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Dread Central’s Best Horror Films of the Decade

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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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