Every year in September, just as the leaves start turning entrancing shades of gold and red, we start watching scary movies in our house. It’s just what you do. Clean up after supper, gather some blankets, snacks and beverages, then browse through DirecTV, Netflix, Prime, and Hulu, and if all else fails, resort to our bluray collection to find a scary movie to watch.
We love the classics–Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream–but honestly, who hasn’t seen them a million freakin’ times, right? So this is my attempt to put together a more recent list of scary movies. It was kind of a challenge, too, because the years since the turn of the new millennium are not exactly a golden age for quality scary movies. At any rate, here is my list of scary movies from every year since 2000. Fight me in the comments.
Final Destination : After a teenager has a premonition that saves his class from death in a fiery airline explosion, he begins to suspect death itself is stalking the survivors, collecting the souls of those who “cheated” their destined date with death. While this movie isn’t revered for it’s acting, the concept is fantastic and the tension-building leading up to the death scenes is nail-biting.
Thirteen Ghosts : A family finds themselves trapped in a mysterious mansion inherited from a recently departed uncle–a mansion with maze-like, shifting walls and twelve unique and nasty ghosts. Or is it thirteen?
The Ring : Watch this video and you’ll die in seven days. The Ring is a story of the victimized, of unfinished business. It is an English-language remake of the 1998 Japanese movie Ring, which was in-turn based on the novel of the same name by Koji Suzuki. The success of The Ring spurred development of other projects based on Japanese properties in the 2000s, including The Grudge.
28 Days Later : A Danny Boyle movie that grabs you from the opening moments and never lets go. 28 Days Later is almost singlehandedly responsible for the explosion of zombie culture since 2002. The Walking Dead, World War Z, I Am Legend, all owe a debt to the success of 28 Days Later and its sprinting, rage virus zombies.
Final Destination 2 : The only other Final Destination movie I would recommend is the 2003 sequel (although part 3 wasn’t terrible), largely the same movie as the first with a different inciting incident. In Final Destination 2, a young woman with a carload of friends has a premonition about a highway pileup destined to claim their lives. She takes preventive action and death itself once again stalks the survivors who cheated a fated arrival at their final destination.
Darkness Falls : You might be tempted to think there weren’t many scary movies in 2003 if I had to resort to including Darkness Falls in this list. A tooth fairy movie? Are you kidding me? No, actually I’m not kidding. Darkness Falls is a high concept project with a nice backstory for Matilda, the old lady known as the Tooth Fairy, a cinematic setting, and a talented young cast in the late-Chaney Kley and Emma Caulfield (Buffy the Vampire Slayer).
The Grudge : The mythology of The Grudge dictates a curse is created when someone dies in the grip of “a powerful rage or extreme sorrow”. The curse creates a deadly entity that kills all who encounter it. Couple the concept with a non-linear storytelling style and The Grudge becomes a creepy, hair-raising scary movie experience. The Grudge stars Sarah Michelle Gellar and is based on the 2002 Japanese film Ju-on: The Grudge.
The Descent : The Descent is a movie I would not have included on this list, but I needed a movie from 2005, and I wasn’t willing to include Saw II, The Devil’s Rejects, or the remake of The Amityville Horror. So, The Descent it is! A group of friends on a girls-only climbing expedition find themselves trapped in a cavern with frightening creatures. An above average horror movie.
The Wicker Man : Polarizing choice that it is, I like The Wicker Man. Yes, it stars Nicholas Cage, and it’s a kind of hokey setting, but I found The Wicker Man captivating, and I enjoyed the “surprise” ending. 2006 was another year with not a lot to choose from–Silent Hill, Final Destination 3, a Texas Chainsaw prequel–no, none of that, thank you. The Wicker Man it is.
28 Weeks Later : Some enjoy this sequel more than the original 28. Much like the original, 28 Weeks Later grabs you from the opening moments and throws the protagonist [Robert Carlyle] into a situation in which he’s forced to make a heart-rending choice and flee for his life from sprinting rage zombies. Jeremy Renner also has a sizable part in this sequel.
The Mist : Based on a short-story by Stephen King, The Mist, directed by Frank Darabont and starring Thomas Jane, hails from the land of the creature-feature. There’s… something in the mist. And it has tentacles. And then another thing that flies. And then… all kinds of things you don’t want getting inside the small town grocery store where you’ve become trapped with the townsfolk. The Mist has a shocker ending. Note: Don’t be deceived by the TV series of the same name… that thing is hot garbage.
The Strangers : The horror of The Strangers lies in the random nature of a crime that finds Liv Tyler stalked at her rural home by three strangers in masks. Classic horror film making techniques abound–killer appears in background, victim is in the foreground, unaware. My only complaint about The Strangers is it lacks a score.
Cloverfield : The monster movie seems like a rare treat these days, so regardless of what you might think of the subsequent Cloverfield-related movies [10 Cloverfield Lane and Cloverfield Paradox] the original Cloverfield is a pleasure worth indulging. It’s part Godzilla, part Independence Day and told in a found footage style.
The Last House on the Left : The original splatterfest exploitationist version of The Last House on the Left from 1972 went down in history as a cult classic and an important entry in the careers of future horror auteurs Wes Craven, Sean S. Cunninngham, and Steve Miner. The 2009 remake isn’t nearly so groundbreaking but still an enjoyable scary movie. Even the 2009 version of The Last House on the Left is not for the faint of heart, however. There’s graphic and sexual violence not suitable for young or sensitive viewers.
Pandorum : In the tradition of Ridley Scott‘s original Alien, Pandorum is a gothic horror movie set on a space ship. Several crewmembers wake up in their hypersleep chambers to find the ship nearly abandoned, with strange, savage creatures stalking the corridors. There’s a strong sci-fi angle to Pandorum, and a great surprise ending. Dennis Quaid co-stars.
Legion : I might be the only person who still enjoys Legion, a supernatural postapocalyptic thriller about the final showdown between good and evil at the Paradise Falls Diner on the edge of the Mojave Desert. At the time I wrote this, it had 19% on Rotten Tomatoes, but hey, Rotten Tomatoes says “Hereditary” is a good movie, so obviously Rotten Tomatoes knows nothing. Give “Legion” a try.
The Thing : If you’re a fan of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) then the 2011 movie of the same name is mandatory viewing. Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say the 2011 installment is not a remake, but it ties directly into the 1982 movie.
Cabin in the Woods (2012): For decades horror fans have bemoaned the multiple moments in John Carpenter’s Halloween (1977) where Jamie Lee Curtis drops the knife, and they’ve joked about the absurdly horny characters in teenage slasher flicks. Cabin in the Woods explains these horror tropes and more in a story that’s expertly crafted to pay homage to the horror traditions of the past while still offering a new and interesting take. Chris Hemsworth and Bradley Whitford star.
Chernobyl Diaries (2012): Written and Directed by Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity, Insidious) Chernobyl Diaries is a found-footage presentation of an ill-fated trip to the Chernobyl exclusion zone by four naive Americans. This is another movie with low ratings from the online ratings services but I like it enough to have watched it multiple times.
The Possession (2012): One of the all-time scariest movies I’ve ever watched. The Possession is a Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Spiderman) film which stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Negan from The Walking Dead) as a dad dealing with something evil after his daughter brings home a mysterious box she finds at a yard sale. Natasha Calis plays the daughter and she is incredible.
The Conjuring (2013): The Conjuring is based on a case from the files of Ed and Lorraine Warren, the paranormal investigators who also inspired The Amityville Horror. The Conjuring is spooky, effective, and successful enough to spawn a sequel, with a third on the way.
It Follows (2014): An independent horror movie about a mysterious, mostly invisible entity which relentlessly follows and kills its victims. The evacuated dereliction of suburban Detroit serves as the perfect setting. Great use of standing horror tropes with a modern twist.
The Witch (2015): You don’t see many horror movies set in 17th century colonial America, but The Witch is exactly that. Anya Taylor Joy (Split, Morgan) stars as the daughter in a troubled family. They’ve been banished from their community for reasons unknown then come to discover something evil is haunting their family’s remote homestead. Watch out for Black Phillip.
Hush (2016): A deaf author is stalked at–and then trapped in–her house in the woods by a masked killer. Hush is a microbudget Blumhouse film from Director/Producer Jason Blum.
Blair Witch (2016): Remember how you watched The Blair Witch Project (1999) and, when it was over you were like, “What the hell happened?” That’s how I remember it. The beauty of 2016’s Blair Witch is it explains all that stuff you didn’t understand in The Blair Witch Project in remarkably sly fashion. My wife squirmed in her seat a couple times during some of the more hair-raising moments in this movie.
It (2017): The first of two movies based on the book by Stephen King. I consider this more “creepy” than horror, but there are some truly horrific moments, and if you’re afraid of clowns, Pennywise will haunt your nightmares. Must see viewing.
Get Out (2017): Jordan Peele‘s directorial and horror debut is a movie loaded with social commentary and a self-examining comedic-edge ala the horror movies written by Kevin Williams in the 90s (Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer) Interestingly, I hated this movie the first time, watched it a second time, and ended up loving it. I don’t know that my opinion of one movie has ever changed so much between first and second viewing.
A Quiet Place (2018): I didn’t think this was the best horror movie I’d ever seen, but it was pretty good. Monsters that attack and kill anything that makes a noise menace John Krasinski and Emily Blunt‘s family. Try not to squirm when she’s coming down the steps in her bare feet and…
It: Chapter II (2019): Despite grumbling from some fans that Chapter II didn’t live up to the quality of the original, I thought it wrapped up the story nicely. The Losers Club, now adults, are brought to life as adults by a group of talented actors including Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, and Bill Heder, and Pennywise will still give you nightmares.
Pet Sematary (2019): It’s always amazing when a classic movie is remade, touches all the necessary moments, and still manages to surprise. Pet Sematary is just similar enough to the original movie adaptation to keep you riveted, but with sinister little twists and differences that make jump scares and prolonged moments of terror equally likely.
That’s my list so far. Let’s see what’s to come next year. Surely there are movies I’ve left off this list… let me know what I’ve forgotten in the comments.