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.
20. Ju-on: The Grudge (2002)
Ghosts are scary. Ghosts kids are scarier. Ghost kids that sound like cats in heat? Goddamn piss puddle making fright machines. There’s a phenomenon called “the uncanny valley” where human beings get unsettled by things that look human but are slightly askew. That explains why most people are afraid of clowns and why so many horror films use mannequins as a scare prop, it’s a thing that has all the characterizations of a human being but isn’t.
Like a little ghost kid that makes cat noises for example. He looks like lil Timmy from down the street but…what’s that lil Timmy? Meow. Jesus fuck me, that’s not lil Timmy! That’s a goddamn Japanese cat ghost trying suck down my delicious human meats. I’m assuming. I don’t know what cat ghosts eat and truth be told, I never want to find out. Add Japan to my anti-bucket list along with naked paintballing and watching anything with Eddie Redmayne in it.
19. Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Sam Raimi delivers one of the most fun horror films that is as playful as it is disgusting even with a PG-13 rating. This is how you make a horror-comedy where they compliment each other instead of hurting one another. The scares are as on the nose as is the title, but it’s the way Raimi is able to tell his story through a tense soundtrack, timing and delivering on gory good without going over the top. There are numerous gags that all land with the viewer either laughing, saying “ew’ or both.
Alison Lohman does an admirable job as the once chubby and sweet country girl who is trying to rise above her status until her world is put on hold as she has an unfortunate encounter with Mrs. Ganush, who casts a curse on her for shaming and embarrassing the aging gypsy. This is one of those horror films that I will never tire of and gets more fun with each rewatch.
18. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
A horror movie written by James Gunn and directed by Zack Snyder is an easy win for me. They were able to update a classic and not only make it horrifyingly good but also make it feel like their own. Before zombie fatigue would sit in, Dawn would show that fast and ferocious zombies are more terrifying than the slow-moving ones. The use of shooting during daylight help set the film apart from others at that time and the main setting of the film being in a mall made for some fun moments as well.
Gunn and Snyder were able to make their zombies truly scary while also giving us some characters we could buy into and want to see survive this nightmare. It has as much action as it does horror which makes for a fun thrill ride during multiple rewatches. This one of the few remakes that are worth watching.
17. The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
Riding the line between loving homage and half-assed pastiche, Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses is a cinematic regurgitation of influences. It’s a hyper-stylized love letter to horror written by a deranged stalker who’s been slapped with a court order to stay at least 100 feet away from good filmmaking. It’s loud and messy and unpleasant to look at. It’s exactly the kind of movie a rock star who writes songs that play at shitty strip clubs would make. Which makes its sequel all the more impressive.
If House of 1000 Corpses was Zombie’s riff on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, The Devil’s Rejects is his attempt to one-up the original. Doing away with all the unnecessary elements that bogged down the first film, the sequel is a bare-bones thriller that stars an amazing cast of character actors and has a Tarantino level soundtrack. It’s mean and nasty and unpleasant to look at but unlike the last film, it’s supposed to be. It’s a grindhouse masterpiece that stands toe to toe with the best of the genre.
16. Trick r Treat (2007)
Unfortunately, new horror icons are few and far between nowadays. Back in the day, it seemed like every other film produced a new icon that instantly got 6-7 terrible sequels. But that’s not the case anymore. There’s probably a societal theory about how we’re more afraid of an unknown or unseen boogeyman now than when we were in the ’80s. Maybe something to do with terrorists. I don’t fucking know. I’m not a goddamn philosopher but what I do know is, we don’t have enough new horror icons. There’s Jigsaw, The Babadook, the emo looking ghoul from Sinister, and maybe Tiny Tim’s vocals from Insidious. That’s about it. Or that’s what I would say if it wasn’t for Sam from Trick R Treat.
An anthology film that connects all the stories seamlessly; the film has no act breaks, each story flows into the next by incorporating the same actors in every story. There’s one about a serial killer, a group of vampires, some ghosts, and a horrible old man filled with regret. There’s no host of the stories but Sam is featured in every segment. With his orange onesie, burlap sack covered head, and half-eaten lollipop, he’s an instant Halloween costume waiting to happen. He’s the closest we have to a new icon and I can’t wait to see him return for future installments.
15. [REC] 2 (2009)
[REC] is probably the only found footage film that has even a modicum of logic behind its premise. The biggest problem that every single found footage film faces is “why are they still filming? Drop the camera and run ya goof.” And [REC] has a very simple solution to that problem: it’s a reporter and camera crew stuck in an apartment complex overrun with zombies and they’re filming everything for a news story. It’s not reinventing the wheel but it’s a simple solution to a problem every film within the genre has. It’s not just a gimmick or an excuse to hide the director’s lack of talent either. The film is built from the ground up with the handheld approach in mind, so every scare is designed around that concept.
The director wisely knows that a news cameraman might get distracted easily or focus on something irrelevant and in those moments, he takes advantage of it. It’s an expertly crafted cinematic spook house of jump scares and dread but while it is overflowing with top-notch horror moments, it doesn’t have an origin story when it comes to the zombies. It doesn’t explain where the infected come from or what their illness is. That’s where the sequel comes in. Using the first film as its jumping-off point, [REC] 2 adds to the story by explaining the infected, as well as adding more action and scares. It doesn’t just expand the mythology, it straight up invents it and by doing so, it becomes the best zombie sequel since Dawn of the Dead.
14. The Orphanage (2007)
Director Juan Antonio Bayona gave us a gothic haunted house story about a long-abandoned orphanage with an unsettling troubled past. A former ward of the orphanage, Laura, returns with her husband and child hoping to reopen the dilapidated institution that meant so much to her. While there, her son’s behavior becomes more bizarre and worrisome which the parents chalk up to an overactive imagination until Laura begins to fill the effects herself and plans to unearth some dark secrets of the past.
This Guillermo del Tor produced psychological horror builds one of the most intense atmospheres with pretty much no blood relying mainly on atmosphere and suspense. In the middle of a horror decade placing more emphasis on gore and shock, The Orphanage managed to use intelligence and storytelling to get under your skin.
13. Frailty (2001)
If there is one film on this list that I feel is more overlooked than the rest, it would be this entry. The late great Bill Paxton not only starred but also directed this dark and fascinating occult chiller. In his directorial debut, Paxton was able to concoct a well-paced and thought-provoking thriller that keeps you guessing up until the end.
The chilling story of an overzealous father (Paxton) who believes he has been chosen by God to kill demons who are disguised as people and makes his two young sons help carry out his assignments. Paxton as the “God’s Hand” serial killer delivers a stellar performance with the horrors coming from fanatical religious beliefs and the fact he carries out his mission in front of his young sons.
12. Paranormal Activity (2007)
Love or hate this film, you need to respect what director Oren Peli was able to accomplish with only a $15,000 budget. He was able to prey upon people’s fears of someone or something entering your house while you sleep by utilizing sleight of hand tricks to make you white-knuckle your armrest. Tension and dread were the stars of this show with everyone able to relate to that anxious feeling when things go bump in the night. Paranormal Activity would make almost $200 million at the box office spawning five sequels.
Micah brings home a video camera after his girlfriend, Katie, claims an evil presence is haunting their home. To help dispel this, Micah sets up the camera at night while they sleep but end up seeing unexplainable happenings as the force becomes more aggressive. Even though we got a lame tacked on studio ending, the climax is hold your breath intense.
11. Saw (2004)
At a time when horror was in a transition of finding its footing and the next big thing that wasn’t found footage, came along a psychological thriller that added in some violent shock value. The trend that would follow would be dubbed as “torture porn” which would fit most of its sequels and other movies that came after, but most forget Saw was more clever and toned down compared to most of that era. In his directorial debut, James Wan was able to take a small budget of $1.2 million and turn it into one of the most profitable horror films in almost a decade since 1996’s Scream. The film would break $100 million and spawn a box office juggernaut as one of the most successful horror franchises of all time.
Two strangers awake in a dilapidated bathroom with a corpse in the middle of the floor. Neither knows how they got here but both realize they are chained to a pipe by their ankle and are a part of a dangerous game of survival at the hands of a sadistic madman. Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) would become a horror icon for his creepily raspy voice giving instructions to his victims through some sort of recording device. All they had to was follow his rules and survive some horrific ordeal or die a grotesque death. The original Saw is one of the best “What would you do?” type of films as it constantly our two victims in positions to make moral decisions as they are trapped and helpless. This one would value twisty narratives over shock value, unlike the sequels.
What do you think of the selection so far? What are some of your favorite horror movies from this decade? Maybe they will show up further on the list!