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The 50 Greatest Horror Films of the 21st Century

5

The Devil’s Rejects (2005)

If House of 1000 Corpses successfully transposed the grotesqueries evoked by Rob Zombie’s music onto film, then The Devil’s Rejects cemented his status as a filmmaker worth noticing. Zombie’s sophomore effort, ungodly violent and gruesome as it is, would be nearly unbearable to watch were it not so wonderfully aestheticized. His most noticeable trait as a stylist is, unsurprisingly, a knack for selecting the perfect songs to both match and offset the morbid goings-on of his film, but there’s more at work here than mere artifice: Zombie infuses an unexpected somberness where his debut tended toward camp. His sideshow-esque cast of characters, while far from sympathetic, have evolved into genuinely fleshed-out beings whose unexpected pathos only intensifies the terror they evoke. The rejects’ long string of satanic ritual murders make for a carnivalesque experience far more viscerally stimulating—and strangely watchable—than it seems to have any right to be. Nordine

4

Trouble Every Day (2001)

While Trouble Every Day operates, superbly, as a biological-themed horror film, it would cheapen Claire Denis’s achievement to say that she merely literalizes the violent implications of sex, even when manifested as traditional “romantic” lovemaking. The filmmaker expounds on the notion of sex-as-violence with an unnerving clarity that appears to explain why acts of theoretical love and brutality assume such disconcertingly similar outward appearances, as both involve attempts to foster illusions of control where there aren’t any. Theoretically, sex involves a search for communion, intimacy, whereas violence is often an expression of dominance, and Denis shows that intimacy and dominance are similarly impossible concepts to realize with any degree of permanency, if we’re to be truthful with ourselves. Bowen

3

Under the Skin (2013)

Under the Skin’s extraterrestrial seductress, Laura (Scarlett Johansson), shrinks in stature as the film progresses, from an indomitable, inviolable man-eating ghoul to an increasingly fragile woman suffering from the psychic trauma wreaked by her own weaponized sexuality. It’s a heartbreaking process to witness, one that flips a sleek, mysterious sci-fi thriller into a singular melodrama focused on the unlikeliest of protagonists. Establishing an atmosphere in which each new intrusion of feeling delivers another blow to the character’s once-steely exterior, director Jonathan Glazer spins out a maelstrom of dread as Laura simultaneously contracts and expands, adapting to the frailty of her assumed human form. Cataldo

2

Audition (1999)

For all its reputation as a stomach-churning endurance test awaiting eager new horror fans, it’s worth reminding audiences that Takashi Miike’s Audition is a masterpiece because the filmmaker brilliantly plumbs the poignant human desperation that often fuels both the romantic comedy and the horror film. Aoyama’s (Ryo Ishibashi) ridiculous self-absorbed quest to find a mate isn’t merely parodied as a symptom of social objectification, as it might have been in an Eli Roth production. You feel for Aoyama, and you somehow even feel for Asami (Eihi Shiina), the vengeful wraith who must assert her own form of deranged romantic self-actualization, regardless of the collateral damage. Bowen

1

Pulse (2001)

When The Social Network came out, it was tagged with suspicious unanimity as the movie of “our moment.” But nearly a decade earlier, Kiyoshi Kurosawa pretty much wrote the ultimate obituary for the concept that there would ever again be an “our” anything, moment or otherwise. A neo-Invasion of the Body Snatchers in ghostly J-horror trappings, Pulse is a mournful techno-eschatology in which the world ends not with a bang, but a quiet murmur of billions of modems snatching away the souls of all who use them, and leaving all who opt out feeling even more alone than the throngs doing purgatory on the other side of the monitor. Coming, as it did, almost concurrently with the onset of “death of cinema” alarm bells, Pulse’s desperate plea for real, messy, analog emotions is all but unbearable, and should send a chill through anyone who’s found themselves absently caught up in YouTube roulette. Eric Henderson

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