The Best (And Worst) Modern Horror Movies
So, in the last couple of days I’ve found my mind drifting over horror movies again. It’s that time of year- the sun is shining, children are playing, so I want to unleash unholy terror unto the world (or at least my living room). Add to that the fact that my good friend recently restarted his excellent horror movie review blog, and I feel like it’s time to lay out some of my favorites (and some of the ones that horrified me in the non-fun way) from the last few years. Because if someone writes another “Best Horror Movies of the Eighties” list, the world may actually burst at the seams and release some kind of pop-culture-critic cenobites to torture me for eternity, and rightfully so.
Best: The Babadook
Yeah, you’ve already had people cramming this one down your throat for months now, maybe years, but if you haven’t seen it by now you’re 100% missing out. Packed to the gills with excellent performances and scary in a way that will crawl under your skin and stay there, The Babadook is savagely smart, devastatingly emotional, and I do not exagerrate when I say it’s one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. I’m not saying women-driven horror is better, necesarily, but the evidence here speaks for itself.
Worst: Paranormal Activity (and all it’s terrible sequels)
Okay, okay, stick with me here. I loved Paranormal Activity as much as everyone else when I first saw it- because yeah, we all fell for that “IS THAT A SHADOW ON THE DOORWAY OH JESUS FUCKING KILL ME” first time round. But upon a second viewing, it really, really doesn’t stand up- like, at all. Great films should go beyond just their gimmick, but Paranormal Activity reveals itself as another blandly generic possession thriller on a second watch. Compare it to always-fantastic The Blair Witch Project, which plays a similair premise of leaving it all to the imagination with an ambiguous ending, and it’s easy to see where this went wrong. It’s overwrought, underwritten, and-the ultimate horror sin- straight-up dull on a second watch.
Best: The Witch
I only saw this recently- a few weeks ago, in fact- but it’s been drumming round my head ever since and ergo has earned it’s place on this list. The first movie from director Robert Eggers, the premise- a New England puritan family become increasingly wracked with paranoia as terrible things begin to happen to their farm, their family, and their children- is simple enough, but the film does a cracking job racheting up the tension and leaving things pleasingly ambiguous. Throw into that a great few central performances, with some amazing child actors and, for some reason, Finchy from The Office being absoloutely bloody brilliant, and you’ve got a movie that, for a directorial debut, is a borderline masterpiece.
Worst: The Human Centipede III: The Final Sequence
I know, I know- when director Tom Six made the final part in his notorious Human Centipede trilogy, he aimed to shock, disgust and turn off, so the fact that I hate this movie as much as I do probably means he’s dancing a happy jig somewhere as that was his intention. But that doesn’t make The Final Sequence any more defensible-it somehow marries emabressingly exploitative misogyny and sexual violence with a notably boring and uninspired story for a climactic orgy of violence that leaves me not so much cold as trekking somewhere through the fucking Antarctic. And all of this is coming from someone who’ll defend the first Human Centipede movie to the ground, so…
Best: Grave Encounters
DID I MENTION I LIKE FOUND FOOTAGE MOVIES? DID I? Found footage is my first true horror love, which is a shame because most of it is gash- a bad excuse for poor filmmakers to knock out a cheap thriller. However, once in a while, a movie like this comes along- a witty, clever slow-burn that leaves the audience to stew for almost half the runtime before it actually does anything. I’m not necesarily convinced that horror movies have to be scary to be good, but it certainly can’t hurt-and Grave Encounters delivers, ratcheting up creative scare after creative scare and happily revelling in the traditional tropes of the haunted house thriller as the crew of a bogus ghosthunting show find out the asylum they’re staying in might not be so bogus.. I also love the sequel, but that’s probably because I’m insane.
Worst: V/H/S: Viral
I dig anthology horror a lot– and hell, I even liked the earlier releases from the V/H/S series. But this….yeesh. I think one of the best things about anthology horror, and short horror moviemaking in general, is it’s briskness- it allows for quirky little “what ifs…” and creative ideas that would never stretch out into full movies to come to life. But Viral ignores that cardinal rule, and instead delivers on a set of wheezing horror tropes- the zombie cultists, a dull “be careful what you wish for” tale, and a damsel in distress as the wraparound plot. My secret favourite horror director Nacho Vigalando, with his decent segment Parallel Monsters, makes it out unscathed, but stick to the earlier, smarter interations of this series and skip out on their wobbly attempt at real-world commentary.