Psychopomp Magazine’s Favorite Horror Films
Another Halloween has come and gone, but that doesn’t mean we have to wait an entire year to appreciate stories that scare us. Sequoia and I are both big fans of horror movies, so I know that we’ll continue watching them on at least a weekly basis through next October. In honor of one of our preferred genres, we decided to list some of our favorite horror films of the past decade. That’s a pretty narrow window of time, and there are still too many to choose from. Narrowing it down wasn’t easy, but we each chose five that we can wholeheartedly recommend to you.
5. We Are What We Are (2013)
This film is actually a remake of a well-received Mexican film by the same name that was released in 2010, but it’s also an excellent film in its own right. A woman dies leaving behind her husband and children. Unfortunately for her daughters, this means they must inherit their mother’s role of preparing the family meals. That alone might seem horrifying to some, but since this is a family of cannibals, the ritual of food preparation in this household is unusually complex, to say the least.
4. The Skin I Live In (2011)
I almost didn’t include this one in the list because the horror elements are not quite as overt as the rest I have on there. It might better qualify as a psychological thriller, but I loved it enough that I couldn’t leave it off. This Spanish film is an adaptation of a French novel, Mygale, by Theirry Jonquet. It’s about a surgeon who is developing an artificial skin while simultaneously keeping a woman captive in his house for the purpose (or so it would seem) of his experiments. This is a character-driven movie with quite a few twists and turns, and you might find it playing a bit with your sympathies.
3. The Last Exorcism (2010)
This movie is filmed in the style of a documentary, and its conceit is that an evangelical minister/exorcist (who is now quite open about the fact that he is a fraud) is accompanied by a film crew while on his way to perform what he intends to be his last exorcism. One of the major questions driving the movie is whether or not the minister is rightfully disillusioned, or if the subject of his last exorcism is in fact possessed. You’ll have to watch it to find out which is the case, and depending on your preference, your mileage may vary on how satisfying the ending is. Personally, I might have preferred a different ending, but I found the movie worked so well that this didn’t make it any less of a favorite.
2. Resolution (2012)
Aside from number one, this was the only movie that I knew immediately would make the cut onto this list. A lot of my favorite horror movies, despite being entertaining or thought-provoking, are also emotionally taxing. Just because I enjoy them, that doesn’t make them fun. Some might be too dark or heavy to be called “fun.” Resolution is a fun horror movie, and it is also legitimately creepy. That’s a combination of qualities I have to appreciate. In this movie, the protagonist tries to help his addict friend detox in a remote cabin, but the two men soon begin to worry that they’re being watched by something they can’t quite explain. It’s weird, funny, and a bit of a mind-bender.
1. It Follows (2014)
When I walked out of the theater after seeing this movie, I wanted to turn right back around and see it again. There was a lot of hype surrounding it when it was released, and since it was released so recently, people might be tired of hearing about it. Oh, well. Even if it’s an obvious choice, I couldn’t have it any lower than number one. It Follows is set in a Detroit that seems to exist outside of time. The film’s style may have you wondering if it is set in the 80s, in the future, or somewhere in between. The titular “it” (and its following) is passed along from person to person through sex, so many viewers see this movie monster as a metaphor for STDs. That seems to me to be an oversimplification. This is a film that explores the anxieties related to impending adulthood, the loss of innocence, and the unshakeable ghosts of past traumas.
Honorable Mentions: Crimson Peak (2015), Lake Mungo (2009), Troll Hunter (2011), The Woman (2011), Antichrist (2009), In the Dark Half (2012), The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh (2012), Lovely Molly (2011), The Banshee Chapter (2013), House Hunting (2013)
5. American Mary (2012)
I was initially attracted to this film by two things: 1) A woman in a rubber apron and heels with her arms crossed and holding a surgical saw and 2) The fact that this woman happens to be Katherine Isabelle, who portrays Ginger Fitzgerald in the cult teenage werewolf film franchise, Ginger Snaps. From the trailer, I knew this would be a dark, visually stunning film that follows a struggling medical student who performs extreme body modification surgeries that, for example, make a stripper resemble Bettie Boop. The protagonist, Mary Mason, later takes these newfound talents and twists the body of her former boss after he rapes her at a party. This is a story of identity, revenge, and the body. While this isn’t a perfect film in terms of acting or plot, American Mary still makes my top five because it is a much needed entry into the very male-dominated and male-centric realm of body horror. Directed by the Soska sisters (Twisted Twins), American Mary attempts to blend independent film character study with a grindhouse sensibility. And while this blend isn’t entirely successful, I’d wager the film has enough merit to entertain horror fans looking for something a bit different.
4. The Woman (2011)
I was already partial to Jack Ketchum adaptations after watching the 2006 film, The Lost, which follows the teenage murderer/sociopath, Ray Pye. Ketchum didn’t write that particular adaptation, but he did write this one, which was directed by Lucky McKee, who directed the cult film, May (2002), starring Angela Bettis (who also has a supporting role in The Woman). The titular “Woman” happens to be feral and is captured by a man and his son in an attempt to “civilize” her. Of course, the gross dysfunction of this family is quickly revealed, as are the methods of helping the captive woman. As arguments between siblings and husband and wife grow regarding the woman, so does the danger of this secret in terms of both reputation and physical well-being for this family.
3. The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)
I found this film to be a fresh take on the possession story despite the overuse of found footage in horror. A documentary crew enters a home with the goal of interviewing a woman named Deborah who is suffering from Alzheimers. Very quickly, however, the crew notices strange occurrences happening in the house/around the elderly woman. And as the film progresses, we discover that the phenomena surrounding Deborah is linked to ritualistic murders of several girls and the disappearance of her former doctor.
2. Martyrs (2008)
Martyrs falls well within the camp of what some critics call New French Extremity. This movement is often characterized by portrayals of extreme violence, the invasion of personal space, and sexual deviance and/or decadence. A fairly well-known example is High Tension, which helped launch the career of directer, Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes, Mirrors). But unlike many other examples of this movement, Martyrs moves beyond the themes of invasion and violence and sexuality, and tackles the bread and butter of what defines so many horror films: explorations of the afterlife and spirituality. These explorations fuel a well-funded secret society in Martyrs that captures and tortures women. The director, Pascal Laugier, immersed himself in the spirit world with Saint Ange/House of Voices (2004) and places this sensibility as the subtext beneath the violence and torture experienced by the characters in this film.
1. It Follows (2014)
This film holds the #1 spot for both myself and my co-editor. And even if we hadn’t conferred about our initial lists, I’m certain It Follows would have made the top five regardless. Because the “it” in the film can only be seen by the person who is marked and either resembles yourself or someone close to you, a certain level of symbolism regarding identity and various social anxieties could probably be gleaned from this particular supernatural force. This is an evil that is slow-moving but will always follow you. You can postpone this force’s catching up to you, but how long are you willing to run? This is an evil that can go unnoticed in a crowd unless you are either affected or allow yourself to pay attention and listen to the affected/infected.
Honorable Mentions: [Rec] (2008), Grave Encounters (2011), The Last Exorcism (2010), Jugface (2013), The Babadook (2014), The Pact (2012), Contracted (2013), Haunter (2013), Dogtooth (2009), Hunger (2009)
Did we leave off any of your favorites? Comment to recommend any films we might have missed.