So you've seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Shining, and Poltergeist dozens of times, and you're thinking of popping one of them back in for some festive Halloween viewing. There's nothing wrong with that. There's a reason they're classics in the genre, and holidays are to some extent all about the annual rituals. (All three of those films also figured into my list of the 10 scariest movies of all time, so there's that.)
But perhaps you are feeling like branching out into unexplored territory. Maybe you want a few new titles to add to your macabre home viewing program. You're in luck. Whether it's because a new generation of directors weaned on the classics are coming of age or whether it's because the terrors of real life are informing a newer, nastier breed of them, horror movies have been on a tear in recent years.
Whatever the case, consider checking out these ten films, along with 10 more films that are approaching the decade-old mark -- all of which are sterling arguments in support of the idea that, to paraphrase Margaret White, evil never dies.
10. Black Swan
(Darren Aronofsky, 2010)
Rare is the unabashed horror film that gets an Oscar nomination for best picture, but Darren Aronofsky's flamboyant grand jeté into Roman Polanski territory earned the distinction, and Natalie Portman flat out won the award for best actress. It's not difficult to see why -- her aspiring prima ballerina spends every fragile moment on camera jittering like an exposed nerve, her drive toward perfection and her jealousy of everyone around her taking an obvious toll on her psyche. It's not the most nuanced depiction of clinical psychosis out there, but it's among the most vivid.
09. Otto; or, Up with Dead People
(Bruce La Bruce, 2008)
You just knew that someday the great hipster zombie renaissance of recent years would result in something like this: a romantic, gay zombie epic that wears its bloody heart and its artsploitation credentials on its sleeve. You've got to love a movie that features a militant lesbian filmmaker named Medea Yarn, and juxtaposes scenes of explicit deadite sex against shots of a butcher slicing away meat from the bone. Otto may, like so many a zombie, bite off more than it can chew, ideologically speaking, but there's no denying there's hot blood pumping through its cold veins.
(Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Verena Paravel, 2012)
Less an ethnographic documentary than it is a violent, disorienting tone poem, Leviathan (unquestionably among the best films I've seen in the past year) was shot using dozens of miniature waterproof GoPro cameras, which were affixed to both man and beast to show the daily operations of a fishing trawler near New Bedford. As I wrote earlier this year: "Leviathan oftentimes feels as though it's hearkening to more gothic, rolling forms of powerless terror. If the atmosphere of the living world submitting to machinery suggests Eraserhead-era David Lynch, the GoPro-distorted flashes of viscera suggest avant-garde filmmaker Stan Brakhage adapting H.P. Lovecraft."
07. The Final Destination
(David R. Ellis, 2009)
It's nearly a draw between the two most recent installments of what John Waters is fond of calling his favorite recent horror movie franchise. Final Destination 5 boasts some of the most clear-eyed visions of mechanized terror in the entire series, but the installment before it -- the somewhat inaccurately titled The Final Destination -- has a more anarchic tone about its outlandish Rube Goldberg machinations. Of course, maybe I feel that way because two of its death sequences (i.e. the ghastly escalator death and, especially, the pool drain scene) hit me in my vulnerable phobia zones.
06. Drag Me to Hell
(Sam Raimi, 2009)
Not that I have anything against Sam Raimi's Spiderman films, per se, but if you're among a certain demographic of movie fanboys, you welcomed the arrival of Drag Me To Hell with cries of "Auld Lang Syne" for the director's return to Evil Dead chaos. Despite the film's PG-13 rating, few recent horror films supply as many gallons of biological viscosity emerging from every which orifice, most of which are splattered all over poor, put-upon Alison Lohman. As if the brackish torrents of saliva weren't enough, the film also features one of the most unforgivingly remorseless endings in recent memory.
05. Let the Right One In / Let Me In
(Tomas Alfredson, 2008) / (Matt Reeves, 2010)
Now here's a rarity: an original and a remake that are tonally miles apart and yet are both equally great. Tomas Alfredson's original vampire chiller is a storybook nightmare about a meek young boy who finds out that his even meeker young neighbor is actually a vampire, told in an emotionally subzero style that could've only come out of Scandinavia. Its American remake Let Me In turned the beloved instant cult horror classic into an even more devastating meditation on our fear of being left alone and the cruelty of adolescence, and threw in a bravura car crash sequence (shot from inside the vehicle) for good measure.
04. Halloween II
(Rob Zombie, 2009)
Speaking of remakes, critics absolutely crucified Rob Zombie's reboot of John Carpenter's Halloween, which admittedly was no patch on the lean, mean original. They doubled down on the vitriol when he came back with Halloween II, and again there was ample room for complaint. But then Zombie's unrated director's cut made its way to home video, and though most critics still had no time for it, a number of die-hard horror fans finally came to the realization that amid the scorched earth and ugly brutality was a genuine work of art closer to the damaged beauty of a David Lynch joint than most cared to admit.
(Lars Von Trier, 2009)
Man. Woman. Birth. Death. Infinity. Lars Von Trier's Antichrist moves beyond provocation into the realm of pure, unadulterated assault. In the film, the disorder of nature -- woman's church -- conspires to mock, emasculate and destroy man's enfeebled entreaties on behalf of reason, order and logic. That Von Trier's film is the ultimate in bad faith is obvious, but there's also no denying that, when the director lets the devil get inside him, he goes all in. With shocking sexual violence, much of it self-inflicted, and uncanny moments of disturbing beauty, "chaos reigns" supreme throughout Antichrist. Not a film to watch with your loved ones. Rather, it's a film to watch if you don't have any loved ones.
(Pascal Laugier, 2008)
As evidenced by my number one and number two picks (as well as a few of the bonus titles listed below), the center of the horror universe during the last decade is unmistakable. What the French New Wave was to the international cinema scene in the '60s, the New French Extremity is to horror movie aficionados. Bleak, savage, unforgiving, nasty, blasphemous, appalling. These are all words that only begin to describe the effect the relentlessly grim Martyrs has on its unsuspecting audiences. Trust me. You do not want to watch this film. Except you know you do. Because both you and the world are hopeless and doomed. Bon appétit.
(Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, 2008)
If Inside, another very unwell entry from the New French Extremity, comes out on top here, it's certainly not because it pulls any punches. Nearly every bit as nasty as Martyrs, Inside ups the ante by placing an expecting mother at the center of the film's hurricane of bloodshed. Like a remake of Rosemary's Baby as directed by Satan, the film plunges deep into the very source of life itself to convey human nature's contempt for it. That the violence is perpetrated by another woman (the incomparable, silken Beatrice Dalle) only compounds the gender sacrilege, and nothing can truly prepare you for the pitch black climax.
10 More Horror Classics From The Mid-Aughts:
Bug (William Friedkin, 2006)
The Devil's Rejects (Rob Zombie, 2005)
Frontière(s) (Xavier Gens, 2007)
Inland Empire (David Lynch, 2006)
Joshua (George Ratliff, 2007)
Land of the Dead (George A. Romero, 2005)
The Mist (Frank Darabont, 2007)
Slither (James Gunn, 2006)
Them (David Moreau & Xavier Palud, 2006)
Wolf Creek (Greg McLean, 2005)
for more features.