Oh, the horror

Our movie guy picks the best horror movies released during his 20-year career as a critic

Facing page: <i>Scream</i> (1998); above, <i>The Babadook</i> (2014); below, <i>The Host</i> (2006).

Facing page: Scream (1998); above, The Babadook (2014); below, The Host (2006).

In this, my 20th year of reviewing movies for this prestigious publication, I find myself approaching my 20th Halloween as a movie reviewer. What better time than now to examine the best horror films of the past 20 years? I think there is no better time. I just answered my own stupid question!

I’ll state right up front that I absolutely hate the Saw films, and most of the “found footage” horror films. The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield were good, but they miss my list. Paranormal Activity and its spawn can suck it.

Se7en (1995): Some might classify this one as a thriller or mystery, but I call it straight-up horror. From the obese guy being forced to eat, to that final surprise in the box, David Fincher had me sickened and creeped-out in the best of ways. Special mention for his Zodiac. The scene in Zodiac when the girl gets stabbed while her boyfriend watches helplessly is nightmare city.

Scream (1996): The lousy sequels tainted its legacy, but Wes Craven’s dissection of the horror genre injected new life into fright flicks.

From Dusk till Dawn (1996): I taught a horror film class a few years ago, and it always amazed me that so many students didn’t know the big twist halfway into the movie. I won’t give it away here, but it is awesome.

Ravenous (1999): This insane riff on a Donner Party type scenario, set in the pioneer days, gets my vote for best cannibal movie of the past two decades. It’s certainly better than The Green Inferno.

Audition (1999): Asami isn’t a nice girl. She’s actually kind of mean. Watch Takashi Miike’s torture chamber of a movie and see why you shouldn’t judge people by their exteriors.

Sleepy Hollow (1999): The story of the Headless Horseman has always given me the willies. Even the Disney cartoon messed me up. Tim Burton’s take on the tale, with a pointy toothed Christopher Walken as the Horseman, earns a rightful place on this list.

Jeepers Creepers (2001). The 1970s birthed Leatherface, Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, while the ’80s gave us Freddy Krueger. In the new millennium, I count the Creeper as a classic movie maniac. The sequel sucked, but the first movie, a chase film starring Justin Long as a guy trying to get away from some sort of gargoyle/man, freaked me out.

A third one is allegedly on the way. Let’s hope it doesn’t involve a school bus.

Ju-On: The Grudge (2002): Oh, that crushed throat sound the ghost makes in this haunted house movie is the most terrifying movie sound anybody came up with in the last 20 years. I prefer the original Japanese film to the OK Sarah Michelle Gellar American remake.

28 Days Later (2002): Danny Boyle took a look at the zombie film, and said “Fuck it … let’s let the zombies run really, really fast!” Goodbye lumbering Romero zombie, hello cheetah Boyle zombie. Yikes!

A Tale of Two Sisters (2003): If you haven’t figured it out yet, the last two decades were full of great Asian horror. This was yet another haunted house story with a trippy ghost that actually scared me more than the throat croaking ghost from Ju-On. Actually, no—nothing scared me more than the throat croak ghost.

Shaun of the Dead (2004): Edgar Wright’s homage to the George Romero zombie film made the lameness of the latter day Romero zombie films (Diary of the Dead, Survival of the Dead) a little easier to get over.

The Descent (2005): For me, this stands as the best horror film to come out since ’95. The cave creatures are one of movie history’s best movie monsters, the all female cast kicks mortal ass, and the effective use of claustrophobic caves made me exquisitely uncomfortable.

The Host (2006): When that bizarre monster took a little girl and gulped her down, this one cemented itself as a monster movie willing to go the nasty distance. This is the South Korean horror film, not that stupid alien movie starring Saoirse Ronan.

Funny Games (2007): Director Michael Haneke made the Austrian original in 1997, then directed the American remake ten years later. I’m giving props to the American remake, which starred Naomi Watts and Michael Pitt in one of the most brutal hostage dramas ever made.

Grindhouse (2007): Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, featuring an all time classic horror performance from Kurt Russell, is an underrated, underappreciated gem. Planet Terror, his pal Robert Rodriguez’s companion piece in this demented double feature, is equally fun. I saw this two for one in a movie theater all by myself, knowing that nobody would ever have the balls to release a three hour horror movie ever again. Extra points to this one for the short films inside it, including Eli Roth’s beautiful “Thanksgiving.”

Let the Right One In (2008): Not only is this Swedish masterpiece the best vampire film of the last two decades, it might be the best one ever made. The American remake, Let Me In, is also pretty damn good.

House of the Devil (2009): In the ’70s, there were a lot of movies where babysitters had a really bad time. This bad time had by Samantha the babysitter in this movie rivals the bad time had by Laurie Strode in Halloween.

Splice (2009): Dren, the product of genetic engineering that wound up being a little too cute for Adrian Body’s scientist to take, doesn’t get enough credit for being one of the great movie monsters.

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010): This is certainly one of the funniest horror films to come out in 20 years, owing plenty to Bruce Campbell and the Deadites from the Evil Dead films.

The Babadook (2014): If there’s a more horrifying film about the stresses of motherhood and the damage from the loss of loved ones out there, I haven’t seen it.

It Follows (2015): Oh, the dreaded feeling that you are being followed. This one owes a lot to John Carpenter. A malevolent force that constantly changes its human appearance but always has an emotionless expression pursues people in order to pass a sick curse along. It came out this year, and while it annoyed Quentin Tarantino a little bit, I liked it a whole lot.

We’re Still Here (2015): This haunted house freak-out was released this year and it plays like it could’ve been released in the early ’70s.