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50 Must-See Horror Films Of The 21st Century (So Far...)

Film4, in conjunction with FrightFest, felt that it was time to take stock of the century in horror cinema as it currently stands in 2015. We pulled together a longlist of great titles from the year 2000 to now and sent it out to a panel of experts to vote on, resulting in a fascinating, inspiring and no doubt controversial Must-See Top 50. Let the arguments commence!

Words: Catherine Bray, David Cox, Michael Leader, Beth Webb and the FrightFest programme archive.

50. Shutter Island (2010)

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USA, dir. Martin Scorsese

A classy genre exercise in Hitchcockian tension and gothic-toned melodrama from Martin Scorsese, Shutter Island has all the ingredients of a throwback thriller - a creepy mental institution, a detective hounded by lingering trauma, and a mystery that teases out the darkness within - but Marty & co (editor Thelma Schoonmaker, production designer Dante Ferretti and cinematographer Robert Richardson, not to mention Leo Dicaprio's slowly unravelling performance) craft a perfectly-pitched potboiler that is as compelling and frightening as mainstream Hollywood flicks come. ML

49. Pulse (aka Kairo) (2001)

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Japan, dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa had dabbled in the uncanny during the 1990s (The Cure; Serpent’s Path; Charisma) but this haunting tale, with its apocalyptic overtones, was his first outright horror film, and it’s as important to the foundation of the J-horror sub-genre as Ringu, Ju-on and Uzumaki. It’s also one of the first horror films to fully engage with the Internet, imagining an online spirit world that spreads fear and alienation on a global scale. The mood is sombre and the pace is slow, but the scares – when they come – are profound. DC

48. Black Swan (2010)

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USA, dir. Darren Aronofsky

Natalie Portman delivers an Oscar-winning performance as Nina, an unhinged and fragile dancer who steadily loses her grip on reality as she trains for the lead in Swan Lake. With spiralling hallucinations and frantic violence juxtaposed against gorgeous choreography, Darren Aronofsky takes his star past the point of dedication to self-destruction, leading to a blistering finale. BW

47. The Mist (2007)

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USA, dir. Frank Darabont

Director Frank Darabont returns to the fiction of Stephen King following his earlier success with The Shawshank Redemption, although this time he fully embraces the writer’s horror side. A wave of Lovecraftian monsters are unleashed on a small town in King’s beloved Maine, laying siege to a supermarket from which a disparate band of survivors attempt to fight back. There are inescapable shades of Hitchcock’s The Birds in the way the tense story plays out, but the fog-shrouded, doom-laden final act pushes this into a world of its own. DC

46. The Innkeepers (2011)

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USA, dir. Ti West

Ti West, the indie king of the slow-burn horror flick returns to the fold with something akin to The Shining done slacker-style. He brings with him plentiful scares, unexpected doses of warm wit and weirdly effective character-based comedy. (FrightFest 2011)

45. Calvaire (2004)

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Belgium, dir. Fabrice Du Welz

A man’s car breaks down in the forest and he finds himself trapped by a creepy guy in a remote house. So far, so familiar. However, Fabrice Du Welz fashions something sick, strange and surprising from this very standard starting-point, a winter’s tale of torture and humiliation with a jet-black seam of comedy that makes everything even more disturbing. Du Welz went a bit astray post-Calvaire with the frustrating Vinyan and the misfiring crime film Colt 45, but his most recent film Alleluia very much lives up to the promise of this crazed calling-card debut. DC

44. American Psycho (2000)

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USA, dir. Mary Harron

Based on Bret Easton Ellis’s cult novel, American Psycho is a garish and grotesque portrayal of wealth and status in 80s New York. Christian Bale is the iconic Patrick Bateman, a chiselled investment banker with a thirst for violence and brutality as a means of dealing with his insecurities. Charming, sinister and at times darkly funny, Bateman is a modern Jekyll and Hyde, switching from wholesome to horrific with alarming ease. BW

43. Paranormal Activity (2007)

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USA, dir. Oren Peli

A surprise found-footage hit that spawned copious sequels, this low budget film about a home possessed by an unseen force is the perfect example of a simple premise yielding horrifying results. Largely set in the confines of a young couple’s bedroom, Paranormal Activity masters the effects of space and timing, mounting tension to near unbearable levels and not letting up until its haunting conclusion. BW

42. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010)

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USA, dir. Eli Craig

You’ll jump, laugh and cheer as gore movie expectations are astonishingly upended by this absolutely hilarious cult-classic-in-the-making. An endearingly cheeky tribute to a diverse array of suspense and slasher classics (everything from Fargo and Friday The 13th to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Wrong Turn), this horror comedy finds best hillbilly buddies Tucker and Dale having a nasty run-in with a group of college kids on a camping weekend in the woods, setting in motion a series of deranged misunderstanding and the bloodiest of shock deaths. (FrightFest 2011)

41. We Are What We Are (2010)

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Mexico, dir. Jorge Michel Grau

Shown in the Director’s Fortnight strand at Cannes 2010, Jorge Michel Grau’s envelope-pushing shocker was acclaimed as ‘the Mexican Let The Right One In’. A middle aged man dies in the middle of a shopping mall, leaving his widow, two sons and daughter destitute. The devastated family is confronted not only by their terrible loss, but also a massive challenge. For they are cannibals, driven to eat human flesh because of poverty rife in the Latin American urban jungle… (FrightFest 2011)

Keep reading Film4.com's 50 Must-See Horror Films of the 21st Century.

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    Who voted?

    See the full line-up of critics and colleagues who contributed to this list