14 Underrated Horror Movies From The 2000s That Every Fan Should Watch
By Dan Auty on
Just as the advent of VHS in the 1980s meant that the market was flooded with dozens of cheaply made horror movies, so too was the 2000s marked by an avalanche of straight-to-DVD horror. This was a decade where big screen horror hits were scarce--the likes of Saw, Paranormal Activity, and Final Destination were huge, but for the most part the best scary movies were low budget, independent, and sometimes not even released in theaters at all.
The film that had the biggest influence on horror in the 2000s was actually released at the tail end of the previous decade, but its impact was immense. The Blair Witch Project was made on a small budget of $60,000 but grossed more than $248 million at the worldwide box office, and the found footage movie became the decade's big horror craze. The advent of affordable digital filmmaking enabled literally anyone to make a horror movie, any deficiencies in sound and vision excused by the conventions of the format.
With many of the big names in horror--John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, Wes Craven--either semi-retired or moving away from the genre, new names started to emerge. The huge success of Saw helped James Wan begin his steady rise to the top tier of Hollywood blockbusters, while independent filmmakers such as Brad Anderson, Ti West, and Lucky McKee made scary, clever, and distinctive films that are among of the decade's best. More than any other decade, the 2000s is packed with underrated and underseen gems that took horror into some fascinating places. So here's 13 of the best that are worth revisiting or seeing for the first time.
13. Creep (2004)
Not to be confused with the recent comedy horror movies of the same name, this Creep is the directorial debut of Christopher Smith, who also made movies such as Triangle and Severance. It uses the tunnels of the London's subway network as a highly effective setting, where a woman is trapped overnight and becomes the target of a terrifying, deformed killer. Smith keeps the tension high and uses the tunnels and platforms of the subway for maximum scary effect. Neil Marshall's The Descent was released the following year and was rightfully acclaimed for its claustrophobic horror, but Creep is almost as good.
12. The Ruins (2008)
When it comes to threat in horror movies, we mostly expect it to come from monsters, masked killers, or supernatural entities. But in this scary gem, the horror comes from the natural world--specifically predatory, flesh-eating vines that trap a group of American tourists in a ruined Mayan template. While the characters are fairly forgettable, The Ruins delivers loads of tension, a great setting, and a number of truly horrific sequences. There's a particularly disgusting scene in which one of the party realises that the vines have invaded her body and are moving around beneath her skin, forcing her friends to cut her open and pull them out. Providing you have the stomach for it, The Ruins delivers the meaty goods.
11. Cold Prey (2006)
Although the heydey of the slasher movie was during the 1980s, the success of Scream in the '90s and the recent Halloween reboot prove that successful, popular examples can work in any era. The Norwegian movie Cold Prey is perhaps the best of the 2000s. Like all the greatest slashers it has a simple setup: A group of skiiers is trapped overnight in an abandoned lodge while a ski gear wearing maniac picks them off one by one. But what the film lacks in originality it more than makes up for with tension, humor, scares, and gore. Director Roar Uthaug--who went on to direct this year's Tomb Raider reboot--is clearly a slasher fan and knows exactly what buttons to push to keep his audience on the edge of their seats. It was followed by two sequels, which are solid enough but not a patch on the original.
10. Noroi: The Curse (2005)
Many of the decade's found footage movies were cheap and forgettable, but there some great examples. The Japanese movie Norio was one of the best--it was unavailable in the West for many years, but can now be found on the streaming service Shudder. It's a long and sprawling film that starts with the disappearance of a paranormal expert while he was making his latest documentary about a strange curse affecting seemingly unconnected people. The bulk of the movie is made up of the unfinished film; director Kōji Shiraishi does a brilliant job of weaving in this storyline with real-life archival footage, to create a movie that blurs the boundaries of fact and fiction. The movie's two-hour length and complex story was criticized in Japan at the time, but it remains an ambitious, intricately plotted, and very scary movie that shows what can be done with the found footage format.
9. May (2002)
Director Lucky McKee's movie The Woman picked up a bit of controversy when it screened at various festivals in 2011. But while that might be his best known movie, the earlier film May is his finest work and well worth seeking out by lovers of dark, unsettling horror. Like The Woman, it focuses on a disturbed female lead--in this case a lonely woman called May who works a veterinary clinic and whose only friend seems to be a childhood doll. Despite some humor, May is an uncomfortable watch--you just know it's going to go into some gruesome places, and McKee certainly delivers on that front. But it's helped along the way by a superb performance from Angela Mattis, who makes May a believable, fully-developed character and not just a typical horror movie crazy lady.
8. Teeth (2007)
There are some horror movies with premises so outrageous that's it's hard to believe they exist--and Teeth is one. It follows a teenage girl who discovers that she possesses vaginal teeth that have a nasty habit of biting down when she's--well, you can imagine the rest. What's amazing about Teeth is that it's as much a smart teen comedy as it is a subversive body horror movie. It addresses issues of abstinence and religious hypocrisy in a clever, funny way, and features a great lead performance from Jess Weixler as the girl coming to terms with her changing body. Despite causing a stir at the Sundance Film Festival, it didn't do very well commercially; nevertheless Teeth is one of the decade's best and bravest horror movies.
7. Them (2006)
From Funny Games to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, home invasion movies have made for some of the most gruelling horror movies ever made. The French shocker Them plays on the fear that every homeowner has, as a couple living in a countryside try to stay alive while under siege from unknown hooded invaders. Them is an almost unbearably tense experience, with directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud using long, unbroken takes and highly effective sound to shred the nerves. The 2008 Hollywood movie The Strangers had an almost identical premise, but Them is a far superior experience.
6. Pontypool (2009)
There wasn't a whole lot of quality zombie action in the 2000s--it wouldn't be until The Walking Dead premiered in 2010 that the genre really got going again. The Canadian film Pontypool is the exception, and remains one of the most unusual and inventive zombie movies of all time. It's set almost entirely in a radio station during a snowstorm, in which a DJ (a great performance from veteran actor Stephen McHattie) starts to hear about various attacks throughout the region. Soon it becomes clear that some sort of viral zombie apocalypse is underway--except this virus is not spread through bites, but by hearing the English language. What sounds like a ridiculous premise is brilliantly used by director Bruce McDonald to create a film that is strange, scary, and totally original.
5. House of the Devil (2009)
Ti West is known as a master of slow-burning independent horror--he is a director who favors atmosphere over fast shocks and is best known for his 2011 movie The Innkeepers. Before that he made the '80s-set House of the Devil, which takes its influence from classic horror movies such as Rosemary's Baby, Repulsion, and Psycho. It has a simple setup--a woman spends the night housesitting for an old lady--and uses long stretches of silence to build a slow sense of creeping dread. When the horror does explode onto the screen in the last 30 mins, it doesn't disappoint. Watch out for a small role for Greta Gerwig, who went on to direct last year's Oscar-nominated Ladybird.
4. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)
While many of the best known Asian horror movies of the last decade are Japanese--Ringu, The Grudge, and Audition--there were some excellent scary South Korean films too. A Tale of Two Sisters is one of the best, presenting a twisted supernatural tale of a dysfunctional family with a dark past, whose life is thrown into further disarray when a daughter returns home from a mental institution and reconnects with her twin sister. It's a cleverly plotted, utterly gripping story that relies primarily on atmosphere and dread, but does deliver some knock-out scares as well.
3. Ginger Snaps (2000)
When it comes to movie monsters, there haven't been nearly as many werewolf movies as vampires or zombies over the years--possibly because convincing werewolf transformations aren't as easy as popping some fangs in or slapping on some undead facepaint. But there have been some great werewolf movies over the decades, including Ginger Snaps. It's a teen horror movie, in which a pair of young sisters (Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle) deal with the fact that one--16-year-old Ginger--has developed lycanthropy alongside the usual changes that teenage girls go through. It's smart and witty, and led a pair of superb performances from the two young leads. It turns into more of a straight horror movie in the second half, but the strength of the writing means that we are fully invested in the characters by that point.
2. Lake Mungo (2008)
This brilliant supernatural Australian movie was not the film that director Joel Anderson originally wanted to make; when he couldn't raise the funds for a more ambitious project he instead wrote a found footage horror movie that he knew he could make cheaply. Nevertheless, Lake Mungo is far from the quick, commercial movie we associate with that subgenre. It's a powerful exploration of grief, in which a family are coming to terms with the mysterious drowning of their daughter Alice. But as they deal with their loss, Alice begins to reappear in photos taken by her brother. The found footage genre is at its strongest when evoking a sense of realism that conventional movies cannot, and Lake Mungo is a fantastic example of this. The naturalistic performances and use of "mockumentary" style interviews help create a truly chilling, utterly convincing atmosphere which makes its various scares and twists even more effective.
Session 9 (2001)
Brad Anderson's Session 9 is a seriously unsettling experience and remains one of the best horror movies of the 2000s. The movie focuses on a clean-up crew who are sent into an abandoned mental hospital to sort out an asbestos problem, but along the way become obsessed with the past history of its inmates via a series of therapy session recordings that have been left behind. The men get more and more disturbed the longer they spend in there, and soon begin acting on some murderous impulses. Anderson squeezes every bit of dread from his foreboding location, and builds the tension slowly and carefully towards a terrifying climax. Session 9 wasn't a big hit on release, but over the years has developed a cult reputation as an outstanding, terrifying shocker.