Friends to the end – that’s the whole idea when horror filmmakers tackle friendship, isn’t it? Can they be trusted? Who will sacrifice what, and will it be worth it? Or are they both evil? Horror cinema has an excellent run of best friends in movies, but we’re looking at movies specifically about that friendship. Movies like Shaun of the Dead and Jennifer’s Body. (Both brilliant, but not on the list. We know! There are a lot of great ones!) So let’s get to it!
5. Bedevilled (2010)
Cheol-soo Jang’s first feature film bears witnesses not only to some horrific deeds, but to an amazingly confident new filmmaker who knows how to sidestep expectations, turn the screw, and offer surprising insight in a genre that doesn’t always generate that kind of thoughtfulness.
The film opens as beautiful if cold Hae-won (Sung-won Ji) witnesses a crime and chooses not to involve herself. She takes a (somewhat involuntary) vacation on the remote island where she grew up, to find her childhood friend Bok-nam (Young-hee Seo). On the isolated, backward island – though Hae-won is treated to rest and nurturing by her adoring friend – Bok-nam’s life is about as far from ideal as possible.
Jang captures the rugged, isolated beauty of the island and offsets both ideas with his leads – one, an elegant and pristine beauty, the other a rough-hewn image – and sees two sides of the same humanity. This is a morality tale, but it’s also a brutal but sympathetic (and seriously bloody) comeuppance. Jang does not leave off where you think he might, instead crafting a compelling and satisfying whole that will stick with you.
4. Tragedy Girls (2017)
Heathers meets Scream in the savvy horror-comedy that mines social media culture to truly entertaining effect.
Besties Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) and McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) are looking for more followers to improve their brand, and they have been doing a lot of research to make their content more compelling. The Tragedy Girls plumb their small Ohio town’s surprising death toll with more insight than the local police seem to have. Where do they get their knowledge?
Hildebrand and Shipp (both X-Men; Hildebrand was the moody Negasonic in Deadpool while Shipp plays young Storm in the franchise proper) nail their characters’ natural narcissism. Is it just the expectedly shallow, self-centeredness of the teenage years, or are they sociopaths? Who can tell these days?
3. Tucker & Dale vs Evil (2010)
Horror cinema’s most common and terrifying villain may not be the vampire or even the zombie, but the hillbilly. The generous, giddy Tucker and Dale vs. Evil lampoons that dread with good-natured humor and a couple of rubes you can root for.
In the tradition of Shaun of the Dead, T&DVE lovingly sends up a familiar subgenre with insightful, self-referential humor, upending expectations by taking the point of view of the presumably villainous hicks. And it happens to be hilarious.
Two backwoods best buds (an endearing Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk) head to their mountain cabin for a weekend of fishing. En route, they meet some college kids on their own camping adventure. A comedy of errors, misunderstandings and subsequent, escalating violence follows as the kids misinterpret every move Tucker and Dale make.
T&DVE offers enough spirit and charm to overcome most weaknesses. Inspired performances and sharp writing make it certainly the most fun participant in the You Got a Purty Mouth class of film.
2. Let the Right One In (2008)
In 2008, Sweden’s Let the Right One In emerged as an original, stylish thriller – and the best vampire flicks in years. A spooky coming-of-age tale populated by outcasts in the bleakest, coldest imaginable environment, the film breaks hearts and bleeds victims in equal measure.
Kare Hedebrant‘s Oskar with a blond Prince Valiant cut needs a friend. he finds one in the odd new girl (an outstanding Lina Leandersson) in his shabby apartment complex. She, as it turns out, needs him even more.
This is a coming-of-age film full of life lessons and adult choices, told with a tremendous atmosphere of melancholy, tainted innocence, and isolation. Plus the best swimming pool carnage scene ever.
The unsettling scene is so uniquely handled, not just for horrifying effect (which it certainly achieves), but to reinforce the two main characters, their bond, and their roles. It’s beautiful, like the strangely lovely film itself.
1. They Look Like People (2015)
Christian (Evan Dumouchel) is killing it. He’s benching 250 now, looks mussed but handsome as he excels at work, and he’s even gotten up the nerve to ask out his smokin’ hot boss. On his way home from work to change for that date he runs into his best friend from childhood, Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews), who’s looking a little worse for wear. Christian doesn’t care. With just a second’s reluctance, Christian invites him in – to his apartment, his date, and his life.
But there is something seriously wrong with Wyatt.
Writer/director Perry Blackshear’s film nimbly treads the same ground as the wonderful Frailty and the damn near perfect Take Shelter in that he uses sympathetic characters and realistic situations to blur the line between mental illness and the supernatural.
Wyatt believes there is a coming demonic war and he’s gone to rescue his one true friend. Andrews is sweetly convincing as the shell shocked young man unsure as to whether his head is full of bad wiring, or whether his ex-fiance has demon fever.
The real star here, though, is Dumouchel, whose character arc shames you for your immediate assessment. Blackshear examines love – true, lifelong friendship – in a way that has maybe never been explored as authentically in a horror film before. It’s this genuineness, this abiding tenderness Christian and Wyatt have for each other, that makes the film so moving and, simultaneously, so deeply scary.
What were we looking for? Reboots/remakes that are superior to the original. There are more than you think. In the podcast, we run through eight horror reboots that are superior to the original, kick around another handful that are Even Stevens, and argue about several that could maybe go either way (depending on which one of us you’re talking to). So, you know, have a listen.
5. Dawn of the Dead
Zack Snyder would go on to success with vastly overrated movies, but his one truly fine piece of filmmaking updated Romero’s Dead sequel with the high octane horror. The result may be less cerebral and political than Romero’s original, but it is a thrill ride through hell and it is not to be missed.
The flick begins strong with one of the best “things seem fine but then they don’t” openings in film. And finally! A strong female lead (Sarah Polley). Polley’s beleaguered nurse Ana leads us through the aftermath of the dawn of the dead, fleeing her rabid husband and neighbors and winding up with a rag tag team of survivors hunkered down inside a mall.
In Romero’s version, themes of capitalism, greed, and mindless consumerism run through the narrative. Snyder, though affectionate to the source material, focuses more on survival, humanity, and thrills. (He also has a wickedly clever soundtrack.) It’s more visceral and more fun. His feature is gripping, breathlessly paced, well developed and genuinely terrifying.
Luca Guadagnino continues to be a master film craftsman. Much as he draped Call Me by Your Name in waves of dreamy romance, here he establishes a consistent mood of nightmarish goth. Macabre visions dart in and out like a video that will kill you in 7 days while sudden, extreme zooms, precise sound design and a vivid score from Thom Yorke help cement the homage to another era.
But even when this new Suspiria—a “cover version” of Dario Argento’s 1977 giallo classic—is tipping its hat, Guadagnino leaves no doubt he is making his own confident statement. The color scheme is intentionally muted, and you’ll find no men in this dance troupe, serving immediate notice that superficialities are not the endgame here.
3. The Ring/Ringu
Gore Verbinski’s film The Ring – thanks in large part to the creepy clever premise created by Koji Suzuki, who wrote the novel Ringu – is superior to its source material principally due to the imagination and edge of the fledgling director. Verbinski’s film is visually arresting, quietly atmospheric, and creepy as hell.
From cherubic image of plump cheeked innocence to a mess of ghastly flesh and disjointed bones climbing out of the well and into your life, the character of Samara is brilliantly created.
Hideo Nakata’s original was saddled with an unlikeable ex-husband and a screechy supernatural/psychic storyline that didn’t travel well. Screenwriter Ehren Kruger did a nice job of re-focusing the mystery.
Sure, it amounts to an immediately dated musing on technology. (VHS? They went out with the powdered wig!) But still, there’s that last moment when wee Aidan (a weirdly perfect David Dorfman) asks his mom, “What about the people we show it to? What happens to them?”
At this point we realize he means us, the audience.
We watched the tape! We’re screwed!
2. The Thing/The Thing From Another World
The 1951 original The Thing From Another World is a scifi classic, and every inch of it screams 1950s. The good guys are good, the monsters are monsters. Everything has its place. It’s reassuring.
John Carpenter’s remake upends all that with a thoroughly spectacular tale of icy isolation, contamination, and mutation.
A beard-tastic cast portrays a team of scientists on expedition in the Arctic who take in a dog. The dog is not a dog, though. Not really. And soon, in an isolated wasteland with barely enough interior room to hold all the facial hair, folks are getting jumpy because there’s no knowing who’s not really himself anymore.
This is an amped up body snatcher movie benefitting from some of Carpenter’s most cinema-fluent and crafty direction: wide shots when we need to see the vastness of the unruly wilds; tight shots to remind us of the close quarters with parasitic death inside.
The story remains taut beginning to end, and there’s rarely any telling just who is and who is not infected by the last reel. You’re as baffled and confined as the scientists.
1. The Fly
As endearing and fascinating as we find Kurt Neumann’s 1958 Vincent Price vehicle, it just doesn’t quite have the same impact once you’ve seen Jeff Goldblum peel off his fingernails.
Not because it’s gross—and it is gross AF—but because he’s fascinated by the process itself. It’s the scientist in him.
David Cronenberg knows how to properly make a mad scientist film, especially if that madness wreaks corporeal havoc. But it’s not just Cronenberg’s disturbed genius for images and ideas that makes The Fly fly; it’s the performance he draws from Goldblum.
Goldblum is an absolute gift to this film, so endearing in his pre-Brundlefly nerdiness. He’s the picture’s heartbeat, and it’s more than the fact that we like his character so much. The actor also performs heroically under all those prosthetics.
We’d like to thank Gordon Maples—blogger, horror fan and all around smarty pants—for joining us to count down the best college-themed horror movies. (We might talk about some of the worst, too.)
5. Night of the Creeps (1986)
B-movie heaven, writer/director Fred Dekker’s Night of the Creeps embraces—nay, bear hugs—what has come before. With the help of Tom Atkins (at the top of his game), this alien invasion/zombie/frat movie is a hoot.
This film about alien slugs that enter the human body, nest in the brain, and reanimate the corpse looks like a lot we’ve seen before (mainly Cronenberg’s Shivers) and a lot we’d see later (mainly James Gunn’s Slither). The fact that it can be so genre-referential and still become a touchstone for other filmmakers speaks volumes about Dekker’s grasp of the genre.
4. Pledge (2018)
On its surface, Pledge may appear to be little more than a competently made fraternity horror in the tradition of Skulls. It is a cautionary tale about hazing taken to its sadistic (if likely logical) extreme.
But director Daniel Robbins’s latest horror show, from a tight script by co-star Zack Weiner, digs into issues bigger than tribe mentality. Pledge is not just about how far you’d go to belong. It asks about compliance, cowardice, and the cost and definition of success.
Where Weiner’s savvy script and Robbins’s sly direction really excel is in digging into this predictable plot to find an ugly picture of American privilege.
3. Scream 2 (1997)
Just one year after director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson struck gold with their meta-horror Scream, the survivors are off to college. Too bad the horror—and the rules—follow Sidney to campus.
The film picks up on its predecessor’s infatuation with genre tropes, this time trying to apply the rules of the sequel to what’s happening, giving characters the chance to figure their own plot out in an attempt to survive this sequel.
Fun return performances and excellent newcomers (Hello Laurie Metcalf! Good to see you Liev Schreiber and Timothy Olyphant!) keep this one fresh and fun.
2. Black Christmas (1974)
Sure, it’s another case of mysterious phone calls leading to grisly murders; sure it’s another one-by-one pick off of sorority stereotypes; sure, there’s a damaged child backstory; naturally John Saxon co-stars. Wait, what was different? Oh yeah, it did it first.
Released in 1974, the film predates most slashers by at least a half dozen years. It created the architecture. More importantly, the phone calls are actually quite unsettling.
Why the girls remain in the sorority house (if only they’d had an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!), or why campus police are so baffled remains a mystery, but director Bob Clark was onto something with the phone calls, as evidenced by the number of films that ripped off this original convention.
A college freshman and vegetarian from a meat-free family, Justine (Garance Marillier) objects to the hazing ritual of eating a piece of raw meat. But once she submits to peer pressure and tastes that taboo, her appetite is awakened and it will take more and more dangerous, self-destructive acts to indulge her blood lust.
The film often feels like a cross between Trouble Every Day and Anatomy. The latter, a German film from 2000, follows a prudish med student dealing with carnage and peer pressure. In the former, France’s Claire Denis directs a troubling parable combining sexual desire and cannibalism.
Writer/director Julia Ducournau has her cagey way with the same themes that populate any coming-of-age story – pressure to conform, societal order and sexual hysteria. Here all take on a sly, macabre humor that’s both refreshing and unsettling.
We spend a lot of time ripping on weak and lazy jump scares. But today we want to acknowledge that, when done well, jump scares can be an incredibly effective tool for a horror filmmaker.
Here are our 10 favorite jump scares from horror movies.
10. It Follows (2014): tall man at the door
This movie is a freak show of scares beginning to end, and the different images the demon takes throughout is forever terrifying and fascinating. But it was the tall man at the door that really got to us.
9. Les Diaboliques (1955): alive in the tub
First of all, this is a spoiler. But the film came out 65 years ago, so if you haven’t seen it by now (we even showed it once!), that’s on you, man. It’s a classic, and a classic scare.
8. The Ring (2002): I saw her face
Again, here is a film chocker block full of utterly fantastic creeps, all told a moment at a time. But it was that first one, when we see Samara’s first victim, that set the stage and made us jump out of our seats.
7. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003): under the sink
So much nuttiness, so many confusing ideas to keep track of, such a master class piece of atmosphere building in this film. You just are not expecting jump scares in this one. And yet, as one dinner party goes wrong…
6. Hereditary (2018): signpost
Tell us you saw this one coming and we will tell you that you are a liar.
5. Carrie (1976): Carrie White’s grave
Oh holy shit. You think Sue Snell has been through enough, what with missing out on prom and watching every friend she has die in a flaming blood bath. But you would think wrong.
4. Audition (1999): What’s in the bag?
Ring ring. Ring ring. The way Takashi Miike frames this scene, lovely Asami’s hair draped in front of her, her spine showing, that loud phone – you can’t take your eyes off her, waiting for her to rouse, to answer. You might not even notice that burlap sack…
3. Jaws (1975): Hey, it’s Bruce!
Jaws has two classic jump scares, and it was hard to pick. Remember when Hooper’s digging that tooth out of Ben Gardner’s boat and then, all the the sudden, a human head! Well, that would have been enough for most movies, but after waiting nearly 2/3 of the film to see that shark, Steven Spielberg introduces his lead with authority.
2. The Conjuring (2013): bureau
James Wan’s instant classic haunted house movie also boasts more than one strong contender for this list. That hand clapping scene, showcased in the trailer, was reason enough for us to buy our tickets. But the one that did the most damage starts with a sleep walker and ends with the best jump scare in the last twenty years.
1. The Exorcist III: guy in the hall
There are so many utterly priceless moments in this underrated horror show: Patrick Ewing and Fabio as angels, Sam Jackson as a blind man, that terrifying confessional scene. But there is this one flash of white that is the reason everybody who sees this movie remembers it.