You don’t need to ask why we love horror movies. They bring the fears we push down up to the surface. Such as: nothing is within our control, we’re all going to die, and safety is an illusion. And horror serves up our fears in such an energetically entertaining way that they become much more palatable. Continuing our decade-by-decade exploration, here are the 24 best horror movies of the 10s.
The second decade of our current millennium did away with the body horror torture porn that the aughts were into and gave us horror movies that messed with our heads more than they messed with our guts. Made by people who have been able to study horror their whole lives, these 24 horror films feel like a distillation, movies that come close to perfecting a genre that’s almost an elemental part of our lives.
Let Me In (2010)
“I’ve been twelve for a very long time.”
Kicking off this decade of horror is a remake from the previous one. Trading in the snowy starkness of Sweden for the snowy starkness of New Mexico, Let Me In follows a bullied boy and the not-quite-normal girl who moves in next door. It’s dark and moody, with blood and violence set against the backdrop of two kids in love — with one of those kids being ancient and requiring the blood of humans to live.
The Cabin In the Woods (2011)
“I had to dismember a guy with a trowel. What have you been up to?”
You know this story. Hot and likeable college kids head off for a weekend of fun. In a cabin. In the woods. There’s a basement, so of course they go down there. Mayhem ensues. But note that this is horror as done by Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon — conventions will be upturned. Managing to be genuinely scary and hilarious at the same time, this is one genre bender made for those who like their horror self-aware.
You’re Next (2011)
“Ok, we should each carry a weapon…”
If you’ve ever wished for a speedy end to an awkward family argument over the dinner table, how about a crossbow? Four adult kids bring their SOs to the family vacation home to celebrate their parents 35th anniversary. In the midst of family bickering a rather brutal home invasion begins. You’re Next sets itself up as a formulaic, dwindling-numbers slasher film, but adds an almost screwball comedy brand of wit, plus some rather inventive traps to elevate it above the gory fray.
Fright Night (2011)
“You’ve got your mother’s eyes…and your father’s aim.”
The worry with a remake is that whoever’s doing it will miss what made the first one so good. In the case of the 1985 version, the camp-and-horror balancing act propelled Fright Night to its cult classic status. This time around, Colin Farrell takes the role of vampire next door, and all around, things are darker. With more sophisticated special effects (particularly if you caught in in 3D) they managed to keep the fun of the original intact, swapping out Roddy McDowel for Davin Tennant and even sticking in a Chris Sarandon cameo for the faithful.
Kill List (2011)
“One. Two. Three. Abracadabra.”
What starts out as a sort of domestic drama quietly shifts gears to become a crime thriller about a pair of hitmen. But then Kill List derails into territory where only horror dares to tread. As the hit men complete a series of hits, things get freaky — and really gory. The story shifts and twists, blending cults and conspiracies together in an almost art house style. By the time you reach the end, you may find yourself wondering what you just watched and might need to take a slow breath before you watch it again.
“Why are you scared?”
Watching horror, we pretend to root for the good guys, hope the hunted gets away — but we know the slasher will slash to the end. No movie plays with the complicity of watching a serial killer quite like this one. About a mentally unstable man who murders and scalps women, nearly the entire film is shown from the killer’s point of view with Elijah Wood’s wide-eyed expression shown only in reflection. Smart, stylish, and explicitly gory, Maniac is the disturbing nature of horror in its rawest form.
The Conjuring (2013)
“Hey, wanna play hide and clap?”
So begins The Conjuring Universe franchise, which now includes a 2016 sequel, a handful of related films, and an upcoming part three, all revolving around the paranormal exploits of real-life investigators Ed and Lorraine Wilson (who were also on the scene in Amityville). About an old farmhouse haunted by a malevolent spirit, the original Conjuring is a deeply creepy, genuinely scary ghost story that proves you don’t have to reinvent everything to be good.
It Follows (2014)
“See? Everything’s okay.”
Teenagers plus sex equals death. It’s one of the fundamental formulas of horror. About a curse that’s passed on through sex and brings on a relentless, shape-shifting entity that stalks and kills its victims, It Follows honestly sounds a little thin on paper. But the execution is tense, menacing, and almost beautifully atmospheric. Getting the most out of its nightmare logic, this is a feverishly frightening version of a common horror trope.
The Babadook (2014)
“You can bring me the boy.”
There’s nothing scarier than being a parent. If you’re not there yet, or never will be, you’ll have to take my word for it. As more women begin helming horror films, that’s probably a theme we’ll start to see more often — and if those efforts turn out as good as this, bring it. A widowed mother starts to question her own sanity when her troubled son insists that a top-hatted monster from a story book is living in their house. The horror in Babadook is part psychological, part physical — and fully terrifying.
The VVitch (2015)
“Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?”
When searching for horror material, you can’t ask for a better repository than our country’s own Puritanical past. Repression, suspicion, witches, an untamed wilderness, the Devil himself. Lavishly shot, the VVitch tells the story of a family homesteading on the edge of the New England wilderness circa 1630. When the baby goes missing, the crops fail, and, well, a witch shows up in the woods, the tension, eeriness, and dread just keep mounting — until it all breaks wildly apart.
Hell House LLC (2015)
“How many freaks did we have?”
Every list of horror films must include a low-budget found-footage creep fest, and Hell House LLC puts the emphasis on creep. When fifteen people die in a Halloween haunted house attraction, the authorities chalk it up to a “malfunction.” But a documentary crew is pretty sure something else is going on. Through recordings made by the crew, we see evil clowns, demons, and some possession — and that was before the haunted house even opened.
“Oh, come on! That’s a custom-made Sartori rug, idiots!”
Nothing goes better with horror than comedy — except maybe death metal. This New Zealand splatter fest combines all three and the effect is disturbingly fun. It’s about an outcast new kid in town who does what millions of outcasts have done before him — he starts a metal band. And just like millions of parents have been warning us for decades, the music summons demons. With giddy gore, and wise balance between smart and juvenile comedy, Deathgasm gives you everything you want in a comedy horror metal movie.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015)
“You do know about the sisters, don’t you?”
Churches, libraries, schools — all fine and good during operating hours, but empty, there’s nothing creepier. Two students, the only ones staying at a Catholic academy over winter break, discover that they’re far from alone. Told in three interspersed timelines, The Blackcoat’s Daughter builds its tension with a moody, atmospheric patience, culminating in a dark and perfectly contained tale of evil.
Train to Busan (2016)
“I’ll take you to Mom no matter what.”
A businessman and his young daughter board a train, just as a zombie plague begins to spread lightning-quick throughout the country — and soon through the train. Possibly one of the best zombie movies ever made, Train to Busan is tense, fast-paced, and packed with plenty of freaky zombie contortionism and gore. But at its core is a story about people you actually care about, which only makes the dawning apocalypse that much scarier.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
“Luckily, I prepared for this.”
The second film in the Cloververse, though featuring none of the same cast or the particular monster that decimated NYC in the first movie, 10 Cloverfield Lane instead follows a woman who wakes up after a car crash in an underground bunker, with two men who claim that the world up above is uninhabitable after an attack. Whether that’s true or not, she soon learns that the bunker itself isn’t necessarily the safest of places.
“We all float down here.”
Just like Pennywise keeps returning to Derry to terrorize kids, It scared us first in book form in the ‘80s, then with Tim Curry’s maniacal clown in the ‘90s miniseries. In 2017, It Chapter One brought the fear back fresh, following seven kids in Maine as they confront a murderous entity who uses their own fears against them. With a properly menacing Pennywise and all-around solid performances by the kids, this is one of the best Stephen King adaptations in a long line of great adaptations.
Get Out (2017)
“Now…sink into the floor.”
When many of us first heard about this one, we had to double check the director’s name. Yup, the same guy who did Key & Peele comedy sketches was directing a horror film. About a black man meeting his girlfriend’s white upper class family and soon discovering their truly unsettling backstory, Get Out mixes humor and race commentary, with maximum tension and terror to create an entirely new horror masterpiece.
“She isn’t gone”
Family relations are no stranger to horror, and Hereditary examines those connections in a particularly disquieting way. When a grandmother dies, her family is left to deal with the unholy presence she left behind. Taking cues from The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, Hereditary has a classic horror feel, but with its surreal, hellish gloss, it manages to do something new.
“You’re drowning. I’m swimming.”
Images of Nicolas Cage’s crazed, blood- smeared face is enough to sell some people on watching Mandy. For the unconvinced, consider the inclusion of a cannibalistic biker gang, a chromed-out battle axe, chainsaw fights, and enough surreal imagery to make you question your own sanity. It’s a tale of paradise broken by evil and the outrageous revenge story that follows. This level of insanity and zeal could be considered the movie running through Nick Cage’s mind on a daily basis — someone just finally put it to film.
A Quiet Place (2018)
“Who are we if we can’t protect them?”
How many times do people scream in any given horror film? Who knows. A lot. A Quiet Place is the inverse of all that. Each time someone raises their voice, you remember. With just ninety lines of dialogue, this near-perfect nerve jangler follows a family living in a post-apocalyptic landscape that’s been ravaged by blind alien monsters with hypersensitive hearing. Co-written, directed by, and starring John Krasinski, it’s almost as touching as it is terrifying.
“He’s waited for me…I’ve waited for him.”
Forgetting all the nonsense that came in between (though to be fair, some of those sequels were good) Halloween 2018 picks up forty years after that night in Haddonfield when a crazy in a mask slaughtered all of Laurie Strode’s friends. Since then, Michael Myers has been waiting for his chance to finally finish what he started. And Laurie Strode is more than ready. It’s a brilliant tribute to the 1978 version, but it’s also informed by all the horror movies that have come since — movies that the original inspired.
Doctor Sleep (2019)
“I’ve only met two or three people like us. They died.”
So what happens to the survivors after the credits roll? Ask someone like Stephen King and the answer is decidedly not good. Checking in on Danny Torrance from The Shining thirty years later, he’s still got his telepathy and trauma, but now a cult of vampire-esque creatures are after people who have “the shining” including a young girl he’s compelled to protect. Telling a story all its own, Doctor Sleep is a worthy sequel to the 1980 masterpiece.
It Chapter Two (2019)
“Come back and play! Come back and play with the clown!”
A murderous clown attacking kids down in the sewers is scary enough. But bring It up to the surface, in broad daylight, with adults and people everywhere — and you’re still not safe. Returning to Derry twenty-seven years later, as they knew they would, the grown-up characters from the first chapter have to face Pennywise once more.
“It’s sort of a crazy festival. Special ceremonies and dressing up.”
Perfecting the slow-burn psychological horror he started with Hereditary, director Ari Aster follows a deteriorating relationship to the end in Midsommar. Set against a seemingly bright and airy festival, things soon devolve into a no-way-out cult ritual in the eternal daylight of Sweden’s land of the midnight sun. Bizarre and increasingly unsettling, this is horror served with flowers and smiles.
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