This has been a very provocative time for horror - a true renaissance, I think, with some of the most interesting films this side of the '70s. Even if you don't agree with all of my choices, you have to admit that these filmmakers took a swing and tried something fresh, even if it didn't always connect for you personally.
Without further ado, here are my picks - in chronological order - of the Best Horror of the 2010s.
- Black Swan (2010) - The best balletic body horror this side of Suspiria, this movie made Natalie Portman an Oscar winner and gave Winona Ryder perhaps her first notable (albeit small) post-shoplifting role. It somehow managed to be simultaneously weird, arty, sexy, gross, kinda pretentious, dour, and fun, setting an admirably schizophrenic tone for the decade to come.
- The Cabin in the Woods (2011) - The Scream syndrome - that postmodern, self-referential quality that worked so well in the 1996 slasher but proved to have diminishing returns in countless less intelligent ripoffs - reached its logical conclusion with this clever-but-actually-clever horror-comedy. The last 15 minutes or so are an orgy of virtually every horror trope of the last 30 years and the effect is so bananas that the ending doesn't feel nearly as bleak as it is.
- The Lords of Salem (2012) - I remember this one being widely maligned when it first came out, but the subsequent years have been kind to it and now the general consensus seems to be that this is one of Rob Zombie's best, up there with The Devil's Rejects. Lords was one of the first witch flicks in what proved to be a VERY witchy decade, and it was filmed entirely in Salem, MA to boot. Let's just say I went from trying to convince people that this movie was actually pretty good to attending a screening here in Los Angeles where it was programmed as a double feature with Hocus Pocus - which, if you think about it, is totally perfect.
- WNUF Halloween Special (2013) - A found footage flick that has more in common with British TV movie Ghostwatch than it does with The Blair Witch Project, this deliciously nostalgic throwback gets every detail perfect as it recreates a (fictional, natch) '80s TV broadcast in which a local reporter investigates a haunted house on Halloween night. This has become a seasonal staple in our household.
- What We Do in the Shadows (2014) - It has since spawned a spinoff TV series (also great, and about to unveil its second season in April 2020!), but when this mockumentary debuted all I really knew about it was that it had Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement as a vampire. So thank you for that, What We Do in the Shadows, and thank you for introducing me to Taika Waititi, but most of all, thank you for the best explanation I've ever heard of why vampires prefer to drink the blood of virgins: "I think of it like this: If you are going to eat a sandwich, you would just enjoy it more if you knew no one had fucked it."
- It Follows (2014) - Moody, pretty, uncomfortable, temporally ambiguous, and with a great Carpenteresque synth score from Disasterpeace, this "cursed sex is gonna getcha!" story may have had a few holes here and there in its mythology, but no one can deny its aesthetics or atmosphere. Plays like a weird dream, and I mean that as a compliment.
- As Above So Below (2014) - I sat on this one for a while 'cause I heard it wasn't that great, and now I can't stop watching it. It's basically a Tomb Raider-y adventure movie, but it's set - and at least partially filmed - in the Parisian catacombs, so it's spooky too. Also, it's found footage, which for me is a plus.
- The Houses October Built (2014) - Another found footage movie, this one is about Halloween haunts gone wrong - another theme that would come to be used quite a bit over the course of the decade, but Houses October Built did it first. As a haunt enthusiast, this film positively tickled me.
- A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) - This black-and-white film about about a skateboarding burqa-clad bloodsucker from Ana Lily Amirpour has the same elegiac us-against-the-world quality as, say, Let the Right One In, but set in Iran and with a feminist slant. Sad and romantic as only the best vampire stories can be.
- The Witch (2015) - I was a bit disappointed with this one on first viewing, as I had fallen victim to those classic "Scariest movie IN DECADES!" press quotes - plus, I'd had a key moment spoiled for me - but it grew in my estimation the longer it marinated in my mind. I'm sure you've seen it (or at least heard all about it) by now, but just in case I'll try to avoid spoilers, so I'll just say: There was one brief, jarring moment involving a raven that was one of the most chilling images I witnessed at the movies in the past ten years. And oh, that ending!
- The Blackcoat's Daughter (2015) - I love recommending this movie to people, as so few have seen or even heard of it, given that it never really got a proper theatrical release. It's a real shame too, because this boarding school-set debut from director Osgood Perkins (son of Anthony, aka Norman Bates, my forever crush) is slow, eerie, and diabolical, with a properly skin-crawling score from Oz's brother Elvis Perkins and another pitch perfect ending. (Note: I consider the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre to have perhaps the finest ending of any horror film ever, if you need a barometer by which to judge my taste.)
- Crimson Peak (2015) - Left me a little lukewarm at first, but this is another grower-not-a-shower. (Also helps when you realize that the film is less a straightforward horror flick and more of a Gothic romance, albeit one with a couple of moments of absolutely stomach-churning violence.) Probably my favorite from Guillermo del Toro. Basically a feature-length version of "Women With Great Hair Fleeing Gothic Houses," and I ain't mad at it.
- Hell House LLC (2015) - Yes, yes, another found footage movie (told you I like 'em!), and another movie set in a Halloween haunt. BUT, what if I told you there were scary clowns? Wait, wait! I mean...actually scary? No wise-cracking quips, no demented circus music. Just darkness. And stillness. And one...single...clown, standing where he shouldn't be. Where he couldn't be. And that, my spookies, is why I liked Hell House LLC.
- Krampus (2015) - Michael Dougherty really loves those holiday horrors. And guess what? So do I. They're just so goddamn festive! From the twisted mind that brought you Trick 'r Treat comes this (very) loose take on the Krampus mythology. Stop looking for accurate folklore and give in to the pleasures of homicidal gingerbread men armed with nail guns and there's a lot to love here. Mr. Spooky and I try to watch this one every Christmas Eve. Note: This is the first of two movies on this list starring the inimitable Toni Collette as a frayed-nerve matriarch! Fun!
- The Neon Demon (2016) - A movie about the utter rot that lurks beneath the surface of glamour, and the biggest complaint I've heard from detractors is that it's all style and no substance? Sounds perfect to me! One of two 2016 flicks featuring America's sweetheart Keanu Reeves playing against type as a repulsive villain (see also: Ana Lily Amirpour's postapocalyptic romp The Bad Batch), this pretty, nasty little film also boasts what is perhaps the grossest sex scene of the decade. Enjoy!
- The Love Witch (2016) - It's not often that we get a female auteur as thorough as Anna Biller, but 2016 blessed us with this ultra-feminine fever dream of a witch film, and director Biller was involved with every aspect of her opus, from script and editing down to costume design, hooking the rugs by hand, and even painting the film's artwork herself. I wrote a bit about what this film means to me over on Death & the Maiden. Go into this one with a wide-open mind, let yourself settle into the tone, and prepare to be visually stunned.
- Get Out (2017) - I mean, it's only the most socially incisive movie to come out of the decade, and the best horror movie of 2017, no big deal. You have definitely seen this by now - what more can I say? It's important, it's multilayered, and don't forget that the last 20 minutes or so are also wild, cathartic fun. Jordan Peele rules.
- The Ritual (2017) - This movie came out of nowhere and then suddenly popped up on Netflix and made rural Sweden seem like the scariest place on earth. (You're welcome, Ari Aster.) Somehow managed to breathe new life into both the folk horror subgenre and the good old-fashioned creature feature. Also, did I mention it's actually pretty scary?
- Hereditary (2018) - ...and speaking of scary - and our aforementioned pal Ari Aster - here's my personal pick for the most frightening film of the decade. This movie disturbed me in ways that nothing has in ages. Again, I'm sure you've seen it, but just in case you haven't (and you've managed to avoid spoilers for this long...), I won't ruin it here. All I'll say is, there is a scene that will devastate you, and you will absolutely know it when it happens. And also, Toni Collette is magnificent. And Jesus Christ, that ending. I actually hesitated to recommend this one to people even though I loved it because I thought it might be too disturbing. Oh, and I own the Bluray but I've been too scared to rewatch it. It may not be perfect, but when this movie is effective, it's almost too effective.
- Mandy (2018) - And, finally, my picks end as they began: With another arty, trippy, kinda pretentious, and totally fun blast of utter weirdness in the form of this drug-fueled revenge film starring man/myth/legend Nicolas Cage at his Cagiest. SEE! Nic Cage express his grief while guzzling booze and wearing tighty-whities in a bathroom! HEAR! Nic Cage snort all the cocaine in the world before gearing up for a chainsaw fight! FEEL! Your soul leave your body because maybe you ate too much of the edible but oh wait, that's just the movie!
And there you have it. What a wild, witchy, occult-fueled decade this was. Let's hope this spirit continues well into the roaring '20s and beyond!