Horror, more than any other genre, operates as a mirror of our anxieties—a warped reflection of everything that haunts on either the micro or macro level. It’s been around since the beginning of film and will live on long past our deaths because there’s always something new to be afraid of. From environmental instability to terrorism to Y2K to our own neighbors, the list goes on and on. Every fear sprouts a new sub-genre, with each decade being famous for a specific sub-genre but none were as bloody as the 2000s. The early aughts were an uncertain time, filled with government mistrust, paranoia, and fear and the horror films reflected that. It was a scary time to be alive but a perfect time to be a horror fan. Out of that stew was born: torture porn, New French Extremity, the hardcore stuff coming out Korea and Japan, and low budget Indies that were either found footage films or cheap hack ‘n slash trash. Love it or hate it, the new wave of horror was bloodier and more gruesome than anything that had come before. The ’00s will never be held in the same esteem as the classier or more famous decades of horror cinema but there’s no denying it added a bunch of content for gorehounds and splatter fiends to enjoy. Consider this list a pool ring that’ll help you wade through this decade’s goriest films.
This is The 50 Greatest Horror Films of The 2000s.
10. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
I think what helps Shaun of the Dead stand out above the rest of comedy zombie “spoofs” is that it feels more like a love letter to the sub-genre as opposed to making fun of it. Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright wrote and directed a tight horror comedy that is full of laughs, horror, and genuine character drama. There are plenty of homages to zombie features of yesteryear, coupled with Wright’s vibrant storytelling and pop culture references. There is laugh out loud comedy, but you also feel these real characters and the stakes at hand that help Shaun feel more soulful than most horror comedies.
Pegg plays the titular character, who is a likable going nowhere young man whose life is flipped upside down by the zombie apocalypse. With his crass and foul-mouthed best friend, Nick Frost, by his side, Shaun tries to reunite with his estranged girlfriend and sort out issues with his mom all while trying to survive and keep his group alive as well. Shaun of the Dead is one of those horror fans and people who don’t care for horror can all relate to and enjoy.
09. The Mist (2007)
Stephen King is fucking great. You know what else is great? Frank Darabont’s adaptations of King’s work. He directed what IMDB considers the greatest film of all time and followed up with the greatest Christ allegory ever made. He was two for two and decided to got back to the ol’ King well one more time but this time, he decided to skip the King dramas and adapt one of his horror stories instead. And goddamn did that decision pay off in spades.
Taking place almost entirely in a supermarket which is surrounded by an unexplained mist, the film shows that mob mentality and unchecked religious fanaticism is far more terrifying than any Lovecraftian monster. Or at the very least equal to because this film has some pretty great fucking monsters. Which is also the only negative of the film. Some of the creatures are amazing looking, while others (tentacle in the storeroom), look terrible.
I believe the reason for that is the fact that Darabont always intended for this film to be in black and white and I believe he designed the film around that color palette. If you haven’t watched this film in the intended black and white, I highly recommend it. Not only is that the director’s preferred version of the film but it adds a layer of unease. It’s hard to explain but in the absence of color, everything seems darker and more bleak. Which, considering the infamous ending, makes the film 2x bleak. Which I’m pretty sure is a record.
08. The Host (2006)
Not to be confused with the dumpster fire that is Twilight + aliens, The Host is a Korean monster film that might be the greatest monster film since the original Gojira, depending on your definition of a monster. Do the alien slugs from Slither count as a monster or an alien invasion film? Deadly Spawn? Tremors? What about huge ass animals like Night of the Lepus?
Whatever your definition is, The Host is probably better. Darkly comedic at times, the film plays sort of like a cross between The Royal Tennenbaums versus a kaiju but not played for laughs. This isn’t a comedy but there is humor. All the characters are well defined but their foibles make for some hilarious moments at times. At its core, it’s a rich character drama with well-written characters that could easily fill up five seasons of a TV show but instead of a TV show, they get a huge ass monster and you get an amazing movie.
07. The Ring (2002)
Hideo Nakata’s Ringu could be seen as the film that single-handedly jump-started the J-horror craze of the early 2000s. Nakato fills the film with plenty of nightmarish imagery, creating a spooky atmosphere that permeates every frame. The film blends old-school paranoia with modern fears of technology to marvelous effect, leading to one of the most surprising finales in horror history. Before Ringu, Japanese monsters were either hopping vampires, big ass Godzilla Kaijus or creepy old ghost ladies. After Ringu, every horror movie released, to this day, is either ripping off its iconic black hair-over-the-face ghost or is tying ghosts to technology like a haunted cell phone or some shit. Ringu‘s ghost design might be as important to Japanese culture as Romero’s zombies were to the West.
And speaking of the west, two years after its release, the American remake came out and was not only surprisingly great, it actually improved upon the original. It streamlines the plot, adds more depth to certain characters, and is overall, more consistently scary from scene to scene. Who would ever think that a story about a mysterious and unlabeled VHS that leaves you with only seven days to live after you watched could drip with so much unbearable dread? The Ring does a masterful job of holding the viewer’s attention while they are holding their breath until it unleashes its skin-crawling finale.
06. American Psycho (2000)
A tongue in cheek satirical horror that is carried on the shoulders of Christian Bale’s performance. Director Mary Harron does a wonderful job of combining horror and comedy to effectively drive home the excess and self-indulgent vanity of Wall Street during the ’80s. The story follows a young New York banking executive who is wealthy and successful but not as much as some of his fellow peers. He goes through a daily charade to play the part but at night releases his hidden homicidal side by murdering people while listening to some classic ’80s tunes.
The film is very polarizing as some don’t get the satire aspect calling it misogynistic because of the violence towards women but Harron handles the humor and horror so well that it is hard not “get” what the movie is trying to say. Along with Christian Bale’s performance garnered him some wider acclaimed which would lead to a stellar decade in film. Underneath all of this, is a gory and violent film set in the ’80s with an incredible soundtrack with one of the greatest chainsaw kills in movie history.
05. [REC] (2007)
TV host, Angela, is on a routine assignment where she and her camera crew spend the night on patrol with local firemen at their station. That night, completely seen through the news camera, turns into a nightmarish journey to try and survive the night as they respond to a call at the wrong building. A deadly virus breaks out and other local authorities quarantine the entire structure not letting anyone in or out.
[REC] is a Spanish found footage horror film that is one of those rollercoaster films that once the mayhem begins, it doesn’t let up till the bitter end. Before the found footage gimmick became overdone and a somewhat different take on the zombie/infected genre by having the victims trapped in a building with nowhere to go, helped make this movie feel distinct. We had all seen zombie/infected films where the monsters are chasing the helpless victims in open fields or streets but being trapped in a confined space with no hope for escape created a whole new level of terrifying claustrophobia.
04. 28 Days Later (2002)
What sets Danny Boyle’s zombie feature apart from the rest is its focus on the characters and making sure the viewer understands the state of the world around those characters. The opening shot of our main protagonist and his unsure stroll through desolated London is haunting. One of the first films to be shot on digital cameras, this film was able to build a believable post-apocalyptic world mostly thanks to this new technology. Some will complain about its grainy look or its cheap-looking cinematography and others will praise its fly on the wall aesthetic, which makes you feel like you’re with them, instead of watching them.
But its technical innovations aren’t the only thing people remember about this film, it’s also the fast zombies. Almost as revolutionary as the original Night of the Living Dead, the decision to make zombies ass kickingly fast is the best innovation since the talking ones in Return of the Living Dead. Their quickness and ferociousness raise the stakes and turns every encounter into a heart-pounding fight for survival. The slow creeping dread of old-school zombie movies is dead and in its place, live the zombies of this film. It’s impossible to be scared of Romero zombies after this, there’s no going back.
03. Let The Right One In (2008)
About once a decade, there comes a film that immediately after watching it, everyone unanimously agrees it belongs in the pantheon of the all-time greats. Let the Right One In is one of those films. Based on the acclaimed Swedish novel of the same name, the film is a love story that’s equal parts darkly sinister as it is beautifully nuanced. There might not be a more fully realized or believable love story than the one depicted in this film. This is astonishing considering on top of the leads being unknowns with no acting experience, they’re also children.
You immediately understand why Oskar is attracted to the mysterious Eli and because of the exceptionally well-written script (adapted by the novelist himself), you never question why he would fall in love with her. This is a fairy tale that, in addition to being one of the best modern films, horror or otherwise, stands shoulder to shoulder with the best of the Brothers Grimm. It’s a story that will live on for all time.
02. Session 9 (2001)
Session 9 is living proof that you don’t need a huge budget and garbage CGI (looking at you, IT: Chapter 2) to create a quality, memorable horror film. If one were to judge this film solely based on the cover art, it would be assumed that this is just another asylum movie dependent on jump scares to terrify its viewers. That assumption would be very, very wrong. Filmed with a budget of just $1.5 million, writers Brad Anderson and Stephen Gevedon managed to create a psychologically haunting work of art. Fans of Kubrick’s The Shining will likely be fans of this film, as the storyline is similar in that the history of each infamous location manages to fuck with the protagonist’s fragile mind.
However, at the end of Session 9, we’re left with feelings of sadness and heartbreak; one of the characters we follow who slowly and sadly loses his mind is a normal guy who’s just trying to provide for his wife and child while working at a failing company. How many of us haven’t been there before? Shit sucks, right? In my opinion, that’s part of what makes this film so brilliant, just like some of the others on this list. We can watch horny ass teens have their insides ripped out and put on display all day long without blinking an eye or giving it a second thought, but a horror film that resonates and manages to stick with us long after it’s over is a true masterpiece. Fun fact: the location where Session 9 was filmed (Danvers State Asylum) was a very real place.
The crew had little to do in the way of dressing the set, with most of the photographs, magazine clippings, graffiti, medical instruments, and patient files already having been there, waiting and ready to be filmed, making the overall movie that much more genuine and haunting. I would suggest to anyone interested in the history of the asylum that you do your own research. After watching Session 9, that’s precisely what I did, and let me tell you, what I learned was pretty fucked up. It was interesting for sure, but the history of Danvers will surely send a chill down your spine.
01. The Descent (2005)
Playing like a gender-flipped Alien, The Descent trades the terrifying isolation of space for the claustrophobic horrors of underground caves and Xenomorphs for bloodthirsty mutants but other than that, the two films are remarkably similar. They both involve groups of characters getting trapped in a remote location, getting hunted by a monster they can’t see.
And like Alien, The Descent eschews the final girl trope by making the lead a bad-ass from the jump. She immediately accesses the situation and comes up with a plan to survive. Which involves killing some fucking mutants. But the twist is, Juno isn’t the lead of The Descent. In this film, Ripley isn’t the lead, she’s actually the villain. Director Neil Marshall does a great job of giving all six women depth and their own personality that makes you really care for each one. Being set in a cave system, there is a claustrophobic feel, unlike no other and frenetic pace that leaves you breathless.
What do you think of the ranking? You agree or disagree? Let us know down in the comments.