Though we’re only a year and a half from bringing the decade to a close (at which point there’ll be plenty of lists like this), the release of the impressive A Quiet Place spurred the decision to tally up the best horror films to have been released since 2010, according to The Lost Highway Hotel. So if you’re looking for a jolt or two, or want something with plenty of atmosphere to while away a rainy night, here are 25 modern takes on one of cinema’s most irrepressible genres…
25. Unfriended (2014, Levan Gabriadze)
The idea of a teen horror that takes place entirely within a group FaceTime rang plenty of quality-control alarm bells, but in reality Unfriended offered plenty of resonant creepiness in our age of online paranoia and invaded privacy. That final shot might be a touch heavy-handed, but if nothing else this is a masterclass of editing.
24. V/H/S (2012, David Bruckner, Adam Wingard, Ti West etc)
In our digital slipstream there was something invitingly retro about an anthology series given the facade of old-school VHS discoveries. In truth, most of the short stories included here were hardly likely to have been committed to tape, but still it gave an opportunity for a number of up and coming directors (largely from the mumblecore scene) to show their work. Messy, nasty and imbued with a sense of danger, V/H/S and its sequels offer diamonds and rough in equal measure.
23. Insidious Chapter 3 (Leigh Whannell)
When the third movie in your franchise is a prequel that eschews most of the recurring cast who have featured previously – and also sees your charmed director exit the series – it doesn’t inspire confidence. And yet, series creator Leigh Whannell stepped up and delivered a series highlight. There’s a more pronounced Japanese influence to the dark entities haunting this entry, while Lin Shaye bucks Hollywood trends; a badass ghostbuster in her 70s? Hell yeah.
22. The Innkeepers (2011, Ti West)
Ti West followed his masterpiece The House Of The Devil with a quietly impressive slow-burn character study. Sara Paxton and genre-regular Pat Healy are exceptional as wannabe ghostbusters serving double shifts at a rundown hotel. This one’s all about personality and atmosphere. If you’ve a short attention span it may test you, but there’s one hell of a kick to the ending.
21. Tucker And Dale Vs Evil (2010, Eli Craig)
Seemingly an immediate streaming favourite. The horror-comedy can be a tough cookie to pull off, but Craig’s wry inversion of genre cliché offers plenty of comic pleasures, anchored by two incredibly charming performances from Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine. That wood-chipper scene is the best since Fargo. Oh jeez.
20. The Lure (2015, Agnieszka Smoczynska)
The Lure is a Polish 80’s set musical comedy about a pair of man-eating mermaids who find minor celebrity on the country’s club circuit, obviously. A joyously strange take on The Little Mermaid, there’s plenty of bite here, and it’s well served for home viewers as part of the Criterion Collection.
19. The Conjuring 2 (2016, James Wan)
A superior sequel in every respect. James Wan followed his horror hit with this UK-set follow-up, which sees Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga’s Ed and Lorraine Warren up sticks to assist in a terrace possession story that Wan contorts to epic proportions. Horror has seen a late-decade box office resurgence. Said uplift may have been encouraged by this populist series, which is set to return.
18. The Cabin In The Woods (2012, Drew Goddard)
The second entry in this list that deconstructs the ‘cabin in the woods’ genre trope, Goddard’s film – penned by occasional geek fandom pariah Joss Whedon – has far greater ambitions, eventually taking swipes at all sorts of horror mainstays. It’s rooted in comedy, and features a number of charismatic turns from the likes of Chris Hemsworth, Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins.
17. Resolution (2012, Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead)
The third and final ‘cabin in the woods’ variant on the list is the most cerebral. Michael (Peter Cilella) imprisons his junkie best friend Chris (Vinny Curran) in an effort to force him to go cold turkey. However his chosen location – horror’s favourite cabin – must adhere to the traditions of the story, whether the two men want to be victims or not. Along with their follow-up Spring, this highlighted Benson and Moorhead as a double-act to keep an eye on. Their latest, The Endless, should land soon…
16. Starry Eyes (2014, Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer)
Sarah (Alex Essoe) is desperate to make it as an actress, and will do anything to achieve her dreams. But in compromising her own values, she sets in motion a chain of events that will literally transform her. This is a dark unraveling of a sickness within the Hollywood system – one made even more resonant following the Weinstein scandal. Essoe is astonishingly committed to the cause in a movie that tests the stomach and largely went cruelly unnoticed. Dig it up.
15. Kill List (2011, Ben Wheatley)
Ben Wheatley is one of the UK’s great talents as he has frequently shown us this decade. Kill List remains his signature piece, evolving from comedy of manners, into hitman thriller and finally corkscrewing into terrifying folk horror. Large swathes of exposition have been stripped from the narrative, making some of the events a guessing game, but the imagery will keep you awake for hours.
14. Happy Death Day (2017, Christopher Landon)
Cult classic in the making, Chris Landon’s sleeper-hit applies the Groundhog Day theorem to horror. Jessica Rothe owns the movie as Tree, the nasty girl at college who keeps reliving the day of her murder. In truth, this is an incredibly fun throwback, light on scares but high on entertainment, evoking the fun spirit of late 90’s teen horrors. And a sequel is in the works.
13. Detention (2011, Joseph Kahn)
More famous for music videos for the likes of Taylor Swift, Joseph Kahn piled plenty of youthful exuberance into this sci-fi comedy which sweeps everything from Scream to Donnie Darko and The Breakfast Club into its spicy soup of influences. The pacing is madcap, but adjust to it and there is so much to love here.
12. Black Swan (2010, Darren Aronofsky)
Yes, it’s a horror, and a damned good one. Black Swan was marketed as a romantic thriller, and as such managed to sneak into awards season – and even bag its star Natalie Portman a justly deserved Oscar – but the truth is that this is an intense psychological downward spiral infused with elements of body horror. As usual, Darren Aronofsky doesn’t hold back, and the sense of hysteria thrusts the film to its shattering climax.
11. IT (2017, Andy Muschietti)
When he’s not busy waving to Forrest Gump, Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise spends most of his time scaring the bejeezus out of us. This retelling of Stephen King’s classic novel gets so much right, especially the warm friendship between the gang of children plagued by a supernatural evil lurking in the sewers beneath the fictional town of Derry. It’s only the first half of the book, and it seems acting powerhouse Jessica Chastain will be along for chapter two. Can’t wait.
10. The Babadook (2014, Jennifer Kent)
How often does a horror monster become a gay icon? Jennifer Kent’s worth-of-mouth hit goes to some dark places, but most of them are rooted – scarily – within the human condition. Essie Davies gives a career-best performance as a struggling mother denying her own depression, as a lurking beast from a terrifying children’s book threatens to devour her and her son. A critical hit, too bad it also employs one of the most annoying child actors in cinema history in order to get its point across.
9. American Mary (2012, Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska)
After some atrocious straight-to-streaming movies for WWE Studios, the Soska Sisters are set to return to our screens with a remake of David Cronenberg’s Rabid. Until then, catch up with their best to date, this cool feminist horror in which struggling medical student Mary (Katherine Isabelle) turns to the underground world of body modification to make ends meet… and inflict vengeance on the man who abused her.
8. Excision (2012, Richard Bates, Jr.)
Richard Bates Jr. populates his acidic movies with bitter outsiders. The most magnetic of these is AnnaLynn McCord’s Pauline in Excision, one of the most memorable horrors of a generation. Bates Jr. casts his film in the bright colours of suburbia, echoing Sam Mendes’ American Beauty. But with the likes of John Waters and Malcolm McDowell in the supporting cast, you know this is headed somewhere pretty twisted. Short, sharp and genuinely shocking.
7. A Quiet Place (2018, John Krasinski)
Who’d have thought John Krasinski of The Office would put us through the wringer quite like this. Freshly released in cinemas, A Quiet Place is a must-see, and the multiplex is the best place to experience it. Almost entirely wordless, the film sees parents Emily Blunt and Krasinski striving to keep their family safe in a post-apocalyptic landscape in which alien hunters lash out at anything that makes a sound. Hold your breath.
6. Under The Shadow (2016, Babak Anvari)
Another slow burn, this Iranian horror gives off some serious chills as Shideh (Narges Rashidi) and her daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) encounter the dark forces of a ‘djinn’ while missiles rain down on war-torn Tehran. Anvari creates a malaise so thick you can taste the dust and debris. Best viewed in the dark and, ideally, on the big screen, Under The Shadow evidenced that world cinema is often the best place to go for supreme scares.
5. Get Out (2017, Jordan Peele)
So much has been written recently about Get Out and what an incredible ride its cast and crew have been on. Marketed as little more than another horror also-ran, word of mouth and the sheer quality of product eventually saw Jordan Peele’s film become a serious Oscar contender. Not only is this a woke feature for the age of Trump, but it’s also immensely entertaining. A defining classic of out times.
4. You’re Next (2011, Adam Wingard)
As far as entertainment in horror goes, you can’t go wrong with Adam Wingard’s home invasion howler. A bunch of masked murderers interrupt a rich family’s reunion with the aim of massacring everyone… except that haven’t reckoned with Sharni Vinson’s Erin; an Australian badass who grew up on a survivalist camp and proves more than a match for the lot of them. It’s still a mystery that Vinson didn’t go on to become a horror mainstay and cult superstar over this picture, but there’s still time.
3. It Follows (2014, David Robert Mitchell)
Mitchell’s evocation of Detroit suburbia rivals Sofia Coppola’s melancholic The Virgin Suicides, except here the leafy neighbourhoods are recast as a world of unrelenting unease. Inspired by the dark photography of Gregory Crewdson, It Follows sees Jay (Maika Monroe) pursued by a relentless force as the film mingles the loss of innocence with the unshakable truths of mortality. Beautiful, sophisticated and downright scary.
2. The Witch (2015, Robert Eggers)
Anyone expecting the usual mix of jump scares and hyperactive sound stings can look elsewhere. Eggers instead builds and sustains palpable dread in this tale of a pilgrim family outcast to a creepy clearing in the New England woods. An evil force lurking in the forest preys upon them, but the family tears itself apart. Anya Taylor-Joy is currently sweeping up just praise in indie darling Thoroughbreds, but you can also catch her singular talents here.
1. Raw (2016, Julia Ducournau)
An astonishing debut that promises sensational things to come, Ducournau’s Raw takes the prize as the genre’s greatest expression this decade. This French film finds vegetarian student Justine (Garance Marillier) put through her paces as she is subjected to a series of hazing rituals at a prestigious veterinary school. What follows equates the pains of growing-up and sexual experimentation with an incessant hunger, one indoctrinated as shameful. With vivid imagery throughout, this is less a scare factory and more a thoughtful and emotive rites of passage… but you’ll need a strong stomach to see it through. Daring and brilliant.