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As the 2010s wind to a close, HeadStuff gathered the collective minds of our Film section to bring you our picks for the best horrors of the decade. Below are #20 to #1.
20. The Invitation
I had almost completely forgotten watching The Invitation until a friend mentioned it again this year. Not because it was forgettable, mind you, but because it freaked me out so much I blocked it from my memory. Focusing on a reunion of friends after several years’ absence, Karyn Kusama’s film has a considerable slow burn as the protagonist, Will (Logan Marshall-Green), suspects something is not quite right.
As with many great horrors, The Invitation is a strong character study: Kusama typically directs female protagonists and here, interestingly, Will takes on the role often assigned to a gothic heroine, dealing with repressed trauma and the mistrust of his peers. Tense and devastating, it looks at the home invasion narrative from a fascinating new perspective. Sarah Cullen
One for fans of extreme cinema, this tale of a dance troupe who collectively go crazy when spiked with LSD is further proof that writer-director Gaspar Noe (Irreversible) has a deranged mind. That said, it’s also proof he is a master of the cinematic form.
In stunning neon-drenched long-takes, we spend the first half of the film watching the dancers (led by Kingsman’s Sofia Boutella) perform jaw-dropping routines to a pumping electro score. However, the moment people’s inhabitions get lowered all comradery goes out the window as people turn on each other violently over repressed desires, petty squabbles and garbled misinformation. Noe’s continuous shots which felt so stylish at first suddenly take on a more disturbing documentary-esque feeling. It’s like were watching strangers tear themselves apart in real time, incapable of helping them.
Featuring electrocutions, heads on fire, misogyny, suicide and more, Climax is by no means an enjoyable, pleasant watch. But like the best extreme cinema and horror, it is truly unforgettable. Stephen Porzio
18. It Follows
It Follows took a potentially shlocky conceit (essentially a curse that works like an STI) and created a dreamy, tense, minimalist masterpiece that has since been analysed to death. Rather than trying to solve the film’s nightmare images like they’re a math problem, it’s better to let this wash over you.
A teenage girl, played with quiet depth by Maika Monroe, sleeps with a boy and finds herself the victim of a curse. With help from a skeptical friend group she tries to avoid the constant, slow advance of a shape shifting ghoul that only she can see.
David Robert Mitchell’s film may seem like a straight parable but becomes interesting where the metaphors break down. For example, is it sex positive or puritanical? Who knows? Who cares? It’s terrifying, visually striking and has a killer soundtrack. By shuffling the signifiers (the synth score, the just so Americana suburbs, the ghosts and all period details that all seem slightly off) Mitchell crafted a disturbing and disorienting piece to really get under your skin. Ged Murray
17. The Skin I Live In
Before The Skin I Live In, legendary Spanish writer-director Pedro Almodovar hadn’t made a horror film. It turns out though he’s a natural at it, with the taboo topics that have long preocupied him in comedies and dramas making a fine fit for the genre.
A psychosexual thriller boasting a ton of nightmare fuel, Antonio Banderas plays a plastic surgeon who has cultivated an artificial skin resistant to burns. This is as a means of honouring his late wife who died in a fiery car crash. However, to do so, he’s been using a guinea pig – a mysterious young woman (Elena Anaya) who he keeps imprisoned in his secluded estate.
A movie which brings new life to gothic tropes, The Skin I Live In is a deliurious, disturbing thriller featuring an esclating plot which feels simultaneously totally insane and completely perfect. It also builds to one of the finest, most darkly comic final scenes of any movie this decade. Stephen Porzio
I think it’s safe to say that only one film this decade or ever maybe has incorporated a dance academy run by witches, the Mennonite sect and themes of female empowerment, abuse and reckoning with German culpability in World War II. A homage to Dario Argento’s 1977 film Luca Guadagino’s Suspiria takes the bones of the original and strips away most of the candy floss colours and nearly doubles the running time. In a divided Berlin in 1977 young Mennonite Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) auditions at the Markos Dance Academy. Quickly accepted she finds herself enthralled with the Academy’s dance instructor Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) while also worried over her new friend Sara (Mia Goth) who is investigating the Academy’s dark past with psychiatrist Dr. Josef Klemperer (also Tilda Swinton).
Suspiria has a great reverence for its predecessor but it also wants to be its own monster. The drab, stuffy colours and Thom Yorke’s subtler score ensure this while Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s camerawork sticks close to the original’s harsh zooms and skewed angles. Over its two-and-a-half-hour run time Suspiria becomes a film very much about women. Women loving women and women seeking to destroy other women. This resolves itself in the film’s orgiastic and operatic climax. What begins as a gory act of vengeance becomes a sympathetic act of mercy. Suspiria is about lots of things such as motherhood or national guilt but it’s ultimately about healing old wounds and forgiveness even if that comes in the form of death. Andrew Carroll
15. Green Room
What do you get when you combine young naive rockers with nasty Neo-Nazi skinheads? The answer is Jeremy Saulnier’s bloodsoaked horror-thriller Green Room. Emerging from the writer-director’s desire to make a movie centered around a musician’s green room, the story centres on punk band The Ain’t Rights. When they witness a killing in the venue of some seriously gnarly individuals, emotions intensify and murder becomes the only solution.
Wonderfully crafted with grimey cinematography and set design, Green Room is a movie which revels in the performances of its cast. Macon Blair, Anton Yelchin (sadly one of his final movies) and Imogen Poots all shine as Saulnier creats a unique experience that will keep you rooted firmly in your seat with fear and anticipation. That said, it’s Patrick Stewart who gives a truly unforgettable performance as the menacing Neo-Nazi leader Darcy Banker.
At first you will stay for the intensity but by its conclusion, you will find yourself captivated by Green Room’s memorable characters and engrossing plot developments. Saulnier’s film is everything you could want and more from a horror and is well deserved of a place among the decade’s best. John Hogan
14. Berberian Sound Studio
Leave it to the creative genius that is writer-director Peter Strickland (The Duke of Burgundy, this year’s In Fabric) to craft a horror film around the sound editing of a horror film.
The great Toby Jones stars as a British sound engineer who begins to become disconnected with reality when in Italy doing foley work for a gaillo film. Not only is Berberian Sound Studio a psychological thriller worthy of Dario Argento or Pupi Avati at their prime, it’s also a fascinating glimpse into filmmkaing itself and how the work can drive even the nicest of people crazy. Stephen Porzio
13. Under the Skin
Striking a fine line between mesmerising and disturbing, Jonathan Glazer’s third feature is an unconventional and uncompromising gem of a sci-fi horror. Scarlett Johansson gives a career best performance as an unnamed woman driving through Scotland picking up men for what first appears to be intimate encounters. However, it’s clear within the first couple of minutes that Johansson’s character is not of this planet and her pursuit of these local males might be for something else.
Under the Skin is very experimental in how it’s structured. There are moments shot with hidden cameras while some of the local men are not actors – adding a level of authenticity to the film. But there are also other moments that showcase a variety of horrific special effects. This is as the males suffer a nasty fate at the hands of Johansson.
Yet, the movie is not simply a predator hunting prey type of story. It’s a tale of existence, connection with others and how the perception of beauty has become corrupt in a modern day society. While the movie is strange and singular, all of its individual puzzle pieces eventually click nicely together and as the title suggests, it will definitely get under your skin. Sean Moriarty
12. Bone Tomahawk
It takes a while to get to the tomahawking in S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk. One of the best makers of underseen genre fare this decade (also one of the best pulp novelists) Zahler went all out on his debut film. In the 1890s Buddy (David Arquette) a thief, escapes from a cannibalistic Native American clan and is arrested in the town of Bright Hope. That night the cannibals kidnap Buddy, a Deputy and the woman nursing Buddy’s wounds Samantha (Lilli Simmons), wife of injured foreman Arthur (Patrick Wilson). Together with Sherriff Hunt (Kurt Russell), local gentleman John Brooder (Mathew Fox) and Deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins) Arthur sets off on a rescue mission to the cannibals’ home in the Valley of the Starving Men.
Bone Tomahawk is a very funny movie but even Deputy Chicory’s musings can’t stop the creeping unease that comes with every sunset and distant whistle. Zahler’s monstrous villains when they finally appear are daubed in white paint and communicate by whistling through bones in their throat. Their weapons are also made of bones and they deal out hell with them. Bone Tomahawk might just be one of the bloodiest films this decade going by its final scene. But the lead up to that blood and guts climax is what makes the film so frightening. Long before violence is ever dished out in Bone Tomahawk its implication lies over the empty prairie, on the bones Bright Hope was built and in the bone-white isolation of the Valley of the Starving Men. Andrew Carroll
11. Under the Shadow
Under the Shadow tells the tale of a mother and child plagued by a malevolent, wraith-like being. So far, so standard. But the action is set in an apartment at the epicenter of the Iran-Iraq war of the mid-80s.
This unique setting serves to enhance an already great horror story. Under the Shadow is filled to the brim with tense, bone chilling dread, suffused with punchy and effective scares – all anchored by a stunning performance from lead actor Narges Rashidi. Think The Babadook filtered through the prism of war-torn Tehran. Jesse Melia
The debut of filmmaker Ari Aster (also known for Midsommar), with Hereditary the writer-director hit the ground running with an intense psychological horror drama examining the extremes of emotional pain. At the centre is the acting prowess of Toni Collette (overlooked for an Oscar) as the grieving mother watching her family implode.
Hereditary twists into the unexpected, as what appears at first to be random acts of misfortune are all part of a larger scheme. While Aster delivers a series of instantly iconic spooky set pieces, what really haunts viewers after the credits roll is its ruthless anguished depiction of a family that just can’t overcome its past. Kevin Burke
9. The Hole in the Ground
Ireland has been quietly making waves on the horror scene for the last decade (see A Dark Song and The Hallow for proof). As such, it’s great prestigious indie film company A24 stood up and took notice, distributing this debut from Irish filmmaker Lee Cronin in the US.
Rising star Seana Kerslake plays young mother Sarah whose escaped an abusive relationship by fleeing to rural Ireland with her son, Chris (James Quinn Markey). One night though the child disappears from the house briefly. When he returns, his change in demeanor causes Sarah to believe he may in fact be an imposter. Could this be linked to the giant sinkhole near their property?
Essentially Body Snatchers with a Celtic twist, The Hole in the Ground is elevated by stellar work behind the camera. Cronin and cinematographer Tom Comerford find malaise in the mundane – Chris’ warped reflection in a hall of mirrors, the transition from sinking earth to a child slurping spaghetti, a camera circling a car on a forest road like a buzzard. These arresting ominous images – coupled with Stephen McKeon’s loud droning score and tight editing by Colin Campbell – create a potent dread-filled atmosphere. Stephen Porzio
8. The Babadook
On first glance The Babadook appears to have a very familiar horror narrative framework. A single mother named Amelia (the excellent Essie Davis) is struggling to support her child Samuel (an equally great Noah Wiseman), who is constantly getting into trouble in school. But one night as Amelia reads Samuel a bedtime story, she encounters a strange children’s book about a horrifying boogeyman named Mr Babadook who will haunt your house if you let it in.
What makes The Babadook so effective is how it uses its boogeyman story as a guise to tell a tale of a broken mother-son dynamic, the creature itself a manifestation of the mam’s depression. Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut (she went on to make the also terrific The Nightingale), the filmmaker handles this material masterfully – drawing on a variety of German expressionist movies like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu.
The Babadook is also effective in avoiding cheap jump-scares while still petrifying viewers out of their wits. Although young Samuel professes to his poor mother not to let the title terrifying entity into the household, this is defintely a horror film that’s worth being let into your life. Sean Moriarty
A long time ago, two young men named Leigh Whannell and James Wan created a small horror movie titled Saw. That film went on to become one of the highest grossing horror films of all time. After continued success for both men and a number of smash hits to their name, in 2018 Leigh Whannell knocked it out of the park again, by himself this time. Enter Upgrade.
Upgrade is like Whannell loved RoboCop, The Terminator and Ghost In The Shell so much he decided to mix them all together into an astoundingly cohesive and impressive sci-fi action horror that stunned audiences around the world. A simplistic tale of revenge twists and turns into something which feels entirely new, at the same time providing action set-pieces which give The Raid and John Wick franchises a run for their money.
Logan Marshall-Green’s performance is a career best with the Prometheus star revelling in Upgrade’s comedic genius sprinkled among its vicious and ruthlessly violent action sequences. Yet, the real star is the scene stealing Stem, the film’s version of Skynet. If Robocop and The Terminator get you pumped, then you need to see Upgrade. In fact, just stop whatever you are doing now and watch it immediately. John Hogan
6. Train to Busan
Reinvention seems to come so easily to South Korean cinema. Whether it’s vampires in Thirst, a two-and-a-half hour slow boiler like Burning or zombies in Train to Busan, the country seems to know just how to tweak the formula. Train to Busan is not especially violent or gory nor does it generate any new characters out of the stock of pre-existing zombie movie sketches. Instead it mobilises pre-existing tropes for the whole film.
After a zombie outbreak in Seoul banker Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) and his young daughter board a train to Busan. Unbeknownst to them and their fellow archetypes, I mean passengers, an infected girl is also on board. Much like the speeding bullet it’s set on the movie never slows down. Yet, even at moments such as the station attack or train switches director Yeon Sang-ho keeps things human. Characters instantly become favourites through their actions. Working class everyman Sang-hwa (Ma Dong-seok) bulldozes through zombies. Brave highschool lovers fight it out to the end. Seok-woo might be an asshole in the world of finance but when his daughter’s in danger he’s a different man.
Train to Busan is one of this decade’s best zombie movies even if that phrase means very little these days. Andrew Carroll
5. The Wailing
Classifying The Wailing as horror is fair enough. Yet it’s so many other things as well. It’s a detective drama and a family comedy but at the end of the day it’s still a two-and-a-half-hour horror movie. Jong-goo (Kwak Do-won) is a lazy policeman in the rural hamlet of Gokseong. Soon after the arrival of a Japanese stranger (Jun Kunimura) a strange disease begins to spread through the village starting off as a rash before ending in violent psychoses. After Jong-goo’s daughter is taken ill he goes in search of the red-eyed Japanese man.
Na Hong-jin, alongside contemporaries Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook, has made some of South Korea’s most popular genre fare. The Wailing is his masterpiece thus far. Both a Nosferatu for the modern era and a beast all of its own, the film never lets up. Horror often takes place in broad daylight as a woman in white and the Japanese man stalk Jong-goo’s nightmares and waking life. The film bounces from tortured, desperate searches to a physically draining exorcism scene with ease never allowing viewers a moments rest. By the time The Wailing reaches its hellish conclusion it’s clear that there’s no other horror movie like it. Andrew Carroll
4. Get Out
Another directorial debut, this time from comedian Jordan Peele (also known for Us), Get Out blends stylish horror with intelligent social commentary. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) already knows it’ll be awkward meeting his white girlfriend’s family for the first time. However, what happens at their secluded upstate New York home is worse than our hero could ever imagine.
Evoking horror classics like The Stepford Wives, upon release, Get Out’s tight script – through sharp dialogue and layered symbolism – was an important reminder that there is no post-racial United States. In fact, its arguments feel even more relevant almost two years since it won a well-deserved Oscar for best original screenplay. Kevin Burke
3. I Saw the Devil
Kim Jee-Woon’s violent opus I Saw the Devil is everything I’ve wanted from a serial killer movie. Featuring two of the greatest most iconic performances of the decade by Choi Min-Sik as a vicious murderer and Lee Byung-Hun as a special agent who winds up in a twisted cat-and-mouse game with him, the South Korean horror-thriller can comfortably be ranked alongside classics Seven and The Silence of the Lambs.
I Saw the Devil covers territory most filmmakers would never even attempt to when dealing with serial killers in celluloid. It’s shockingly nasty when it needs to be, psychologically draining and by its finale, emotionally powerful. In fact, the final moments of Jee-Woon’s masterpiece will shake you to the very core as it asks the poignant question: ”Who do you believe to be the devil?.” John Hogan
2. Kill List
If I have learned one thing from watching Ben Wheatley’s movies, it’s never expect things to be nice and simple. 2011’s Kill List is the very definition of this understanding. Following two hitmen as they murder for the payment of a lifetime, things take an unexpected turn as the finale edges closer.
Kill List has everything you need from dark cinema. Strong characterization, superb acting turns from both Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley, consuming intrigue and an unflinching attention to nasty nihilism throughout. The cinematic equivalent of a nightmare, the film certainly isn’t an experience everyone will saviour. But chances are you will find yourself being affected by its bleak outlook far more than you may first believe. For those who can buy into its grim nature and unrelenting brutality, you are sure to be rewarded with one of the strongest horror experiences of the decade. John Hogan
1. The Witch
Back when Robert Eggers’ supernatural puritan debut was first released, a lot of discussion focused around whether or not The Witch was in fact scary. Turns out it is! A lot of the horror, I argue, centres around a particular scene, in which Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) overhears her parents planning to send her off to work as a servant in order to offset some of their own poverty. As the camera lingers on Thomasin’s face the horror conveyed is not only that of a possible future but of a terrifying present: she now knows that she is alone and friendless, that her own family will not protect her from the outside world.
The world of The Witch is therefore one in which nothing is certain. Thomasin must face it without a safety net or even compassion, as reflected in its foreboding cinematography: darkened scenes in which flickering mercurial candlelight is the only illumination, hostile unforgiving forests which threaten each family members’ safety and sanity. Once you consider The Witch from a puritan mindset it suddenly becomes hard to shake the horror. Sarah Cullen