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.
40. Zombieland (2009)
Zombies made a big resurgence in the 2000s from remakes, original stories, and a few horror-comedies. Enter Zombieland, which is one of the best zom-coms out there. Zombieland is a well written and directed movie, but what makes it so good is the incredible chemistry between Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg, and Abigail Breslin. They undeniably carry the film, helping to create one of the funniest comedies of the 2000s. It’s fun to just sit back and just watch a zombie movie without some kind of subtext and just enjoy a brainless fun ride. There is solid action, gore, quotes for days, and one of the best cameos of all time.
39. The Strangers (2008)
Home invasion is a sub-genre that only gets more potent the older you get. When you’re younger, fears that you can comprehend are scary, like a clown in a sewer drain or a weird guy standing in the shadows. Someone breaking into your house isn’t a thing you think about outside of a vampire getting into your room to bite your neck or a monster already living under your bed but once you have a family you have to protect? People coming in to harm them is the scariest thing you can imagine. Because it can actually happen.
Which makes The Strangers all the more bone-chilling. Not because of their masks or their capacity to do horrible things but because they only targeted you because you were home. The couple at the center of this film (Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler) get put through the wringer by three psychopaths simply because they answered a knock at their door. They let evil in by letting evil know they were home. The fact that that is sometimes all it takes to end up brutally murdered, is scarier than anything in the film, which is saying a lot due to this film already being scary as shit.
38. Eden Lake (2008)
The 2000s were a decade filled with horror films about ordinary people doing awful things to good people, but Eden Lake may well be the most gut-wrenching. The feature directorial debut from James Watkins follows a young couple Jenny and Steve on a planned romantic lakeside getaway that goes horrifically wrong when they confront a gang of unruly teenagers. What should be a casual, if confrontational, conversation rapidly escalates from contentious to deadly serious when the local teens reveal themselves as a sadistic force of violence.
The consequences for the unsuspecting couple are harrowing, and Watkins ditches flashiness and shock-factor gore for an unflinching presentation of violence. The film cleverly avoids the usual class conflict, and while the young villains are never quite sympathetic, Watkins leaves room to explore peer pressure and the dangers of group-think. Eden Lake isn’t quite the endurance test that marked some of the decades most depraved offerings, but it’s a chilling experience that leaves a pit in your stomach for days.
37. Slither (2006)
James Gunn, for a short window of time, looked like he was going to be the one to finally pick up where Peter Jackson left off. While there have clearly been horror comedies made since Dead Alive, there hasn’t been one to recreate that same level of frenetic gore-soaked energy. It’s an energy Peter Jackson himself didn’t create (it started with Evil Dead II) but certainly kept alive. Well, for a short time anyway. It wouldn’t be until Slither that someone attempted to and actually pulled off that style. A freight train filled with hilarious one-liners and gallons of fake blood going 110 mph, the film is a non-stop jokes and spooks generator. Once it starts, it never stops.
It’s unrelentingly entertaining, with every scene either delivering a scare or a laugh or both. But like Raimi and Jackson before him, the call of the action film was too great to stay in horror. This is unfortunate because all three had the potential to be the crème de la crème of the Masters of Horror. Unfortunately, they’ll never come back to this genre, so the best we can do is just cross our fingers and pray that whoever is inspired by them makes a film soon because horror needs more films like this.
36. Wolf Creek (2005)
Loosely based on the tourist killings committed by Ivan Milat in the 90’s and Bradley Murdoch in the early 00’s, Wolf Creek is an unrelenting serial killer thriller set in Australia. Stranded in the literal middle of nowhere, with no help in sight, three backpackers are being hunted by a sadistic psychopath played impeccably by John Jarrat.
The true horror of the film isn’t the extreme isolation of the outback or its memorable villain, It’s the fact that Mick Taylor is so goddamn likable that you’d never in a million years suspect he’d be capable of such cruelty. Jarrat disarms you with charm and just like a koala bear, attacks when you’d least expect it. He starts off like a lovable Aussie character like a Crocodile Dundee or a Steve Irwin but out of nowhere, he turns into an unpredictable lunatic that harkens back to the ozploitation villains of the past. He’s represents the darkside of the down under. Like koala bears because seriously, koala bears are terrible monsters.
35. High Tension (2003)
Everyone who’s seen this film agrees that the twist is awful and the film would be better without it and while I agree on both accounts, I think it’s also important to mention that a horrible twist can only ruin a good movie. Certain films are only remembered because of their terrible twists like The Life of David Gale and The Perfect Stranger because there isn’t much about those films to remember in the first place. The reason horror fans bemoan the inclusion of the twist in this, is because it was so close to being a perfect slasher. It was the first film in a long time that felt like a dare. Aja dared you to handle the film’s gratuitous levels of violence. There are scenes in this that are so grotesque, so depraved, that you feel dirty for watching them. It’s not snuff film level but this definitely would’ve been banned in the 1980s. If only it didn’t have that terrible twist…
34. The Others (2001)
One of the most important rules in horror is: no matter the story, ambiance will take you pretty fucking far. You could have the most cliched story with the most trite dialogue delivered by actors that seem to have been carved from wood but if your film looks good, audiences, for the most part, won’t care. Amazing set design and beautiful cinematography buys your ass at least 60% goodwill. Good looking movies will always be remembered for looking good. Sounds redundant but that’s Italian cinema in a nutshell. Now, what happens when you take gorgeous set design and beautifully constructed shots and add in great acting and story? That’s The Others. It’s a film that takes all the best parts of Italian, Mexican, and American horror cinema (that being the amazing visuals, top-notch ambiance, and great performances) to create an unsettling and unforgettable haunted house story.
33. Ginger Snaps (2000)
On its surface, Ginger Snaps is like any number of horror films about an outcast suddenly becoming popular and/or hot because of their newfound powers. It’s a well-worn trope and while the film does tread that territory, it has far more on its mind than another pygmalion + revenge story. Using lycanthropy as an allegory for a girl’s sexual and physical maturation (werewolf = periods), the film is both a clever twist on the typical werewolf story as well as a rare feminist tale that sidesteps the regressive gender politics that pollute the genre.
Female sexuality in this film isn’t punished like in most horror movies. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. The film is empowering in its depiction of a world where female sexuality is a potent, violent, and righteous force. The film treats women like women, not like whores who need to be punished because they like to have sex. It picked up the ball The Craft laid down and ran with it and in its wake, followed a slew of female-centric horror films that weren’t afraid to address gender forthrightly and smartly.
32. Pulse (2001)
A strange door affixed with red electrical tape. A website filled with people doing odd things. A stain on the wall in the shape of a human body. A little boy peering around the corner of a library shelf. Instead of focusing on the big moments like typical horror films, e.g. the jump scare or a showstopping finale, Pulse opts for a more subtle approach. When two groups of teenagers discover that the land of the dead is trying to inhabit the world of the living through technology, they desperately try and find a solution which leads them to the realization that the only way to beat it, is to outrun it and outlive it.
It cultivates dread through creepy images, ratcheting up the suspense slowly and deliberately. This isn’t a slow burn but rather a mood piece. It’s never building to something, instead, it’s goal is to keep the viewer in a state of perpetual unease. It might feel a bit dated or quant in retrospect (it was made in a time when people legitimately believed the internet was a thing that could potentially get haunted. Now we know it’s just filled with toxic douche bags) but it’s brand of uncomfortable terror still resonates today.
31. Hostel (2005)
Based on an interaction Harry Knowles (of Ain’t It Cool News fame) had with Eli Roth over what the worst website either of them had come across was, Hostel is the fear of the Deep Web made real. The film works as well as it does because deep down, all of us believe that somewhere lurking within the bowels of the internet, there’s a website that offers exactly what this film promises: the ability to pay money to torture and kill someone. Which makes the villains that much more Insidious and horrifying because you cannot reason or negotiate with them. Because they paid to do this. They saved up money just to be in that room with you. It’s chilling. But beyond the torture porn aspect, the film is also a clever commentary on the price of life in other countries. The foreigners (i.e., Americans) go over there and pay exorbitant amounts of money, while the natives (here depicted as children) will kill you for a bag of candy.
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!