As an uber-horror fan and aficionados, I’m often asked to recommend exceptionally entertaining genre offerings. Guests to my home will marvel at my extensive Blu-ray/DVD collection, suggesting we put on a great flick then and there. When on the spot, there are always a few films that never get old, no matter how many times we see them. Eventually, these movies become the cinematic equivalent of a warm blanket on a cold day, chicken soup when you’re sick, and a hug from your best friend when you’re feeling lonely.
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Of course, since everyone has their specific tastes and preferences, this is basically my “Desert Island” list of horror movies; it probably tells you something about me as a person, and you can determine how well my horror-view aligns with yours. So, have a read and think about the films you find extremely re-watchable; share your favorites in the Comments section!
The Cabin in the Woods (2012, Directed by Drew Goddard)
Official Synopsis: When five college friends (Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams) arrive at a remote forest cabin for a little vacation, little do they expect the horrors that await them. One by one, the youths fall victim to backwoods zombies, but there is another factor at play. Two scientists (Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford) are manipulating the ghoulish goings-on, but even as the body count rises, there is yet more at work than meets the eye.
With a smart script, incredible actors, and an infinite combination of supernatural terrors, The Cabin in the Woods never fails to entertain. It’s also so stuffed full of jokes and Easter Eggs, you can discover something new every time you watch it. This one always puts a smile on my face!
28 Days Later (2002, Directed by Danny Boyle)
Official Synopsis: A group of misguided animal rights activists free a caged chimp infected with the “Rage” virus from a medical research lab. When London bike courier Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up from a coma a month after, he finds his city all but deserted. On the run from the zombie-like victims of the Rage, Jim stumbles upon a group of survivors, including Selena (Naomie Harris) and cab driver Frank (Brendan Gleeson), and joins them on a perilous journey to what he hopes will be safety.
It’s bleak and brutal, but there’s an adventurous spirit and undying optimism buried in the subtext that makes 28 Days Later a treat to revisit. The amazing soundtrack never fails to get my blood pumping, and the relentless onslaught of infected maniacs makes for a compelling, roller coaster horror experience.
Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010, Directed by Eli Craig)
Official Synopsis: Two scruffy pals’ (Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk) backwoods vacation takes a bloody turn when ignorant college students mistake them for a pair of murderous hillbillies.
The world would be a better place if everyone on Earth watched Tucker and Dale vs Evil at least once a year. It’s like, can’t we all just get along?
Cabin Fever (2002, Directed by Eli Roth)
Official Synopsis: Bert (James DeBello), a college student vacationing with friends in the mountains, mistakenly shoots a local man (Arie Verveen) with a skin infection while hunting in the woods. Panicking, he abandons the scene and leaves the man for dead. When the man stumbles into a reservoir, he infects the water supply, and soon one of Bert’s friends becomes infected. The friends struggle to stop the contagious, flesh-eating disease while on the run from a group of ornery backwoods locals out for revenge.
Even though Eli Roth was still honing his skills as a top-notch fear practitioner, Cabin Fever is his most madcap and infectious (pun intended!) offering to date. Forget the unnecessary 2016 remake, as the original still manages to make us laugh and gross us out like few other films can manage. Anyone else craving pancakes?
Dawn of the Dead (2004, Directed by Zack Snyder)
Official Synopsis: When her young neighbor is turned into a zombie and attacks her husband, Ana (Sarah Polley) just manages to escape, only to realize her entire Milwaukee neighborhood has been overrun by the walking dead. After being questioned by cautious policeman Kenneth (Ving Rhames), Ana joins him and a small group that gravitates to the local shopping mall as a bastion of safety. Once they convince suspicious security guards that they are not contaminated, the group bands together to fight the undead hordes.
While purist cried foul over Zack Snyder’s fast zombies, Dawn of the Dead is a non-stop thrill-ride with an ambitious scope and oceans of gore. This one has one of the best opening sequences of any horror movie ever made and has an ability to entertain that far outweighs plot holes or inconsistencies.
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Shaun of the Dead (2004, Directed by Edgar Wright)
Official Synopsis: Shaun (Simon Pegg) is a 30-something loser with a dull, easy existence. When he’s not working at the electronics store, he lives with his slovenly best friend, Ed (Nick Frost), in a small flat on the outskirts of London. The only unpredictable element in his life is his girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield), who wishes desperately for Shaun to grow up and be a man. When the town is inexplicably overrun with zombies, Shaun must rise to the occasion and protect both Liz and his mother (Penelope Wilton).
Shaun of the Dead probably has more to do with the mainstreaming of the zombie genre than any other film of the 21st Century—and it’s easy to understand why. Despite the slap-stick comedy, Shaun still manages more poignancy than your average horror comedy, and the chemistry between Simon Pegg and Nick Frost can make a gray day bright again.
Frontier(s) (2008, Directed by Xavier Gens)
Official Synopsis: A gang of young thieves flee Paris during the violent aftermath of a political election, only to hole up at an Inn run by neo-Nazis.
It’s a heavy watch, but Frontier(s) mixes the best components of Hostel, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Decent with enough fire-power to destroy a small European nation! While there are many exemplars of the now-defunct New French Extremity, Xavier Gens’ masterpiece is the crown jewel of the subgenre.
The Mist (2007, Directed by Frank Darabont)
Official Synopsis: After a powerful storm damages their Maine home, David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his young son head into town to gather food and supplies. Soon afterward, a thick fog rolls in and engulfs the town, trapping the Draytons and others in the grocery store. Terror mounts as deadly creatures reveal themselves outside, but that may be nothing compared to the threat within, where a zealot (Marcia Gay Harden) calls for a sacrifice.
I don’t care how brutal or divisive the ending is, and I don’t even mind feeling depressed for hours after watching it, The Mist is an absolute favorite that never gets old. If you’re looking for a twist on this 21st Century classic, check out the black and white version on DVD.
Let the Right One In (2008, Directed by Tomas Alfredson)
Official Synopsis: When Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), a sensitive, bullied 12-year-old boy living with his mother in suburban Sweden, meets his new neighbor, the mysterious and moody Eli (Lina Leandersson), they strike up a friendship. Initially reserved with each other, Oskar and Eli slowly form a close bond, but it soon becomes apparent that she is no ordinary young girl. Eventually, Eli shares her dark, macabre secret with Oskar, revealing her connection to a string of bloody local murders.
While the Twilight franchise sloppily merged teenage passion with vampire horror tropes, Let the Right One In is both truly romantic and intensely harrowing. Despite its moody atmosphere and creeping pacing, this film never fails to warm my heart while chilling my bones.
Drag Me to Hell (2009, Directed by Sam Raimi)
Official Synopsis: Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) has a loving boyfriend (Justin Long) and a great job at a Los Angeles bank. But her heavenly life becomes hellish when, in an effort to impress her boss, she denies an old woman’s request for an extension on her home loan. In retaliation, the crone places a curse on Christine, threatening her soul with eternal damnation. Christine seeks a psychic’s help to break the curse, but the price to save her soul may be more than she can pay.
You just can’t go wrong with a talking goat! Sam Raimi’s gross-out horror comedy packs all the gore and laughs of Evil Dead 2 with a sleek, 21st Century aesthetic.
Evil Dead (2013, Directed by Fede Álvarez)
Official Synopsis: Mia (Jane Levy), a drug addict, is determined to kick the habit. To that end, she asks her brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez), his girlfriend, Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) and their friends Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) to accompany her to their family’s remote forest cabin to help her through withdrawal. Eric finds a mysterious Book of the Dead at the cabin and reads aloud from it, awakening an ancient demon. All hell breaks loose when the malevolent entity possesses Mia.
2013’s Evil Dead is sometimes hard to watch but always impossible to look away from; Jane Levy’s knock-out performance as possessed Mia keeps me coming back for more. This is a rare remake, one that pays respect to the source material while incorporating new, creative elements that enhance the core mythologies of the franchise.
Pandorum (2009, Directed by Christian Alvart)
Official Synopsis: Astronauts Payton (Dennis Quaid) and Bower (Ben Foster) awake in a hypersleep chamber with no memory of who they are or what their mission might be. While Payton stays behind to monitor the radio transmitter, Bower ventures out of the chamber into the seemingly abandoned spaceship. The men quickly realize that they are not alone and that the fate of mankind hinges on what they do next.
While horror fans love flicks that mix in a heavy dose of sci-fi, Pandorum is one of few truly exceptional genre mash-ups of the 21st Century. Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster both give stellar performances, and the film’s villains are a unique blend of the futuristic and the primitive.
Cloverfield (2008, Directed by Matt Reeves)
Official Synopsis: As a group of New Yorkers (Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman) enjoy a going-away party, little do they know that they will soon face the most terrifying night of their lives. A creature the size of a skyscraper descends upon the city, leaving death and destruction in its wake. Using a handheld video camera, the friends record their struggle to survive as New York crumbles around them.
Set over a single, devastating night, Cloverfield never fails to pull me in; the found footage subgenre of horror has never been used so effectively, essentially immersing viewers in the destruction. The movie feels like a legitimate historical document and elicits an intense, emotional response even after multiple viewings.
The Conjuring (2013, Directed by James Wan)
Official Synopsis: In 1970, paranormal investigators and demonologists Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed (Patrick Wilson) Warren are summoned to the home of Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and Roger (Ron Livingston) Perron. The Perrons and their five daughters have recently moved into a secluded farmhouse, where a supernatural presence has made itself known. Though the manifestations are relatively benign at first, events soon escalate in horrifying fashion, especially after the Warrens discover the house’s macabre history.
This film launched a supernatural universe around the case-files of demonologists Ed and Loraine Warren is already a 21st Century classic. In my humble opinion, The Conjuring is the scariest horror movie produced since 1973’s The Exorcist, a film that scares the hell out of me—even when I know what’s coming.
It Follows (2015, Directed by David Robert Mitchell)
Official Synopsis: After carefree teenager Jay (Maika Monroe) sleeps with her new boyfriend, Hugh (Jake Weary), for the first time, she learns that she is the latest recipient of a fatal curse that is passed from victim to victim via sexual intercourse. Death, Jay learns, will creep inexorably toward her as either a friend or a stranger. Jay’s friends don’t believe her seemingly paranoid ravings, until they too begin to see the phantom assassins and band together to help her flee or defend herself.
I know this film has as many haters as fans, but I’ve come to enjoy It Follows more with each additional viewing. Once you accept the fact that the film takes place in a different, skewed version of reality, it becomes easier to find compelling subtext and legitimate horror at every turn. Like the films of David Lynch, the more attention and contemplation you give It Follows, the more faceted and compelling it becomes.