The 2010s were, mercifully, much kinder to the horror genre than the previous decade, which saw significant stagnation in the form of pointless remakes and lame, edgy failures. There was a huge resurgence in the genre’s mainstream appeal, but there were also plenty of smaller films that stood out in a big way. To say that there was a lot for horror fans to love this past decade is something of an understatement. Love ghost stories? We got plenty. Love hyper gory sleaze fests? We got that, too. Love atmospheric, visually stunning movies with wonderful soundtracks that also manage to be intense? The 2010s have you covered.
So please, grab a lantern, some gloves, and your coziest coat, and join me as we walk down this darkly lit path and discuss my ten favorite horror movies of the past decade.
10. Evil Dead (2013, dir. Fede Alvarez)
Let’s step back to the previous decade for a brief moment. I was 15. The summer saw me lose a significant amount of weight. At first, I thought it was the result of a growth spurt because I gained almost a foot in height. But that wasn’t it. When I came back from camp that year, I was skinny as a twig. I went to the hospital and as it turned out, like one of my best friends two years before me, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I spent two days in the hospital mostly laying down while the doctors stabilized my blood sugar, which had been so high that it couldn’t be read. It was rather scary, even though I didn’t have a full grasp of what the condition could have done to me. My dad brought me home from the hospital and he spent the day with me. We went to a movie rental store near where he worked (already, I’m dating myself) and he let me pick whatever movie I wanted. I saw the original, the classic, the one and only The Evil Dead starring Bruce Campbell. We watched it together that afternoon.
I was hooked. Everything about it captivated me, from Bruce Campbell’s kind of bad but still charismatic performance to the buckets of gore, to the frenetic camera work. Later, I would show this movie to a group of friends and all of us immediately became fans. We watched the magnificent second one and Army of Darkness. Whenever I was hanging out with a huge group, we would inevitably turn one of these movies on.
What I’m getting at is that I love this franchise. So when a remake was announced for 2013, all kinds of alarm bells went off. How do you recapture the low budget brilliance of the originals? How do you replicate the unique charm of seeing Ashley J. Williams being driven insane by the reanimated corpses of his own friends? I was seriously worried, as were all of my friends who loved the series as much as I did. So when release day came, I went to see it.
The answer to my questions turned out to be, you don’t do any of that. Instead, you make what is undoubtedly the flat out goriest, nastiest piece of mainstream horror possibly ever released, and you do it with a certain visual style that captures the claustrophobia of the setting. Fede Alvarez has since become one of my favorite directors with his fantastic follow up Don’t Breathe, but this one makes it on the list, because, against the odds, it managed to balk the trend from the previous decade and produced a horror remake that was actually pretty damn good. It still felt like it had echoes of the original in it, but managed to captivate with a style all its own.
Plus, the idea of something this trashy, this unapologetically brutal playing in a movie theater that would later show the Best Picture winner for that year Argo is endlessly amusing to me.
9. Mandy (2018, dir. Panos Cosmatos)
It is so, so easy to forget that Nic Cage was once considered to be a promising young actor. The man takes almost any project that comes his way, and most of them are terrible (but there was a Taken ripoff on Netflix at one point called Stolen that has provided me with belly laughs in the extreme). To say he’s kind of a has-been is an understatement, but his fans always hold out for that one scene. In almost every movie he’s in, there’s at least one scene where he goes off the deep end and chews the scenery like it’s made of wet tissue paper and he’s a lab rat that hasn’t eaten because it keeps pushing the button that produces the feel-good drug instead of the food or whatever.
Mandy was a reminder that, given the right material, and the right director, the man is a force to be reckoned with. Some might argue that this movie is too slow, with almost an hour of setup before the action starts, but it spends that time weaving an almost dream-like atmosphere, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before or since and establishing the touching relationship between the eponymous Mandy and Nic Cage’s character Red. You get to know them and empathize with them as two simple people who love each other and lead a blue-collar life in the wilderness. It’s visual storytelling at its best, and it makes the turning point halfway through all the more horrific and legitimately upsetting.
Linus Roache plays the head of a wannabe Manson cult and when he sees Mandy and becomes captivated with her, he tries to woo her with his music and influence over his followers. When she laughs at the size of his member, he takes her, puts her in a sack, and burns her alive in front of Red in a scene that will haunt you forever. And it’s here that Panos Cosmatos uses Nic Cage in a way that few directors have. Red screams in anguish and rage, unable to do anything to help, and the entire scene is almost completely silent. But you still believe Red’s pain. Nic Cage’s face is so expressive, and he is so adept at conveying Red’s feelings that the movie doesn’t need to use sound for us to feel all the pain he feels.
The rest of the movie becomes a hyper-violent fever dream, almost turning into something more akin to dark fantasy. But in a movie whose world includes demonic bikers turned so by a bad batch of acid, a cult of religious fanatics, and Nic Cage using a piece of broken glass to snort cocaine before throwing one of the aforementioned demonic bikers into a pit, I think this movie is certainly horrific enough to fall into the genre. It’s a bizarre mix of legitimately phenomenal and unapologetic splatter cinema, and it’s all propped up by perhaps Nic Cage’s best performance in his entire career.
8. The Void (2016, dir. Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski)
This decade saw a huge resurgence in ’80s nostalgia, and in my opinion, it’s played out. I love synth wave music, but I can do away with the pining for stuff from 40 years ago. However, there’s no denying that a whole boatload of great horror movies came out in that decade, chief among them John Carpenter’s simply outstanding The Thing, which is still the movie to top when it comes to practical creature effects.
Enter The Void. I just turned it on one night, and it completely blew me away. It felt like it took the lessons of ’80s movies—the slow buildup to the major threat, a whole mythology at work that isn’t over-explained, an atmospheric soundtrack, and simple characters that are easily relatable—and put them in a thoroughly modern movie. It did ’80s nostalgia without being obnoxious about it. It follows a cop named Daniel who stumbles across a hitchhiker who claims he was involved in a massacre at a farmhouse. He brings the man to the hospital after receiving a distressing call, and from there, mysterious hooded figures in white robes cut the building off, while other monsters attack from within.
A huge part of this movie’s success is its special effects. There are monsters in this that really must be seen to be believed. Imagine Silent Hill with the effects masters from The Thing and you have a pretty good idea of what you’re in for. The story doesn’t take a holiday, though. It tells a chilling, compelling story that builds from a simply siege tale to full-on cosmic horror, with some late twists that seal this as a future cult classic. It’s intense, it’s hyper gory, and it’s a whole lot of fun.
7. I Saw the Devil (2010, dir. Kim Jee-woon)
This is about as intense as thrillers get, people. Following Kim Soo-hyeon as a renegade cop following his girlfriend’s murder at the hands of a sadistic killer (played superbly by Choi Min-sik), this Korean thriller blends horror, thrillers, and crime into one huge, disturbing dissection of revenge films. Kim doesn’t just want to catch the killer. Instead, he wants to make the killer feel the anguish, the fear, the hopelessness that the killer makes his victims feel, so he repeatedly catches and releases him, losing himself in the process.
This movie contains perhaps the most beautiful scene of cinematic carnage ever captured on film, and that really speaks to the movie as a whole. It’s abhorrent in its violence, which doesn’t set out to entertain. Instead, it sets out to shock, and despite the film’s lengthy almost two and a half hours’ run time, the effects of the violence somehow always land. It constantly finds new and gruesome ways to one-up itself in a way that feels true to the characters and world it creates.
It’s upsetting, it’s bloody, and it’s one hell of an unforgettable film.
6. Last Shift (2014, dir. Anthony DiBlasi)
Jessica Loren is a rookie cop who must watch the old precinct building for one night as her first assignment. There’s still old evidence that hasn’t been moved to the new building, and she needs to be there as a formality. The problem is that she’s the only one in the building. Another problem is that its holding cells imprisoned the Paymon family, a group of zealots who believed their leader, John Michael Paymon, was an earthly incarnation of the king of Hell. And the raid on said family’s compound cost the lives of Jessica’s father as well as several other cops. As the night wears on, strange occurrences haunt Jessica, culminating in a finale that’s as intense as it is unforgettable.
So much of this movie shouldn’t work. The main story, which mixes crime with supernatural horror, could have come across as cheesy, but the movie makes it work using simple but effective cinematography to place the viewer in Jessica’s disoriented shoes. The film’s ending is bound to be contentious as well, but everything leading up to it pretty effectively sets up what happens.
But perhaps the biggest factor in the movie’s success is Juliana Harkavy’s outstanding performance. She is given a ton of material to work with, with her character going through almost every major emotion imaginable, and Harkavy nails it every single time. She becomes an easy surrogate character for the viewer, who is with her every terrifying step of the way. And this is perhaps the most overtly scary movie on this list, with superb sound design, effective camerawork, and other trickery that manages to get under the viewer’s skin without resorting to cheap jump scares.
This is a horrific, unforgettable supernatural horror movie that manages to take classic genre tropes and twist them to great effect, and it’s all bolstered by an outstanding central performance.
5. The Devil’s Candy (2015, dir. Sean Byrne)
The Hellmans move into a new, old house, and are enjoying their life with daughter Zooey, until one night an old tenant returns. This tenant is an overweight, middle-aged man who believes he hears the devil’s voice, and the voice tells him to do very, very bad things.
It’s a deceptively simple premise that makes use of too many horror tropes to count. In an almost King-esque twist, Jesse Hellman (played wonderfully and empathetically by Ethan Embry), is an artist who finds new inspiration in the house but suffers blackouts where he doesn’t remember painting what he sees before him when he comes to. Their daughter befriends the movie’s antagonist before things go horribly wrong. There’s a huge question of whether or not the house is actually haunted, and if the killer is really hearing the devil speak to him.
But the movie uses a simply outstanding metal soundtrack to merge its unique, incredible visuals into a disturbing, anxiety-inducing whole that is exemplified in the movie’s final act, which is almost unbearable in its tension. It helps, too, that Jesse’s relationship with his young daughter (played by an awesome Kiara Glasco—seriously, she has a career ahead of her) feels so amicable. A trope I hate in horror movies is trying to get the audience to connect with a kid. I don’t like kids on a good day, and more often than not the kids are one-note. Here, though, Zooey is a fully fleshed out, understandably angsty teenager who still loves her parents despite the stupid decisions she makes (she is a teenager after all).
It’s ultimately this good-natured relationship that makes all of the third act so nerve-wracking. Unlike other movies in the haunted house genre, which often play up character flaws to create tension, this movie has characters who all genuinely love each other, and it shines through in their performances. Even in his darkest moments, Jesse holds nothing in his heart but love for Zooey, and it’s this connection that makes the viewer root for them.
Plus, it’s just metal as all hell, with a climactic scene that will make you want to grow your hair past your shoulders, dress in all black, and refer to yourself as “Bloody Steel” or something to that effect. It’s a wonderfully intense piece of film making, echoing the director’s fantastic debut effort The Loved Ones in many ways. But it manages to stand out with a ferocity all its own.
4. Hereditary (2018, dir. Ari Aster)
When I went to see this movie, I thought for sure the theater would be empty. After all, the trailer made it look like a slow burn, character-driven horror movie, and that’s what it turned out to be. It has maybe two jump scares in it, as well, and instead relies on its film making to build a genuinely unnerving atmosphere. But I almost couldn’t get seats in this movie. The theater was packed, and I had the unfortunate experience of sitting next to a bunch of teenage girls, who were on their phones the whole time. Somehow, this movie hit it big. And I’m glad it did. It gives me hope for the genre.
How much more can I say that hasn’t been said about this movie? It’s a masterful blending of family drama with sheer, dreadful horror, all driven by outstanding performances by Toni Collette, as well as a severely understated but brilliant performance by Nat Wolf. Any number of scenes are enough to give anyone anxiety, including a now-infamous one involving a powerline post, which made my jaw hit the floor for how masterfully it built tension and relieved it with one simple sound effect. It artfully portrays the familial history of mental illness through the lens of a Rosemary’s Baby type cult, and it does so while making you buy into the whole thing, despite how absurd it gets in its final act.
Supernatural horror movies really don’t get much better than this. It’s everything I love in the sub-genre.
3. You’re Next (2013, dir. Adam Wingard)
I had no expectations for this movie, and it’s all The Conjuring’s fault. That movie had so much hype built around it, with people saying it was the scariest movie ever made, and I bought into the hype. And I know it’s a popular franchise, but I don’t like it. I find it over-reliant on jump scares and dated formulas to a fault. I’d heard many similar things about You’re Next, and the only reason I saw it was because it was released on my birthday. And it blew me away from its first moments.
The Final Girl is such a well-known trope that I’m going to assume you know about it. Many people take it to be a form of female empowerment, but I find that a lot of the times, it’s frustrating because the final girl survives through the help of someone else or just sheer luck. Not so here. You’re Next takes the at this point tired slasher trope of the final girl and totally flips it on its head, and instead asks the question, “What if the final girl is actually a supremely capable, smart individual who can take down just about anyone through her wits?”
This movie is the definition of a crowd-pleaser. It has fantastic, disturbing kills, and moments of catharsis that are unmatched in the genre, with one scene involving a blender destined to become the stuff that horror legends are made of. The final girl of the movie, Erin (played by a great Sharni Vinson), is a complete badass, for lack of a better phrase, but not unstoppable.
Something a lot of people miss when watching this movie is its pitch-black comedy. I’m about to talk spoilers here, so go watch this if you haven’t yet. It’s fantastic. Anyways, it turns out that the masked killers have been hired by some of the family’s kids so they can get their inheritance early. This immediately opens up what could be thought of us plot holes. The killers are willing to kill this whole family for $100,000 each? The surviving siblings don’t think the cops will find it suspicious that they are the only ones left? But that’s part of the movie’s sense of humor. No one here has really thought ahead, and Erin uses that to her advantage time and time again throughout the course of the film to best her adversaries both mentally and physically.
This movie is, pure, distilled, bloody entertainment in its purest form. I don’t react much in movie theaters, but this almost had me cheering by the end when I first watched it. I’ve since seen it more times than I care to count. Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett absolutely knocked it out of the park with this one, and while their follow up film The Guest is also really great, it doesn’t quite measure up to the bloody, cathartic mayhem of You’re Next. It’s self-aware without being stupid like other meta-slashers. It’s bloody without feeling gratuitous (that blender scene is 100% necessary, thank you very much). And its star is a smart, capable woman who manages to overcome her foes while still feeling like a grounded, real character. This movie is destined to become horror royalty as time goes on.
2. Super Dark Times (2017, dir. Kevin Phillips)
I’ve written about this movie before, and I’m here writing about it again because it is, simply put, perhaps the best realistic coming of age horror movie ever made. It involves best friends Zach and Josh accidentally participating in an act of horrific violence and their subsequent fallout with each other, culminating in a finale that’s as intense as it is heartbreaking.
I could talk about how the movie perfectly captures the tumultuous time of being a teenage boy, stuck between really maturing and still wanting to be a kid. I could talk about how the cinematography is like seeing a series of paintings, with each shot lingering long enough for the viewer to take in the rich scenery and the implications of what’s being done. And I could talk about how the performances are so naturalistic that at times you could swear you’re watching real people live their real lives on screen. But I won’t do any of that. Because I already have done that here.
This is, simply put, an absolute masterpiece on every level. The film making is chillingly evocative of a time that’s difficult for everyone. The story is tragic in a way that really twists your gut. The performances are great. If you’re anything like me, this will likely stick with you in a way few movies do. As much as I love the other movies on this list, none of them so perfectly capture a time and place. None of them contain acting that feels so true to life. None of them utilize simple, everyday scenery to transport you back to when you were a teenager.
Super Dark Times is the kind of movie that reminds you of why you love the medium in the first place. It’s intense, it’s horrific, it’s sad, and it’s nearly perfect in every way.
And before we conclude this list, I want to list some honorable mentions, because there really were too many fantastic horror movies to count this decade. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some, and this is by no means every single horror movie I’ve enjoyed lo these past 10 years.
Bone Tomahawk (2015; as a side note, this has possibly the most genuinely upsetting death scene in any movie I’ve ever seen, and it’s about 3 seconds long.)
Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)
Don’t Breathe (2016)
Get Out (2017)
The Gift (VI) (2015)
Green Room (2015)
Hounds of Love (2016)
The Invitation (2015)
Tales of Halloween (2015)
Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil (2010)
V/H/S 2 (2013; segment “Safe Haven”)
1. It Follows (2015, dir. David Robert Mitchell)
I wrote about this movie in the same article I wrote about Super Dark Times. And while I stated that the latter is possibly the best realistic coming of age horror movie of all time, I put forth that this movie is the best coming of age horror movie of all time, period. David Robert Mitchell took a very silly premise—a sexually transmitted ghost—and made a movie that is nostalgic, terrifying, and simply unforgettable.
Following Jay (played by an understated but fantastic Maika Monroe) after she is given a mysterious entity by having sex with her boyfriend, she reaches out to her friends for help and they do their best. This phantom changes form, and can only be seen by its current host or someone who has had it before, and it can only be gotten rid of by having sex with someone else.
This movie is about so much more than just sexually transmitted diseases, which is certainly one interpretation of it. It’s about taking the first real step into adulthood before you’ve figured out who you want to be. It’s about straddling that line between childhood and adulthood and being forced to cross it by traumatic events. It’s about maturing, growing old beyond your years, and dealing with the specter of death that follows all but is understood by few.
It helps that every single frame of this movie could go up on a wall as a gorgeous poster, with outstanding cinematography. The score is similarly superb, with synth music that doesn’t feel like it’s riding the ’80s nostalgia wave that was prevalent at the time (and still is). The performances are all subdued but great, making you grow attached to the young cast as they struggle to understand what’s happening to their lives.
I could go on and on and on about how magnificent this movie is. It transcends the genre of horror but manages to be an effectively terrifying story that gives no easy answers to questions of our own mortality. It makes the viewer think about their own life, and where exactly they became a full adult. It’s for all these reasons and many more that it’s my favorite horror movie of the decade and my favorite horror movie I’ve ever seen.
A Fond Farewell
We’ve reached the end of the trail, dear reader. Thanks for walking it with me as I reminisced and rambled about the many great horror movies we were spoiled with during the 2010s. Here’s to hoping we continue to see the genre thrive going into 2020, and that filmmakers continue to find new and unique ways to scare the pants off us.