When the call went around for someone to write up the NBP Community’s list of the Best Horror Films of the Decade, I didn’t speak up at first. I’ve never been much of a horror guy. I’ve always had trouble sleeping as it is, plus I get really queasy around blood and gore, so I grew up with the impression that horror was just not my thing. That started to change in the early ‘00s, when in the wake of “The Sixth Sense” and “The Blair Witch Project” there was a moment when non-gory horror films like “The Others” and “The Ring” were big hits. But then along came the torture porn of the “Saw” franchise and its ilk, and I went back to hiding under my covers.
But in this most recent decade, horror has had something of an artful resurgence, and my interest in the genre has been rekindled. I became more fascinated with the genre and started watching old horror movies to fill in lots of cinematic blind spots that I had quite purposefully avoided. And then I thought, who better than me, a latent horror-phobe, to write up these films? Some of them are among my very favorite films of the decade, after all. So let’s take a look at those films you voted on as your favorites, shall we?
10. “It Follows”
The most elemental horror film in recent memory, David Robert Mitchell’s low-budget chiller takes a concept so simple it’s a wonder no one had thought of it before: When college student Jay has sex with her boyfriend, he tells her that she is now the next victim of an entity that was stalking him. It can look like anyone or anything, and it will follow her. It’s always coming for her. If it gets to her, it will kill her. And then it will come looking for him. The only way to get rid of it is to have sex with someone else, and it will follow them until it gets them. At which point it will come back for her. It’s a premise so fantastically open to interpretation that it can be “about” pretty much anything, but even on the surface level as a cautionary tale about sex, it’s pretty damn great. Suffused with a sense of encroaching dread, with striking cinematography and a standout score by Disasterpeace, “It Follows” feels like a fever dream, one you’re glad to be watching instead of experiencing yourself.
9. “The Cabin In The Woods”
In 2010, it looked like Drew Goddard’s “The Cabin in the Woods” was never going to be seen by anyone. Originally slated for a February release, MGM had to shelve it due to financial troubles and for over a year, it gathered dust, until Lionsgate finally secured the rights and released it in 2012 to great fanfare. The horror-comedy takes every stale trope that has ever been used in a horror film (but especially the slasher subgenre) and spins them with reckless abandon until they’re fresh again, becoming a commentary not just on horror films, but on our communal obsession with them. Even though it lays all its cards on the table in the opening scene, it still manages to surprise, all the way to its riotous ending.
We already had an adaptation of Stephen King’s “IT,” and it wasn’t great, except for the one element that made it a classic: Tim Curry’s over-the-top, maniacally campy performance as Pennywise the clown. But Andy Muschetti’s 2017 version had the smarts to distance itself from that version as much as possible, foregrounding the “Stand By Me”-esque childhood friendships and nostalgia and getting Bill Skarsgård to play Pennywise as an even more evil, even scarier specter. It may not have the hilarity and camp value of the original, but it more than makes up for it with the great child performances and wistful tone. And Skarsgård, his eyes ever moving independently of each other, gives a great horror villain performance that’s all his own.
7. “The Conjuring”
There’s a reason this film spawned a whole franchise. “The Conjuring” is one of the most elegant horror films ever made, with stylish cinematography and editing that fits right in with the 1971 setting. It helps that it’s scary as hell, pulling off countless jump scares just because director James Wan is so damn good at misdirection. I’m not sure I buy the “true story” part of what we see, but the film does such a fantastic job of making us feel part of the Perron family unit that when everything does go to hell, you genuinely feel for the characters. And whether or not you believe in what the Warrens are selling, you sure as hell believe in Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga’s performances.
6. “A Quiet Place”
The first of two films on this list I’d personally describe more as thrillers than horror, John Krasinski’s audacious film “A Quiet Place” still more than earns its place on this list. My nerves have never been the same since seeing it. In a dystopian world haunted by alien creatures that have super hearing, all but the tiniest sounds can result in death. The Abbot family – dad, mom, older son, the youngest son, and deaf daughter – have managed to survive, but somehow mom finds herself pregnant, and that’s gonna mean a lot of noise. The clever sound design would be enough to keep you on the edge of your seat, but when you add the fantastic performances and tight-as-a-drum editing, it’s a recipe for ninety minutes of pure nerve-jangling terror.
My personal favorite film of last year, Luca Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” isn’t so much a remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 classic as it is a complete reimagining of it. It takes the same basic plot – American dancer arrives at German dance company/school and slowly discovers it’s run by a coven of witches – and builds something completely different. The layers of meaning in Guadagnino’s film are piled high and thick as the film actively engages in German culture, art, religious fanaticism, fascism, sexism, etc. But for me, the film shines as a horror film because it’s about the body of a dancer. As a former dancer myself, I was unable to look away for even one second of the film’s 153 minutes, so transfixed was I by how much it was attuned to the experience of being a dancer in a company. With a droning score from Thom Yorke and one of the best sound mixes of the decade, “Suspiria” is a full sensory experience on par with the original, but in a completely different way.
4. “Black Swan”
Whereas “Suspiria” is a horror film about the body of a dancer, Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” is a “horror” film about the mind of a dancer (yes, this is the second film on this list that I would classify more like a thriller). Darren Aronofsky is known for probing the mind of the mentally ill (“Pi” & “Requiem for a Dream”), and in “Black Swan” he goes full-out baroque in telling the story of Nina, the beautiful but incredibly reserved ballerina who is tasked with playing Odile/Odette in her company’s production of “Swan Lake”. Natalie Portman won her Oscar by tracing Nina’s descent into her own psyche to find her inner black swan, supported by fantastically pulpy performances from Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, and especially Barbara Hershey as Nina’s (too) adoring mother. Thanks to Matthew Libatique’s silky smooth Super 16 cinematography, “Black Swan” moves like a dream, one you don’t want to wake up from until you realize, all too late, that it’s turned into a nightmare.
3. “The Witch”
The most chilling thing about “The Witch” – and it’s a supremely chilling film – is that it feels like some impossible documentary. It’s as if Robert Eggers traveled back in time and filmed a Puritan family leaving their community, starting a farm of their own on the edge of a forest, and getting traumatized by the evil that lives there. Everything, from the costume design to the production design to the natural lighting of the cinematography to the very dialogue itself feels completely authentic. This only adds to the terror that comes with some of the most bone-chilling imagery in a horror film in many moons. But when it comes to the end, when Best Film Animal of the Decade Black Phillip asks us, “Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?” Who are we to say no?
2. “Get Out”
Scene for scene, one of the most perfect films of the decade. Jordan Peele’s vicious social satire served up a kind of horror film a lot of people weren’t ready for: A horror film explicitly about race that dared to be funny as hell. “Get Out” didn’t just capture the zeitgeist, it set the zeitgeist, prompting Americans to think and speak about race in a way they hadn’t done before, at least so openly. “The Sunken Place” pulls double duty as a horrific film conceit and a perfect metaphor for African-American lives in 2018. While Peele more than deserved the Oscar for his genre-busting screenplay, he’s not the only one doing genius-level work. “Get Out” is a flawlessly shot, edited, scored, and designed film. To say nothing of the performances of its perfectly cast ensemble, “Get Out” may end up being the defining film of the decade.
A friend and I were hanging out one weekend and decided to go to the movies. Out of everything playing nearby, he decided the thing he most wanted to see was “Hereditary.” I had already seen it and was dying to see it again, now that I knew what horrors awaited the audience. As soon as the end credits started rolling, he turned to me, a look of utter shock and horror on his face, and said, “WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?” By the time we had gotten out of the theater, he turned to me again, with the same look on his face, and said, “…and you wanted to see that a SECOND TIME?” But such is the power of Ari Aster’s nightmare diorama of grief. Like the best horror films, “Hereditary” is about the rot at the heart of the family unit. But unlike most other horror films, “Hereditary” offers no way out, no route for escape. It forces you to experience the unimaginable grief of Toni Collette (in probably the greatest performance of the decade) and family right alongside her. It makes you stare into the darkness at its heart and recognize it as your own, and then dares you to look away. “Hereditary” lingers far longer than any jump scare, but it also includes some of the best jump scares in recent memory, just because it can.
For those curious as to what the Top 25 looked like, here is the full list below
*Tto keep things respectful, we won’t reveal the final tally*
2. Get Out
3. The Witch
4. Black Swan
6. A Quiet Place
7. The Conjuring
9. The Cabin In The Woods
10. It Follows
12. Under The Skin
14. What We Do In The Shadows
15. Shutter Island
17. The Babadook
19. Green Room
20. Train To Busan
21. The Wailing
23. Don’t Breathe
25. Evil Dead
For more Top 10 Lists recapping the decade, check out Bianca Garner’s list of the “Top 10 Black & White Films of the Decade” and be sure to vote on the latest poll for “Best Biopic of the Decade” here. So what do you think of the list? Did your favorite make it? What do you think is the best horror film of the decade? Let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.
You can follow Dan and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars & Film on Twitter at @dancindanonfilm