A Dozen Modern Horror Movies
When it comes to movies, I’m an old soul – a purist. I’m Old Hollywood. I’m all Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles. A lot of my favorite movies are in black & white. In October, I stick to horror. My fave horror movies of all-time are mostly from the ’70s – Halloween, The Exorcist, The Wicker Man. That period was truly the Golden Age of Gruesome, before the splatter and gore of the ’80s and ’90s took hold.
Since the turn of the century, and the advent of Netflix, finding a horror movie has never been easier – and that’s the problem. They’re mostly a-dime-a-dozen, not worth the 80 minutes of precious time, even on the coldest, greyest October day.
There are, of course, some modern-day exceptions – smart, thrilling, sometimes gory, often creepy films that emerged post-2000 and left their bloody, morbid mark. The cream of the crop, so to speak. So break out the candy corn, light your pumpkin spice candle and enjoy….
28 Days Later… (2002)
Danny Boyle brought the zombie flick back from the dead in this post apocalyptic tale of an infection gone awry. If Night of the Living Dead director George A. Romero wrote the zombie rule book, Boyle adds a few chapters of his own here. The infected of 28 Days… aren’t your typical slow, lumbering undead, rather fast and formidable foes.
I went to see this with a bunch of friends at a crowded Brooklyn theater on opening night, making the fatal mistake of going for popcorn just as one of the “infected” crashes thru a plate glass window, attacking the main character, Jim (portrayed by a young Cillian Murphy, better known as Scarecrow in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy). Popcorn flew everywhere, and I returned to my seat to see two of my adult male friends hugging each other like teenage girls.
Anchored by a mostly unknown British cast and an intense score featuring excerpts from hipster fave band Godspeed! You Black Emperor, the film also contains moments of apocalyptic beauty, most especially when Jim awakens from a coma to find himself alone in a deserted London hospital and wanders the streets before encountering Boyle’s 21st century “zombies.”
Let The Right One In (2008)
This Swedish vampire film was so well-received by both the industry and fans of the genre, it spawned an American remake (which is also very good) starring Chloe Grace-Moretz only two years later.
Based on a 2004 novel of the same name, the story is ultimately a romance between a bullied 12 year-old boy and a young female vampire. Tomas Alfredson’s direction and the blood-red inspired story, set mostly against snow white cinematography, all won multiple awards at various international film festivals upon the film’s release. A must-see.
The Cabin In The Woods (2012)
Turning the “horny teens get killed in the woods” genre on its ear, Cabin pulls out all the stops – monsters, mayhem, and even mermen, rule the day. Director Drew Goddard, who wrote the surprise hit Cloverfield and the just-ok Brad Pitt zombie vehicle World War Z, concocts a smart, fast-paced and clever story with help from Buffy The Vampire Slayer buddy Joss Whedon.
The film is lightened by intentional comedic moments involving the two technicians (well played by the awesome Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) who are seemingly manipulating the carnage involving the teens, led by Chris Hemsworth as the stereotypical “Alpha male jock.”
Featuring a kickass cameo by Alien heroine Sigourney Weaver and special effects by Heather Langenkamp (Nancy of the Nightmare On Elm Street series), Cabin has a great horror lineage on top of its unique and triumphant take on the genre.
28 Weeks Later (2007)
The only sequel to make the list is a worthy follow-up to Danny Boyle’s original tale of the “infected.” A literal continuation of the original film’s timeline, Weeks hits the ground running, as Robert Carlyle (memorable as Begbie in Boyle’s great Trainspotting) abandons his wife (in a gut-wrenching opening scene) after the infected attack survivors in a secluded English cottage.
Featuring Jeremy Renner and Idris Elba in strong supporting roles, 28 Weeks is not as impactful as its predecessor, but still packed with many intense scenes of ultraviolence, a bleak ending, and one doozy of a sequence involving a helicopter and bucketfuls of blood.
Loosely adapted from one of my favorite books, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, James Mangold’s whodunit features a who’s who of stellar character actors including John Hawkes, John C. McGinley, Rebecca DeMornay, Alfred Molina and Pruitt Taylor Vince.
It doesn’t hurt that Identity is anchored by two of my favorite actors, John Cusack and Ray Liotta, who both shine as the rival “good cop, bad cop” who may or may not be behind a series of gruesome murders at a creepy motel on a rainy Nevada night. Although the film’s twist ending is a bit convoluted, it’s the fun of getting there – and the unexpected and sometimes shocking ways in which the characters are dispatched – that make Identity worth a look.
Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez bring the gore in this midnight-movie double-feature with an all-star cast of cult film stars and some of the sickest, funniest fake film trailers ever created. I still don’t know if I’m more partial to Eli Roth’s beyond-insane slasher flick Thanksgiving or Nicolas Cage’s hairy cameo in Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS, but they certainly add to the gruesome fun.
QT’s contribution, Planet Terror, is the superior of the two tales, starring the uber-hot Rose McGowan as a go-go dancer who receives a prosthetic leg (after zombies tear her real leg off) which also happens to be a high-powered machine gun. Josh Brolin and Bruce Willis go slumming as bad guys and the special FX team work overtime to supply the necessary blood and guts.
Grindhouse is purposely and almost lovingly exploitative, and certainly not for everyone, but for those who revel in the nostalgia of ’70s era garbage cinema, Grindhouse is a gold mine.
Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Zack Snyder, who would eventually give us 300, Watchmen and the much-maligned recent Batman vs. Superman, makes his directorial debut, remaking the George A. Romero zombies-in-a-mall classic of the same name.
A worthy remake that boasts a solid cast of zombie survivors including Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Michael Kelly of House of Cards, and a pre-Modern Family Ty Burrell as the token douchebag, Snyder’s remake is part homage to the original, part video game. Like in 28 Days Later…, the zombies here are fast and furious, and so is the pacing in one of the better horror remakes ever made.
This “found footage” film was conceived by and stars Mark Duplass (of FX’s The League) as the titular creepo and director Patrick Brice as the videographer who captures his subject’s strange behavior only to find himself sucked into the middle of the madness.
The clever use of a cheap wolf mask, some juicy plot twists and Duplass’ unnerving performance as a guy who is definitely a Stage Five Clinger and might be something even worse drives this little indie horror flick, with a sequel currently in the works.
Creep‘s biggest lesson: don’t meet anyone on Craigslist.
The House of the Devil (2009)
Not your typical “creepy old house” flick, Ti West’s House of the Devil owes a bit to predecessors Black Christmas, The Amityville Horror, Rosemary’s Baby and even Poltergeist as far as style and content. Jocelin Donahue stars as a babysitter who ultimately winds up in a Satanic bind, both literally and figuratively.
The subtly suspenseful film is rooted in ’80s culture – feathered hair, Walkmen, The Fixx – which only adds to the spooky ambience. The presence of genre stalwarts Tom Noonan and Dee Wallace add even more gravitas to this tense little horror gem.
The Descent (2005)
A rare convention-defying horror film in that its anchored by an all-female cast and takes place mostly in caves after a spelunking expedition gone wrong, The Descent is a tense, claustrophobic thriller, as much about emotional trauma and the “descent” into madness as it is about the caves. And yes, I said spelunking.
The movie’s “Crawlers” are your typical flesh-eating humanoids, pursuing the women throughout while a mystery between the principal characters is also unraveled. The Descent was critically acclaimed and spawned a 2009 sequel.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014)
This Persian-language American horror film is part vampire movie, part noir film, part Western. Directed by newcomer Ana Lily Amirpour and gorgeously shot in black & white, Girl is another vampire romance disguised as a horror movie. With short bursts of bloody violence, the film is reminiscent of earlier, classic bloodsucker films like Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark and George Romero’s Martin.
The beautiful Sheila Vand shines as the title character with a thirst for blood and goth indie music. My type of girl.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Sure, it’s not particularly scary, but Edgar Wright’s cult classic film doesn’t lack in the gore, thrills or laughs departments, the latter mostly thanks to a then-little-known Simon Pegg as the lovelorn, Everyman protagonist and Nick Frost as the ne’er-do-well slob who is Shaun’s best friend.
Loaded with British humor, brains and blood, plus a killer soundtrack featuring Queen, Ash, Lemon Jelly, The Specials and The Smiths, Shaun is a worthy entry in the best-of zombie genre, its surprise international success spawning less-successful but still fun films like Zombieland and a comic book series, and launching the careers of its stars and director.