For horror fans like myself, it's easy to look at the pre-aughts as the Golden Age for film. Whether it was Sissy Spacek getting a bucket of blood poured over her at prom in the 1976 classic Carrie, Mia Farrow frantically trying to protect her unborn child in 1968's Rosemary's Baby, or Sigourney Weaver screaming after an alien spontaneously claws its way out of her coworker's stomach in Ridley Scott's 1979 genre-defining classic Alien, it's clear that horror enjoyed a prime moment in previous decades. Even later films, like 1996's Scream or the Best Picture-winning The Silence of the Lambs, have managed to solidify themselves as staples of the genre.
That's less true for films released after the turn of the century and even less true for films released after 2010. Aside from big-screen splashes like the Oscar-nominated Get Out or John Krasinski's surprisingly enjoyable A Quiet Place, the 2010s were not particularly known for "classic horror" films — at least not in a way that resonated across audiences. Sure, things like It and its sequel, It: Chapter Two, broke box office records, while franchises like Saw and The Purge kept pushing out new installments at a seemingly unstoppable rate. But when it comes to films that became fixtures, dominating the cultural conversation for a significant amount of time, the list just gets shorter and shorter.
Like most things in life, however, a lack of conversation doesn't necessarily equate to a lack of available content. In fact, with a general uptick in content thanks to the dawning of the Streaming Age, the 2010s supplied viewers with a number of great horror films, even if some were much more visible than others. And since we're approaching Halloween, what better time to check out some of NYLON's top recommendations? From well-known hits, like last year's Jordan Peele release Us, to recently-released future classics, like Netflix's impossibly charming Vampires Vs. The Bronx, here are ten horror films (in alphabetical order) from the last ten years that we can't stop watching — no matter how scared we might be.
The Cabin In the Woods on Amazon Prime and Hulu
Shortly after the release of the first Thor film, Chris Hemsworth starred in the comparatively small indie horror film The Cabin In the Woods, where he played jock-y college student Curt. A tongue-in-cheek slasher film that expertly blends common horror tropes with surreal sci-fi elements and a recognizably humorous college trip gone bad ethos, the Drew Goddard-directed film plays out like a more deliberately-paced Scary Movie. As Curt and his four friends travel to the middle of nowhere to stay in a, you guessed it, cabin in the woods, a team of sadistic scientists watch over them through hidden cameras, taking bets on how each member of the group will die. Full of spooky monsters, jaw-dropping death sequences, and an unprecedented number of truly laugh-out-loud jokes, The Cabin In the Woods is the perfect combination of spooky and hilarious. If nothing else, it’s one of the only films where a stoner’s keen insight, often written off as drug-addled paranoia, is proven worthwhile. (But maybe that’s just why I liked it.)
Hereditary and Midsommar on Amazon Prime
With the exception of Jordan Peele, no modern-day auteur has made their mark on the horror genre quite as well as Ari Aster, whose back-to-back features Hereditary and Midsommar have already solidified themselves as canon. In Hereditary, Aster, who made a name for himself with shorts like The Strange Thing About the Johnsons, toyed with the occult, telling the complicated story of a family struggling to find balance in the wake of a recent death. Characterized by its overwhelming sense of dread, the two-hour film takes its time revealing itself, relying on its truly talented cast (including Toni Collete in a role I still think should have been a part of the awards conversation) to keep viewers tuned into its twisted take on the family drama.
While Hereditary was dark and moody, however, Midsommar, which came out only a year later, plays out almost entirely in broad daylight. Following young Dani (a perfectly-cast Florence Pugh) as she travels to Sweden with her boyfriend and his friends for a special festival, the film, which clocks in at a whopping 2.5 hours (almost three hours if you choose to watch the director’s cut), also takes its time showing its hand — initially, letting viewers settle into a story that feels more like a relationship drama than an outright horror film. But boy is the wait worth it. While 2019 was a great year for final frames, nothing can quite compare to the image of Pugh menacingly smiling as she looks on at a sight that, in any other context, would be horrifying.
The Invitation on Netflix
Speaking of final frames, few have stuck with me as clearly as The Invitation’s, Karyn Kasuma’s 2015 thriller about a rather disturbing dinner party. Powerful in its simplicity, the image has the ability to make you reconsider everything you’ve seen before — completely reframing a film that was already defined by its unexpected twists and routine flights of fancy. But a powerful final frame does not a good movie make, and luckily, despite its poor box office performance, The Invitation is the kind of movie that fans of many different genres can latch onto. When Will receives a dinner party invitation from his ex-wife and her new husband, he packs his new girlfriend into the car to return to the home he once lived in, where his only child died. Once there, however, Will begins to suspect that his ex-wife may have had ulterior motivations for inviting him. The only question is: Will he be able to discover the truth before it’s too late?
It Comes At Night on Netflix
In 2020, there’s a solid chance you know Trey Edward Shults for his work on Waves more than anything else. But the 32-year-old director actually started making his mark on Hollywood — and developed his relationship with Waves star Kelvin Harrison Jr. — with It Comes At Night, a hypnotic thriller about two unlikely families forced to share an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere. Watching It Comes At Night in the middle of a pandemic is a bold move — the primary threat in the film is a deadly virus that eats victims from the inside-out, after all, while uninfected people adorn themselves in gas masks and gloves before leaving their house — but it’s worth it for Shults’ proven directorial prowess. Like Waves, It Comes At Night wants you to feel immersed in its world. Shults’ command over space is borderline Hitchcockian with its clear understanding of how the slightest camera anglings can do a world of work in establishing a feeling — whether that be anxiety, dread, or temporary reprieve. And with a talented cast consisting of Riley Keough, Joel Edgerton, and the double heartthrob power combo of Christopher Abbott and Harrison Jr., it’s really no surprise this small little film packs such an impressive punch.
Nocturne on Amazon Prime
Earlier this month, Blumhouse — the prolific horror company behind hits like Get Out and Happy Death Day — dropped four new films on Amazon Prime, the first half of an eventual eight produced specifically for the platform. These initial four films make an incredibly mixed bag, but the drop would be worth it for Nocturne alone. A tension-laden suspense thriller, the film stars Euphoria’s Sydney Sweeney as Juliet, an aspiring pianist who’s used to being overshadowed by her more talented twin sister, Vivian. But when she discovers the potentially haunted notebook of a classmate who recently died by suicide, Juliet starts stealing the spotlight back for herself, becoming obsessively determined to outshine her sister in all facets of life. Less an outright “horror” film and more of a slightly disturbing drama in the same vein as Black Swan, Nocturne is the latest cinematic exploration of what artists are willing to do to achieve perfection. If you enjoyed last year’s Netflix lesbian thriller The Perfection but found yourself wanting more of a coherent storyline, Nocturne will probably satisfy your cravings.
Pledge on Hulu
You’ve heard horror stories about the grueling process college students go through when pledging a fraternity, but chances are you’ve never heard about the rituals dramatized in Pledge, an IFC Midnight original that’ll make you never want to even see another frat house again. Gruesomely uncomfortable and spine-tinglingly demented, Pledge follows three misfit college freshmen, whose failure to secure bids from any of the mainstream fraternities on campus eventually leads them to an elite secret society that promises its members fame, success, women, and endless bundles of money. The only thing you have to do is make it through their particularly grueling hazing process — which starts off rough and only grows more twisted as time goes on. A social satire that probes the question of what we are willing to endure to feel like we belong (and what we’re willing to sacrifice to secure the trappings of a successful life), Pledge is a difficult watch, but a rewarding one nonetheless. If Saw met The Stanford Prison Experiment and then threw in a last-minute, completely game-changing twist, it’d probably look a little like this.
Us on HBO Max
Unfortunately, Get Out, one of my favorite films of the past decade (horror or not) is not available on any streaming platforms. But at least I can recommend Us, Jordan Peele’s sophomore feature, which similarly uses the genre of horror to tell a story about what it means to live in today’s America. Following the Wilson family (a lovely Black cast that includes Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Evan Alex) on a summer vacation to Santa Cruz, the film picks up when the quartet realize they’re being hunted by a group of doppelgängers — “Tethereds” that live underground, mimicking the actions of their real-world counterparts while subsiding off a diet of live rabbits. While Us doesn’t pack nearly the same punch as Peele’s breakout debut, it still provokes necessary conversation about what it means to be human, to be Black, and most importantly, to be an American. (A year and a half after first seeing it, I’m still thinking about all its complex messages.) But if there was any singular reason to tune in, it’s for Lupita Nyong’o’s career-defining performance — which yes, I still hate The Academy for ignoring in their 2020 Oscar nominations. (Renée Zellweger was good, but Lupita was better.)
Vampires Vs. The Bronx on Netflix
Gentrification has always been terrifying, but it’s never been quite as terrifying as it is in Vampires Vs. The Bronx, a 2020 Netflix original that follows three young boys as they try to save their tight-knit community from a haven of bloodthirsty vampires. Of course, this story is an allegorical one, so the vampires are the white, upper-middle-class citizens taking over a new land to capitalize on its low rent, while the mostly Afro-Latinx Bronx residents are their unwitting victims. As far as Netflix’s non-prestige releases go, it doesn’t get much better than Vampires, which takes full advantage of its clear mid-range budget to tell a B-horror story that is engaging (and topical) enough to warrant its rather expected premise. The film boasts a great cast of relatively unknown young actors, each one turning in a terrific performance — particularly the 17-year-old Jaden Michael, who previously stole multiple scenes in Netflix’s prematurely canceled hip-hop series The Get Down. While Vampires is pretty light on jump-scares, it still feels like a horror film thanks to, well, the whole bloodsucking element. But the film works more as a horror-comedy, full of cheeky imagery and specific references (“You got a copy of Blade here?” one kid asks after first realizing his neighborhood has been plagued by the undead) that will make you laugh in between moments of terrified screams. If you’re looking for something to watch that the whole family will enjoy, you’d be hard-pressed to find something better.
The Witch on Showtime
I’ve spent this past weekend recommendingThe Queen’s Gambit, a new Netflix period drama starring the remarkable Anya Taylor-Joy as a budding chess prodigy, to anyone who would listen. So of course I have to recommend The Witch (commonly stylized as The VVitch), which also stars (a younger) Anya Taylor-Joy in a remarkable role. Directed by The Lighthouse’s Robert Eggers, the film follows a Puritan family that moves to the edge of a spooky forest after being excommunicated from their original home. Shortly after settling in, however, the family’s newborn baby disappears under mysterious circumstances, forcing them all to confront the supernatural reality of their new home before forming a rift between Thomasin (Taylor-Joy), who the parents believe is responsible for the child’s disappearance, and everyone else. Unable to connect with her parents or siblings anymore, Thomasin eventually ventures out, where she is led to a coven of free-spirited witches. In addition to its legacy as a pro-feminist tale about escaping the patriarchy at any cost, The Witch also gifted us Black Phillip, a billy goat that just might be a reincarnation of Satan. In the years since The Witch’s release, Black Phillip has become a pop culture mainstay — the only question left to answer is: Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?