The 50 Greatest Horror Films of the 21st Century


I Saw the Devil (2010)

Kim Jee-woon’s ultra-stylish, gleefully brutalist I Saw the Devil is at bottom a Grand Guignol reduction-to-absurdity of Nietzsche’s maxim that one who battles monsters must beware lest he become one himself—though how seriously the film takes its own philosophical underpinnings is anybody’s guess. Kim seemingly relishes the escalating tango of retribution between psychopathic bus driver Jang Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik) and bereaved federal agent Kim Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun), getting his directorial rocks off on every sadistic set piece with the unbridled abandon of Dario Argento at his peak. The nihilistic, nobody-wins ending ultimately aligns I Saw the Devil with a film that otherwise seems like its diametric opposite: Wes Craven’s grungy, lo-fi Bergman piss take The Last House on the Left. Wilkins


The Host (2006)

Scott Wilson’s deliciously hammy presence as the American captain in the opening scene indicates that Bong Joon-ho’s The Host is, in the broadest sense, a politically charged diatribe against both American and Korean political cover-up machinations of misinformation. But that aspect is rather bland in comparison to what else the film has to offer. For, like any great monster movie, this isn’t a film strictly about a monster (or, for that matter, the monstrous countries that spawned it), but about something else: the significance of sustenance. That is, The Host is a film chiefly concerned with food: who, how, and where we get it from, what it is we choose to eat, and why we eat it at all. Ryland Walker Knight


Halloween II (2009)

An alternate title for Rob Zombie’s Halloween II could be Sympathy for the Devil. If Michael Myers was almost a phantom presence in John Carpenter’s Halloween, here he’s unmistakably and chillingly real. Throughout, Michael suggests a nomad single-mindedly driven by a desire to obliterate every connection to his namesake, and the scope of his brutality suggests a clogged id’s flushing out. In this almost Lynchian freak-out, whose sense of loss comes to the fore in a scene every bit as heartbreaking as its violence is discomfiting in its graphic nature, Zombie’s prismatic aesthetic is cannily rhymed with Michael’s almost totemic mood swings, every obscenely prolonged kill scene a stunning reflection on an iconic movie monster’s psychological agony. Gonzalez


Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Edgar Wright often concedes in his work that life is complicated and exhausting and basically just hard; the stuff we deal with every day, from relationships to familial responsibility to even just getting up for work in the morning, makes fending off zombies or cultists or straightforward baddies of any kind seem preferable. In the short-lived Channel 4 series Spaced, the struggle of two twentysomething creatives to claw their way out of dead-end minimum-wage jobs and see their loftier professional ambitions realized was tempered by fleeting retreats into pop-culture daydreams, where reality might look like Murder, She Wrote one moment and Resident Evil 2 the next. Shaun of the Dead took this device a step further: When a breakup violently disrupts the complacent man-child bubble of its hero, zombies arrive to violently disrupt the whole world along with it, reframing one man’s personal efforts to grow and learn the value of responsibility as a more literal question of life and death. Marsh


The Lords of Salem (2012)

Crones as a manifestation of the internal ugliness we imagine of ourselves, while at the mercy of our blackest self-loathing, aren’t new. David Lynch has practically trademarked this kind of symbology in Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive, but Rob Zombie makes it his own, and he appears to be liberated by the challenge of largely reining in his wildly in-your-face aesthetic for the sake of following the lower-key tropes of the satanic-possession film. There’s a sense of contained restless energy in The Lords of Salem that’s introduced by Zombie’s unexpectedly deliberate camera movements and exasperated by the film’s flamboyant sense of chaotically cluttered architecture. With their busy, ugly wallpaper and stifling over-abundance of bric-a-brac, the rooms in this film often appear to be on the verge of swallowing poor Heidi Hawthorne (Sheri Moon-Zombie) alive. And, of course, they are. Bowen