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Ol’ Hallows’ Eve comes but once a year – where masked murders and ghouls alike team and vie for the screams of the weak. No medium captures and evokes such emotions better than film and with a century-long legacy to salute (or slap in some cases) one night cannot contain what has become known, simply, as the scary movie. Welcome to Five Days of Halloween: Day Five – The Best Scary Movies of the Decade.
Did you miss Days 1, 2, 3 or 4? You might want to check them out first:
10. Tie: Shaun of the Dead (2004), Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010)
Ya, ya I’m beginning with a copout, sue me. Despite my shameless jamming of an 11th pick into this list, these two films can rightfully be viewed as companion films in that they are both some of the best lampooning efforts of their genres – zombie and slasher respectively. Both exist as the type of parody that clearly has ample admiration for the films at which they are throwing jabs, not to mention directors Edgar Wright and Eli Craig have an uncanny ability to see through the thin façade most horror movies mask themselves with and rip down that curtain. And after catching these genres in the nude, they adorn them with goofy shoes and clown makeup.
9. Zombieland (2009)
Another kind of horror comedy entirely, Zombieland doesn’t seek so much to point out its genre’s foibles (though it does more often than not), but rather deliver a straightforward comedy that just happens to be set during the zombie apocalypse. The entire quartet of actors on screen – Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin – are spo- on in their funny-bone striking, not to mention make for a smart, cool and ultimately oddball gang of survivors. The blood flows heavy and the jokes ring true in Reuben Fleischer’s farce and the addition of a Bill Murray cameo and some of the best opening credits of the decade just sweeten the whole ordeal to titillating levels. Few films reveal themselves as rewatchable as Zombieland and it’s hard to imagine that to be the case only with fans of scary movies.
8. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Zack Snyder lends his kinetic style and James Gunn (in his first of two appearances on this list) adds his quick wit for the screenplay in a perfect marriage of subject matter and filmmakers. As an action film and and overall as an insanely entertaining undead-fuelled diversion, this remake of George A. Romero’s classic also holds the unique distinction of being a remake that doesn’t insult everyone and everything involved. In fact (and I’m not afraid to say it) I enjoy this version more (though certainly for different reasons). The original “Dawn” was a trend-setter, and a somewhat dated one at that, whereas “Dawn ‘04” is just slick as I’ll get out and a little gory treat every time I press play.
7. 28 Days Later (2002), 28 Weeks Later (2007)
The zombie onslaught continues courtesy of Danny Boyle and his successor Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, a couple of blokes who delivered 180 collective minutes of blood-curdling terror not suitable for those with heart conditions or weak bladders. Huge props must be given to Mr. Boyle, who re-imagined the undead as not, well, undead, but merely infected individuals who happened to act like zombies — except these mothers can sprint like Olympians and aren’t afraid to use things other than their mouths to inflict brutal punishment. The portions of both films shot with the Sony XL1 digital camera are grittily gorgeous and the slick, quick-cut editing exhibits the perfect blend between a shaky-cam style and traditional techniques. These films brought the sub-genre to modern audiences and offered something other than the dated stumbling corpses of the past.
6. The Descent (2005)
The rare small, independent, foreign import horror flick that did get the recognition it deserved (and it deserved all of it) was Neil Marshall’s The Descent, a skin-crawling exercise in terror that ensures that even if you’re not claustrophobic, you soon will be. If following cave divers squirming through pitch black subterranean passageways doesn’t give you the willies alone, toss in blind, vicious, blood-thirsty cave dwellers without an iota of mercy and the momma-crying begins.
The Descent plays just as well as a psychological thriller as it does a blood-splattered creature feature, even able to toss in the “man is worse than the more primal threat” trope without feeling even close to cluttered. In fact, The Descent is one of the more stripped-down fright flicks in recent memory, opting for minimal landscapes, unknown performers and jump scares that fit perfectly into the scenario. The Descent is white-knuckle and blood-soaked.
5. Slither (2006)
Few horror-comedy mash-ups are more successful than James Gunn’s Slither, a criminally overlooked gory, gross-out creature feature starring the equally underrated Nathan Fillion along with Elizabeth Banks and Michael Rooker. Slither is whip-smart, hilarious, intentionally grimy, ominous, sad and deliciously acted. It has a similar psychological effect as did Arachnophobia 20 years ago and is every bit as funny and entertaining as a film like Shaun of the Dead (in fact, in a number of ways more so). It takes a sick but intelligent mind of think up something like Slither, a film that embraces its niche genre ancestors but then proceeds to splatter them all over the screen.
4. The Others (2001)
If a towering performance from Nicole Kidman (it earned her a Golden Globe nomination) and stunning gothic aesthetic weren’t enough to propel The Others to a level above your normal haunted house flick, it gleans its effectiveness with few jump scares, heavy atmosphere and a twist payoff unlike anything you’ve seen before. It takes the ghost story to an entirely unique plateau of horror storytelling that ranges from melancholy to purely tragic.
The drama is so gripping in The Others that it becomes the rare instance of a horror film that can be watched over and over again, as not only can you gain new insight in the mythos of this ghostly world but the actors remais superb and the reliance on old-fashioned storytelling makes for an overall gripping ordeal. Films like The Others, horror or not, are far and few between and even if you’re not too keen on the haunted house flick, this offering is bound to leave the kind of lump in your stomach to leave you hungry for more.
3. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
Over the past five years, the delicious little horror comedy Behind the Mask is finally being given some of the kudos it deserves. So much so I felt it wrong to even put it on my “little-seen gems” list. Everyone I’ve shown this flick to has adored it, and not just horror fanatics for that matter. This low-budget parody is not only an infinitely intelligent dissection of the slasher genre, but a deliciously classic slasher film itself.
Behind the Mask tells the tale of Leslie Vernon, an aspiring serial killer who dreams of being as notorious as Jason Voorhees or Michael Meyers (all of whom exist in this reality). Followed around by a team of journalists composing a documentary about famous slashers, Leslie breaks down his approaches, and his perspectives on the best techniques to killing, alluding capture and the creation of terror (all while being ironic and symbolic). For a film to effortlessly blend such insight with pure terror is nothing short of genius. If you are a fan of the slasher sub-genre you owe it to yourself to watch Behind the Mask and hell, this movie is so good it may even be able to win some coverts.
2. The Orphanage (2007)
Modestly attended, but universally celebrated (and ultimately debated over) El Orfanato (as it is called in its native Spain) is both a tragic family drama, creepy mystery and a generally terrifying period ghost story. The Orphanage is the type of film that can be dissected in so many ways and viewed in so many lights that it actually transcends just one genre and achieves another level of sophistication entirely.
Thanks to Guillermo del Toro attaching his name, the non-subtitle-shy were drawn out by solid word of mouth, and sleeper-hit its way to a strong $7.2 million. This is not only the best pure chiller of the past, but also has so many complex layers it has something for everyone (and that something is bad dreams).
1. Triangle (2009)
Remember this movie from the top of another list? Perhaps titled 10 Little-Seen Gems? Well, Triangle proves that just because something is a tad more obscure doesn’t mean it isn’t a masterpiece of its genre. To explain the plot of Triangle would take its own post (and then some) so I won’t even attempt it here. This hidden treasure proceeds to creep out, baffle and then when you think you may have things figured out, director Christopher Smith takes an egg beater to your noggin and scrambles it up so badly you won’t be able to walk straight for days.
Melissa George owns the screen in the lead role as a thoroughly detestable character (at some turns anyhow) who then morphs into one you want desperately to stay alive and break free of her perpetual hell (and then back again). I hope having this film as my number one pick on two lists will convince you that Triangle is worth the journey and if you’re not at least intrigued as to what this mind bender is capable of then you’re just a lost cause.