I’m not superstitious. I don’t worry about walking under ladders, I don’t flinch when I step on a crack and if a black cat crosses my path, I’m more apt to chase after it making soft kiss-y noises than I am to be afraid. With that said; I love an excuse to watch a scary movie. I delight in the art of terror. More comfortable in an abandoned cemetery than walking on a city street, I will enjoy the gruesomest and -creepiest of horror movies with childlike glee. From the splatter-horror teen screams to the dark and cerebral thrillers, I am always game for a scary movie.
My love for the genre is evident in the stories I write, sometimes delving too deeply to the dark side for a young adult stamp. I also find that the movies I love the most are obscure. Sometimes foreign, sometimes limited releases and sometimes my sense of humor is just a little bit… off.. So often, when I look at the “Top Ten” lists or the “Best of” lists, I am woefully underwhelmed.
So in honor of today being Friday the thirteenth, I give you my list of the top ten best horror movies. You might disagree with my order, but everything on this list is worth watching- for one reason or another.
10. Timecrimes (2007)
This Spanish thriller written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo creeps under your skin. The movie centers around Hector, and what happens when he is able to travel back in time.
A harrowing look at what can happen with the paradox of time travel, this entire movie will keep you guessing as it moves back and forth in time. The first few minutes start slow and confusing, so just give it a moment and you will be in for a delightful treat.
This film is made memorable not by a huge budget or glamorous effects, but with a small cast of wonderful actors who truly keep you riveted as you watch how bad goes to worse so quickly.
9. Splinter (2008)
I caught this movie at 2am in a hotel room. Within minutes, I was hooked in such a way that I couldn’t sleep even if I wanted to. This tight little movie illustrates how terror doesn’t need to have a huge budget and how a good idea and some solid acting can seriously unsettle the audience.
A camping trip goes south when a couple encounters two convicts on the run. Things only get worse when a strange parasite seems to start infecting humans around them.
This movie, from director Toby Wilkins doesn’t drag for a minute, with solid acting and nail biting tension all the way til the end. In pulling this together, I see that it is an independent film, but I never would have guessed from how neatly woven it is. It’s not perfect, but it is a gem.
8. The Ring (2002)
There is something to be said for the staying power of the Ring. I truly enjoyed both movies, the original Japanese Ringu (1998) and the subsequent Americanified version. But this list is about twenty-first century movies…. so…. the American version gets the picture. Something about this movie continued to haunt me. I have found myself liking this movie more and more as time goes on. I even have the soundtrack, a stunning score by Hans Zimmer queued up in my writing playlist. So what about it stands the test of time?
Maybe it’s the gloomy, dark atmosphere. Maybe it’s the brilliant performance by Naomi Watts. Maybe it’s the way the videotape just creeps under your skin. Maybe it’s the subtle repetition of shapes and colors that continue to set the tone and reinforce the mood. After a decade, this movie provides a satisfying scare.
7. Saw (Franchise: 2004-2010)
So, okay, this is multiple movies. Hear me out, though!
I watched the Saw franchise religiously. The first movie with the brilliant ending was a fantastic kickoff for a beautifully executed story line. I still can watch the entirety of the franchise (though it does take an entire day) and have a wonderful enjoyment.
I know that they may get brushed to the side as gratuitous gore, but to me the key to the Saw franchise is how they somehow, over the course of all those years, manage to make every single piece RELEVANT at the last scene of the last movie. It makes you sit there and say “Wait, how did I miss that?” and then watch them again. Unlike other contemporary franchises (cough- Scream-cough), every movie makes sense when you see the last one.
6. Orphan (2009)
Don’t watch this movie if you are looking to adopt a child.
You might think that you’ve seen enough of the child-gone bad movies, with “Bad Seed,” “The Good Son,” and “The Omen.” But this is totally different.
This psychological thriller brilliantly directed by Jaume Collet-Serra provides amazing performances by Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, and Isabelle Fuhrman. Orphan is dark, sinister and clever. It keeps you totally engrossed as Collet-Serra pulls you through a range of emotions: from terror to cheering in victory. Easily one of the most stressful movies I have seen in a while. A victim of its own marketing, don’t spend too much time researching it as you will spoil all the fun.
5. 28 Days Later (2002) 28 Weeks Later (2007)
Beautiful, allegorical and scary as hell, 28 Days Later and its sequel 28 Weeks Later provide a scary and realistic view of what the future really could look like. Danny Boyle really breaks out with this movie, clearly illustrating the darkness that lives in all of us.
As Romero did with Dawn of the Dead, the allegory to what our society is and can ultimately become. To me, 28 Days later is a masterpiece and it ranks with other horror classics. Also worth noting is the spectacular score and the amazing job Cillian Murphy does in his role. 28 Days Later is unrelenting survival horror- taking you first to the end of the world and then to the end of sanity.
4. The Orphanage / El Orfanato (2007)
Another Spanish film, echoing the influence of Guillermo del Toro, The Orphanage pulls at the horrors of real life. This movie scared me in a very different way, drawing in on emotions instead of pulling stunts and scares.
Returning to the orphanage in which she spent her childhood, Laura with her husband and adopted son Carlos intend to re-open the old building as a home for troubled children. But not all is quiet in the building as they soon discover. Emotionally gripping and beautifully suspenseful, The Orphanage weaves a rich mystery tied in with wonderful cinematography.
3. Martyrs (2008)
I’m not going to post anything about the plot here. This is a movie that I am glad that I watched but I may never watch again. This is easily the goriest, blackest, darkest, most disturbing movie on the list, and the hardest movie to watch.
It is NOT a vessel for torture porn, as some might dismiss it. Rather this is a groundbreaking and daring film that stretches your mind and your imagination. Right when you think you know what is about to happen, the entire film takes a hard left turn and becomes something entirely different. Written and directed by Pascal Laugier, this film is thought-provoking, astounding, surprisingly moving and will stay with you long after the credits roll.
2. The Descent (2005)
A caving trip goes horribly wrong.
That’s really all the description that you need for this movie, This movie that in most of my horror lists would top the charts.
The entire cast is women, which is rare in horror, but all of them do an amazing job. The Descent is one of the few movies that made me feel terribly uncomfortable in the theater. It is so claustrophobic that it is hard to watch. Down, down it takes you- to the depths of the cave and to human sanity. Where at the bottom of the cave we find the things that lurk in the dark… both in the shadows and in ourselves.
Don’t watch it in the dark. Don’t watch it alone. And for the LOVE OF GOD– WATCH THE ORIGINAL UK ENDING and not the atrocity they crafted for US theaters.
1. Cabin in the Woods
This is actually my all time favorite movie. (I know, i know…) People thought that I had legitimately lost my mind when I was saying that this was the best movie of all time.
But I love it.
If you haven’t seen it, just see it. I am not going to talk about it here other than it is the most fun I have ever had at a movie. It breaks every rule, it twists everything you think you know about horror movies and turns it into a fun dark parody of all things horror.
If you aren’t laughing within the first ten minutes, just turn it off. Come back to this list and pick something else. But I have been a horror fan forever and this movie I can watch again and again…. not because it scares me, but because someone else who loves horror movies wrote and directed it. It’s smart, witty and deliciously fun. And out of all the movies on this list, it is truly my favorite. Sure, it’s cult horror. I’m sure there are plenty of people who thought that Evil Dead 2 was terrible. But everything about this movie makes me happy.
And really, that’s what this genre is all about. Get under your skin. Surprise you. Make you jump at the shadow in the corner.
Happy Friday the thirteenth, everyone. Curl up with a warm blanket and watch something scary.