Horror has a habit of rearing its head around this time of year. Usually, thanks to Halloween, that head is not attached to any human. A deep visceral love for all things fearsome rises to the fore in October, and it means Netflix is positively brimming with essential movies.
At the turn of the 21st century, horror fans were still recovering from the onslaught of violence that emerged from the slasher craze of the 1980s, particularly as many of the icons of the infamous decade were still lurking in the shadows. Freddy Krueger had his final ‘90s outing with Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, whilst Michael Myers enjoyed his final outing in 1998s Halloween H20 until his character’s reboot years later.
Though, it was once the horror genre had been slapped across the face by the financial success of The Blair Witch Project that there was no going back. Cropping out from the darkest corners of small-town America and cinema worldwide came replicas and rip-offs, some of which were great, most of which were almost unwatchable. The era of found footage had begun.
New technologies saw a horror ascension, giving many outside the studio system the chance to create and explore the genre without the need for large budgets and effects. Though despite this, the bizarre cinematic zeitgeist of the new millennium was for gore in extremity. James Wan’s Saw franchise rolled out seven films across the decade, whilst the short-lived Hostel, inspired by new-wave French extremity, was also proving popular.
Below, we have a smattering of that plus the odd piece of supernatural brilliance, some found-footage junk and the most modern of jump-scare bonanzas.
Five essential 21st-century horror movies:
Midsommar (Ari Aster, 2019)
Following the breakout success of Hereditary, Ari Aster’s second feature film fits into the folk horror sub-genre whilst eliciting subtle nods to the pain and torment of a classic romantic breakup movie.
Fitting this subtext within the realm of folk horror acted as the perfect conduit to tell such a story, with Aster stating: “I just wanted to write a breakup movie, and I saw a way of marrying the breakup movie that I was having at the time with the structure of a folk horror film,” whilst in discussion with YouTube channel Birth.Movies.Death. Following a group of friends who head for a Swedish retreat in the countryside, Midsommar spirals into a terrifying claustrophobic horror that messes with the mind and twists the perception of reality.
Raw (Julia Ducournau, 2016)
Equal parts horror and dark coming-of-age drama, Raw is a disturbing vision of the adolescent struggle as it follows a girl newly enrolled in veterinary college who develops a cannibalistic taste.
Directed by the recent Palme d’Or winner for Titane, Julia Ducournau, Raw is a surprising film in that, despite featuring such animalistic gore, the main takeaway at the film’s conclusion is its deft touch and insightful approach to adolescence, with little to no indulgence in excess. At its very best, Raw is a smart and enthralling take on growing up with shades of horror sprinkled on top to well contextualise the horrors of change.
Slither (James Gunn, 2006)
Better known for his recent adventures with the Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn was once a more altogether bizarre writer and director, with his debut feature film a loving ode to the gooey body horror of Sam Raimi and David Cronenberg.
Bringing body horror back to the contemporary fold, Slither is an ode to the ooze and gunk of the Evil Dead trilogy and 1989’s Society, perfectly fusing intense horror and gross-out comedy for a highly enjoyable, stomach-churning watch. Starring James Gunn mainstays, Nathan Fillion and Michael Rooker, Slither remains a self-contained alien romp that takes clichés of old and mutates them into fresh new concepts.
Under the Shadow (Babak Anvari, 2016)
Mixing the genres of war and horror to provide a strong political backbone, Babak Anvari’s directorial debut is a captivating Iranian horror film that is as much a critical analysis of the terror of war on innocent civilians.
Focusing on 1980s Tehran, Under the Shadow follows a mother and young daughter who are struggling to cope with the terror of a war-torn city, whilst a separate ancient evil plagues their home. A creepy, atmospheric chiller, Anvari’s film provides a genuinely fascinating perspective of war by heightening the horror with the curse of the djinn, supernatural creatures rife throughout Islamic folklore. Winning Outstanding Debut by a British Writer at the 2017 BAFTA Film Awards, Under the Shadow is available on Netflix and is worth your undivided attention.
The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, 2014)
Jennifer Kent’s fairytale gone wrong follows a single mother’s journey into despair whilst taking care of her autistic child when a mysterious, insidious book appears in her house, joined by a malevolent demon.
Terror lingers and builds to insurmountable dread in this terrific debut feature utilising simple monster production design and practical effects. Injecting horror through the context of the torment of depression and grief, The Babadook is more than a generic monster affair, with even horror legend William Friedkin commenting, “I’ve never seen a more terrifying film than The Babadook. It will scare the hell out of you as it did me”.