The 100 Best Horror Movies of the 21st Century - Slant Magazine (2024)

Table of Contents
100. Hunter Hunter (2020) 99. The Lighthouse (2019) 98. Hounds of Love (2016) 97. M.F.A. (2017) 96. A Good Woman Is Hard to Find (2019) 95. XX (2017) 94. Nightmare Cinema (2018) 93. The Dark and the Wicked (2020) 92. The Invisible Man (2020) 91. Alone (2020) 90. Crimson Peak (2015) 89. Insidious (2016) 88. Elizabeth Harvest (2018) 87. They Came Back (2004) 86. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010) 85. The Monster (2016) 84. Cam (2018) 83. The House That Jack Built (2018) 82. The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015) 81. Unsane (2018) 80. Suspiria (2018) 79. Coherence (2013) 78. Titane (2021) 77. November (2017) 76. Train to Busan (2016) 75. In Fabric (2019) 74. You’re Next (2013) 73. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (2021) 72. 28 Weeks Later (2007) 71. 1922 (2017) 70. Them (2006) 69. Black Death (2010) 68. Unfriended (2014) 67. The Neon Demon (2016) 66. The Hole in the Ground (2019) 65. Come True (2021) 64. Neighboring Sounds (2012) 63. The Invitation (2015) 62. Mulholland Drive (2001) 61. Hereditary (2018) 60. Sinister (2012) 59. Maniac (2012) 58. Depraved (2019) 57. Us (2019) 56. The Descent (2005) 55. Swallow (2019) 54. Mom and Dad (2017) 53. The Babadook (Jennifer Kent) 52. Before I Wake (2016) 51. Piranha 3D (2010) 50. Terrifier 2 (2022) 49. Talk to Me (2023) 48. 28 Days Later (2002) 47. A Quiet Place (2018) 46. Berberian Sound Studio (2012) 45. Let Me In (2010) 44. Pontypool (2008) 43. Suicide Club (2001) 42. Drag Me to Hell (2009) 41. Oculus (2013) 40. The Sadness (2021) 39. Midsommar (2019) 38. Amer (2009) 37. Memories of Murder (2004) 36. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) 35. Demon (2015) 34. Possessor (2020) 33. Blade II (2002) 32. Shaun of the Dead (2004) 31. [Rec] (2007) 30. The Lords of Salem (2012) 29. Unfriended: Dark Web (2018) 28. The Witch (2015) 27. Inside (2007) 26. Session 9 (2001) 25. The Guest (2014) 24. Bug (2006) 23. The Wailing (2016) 22. Mandy (2018) 21. The House of the Devil (2009) 20. The Strangers (2008) 19. Revenge (2017) 18. The Outwaters (2023) 17. Visitor Q (2001) 16. Inland Empire (2006) 15. The Devil’s Rejects (2005) 14. The Host (2006) 13. Climax (2019) 12. I Saw the Devil (2010) 11. Get Out (2017) 10. Martyrs (2008) 9. Raw (2016) 8. The Devil’s Backbone (2001) 7. Antichrist (2009) 6. Wolf Creek (2005) 5. Let the Right One In (2008) 4. Halloween II (2009) 3. Trouble Every Day (2001) 2. Under the Skin (2013) 1. Pulse (2001) References

Ever since audiences—at least according to myth—ran screaming from the premiere screening of Auguste and Louis Lumière’s 1895 short black-and-white silent documentary Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, the histories of filmgoing and horror have been inextricably intertwined. Through the decades—and subsequent crazes for color and sound, stereoscopy and anamorphosis—since that train threatened to barrel into the front row, there’s never been a time when audiences didn’t clamor for the palpating fingers of fear. Horror films remain perennially popular, despite periodic (and always exaggerated) rumors of their demise, even in the face of steadily declining ticket sales and desperately shifting models of distribution.

Into the new millennium, horror films have retained their power to shock and outrage by continuing to plumb our deepest primordial terrors, to incarnate our sickest, most socially unpalatable fantasies. They are, in what amounts to a particularly delicious irony, a “safe space” in which we can explore these otherwise unfathomable facets of our true selves, while yet consoling ourselves with the knowledge that “it’s only a movie.”

At the same time, the genre manages to find fresh and powerful metaphors for where we’re at as a society and how we endure fractious times. For every eviscerated remake or toothless throwback, there’s a startlingly fresh take on the genre’s most time-honored tropes. And for every milquetoast compromise, there’s a ferocious take-no-prisoners attempt to push the envelope on what we can honestly say about ourselves. Budd Wilkins

Editor’s Note: This entry was originally published on October 10, 2018.


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100. Hunter Hunter (2020)

Across Hunter Hunter, writer-director Shawn Linden links us empathetically to every member of a family living off the grid, rather than merely favoring Mersault (Devon Sawa) and his determination to remain in the wild. His wife, Anne (Camille Sullivan), isn’t written as a nag, but as a poignant fount of common sense, and his 13-year-old daughter, Renee (Summer H. Howell), is shown to be torn between being a hunter and a normal little girl. Linden skillfully draws us into this narrative, emphasizing the nuts and bolts of hunting and the terrifying anonymousness of the drab and shadowy woods, before springing a series of startling traps—of both the narrative and literal variety. By the time that the wolf that torments them throughout is revealed to be the lesser of two evils, the film has already deviated from traditional survivalist tropes and drifted into the realm of neurotic and nihilistic horror. Chuck Bowen

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99. The Lighthouse (2019)

The Lighthouse finds Robert Eggers again mining the past for an air of mythic portent but loosening the noose of veracity that choked his meticulously researched yet painfully self-serious debut just enough to allow for so much absurdism to peek through. From the moment that lighthouse keepers Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) set foot on the tiny island where they’re to spend the next four weeks, they start to get on each other’s nerves. Wake is a slave driver who’s said to have made his last assistant go crazy, and who ignores any and all regulations, while Winslow refuses to drink and be merry with Wake, which causes its own problems. Before long, the two men kick into motion a game of one-upmanship, a raising of the stakes to see who will be the first to drive the other to madness—with flatulence and horniness among the many, many factors fueling that pursuit. Sam C. Mac

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98. Hounds of Love (2016)

Throughout Hounds of Love, Emma Booth is uncannily projects the internal struggle of the battered Evelyn’s inner turmoil. Through the character’s confrontation of her inner demons and the kidnapped Vicki’s (Ashleigh Cummings) attempts to cope with her own dilemma, the film tackles the disturbing issues of domestic violence and pedophilia without relying on exploitative shock tactics. Writer-director Ben Young’s camera is expressive yet tactfully implies rather than revels in the depths of the characters’ depravity, while his framing and editing fractures the space within John (Stephen Curry) and Evelyn’s house so as to amplify the sense of Vicki’s entrapment. As both Vicki and Evelyn struggle in their own ways against the unhinged and impulsively homicidal John, Hounds of Love builds to a crescendo that earns its emotional catharsis while staying true to its roots as a truly chilling and intense thriller. Derek Smith

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97. M.F.A. (2017)

A film of uncomfortable truths, M.F.A. dramatizes an intersection of exploitation, government-sanctioned violence, gendered bitterness, and personal expression that’s ironically fostered by trauma. Noelle (Francesca Eastwood) is an art student who sketches and paints female portraits that’re dismissed by her classmates for their formal timidity. The rejection of Noelle’s art sets up a story of troubling self-actualization, as director Natalia Leite and screenwriter Leah McKendrick use rape as an inciting incident for Noelle’s emergence as a daring artist and superficially confident sexual being. Leite and McKendrick understand that people’s sexual tastes don’t conform to a handbook concerned with politically correct gender relationships. The film awkwardly juggles a number of tones, and its ending is glib, but Leite’s ambition and accompanying uncertainty give M.F.A. its unruly and resonant energy. Bowen


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96. A Good Woman Is Hard to Find (2019)

There’s a moment in Abner Pastoll’s A Good Woman Is Hard to Find that’s more imaginative than any scene in Ken Loach’s weirdly similar Sorry We Missed You. Sarah (Sarah Bolger) is about to use her vibrator only to discover that it needs batteries, leading her to remove the ones inside one of her children’s toys. Despite the bloodshed that eventually occurs in Sarah’s home, this sequence is the most suspenseful in the film, as we’re led to wish for this woman to experience this modicum of pleasure. The vibrator also foreshadows a wicked joke. After a drug dealer, Tito (Andrew Simpson), takes over her house and dramatically oversteps his bounds, Sarah stabs him in the eye with the vibrator, asserting herself for the first time in the film, turning a fake co*ck against a figurative dick who comes to resemble an extreme version of every asshole who taunts Sarah on a daily basis. Such a rebellion will not be permitted in a world that sees people like Sarah as pitiful, and so a stream of atrocities is unleashed. Bowen

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95. XX (2017)

XX consists of four shorts and a wraparound segment that are all written and directed by women (Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin, and Karyn Kusama), following female protagonists as they wrestle with exclusion and implicit social standards that may or may not extend to their male counterparts. With the exception of “Don’t Fall,” the narratives are preoccupied with motherhood, namely the way that a father can overshadow a mother without even consciously trying to, suggesting that children’s observation of this state of affairs is the first step to inoculating one into patriarchy. Binding the shorts together are a series of elegantly chilling stop-motion pieces by Sofia Carrillo, which involve dolls in various poses of death and resurrection. In this context, their blank eyes connote rage against the machine. Bowen

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94. Nightmare Cinema (2018)

The anthology film Nightmare Cinema starts almost in medias res, with Alejandro Brugués’s “The Thing in the Woods” approximating the third act of a slasher movie with style, energy, and a flair for macabre humor. Also of note is Joe Dante’s even more deranged “Mirari.” Anna (Zarah Mahler) is about to marry a handsome man (Mark Grossman) who manipulates her into undergoing plastic surgery so that she may live up to the ideal set by his mother. And the joke, a good one that recalls a famous episode of The Twilight Zone, is that Anna is already quite beautiful, though tormented by a scar running down her face. The plastic surgeon is Mirari (Richard Chamberlain), who turns out to be the orchestrator of a surreal asylum of horrors. Chamberlain is pitched perfectly over the top, lampooning his own past as a pretty boy, and Dante’s direction is loose and spry—authentically channeling the spirit of his best work. Bowen

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93. The Dark and the Wicked (2020)

Evil is a force implicitly summoned by personal dysfunction in Bryan Bertino’s films, whether it’s the failed marriage proposal of The Strangers or a mother’s alcoholism in The Monster. Bertino doubles down on familial decay in The Dark and the Wicked, a supernatural fable that elevates the subtext of his earlier work to the level of text, in the process nearly dispensing with a monster altogether. It’s an elusive freak-out in the key of a Val Lewton production, with a lonely western-like atmosphere that reflects the protagonists’ disappointments. Aiming for a mood piece in which narrative particulars and characters are secondary to an enveloping tonality of loss and regret, Bertino and cinematographer Tristan Nyby bathe a family’s farm in shadows and define it by a negative space that suggests the demanding, lonely hours of farm life, as well as offers dimensions in which a demon could be lingering anywhere. Bowen


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92. The Invisible Man (2020)

With The Invisible Man, Leigh Whannell updates H.G. Wells’s 1897 science-fiction novel to focus on the trauma inflicted on a woman, Celia (Elizabeth Moss), after she escapes her violently possessive boyfriend’s (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) clutches and attempts to begin a new life. Across a series of expertly mounted set pieces, Whannell and cinematographer Stefan Duscio recharge the haunted-house genre. Precise camera pans force viewers to anticipate the horrors lurking just off screen, pushing us to examine each corner of the frame for the movement of objects possibly being guided by the invisible man’s unseen hands. Throughout, Whannell cleverly ties form and theme: The surveillance state is literally manifested into an abusive partner, and the further the film leads Celia and, by extension, the viewer down the conspiratorial rabbit hole, its set pieces become increasingly more imaginative. Ben Flanagan

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91. Alone (2020)

Throughout Alone, director John Hyams is devoted to rendering Jessica’s (Jules Willcox) state of mind in direct physical terms with little exposition. The mountainous, wooded realms that she soon drives into appear capable of swallowing her up, as Hyams frames her car in gliding shots that contrast the unruly vastness of the land with her unmistakably suburban, impractical-in-the-wild vehicle. Hyams never whips up phony hysteria, instead counterpointing the lurid, derivative plot with detailed staging. The film has little subtext apart from the double meaning of its title, which refers to the aloneness that renders Jessica vulnerable to a horror that she must also navigate solo. But to be fair, this anonymity appears to be intentional and is resonant on its own terms. Life isn’t conveniently subtextual after all. sh*t happens, and lean, exciting genre films like this one aren’t to be taken for granted. Bowen

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90. Crimson Peak (2015)

Guillero del Toro’s decision to explicitly underline the weaknesses of his proxy in Crimson Peak belatedly exposes prior stand-ins as equally shortsighted, and in the process the director clarifies a crucial thematic through line of his filmography. In retrospect, his fantasies are the opposite of escapes from harsh reality: It’s the real world, with its war and discrimination, that intrudes on the imagination, which can conjure up impressively detailed creatures and settings, but often struggles to map the complexities of emotion and history. Del Toro’s films tend toward the mythological, which is to say they’re timeless, rooted in a deep, era-nonspecific past. When social and historical context finally breach his microcosm, they expose the rifts of immaturity and sadness of a child who knows it’s time to grow up, but cannot face adulthood. Jake Cole

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89. Insidious (2016)

Jame Wan’s Insidious is a conflation of the horror genre’s laziest tropes and visual shorthands, less film than funhouse ride, but it’s a frequently scary funhouse ride that abounds in fiercely suggestive scares. Wan leaves the faux-morality of the Saw universe at the door, then resists the urge to shoot his story’s paranormal activity with camcorders. The film subtly foreshadows a bit of important business regarding one character’s past, and its answer to Zelda Rubenstein’s Tangina is performed with persuasive naturalism by the dog-licking tan addict from There’s Something About Mary. Not that you’ll remember any of that anyway: What really sticks in the mind is its petrifying flashes of lost souls, malevolent or not, haunting the living with their grins, pointy fingers, and, sometimes unnecessarily, eager tongues. Ed Gonzalez


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88. Elizabeth Harvest (2018)

The plot convolutions of Elizabeth Harvest conjoin with director Sebastian Gutierrez’s stylistic bravura—blasts of red and blue that connote a spiritual as well as physical sense of ultraviolence—to create an incestuous atmosphere that’s reminiscent of the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Henry is a memorable monster, played by Ciarán Hinds with a bravura mixture of smug entitlement and oily needfulness that’s weirdly and unexpectedly poignant. In one of the greatest mad-scientist speeches ever delivered by a character in a horror film, Henry explains that his cloned wife (Abbey Lee) is only real to him when he destroys her. This admission chillingly crystallizes the thin line, within the male gaze, between adoration and contempt. Bowen

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87. They Came Back (2004)

They Came Back is a triumph of internal horror, and unlike M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense, Robin Campillo’s vision of the dead sharing the same space as the living isn’t predicated on a gimmicky reduction of human faith. That is, Campillo is actually willing to plumb the moral oblivion created by the collision of its two worlds. Though the fear that the film’s walking dead can turn violent at any second is completely unjustified, the writer-director allows this paranoia to reflect the feelings of loss, disassociation, and hopelessness that cripple the living. Campillo co-wrote Laurent Cantet’s Time Out, a different kind of zombie film about the deadening effects of too much work on the human psyche, and They Came Back is almost as impressive in its concern with the existential relationship between the physical and non-physical world. Gonzalez

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86. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

Santa is one bad mamma jamma in Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, a yuletide fable that’s equal parts sincere, silly, and scary. Jalmari Helander’s direction is assured in a manner that inspires flattering comparisons: his softly lit scenes of adolescent fear and fantasy, and of father-son estrangement, recall early Steven Spielberg; Pietari’s (Onni Tommila) trinket-adorned room and makeshift alarm clock feel sprung from a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film; his compassionate black comedy evokes Joe Dante’s work; and his eerie snowbound setting and premise harkens back to John Carpenter’s The Thing. This last comparison is also apt in terms of aesthetics, as Helander and cinematographer Mika Orasmaa’s widescreen compositions capture a sense of unsettling scale and unseen terror as well as, in domestic sequences, a warmth and intimacy that helps compensate for somewhat sketchy characters. Nick Schager

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85. The Monster (2016)

Bryan Bertino’s The Monster is a story of a family at a painful crossroads. In The Strangers, the writer-director exhibited a masterfully lush style that owed quite a bit to the elegant camera pirouettes of John Carpenter. Here, Bertino utilizes his command of medium for more individualized purposes. By the time that The Monster reveals itself to be a horror film, we’re so engrossed in Kathy (Zoe Kazan) and Lizzy’s (Ella Ballentine) pain that the arrival of the titular menace will strike most viewers as an authentic violation of normality, rather than as a ghoul arriving on demand per the dictates of the screenplay. The film has an eerily WTF arbitrariness that should be the domain of more films in the genre. Bowen


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84. Cam (2018)

Compulsion is but one of an array of ideas informing Daniel Goldhaber’s lithely satirical take on the present state of online sex work. Based on screenwriter Isa Mazzei’s own experiences as a cam model, the film is neither plainly sex positive nor outright cautionary in its depiction of an up-and-coming streamer, Alice (Madeline Brewer), whose account is hacked and stolen by someone appearing to be her doppelgänger. Even as Cam gives new meaning to “ghosting” when Alice watches “herself” online, the film’s strengths come from an intimate familiarity with the anxieties of trying to thrive in a gig economy. Cam is also one of the first American films to grapple with the realities of being doxed to family and friends, further demonstrating its acumen as a check on the social pulse of a particular strain of U.S. conservatism that continues to obsess over and patrol sex work and those who participate in it. Clayton Dillard

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83. The House That Jack Built (2018)

Built into the multi-leveled architecture of what already feels like Lars von Trier’s greatest film to date is a relentlessly probing self-critique. The House That Jack Built resembles, at its foundation, various other predation and victimization narratives from throughout von Trier’s filmography, stringing together vignette-like “incidents”—five in all—that depict brutal murders committed by Jack (Matt Dillon), an OCD-afflicted psychopath. But embedded within the recognizable dramaturgy of von Trier’s formally accomplished serial-killer film is the frame of an essay—an enthralling discourse on art and violence conducted through dialectical narrators and dizzying montages that smash together Glenn Gould’s music, William Blake’s poetry, fermenting grapes, Nazi concentration camps, and clips from von Trier’s other films. Mac

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82. The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015)

The Blackcoat’s Daughter has a sad, macabre integrity. Kiernan Shipka, Lucy Boynton, Emma Roberts, Lauren Holly, and James Remar are poignant in their minimalist roles, and writer-director Oz Perkins arranges their characters in a cleverly constructed narrative prism that simultaneously dramatizes violence and its aftermath in an endless chain reaction of perpetual cause and effect. And the carnage is staged with an aura of guttural bitterness that refuses to give gore-hounds their jollies, elaborating, instead, on the desolation of the characters committing the acts. When the demons appear in the film, and in terrifyingly fleeting glimpses, Perkins understands them to spring from the deepest chasms of human despair. Bowen

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81. Unsane (2018)

Steven Soderbergh embraces his inner B-movie maestro with Unsane, which uses the experience of institutionalization to probe the mores around mental health in a privatization-mad America. Few if any Hollywood-adjacent filmmakers have put as much brain power into making the digital revolution work for them as Soderbergh has, and even Unsane’s most ridiculous moments coast on the sheer energy of aesthetic gamesmanship. Shooting on an iPhone 7, he continues finding economical solutions in a pinch. Soderbergh remains a major artist at the peak of his powers, fascinated by the textures of the contemporary world—the actual one, not the one we usually pay to see at the movies. Even if he’s just flexing a new mode of production, the result is still 98 minutes of shredding, analeptic cinema. Steve Macfarlane


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80. Suspiria (2018)

Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria is, especially in visual terms, anything but a simulacrum, as its palette is more reminiscent of Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Walerian Borowczyk’s films than Argento’s neon-tinged original. The remake is, above all, a film about the terror that lingers in a European city long after its been blitzed by various catastrophes. Guadagnino uses Argento’s original as a launching pad for interrogating how the old, whether in dance or politics, often corrupts the new. Heady though it is, the film also more than delivers the genre goods. It strikes a delicate aesthetic balance between hysteria and control, most evident in an unforgettable scene in which Susie (Dakota Johnson) dances for Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), much to the bone-breaking detriment of the Markos Dance Academy’s former star. Dillard

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79. Coherence (2013)

Beginning as a more earnest Night of the Comet before swiftly morphing into an episode of the Twilight Zone without sacrificing its you-are-there vérité, Coherence is a low-budget chamber drama that firmly puts the psychological screws to its characters. It gathers four couples at a dinner party the same evening a comet passes Earth, an occurrence that severs cellular communications and cuts electricity. But when the group realizes that a house down the street still possesses power, Hugh (Hugo Armstrong) and Amir (Alex Manugian), adhering to standard scary-movie convention, go sleuthing. Once they return, though, the narrative, which had been building slowly into a haunted-house attraction, with menacing noises at the door and ominous stories about Siberia’s Tunguska Event of 1908, realigns and turns diabolically quizzical, reimagining Another Earth as a taut parlor game of possible parallel lives. Nick Prigge

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78. Titane (2021)

Julia Ducournau’s Titane expands on the filmmaker’s interest in the collision of flesh-rending violence and familial reconfiguration. It also ratchets up Raw’s combination of body-horror explicitness and art-film abstraction, making for a wild ride through a female serial killer’s techno-sexuality that would make J.G. Ballard blush. Alexia’s (Agathe Rousselle) role as a dancer who gyrates on top of expensive vehicles makes her into a sexual object for the men who flock to watch her, but for Alexia it’s clearly always been about a fusion with the metal. The pure audiovisual trippiness of Titane’s final two thirds is welcome, and the film’s exploration of corporeal transformations both willed and unwelcome—based in the alchemy of flesh, gender, and the desire for inorganic hardness—makes for some imagery that taps into deep anxieties about the uncanniness of inhabiting the fluid-filled sack that we call a body. Pat Brown

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77. November (2017)

In André Breton’s writings on surrealism, he envisions, and prescribes, a mode of fairy tale for adults rooted in juxtapositions so poetic and strange that they seem only possible in dreams. Or in the work of writer-director Rainer Sarnet, who crafts the uncanniest of fables in November. This gorgeously shot film is an intrepid portrait of an Estonian village inhabited by greedy old men, wise toothless hags, ghostly lovers, and anthropomorphic creatures made out of human hair and metal coils. November respects the logic and temporality of the unconscious. Its impenetrable storylines take shape like most of its dialogue, bearing the enigmatic sparseness of poetic stanzas or ancient spells. There’s more to be enjoyed if one gets lost in the bewildering rhythm between eerie sounds and the black-and-white imagery, instead of trying to detangle the various strands of the surreal narrative. Diego Semerene

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76. Train to Busan (2016)

Train to Busan’s scare tactics are among the most distinctive that the zombie canon has ever seen. The zombies here are rabid, fast-moving ghoulies that, as the protagonists discover, are attracted to loud sounds. This realization becomes the foundation for a series of taut set pieces during which the story’s motley crew of survivors manipulate their way past zombies with the aid of cellphones and bats and the numerous tunnels through which the train must travel. The genre crosspollination for which so many South Korean thrillers have come to be known for is most evident in these scenes (as in the survivors crawling across one train car’s overhead luggage area), which expertly blend together the tropes of survivor-horror and disaster films, as well as suggest the mechanics of puzzle-platformer games. Gonzalez

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75. In Fabric (2019)

Peter Strickland’s films are fetish objects that rue the perils of fetishism. The British filmmaker’s characters are walled off from others, channeling their longing into various acts of aestheticism, which parallels his own obsession with emulating the stylistics of the giallo, softcore p*rnography, and classic European chamber dramas. In Fabric, about a red dress that has a way of shifting its shape to perfectly emphasize the curves of whatever insecure woman is wearing it, finds Strickland doubling down on these qualities, mounting a gorgeous and lonely horror film that expresses emotion via a series of increasingly abstract motifs. Strickland allows his dreamy atmosphere to take over the film, as the characters are eaten alive by their hungers and uncertainties, though this free-floating reverie has a moralistic streak. Bowen

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74. You’re Next (2013)

The way in which Adam Wingard is able to balance You’re Next’s tonal irony is a towering triumph all its own, the film’s precarious blend of real terror, situational comedy, abrupt shocks, and perfectly lousy deadpanning besting that of Scream and virtually anything similar that’s come since. Working from a script by frequent collaborator Simon Barrett, Wingard quickly establishes his conceit, brazenly merging the home-invasion thriller with the dysfunctional family dramedy. The approach feels novel, giving the potential victims a whole new layer of shared, messy history, and regardless of the level of humor suffusing a given scene, it keeps the stakes sky-high, as a character seeing his mother stabbed in the face with a machete is a lot different than one seeing his high school friend gutted. R. Kurt Osenlund

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73. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (2021)

Jane Schoenbrun’s We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is primarily preoccupied with the existential dimensions of a girl’s crushing loneliness. This is a film that memorably gets under the skin—and literally so in one scene where Casey (Anna Cobb) views a video of a man grotesquely pulling a string of tickets out from his forearm. Schoenbrun, whose 2018 documentary A Self-Induced Hallucination is a collage of YouTube clips that delve into the Slender Man phenomenon, whips up tension from the randomness and anonymity of the videos and images that we regularly stumble upon. As Casey listens to playlists and watches an assortment of odd, contextless video clips, each one flowing into one another, you can’t help but get swept up in the sheer arbitrariness of this content overload. Mark Hanson


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72. 28 Weeks Later (2007)

28 Weeks Later rolls in like a poisonous dust cloud of nihilism. The everyman hero this time around is Don (Robert Carlyle), who thinks he and his wife (Catherine McCormack) are safe in their wee rural cottage when the rage virus transforms most of mainland Britain into shrieking, blood-vomiting zombies that sprint head-on at their victims. The film’s thesis is that the War on Terror is ultimately a self-destructive one for all concerned, from the bullying authority figures to the demoralized combat soldiers to the fractured family units. Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo seems to place his empathy with the recently infected. Much like Philip Kaufman’s remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, there’s an understanding for what it means to be human—and the magic that is lost when that humanity is stripped away. Jeremiah Kipp

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71. 1922 (2017)

In 1922, Wilfred James (Thomas Jane) initially scans as a broadly brutish characterization given by an actor looking to disrupt his handsomely aloof image, though Jane’s dramatization of rage is haunting and shrewdly comical in its overt and ultimately moving über-manliness. The casual violence of Wilfred’s physicality is subtly calibrated, particularly the tension in his muscled back as he drinks lemonade on the porch after a hard day of murder. Complementing Jane’s portrait of coiled wrath, Molly Parker physicalizes the fear that informs every minute wrinkle of Arlette’s relationship with her husband, which the character attempts to paper over with bravado, inadvertently sealing her doom. Arlette is one of countless women who’re damned if they do and if they don’t, yet somehow the men are able to rationalize themselves as the victims. 1922 informs Stephen King’s pulp feminism with primordial, biblically ugly force. Bowen

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70. Them (2006)

Hoody-clad sad*sts attack a couple, alone in their country home. That’s all the setup that co-writers/directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud need to dredge up some uniquely discomfiting chills. You won’t be able to shake Them after seeing it because it’s scary without being grisly or full of cheap jump scares. Instead, it’s a marvel of precise timing and action choreography. The silence that deadens the air between each new assault becomes more and more disquieting as the film goes on. Likewise, the house where Them is primarily set in seems to grow bigger with each new hole the film’s villains tear out of. To get the maximum effect, be sure to watch this one at night; just don’t watch it alone. Simon Abrams

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69. Black Death (2010)

Grim aesthetics and an even grimmer worldview define Black Death, in which ardent piousness and defiant paganism both prove paths toward violence, hypocrisy, and hell. Christopher Smith’s 14th-century period piece exudes an oppressive sense of physical, spiritual, and atmospheric weight, with grimy doom hanging in the air like the fog enshrouding its dense forests. His story concerns a gang of thugs, torturers, and killers led by Ulric (Sean Bean), a devout soldier commissioned by the church to visit the lone, remote town in the land not afflicted by a fatal pestilence, where a necromancer is suspected of raising the dead. The film charts the crew’s journey into a misty netherworld where the viciousness of man seems constantly matched by divine cruelty, even as the role of God’s hand—in the pestilence, and in the personal affairs of individuals—remains throughout tantalizingly oblique. Schager


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68. Unfriended (2014)

The computer screen to which we’re exclusively moored throughout Levan Gabriadze’s Unfriended belongs to Blaire (Shelly Hennig), a popular high school girl who likes to while away her evenings listening to Spotify while she Skypes with her oft-shirtless boyfriend. One night their video chat is intruded on by several of their classmates—along with a pictureless mystery caller. It soon transpires that the caller in question is Laura Barnes, a former friend of Blaire’s who committed suicide after an embarrassing video went viral, apparently back from the grave to take digital revenge. There’s a ripped-from-the-headlines quality to all of this, but the purpose isn’t merely to sensationalize. Turns out, there are very real, very relevant contemporary anxieties coursing through this story, lending the horror a provocative charge. This is the rare breed of horror film to invent a gimmick and perfect it all at once. Calum Marsh

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67. The Neon Demon (2016)

Nicolas Winding Refn is such a manicured stylist that a horror thriller set in the fashion world seems like the perfect project for the Danish director. And The Neon Demon, a propulsive vehicle for lavish Eurotrash-y images, like the prismatic one of Elle Fanning feigning a make-out session with two of her diamond-refracted reflections, at first plays like a slicker version of Darren Aranofsky’s Black Swan—a formidable piece of cool, giallo-inspired genre work. Fanning’s subtle combination of the fair and the feral is the perfect pose for a film that essentially forgoes horror tropes for a compelling look at beauty in constant but unrealized peril. In fact, The Neon Demon’s best moments play on this tension, like the strobe-lit sequence that lights faces as they glower in frozen formation on the dance floor of a club. Mac

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66. The Hole in the Ground (2019)

Quite a bit of the fun of Lee Cronin’s The Hole in the Ground offers a smorgasbord of portentous elements that include a crone by the roadside, the titular hole, a pointed reference to Sarah’s (Seána Kerslake) medication, and Chris’s (James Quinn Markey) newfound sense of inhuman formality. There’s also a past atrocity that haunts Sarah and Chris’s new residence. Yet the film gradually becomes something more than a mixtape of horror gimmicks, as it homes in on a frightening real-world subtext. Chris’s changing behaviors, which include chillingly crawling on the floor of his room like an animal and eating a large spider, are rooted in the distance that comes between Sarah and Chris after they leave Sarah’s abusive husband. There’s an unspoken sense that Sarah’s arising revulsion with her son may be rooted in how he reminds her of his father, and there’s a particularly moving scene where we see Sarah’s disgust with Chris as he eats spaghetti, which Cronin frames in a cruelly unflattering close-up. Bowen

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65. Come True (2021)

Anthony Scott Burns’s Come True specializes in the sense of powerlessness that makes nightmares so terrifying. Burns trades jump scares for slow POV tracking shots, their inexorable drifting movement plunging us into shadows where Jungian archetypes hang upside down and the silhouette awaits with glowing eyes. This device reproduces the feebleness experienced by the angst-ridden Sarah (Julia Sarah Stone) during sleep paralysis, that state in which dreamers are, say, confronted by an incubus, and attempt to scream or jerk awake but find their muscles unresponsive. Rather than subjecting dreams to the logic of narrative cinema, which would neutralize their potential to both fascinate and terrorize, Burns allows his subject matter to suggest all manner of formal deviations from genre expectations. William Repass


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64. Neighboring Sounds (2012)

Less social critique than abstract deconstruction, Kleber Mendonca Filho’s Neighboring Sounds is very much about the power of the cinema not to deliver, but to portend, and to that end its gears are always turning. Its sublime sound design, emerging at the intersection of ambient noise and musique concrete, offers a case study for how to suggest the existence of horrors we never see. Filho understands that an atmosphere of palpable dread sustains tension better than more sensational explication, and his commitment to withholding is, without exaggeration, worthy of Hitchco*ck. That it more or less forgoes the spectacle of an anticipated resolution is a necessary consequence of its methods; in other words, for Filho, process rather than payoff is the point. As Recife’s idle rich flaunt their privilege as lowly laborers circle them like sharks, conflict seems a guarantee. But the bubble of complacency in which these characters live doesn’t need to be punctured by violence. The status quo is damning enough. Marsh

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63. The Invitation (2015)

Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation filters every one of its sinister narrative developments through Will’s (Logan Marshall-Green) unreliable perspective. Returning to the rambling house where he and Eden (Tammy Blanchard) once lived for the first time since the death of their son, Will finds himself inundated anew by his heartache, and the film, which otherwise hews to crisp, clean realism, is run through with these painful stabs of memory. Eden slashes her wrists in the kitchen sink, the sounds of children playing emanate from the empty yard, inane talk of the internet’s funny cats and penguins becomes white noise against Will’s screaming: The question of whether or not to trust his sense of foreboding is perhaps not so open as Kusama and company might wish, but against the terrors of continuing on after losing a child, the issue of narrative suspense is almost immaterial. Matt Brennan

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62. Mulholland Drive (2001)

David Lynch’s meta noir Mulholland Drive literalizes the theory of surrealism as perpetual dream state. Told as it is using a highly symbolic language of dreams, this bloody valentine to Los Angeles leaves one feeling groggy, confused, looking forward and back, hankering to pass again through its serpentine hall of mirrors until all its secrets have been unpacked. Whether Mulholland Drive anticipated the YouTube Age we live in (and which Inland Empire’s digital punk poetics perfectly embody) is up for debate, but there’s no doubt that this movie-movie will continue to haunt us long after Lynch has moved on to shooting pictures using the tools of whatever new film medium awaits us—tools that he will have helped to revolutionize. Gonzalez

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61. Hereditary (2018)

The first half of Ari Aster’s Hereditary establishes Annie’s (Toni Collette) grief and decades-long mental illness to set up the arrival of the Caligari-like Joan (Ann Dowd). Although Joan seems like an honest and empathetic woman, she’s actually a deceitful minion of Paimon, an avaricious king whom Annie accidentally helps to conjure from the dead. Hereditary is chock-full of citations to other classic horror films that take as their themes the manipulation of women as mothers and wives. When Annie, deep in the haze of misbegotten conviction, tells her son, “I’m the only one who can fix this,” she’s trying to rectify the sense of maternal guilt she feels for her daughter’s death. She’s also invoking Donald Trump’s claim from a July 2016 rally, when he said in reference to law and order: “I alone can fix it.” Fallen prey to the circ*mstances of her own deception, Annie speaks the self-defeating logic inherited from her manipulator. Dillard


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60. Sinister (2012)

Scott Derrickson’s Sinister isn’t a period piece, but by directing its attention backward it brackets its chosen tech-horror particulars as products of a bygone era. Much like Nakata Hideo’s Ringu, it concerns a cursed film whose audience dies after exposure to it, but here the curse is disseminated not by clunky videotape, but by a box of 8mm films. The projector, more than simply outmoded, is regarded here as practically archaic, and Sinister makes quite a show of the mechanics of the machine, soaking in the localized details and milking them for their weighty physicality. Even the format’s deficiencies, from the rickety hum of sprockets to the instability of the frame, are savored by what seems like a nostalgic impulse—a fondness for the old-fashioned that even transforms the rough, granular quality of the haunted films themselves into something like pointillist paintings of the macabre. Marsh

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59. Maniac (2012)

Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac begins with a psychopath’s synth-tastically scored stalking of a party girl back to her apartment, outside which he cuts her frightened scream short by driving a knife up into her head through her jaw. The film delights in capturing the mood of an exploitation cheapie before latching onto and running with the conceit only halfheartedly employed by William Lustig in the 1980 original, framing the titular maniac’s killing spree—this time set in Los Angeles—almost entirely from his point of view. A gimmick, yes, but more than just a means of superficially keying us into the psyche of the main character, Frank, an antique mannequin salesman played memorably by a minimally seen Elijah Wood. As in Rob Zombie’s Halloween II, this approach becomes a provocative means of sympathizing with the devil. Gonzalez

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58. Depraved (2019)

What does a Frankenstein figure look like today? According to Larry Fessenden’s Depraved, he’s a once-noble guy set adrift by male ego and shady benefactors. The film paints multiple psychological portraits that are sad, angry, and strangely beautiful. It shows us the mind of not just PTSD-afflicted field surgeon Henry (David Call), but also that of his sewn-together “monster,” Adam (Alex Breaux), and his assistant and Big Pharma bankroller (Joshua Leonard). Throughout, the film remains firmly focused on its thesis of Frankenstein as a lens for examining modern society. Fessenden diagnoses the rot of our era through these solipsistic men that pour their prejudices and their insecurities into Adam, an open book eventually read back to its authors with a violence they cultivated themselves. Scaife

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57. Us (2019)

Jordan Peele’s Us suggests C.H.U.D. for the Donald Trump era. Even though it’s not as tidily satisfying as Get Out, it’s both darker and more ambitious, and broader in its themes. This film’s African-American characters also come under assault not in the inner cities of the white imagination, but in supposedly safer upper-class suburban spaces. But Us also moves past such racial themes. The shadow vengeance meted upon the Wilsons is in fact a plague, and it’s one that touches every family in Peele’s film. In Us, Peele is less concerned with blackness than he is economics, as the howling, homicidal doubles that torment the Wilsons represent an avenging under class. “What are you people?” Gabe (Winston Duke) asks when the terror begins. “We’re Americans!” his wife’s double (Lupita Nyong’o) hisses. It’s tempting, then, to read these Americans as the embittered Trump base, rising up to destroy the false idyll that was the comfort—for some, at least—of the American status quo. Henry Stewart


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56. The Descent (2005)

Writer-director Neil Marshall’s The Descent is a surprisingly confident and pleasurable genre exercise. Its memorable qualities include a relatively convincing, detailed portrait of climbing and spelunking; imaginative, canny, claustrophobic use of nearly total darkness within a cave system; a refreshingly simple monster; and performances that are tough and pared of any pointless histrionics. There’s even a little subtext to it: The brutal, well-edited, and intense attacks have rape connotations, and the cast slowly splinters, not only from the beasties, but from a past infidelity that haunts them. The Descent is a battle-of-the-sexes picture with an all-female cast—a clever achievement on the part of its maker. Bowen

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55. Swallow (2019)

Writer-director Carlo Mirabella-Davis’s Swallow pivots on a queasy premise: the uncontrollable urge of a young trophy wife, Hunter (Haley Bennett), to swallow inedible objects. The film is initially marked by a driving tension, as the audience is led to wonder just how awful and crazy Hunter’s habit will become. It’s never as gross as one might fear, as Mirabella-Davis is less interested in shock-jock flourishes than in sincerely rendering Hunter’s physical pain and mental anguish; like Mike Flanagan, Mirabella-Davis is the rare humanist horror filmmaker. As such, Hunter’s violent choking—the most disturbing detail in the film—becomes a piercing affirmation of her struggle to feel something and be seen. Bowen

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54. Mom and Dad (2017)

Brian Taylor’s Mom and Dad invests a hoary conceit with disturbing and hilarious lunacy. Unfolding over the course of a long day, the film follows parents as they’re driven to kill their children in a mass outbreak of violence. Taylor suggests that casual hostility within the family unit is the real normal, buried underneath an ornate series of social pretenses. Photographed by Daniel Pearl (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), the film’s images have a gritty sense of overexposure, while the editing fuses multiple timelines while parodying the internet-surfing ADD of the modern world, propelling the narrative forward while fostering a tone of cheeky debauchment. Taylor stages violence with an unmooring sense of bodily concussion—which is rendered all the more disturbing by the film’s nasty comic streak. Bowen

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53. The Babadook (Jennifer Kent)

As Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook gathers steam, it becomes thrillingly apparent that its seemingly rote setup is in service of an astonishingly assured experiment—a two-way prism of narrative layering that draws out its leads’ fractured psyches and reflects them in the jagged remnants of the genre trappings we’ve been conditioned to expect. It’s a shattering psychological study whose supernatural aspect is a mere catalyst or perhaps even misdirection. None of which is to imply that the film fails to register as horror. It pegs the establishing mood at an eerie thrum and slowly escalates it to the sustained shriek of Grand Guignol madness that’s the third act. For all her upending of horror templates, Kent acknowledges the tropes first, steeping The Babadook in a century of filmic fantasy and re-appropriating genre iconography as manifestations of the characters’ intensifying dread. Abhimanyu Das


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52. Before I Wake (2016)

Mike Flanagan’s Before I Wake hints at a remarkably cruel psychodrama, physicalizing one of the worst and most common fears that orphans share: that they’re awful and unlovable, and therefore undeserving of parents. This fear is similar to the terror that parents have of inadvertently destroying or disappointing their children, and Flanagan unites these anxieties with a ghoulishly inventive plot turn that he doesn’t fully explore. Flanagan is deeply invested in Cody’s (Jacob Tremblay) welfare, to the point of rigidly signifying the various manifestations of the boy’s nightmares, pigeonholing irrationality into a rational framework so as to justify a moving yet literal-minded finale. Chaos could’ve opened Before I Wake up, allowing it to breathe, though Flanagan’s beautiful and empathetic film cannot be taken for granted. Bowen

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51. Piranha 3D (2010)

Piranha 3D tips its cap to Jaws with an opening appearance by Richard Dreyfusss, yet the true ancestors of Alexandre Aja’s latest are less Steven Spielberg’s classic (and Joe Dante and Roger Corman’s more politically inclined 1978 original Piranha) than 1980s-era slasher films. Unapologetically giddy about its gratuitous crassness, Aja’s B movie operates by constantly winking at its audience, and while such self-consciousness diffuses any serious sense of terror, it also amplifies the rollicking comedy of its over-the-top insanity. Aja’s gimmicky use of 3D is self-aware, and the obscene gore of the proceedings is, like its softcore jokiness, so extreme and campy—epitomized by a hair-caught-in-propeller scalping—that the trashy, merciless Piranha 3D proves a worthy heir to its brazen exploitation-cinema forefathers. Schager

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50. Terrifier 2 (2022)

Damien Leone’s profoundly violent and at best amoral Terrifier 2 is rotgut sucked straight from the bottom of the barrel, which in this case is the history of the slasher film in all its incarnations. The best joke, though, is that the film is well-made, which means you can’t quite write it off. Following Art the Clown, an invincible serial killer who resembles a gargoyle in kabuki paint, Leone unleashes several authentically surreal and unsettling set pieces, particularly a long detour through a deranged children’s show that should shame the neutered scares of the recent It films. Most chillingly, David Howard Thornton’s unerringly precise performance as Art draws an explicit connection between Art’s killing and his, well, clowning. For this clown, murder is hilarious, and Thornton leans into that notion without mercy, turning Art’s heartlessness into kinesthetic slapstick art. Bowen

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49. Talk to Me (2023)

Danny and Michael Philippou’s Talk to Me manages to proffer a new spin on the trope of demonic possession, which is no small feat considering that it’s been with us since the advent of storytelling itself. In the film, possession is utilized by bored teens as a new party drug, as a dare to assert their brazen bona fides on social media. The film’s major achievement is how it manages to ground possession in the reality of modern teenage life. A middle-aged parent can watch this film and find the behavior of its protagonists too plausible for comfort. The disassociation that the characters describe while possessed, which they enjoy, sounds like the disembodiment that one seeks from drug use or, once again, social media. Knowing they’re onto a potent metaphor, the Philippous keep their narrative simple, refusing to clutter Talk to Me with the thickets of subplot and backstory that often weigh down horror films. The film has a free-floating, nearly intangible sense of unease that greatly serves it. Bowen


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48. 28 Days Later (2002)

Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later is a post-apocalyptic zombie movie indebted to the traditions of John Wyndham and George A. Romero. A marvel of economic storytelling, the film follows a handful of survivors that evaded a deadly “Rage” virus that tore across England, the riots and destruction that ensued, and the legion of infected victims who roam the streets at night for human meat. A bleak journey through an underground tunnel brings to mind one of the finest chapters in Stephen King’s The Stand; similar such references are far from being smug in-jokes, but rather uniquely appreciative of previous horror texts. The virus itself feels particularly topical in our angry modern times. But maybe the more apt metaphor is that anyone who’s struggled through a grouchy, apocalyptic mood during 28 days of withdrawal will find their hostile sentiments reflected in this anger-fueled nightmare odyssey. Kipp

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47. A Quiet Place (2018)

The big bad at the center of John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place is a species of flesh-eating hellion that happens to be blind, and thus its potential prey can evade capture by being silent at all times. When the bonds between the Abbotts are tested by the external threat of the alien invaders, the viscerally physical ways in which they protect each other from harm are powerful, and it becomes clear that these characters have had to learn different and perhaps more subtle methods of communication due to the circ*mstances in which they’ve found themselves. The pleasure of the film is in Krasinski’s commitment to imagining the resourceful ways in which a family like this might survive in this kind of world, then bearing witness to the filmmaker’s skillfully constructed methods of putting them to the ultimate test, relentlessly breaking down all of the walls the family has erected to keep the monsters out. Richard Scott Larson

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46. Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

If a horror film can be reasonably likened to a bear trap, then the audience’s enjoyment, with exceptions, probably resides mostly in the first two acts as the filmmakers go about gradually winding and setting the spring. With Berberian Sound Studio, writer-director Peter Strickland has found an unusual solution for providing a catharsis that doesn’t compromise the dread he’s conjured: He doesn’t provide one at all, and that violation of narrative expectation is more disturbing than the emergence of a third-act ghoulie. In fact, one can reasonably assert that Berberian Sound Studio isn’t so much a horror film as an unusual workplace drama that follows a hero who’s having a very bad professional go of things. Bowen

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45. Let Me In (2010)

Matt Reeves’s amplification of Let the Right One In’s study of human loneliness and the prickly crawlspace between adolescence and adulthood isn’t even his greatest coup; it’s Let Me In’s rooting of its story in March 1983, in a bleak region of New Mexico where no one moves to, only runs away from. Reeves, who wasn’t too much older than Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) in that year, foregrounds a televised speech that Ronald Reagan gave around that time (his budgetary-obsessed Star Wars one, no doubt), so that Let Me In becomes impossible to read just as story of a boy who feels awfully lonely. By setting the story in this time of brutal economic discontent, of rampant divorce among baby boomers, Reeves gives the film great gravitas, conflating the political with human feeling so that Owen’s struggle becomes that of an entire nation of suffering, desperate, naïve people looking for a savior. Gonzalez


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44. Pontypool (2008)

As rabble-rousing talk radio host Grant Mazzy, Stephen McHattie has a voice like a baritone snake, equal parts silky and sinister, and it’s the main attraction of Pontypool, Bruce McDonald’s adaptation of Tony Burgess’s novel Pontypool Changes Everything. When his A.M. gig reporting school closings and interviewing clownish local theater troupes is interrupted by reports of unruly mobs tearing people to shreds with their mouths, he and the radio station’s producer (Lisa Houle) and technician (Georgina Reilly) attempt to make sense of the apparent mayhem brewing outside, the cause of which eventually turns out to be the spoken word itself. Talk Radio by way of George A. Romero, the film implies that terms of endearment, baby gibberish, and military-related talk—all of which seem to be particularly contagious—have been so misused as to have dangerously lost all meaning. Schager

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43. Suicide Club (2001)

Sono Sion kicks off Suicide Club with one of the great openers in 21st-century horror cinema: Holding hands and chanting “a one and a two,” 50 uniformed Japanese high school girls throw themselves under a subway train, drenching bystanders in gouts and gallons of gore. Investigations into the ensuing outbreak of teenage suicide pacts, headed by Detective Kuroda (Ishibashi Ryô), leads to a girl group disseminating hidden messages that exhort listeners to snuff it, concealed in the media blitzkrieg surrounding their megahit “Mail Me.” Suicide Club at times deepens into an existential inquiry, even if it raises more questions about social media manipulation and interpersonal disconnect than it can hope to answer. An outrageous finale takes its audience behind the music, and through the looking glass, into a harsh realm filled with gerbils, raincoat-clad tykes, and new uses for woodworking tools. Wilkins

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42. Drag Me to Hell (2009)

Many horror films from the 2000s are so eager to splatter and slice their way into our hearts that they end up covering their canvases in bloody clichés. Not so with Sam Raimi’s masterfully paced throwback, which is smart enough to withhold its more disturbing visceral elements until the very last moment. This directorial restraint allows the perfectly calibrated sound design and dread-inducing mise-en-scène to drive the viewer mad with anticipation. Anchored by Allison Lohman’s brilliant performance as a loan officer fated for Hades’s gallows, Drag Me to Hell is as much about greed as it is culpability, or more specifically our arrogant attempts to cover up sin even when the devil herself is staring us down. Glenn Heath Jr.

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41. Oculus (2013)

Oculus begins in dreams before freely hopscotching between Kaylie (Karen Gillan) and Tim’s (Brenton Thwaites) present-day sleuthing and the horrors that, 11 long years ago, sent her to foster care and him to a mental institution. Through a mini-triumph of montage, what begins as run-of-the-mill backstory vomit is thrillingly repackaged as an almost-Lynchian duet between warring states of consciousness. The story’s antique wall mirror, as it tightens its grip on the brother and sister, forces them to waltz alongside their younger selves during their parents’ (Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane) last days, and subsequently the depth of the siblings’ fraught relationship to their shared past is put into poignant focus. Throughout, Mike Flanagan’s keying of his formalist frights to his characters’ subjectivities makes Oculus both a scarier and wittier haunted-house attraction than James Wan’s The Conjuring. Gonzalez


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40. The Sadness (2021)

Imagine a remake of 28 Days Later by Takashi Miike and you’re close to capturing the uproarious tastelessness of Rob Jabbaz’s The Sadness. Understanding that the human protagonists are usually the least interesting part of a zombie movie, Jabbaz delivers the ghoulie hurlyburly in ultraviolent spades, as if to give the finger to the increasingly preachy horror genre. When people, especially men, become infected, they revert to their basest selves, acting on the sort of primordial resentments and cruelties that have been outed by #MeToo. The zombies also revel in the bitterness that social media purposefully strokes, ensuring that we remain angry and divided little consumers. The creatures want what they want right now, regardless of who’s destroyed along the way, and by damn they’re going to get it. They take online bloodletting, and its attendant selfishness and demonizing of others, to its most extreme and literal realm. The Sadness makes horror dangerous again. Bowen

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39. Midsommar (2019)

Anybody who’s seen Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man or similar folk horror films will hardly be surprised by any of the plot turns in writer-director Ari Aster’s Midsommar. From early on, there’s no doubt that the pagan rituals at the film’s center will spell doom for the group of friends who visit rural Sweden in a quasi-anthropological attempt to observe a cult’s summer solstice festival. The film masterfully builds itself around the inevitability of a mass terror, aligning our foreknowledge of that with the anxiety felt by the main character, Dani (Florence Pugh), in the wake of a recent family tragedy. The result is a deeply unnerving film about the indissoluble, somehow archaic bond between self and family—one more psychologically robust than Aster’s similarly themed Hereditary. And it’s also very funny. Brown

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38. Amer (2009)

In making Amer as cold, calculating, and totally transfixing as they have, writer-directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani have manically constructed what may be called a super giallo. Full of free-floating signifiers of victims watching killers, killers watching victims, and victims becoming killers, the film is essentially an academic’s tract on how the giallo functions as a genre. And yet, it’s edited so masterfully and filmed with such a sad*stically attentive eye for detail that it never feels stiff. Every scene has a new color scheme, a new way to visually process sexual identification. The film’s narrative progression—the first act is in the key of Bava, the second in the key of Fulci, and the third in the key of Argento—is subsequently relentless while its dazzling kaleidoscopic aesthetic calls attention to its filmmakers’ brash know-how. It’s the ultimate cinematic fetish object—all close-ups, no mercy. Abrams

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37. Memories of Murder (2004)

In Memories of Murder, Bong Joon-ho forges an extraordinary tapestry of tones and metaphorical patterns. Torture scenes are audaciously staged as slapstick, placing us in the blinkered mindsets of the detectives perpetrating them, while moments of office research and investigation intermingle with passages of beautiful and brutal expressionism, as well as droll workplace shenanigans. The three detectives at the center of this film are all-too-believably human: simultaneously vile, buffoonish, poignant, and even occasionally heroic. The clash of their personalities initially suggests the sort of inter-departmental conflicts that are traditional to police thrillers, but Bong continually tweaks our expectations. In fact, the endless tedium and terror of tracking an elusive serial killer and rapist of young women gradually causes the detectives’ personalities to merge and even switch. And Bong allows their unmooring to subtly stand in for the anxiety of South Korea at large. Bowen


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36. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)

Writer-director Kim Jee-woon burst onto the K-horror field with this fractured retelling of a traditional Korean folktale. Siblings Su-mi (Im Soo-jung) and Su-yeon (Moon Geun-young) chafe under the tyrannous yoke of their aloof stepmother (Yum Jung-ah). Or do they? Because A Tale of Two Sisters is nothing if not unclear: Kim calculatingly blurs the boundaries between past and present, dream and reality, bombarding viewers with a kaleidoscopic blur of spectral apparitions and sudden violence that’s likely to leave viewers as terminally confused as young Su-mi. Mining the same vein of menstrual horror as the far more streamlined Carrie, Kim’s film doubles down on De Palma, cheekily suggesting its various haunted recesses—a linen closet, the dank space beneath the kitchen sink—as metaphorical vagin* substitutes. Wilkins

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35. Demon (2015)

In Demon, Marcin Wrona captures the ineffable wrongness that drives a classic tale of the supernatural, which is typically occupied with the slight perversion of the banal. The tracking shots across the water, as Piotr (Itay Tiran) rides the ferry to a Polish village, where the buildings are in disrepair and the roads are empty, are frightening because water is often used in this sort of horror fiction as a symbol of a vast, submerged dimension from which something is waiting to spring. This impression is heightened by images that soon follow of a rock quarry near the construction site overseen by Zaneta’s (Agnieszka Zulewska) father, which are rendered with an unsettlingly explicit sense of simultaneous verticality and horizontality. We’re meant to sense, without a shred of exposition, that something primordial is being disrupted. Bowen

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34. Possessor (2020)

Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor is obsessed with tensions between mind and body, and old and new technologies. An analog man in a digital world, Cronenberg invests a narrative along the lines of his father David’s eXistenZ and Christopher Nolan’s Inception with psychedelic imagery and jolts of gouging, bone-splitting, unambiguously in-camera body horror that rival anything in modern cinema for tactility and pure outrageousness. In the process, he imbues Possessor with a disturbing irony: The film’s violence serves as a kind of relief for its perpetrators, who’re displaced by technological doodads and come to long for tangibility, corporeal terra firma, no matter how perverse. Cronenberg represents new-school displacement via old-school effects, refuting the everything-digital flim flam of more polished, “respectable” productions. Bowen

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33. Blade II (2002)

With Blade II, Guillermo del Toro morphs the eponymous vampire hunter into the king of all insects. Even when del Toro is under studio control, there’s no suppressing his spiritual, entomological freaky-deakyness. He is a tortured lover of myths. He’s the fallen Catholic easily enamored by the stained-glass worldview of fairy-tale empires at the brink of destruction. In Blade II, signature del Toro obsessions are on fierce display: a monarch’s fear of aging, his incessant desire to suspend time, and his messianic opponent’s own conflicted sense of past and future. In the film, del Toro places less emphasis on the decadence of the vampire lifestyle than he does on the societal effects of its widening plague. Luke Goss’s Nomak asks in one scene: “Is the enemy of my enemy my friend?” What first seems like a cut-and-dry moral dilemma becomes an awesome, cautionary tale against cultural hom*ogenization. Gonzalez


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32. Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Edgar Wright often concedes in his work that life is complicated and exhausting. The stuff we deal with every day, from relationships to familial responsibility to even just getting up for work in the morning, makes fending off zombies or cultists or straightforward baddies of any kind seem preferable. In the short-lived Channel 4 series Spaced, the struggle of two creatives to claw their way out of dead-end minimum-wage jobs and see their loftier professional ambitions realized was tempered by retreats into pop-culture daydreams, where reality might look like Murder, She Wrote one moment and Resident Evil 2 the next. Shaun of the Dead took this device a step further: When a breakup disrupts the complacent man-child bubble of its hero, zombies arrive to disrupt the whole world along with it, reframing one man’s personal efforts to grow and learn the value of responsibility as a more literal question of life and death. Marsh

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31. [Rec] (2007)

Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza give the enervated “found footage” genre a fresh infusion of creditability by splicing together strands of the ungovernable viral epidemic from 28 Days Later and The Evil Dead series’s fixation on sudden demonic conversion. An innocuous documentary on firefighters leads reporter Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) to an apartment building whose residents are quickly succumbing to some kind of plague. With its lean-and-mean 75-minute running time, [REC] unreels almost in real time, giving viewers precious little breathing room between increasingly ferocious attacks. As the survivors fight their way toward the penthouse, surely there’s some diabolical revelation at hand. What’s more, the film’s final image of a woman dragged off into all-consuming darkness has been endlessly imitated ever since. Wilkins

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30. The Lords of Salem (2012)

Crones as a manifestation of the internal ugliness we imagine of ourselves, while at the mercy of our blackest self-loathing, aren’t new. David Lynch has practically trademarked this kind of symbology, but Rob Zombie makes it his own, and he appears to be liberated by the challenge of largely reining in his wildly in-your-face aesthetic for the sake of following the lower-key tropes of the satanic-possession film. There’s a sense of contained restless energy in The Lords of Salem that’s introduced by Zombie’s deliberate camera movements and exasperated by the film’s flamboyant sense of chaotically cluttered architecture. With their busy, ugly wallpaper and stifling over-abundance of bric-a-brac, the rooms in this film often appear to be on the verge of swallowing poor Heidi Hawthorne (Sheri Moon-Zombie) alive. And, of course, they are. Bowen

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29. Unfriended: Dark Web (2018)

Stephen Susco’s Unfriended: Dark Web explores how such essential modern tools as laptops, phones, and Skype can be turned against us by unseen forces. Like its predecessor, the film plays out in real time, only this time it drops its main character into the darkest corners of the internet, where life is cheap and everything’s a game. Susco makes full use of the restrictions of the film’s format, employing multiple windows and digital glitches to juice up the suspense. If certain plot points require some fairly significant suspension of disbelief, the film’s vision of a world in which we’re all being manipulated by our cherished products nevertheless rings chillingly true. We aren’t, as the ubiquitous Microsoft commercial would have us believe, living in the future we always dreamed of, but rather in a nightmare of our own design. Keith Watson


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28. The Witch (2015)

Robert Eggers does an admirable job of synchronizing The Witch’s paranormal and domestic spheres, setting up a vice-grip scenario in which Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) has no possibility of escape. Her family’s religious practices are as domineering as the forlorn, featureless landscape that surrounds her, and this atmosphere only grows more stifling as the family pins blame on the girl for their mounting misfortunes. Positioning itself among a specific vein of highbrow phantasmagoric spiritualism, the film owes a serious debt to the unsettling ambiance of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror, Roman Polanski’s politically tinged psychological thrillers, and Ken Russell’s gonzo period pieces, like The Devils. But by allowing the monster to win, the film overcomes the sense of familiarity, as its reworking of a tired horror trope into a transformed feminist symbol stands out as an impressive act of genre revisionism. Jesse Cataldo

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27. Inside (2007)

Filmmakers Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury announce their disregard for all notions of restraint with their opening image of a severe car accident as seen and experienced by an unborn child. One moment the child is soothed by his mother’s loving, if alarming, words, the next he’s throttled, blood rising and floating from the inside. The film is driven by this accident, and what follows is the most potent exploitation of unyielding, inexplicable violation outside of Miike Takashi’s Audition. The violence is ghastly and apt thematically: Tides of blood flow and spurt, hauntingly confirming a terrified young woman’s most forbidden nightmares. Bowen

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26. Session 9 (2001)

As in real estate, the three most important factors in Brad Anderson’s Session 9 are location, location, location. The film hits upon something special with the Danvers State Mental Hospital, whose sprawling edifice looms large over the narrative: A motley crew of asbestos-removal workers, led by matrimonially challenged Gordon (Peter Mullan), run afoul of a baleful, possibly supernatural, influence within its decaying walls. Anderson uses to brilliant effect a series of archived audio recordings—leading up to the titular “breakthrough” session—that document a disturbing case of split personality. While the film doesn’t entirely stick its murderous finale, no one who hears those scarifying final lines of dialogue will soon forget them. Wilkins

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25. The Guest (2014)

The Guest is carried by an intense and surprising mood of erotic melancholia. Adam Wingard leans real heavy on 1980s—or 1980s-sounding—music in the grandly, outwardly wounded emotional register of Joy Division, and he accompanies the music with visual sequences that sometimes appear to stop in their tracks for the sake of absorbing the soundtrack. The film is a nostalgia act for sure, undeniably recalling Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher, but it injects that nostalgia with something hard, sad, and contemporary, or, perhaps more accurately, it reveals that our hang-ups—disenfranchisem*nt, rootlessness, war-mongering, hypocritical evasion—haven’t changed all that much since the 1980s, or ever. Bowen


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24. Bug (2006)

Bug, an intense little chamber play of blossoming madness, allowed William Friedkin to put his characteristic screws to both his characters and his audience while nearly achieving a poignancy that only heightens the horror. Your enjoyment of the film may depend on whether or not you buy how quickly Ashley Judd succumbs to paranoia and insanity. I didn’t buy it, but the film’s relentlessness overcomes the occasionally stagy absurdity. In one of his first key roles, Michael Shannon looks a little like Anthony Michael Hall at his most hungover, but his presence and surprisingly soft voice throws you off balance, and Friedkin masterfully exploits that emotional uncertainty, paving the way for an ending that’s abrupt, unforgiving, and the perfect capper for a very over the top last third. em>Bug is both thriller and horror film, as well as the most perverse of romances—a heightened, demented parable of losing yourself to someone. Bowen

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23. The Wailing (2016)

Na Hong-jin’s The Wailing is a work of thriller maximal-ism, thriving on genre crosspollination and tonal hyperbole, particularly a destabilizing contrast of broad comedy with portentous ultraviolence. Na sets the film’s narrative traps so gradually that we come to accept his increasingly insane plot as inevitable. He’s at once fashioned a hangout movie, luxuriating in the eccentricities of the story’s village locals, and a relentlessly precise and momentous supernatural thriller, with two ingenious climaxes that each juxtapose dueling interrogations, revealing men to exhibit little grasp of the world that engulfs them. Bowen

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22. Mandy (2018)

Mandy’s smorgasbord of indulgences is held together by Nicolas Cage, who gives one of the best performances of his career. Director Panos Cosmatos understands Cage as well as any director ever has, fashioning a series of moments that allow the actor to rhythmically blow off his top, exorcising Red’s rage and longing as well as, presumably, his own. In the film’s best scene, Red storms into the bathroom of his cabin and lets out a primal roar, while chugging a bottle of liquor that was stashed under the sink. Cage gives this scene a disquieting sense of relief, investing huge emotional notes with a lingering undercurrent that cuts to the heart of the film itself. Happiness is dangerously foreign to people like Red, while obliteration is at least familiar. Mandy is a profoundly violent and weirdly moving poem of male alienation. Bowen

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21. The House of the Devil (2009)

Though The House of the Devil is so steeped in nostalgia for the genre films of yore that it seems to belong far more to the 1980s than to the 21st century, it nevertheless carved a perfect niche for itself in late-aughts cinema. Ti West deals in nail-biting suspense and dread, making him a welcome outlier among his more gore-obsessed contemporaries: Each time he punctuates one of the film’s long periods of placidity and unease via an abrupt act of violence, the moment feels earned, even necessary, rather than tacked on. This is a film that both relies on and rewards our imagination to fill in the blanks of its slow-going narrative, a refreshing change of pace from the mindless horror fodder it surpasses with such ease and gravitas. Michael Nordine


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20. The Strangers (2008)

The Strangers is an old-school spooker spun from the blood splatter on a wall, a nearby record player scratching an oldie, a CB radio in the garage, a creaky swing set in the backyard. Bryan Bertino is beholden to genre quota, skidding the relationship of pretty young couple Kristen and James (Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman) before subjecting them to an after-dark home invasion. But he offers no profound rationale for why she refuses his marriage proposal; like the shadowy stranger that comes knocking at their door, it’s something that just happens. Plying an old-school artistry that begins with a creepy montage of bumblef*ck houses and holds up almost without fail until the strangers offer a creepy non-justification for their transgressions, analog-man Bertino teases with the unknown until he’s left no pimple ungoosed. Gonzalez

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19. Revenge (2017)

Like S. Craig Zahler’s Brawl in Cell Block 99, Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge is so extravagantly violent and hopeless that it boasts a weird integrity. These thrillers suggest that there’s little room for morals in cinema, which is a playpen of fantasies that are too often sanctified by platitudes. Take Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here, an often visceral riff on Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and Paul Schrader’s Hardcore that’s terrified of the possibility that it may be a genre film rather than Something Important. Revenge clears the air of the hedging and insecurity that are common of prestige cinema and of pop culture at large, tapping the prurient desires that drive most audiences to see genre films in the first place. Bowen

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18. The Outwaters (2023)

With The Outwaters, Robbie Banfitch offers a sensory bath that should be the envy of filmmakers with far greater resources. Imagine Last Movie-era Dennis Hopper collaborating with Michelangelo Antonioni on a horror thriller and you’re close to capturing this film’s co*cktail of existential desolation and dread. As director and as an actor playing a director, Banfitch utilizes the portability of his camera to suggest a topsy-turvy alien world that’s closing in the characters, particularly with upside-down tracking shots that outdo a similar sequence in Ari Aster’s Midsommar. Banfitch’s ongoing tricks of perspective, communicating the shifting relationships between the various planes of compositions, are even more impressive for seeming accidental. The Outwaters is the rare found-footage movie that’s actually and profoundly cinematic, and Banfitch weaponizes your gratitude for this unexpected formalist bounty. Bowen

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17. Visitor Q (2001)

Visitor Q acts as a correction to the relentless popularity of reality TV, a phenomenon that invites us to vicariously feast on human misery as distraction from our own daily indignities. The story follows a family as they casually film one another indulging in incest and necrophilia as well as a long list of other similarly taboo activities, and Miike Takashi stages each escalating atrocity with a flip, tongue-in-cheek, and sometimes nearly slapstick manner that’s authentically horrifying. Yet, the filmmaker, as Audition made clear, is a moralist deep down, and the brilliant, surreal Visitor Q—so powerful and disgusting that many will probably find it unwatchable—is the ultimate middle finger to media-sponsored narcissism. Bowen


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16. Inland Empire (2006)

Radical even for David Lynch, Inland Empire suggests the potential emergence of a new medium that remains unfulfilled, a medium that fuses the emotional and narrative containment of cinema with the elusive impermanency of the internet. The entire history and future of cinema seems to flow intangibly through this film, which suggests, at times, an epic expansion of the visionary imagery from A Page of Madness. Laura Dern’s performance embodies the loss of someone who’s torn between forces that are suggestive of bottomless chaos. It’s one of the most truly terrifying films ever made, but is it a horror movie? It’s every movie. Bowen

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15. The Devil’s Rejects (2005)

As ungodly violent and gruesome as it is, Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects would be nearly unbearable to watch were it not so wonderfully aestheticized. Zombie’s most noticeable trait as a stylist is, unsurprisingly, a knack for selecting the perfect songs to both match and offset the morbid goings-on of his films, but there’s more at work in its sophom*ore feature than mere artifice: Zombie infuses an unexpected somberness where his debut, House of 1000 Corpses, tended toward camp. His sideshow-esque characters have evolved into genuinely fleshed-out beings whose unexpected pathos only intensifies the terror they spread. The rejects’ long string of satanic ritual murders make for a carnivalesque experience far more viscerally stimulating—and strangely watchable—than it seems to have any right to be. Nordine

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14. The Host (2006)

Scott Wilson’s deliciously hammy presence as the American captain in the opening scene indicates that South Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho’s The Host is, in the broadest sense, a politically charged diatribe against both American and Korean political cover-up machinations of misinformation. But that aspect is rather bland in comparison to what else the film has to offer. For, like any great monster movie, this isn’t a film strictly about a monster—or, for that matter, the monstrous countries that spawned it—but about something else: the significance of sustenance. That is, The Host is a film chiefly concerned with food: who, how, and where we get it from, what it is we choose to eat, and why we eat it at all. Ryland Walker Knight

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13. Climax (2019)

Gaspar Noé’s Climax reminds us how pleasurable it can be when a filmmaker essentially discards plot for the sake of unhinged formalism. The film is an astonishing celebration of body and movement, as well as an examination of the sexual resentment that drives a mixed-race dancing troupe. In early passages, actors more or less speak to the camera, a device that suggests a blunt clearing of the air. Later, when the dancers succumb to the effects of LSD-spiked sangria, the film becomes a brilliant fever dream, an orgy of raw, flamboyantly colored psychosis that’s truer to the spirit of Dario Argento’s Suspiria than Luca Guadignino’s remake. Above all else, Climax feels pure, as Noé cuts to the root of his obsession with the intersection between sex, violence, and power. It’s a horror musical of hard, beautiful nihilism. Bowen


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12. I Saw the Devil (2010)

Kim Jee-woon’s ultra-stylish, gleefully brutalist I Saw the Devil is at bottom a Grand Guignol reduction-to-absurdity of Nietzsche’s maxim that one who battles monsters must beware lest he become one himself, though how seriously the film takes its own philosophical underpinnings is anybody’s guess. Kim seemingly relishes the escalating tango of retribution between psychopathic bus driver Jang Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik) and bereaved federal agent Kim Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun), getting his directorial rocks off on every sad*stic set piece with the unbridled abandon of Dario Argento at his peak. The nihilistic, nobody-wins ending ultimately aligns I Saw the Devil with a film that otherwise seems like its diametric opposite: Wes Craven’s grungy, lo-fi Bergman piss take The Last House on the Left. Wilkins

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11. Get Out (2017)

Get Out’s conceit is a trenchant metaphor for white supremacy. The timing, character development, and gift for social satire that Jordan Peele honed as a sketch comedian all translate effortlessly to horror, allowing him to entrance us as deftly as Missy (Catherine Keener) mesmerizes Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) with that tapping teaspoon. The Sunken Place where she maroons him is a stomach-churning representation of how it feels to be stripped of your autonomy and personhood by a dominant culture that remains cruelly blind and deaf to your plight. In a world where almost no one is what they initially appear to be, Get Out anatomizes the evil lurking in the relatively benign-seeming prejudice that plays out as fetishization or envy, a form of racism that doesn’t see itself as racist at all. Elise Nakhnikian

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10. Martyrs (2008)

Writer-director Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs leaves you with the scopophilic equivalent of shell shock. The gauntlet that his film’s heroine, a “final girl” who’s abducted and tortured by a religious cult straight out of a Clive Barker novel, is forced to endure is considerable. Which is like saying that King Kong is big, Vincent Price’s performances are campy, and blood is red. Laugier’s film is grueling because there’s no real way to easily get off on images of simulated violence. The film’s soul-crushing finale makes it impossible to feel good about anything Laugier has depicted. In it, Laugier suggests that there’s no way to escape from the pain of the exclusively physical reality of his film. You don’t watch Laugier’s harrowing feel-bad masterpiece—rather, you’re held in its thrall. Abandon hope all ye who watch here. Abrams

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9. Raw (2016)

As in Ginger Snaps, the supernatural awakening of Raw’s protagonist is linked to sex. Here, a bikini wax can almost get one killed, and a drunken quest to get laid can lead to all-too-typical humiliation and ostracizing. Throughout, Julia Ducournau exhibits a clinical pitilessness that’s reminiscent of the body-horror films of David Cronenberg, often framing scenes in symmetrical tableaus that inform the various cruelties and couplings with an impersonality that’s ironically relieved by the grotesque intimacy of the violence. We’re witnessing conditioning at work, in which Justine (Garance Marillier) is inoculated into conventional adulthood, learning the self-shame that comes with it as a matter of insidiously self-censorious control. By the film’s end, Ducournau has hauntingly outlined only a few possibilities for Justine: that she’ll get with the program and regulate her hunger properly, or be killed or institutionalized. Bowen


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8. The Devil’s Backbone (2001)

Guillermo del Toro’s films are all about life suspended in time, often told through the point of view of children. A bomb is dropped from the skies above an isolated Spanish orphanage, which leaves a boy bleeding to death in its mysterious, inexplosive wake. His corpse is then tied and shoved into the orphanage’s basem*nt pool, and when a young boy (Fernando Tielve) arrives on the scene some time later, he ushers forth a reckoning. A rich political allegory disguised as an art-house spooker, The Devil’s Backbone ruminates on the decay of country whose living are so stuck in the past as to seem like ghosts. But there’s hope in brotherhood, and in negotiating the ghostly Santi’s (Junio Valverde) past and bandying together against the cruel Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), the film’s children ensure their survival and that of their homeland. Gonzalez

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7. Antichrist (2009)

Lars von Trier’s Antichrist draws heavily from a rich tradition of “Nordic horror,” stretching back to silent-era groundbreakers like Häxan and Vampyr (and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s later Day of Wrath), namely their interrogation of moral strictures and assumptions of normalcy. In the wake of their son’s death, He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) follow a course of radical psychotherapy, retreating to their wilderness redoubt, Eden, where they act out (and on) their mutual resentment and recrimination, culminating in switchback brutal attacks and His and Her genital mutilations. Conventional wisdom has it that von Trier’s a faux provocateur, but that misses his theme and variation engagement with genre and symbolism here, rendering Antichrist one of his most bracingly personal films. Bill Weber

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6. Wolf Creek (2005)

A blistering jolt of existential terror that doesn’t come with the noxious sexual baggage that typically dooms its horror ilk, Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek begins with the stunning image of sunset-tinted waves crashing onto the sands of an Australian beachfront. For a split second, this expressionistic shot resembles a volcano blowing its top, and the realization that it’s something entirely more mundane exemplifies the unsettling tenor of the film’s casual shocks. Like Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher and Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark before it, Wolf Creek is propelled by a lyrical sense of doom, expressing a gripping vision of characters struggling and resisting to be made out by a terror that seems at once terrestrial and alien. Gonzalez

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5. Let the Right One In (2008)

Not unlike Matt Reeves’s remake, Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In is, in its color scheme and emotional tenor, something almost unbearably blue. When Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), a 12-year-old outcast perpetually bullied at school, meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), the mysterious new girl at his apartment complex, one child’s painful coming of age is conflated with another’s insatiable bloodlust. The film treats adolescence, even a vampire’s arrested own, as a prolonged horror—life’s most vicious and unforgiving set piece. This study of human loneliness and the prickly crawlspace between adolescence and adulthood is also an unexpectedly poignant queering of the horror genre. Don’t avert your eyes from Alfredson’s gorgeously, meaningfully aestheticized vision, though you may want to cover your neck. Gonzalez


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4. Halloween II (2009)

An alternate title for Rob Zombie’s Halloween II (whose director’s cut is infinitely superior to the theatrical version) could be Sympathy for the Devil. If Michael Myers was almost a phantom presence in John Carpenter’s seminal Halloween, here he’s chillingly real. Throughout, Michael suggests a nomad single-mindedly driven by a desire to obliterate every connection to his namesake, and the scope of his brutality suggests a clogged id’s flushing out. In this almost Lynchian freak-out, whose sense of loss comes to the fore in a scene every bit as heartbreaking as its violence is discomfiting in its graphic nature, Zombie cannily rhymes his aesthetics with Michael’s almost totemic mood swings, every obscenely prolonged kill scene a stunning reflection on an iconic movie monster’s psychological agony. Gonzalez

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3. Trouble Every Day (2001)

While Trouble Every Day operates, superbly, as a biological-themed horror film, it would cheapen Claire Denis’s achievement to say that she merely literalizes the violent implications of sex, even when manifested as traditional “romantic” lovemaking. The filmmaker expounds on the notion of sex-as-violence with an unnerving clarity that appears to explain why acts of theoretical love and brutality assume such disconcertingly similar outward appearances, as both involve attempts to foster illusions of control where there aren’t any. Theoretically, sex involves a search for communion, intimacy, whereas violence is often an expression of dominance, and Denis shows that intimacy and dominance are similarly impossible concepts to realize with any degree of permanency, if we’re to be truthful with ourselves. Bowen

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2. Under the Skin (2013)

Under the Skin’s extraterrestrial seductress, Laura (Scarlett Johansson), shrinks in stature as the film progresses, from an indomitable, inviolable man-eating ghoul to an increasingly fragile woman suffering from the psychic trauma wreaked by her own weaponized sexuality. It’s a heartbreaking process to witness, one that flips a sleek, mysterious sci-fi thriller into a singular melodrama focused on the unlikeliest of protagonists. Establishing an atmosphere in which each new intrusion of feeling delivers another blow to the character’s once-steely exterior, director Jonathan Glazer spins out a maelstrom of dread as Laura simultaneously contracts and expands, adapting to the frailty of her assumed human form. Cataldo

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1. Pulse (2001)

Empowered by the rise of the internet culture, spirits draw humans away from one another, entombing them in a realm of their own private obsessions. Does this even count as a metaphor anymore? Until Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, writer-director Kurosawa Kiyoshi’s Pulse was the closest that a film came to fully capturing the paradoxical and deceptively empowering trap of online societies that allow one to indulge an illusion of socialization alone in the privacy of your own home. Kurosawa’s Pulse is a ferocious act of despairing protest, as well as one of cinema’s most unnerving and suggestive ghost stories. Bowen

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