Dread Central's Best Horror Films of the Decade

What a decade. Talk about an insane ten years. In it we've seen sequels top originals, remakes up the ante, and a precious few bits of original content do what all quality cinema does -- become instant classics. Join us now for a look back at the decade that was 2000-2009!

Being that Foy covered the worst of the decade already (and who better to do so?), we collectively voted on the best so this truly is Dread Central's definitive list. Now let's get to it, starting with the title that garnered the fewest votes all the way up to the one that got the most.

Dread Central's Best Horror Films of the Decade

10: The Devil's Rejects (2005)

Well before the much abused re-imaginings known as Rob Zombie's Halloween and Halloween II were conceived by the unpredictable writer/director, he was honing his craft on a taut and dark little film called The Devil's Rejects. While Rejects is more of a revenge/road trip type feature than it is a straight horror movie, make no mistake; it wears its genre heritage proudly on its sleeve and at times can be brutally nightmarish. It's in your face and gritty with no pretty colors or artsy scenes to make you ooh and ah. There's just the realism of violence and depravity.

And the performances are nothing short of amazing. Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, William Forsythe, Priscilla Barnes, and yes, even Sheri Moon Zombie really turn the heat up to new levels, but the show stealer is without question Leslie Easterbrook. When she's on screen, it's nearly impossible to take your eyes off her. The rest of the cast is seemingly comprised of a who's who in the horror genre: P.J. Soles, Ken Foree, Michael Berryman, etc.

The Rejects themselves may have come to a bloody Bonnie & Clyde type cinematic ending, but these characters are guaranteed to live on through fans all over the world for decades to come well beyond the 00's.

9: Saw (2004)

Forget the endless stream of sequels. The first time you watched James Wan’s directorial debut, you were impressed. Admit it. We’ll agree that some of the acting is shoddy and the editing borders on obnoxious (remember that car chase between Ben Linus and Murtaugh?), but it doesn’t matter.

The sheer genius of Wan and [Leigh] Whannel’s script is enough to knock you flat. From the concept of a serial killer that’s never actually killed anyone to the endlessly twisting narrative, Saw took the horror community by surprise. And then it took the rest of the moviegoing public by storm. Beyond that, it (along with the next year's Hostel) is recognized as being almost solely responsible for the oft-maligned "torture-porn" subgenre that continues to pollute video shelves (and Netflix queues) everywhere.

In the wake of all that, it’s easy to forget the rock solid little film that the original Saw is. There probably isn’t a more influential film on this list and, having recently revisited the film for the first time in years, we're happy to say it’s still worthy of the praise. Forget the convoluted nature of the sequels and savor this influential original. The genre wouldn’t be where it is today without it – whether or not that’s a good thing.

8: The Descent (2005)

Having already made the kickass Dog Soldiers, director Neil Marshall hardly needed to prove himself as a major genre talent. That’s exactly what he did with this claustrophobic masterpiece, however, instantly cementing his status as one of the greatest modern horror filmmakers.

The Descent spends lots of time with its core characters, developing their friendships (even going so far as to suggest deep-seated transgressions in one case) in an effort to make them as believable as possible. It’s not just the humanoid inhabitants of the mountain cave that pose a threat, but the clashing personalities of narcissism and atrophy that threaten to doom them all. As a monster movie, it’s an effective reason to be afraid of the dark, but it’s the psychological aspects that reward multiple viewings and create something far more impressive.

The fact that you’ll likely never set foot inside a cave again after seeing this is a small price to pay. Here’s one of the few modern horror films that has the power to truly terrify its audience. It’s one of those films that made us realize that we weren’t too old to be scared, and we’ll always love it for that.

7: Shaun of the Dead (2004)

It’s easy to be sick of this British zombie classic already; every movie website in the word hasn’t quite finished singing its praises and the sheer amount of merchandise for this, the little zombie film that could, borders on the absurd. And while saturation isn’t good for anything, it’s perfectly understandable as to why Shaun of the Dead has garnered such goodwill. It’s bloody fantastic.

Unlike the recent Zombieland, Shaun succeeds as both a hilarious comedy and a legitimately great zombie apocalypse flick. Writers Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright aren’t afraid to flesh out their lead characters, taking them beyond the comedic archetypes (i.e., the slacker guy, the aloof best friend) to where they become actual people. It’s true that we're a little tired of this one now, but when we think back to our first viewings, we laughed until it hurt. And when we weren’t laughing, we were tickled pink by the endless stream of George Romero references strewn about the film. Sure, anyone can enjoy Shaun of the Dead, but it’s the horror fans who get the most out of it. Every time.

6: Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

E. Elias Merhige burst onto the scene at the start of the decade with his cleverly constructed film-within-a-film Shadow of the Vampire. The notion that Max Schreck's performance in Nosferatu was so successful because he really was a vampire is played totally straight by John Malkovich as obsessed director F.W. Murnau. Popular cross-dressing comedian Eddie Izzard is a revelation as Gustav, and he and Malkovich are matched note for note by a deliciously over-the-top Willem Dafoe as Schreck.

Shadow of the Vampire is a rare treat. Not only is it a great vampire flick, but it also perfectly evokes the eras it details: both the Twenties, when Nosferatu was filmed, and the Victorian times in which it was set. With its star power, a sort of surreal realism, and cinematography to die for, Shadow of the Vampire more than deserves its spot on this list.

5: Frailty (2001)

The Sixth Sense may have put the twist ending back on the map, but two years later Bill Paxton's directorial debut, Frailty, perfected it. The story, told in flashbacks, revolves around a single father (portrayed by Paxton) who believes he and his two sons were commanded by God to kill demons that happen to be living in human bodies. In the present day one of the brothers (Matthew McConaughey) is telling his family's story to FBI Agent Wesley Doyle (the uber creepy Powers Boothe).

Frailty takes its audience on one of the most interesting and intricate journeys through the darker side of human nature that they're likely to see now or in any other decade. Just when you think you've got it all figured out, Brent Hanley's script throws everything out the window and you're left wondering about the true nature of religious fanaticism and whether or not to trust your own perceptions. It's sheer beauty on celluloid!

4: Paranormal Activity (2007)

When we first put up our review of Paranormal Activity back in October of 2007, readers rightly questioned our claim that it was "the most frightening ghost story of the year". We encouraged their skepticism because we knew once they saw it for themselves, they'd agree with us. Unfortunately, it took two freaking years before we had the opportunity to redeem ourselves, but considering this little film that could went on to become the highest grossing “R” rated thriller of the last decade, we'd say redemption is pretty damn sweet.

If you are a fan of ghost stories who has felt disappointed and short-changed by the lack of quality material in that subgenre over the past several years, then you should be as pleased with Paranormal Activity as we (and apparently most of the rest of the world) were. It's a bite-your-nails, squirm-in-your-seat bonanza of spookiness with a healthy dose of holy-shit-I-can't-believe-that-just-happened thrown in for good measure. In short, it's effective as hell and is a prime example of how to win an audience over and keep their attention in a highly constrained, claustrophobic atmosphere in the most unpretentious way possible.

Unfortunately there's sure to be an endless supply of PA rip-offs and knock-offs littering the airwaves over the next decade and beyond, but at least we at Dread Central can take comfort in the fact that we were 100% right in our prediction that "something this good won't stay undiscovered for long."

3: Dawn of the Dead (2004)

When the news first broke that upstart director Zack Snyder dared to sign on for a remake of George A. Romero's iconic Dawn of the Dead, well, saying the fans were upset would be a bit of an understatement. In fact, they were mad as hell and talking boycotts and protests. But in the end they gave it a chance, and this version of Dawn, one that had every right to suck, ended up working. It worked so well, in fact, that it landed in the Top Three of the Decade. Yes, a remake can be good ... something we'd pretty much forgotten during the long dry spell between the last good ones (John Carpenter's The Thing and David Cronenberg's The Fly) and Snyder's Dawn redux.

The main reason for this minor miracle is that Snyder and company played it smart. Instead of trying to out-Romero Romero (and who could possibly do that?), they opted to bring their own take of what happened on the day of the outbreak. Essentially Snyder gave us more Dawn of the Dead with some skillfully placed homages along the way that offer a wonderful nod to the source material. And the actors (especially Sarah Polley, Jake Weber, and Mekhi Phifer) seem like real people, just like us. Cameos are given to original alumni Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger, and Tom Savini; the WGON traffic copter makes an appearance; some of the trucks outside the mall are from the same company, B.P. Trucking, that loaned them to the production of Romero's original film; and one of the stores in the mall is even named Gaylen Ross! The best part? None of these ins is ever slammed over your head or is even remotely distracting. They're just there as part of the movie. That's how you honor the past and make your mark in the present. Bravo.

2: The Mist (2007)

In watching The Mist repeatedly since its release, we’ve come to think of it as the greatest film that George Romero never directed. The bleak microcosmic look at modern day America feels like something George would’ve churned out at some point in his career had he been able to secure the funding.

This one works so well because it clicks on numerous levels: as the aforementioned examination of society, as an over-the-top and gory monster flick, and as a genuinely unsettling psychological horror film about the evils of man (and woman). Tom Jane nails the everyman trying to navigate a seemingly impossible situation while Marcia Gay Harden was robbed of an Oscar nomination for her role as Mrs. Carmody – arguably the most detestable screen villain of all time. The fantastic supporting cast all contribute a great deal to the proceedings as well: Andre Braugher, Laurie Holden, William Sadler, and Jeffrey DeMunn.

And you can’t talk about The Mist without discussing the controversial ending. Most of us love it. It’s the cinematic equivalent to a punch in the gut and conveys the ultimate hopelessness and desperation of our characters. Sure, Darabont could’ve adhered to the King novella and gone the more ambiguous route, but the film would have lost much of its impact ... and probably wouldn't be on this list.

1: Trick 'r Treat (2008)

Without question, Michael Dougherty’s ode to Halloween is the film that brought fun back to the genre – something that’s been absent for far too long. There were other, more unsuccessful attempts at this over the last few years (Slither comes to mind), but Trick 'r Treat succeeds effortlessly.

The interlocking vignettes seethe with atmosphere and a strong sense of fun, ensuring that each piece of the film is somehow more delightful than the last. Couple that with some of the best performances the genre’s seen recently (Dylan Baker's especially), and you have the greatest movie about October 31 since John Carpenter chronicled the night HE came home. (On a side note, try to count the references to Carpenter's early works – it’s a fun thing to look for while you’re watching the film a second or third time.)

The big question continues to be why Warner Bros. decided to dump this sucker onto Blu-ray and DVD after sitting on it for almost two years, but we take solace in knowing that it’s already found an audience - one that’ll continue to grow for decades to come.

Honorable Mentions: Let the Right One In, The Host, Behind the Mask: The Rise and Fall of Leslie Vernon, 28 Weeks Later, The Signal

- The Dread Central Staff

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Discuss your picks for the best of the decade below and in the Dread Central forums!



nazo's picture

For no particular reason, other than that I recently rewatched The Descent, here's my top 11 of last decade.
11. Fido
10. The Devil's Backbone
9. Frailty
8. End Of The Line
7. Slither
6. Shaun Of The Dead
5. The Descent
4. Pontypool
3. Trick 'R Treat
2. Let The Right One In
1. Pan's Labyrinth

Submitted by nazo on Tue, 06/12/2012 - 3:06am.
Revolver's picture

YES!! Most of those were on my fave list also. We waited such a long time for Trick r Treat to come out and it turned out to be a big winner (in my book anyway). I would have put some not so well known ones on my list, but I think you got it covered. BTW the ending of The Mist had me laughing for HOURS!

Dear Diary, tonight I realized on the inside, i'm pretty fucking ugly.

Submitted by Revolver on Tue, 01/05/2010 - 9:55pm.

While I'm sad that Let The Right One In only merited a Honorable Mention and that Grindhouse is nowhere to be seen (and as a Vinnie Jones fanboy I must throw in my support for The Midnight Meat Train), I otherwise fully agree with this list. Saw has had a major influence over the genre since it came out (even if it itself took a word or two from the likes of Cube and Se7en), Paranormal Activity is easily the scariest movie I have ever seen, and The Devil's Rejects is proof posative that Rob Zombie does know how to make a good horror movie (he should really do it again sometime). And while I would've bumped The Descent up a slot or two, and swapped Shaun for Dawn (the former just never gets old for me), I can find no fault with #2 and #1. Both amazing movies, horror or otherwise.

Submitted by Relaxing Dragon on Mon, 01/04/2010 - 7:56pm.

It's hard to argue with a lot on that list...

As far as Frailty is concerned...I liked that movie a hell of a lot better than The Sixth Sense and the twist ending, IMO, was better than The Sixth Sense...An excellent movie certainly worthy of any top of the decade horror list...

Submitted by Blue Eyed Demon on Mon, 01/04/2010 - 3:10pm.
sav's picture

ok heres mine

1.Mulberry St

2.The abandoned

3.Trick r treat

4.Shaun of the dead


6.Dead Silence

7. Drag me to hell

8. The Grave Dancers

9. Masters of Horror CIGARRETE BURNS

10.Paranormal Activity

Submitted by sav on Mon, 01/04/2010 - 6:12am.

I just want to step in an say Kudos to you for Mulberry Street. While I don't have it as The Best of the Decade, that's an awesome movie that needs more love.

Submitted by Relaxing Dragon on Mon, 01/04/2010 - 7:57pm.

I agree with this whole list, except Paranormal Activity, it was okay, but not all the hype.

Submitted by ZOMBIEFRIENDS on Mon, 01/04/2010 - 12:06am.
moderator Well, there lies the
Steve Barton's picture

Well, there lies the problem. Most of us saw Paranormal Activity two years ago before the hype.

Submitted by Steve Barton on Mon, 01/04/2010 - 12:12am.

My Top Ten

10. From Hell
9. Cabin by the Lake 2
8. Riding the Bullet
7. Friday the 13th
6. American Psycho
5. Dawn of the Dead
4. 'Salem's Lot
3. Antichrist
2. Halloween II
1. Trick 'r Treat

Submitted by robertmundy on Sun, 01/03/2010 - 10:51pm.
Floydian Trip's picture

What I would have appreciated more would have been lists from every member of DC.

Submitted by Floydian Trip on Sun, 01/03/2010 - 4:34pm.
moderator That's coming with the
Steve Barton's picture

That's coming with the best/worst of 2009 later today.

Submitted by Steve Barton on Sun, 01/03/2010 - 5:28pm.
Floydian Trip's picture

Bring it on! I wanna know what Debi thinks.

Submitted by Floydian Trip on Sun, 01/03/2010 - 5:40pm.
moderator When it came time to compile
Debi Moore's picture

When it came time to compile my best of the decade list, I approached it as trying to narrow down the best representations of the various subgenres of horror (vamps, zombies, ghosts) as well as the best remake, sequel, anthology, etc. In addition, I included a few films that I feel have had a lasting impact/influence or were just too creative and visionary to ignore. Six of my picks made the final cut:

Saw, Dawn, Frailty, Shadow, Paranormal, and TrT.

The other four were 28 Weeks, Repo, Hostel, and Night Watch. I really wanted to include The Others also, but Paranormal Activity inched it out by a nose in the ghost category.

Submitted by Debi Moore on Mon, 01/04/2010 - 1:42pm.
Floydian Trip's picture

I see the Others as a classic horror film with a classic beauty.

Submitted by Floydian Trip on Mon, 01/04/2010 - 3:49pm.
Feenix's picture

i guess I'll add to the comments on the list. I'm not gonna make my own, though. I've never been good at that. It's like picking your favorite kid. I like certain movies for different reasons. To pick one major standout above the rest makes me feel dirty (although, if you held a gun to my head and asked, I'd say The Signal).

As much as I loved Hatchet, I can see why it didn't make the list. It was fun, and very well done, but nothing definitive or genre-altering.

Hell, the only thing that I even remotely disagree with is Dawn of The Dead. It's a great movie, don't get me wrong. I just think a sub-genre that's been as done to death as Zombie Apocalypse movies need only one rep on the list, and Shaun Of The Dead does that nicely. Then one of the other great movies in your Honorable Mention such as Let The right One In could've been bumped up. JMO.

As for comments on the staff's intentions: DC could've done what reviewers on other genre sites did with their lists. They could've wrote a paragraph long explanation/disclaimer on what their criteria was, and why certain expected fan favorites aren't listed. Basically the journalistic equivalent of walking in a bar and pussing out to a guy you've never met who you think can kick you ass before he even notices you've walked in.

Instead, they said nothing. I'm guessing they figured their readers, while they may disagree with the staff's picks, could debate the list like adults and not start questioning the staff's motives so condescendingly. I guess, in respect to a few people, that assumption was DC's fault. :)

I'm really just fucking around. It's a horror movie list, not Healthcare Reform, don't take it so seriously.

To wrap up: Love Trick R' Treat. It's actually playing on my TV as I'm typing this. I'm in total agreement with your assessment of the original Saw. All in all, good picks. I guess I'll have to check Frailty out now. Lastly, even though a review on this site has yet to truly steer me wrong, I'm still skeptical about Paranormal Activity. I smell a hint of the rat that got me to sit through the atrocious Blair Witch Project. I know lots of people loved it, I didn't. Guess I'll have to find out about PA on my own.


Submitted by Feenix on Sun, 01/03/2010 - 11:17am.

I know, I know, opinions and all and I am more than willing to accept that there are movies that will go down as classics of the genre that I will never enjoy (I cannot fathom the greatness some people see in "Frailty" that puts it even a peg above "forgettable").

But the "Dawn of the Dead" name cash-in is on the list and "28 Days Later" is not? I mean from the perspective of movies that put zombies back on the map you have to give it to "28 Days Later", "Dawn" was HEAVILY influenced by it, as far as I am concerned it had better characters, it had monkeys, and perhaps most importantly it lacked a zombie baby (outside of "Braindead" I cannot imagine a zombie baby working). Perhaps it ended up with a split vote between it and people who preferred its sequel?

I can even understand "Let the Right One In" not being on the list to a certain degree since it did not get a wide release in the US, but I really am having a hard time with "Dawn" getting more love and memories than "28 Days Later."

Submitted by conundrum on Sat, 01/02/2010 - 10:32pm.
Terminal's picture

Hear hear. Well said.

That's why I insist that the DC people were more concerned with style than substance. Look at the first trailer for Dawn 04. It is obviously influenced by Danny Boyle's film.

Hell there were even some shots that mimicked scenes from 28 Days Later.

Submitted by Terminal on Sat, 01/02/2010 - 10:54pm.
Floydian Trip's picture

28 Days later was nothing but a remake of Day of the Dead. Not original at all.

Submitted by Floydian Trip on Sun, 01/03/2010 - 12:37pm.
LifeMi's picture

28 Days Later is actually pretty good. It's not a great movie and yes, it's not an original take on the material, but it is effective. I understand why the Dawn Remake is on the list though; the mere fact that it turned out to be as good as it was is a miracle.

Submitted by LifeMi on Sun, 01/03/2010 - 2:47pm.
Foywonder's picture

"That's why I insist that the DC people were more concerned with style than substance."

Oh, give it a fucking rest already. You wanna know why I personally voted for Dawn of the Dead over 28 Days Later? Because I like Dawn more than Days. I derived more enjoyment from watching Dawn of the Dead than I did 28 Days Later. Amazing, huh? Two good movies but I somehow prefer one over the other and it's not about style or substance or acting like holier than thou film snob. Something simple as enjoying one more more than another. What an astonishing notion.

Submitted by Foywonder on Sat, 01/02/2010 - 11:08pm.
Terminal's picture

You're sexy when you're mad. I stand by my opinion. Not everyone is going to agree with the list. Accept it, man.

"or acting like holier than thou film snob"

Glass houses, Foy. Glass houses.

Now give us a hug.

Submitted by Terminal on Sat, 01/02/2010 - 11:38pm.
Foywonder's picture

I couldn't care less whether anyone agrees with the list. What irks me is when you make bullshit statements like "That's why I insist that the DC people were more concerned with style than substance." That's when I chime in and tell you to put a sock in it already.

And congratulations on being the first person in history to try and insinuate that I of all people am a film snob. Glass houses, my ass.

Submitted by Foywonder on Sun, 01/03/2010 - 12:13am.
Terminal's picture

"I couldn't care less whether anyone agrees with the list."

And that, my friend, is the problem. You should care because hearing differing opinions is what makes lists so popular. Don't get so offended, it's merely an opinion. I figure you of all people would encourage open discourse and not shun it.

Guess I was wrong.

Submitted by Terminal on Sun, 01/03/2010 - 12:35am.
Foywonder's picture

I couldn't care less whether anyone agrees with the list because I don't consider it something worth getting worked up over. I don't have any problem with anyone else expressing their disagreement with our picks or listing their own. I don't even agree with half the films listed. Nobody is shunning or censoring discourse here or and I am certainly not offended by it. What offends me is you qualify your dissenting opinion with insulting statements about what you incorrectly believe to be our mindset, which you've just done again by immediately jumping to the conclusion that my not caring whether someone disagrees with the list is because I want to stifle dissenting voices.

Submitted by Foywonder on Sun, 01/03/2010 - 12:44am.

I'm not defending him but the first paragraph of the article includes the following:

"...we collectively voted on the best so this truly is Dread Central's definitive list."

When you call something definitive, tempers are gonna flare even over shit as goofy as this. It's one of the reasons I suggested a readers poll so people can get their bitchiness out and everyone can have fun comparing the two.

Submitted by AngryChairr on Sun, 01/03/2010 - 2:14am.
moderator Operative words being "Dread
Steve Barton's picture

Operative words being "Dread Central's Definitive List" and not EVERYONE'S definitive list? LOL!

Submitted by Steve Barton on Sun, 01/03/2010 - 6:08am.

And you have readers who identify with the site as much as the writers. It's Dread Central's Definitive Staff List. There's a difference. You guys write the articles but without the readers it's just words on a screen that no one reads. By claiming it's a definitive list without prefacing whose list it is, it's making a statement for an entire community where there's likely disagreement.

Submitted by AngryChairr on Sun, 01/03/2010 - 5:22pm.

"It's Dread Central's Definitive Staff List."

No, it's the Dread Central List. If you want to start a Dread Central Reader's List, then have at it, hoss.

Seesm like the main issue is the word "definitive". I think that a true "definitive" list would be along the lines of what the "Black List" does with scripts. Every script that appears on anyone's list is included, and rather than having a "top ten" they're ranked by the number of mentions. Definitve has a certain connotation that an averaged-top-ten doesn't really deliver. Of course, it's easier to do that with something like the black list because you're asking hundreds of people to pick three scripts from the year, not trying to compile a decade-best list from a relatively small pool of "voters".

So in essence, I've said nothing of note, and will now slink back into the darkened corner from whence I crawled out...

BTW, I like the list. Don't like all the entries, but with the well thought-out write-ups it's hard to argue.

Submitted by G.D. on Sun, 01/03/2010 - 10:19pm.
Floydian Trip's picture

It's a fucking list! I don't think UC traveled to the burning bush and came back with two stone tablets and this is God's list or anything. Have some perspective. Don't like this list go to another horror site. They're are plenty of them.

Submitted by Floydian Trip on Sun, 01/03/2010 - 5:30pm.
moderator Actually one time I did
Steve Barton's picture

Actually one time I did visit a burning bush. Luckily I contracted no STDs.

Submitted by Steve Barton on Sun, 01/03/2010 - 5:50pm.

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