The 50 Greatest Horror Films of the 21st Century


Piranha 3D

Piranha 3D tips its cap to Jaws with an opening appearance by Richard Dreyfuss, yet the true ancestors of Alexandre Aja’s latest are less Steven Spielberg’s classic (and Joe Dante and Roger Corman’s more politically inclined 1978 original Piranha) than 1980s-era slasher films. Unapologetically giddy about its gratuitous crassness, Aja’s B movie operates by constantly winking at its audience, and while such self-consciousness diffuses any serious sense of terror, it also amplifies the rollicking comedy of its over-the-top insanity. Aja’s gimmicky use of 3D is self-aware, and the obscene gore of the proceedings is, like its softcore jokiness, so extreme and campy—epitomized by a hair-caught-in-propeller scalping—that the trashy, merciless Piranha 3D proves a worthy heir to its brazen exploitation-cinema forefathers. Schager


Marebito (2004)

One of the most Lovecraftian films not directly cribbed from the master’s pen, Takeshi Shimizu’s disquieting Marebito plumbs the phenomenology of fear. When amateur shutterbug Masuoka (Shinya Tsukamoto) witnesses a brutal act of self-destruction, he sets off on a quest the leads into bizarre subterranean regions from whence he rescues a naked girl he names F (Tomomi Miyashita), a mute, lethargic creature who subsists exclusively on blood and just might be his daughter. Shimizu floats several possible explanations for the inscrutable goings on (least interesting among them the idea that Masuoka has simply flipped his wig), but never settles definitively on any one of them. It’s precisely this disorienting sense of epistemological uncertainty that lends Marebito its power to disturb and fascinate in equal measure. Wilkins


Maniac (2012)

Made in collaboration with Alexandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur, and with the sort of fearless artistic freedom often allowed by European financing, Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac begins with a psychopath’s synth-tastically scored stalking of a party girl back to her apartment, outside which he cuts her frightened scream short by driving a knife up into her head through her jaw. The film deceptively delights in capturing the mood of an exploitation cheapie before latching onto and running with the conceit only halfheartedly employed by William Lustig in the 1980 original, framing the titular maniac’s killing spree—this time set in Los Angeles—almost entirely from his point of view. A gimmick, yes, but more than just a means of superficially keying us into the psyche of the main character, Frank, an antique mannequin salesman played memorably by a minimally seen Elijah Wood. As in Rob Zombie’s Halloween II, this approach becomes a provocative means of sympathizing with the devil. Gonzalez


Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

If a horror film can be reasonably likened to a bear trap, then the audience’s enjoyment, with exceptions, probably resides mostly in the first two acts as the filmmakers go about gradually winding and setting the spring. With Berberian Sound Studio, writer-director Peter Strickland has found an unusual solution for providing a catharsis that doesn’t compromise the dread he’s conjured: He doesn’t provide one at all, and that violation of narrative expectation is more disturbing than the emergence of a third-act ghoulie. In fact, one can reasonably assert that Berberian Sound Studio isn’t so much a horror film as an unusual workplace drama that follows a hero who’s having a very bad professional go of things. Bowen


Let Me In (2010)

How fitting it is that the vampiric Ronald Reagan makes a cameo in Let Me In, the most unexpectedly tender, affecting film of its kind since Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark. The creatures of the night and the anguish of a generation raised by hypocrites and yuppies fit right into Matt Reeves’s heartfelt depiction of 1980s suburbia, a society that’s ravaged itself on a steady diet of fear. Distinctly warmer in tone than the Swedish original (and featuring a newly conceived carjacking sequence as nail-bitingly prodigious as anything in Hitchcock), this justified remake nonetheless finds equal levels of unrest and hurt among its cast of characters, eschewing traditional notions of villains and heroes with a dramatically ambiguous push-and-pull of overlapping, conflicting motivations. Kids, cops, bullies, killers, and even a vampire seem to share the same twisted soul. The bloodshed is tragic regardless, while a deceptively upbeat tone guards the true nature of the sinister conclusion—the end of this story, but more importantly, the beginning of another just like it. Rob Humanick