The past ten years have been an incredible era for horror films, not just for the quality and quantity of films that have come out, but also for the sheer diversity. When we look back at the 1980s we think of slashers and teen horror; when we look back at the 90s, but since the 2000s the diversity of material is far wider than even the 70s. I don’t think we’ll be able to look back in 20 years and point at any particular sub-genre that really defined the decade. It feels, though, this is the decade when horror finally gained undisputed critical respect, with filmmakers like Darren Aronofsky, Ari Astor, Nicolas Winding Refn, and Issa Lopez, among others, bringing an art-house sensibility to the genre without sparing an ounce of the blood. It’s about damn time too, after decades of horror masters like George A Romero, John Carpenter, and Tobe Hooper struggling to get bare-bones funding to get films off the ground. So, let’s look back at the best films of 2010-2019.
We start off with an incredible mix bag, from the survival horror of Adam Green’s Frozen to the slapstick bloodfest of Tucker and Dale vs Evil. The Ford brothers revitalized the zombie genre with The Dead. Jim Mickle and Nick Damici brought the vampire into a post-apocalypse world with Stake Land and Matt Reeves delivered the American remake of 2008’s Let The Right One In as Let Me In, a gorgeous coming of age story. Mexico’s Jorge Michael Grau gave us character-driven class war with Somos Lo Que Hay (We Are What We Are) and Breck Eisner directed the other good remake of a George Romero film, The Crazies (the other being Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead from 2004). Darren Aronofsky may have won the year, though, with Black Swan.
2011 had the decade’s smallest number of true stand out films, but Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In (based on Thierry Jonquet’s Tarantula and bearing a bit of a resemblance to the classic French thriller Eyes Without a Face) infused the psychological thriller with a shot of body horror and Ti West mixed mumblecore aesthetics with a haunted hotel with extremely effective results in The Innkeepers. Comedy horror reigned with the Joss Wedon produced Cabin in the Woods, which featured one of the most gleefully bloody segments in the history of horror-mainly because it featured almost every horror trope you can imagine wreaking havoc, and Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block, which gave us an alien invasion in a working class British neighbourhood and made it equally harrowing and hilarious. Adam Wingard ultimately had the best of the year though with the funny and violent home invasion flick You’re Next, which besides being a fantastic film, brought Barbara Crampton back to horror.
Some of the old guard returned in a big way to declare their relevance, in 2011, in the face of a wave of indie juggernauts; Ridley Scott dived deep back into the world of Alien with the operatic prequel Prometheus and Hammer Horror, which had been trying to re-establish itself hit big with the Daniel Radcliffe starring The Woman in Black. Don Cosscarelli, the creator of the Phantasm franchise followed up his off-beat indie hit Bubba Ho-Tep with a wild adaptation of David Wong’s even wilder novel John Dies at the End. Brandon Cronenberg, son of Canada’s greatest director David Cronenberg, made a case for greatness being genetic with Antiviral. Jeremy Gardner took a mere $6000 and made a very small, tight zombie film feel big with The Battery. Rob Zombie came out swinging with his most mature and accomplished work, Lords of Salem while the Soska Sisters, Jen and Sylvia, overcame the sophmore slump with their breakout hit American Mary. Radio Silence, Adam Wingard, Ti West, and David Bruckner teamed up for the dark found footage anthology V/H/S which launched a trilogy. Franck Khalfoun was playing with fire when he dared to remake Bill Lustig’s seminal urban slasher, Maniac, but damn he pulled it off using a first-person perspective and LA’s antiseptic neon nights as a background. Richard Bates Jr mixed psychological horror and body horror in the tragic coming of age film Excision. My top pick for 2012, though, is Here Comes the Devil-Chilean director Adrian Garcia Bogliano went to Mexico and made an Italian possession film that is uncomfortable, scary, and disturbing. I caught it by chance at the Nevermore Film Fest when the movie I had come to see was sold out, and it left me shaken.
Old Boy director Park Chan-Wook, working from a script Captain Cold aka Wentworth Miller, brought his unique visionary filmmaking to America with the dark familial horror of Stoker. Ti West made one of my favorite found footage films riffing on the Jim Jones Massacre with The Sacrament. Classic horror nostalgia came hard with Fede Alvarez’s bloody as hell Evil Dead remake and Don Mancini gave the best Child’s Play film since part 2 with The Curse of Chucky. Possibly the most controversial film I can put on this list with a straight face is Texas Chainsaw 3D. Despite the fact that the director couldn’t handle basic math and there were some cringe-worthy casting choices I fell in love with the Of Mice and Men take on TCM that is hinted at towards the end of the film; prior to that, there’s some good gore and some nice cameos. There was a far better cannibalistic family film in 2013 though; Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are is a sublime character driven art house horror. Staying in the woods, Chad Crawford Kinkle’s debut, Jug Face is a tension filled dark odyssey with a touch of Lovecraft. V/H/S 2 outshone the original. James Wan took on a real life haunting and launched a whole universe of films with The Conjuring. My top pick for 2012 is Richard Raaphorst’s Frankenstein’s Army. I had become obsessed with this Nazi body horror extravaganza when the first two concept trailers hit the internet as Worst Case Scenario. It took years, but it was worth the wait for this found footage special effects laden bloodbath filled with amazing creatures and practical effects.
Speaking of Nazis, the first Dead Snow debuted, gory and funny. The breakout star of The Conjuring got her own film, Annabelle, which I found to be way better than I expected. Jennifer Kent’s debut, The Babadook, was an excellent psychological horror about childhood fears and the strains of widowhood. It Follows turned the stigma of a sexually transmitted disease into an effectively tense downward spiral of paranoia and desperation. Adrian Garcia Bogliano teamed up with Stake Land’s Nick Damici to make one of the best werewolf films since the 80s with Late Phases. Ana Lily Armipour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night plays like an Iranian Jim Jarmusch film, beautifully shot with haunting images, to cool to ever forget. Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Wydmyer take top prize with their Satanic cult/evisceration of Hollywood stardom, Starry Eyes, which takes it’s time to get going, but when it hits the third act, it does so like a Mack truck smashing into a sub-compact car.
Starting here, it gets way harder to name a favourite of the year. The second half of the decade was simply amazing. Michael Dougherty followed up his iconic Trick r Treat with a Christmas horror, Krampus. Guillermo Del Toro brought more gothic charm than we’ve since the heydays of Hammer with the haunted and haunting Crimson Peak. S. Craig Zahler painted the western of brutal blood red in the gory and shocking Bone Tomahawk. Jason Lei Howden made one of the goriest horror comedies since Evil Dead 2 with Deathgasm. Jeremy Saulnier pit punks against neo-Nazis in the harrowing and gory The Green Room. Southbound wound up being one of my all time favourite anthology films, while Tales of Halloween was really fun, if occasionally uneven. I’ve never been a big fan of found footage, but Stephen Cognetti’s Hell House LLC had images that still haunt me, one of the best of this sub-genre. The Devil got up to all kinds of nasty shit in the quiet, slow burn excellence of Black Coat’s Daughter (Oz Perkins), the haunting and beautifully creepy The VVitch (Robert Eggers), and the heavy metal familial horror of The Devil’s Candy (Sean Byrne). Turkey’s first horror movie, Baskin, directed by Can Evrenol, was like the best Hellraiser sequel that wasn’t a Hellraiser movie. But there can be only one, and I have to give it to Ted Geogehan’s blood soaked homage to Lucio Fulci, We Are Still Here. Starring Barbara Crampton, this haunted house movie drags itself forward filled with dread and great performances before plunging us into a crazy third act that is so deliciously fun.
Whoo boy, here we go. 2016 was an amazing year. Fede Alvarez and Mike Flanagan fucked with our senses with Don’t Breathe and Hush, respectively. James Wan brought us back to Britain’s most famous haunting in The Conjuring 2. From South Korea, Yeon Sang-ho gave us a frenetic and emotional edge of your seat zombie thriller with Train to Busan and then from Britain, Colm McCarthy gave us one of the most unique takes on the zombie in The Girl With All the Gifts. Nostalgia was in the air with Anna Biller’s throwback to the 60s with The Love Witch and Jackson Stewart’s familial horror Beyond the Gates, which took its inspiration from VHS games of the 80s and had a nice homage to Fulci. But it wasn’t the only film with a nod to the Italian godfather of gore. Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski’s The Void always gave a nod to Fulci and would double nicely with Baskin as another secret Hellraiser sequel better than the official ones. Mickey Keating gave us an excellent survival horror film starring Ashley Bell with Carnage Park and Adam Wingard dropped Blair Witch, the sequel to The Blair Witch Project we never knew we needed. Nicolas Wining Refn either tried your patience or blew your mind with his evisceration of the fashion industry in Neon Demon. M. Night Shyamalan returned with his best film since Unbreakable with its secret sequel Split. Julia Ducournau’s Raw had people fainting at film festivals with its character-driven meditation on meat. I Am Not a Serial Killer from Billy O’Brien was probably the most unique film of the year, weirdly exhilarating and tense as well as heartbreaking. Don Coscarrelli teamed up with director/animator David Hartman to bring us the closing chapter in the Phantasm saga, RaVager, and while some fans were split about the CGI or maybe the overarching logic of the film, I enjoyed the hell out of it. And there’s still a fair number of really good horror films that came out in 2016 that didn’t make my list! The best of the best though has to be Andre Ovredal’s The Autopsy of Jane Doe. Character driven and tragic, the film really does a good job of laying the groundwork for its tension-driven third act without fully showing its hand until the absolute point of no return.
Fans and critics be damned, I loved Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant. The Netflix adaptation of Stephen King’s 1922 was a quiet and almost solemn rural Lovecraftian period piece. Ghost Stories from Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson was surprisingly effective and creepy. Clunky in parts, but Don Mancini gave us another fun entry in the Child’s Play saga with Cult of Chucky. I have to admit I was not excited by Happy Death Day when I first saw the trailer, but Christopher Landon’s neo-slasher was charming as hell. Mickey Keating’s Psycopaths was an original approach to a horror story that sucked me in and had me wanting more. While it wasn’t a secret prequel to Sony’s Venom, as the internet had mused, Life starring Ryan Reynolds was still a pretty cool Alien knockoff. Andy Muschetti’s IT: Chapter One, was absolutely fantastic, improving on the original TV mini-series, and serving as one of the all time best Stephen King adaptations. Darren Aronofsky came roaring in again with Mother!, a divisive and disturbing metaphorical take on The Bible that goes full bat shit in the third act. Aaron Moorehead and Justin Benson took us inside a UFO cult in The Endless. Jenn Wexler’s The Ranger, a punks versus deranged park ranger film, was the best slasher we’ve gotten since at least 1996. We’re not even going to pretend there wasn’t a better horror film in 2017 than Jordan Peele’s Get Out. Peele made the jump from comedy into dread filled suspense with the smartest and important horror film since Night of the Living Dead.
I feel like Alex Garland’s Annihilation was completely robbed when it didn’t receive a wide release. Pair it with his previous film Ex Machina and the films he wrote for Danny Boyle (Sunshine, hello?) and Garland is certainly one of our great modern voices of cinema. Speaking of, Ari Aster made his presence known in a major way with Hereditary, which this jaded bastard actually found pretty scary. A Quiet Place surprised me, it honestly seemed too commercial to really grab me, but when I actually sat down with it, I fully enjoyed it. Overlord deserved all the praise it got from fans, but I can’t help but wonder where you all were when Frankenstein’s Army came out. Who would’ve imagined that in 2018 we would get Puppet Master; The Littlest Reich and not only would it be a good movie but the best one since the original (written by S. Craig Zahler, by the way)? Ted Geogehan returned with an action horror revenge film set against the War of 1812 called Mohawk, which was called the Last of the Mohicans meets The Last House on the Left. Highly recommended. Lars Von Trier doesn’t make movies for people to “enjoy,” but there’s no denying what a talent he has for dragging us over hot coals in the service of shock-art, and this year he did so with The House That Jack Built. Riding the wave of 80s nostalgia, Summer of ’84 was a tension filled suburban slasher with a great ending. Fans and critics were less than kind to The Nun, but I liked the throwback to Mario Bava and Hammer Horror feel it had. The only thing I really had a problem with is some of the CGI. The most noteworthy remake of the year, if not the decade, whether you loved it or thought it was pretentious garbage, has to be Luca Guadagnino’s take on the Dario Argento classic, Suspiria. I mean, how dare he make a loving, operatic, twisting cinematic epic from a precious museum piece no one should ever touch-er, sorry, a bit of sarcasm in my throat. I have friends who hated Suspiria for one or many things, and I hear the political B plot come up pretty often, but me, as a massive fan of Argento and especially of Suspiria, I really enjoyed the direction and performances and many of Guadagnino’s added touches to the story. But if we’re talking about trodding recklessly upon sacred ground, let’s get into Halloween 2018. Written by Danny McBride and directed by David Gordon Green, this sequel went back to the original and ignored every sequel, unlike Halloween H20, which went back and ignored every sequel after part 2. As a big defender of the Jamie/Cult of Thorn saga, I was immediately put off by the very concept at first, and let’s face it, Halloween fans have been burned in the past, but holy shit, I’ve rarely had so much fun in the theatre as I did on opening night. I’ve rewatched Halloween 2018 probably five times since I got the Blu-ray and it’s by far one of the most satisfying films in the franchise and the slasher genre. My favourite of the year, though, without hesitation is Panos Cosmatos’ Nicholas Cage starring Mandy. Holy shit, what a journey. Cosmatos took the structure of a sword and sandals epic, drenched it in synths and King Crimson, and brought out one of the best Cage performances ever.
Joe Begos was already becoming one of my favourite directors with Almost Human and The Mind’s Eye, but he outdid himself with the nihilism art of Bliss. Pollyanna McIntosh returned to her cannabalistic titular character from Lucky McKee’s The Woman for her directorial debut, Darlin’. It’s a strange coming of age story and also a timely one in an era where Church sex scandals keep oozing out like a leaking cannister of toxic waste. Chelsea Stardust wowed us with her directorial debut Satanic Panic (or if you shop at Walmart, um just Panic). The producer behind some great films, like Starry Eyes and Jodorowsky’s Dune, Travis Stevens finally got behind the camera himself for the CM Punk-starring The Girl on the Third Floor, one of this year’s must-see films. Josh Lobo delivered the spirit of the Twilight Zone with I Trapped the Devil. Scott Beck and Bryan Woods contributed to the oh-shit-this-is-real sub-genre with the cool and creepy Haunt. Ari Aster followed up Hereditary with a what-the-fuck riff on The Wicker Man, Midsommar. Andy Muschetti delivered IT: Chapter Two and outdid the novel in tension and scares. The duo behind Starry Eyes took a stab at another Stephen King remake/adaptation with Pet Semetery, which seemed to be hit or miss with some fans, but I got behind some of their bolder choices. Want to know what would happen if Superman was the kid from Problem Child and killed the fucking shit outta everyone? Find out in the way darker than you’d think Brightburn. One of the best French imports and one of the best directors of the new millinium, Alexandre Aja, teamed up with one of the great undisputed masters of horror, Sam Raimi, to make one of the best eco-horror/animal attack films in a long time with Crawl. Jordan Peele continued his golden streak with the creepy as fuck doppleganger horror, Us. Tilman Singer blew me away with the wild possession/mystery Luz. Gigi Saul Guerrero’s debut feature Culture Shock debuted on Hulu as part of the Blumhouse Into the Dark series and was the best entry yet and honestly deserved a theatrical release. The Soska Sisters delivered their best film since American Mary with their remake of David Cronenberg’s 1977 classic, Rabid. Larry Fessenden, another director I absolutely love, bestowed upon the world his modern/urban take on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with Depraved. The film is a towering work of art and hands down my favourite version of this story ever produced. The only reason it’s not my pick for the best of the year is because Issa Lopez’s Tigers Are Not Afraid finally came out and that movie broke my heart. A gorgeous but gritty look into the life of street kids living on the frayed edges of reality amidst the horrors of the Mexican drug war. Full of legitimate scares, tension, and magical realism, Tigers is probably my favourite of the decade, not just the year.
So let’s recap;
2010: Black Swan
2011: You’re Next
2012: Here Comes the Devil
2013: Frankenstein’s Army
2014: Starry Eyes
2015: We Are Still Here
2016: The Autopsy of Jane Doe
2017: Get Out
2019: Tigers Are Not Afraid