Another decade comes to a close. As a fan of horror flicks, compiling a list of what I consider to be “Justin’s Top 10” from ten years of releases would appear a difficult task. Yet, most of these choices came swiftly to me. When assembling my picks, I made choices that I believe are the must-see horror films from 2009 to 2019. I approached this list as my “desert island” choices. As in, these are the films I would take with me from this past decade to have to watch and nothing else. Still, I have my own preferences. You have your own.
For me, there are several competing factors as to what can make a great horror movie. An amazing performance, the intensity, atmosphere, thought-provoking ideas, or just enjoyably mindless fun. I do not think of “horror” as just one specific thing. That is what is amazing about horror! It can have drama, comedy, insight, intelligence or simply shock appeal. And, when I review a film I try to gauge what specific audience the feature is aiming at and factor that in while ascertaining to what I think is a “good movie.” So, in no particular order, for this “Justin’s Top 10” list I blended together movies that definitely have an audience out there, and that I refuse to live without in my life. At least, from the past ten years.
Forging a new path in the franchise and kicking off a new trilogy is 2018’s Halloween. David Gordon Green successfully achieved bringing the Halloween series back to the simplistic roots of John Carpenter’s original 1978 film. Jamie Lee Curtis triumphantly returns as a new incarnation of iconic final girl Laurie Strode. A better tribute to the original would have had this feature focusing on Andi Matichack’s Allyson hanging out with her friend Vicky (Virginia Gardner) instead of the ill-conceived love triangle. Still, the last act of the film makes up for any flaws by showcasing a well-deserved celebration of generational female empowerment. And, Michael Myers is as scary as ever.
Gerald’s Game (2017)
The long-awaited adaptation to Stephen King’s 1992 novel, Gerald’s Game is the story of a sexual escapade gone terribly wrong. Jessie (Carla Gugino) is a housewife literally handcuffed to a bed while symbolically chained to dark memories of her childhood. This is the kind of story for which King is most well-known. The feature accurately captures the author’s uncanny ability to take a seemingly mundane setting and turn it into an epic battleground. Certainly falling into psychological terror, Jessie’s ordeal in Gerald’s Game transcends from King’s deliciously horrific imagination into a poignant examination of a woman coming to terms with her sense of self. And, one inevitable sequence is sure to make all your friends cringe.
Ridley Scott’s foray back into the dark universe he helped create with 1979’s Alien is, perhaps, one of the most polarizing films of the past ten years. In retrospect, a huge problem centers on audience resentment of having a mystery answered. The 2017 follow-up Alien: Covenant only compounded this issue. Personally, I find the xenomorphs to be every bit as frightening knowing how they were created. Regardless, Scott (like Weyland-Yutani, the immoral company in the series) builds worlds that are as beautiful as they are deadly. He keeps the viewer visually invested as the film gradually builds the tension leading to an explosive conclusion. Michael Fassbender’s performance as David is not to be missed while Noomi Rapace engages in one of the most insanely intense surgical sequences captured on film.
Jennifer’s Body (2009)
There are few things as pleasing as when black humor is portrayed correctly on screen. Especially, if the humor is integrated seamlessly with all the things we love about horror. Black comedy is by definition a style that is not going to be appreciated by everyone. With a sense of humor that one is not going to find in a middle-of-the-road sitcom or romantic comedy, writer Diablo Cody utilized Jennifer’s Body to shed light on both the exploitative and feminist aspects of horror. Stars Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried bring layers of depth to characters that start off initially clichéd. Between a brilliant sense of humor and genuine thrills, Jennifer’s Body is pure entertainment unafraid to ask the audience to think a little harder.
Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody star as romantically involved genetic scientists that lose control of their latest experiment. Splice is science-fiction horror in all its glory. This specific genre is known for reflecting cultural issues of the contemporary time. If done well, films such as Splice ask many questions and leave a few for the viewer to ponder. Polley and Brody’s characters have only the best of intentions; however, their egos and pride lead to terrifying results. Polley, in particular, shines as Elsa. Every time the viewer believes he or she has a handle on where the film is headed, a new and shocking twist is revealed until finally reaching its jaw-dropping conclusion.
Black Swan (2010)
One of my favorite branches of horror centers on the examination of mental illness or self-destruction. Especially, when we become doomed to realize that more often than not the pressures we put upon ourselves lead to negative rather than positive outcomes. Darren Aronofsky brilliantly juxtapositions this idea by utilizing the deceptively beautiful word of ballet. Perceptions of what we believe to be beautiful can have a dark and bloody underbelly. Alongside Natalie Portman’s acclaimed performance, Aronofsky’s direction traps the audience within the mind of a ballerina slowly losing her grip on reality. We become helplessly swept up in her moments of suspense, terror, and own personal self-destructive hell.
Suspiria is what would happen if Black Swan was gutted open by a witch with an oversized hook. And then she danced around naked. What can I say? I fell in love with Luca Guadagnino’s interpretation. Which is weird because the Suspiria remake is everything that I was glad Dario Argento did not do. From a feminist standpoint, it shows how women can be just as corrupt as men without being an “evil women must be punished” horror picture. Some of the women are punished. Some are not. Everything comes together for Suspiria in a way that will leave audiences more exhausted than a ballerina performing a continuous series of fouette turns. And as shocked as if her ankle broke right there on stage.
You’re Next (2011)
This feature takes a look at family dysfunction in the middle of a home invasion. Erin (Sharni Vinson) accompanies her boyfriend (A.J. Bowen) to his family’s country home. Soon enough, all hell breaks loose as an unknown group of people attack the family. You’re Next is successful at subtly examining the tension of family dynamics. Once the relentless action gets going, resentful secrets are uncovered. Excelling at simplifying a potentially intricate plot, the action is nonstop and the viewer is taken on a thrilling and satisfying ride.
The Boy (2016)
I expected many of the clichéd tropes from the evil doll subgenre to be shown in The Boy. This one, however, cleverly flipped everything around to present something fresh and original. For example, a frustratingly large amount of screen time would normally be wasted having Greta (Lauren Cohan) prove to Malcolm (Rupert Evans) that she is not crazy for believing Brahms to be “real.” Instead, it only takes a scene. But, this is a trick! Brilliantly and without condescension, The Boy fools the audience and characters into believing one thing, only to reveal that everyone (including us) was a fool after all! In the best possible way, The Boy analyses why people are willing to suspend their disbelief for these kinds of movies and then pulls the rug out from underneath everyone. In a twist, the climax reveals we are watching a thrilling slasher flick after all.
Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Sam Raimi’s experience with both thrills and special effects comes together to create an entertaining journey for horror fans with Drag Me to Hell. Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is a woman struggling to achieve success in both her professional and personal life. She is a sympathetic character, but fights her instinctual nature to deny a woman (Lorna Raver) a loan. The film becomes an examination of the way a person will cross her own ethical line out of desperation. In addition to shocking moments, jump scares, and rising tension the viewer comes to see that sometimes fate is inevitable. No matter how clever we think we are.
So, there you have it. Those are what I consider to be “Justin’s Top Ten” of the past decade. At the last minute, I remembered a few more that completely changed everything. Some made it into the list above and some are now here as honorable mentions: Scream 4, Insidious, Happy Death Day, Hereditary, Rob Zombie’s Halloween II, and Us.