It feels strange to write a post about horror movies when there’s so much real horror in the world right now. Maybe there’s never a good time. This is a list I’ve been meaning to do for a while. The prospect of ranking so many films seemed overwhelming but a week ago I cracked it. So get ready for five weeks of top tens counting down my favorite horror flicks of the decade. I’m hoping to wrap this up before we have “Criterion Month” in July and will try to be thorough re-watching as many films as I can instead of coasting off nostalgia.
This isn’t a list of the “Best Horror” of the decade as much as it’s my personal favorites. I’m sure there are many great independent horror films I don’t even know about that could make this list. That being said I hope I can recommend some great horror movies to you (the reader) and hope you enjoy yourself even in these terrible times. So without further ado… Or should I say A-BOO! Here we go!
Lots of films go for a “retro” look. Usually, this is little more than cheap filters aka the “Grindhouse Effect” but what Anna Biller and her crew do in The Love Witch is astounding. This film doesn’t just pay homage to the technicolor films of yesteryear, this film looks like it was plucked straight from the ‘60s. Biller’s production/costume design combined with M. David Mullen’s lush 35 mm photography creates one of the most unique looking films of the decade. It’s like a time machine. Or some kind of black magic.
As for the actual film, it’s fun in a kitschy Russ Meyer way. A tongue ‘n cheek melodrama about a witch (played perfectly by Samantha Robinson) seducing men with spells and incantations. If this film was only shorter (It runs 2 hours) it would be just right. Though in way, its self-indulgence is just another one of its strengths.
I don’t know if Mandy is a horror movie. Then again I don’t know if Mandy fits squarely into any box. If there was ever a film that colored outside the lines its this psychedelic revenge thriller from Panos Cosmatos. Utilizing everything that works about Nicolas Cage’s unhinged energy, Cosmatos pits a heartbroken lumberjack (Cage) against a violent group of hippie cultists after the murder of his girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). The results are… weird.
Trippy visuals and extreme violence are complimented by Cage’s manic lead performance in a film that must be seen to be believed. Is it slow? Yeah. Would it be better with drugs? Maybe. All I can say for certainty is there are few films out there like Mandy. That reason alone lands it a spot on this list.
Jordan Downey (also the director of ThanksKilling) shot this 72-minute fantasy/horror period-piece for a measly $30,000! How? He picked a stunning location (a small village in Northern Portugal where producer/co-writer Kevin Stewart’s family had a home), he shot with a minimal crew and cast (basically one actor), used his makeup skills to handcraft props, and shot a simple story.
A Viking warrior seeks vengeance on the creature that killed his son. That’s the whole movie. No real dialogue. Just beautiful shots of actor Christopher Rygh traversing a snowy landscape and amassing a collection of monstrous-looking heads. There’s not even much in the way of fighting. We often see the Viking return home with a monster head without even seeing the battle. But in a way that makes the film better. There’s so much left to the imagination. The world feels so much bigger than its $30,000 budget. It’s quite the achievement for low budget filmmaking and a true inspiration.
There’s nothing like seeing two talented character actors often relegated to playing buddies or co-workers get the chance to star in a film. Duplass Brothers regular Steve Zissis stars as Dan, a concerned dad who hires an eccentric demonologist named Os (Mark Proksch of What We do in the Shadows) to rid his house of ghosts. If it wasn’t scary enough dealing with ghosts, the true fear kicks in once Dan realizes he can’t get Os to leave his house either.
Another Evil is a minimal yet clever horror romp from Silicon Valley writer Carson Mell. But it’s even better as a vehicle for its two talented leads. You’re not going to see this film on a lot of “Best of” lists but sometimes smaller is better.
A lot of comedy/horror on this list so far. The Final Girls doesn’t sound like the kind of horror movie I’d usually like. A group of teens gets sucked into an ‘80s slasher movie like a more meta version of Scream. It even has a reference-dropping nerdy guy played by Thomas Middleditch because of course that character is played by Thomas Middleditch. Yet this movie is funny with a notable cast. Alia Shawkat? Adam DeVine? This already sets the movie a bar above most Cabin in the Woods wannabes.
This movie also has a heart. Taissa Farmiga plays the daughter of a deceased ’80s scream queen (Malin Åkerman) who is reunited with her mom inside the slasher movie. So it’s like a little cathartic cherry on an otherwise bloody sundae.
I’ve made fun of this movie for having one of the most blatant “science guy explains the movie to the audience” scene. Which is only made worse by the fact that it’s done by Vincent D’Onofrio over iChat. Cliches aside, Sinister is a well-crafted scary movie. I saw it alone in theaters and it scared the crap out of me. Then I watched it a few nights ago at home and it scared the double crap out of me.
Ethan Hawke plays Ellison, a true-crime novelist, who moves with his family into a home where a family was mysteriously murdered. Ellison finds a box of Super 8 movies, filled with footage of families being murdered, and discovers a supernatural being living in the footage. Who is this supernatural boogeyman? And why is former Presidential candidate Fred Thompson in this movie?
Sinister is a familiar haunting/spooky kid story but what really sets it apart is the Super 8 footage. These grainy silent images of violence are incredible. I could watch a whole movie of that stuff alone. But I’ll settle for a whole movie of Ethan Hawke watching that stuff.
This feels like an ’80s movie without any superficial nods to the 80s. There is some iffy CGI but otherwise, this is a film with Jim Henson-esque puppets and guys in extravagant creepy costumes. Written and directed by Michael Dougherty of Trick ‘r Treat fame, Krampus is about a sack of baddies preying on a family trapped in their house after accidentally summoning Krampus.
If the practical effects aren’t enticing enough consider that this film stars Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, and Allison Tolman. Needless to say Krampus has some good gags but don’t be fooled, this is a scary movie. Krampus is a scary dude. Or Demon. Or whatever he’s supposed to be. Watch this movie and see how he’s portrayed. You’ll understand my confusion.
“Iranian Vampire Western”? Is there a more appealing series of words? Did I mention the film is in black and white? Oh, and the vampire wears a hijab and rides a skateboard? Could they have made this movie any more appealing? No. They nailed it.
The debut film from Ana Lily Amirpour, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is about a skateboarding vampire (Sheila Vand) who roams the streets of an Iranian slum preying on abusive men. She forms a powerful bond with a troubled but well-meaning young man, Arash (Arash Marandi), and becomes entangled in a world of gangs, drugs, and violence. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is part horror and part crime drama, but with a thoughtful coming of age narrative at its core. This is one for fans of the arthouse and the grindhouse.
What if The Omen was a comedy about stepdads? Now that’s a great hook. Adam Scott stars as Gary who’s just married the lovely Samantha (Evangeline Lily) and become a stepfather to her Lil devil of a son Lucas (Owen Atlas), and when I say “Lil devil” I literally mean the son of the devil. Lucas has satanic powers, talks to a creepy goat puppet, and dresses like an English school-boy. Further troubles arise when Lucas becomes the target of a doomsday cult. It ain’t easy being a dad.
Writer/Director Eli Craig (Tucker and Dale vs. Evil) has a knack for meta-horror narratives with sympathetic characters. One of the best aspects of Little Evil is Gary’s step-parent support group that includes comedic talents like Donald Faison and Bridget Everett (who steals every scene she’s in). The jokes are plentiful but Craig is clearly just as big a horror fan with nonstop references and homages. It’s one of the better Netflix originals out there.
If you’re an aspiring horror filmmaker, Ti West is one of your heroes. A hungry filmmaker who started shooting no-budget features under the tutelage of Larry Fessenden. Ti broke out in 2009 with The House of the Devil and has built a career on smart and efficient storytelling. Not so much a gorehound as a master of the slow burn with The Innkeepers as his best work.
The story follows two employees (Sara Paxton and Pat Healy) at the Yankee Pedlar Inn—a real haunted house in Torrington, Connecticut—during the hotel’s last weekend of operations. But uh oh! It’s haunted! It’s a familiar horror setup but far more grounded than your average haunting movie. We spend a lot of time with our two leads and what it’s like to work an unfulfilling job, their reactions to the supernatural feel genuine, and all the scares are earned. No bullshit. Just good ghost shit.
And that concludes part 1 of “John’s Favorite Horror Movies of the 2010s” God, that’s a mouthful. Don’t look forward to writing that four more times. But I do like forward to seeing you all again. Thanks for reading. Happy Haunting!