Happy Friday the 13th everyone!
More than almost any genre, horror is one comprised of many, many subgenres. There’s slasher, zombies, ghosts, demons, “torture porn,” monsters, werewolves, vampires — the list goes on and on. A lot of people think that when it comes to what the popular subgenre in horror is at the time it’s actually a reflection of a political or societal fear of a country. When we came up with the idea to do a special list for Friday the 13th and decided to do a recommendation of a film over the last 13 years, I realized after putting the list together that the list would begin in 2001, the year of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. When you look at the films selected, I think you’ll see how the tone in horror shifted from the Interview with the Vampire‘s and I Know What You Did Last Summers of the 90’s to evoking a real sense of fear and terror from 2001 on. And that’s my favorite thing about horror: the ability to work out frustration and aggravation in a safe space for 90 minutes and still go on one hell of a cinematic ride.
So, in honor of Friday the 13th, please enjoy a pick (or four) from every year since 2001. Did your favorites get a mention? Which films would you add? Be sure to let us know in the comment section.
2013 – The Conjuring
You’ve probably already seen The Conjuring because the movie made a zillion dollars last summer at the box office. Horror had a bangarang year at the box office in 2013 seeing Mama, Texas Chainsaw 3D and The Purge clean up. But in a summer crowded with blockbusters and tentpoles, James Wan’s period piece about a “true life” case of Ed and Lorraine Warren cleaned up because it’s just a good movie. All of the pieces came together and confirmed Wan as one of the most talented and effective filmmakers working today.
See also: Maniac, The Lords of Salem, The Evil Dead
2012 – The Cabin in the Woods
I can’t say enough good things about The Cabin in the Woods, co-written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard and was also Goddard’s directorial debut. A horror movie for fans and non-fans alike, the script is sharp and satirical but never makes fun of its beloved genre but instead serves as a love letter to horror. The Cabin in the Woods also managed to put a completely fresh spin on the tired “cabin in the woods” sub-genre. Featuring great performances all around and laughs and scares aplenty, you’ll never look at an office elevator the same way ever again.
See also: The Pact, V/H/S, Sinister
2011 – Paranormal Activity 3
Oh yes, I went there. Paranormal Activity 3?! You mean, the third one? Yes, I mean the third one. I’ve made it no secret that the Paranormal Activity franchise is my favorite horror franchise. When the first movie came out and did gangbusters business it would have been easy to repeat the formula over and over and over again in a new house with a new couple until it completely burned out. Instead, the producers of the franchise decided to build a multigenerational mythology around Katie and Kristi’s family. Going back for a prequel was a genius move and directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman managed to mine plenty of terrifying moments while filling more of the backstory. Plus, the rotating camera on the fan gag? Genius. Get out of town if you didn’t lose your mind over that one.
See also: The Innkeepers, You’re Next, Fright Night
2010 – The Last Exorcism
This one was a really hard choice but I think Daniel Stamm’s The Last Exorcism deserves to be seen. From the opening moments of the film featuring Patrick Fabian’s evangelical minister declaring that exorcisms are a sham, I was intrigued. The Last Exorcism is a well-acted little movie that features a new and interesting take on the exorcism and found footage sub-genres. I won’t lie to you, it all completely falls apart in the last ten minutes, but I would argue that the ride is definitely still worth it.
See also: Insidious, Let Me In, Piranha 3D
2009 – Drag Me To Hell
Why did more people not go see Drag Me To Hell when it was in the theaters? Regardless, thanks to VOD and Blu-ray, you can all catch up now. Sam Raimi returned to horror with gusto post Spider-Man 3 and he was ready to party. Drag Me To Hell is everything you like about Evil Dead/ Army of Darkness Raimi but with an actual budget and years of filmmaking experience under his belt. The film is gross and funny and actually pretty scary and one of my favorite horror movies of all time. So there. Enjoy!
See also: Zombieland, My Bloody Valentine, Dead Snow
2008 – Cloverfield
More controversy! Cloverfield is an incredibly divisive movie. From the camera work to the actual characters, I feel like this is one that you either love or you hate but I can’t pass it by because I think it’s really great. In my humble opinion, the best genre films are actually movies that are actually pretty typical stories, it just so happens that a monster or demon or bad guy is wreaking havoc at the same time and Cloverfield is no exception. At its core, I think it’s a pretty sweet coming-of-age love story that just so happens to take place with the destruction of Manhattan by way of crazy giant monster going on in the background. If anything, Cloverfield is valuable because it was the beginnings of Matt Reeves’ genre directing career, one that has since featured Let Me In (shut up, it’s a good movie, it’s its own movie and you’re allowed to like BOTH) and the upcoming Dawn of the Planet of the Apes which is going to be AWESOME.
See also: Let The Right One In, The Strangers
2007 – Trick ‘R Treat
Apparently studio drama got in the way of this one ever getting the release that it deserved, but once again, thanks to the magic of VOD you can watch it right now! An anthology film done all kinds of right, Trick ‘R Treat is Halloween night how you’ve always dreamed it. Falling leaves in the background, hundreds of people filling the streets for parades and parties, that atmosphere created in this world is absolutely perfect. The stories flow together seamlessly and the effects and creatures are all top notch. You really should just stop what you’re doing and go watch Trick ‘R Treat. Like, now!
See also: 28 Weeks Later, 1408, The Mist, Paranormal Activity, The Orphanage
2006 – The Hills Have Eyes
Director Alexandre Aja’s American horror debut, The Hills Have Eyes is an example of a remake done right. Updated to fit the post-9/11 culture war landscape, The Hills Have Eyes is a movie that goes for the jugular. The movie pulls no punches and isn’t afraid to show graphic rape, violence or torture and yet I would argue until the end of time that it doesn’t fit under the disrespectful “torture porn” label. There’s a point to be made here just a few years after the “preemptive” invasion of Iraq about politics, the culture wars and imperialism. Give it a watch but know that this is not a casual movie going experience.
See also: Slither, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
2005 – The Descent
If you’re watching Game of Thrones, and let’s be honest, you are, then you’re familiar with director Neil Marshall who directed last Sunday’s episode “The Watchers on the Wall” as well as the “Blackwater” episode of the series. Marshall also directed The Descent, a movie that if you don’t know what is coming, you will never know what is coming. If you know nothing about The Descent do yourself a favor and don’t google it, don’t look it up, just watch it. A horror film that works across the board, The Descent features almost every kind of terror imaginable from personal betrayal to physical entrapment to — well, unwelcome visitors…
See also: War of the Worlds, Hostel, House of Wax
2004 – Shaun of the Dead
Edgar Wright’s affectionate take on the Romero zombie, Shaun of the Dead manages the impossible: it’s a horror comedy that actually works! Shaun also kicked off the Cornetto Trilogy and introduced mainstream audiences to Simon Pegg (who co-wrote the film with Wright) and Nick Frost. Shaun of the Dead doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to applying the zombie apocalypse to real life and also finds a few heartfelt moments. It also came out during the same year as Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake which was written by Slither and Guardians of the Galaxy’s James Gunn. Double feature, anyone?
See also: Saw, Dawn of the Dead
2003 – High Tension
Before The Hills Have Eyes, Alexandre Aja burst onto the horror scene with Haute tension. The movie is just as violent as Hills but painted against a more docile backdrop. Two girls trapped on a secluded farm in the middle of nowhere and being hunted by a killer, Aja keeps the tension high (I know, I know, but how else could I say it?) throughout while ultimately turning the home invasion sub-genre on its ear.
See also: Freddy vs. Jason, House of 1000 Corpses
2002 – 28 Days Later…
One of the best movies of the decade, horror or not, future-Oscar winner Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later… created a new kind of zombie in the same way that Romero had done just over thirty years prior. The Rage virus has spread throughout London and created a hyper-violent group of infected people. The uninfected are in hiding, living in squalor and no one from the outside is coming to save the survivors. Whether you call it a drama about bioterrorism or an update of the traditional zombie movie, 28 Days Later features outstanding performances, technological innovation (Hellooo, digital filmmaking!) and a soundtrack that is just as chilling as it is hopeful.
See also: Cabin Fever, The Ring, Signs
2001 – Jeepers Creepers
A modern day monster movie executive produced by Francis Ford Coppola, I’m recommending Jeepers Creepers because it’s a fun, great throwback with an R-rated attitude. The main criticism I hear of the flick is that people enjoy it until they meet The Creeper, so here’s hoping that calling it a “monster movie” outright will help to manage expectations. If you’re still on board, you’re in for a treat as The Creeper himself is a solid new monster. He eats tongues! Kills old ladies! And has a room decorated with bodies! I ask you, really, what more do you want from a movie monster? If that’s not enough, Jeepers Creepers is also one of Justin Long’s first lead performances. Enjoy!
See also: The Others, Session 9, The Devil’s Backbone