Right in the thick of it, kids---I want feedback!
30. Dead Snow (2009, Tommy Wirkola)
For about 40 minutes, "Dead Snow" threatens to coast on the strength of its premise---the film could've easily taken a cue from "Snakes on a Plane" and just slapped it with the title "Nazi Zombies". And then, seemingly out of nowhere, this self-aware satire becomes... absolutely... AWESOME. The climactic zombie battle has to be seen to be believed, an epic battle of absurd carnage that spreads the gooseflesh all over.
29. 1408 (2007, Mikail Hafstrom)
The best Stephen King adaptation since "Misery" to see release until... well, you'll see until what. John Cusack digs into his showy role with gusto, and the ghoul-populated alternate reality of the titular hotel room takes a refreshing break from gore to present the viewer with a mind-bending vision of a man's personal hell, with no end in sight and tons of false starts to give Cusack a totally unearned sense of hope. When Cusack is deceptively reunited with his dead daughter for a scant moment, one of the most deeply-felt emotional moments in horror cinema results.
28. Triangle (2009, Christopher Smith)
The definitive M.C. Escher painting of a horror movie, "Triangle" is a heady mind-bender that benefits from a high-concept script with tons of tricks up its sleeve. The film, set largely on an abandoned barge in the middle of the ocean, introduces an intriguing literalization of the "my own worst enemy" school of thought, and when the entire hand is revealed, trying to figure out where certain plot threads connect is half of the fun. What actually happens when you're trapped in the Bermuda Triangle? "Triangle" bewitches and blows minds with its explanation.
27. Pontypool (2008, Bruce McDonald)
From one high-concept horror concept to another, "Pontypool" is an inventive Canadian zombie movie that makes several bold, bar-setting moves: much of the zombie action happens outside of the confines of the single-set location, a decaying church converted into a local radio station. Oh, and the zombie virus is spread through the English language. The Pandora's box opened here leads to a compelling conundrum: when you're the only person who has the power to save everybody, how do you tell them without spreading the virus? Stephen McHattie's lead performance is positively titanic, and the mere concept is pregnant with possibility. It may not hit you right away, but once it does, it'll stay with you for days.
26. Jeepers Creepers (2001, Victor Salva)
Though it perhaps takes a hit when it degenerates into a monster movie halfway through, the first half of convicted scumbag Victor Salva's "Jeepers Creepers" provides enough momentum to sustain the duration. A pair of bickering siblings (played to the hilt by Gina Phillips and a terrific Justin Long) are accosted on the road by an impossibly old, impossibly creepy truck. Salva takes the time to build up the momentum by, in a move clearly inspired by Spielberg's "Duel", staging a big car chase with an unseen villain. Things kick into high gear when Long discovers the mysterious antagonist's labyrinthine underground collection of bodies. File under "late-night tingler"---this one has a deliciously old-school sensibility, perfect for 2 a.m. viewings, and, once again, featuring a gloriously mean final shot.
25. Joy Ride (2001, John Dahl)
The same year as "Jeepers Creepers", great unsung genre director John Dahl scored a great unsung triumph with the similarly "Duel"/"Hitcher"-inspired "Joy Ride", another fantastic throwback to the cat-and-mouse road movie. Virtually devoid of gore and featuring Ted Levine (yep, Buffalo Bill) as the bone-chilling voice on the other end of the CB radio, "Joy Ride" ratchets up the suspense a notch with every scene. Mixing in a classic motel violence trope, the scene where two brothers (Paul Walker and Steve Zahn) shush each other and listen, wide-eyed, to a brutal murder occurring just on the other side of their wall is beautifully realized---the rest of the film is briskly suspenseful and perfectly pitched. An underrated gem.
24. Hatchet and Hatchet 2 (2006 and 2010, Adam Green)
Cheating? Perhaps. But it's my list. One of only two sets of films from the same series on this list, Adam Green's valiant resurrection of the classic 80's slasher ghoul inspires rabid fandom, and for good reason---Green is a consummate homage artist, aware of his inspirations, and terrific at realizing them. Victor Crowley, the Jason/Michael/Freddy of this series, is a hulking, brutal beast of a villain, and his kills are some of the best in modern horror. The first film introduces us to the setting and the villain---the second peppers in colorful characters, a brassy heroine, and even more inventive kills. For what Green was going for---a loving homage to the horrors of his youth with a modern spin---he succeeded valiantly.
23. The Hills Have Eyes (2006, Alexandre Aja)
Arguably more interesting than Wes Craven's original (see also: "The Last House on the Left", which was remade with far more satisfying results last year), burgeoning fright-master Aja ramps up the violence and the scares with his incarnation. Once the scares start in this horror tale of dusty, off-road America, Aja goes for the jugular with several devastating setpieces, and weaves in a satirical (some would say smug) overtone in the film's third act. Gruesome and damning, "Hills" hits home every time.
22. The Host (2006, Joon-ho Bong)
Perhaps the singular reason that monster movies continue to be at least a little bit viable (instead of entirely extinct), Joon-ho Bong, he of an increasingly interesting ouvre of Korean imports, brings his vision of the monster movie to life with a transfixing setpiece that looses its underwater ghoul on a city park. By the time this breathless sequence is over, you should already be convinced that this is a great monster movie---by the time the credits roll, and Joon-ho has managed to heap wrenching tragedy and side-splitting comedy onto this shaggy-dog delight of a movie, you should be convinced that this is a great movie, period.
21. Eden Lake (2008, James Watkins)
The best horror auteurs are powering their films' engines on a lot more than viscera these days, and while "Eden Lake" has that in spades, themes start to arise that make it linger long after the blood has dried up. Class warfare, tainted youth, parental responsibility, lynch-mob mentality, and the mental effects of violence are simply some of the ambitious themes this Dimension Extreme release explores, and that undercurrent makes it work as a cat-and-mouse thriller, a revenge shocker, AND a condemnation of a failed social system all at once. It doesn't hurt that this tale of yuppie sunbathers terrorized by a pack of evil teenagers defines the old cliche about the "edge of your seat", offering little respite from the action, and always providing something seamy and intimidating around the next corner.
Next post: we move on to the top twenty!