the entry to follow, Audition is the worst date movie humanly imaginable. It's not boring, but the whole affair is most definitely a slow burn. It all builds to an excruciating fireworks show of bodily mutilation, and is pretty much guaranteed to stifle your Asian fantasies for at least a few months.
3. Antichrist (dir. Lars von Trier)
What's scarier than possessed woodland creatures? Satan. What's scarier than Satan? Willem Dafoe. Scarier than Willem Dafoe? Willem Dafoe's bloody penis. Scarier than the bloody penis? Women. Yeah, that's pretty much how this one goes. It's oddly less effective than von Trier's best films this decade, but it does the job. Scary as hell.
2. Bug (dir. William Friedkin)
Miss-marketing caused a host of problems for this film in the first place, but even if the general public wasn't quite sold on the horror inherent in Bug, there's no film from the past 10 years that makes my skin crawl quite like this. It's a portrait of mental deterioration of the caliber of Repulsion, and it may even be Friedkin's best film to date. The intensity of the final act is a thing of wonder.
1. The Descent (dir. Neil Marshall)
Six women descend into a cave, where they battle claustrophobia, an army of Gollums (is that the plural of Gollum? Who knows?) and their own primal instincts. You can actually feel the rock walls closing in around you, the air growing stale, and the raising fear and tension among the girls. It's the single most terrifying film to come out of the last 10 years, and I realize that's not saying much, but it's at least worthy of being mentioned in the same gasp as the likes of The Thing, Suspiria and The Shining. Sadly, I see that a sequel is in the works. Sigh.