The only thing scarier than the movies on this list was trying to narrow it down! It’s been a great century so far for horror and here are 25 of the scariest horror movies that were released between 2000 and 2015.
25. Dark Water (2002) – Hideo Nakata already directed one of the seminal horror classics of the 90’s in Ringu but wasn’t finished there. Dark Water followed in 2002 and is arguably even better than his previous masterpiece. What makes Dark Water work so well is that at the center is this mother-daughter story which is relatable and plausible as the darkness coalesces around it. Remade and also endlessly copied from, Dark Water is chock full of scares and packs a devastating punch in its final minutes.
24. Final Destination (2000) – the 00’s got off to a creative start with the first in the Final Destination series. A perfect reaction to the tired slasher revival of the 90’s, here the killer is not a person but a fate itself. Without a clear antagonist the cast are killed by cruel twists of fate as punishment for escaping their dates with destiny. While the sequels got more graphic in their violence they also became far more cartoonish and silly. Final Destination certainly does not lack in creativity but there is a cruel, mean-spirited feel to the deaths that makes this film far darker.
23. 30 Days of Night (2007): based on a comic of the same name, the concept for 30 Days of Night is absolute genius. A town in Alaska is so far north that for one month every year the sun never comes up. What classic monster is killed by sunlight kids? That’s right, vampires! Imagine 30 days where these bloodsuckers are entirely unhindered by daylight and you have a seriously scary scenario. The vampires here are vicious and monstrous, perhaps driven by the bloodlust of 30 straight days of bloody carnage. With the odds so stacked up against the regular townspeople it is a terrifying ordeal for them as they battle against a near-indestructible force. Add in a truly sinister performance from Ben Foster as the creepy herald for the vampiric forces and you have a cold, dark, bleak horror film.
22. Cold Prey/Fritt vilt (2006): From our Scandinavian friends in Norway comes this extremely well made slasher that does everything right. A group of friends head out into the mountains to enjoy more dangerous slopes away from the tourist destinations. Unfortunately one of their number gets badly hurt and the group ends up taking refuge in a long-abandoned ski lodge. Even more unfortunate is there’s a large psychopath living there who doesn’t like guests. What makes Cold Prey work so well is that these are fleshed out characters with personalities and relationships so that you might, *gasp*, actually care about the people being cut down by the hulking antagonist. Few slashers since the heyday of Halloween have been able to strike the balance between human drama and slasher murders rather than just making the cast annoying lumps of meat you’re waiting to get hacked up.
21. Splice (2009) plays out a little like an episode of a Twilight Zone episode, a cautionary tale of man playing God with human genetics. Directed by Vincenzo Natali it is a decidedly dark and twisted tail of a married couple who work in genetics and when their experiments go wrong they are forced to take their newest creation underground. This creation, called Dren, is a human-animal hybrid whose nature they don’t truly understand. As Dren affects both of her “parents” in different ways things become increasingly disturbing until a horrifying conclusion.
20. Citadel (2012): set in a rotting, nightmare version of a British housing where agoraphobic Tommy was summon the will to rescue his young daughter from the hooded children who roam the area at night. The sense of urban decay and of a grey, hopeless world is palpable as we follow the best entry in the “killer hoodies” horror sub-genre. The feral children themselves are deeply unsettling, one in particular emits this sound so utterly inhuman and earsplitting it was immediately memorable. One well worth looking for.
19. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003): Asian horror truly delivered the scares in the 2000’s with few better examples than this one from South Korean auteur Kim-Ji Woon. This is psychological horror at it’s best as two teenage sisters return to their old home after tragedy stuck their family. The girls must deal with a terrible event of the past and their father’s new, domineering wife who seems to despise them and wants to hurt them in any way she can. Is it the house that haunted or the people who live inside it? This brooding horror yarn teases out the reality of the situation until the very end the viewer is bombarded with nightmarish imagery and the creepy house seems to have its own personality as creaking floorboards and vague ambient noises unnerve.
18. Splinter (2008): A great low budget horror that asks a simple question perhaps not asked since Carpenter’s The Thing: “WHAT THE HELL IS THAT THING?” Other questions include “HOW DO I GET AWAY FROM THAT THING?!” and “AAAAHHHH WHAT THE F**K IS THAT ALREADY?”
17. Frozen: before the Disney movie that WILL. NEVER. DIE. (that’s almost a horror story in of itself) Adam Green (Hatchet, Digging Up the Marrow) made his best film. Frozen presents a frighteningly plausible scenario as three skiers try to get one more run on a ski slope but a chance of fate leaves them stranded near the top of the mountain with a huge drop below them and terrifyingly cold weather closing in. We are trapped on the lift with these poor souls as they attempt to survive. It’s grim, it’s uncompromising and is kind of a bummer. All because it’s easy to feel like this could happen to any of us. Yikes.
16. Sinister was very poorly represented by its trailer, suggesting a member of Slipknot was going to repeatedly pop up in your view to scare you. This is not the film that Sinister truly is, it’s a magnificent slow burn with sudden shocking scenes of true horror committed by the most innocent among us. This is aided greatly by a fantastic performance from Ethan Hawke who does a truly great job of presenting relatable and tangible horror at what unfolds before him. The scares do come but they have the strength of a well-developed story behind them and the ending is one of the finest in recent horror history. However avoid the sequel at all costs.
15. Paranormal Activity: started off as a little no-budget found footage horror that harkened back to the likes of The Blair Witch Project became a gigantic horror sensations which popularized the “Found Footage” genre like no other. The genius of this movie is the absence of scares in the first act. Instead we are given these two characters to get to know, to understand their motivations and to get insight into what Katie and Micah are experiencing. In my screening someone yelled in fright when the door moved a little bit and that is credit to the atmosphere and tension built by this film. By the end the viewer, trapped on the other side of a stationary camera, has nothing separating them from the horrors on screen. So visceral and effective is this film that it spawned endless imitators and five sequels, the first two of which are actually scary as hell too. Not bad for a $10k movie.
14. The Mist: Stephen King has had so many of his books and stories adapted for screen it’s easy to lose track. That being said it’s doubtful anybody who saw Frank Darabont’s take on The Mist will forget it. When a mysterious fog moves in over a sleepy town, a group of people are trapped in their local supermarket trying to defend themselves from the monsters that the weather brought with it. Whether it’s the intense scenes as the monsters attack or the survivors inside turning on each other with horrible results The Mist pushes so many horror buttons. With a very memorable and divisive ending the film nevertheless asks questions of the viewer with no easy answers: what will you do to survive and when all seems lost how can you go on?
13. Wolf Creek: The story of the isolated protagonists being stalked, tortured and killed by a crazy person in the middle of nowhere is a very well-worn horror trope but few use it as effectively as Wolf Creek. When our main characters head out into the Australian Outback and then experience car trouble, Mick Taylor seems like an amiable if very eccentric loner willing to help out. By the time they discover his true nature it is far too like and the viewer is treated to one of the most terrifying horror villains in John Jarratt’s Mick since the heydays of the early 80’s. He is utterly detached from reality and civility, treating his prey subhuman he doesn’t just torture them but childishly mocks them as he revels in their pain. To put such a human face on such a demented person makes him all the more frightening.
12. Insidious (2010): James Wan made a huge mark on the horror map with Saw and then got working on his horror legacy six years later with the aptly-named Insidious. Many might disqualify this film because of its great number of jump scares which are “cheap” but James Wan is not a “cheap” filmmaker. Indeed, Insidious is a masterclass in the effective use of atmosphere to build to the big scares. Ratcheting the tension up to nearly unbearable levels before slapping us with a great scare just as we’re beginning to think maybe it’s not coming. That’s what makes Insidious such a great piece of horror even if it does threaten to turn into a Marilyn Manson video for a little while in the third act. It even has two really good sequels!
11. [REC]: while Paranormal Activity is a slow build that forces the viewer to watch largely from a fixed perspective as bad things happen [REC} hurls the viewer into a terrifying demonic onslaught. Viewing the demonic invasion of a quarantined building through the lense of a TV crew it is a nonstop onslaught of monsters, brutal and gory attacks, and a final revelatory scene which plunges into darkness and tells us that this is not going to end well for anybody. A rollercoaster of a movie. Substitute the remake Quarantine if you want as it’s basically identical only it’s in English.
10. The Conjuring: It is testament to the skill and creativity of James Wan that out of all of the horror films he’s made, only one has not become a multi-film franchise. What was said about Insidious can also be said here, that Wan has a knack for dragging out the tension long enough that just when you think nothing is going to happen that is when the scare happens. What The Conjuring adds in spades is character and emotion, we are presented with relationships and a family getting ripped apart. Basing the heroes on the real life paranormal experts Ed and Lorraine Warren gives the drama more weight as we see the horror not just take a toll on the family but on the Warrens themselves. May this series live on for a long time
9. The House of the Devil: Ti West’s modest little shocker gained him international recognition as a horror name to watch out for. A sincere love letter to early 80’s horror, House of the Devil oozes menace from every pore. The patient are rewarded as the true horrors are lurking alarmingly close all the way through and they are dire. Impeccable build in mood and atmosphere with a tremendous payoff.
8. The Taking of Deborah Logan came out of nowhere and ended up on Netflix without much fanfare which is a great surprise because this film is terrifying. A documentary crew thinks they are recording the deterioration of a woman suffering from alzheimer’s but something far more malevolent is at work. This film is held together with a powerful performance from Jill Larson as the titular character. The transformations she goes through both physically and mentally are astonishing, making this more than just another found footage movie and providing genuine scare after scare.
7. Ju-On: The Grudge/The Grudge: take your pick between the Japanese film or the very faithful remake, this film has one of the scariest antagonist in recent memory: Kayako. A vengeful spirit heralded by the ghost of her son Toshio, she is relentless and unstoppable. Combined with that the incredible performance of actress Takako Fuji who brings bizarre movements and that gaping mouth enhanced by the cinematography and special effects, Kayako is terrifying every time. That’s not the only trick this Ju-On has up its sleeve either as it tells a disjointed and discombobulating story that jumps back and forth in time. The final revelations of the film are bizarre and unsettling and the final shot of the film might very well be waiting for you behind your eyelids when you go to sleep that night.
6. The Witch is a magnificent exercise in the idea that what our imaginations can create is far worse than anything that a film can show us. The Witch, despite the title, is less about witchcraft and more about puritanical Christianity as a father takes his family into the wilderness because the Christians where they lived were not harsh or extreme enough in their beliefs. As the Salem Witch Trials show, it is the religious fears of the Christian communities that led to so much death and suffering. Is what we’re seeing here truly witchcraft or the culmination of extreme religious belief and fear? You’ll have to survive the agonizing tension and disturbing performances to find out.
5. The Babadook: On first glance this is about a single mother raising a troubled son who are being haunted by an evil entity somehow released from a mysterious and deeply creepy children’s book. However beneath the surface is a haunting story about grief, loss and mental illness. Essie Davis gives one of the greatest performance in horror history as Amelia who is drowning in misery and depression. Barely sleeping and facing judgement from all sides with a son that she neglects, it’s a deeply personal and upsetting story of this woman’s descent into madness. It is her performance, not the appearance of some creature, that is truly terrifying. A movie well worth watching multiple times, my own experience and reactions to the film deviated massively between the first and second viewings in profound ways.
4. It Follows has such a simple premise, a curse means that someone will be endlessly stalked by an entity that can take the form of any person and if they are caught their death is brutal. Combined with a grim and oddly detached atmosphere and the idea that literally anybody could be coming to kill you, the potential for scares are huge. As the nerve-wrecking soundtrack by Disasterpiece pierces your brain you are looking for anything that doesn’t look right, any person who might be walking in a direct straight line towards our protagonists. It’s a strange and unique film but it’s horror is pure and simple to grasp but terrifying to understand. An anti-slasher, this film begs to be watched multiple times as the subtext and disturbing symbolism reveals itself.
3. The Descent is the terrifying follow-up to Neil Marshall’s superb Predator-esque werewolf movie Dog Soldiers. That film was a great action horror that celebrates British grit and determination while The Descent challenges an exclusively female cast to show just as much heroism and survival instinct in a very dangerous environment. The group go spelunking in a cave that they probably shouldn’t have and things get very bad. The first half of the film is harrowing, especially if you are claustrophobic. As characters get stuck in tiny spaces it is easy to forget to breathe as Marshall deftly puts the viewer in there with the characters. It’s almost a shame when the threat becomes scary albino mole people in the second half but the tension and brutality remains, making this a truly terrifying experience and one of the best horror movies of the century.
2. 28 Days Later did more than just help make running zombies popular, 28 Days Later is a relentless and disturbing ordeal that literally had me reeling backwards in my seat when I first saw it back on the big screen. Danny Boyle stripped away all of the polish and style of his earlier films for a stripped down and stark onslaught of horror that still leaves audiences exhilarated and disturbed. The open of the film with an abandoned London is an iconic piece of filmmaking. From there the film has some of the scariest zombies ever conceived and brings a whole different level of danger to the proceedings. In the past, one shambling zombie was of little threat but these “Infected” are unstoppable killing machines that can make you one of them with just one drop of blood. Combined with the most frightening transformation into one of these monsters ever put to film and you have one of the very scariest of the last fifty years let alone the last 15.
1. Session 9 – Brad Anderson will always struggle to escape the shadow of his breakout horror from 2001. With the tension reaching pneumatic levels this film is a classic example of atmosphere and character over simple jump scares with an ending that gets more horrifying the more you think about it. A low-key but devastating and truly haunting horror masterpiece that will get under your skin and in your memory long after you’ve seen it.
So there’s your scariest horror movies from 2000 – 2015. What did we miss? What would you take off? Let us know and have fun scaring yourself silly!