I love scary movies. These days there are few that actually give a good scare. The 9 movies listed here are what I consider to be good horror. Not necessarily scary to some but for me, these are my top horror movies prior to 2012.
Ravenous (1999) – How I love this movie. Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle are brilliant as battling cannibals. Set during the 1840’s in an isolated military fort in the Sierra Nevada mountains, a group of misfits must survive more than just the boredom and cold of winter when Carlyle comes a knocking. Is it scary? Yes, in the sense that Carlyle’s character is so powerful he is able to take down half a dozen armed men and survive a gunshot to the chest. The story is interesting and well told and as noted, the actors are superb.
Dawn of the Dead (2004) – The Zack Snyder remake of George A. Romero’s follow-up to the iconic Night of the Living Dead. Zombies and the mall. Doesn’t sound like a good premise but it works with the ensemble cast and the well written story. The zombies are gross and creepy and have evolved from the shambling hordes created by Romero. Is it scary? I do find zombies scary. They have no control and no conscious thought, just mindless instinct.
28 Days Later (2002) – Are they zombies or infected humans? A popular debate among many. Whatever they are, the rage virus is a bitch – it spreads through bodily fluids and fast. Is it scary? If you’re a survivor trying to stay that way in a deserted city overrun by blood thirsty creatures, yeah. Or if you’re trapped in a secured mansion surrounded by crazed and armed military men plus the zombies outside and chained up in the compound, then yeah. Scary. Not to mention the isolation and disorientation of waking up in a deserted London. Most unpleasant.
Paranormal Activity 1 & 2 (2007) (2010) – These are two movies to watch at home alone, late at night and in a dimly lit room. The scares are slow and build up to a deadly conclusion and it is done very effectively. The unseen monster approach works with the unexpected bangs and growls coming from off-screen. Of the two, I did prefer P2 but I haven’t seen the third one yet. Is it scary? Hell yeah. Demons following you all your life and there is nothing you can do to stop it except pass them on to your sibling; that’s scary.
Se7en (1995) – I’m not sure everyone would call this horror but it is scary in the sense that the horrors and atrocities in the movie could happen. There are no supernatural creatures, no viruses altering people’s personalities, it’s just old-fashioned human beings at their worst and most sadistic. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman make a great team and portray their new cop, old cop personas wonderfully.
The Mist (2007) – Based on the short story/novella by Stephen King. There have been a lot of movie and T.V. adaptations based on King’s work and for the most part, they have not been good. The Mist is an exception. I really enjoyed this movie and the ending is so good and unexpected. Thomas Jane is good as the lead character and the typical King protagonist. And he is not the only one that is recognizable as a King character – Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holder and Andre Braugher’s characters all fall into the category. Is it scary? The depletion of morals and the mob mentality coupled with the impenetrable mist filled with monsters makes it a disturbing tale.
In the Mouth of Madness (1994) – A rock star famous horror novelist goes missing before the release of his definitive novel and Sam Neill, a cynical insurance investigator, is sent to find him (the publishing house is concerned about a contract breach, I think). The missing novelist, Sutter Cane, writes horror stories with creatures reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft’s monsters and has somehow gained the power to bring the slimy essence of corruption through to our world. Or is our world only real because Sutter Cane wrote it? Are we all just characters in his book, created from his imagination and existing because he wants us to? Is it scary? No control over who you are or what you do, existing at the whim of a writer? That alone is unnerving and it has lots of good scares to boot.
Dog Soldiers (2002) – I haven’t seen very many good werewolf movies and I mean straight werewolves with no vampires or other creatures involved, but this is a great one. I judged this one by the cover and I was wrong. It is a very well written and executed movie about a group of soldiers on a training exercise in the Scottish wilderness who encounter more they then expected or can handle in the forest. The movie stars Kevin McKidd and Sean Pertwee, both wonderful actors and is directed by Neil Marshall. I highly recommend this one. Is it scary? Werewolves are scary when they have no control over their change, when the transformation happens because of the moon not because they want it to. Again, the loss of control is fearful.
The Descent (2005)- Also directed by Neil Marshall, this tale is about a group of women on a caving expedition that goes terribly wrong. One of the women decides to take the group to an undiscovered cave with the hopes of naming of it and they become trapped. And if that isn’t bad enough, they are soon being pursued by creatures that inhabit the dark and dank dwelling. The all female cast is strong and well-developed. Is it scary? I’m somewhat claustrophobic and the thought of being trapped in a dark, enclosed space is disquieting enough without monsters thrown in.