8 Modern Horror Movies to Rent This Halloween
By Brendan Morrow
Why are horror movies so consistently hated amongst general audiences? I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told that, given the influx of torture porn and remakes, my favorite genre is as good as dead. Many film buffs seem to dismiss the entire concept of horror movies, listing off a few classics that they’re okay with (The Shining, The Exorcist), but claiming nothing else has been able to scare them. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve seen a horror film in theaters when there weren’t at least a few laughs, jeers or boos emanating from throughout the theater. Yet this contempt doesn’t seem to reflect box office gross. Audiences consistently flock to the most twisted of releases, and then return into the lobby to angrily demand their $12 back.
I know as well as anyone that there’s a lot of examples of uninspired garbage out there, and that yes, the genre is overstuffed with sequels, remakes, and torture porn. But those who dismiss the all modern horror films based on the bad examples are missing out on some truly memorable, bone chilling classics which have been released in the past 10 years alone. Just in time for Halloween, these 8 horror films made since 2000 deserve even non-fans to give them a watch.
The Ring (2002)
A young journalist must investigate a mysterious videotape which seems to cause the death of anyone in a week of viewing it.
Who would have thought a movie about a killer video could actually be terrifying? The Ring, an American remake of a Japanese horror film, contains some of the freakiest, spine tingling imagery of 21st century horror. I have never again been able to think about VHS tapes, old TVs, or girls with long, black hair the same way again. When I was younger, I considered this to be the scariest film I had seen, and it’s still towards the top of my list. I can specifically remember being terrified just by watching the DVD menu loading up in my player. The DVD menu alone was enough to be scary.
Many horror fans will cringe when they find out an upcoming release is PG-13, since many times this indicates the film will be toned down, tame, and ultimately uninteresting. Not this one. The Ring is probably one of the most successful PG-13 horror films in modern times. There’s practically no gore; instead, Verbinski focuses on extremely simple things, like a phone ringing or TV static, which end up completely ruining us. It can go a little overboard with the jump scares sometimes, but this is a simple and effective horror film, which I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
The Descent (2006)
A caving expedition goes horribly wrong, as the explorers become trapped and ultimately pursued by a strange breed of predators.
I can’t think of a movie that’s able to get across the feeling of claustrophobia better than The Descent. It’s a good way into the film’s running time before the main creatures appear, but even before they do, we’re scared out of our minds just by the darkness, and by the feeling that the walls are closing in around us. It manages a pretty nice balance between a monster filled gore fest that should please genre fans and a well-written character piece about guilt and redemption.
What’s refreshing about The Descent is that it doesn’t treat its characters like a mere vehicle for the plot. Instead of introducing all of them merely to be killed off one by one, Neil Marshall explores each of them in interesting ways and makes their relationships with each other feel concrete. It’s a dark, intense thrill ride that messes with your head, makes you feel trapped, and will have you gasping for breath by the time the credits roll.
Paranormal Activity (2009)
After moving into a suburban home, a couple becomes increasingly disturbed by a nightly demonic presence.
Paranormal Activity, for many people, could not possibly live up to its hype. But for me, this was one of the most memorable horror experiences of the past decade. It came about at a time when most of these kinds of movies, even the best ones, focused on loud noises to scare us. The main character walks down a hallway, something jumps out, and you scream. Paranormal Activity dials that back, proving that sometimes the simplest idea can be the most effective.
It’s a horror film that for once relies on complete silence to scare us. For long periods of time, all we’re looking at is a bedroom and a hallway, yet these moments are seriously creepy. Because what we’re looking at has the appearance of real footage, the simplest things become incredibly unnerving. The movie exploits one of the oldest principles of horror: that sometimes what we don’t see is scarier than what we do. Here’s a movie in which there’s a lot we don’t see, yet the dark void of that hallway is somehow more frightening than any monster we can imagine.
Trick ‘r Treat (2009)
Four interwoven stories that occur on Halloween: An everyday high school principal has a secret life as a serial killer; a college virgin might have just met the one guy for her; a group of teenagers pull a mean prank; a woman who loathes the night has to contend with her holiday-obsessed husband.
Why aren’t there more horror anthologies? One of the great problems with the genre these days is the overabundance of sequels, and after a while, audiences eventually become tired of seeing the same thing every year. So a natural solution is to have a series where each movie contains a different story, or several different stories, like The Twilight Zone, Tales from the Crypt, or Creepshow.
Trick ‘r Treat does precisely that, and it’s exactly the kind of movie that should have inspired a series, but in a twisted turn of events, it didn’t. The film contains four different stories, all taking place on the same Halloween night, which come together in the end. This is a perfect formula; writer Michael Doughtery isn’t forced to stretch any of the stories out for a full 90 minutes, so what we get instead is a bunch of focused, short stories that end up being far more interesting than a typical, full horror feature.
And boy, has there ever been a better movie to watch on Halloween night? Trick ‘r Treat practically reeks of the holiday, in the same way movies like A Christmas Story and Home Alone reek of Christmas. In fact, every Halloween since its release, I’ve always set aside time to watch Trick ‘r Treat again. It’s become a tradition of mine, which I imagine I’ll continue for years to come. As far as Halloween themed films go, it’s just about perfect. And please, can we have Trick ‘r Treat 2 already?
Drag Me to Hell (2009)
A loan officer who evicts an old woman from her home finds herself the recipient of a supernatural curse. Desperate, she turns to a seer to try and save her soul, while evil forces work to push her to a breaking point.
Sam Raimi understands what makes horror movies fun to watch. His 1981 film, The Evil Dead, was a blood soaked, campy little masterpiece, now considered by many fans to be an absolute classic. After moving away from horror to work on his Spider-Man trilogy, Raimi returned in 2009 with Drag Me to Hell, and what a return it was.
What a lot of people didn’t seem to get about this film is that it’s supposed to be intentionally cheesy, over the top, and absolutely ridiculous. This is a film involving a fistfight with an old woman, falling anvils which land on people so their eyes pop out, and a talking, possessed goat. Many audiences found themselves laughing, but that’s the point! We’re laughing with Sam Raimi, and not at him.
There are basically two kinds of horror movies: the kinds that are genuinely frightening, and the ones that are basically stupid, trashy fun, to be watched with friends and laughed at. Drag Me to Hell is an example of the latter, but in the best way possible. If you’re looking for a serious, bone-chilling masterpiece that will keep you awake at night, this isn’t it, but for horror fans who can loosen up and just enjoy some stupid fun, it’s an absolute blast.
A television reporter and cameraman follow emergency workers into a dark apartment building and are quickly locked inside with something terrifying.
Along with The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, REC is one of the most terrifying found footage films ever made. The handheld mechanics only help immerse us in the horror of the situation. We don’t feel like we’re observing something horrible; we feel like we’re living it. Like many of these films, REC capitalizes on what we can’t see, and what lies lurking in the darkness.
There is one sequence towards the end, featuring a character exploring a horrifying room with only the light of the camera, which is one of the most chilling sequences in modern horror. Since we can only see directly in front of us, we constantly feel like there is something hiding outside of view, just waiting to strike.
I usually never find zombies to be that scary, but the infected in REC manage to be terrifying creatures with a sense of purpose, not mindless and unthreatening as is often the case. Anytime someone dismisses found footage due to the bad examples, I always point them in the direction of REC, living proof that this isn’t just a gimmick.
Session 9 (2001)
Tensions rise within an asbestos cleaning crew as they work in an abandoned mental hospital with a horrific past that seems to be coming back.
I love when a horror movie is able to establish one single location that we never stray from. Session 9 contains one of the most memorable settings I can think of in modern horror. As we’re following our main characters around an abandoned mental hospital, it’s hard to shake the feeling that we’re there, too. It doesn’t take long before we want to get the hell out.
Like the recent Sinister, Session 9 is very story driven. Some might find it slow, because of all the films on this list, it probably contains the lowest number of scares. But the movie is more about the atmosphere, and about getting us to feel trapped and paranoid. Because so much time is spent establishing them as real people, everyone on the crew feels memorable and important to the story.
The story itself can feel a little cliché at times, and when I first watched the film I wasn’t totally convinced of its greatness. It’s often slow and has plenty of flaws and clichés throughout. But as I recalled the film’s title, countless images of that abandoned hospital flooded back into my memory, despite having watched it years ago. The fact that director Brad Anderson was able to accomplish that makes Session 9 an easy recommendation for Halloween viewing.
NOTE: Session 9 is currently available to stream on Netflix watch instantly.
The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
Five friends go to a remote cabin in the woods. Bad things happen. If you think you know this story, think again. From fan favorites Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard comes The Cabin in the Woods, a mind blowing horror film that turns the genre inside out
The Cabin in the Woods is the most creative, unique horror film of the past ten years, and it’s the perfect conclusion to any Halloween marathon. The film’s generic title and unoriginal premise acts like a practical joke, daring audiences to expect the same old thing and instead being met with something hilariously different. Joss Whedon is one of the most gifted writers in Hollywood and he, along with Drew Goddard, has written a screenplay which successfully pokes fun at the tropes of the horror genre, while not being too soaked in irony that we don’t care about the characters. It’s one of the few slasher films where the teenagers are actually smart, interesting people. One of the first conversations we see them conduct on screen is about economics textbooks.
What’s so interesting is that it’s a film about horror films, and about the process through which we create and consume these twisted stories. Early on, Whedon and Goddard introduce a laboratory of men and women who, we find out, are watching the teenagers in the cabin via hidden cameras, and orchestrating their elaborate deaths.
In other words, they’re the stand in for horror directors, forced to churn out the same old crap because they know audiences will go for it. At one point, a young girl begins to undress as she is about to be brutally murdered, and Richard Jenkins’ character mutters, “got to keep the customer satisfied.”
Cabin is both a celebration of these horror tropes that have become so standard, and yet also a giant middle finger to writers and directors who continue to rely on them. Whedon and Goddard’s film works as a senior thesis for the horror genre, concluding that after so many years of the same thing, it’s time for something new. In the process, they give the genre exactly the boost of energy it needed. It’s funny, heart felt, brutal, and actually has something meaningful to say. If not nearly as scary as the other films on this list, The Cabin in the Woods is still one of the most noteworthy horror tiles this century has offered so far.