Favorite Scary Movies of the Millennium

Horror movies, in many ways have become jokes over the past few years. Especially for those of a generation that look to Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and Leatherface as icons of the genre even if, when we look back at their movies their age is extremely evident. As many of these slasher movie villains have enjoyed plenty of continued box office success and reincarnations over the past decade there has also been the absence of a good amount of authentic, fear-inducing films hitting the megaplex. As a child of the 90's I didn't really become accustomed to the genre with a real grasp on what made up a good scary movie until after the new millennium and so, in celebration of Halloween being right around the corner I have compiled a list of my favorite scary movies over the past twelve years. I am not saying these are the best scary movies since 2000 as I can not say that I have seen nearly all of the supposed horror films that have come out since that time, but these have been my favorites or at least the ones that have provided the most genuine, fear inducing experiences in the theater. Some of these films on my list are remakes of the cult classics that are now considered the golden age of the genre I decided to put them on the lost because they came at the movie with a new perspective and in many ways made the film as if they had no predecessor. As if they were originals for this day and age. I appreciated that above everything while others have created new antagonist icons of their own while others were a one and done that have stuck with me.

Funny Games (2007)

The first on the list is a little seen 2007 American remake from director Michael Haneke who made the original ten years prior. In this gloriously rebellious film that stars Naomi Watts and Tim Roth as a married couple who, along with their son, take a vacation to their summer cabin for a quiet getaway and are soon disturbed, and in more ways than one, by two young psychotic men. Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet play Peter and Paul who like to conduct social experiments on the unassuming family that have the audience squirming throughout. Funny Games is not a movie you will much enjoy as its point was to comment on the use of violence as entertainment, but what it really does is disturb you in the right amount of ways. It is affecting and it makes you think. Haneke uses very direct, almost Kubrickian like angles to limit what we see. The framing is of the utmost importance and like another above average horror movie of 2007, The Strangers, Funny Games uses its sickening antagonists to point out why fear is something we can not always control and that is the scariest part of all.

Sinister (2012)

I know I just watched this film, but two days later I am still thinking about how creepy it was, how perfect it is for this time of year and how long it's been since I thoroughly enjoyed a scary movie as much as this one. You can read my full review in the previous story posted on the page, but here is a snippet of what I thought about SinisterWe feel a consistent tension throughout that only becomes more overbearing in certain moments when the story allows it to make perfect sense, for it to feel logical. It does not survive on simple jump scares littered throughout and it doesn't drag inbetween those moments with stale dialogue between teenagers about weed, sex, and music that no one actually listens to. No, this is a scary movie that doesn't really have time for those now tired and manipulative gags that have us buying into things just to be cheated with a scare and no pay off. The payoff is fine enough here even if I wanted the mythology of the antagonist to go deeper and feel more revelatory than it turns out to be. This being the only qualm I really had with the movie I can't condemn it for everything else that it does so right. It is rare we get a slick Hollywood horror that delivers both real heart that makes the real fear all the more palpable, but Sinister comes pretty damn close.

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Not many people will remember that before Director Zack Snyder became the guy who directed 300, but before he did in fact make that visually stimulating film he concocted a pretty awesome remake of the George Romero classic Dawn of the Dead. In the 2004 remake Snyder gathered a pretty awesome cast that includes Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Mekhi Phifer, and a pre-Modern Family Ty Burrell. This feature film debut from Snyder follows Rhames and Polley's characters who are the some of the last remaining humans on an earth that has been ravaged by flesh-eating zombies. Since this release there have been plenty of great horror/comedies including Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland that have spoofed and pointed out the absurdities of what a zombie takeover might actually look like but in all fairness this Dawn of the Dead makes it a pretty intense affair and one hell of a fun ride. I haven't revisited the film in a few years, but I just remember the genuinely thrilling experience of seeing this the first time and then getting the same thrills out of it again on home video. I often wondered why, if Romero's original Dawn of the Dead was the second in a trilogy why the studios never capitalized on the success of this film. I know it wasn't a huge hit, but it did pretty well and I really would have loved to see it. Maybe Snyder will come back around to it someday, after he's done making Superman films.

Saw (2004)

Many people will scoff at SAW being on the list and with the reputation this series garnered since its humble beginnings I can understand why. The thing you need to remember though is the fact that it really did have humble beginnings in that director James Wan (who is now a go to guy for horror and directed another film on my list ranked a little higher) was able to make this feature debut off of the short film he originally made and didn't really have a say in any of the sequels. The script was written by the main character as well and was never intended to be the beginning of a film series lasting seven movies. Minus the acting of the always awful Cary Elwes you might also forget Danny Glover and Monica Potter were featured here and of course introduced us to the now infamous Tobin Bell. Bell was barely featured in the film except in short glimpses of flashbacks but it is hard to deny his charisma in what has now become a modern day Myers or Krueger. The first couple sequels carried on the legacy of what was established here fine until it became more corny than killer. The first deserves a place on the list though if not for what it started at least for that great twist it delivers in the final minutes.

Drag Me To Hell (2009)

It is hard for me admit and many a fanboys would likely call me out for not having seen Sam "Spider-Man" Raimi's Evil Dead movies, but it is true, I have not. I assume I soon will as the remake is upon us and I will want to see them with a sense of what made the need for a new version of the film necessary and hopefully profitable. Before any of this though and after Raimi retired from the Spider-Man series he made a little gem that certainly seems in the same vein as his early work. With Drag Me To Hell Raimi delivers a fun, yet undeniably creepy movie that follows an ambitious loan officer in L.A. who is plagued with a curse from an old angry gypsy when she denies her an extension on her home loan. As Christine Allison Lohman is a real trooper, going through countless trials, most of which are disgustingly hilarious. She makes us buy into the crazy plot line as well as get the sense she too is simply along for the wild ride, as is her loving boyfriend played by an oddly cast but charming Justin Long. The film really is much more of a campy comedy than a horror flick but as I write this and recall the film I know it delivered scares just as well as it did laughs.


Halloween (2007)


It is easy to call this Halloween along with the remakes that cashed in on the names of Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Leatherface throughout the past decade nothing more than cash cows and that could certainly be said of the sequel to this one specifically, but this initial remake from Rob Zombie is a dark, gritty tale of revenge that incorporates the slasher standards into a situation more true to life than anything we'd seen in the genre before. Everything about Zombie's style is almost nasty. He likes to expose the lowest of the lows in terms of humanity and how cruel the world and some of its inhabitants can truly be. With Halloween he was able to sustain this kind of atmosphere he built in previous projects such as the truly revolting The Devil's Rejects but also tackle a mainstream franchise that had been beat to death and was in desperate need of a real resurrection. It is hard to argue about the impact John Carpenter's original had on the landscape of the genre and how definitive it was, but why I enjoyed Zonbie's version so much was for the fact that is could be so intriguing and revolting at the same time while digging deeper into the psyche of Myers, a figure who we had no real history on in the original. This was a character study as much as it was a slasher film, that extra layer allowing it to cut deeper than most.

Insidious (2011)


Coming back around to James Wan we have his film from last year that made a bigger impact than he could have likely imagined. With Insidious Wan teamed up with the guys behind Paranormal Activity and reinvigorated the whole haunted house idea with a nice twist about the forces in the house taking hold on the young couples son who make the unfortunate choice of moving into the old house. Led by some great, rooted performances by Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne as well as an extremely out there turn from Lin Shaye. That it is the child who is haunted and not the house is supposed to be the twist, but audiences have seen their fair share of possessed kid films and that isn't really what set Insidious apart as a horror film. What sets the movie apart is that there is no gore, no easy gimmicks and with our horror films of late so heavily relying on those elements for scares it was refreshing to see a movie that simply makes you nervous watching it because everything about it is composed to make your skin crawl. I won't spoil anything or give any details on the plot but will say they left the ending open for what will no doubt be horrible and pointless number of sequels that will only diminish the credibility of this one, but in saying that this one is definitely worth a watch before its reputation becomes tainted.

The Ring (2002)


The Ring is a movie that was truly the first time, in a theater, where I was freaked out. And though this is the one that can also be blamed for bringing on that wave of Japanese influenced horror flicks early in the new millennium it is also a great, layered horror film that has a pedigree to it that is lacking in many films of the genre. It was our first kind of introduction to Naomi Watts, it also features Brian Cox in a disturbing supporting role and was directed by Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean, Rango). The premise is gold as a disturbing videotape that seems to hold the powers of life and death over any of the people who watch it is discovered by Rachel Keller (Watts) who is the aunt of one of the many teenagers who have died seven days after watching this tape that is filled with bizarre and haunting images. There is a troubled child thrown into the mix played with Sixth Sense level creepiness by David Dorfman. The real treat about the film though is really the way that Verbinski has decided to dress the thing. It is a fairly standard set of archetypes that the absorbing hook works by but the dreary color palette mixed with the stunning photography of cinematographer Bojan Bazelli (Mr. & Mrs. Smith) and a chilling score by no one other than Hans Zimmer himself give the tone of this movie more than audiences could have bargained for and definitely more than my 15 year-old self could handle.

Paranormal Activity (2009)


I was skeptical about the hype that built so quickly around Paranormal Activity. Like the Saw franchise this has now grown to be somewhat of a taboo series, but go back to this first one and you will remember why it was such a massive hit. I remember seeing the preview a few weeks before it became a big "Demand It" option, and thought it looked genuinely creepy. I was happy to see the hype was not making the film into something it wasn't. It may only work best the first time you watch it, but the film was the first one to honestly scare me in a long time.  It is shot as a couple trying to catch whatever it is that haunts their house. There are no credits no nothing that suggests this is anything but actual footage. The first big hurdle with such a movie was to create the perfect, believable atmosphere, and it succeeds at this by only letting us see what our protagonist, Micah, catches on his camera. We don't get any different angles, no cuts, no music-it is raw and real-it builds at a pace that delivers the chills with pitch perfect suspense. As the movie moved from very subtle effects to the bigger stuff that starts the audience screaming out loud, I couldn't help but smile in knowing that they were getting it, the filmmakers had crafted this low-budget film that actually tapped into what would make the audience jump and scream out loud; what would cause them to get chills every time it went to that wide shot of the bedroom and what would stress me out to the point of hardly being able to watch but not wanting to take my eyes away from the screen.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)


Director Scott Derrickson made his feature film debut with this film and with it he delivered what, for me, is the most striking horror film that has been made since 2000. In The Exorcism of Emily Rose watching the scary stuff mixed with the courtroom drama inspired a new sense of investment in the material. These weren't just stock characters going through the motions of what we expected them to, this was an actual courtroom drama that was weaved into the dramatic telling of a 19-year-old college student who begins to display bizarre behavior that some interpret as possession in a religious sense and others diagnose Emily's actions as having concrete medical explanations. It is an interesting debate to explore and Derrickson ultimately leaves it up to us to decide which route we'd like to believe, but either way we find the case compelling. Something not often able to be said about a movie where its first intention is to scare you. With a high caliber cast that includes Laura Linney and Tom Wilkinson it is hard to deny the intrigue of this type of possession movie, it doesn't have any spinning heads, any peeing on people or green vomit, this is a thinking persons case study that has a real backbone for shock. It is a lethal combination that works perfectly here. I could watch this over and over without losing intrigue.