In absolutely no particular order (because it was hard enough to narrow the twenty I had in mind to just ten), here’s my list. It’s different in parts and I use the word horror a little looser than some. Hope you enjoy and at the very least, look up a flick you may have never seen/heard of before. I guarantee you, all of these are winners in their own, special way.
Shaun of the Dead (2004) – Technically it’s a comedy, but so adept with its treatment of the horror genre that it earns a spot on this list. Hell, every/any list for “Best of…” compiled concerning 2001 to present. Best Musical- It’s on the list (DUB A DUBBA DUB A DA DA…AUUUGHHHHH). Best Animated- On the list (Have you seen Nick Frost)! Best Foreign Film - Done and done. Smart-ass comments aside, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost pull off one the most balanced films to hit screens in decades. Endlessly watchable, undeniably clever and strikingly honest. This one belongs on every list and in every collection.
Slither (2006) – A slimy return to drive-in horror movies, plopped right in the middle of a decade more concerned with masked slashers, creepy children ghosts and Rube Goldberg instruments of torture. Humor, horror, alien creatures, flesh eating zombies and a well rounded cast of character actors makes this a (not so guilty) pleasure of the genre.
Dog Soldiers (2002) – A military training exercise goes horribly wrong in the wilderness of Scotland in this modern, practical effects take on werewolves. Director Neil Marshall (who later directed The Decent and Doomsday) makes one the most crowd pleasing and action packed low budget horror flicks of the 2000s. It's a shame so few have seen it for it's a shining example of creature effects still being...well, effective.
28 Days Later (2002) – Arguably, this generation’s zombie movie… or is it an outbreak movie… discuss amongst yourselves, because I don’t really care what you classify it under. Regardless of your silly titles, this movie is haunting, fast paced, creepy as hell and perfectly constructed to achieve maximum ass clenching in your seat.
The Host (2006) – The best monster movie in years just happens to come out of Korea. A mutated creature stumbles onto the crowded shores of Seoul and goes on a rampage. Before departing, it captures a young girl. What makes this flick so effective is the focus on a dysfunctional family attempting to rescuing their little princess. How things play out isn't your typical Hollywood fare and this gem is all the more better for it.
Drag Me to Hell (2009) – Sam Raimi's return to bat-shit crazy horror, this film could easily take place in the Evil Dead Universe (calm down, I'm not comparing, just setting the tone). In it, a meager loan specialist takes a hard line on a gypsy woman's claim. Before you know it, she's cursed to be dragged to hell (literally) for her cruelty. Raimi's wacky antics balanced with genuine creepiness and a disturbing ending cut this film above the recent rest.
Primer (2004) – Not exactly horror, but down right creepy and effective. This 77 minute, tiny budget mind bender about the intricacies of time travel is downright horrific. Two friends inadvertently discover a way to travel back in time. It isn't long before they start to one up each other using their newly learned trick. The damage to themselves and their psyches is the kind of locked door tension you can't fabricate easily in film.
Cloverfield (2008) – Enough with your “shakey-cam” bitching, this movie is beautifully shot. Director Matt Reeves and writer Drew Goddard set out to make a monster movie with scale as big as the sun, but told in the most intimate of ways. They literally placed themselves in a box and then invented new ways to think outside of it. The tension is high, the plot progression is exciting and the monster (what you get to see of it) is original and frightening. Haters want to hate, but this movie is nostalgic, original and effective all at the same time.
The Mist (2007) – God bless Frank Darabont and his ongoing battle to push the limits of mainstream horror. Based on a Stephen King novella, The Mist is about a fog that engulfs a northeastern town, bringing with it giant, tentacle-ridden, inter-dimensional creatures concerned only with destruction. That’s just the set up, the real horror resides in a grocery store in which our heroes are stuck. Darabont shows us the decline of civilization in the face of fear, depicted through the microcosm of this small town store. Whether the real horror is inside or outside is up to the viewer to decide, but even with stakes this bleak, it's hard to imagine how the story can close peacefully (hint: It doesn't. It really doesn't). If you’ve never seen this, I highly recommend seeking out the black and white version (how it was originally intended to be released), available on the 2 disc DVD and Bluray. It’s just creepier that way.
Hostel (2005) – Of all the torture flicks of the last decade, I possess a soft spot for Eli Roth's addition to the sub-genre. Not because of the violence or premise, per say, but because of Roth's handle on the material. In it, we're introduced to two disrespectful and decadent American dipshits as they back pack through Europe (with an equally idiotic German man in tow). For an hour, we're treated to their hedonistic ways, just waiting for them to receive their comeuppance in grisly fashion. The magic of Hostel is that when they’re finally in danger, Roth makes it so terrifying and surreal that all that happened before doesn't matter. He makes us worry, care and fear for these delinquents so effectively that the horrific things happening are truly scary. That alone elevates what could’ve been an easily disposable movie.