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The Horror Oscars: The Best Scary Movies of Every Year Since 1978’s ‘Halloween’

The Horror Oscars: The Best Scary Movies of Every Year Since 1978’s ‘Halloween’
01 Oct
6:13

Here is the number of Oscars that were awarded to Alfred Hitchcock for Best Director: zero. Here is the number for John Carpenter: zero. Wes Craven: zero. James Whale: zero. David Cronenberg: zero. You get the point.

In the Academy Awards’ 90-year history, horror films have been nominated for Best Picture just six times, out of a possible 546 nominees. Here they are: The Exorcist, Jaws, The Silence of the Lambs, The Sixth Sense, Black Swan, and last year’s Get Out. Only one took home the prize. (The Silence of the Lambs in 1992.) Using a strict interpretation of the genre, only three of those movies are true horror films. But regardless of whether you think a shark, a cannibal, and the ballet are equally terrifying, horror movies are among the least respected forms of entertainment in the world. In some ways, that’s the point—they are the darkness behind the door, the awfulness in the far reaches of our imagination. They aren’t proper.

But the ability to communicate anxiety and smuggle ideas about the state of modern life makes horror an ever-renewable resource. There are few genres as malleable and sensitive to the times as horror, few that have springboarded more great filmmakers to acclaimed careers, and fewer still that serve movies at their highest purpose: to make viewers feel and think, in a kind of emotional unison. We can’t look away from horror, even when our natural instinct is to do just that.

This year marks 40 since John Carpenter’s Halloween, a film that kicked off a wave that redefined the genre, inspiring copycats and extremists, commercial juggernauts and crass exploitation pictures. It also inspired a steamer trunk’s worth of film theory, set a course for dozens of careers, and lit a torch for a future generation that would recontextualize and reinvent these films. Without Halloween, there is no Scream; without Scream, there is no Blumhouse.

We’re now generations beyond Carpenter’s iconic slasher film, a major benchmark in horror history—not quite a big bang, but definitely a boom. And horror today is experiencing a new and extraordinary boom—not just creative, but financial and critical. A Quiet Place and Hereditary are among the best reviewed and most successful movies of 2018, and, while they are both about families in peril, they could not have less to do with one another. This is the divining power of horror: It changes as we change, creating rules only to deliriously break them at every turn.

And so as we approach another awards season with virtually no chance of a horror winner, I thought it’d be fun to chart a little revisionist history: Let’s determine the winner of the Horror Oscars every year since Halloween. I’ll pick a winner and four other nominees. Some years are loaded (see: the past 24 months), while some are not (see: the early ’90s). The genre ebbs and flows. What are our criteria? As with the actual Oscars, it’s whatever we say it is, some alchemical combination of influence, importance, achievement, gerrymandering, and sheer delight. Like many Oscar winners, some of our horror movies are period pieces; some are freewheeling romps; some are technical masterpieces; some are harrowing examinations of evil. All are eligible in this exercise. Though the scarier the better.

Without further ado: boo.

1979: ‘Alien’

Actual Oscars: Best Visual Effects (Won); Best Art Direction (Nominated)

Runners-up: The Brood, The Amityville Horror, Phantasm, When a Stranger Calls

Signature Scene:

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In space, no one can hear you scream. But on the flight deck of the Nostromo, an Earth-bound commercial space tug, scream is all you can do. Ridley Scott’s slow, suffocating chamber piece about six crew members, one insidious android, and a terrorizing, chest-bursting facehugger from hell is the rare horror movie that takes place beyond the stars. But it is as elegant and haunting as any film ever made. This year, 1979, memorably marked the end of the New Hollywood’s golden age—it was the time of Apocalypse Now (speaking of “The horror …”) and one year before Michael Cimino’s disastrously received Heaven’s Gate. But it is Alien, more than any other movie from the year, that lives on. It’s become an ever-evolving franchise, like the titular xenomorph, its acid blood warding off predators and superheroes alike. Scream all you want—Alien is eternal.

1980: ‘The Shining’

Actual Oscars: Famously, this Stanley Kubrick film received no nominations from either the Oscars or Golden Globes.

Runners-up: The Fog, Friday the 13th, Prom Night, The Changeling

Signature Scene:

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This list may seem off to a classy start, but The Shining was initially both a critical and commercial failure for director Stanley Kubrick. The author of the book it is based upon, Stephen King, infamously despised Kubrick’s take, and Jack Nicholson’s iconic, histrionic performance as writer-caretaker-with-alcoholism-gone-mad Jack Torrance was considered a shrill disappointment. Slowly but surely in the 1980s, consensus started to shift—the box office grew steadily, the critical reputation was bolstered, and within a decade, The Shining was an American classic. Why? Like Alien, it is technically magnificent and eerily tense, like waiting for an ocean of blood to pour from an elevator shaft. The Krzysztof Penderecki score is deeply unnerving. Shelley Duvall, with her long face, eight-ball eyes, and pallid complexion, is the most vulnerable subject of spousal torture ever put on screen. There are moments of shock, psychological torture, and bloodcurdling terror. (RIP, Scatman Crothers.) It’s so mystifying and intoxicating, that it has become the subject of wildly imaginative conspiracy theorizing. The Shining isn’t just one of the best horror movies ever made—it’s one of the best, period.

1981: ‘An American Werewolf in London’

Actual Oscars: Best Makeup (Won)

Runners-up: The Howling, The Evil Dead, Halloween II, Possession

Signature Scene:

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Casual fans of the writer-director John Landis may have been surprised to find his follow-up to the twin killings of Animal House and The Blues Brothers to be this seriocomic gothic tale of backpacking hipsters suddenly attacked in the English countryside by a vicious lycanthrope. But Landisologists (Landites?) know how important creature features are to the director, who made his debut with the goofy-gross Schlock in 1973 and later went on to make the vampire movie Innocent Blood. Werewolf is often billed as a spoof or an outright comedy. And the movie is definitely funny—especially Griffin Dunne’s performance as David Naughton’s undead best pal. But as it ages, it feels increasingly like a symbol of traveler abroad alienation—what trying to live in a place that isn’t home can feel like: confusing, rageful, even physically debilitating. Much of the credit for that goes to the legendary makeup artist Rick Baker, a longtime Landis collaborator, and the creator of a werewolf transformation sequence that, despite being 37 years old, feels as fresh as the morning’s news.

1982: ‘Poltergeist’

Actual Oscars: Best Sound Editing (Nominated); Best Visual Effects (Nominated); Best Score (Nominated)

Runners-up: The Thing, Creepshow, Tenebre, Cat People

Signature Scene:

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Carol Anne … Carol Anne ….

The disappearance of a little girl sucked into a television by a malevolent spirit wrought by a house built on an ancient Native American burial ground. That’s a single-sentence spoiler for Poltergeist, the suburban nightmare of a collaboration between writer-producer Steven Spielberg and Texas Chainsaw Massacre maestro Tobe Hooper. Together—and the nature of their collaboration remains controversial to this day—they created one of the more eerie Hollywood horror films ever. It is a slick, entertaining ghost story and a stomach-turning gore-fest in equal measure, the balance of Spielberg and Hooper’s creative impulses blending together. Who deserves what percentage of the credit is immaterial—we all feel the pain.

1983: ‘Videodrome’

Actual Oscars: None

Runners-up: Christine, Cujo, The Hunger, Sleepaway Camp

Signature Scene:

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It’s hard to overstate how premonitory David Cronenberg’s masterpiece turned out to be. Fusing the body horror he began to explore in early work like Shivers and Rabid with the cyber-terror and media anxiety he would mine in films like The Fly and eXistenZ, Videodrome presages the dark web, 4chan, Bumfights, Pornhub, and nearly half a century’s worth of illicit “entertainment.” In James Woods’s slimy, morally unraveling TV executive, Cronenberg draws a portrait of a man being consumed—first mentally, and eventually physically—by his worst impulses and desires. What plays on the VHS tapes that begin to eat his psyche—snuff films, essentially—isn’t so far afield from the ways many people entertain themselves today. Not every horror movie needs to hold up to be a classic. But, like most Cronenberg movies, it helps when it’s still ahead of the curve.

1984: ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’

Actual Oscars: None

Runners-up: Gremlins, Children of the Corn, Night of the Comet, Silent Night, Deadly Night

Signature Scene:

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Not every horror movie is a big-idea machine, either, but there’s a genius structural conceit in Wes Craven’s slasher classic: Don’t go to sleep. That’s really it. Sure, Freddy Krueger—a burn victim turned pedophiliac dream killer—is there with that finger-blade glove and all the attendant cultural import that comes with creating an iconic character. But what makes the movie work is so simple and economical—you snooze, you die. I’ve always admired its simplicity.

1985: ‘Re-Animator’

Actual Oscars: None

Runners-up: Day of the Dead, Fright Night, The Return of the Living Dead, Phenomena

Signature Scene:

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It’s OK to laugh at horror movies. It’s probably better if you do. There’s something delightful in knowing that the mind behind Re-Animator, a gloopy, glorious piece of cult trash, is the same one that helped to co-conceive Disney’s Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Stuart Gordon’s always in on the joke. Re-Animator is no masterpiece, but it’s got one eye on the H.P. Lovecraft story that inspired the movie and another on Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, a madcap Buster Keaton–ish take on horror. What comes out the other side is pure, disreputable zombie fun.

1986: ‘The Fly’

Actual Oscars: Best Makeup (Won)

Runners-up: Blue Velvet, From Beyond, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, The Hitcher

Signature Scene:

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Cronenberg is a horror director in the way Michael Vick was a quarterback—sure, he can sling it, but look how he changes the contours of the game. The Fly is a 40-yard out route after eluding three bull-rushing defensive linemen. Originally a short story published in 1957 and made into a somewhat unremarkable movie one year later, Cronenberg takes his obsession with the way we desire to change our bodies and ratchets it up. Not every horror movie needs truly great performances to succeed, but Jeff Goldblum as the titular Brundlefly supplies Cronenberg’s insectoid creature with madness, vulnerability, and intelligence. Together, they make a monster masterpiece.

1987: ‘Evil Dead II’

Actual Oscars: None

Runners-up: Hellraiser, The Lost Boys, Near Dark, Prince of Darkness

Signature Scene:

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Sam Raimi does something unique with the ostensible sequel to his 1981 directorial effort: he essentially remakes it, but still slaps the II on the title. Evil Dead II is one of the strangest, funniest movies ever made—a Donald Duck cartoon set in a haunted cabin. Raimi’s Donald is the anvil-jawed actor Bruce Campbell, who does imitations of Fred Astaire, Charlie Chaplin, and Errol Flynn while battling the undead ghouls raised by the Necronomicon, a tome with the power to open a portal to the underworld. That Raimi chose to make a movie with such a core horror premise into a mischief machine is what makes it indelible.

1988: ‘They Live’

Actual Oscars: None

Runners-up: Child’s Play, Killer Klowns From Outer Space, Pumpkinhead, The Serpent and the Rainbow

Signature Scene:

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The world is occupied by aliens in disguise with a lone objective: compel humans to consume mindless garbage, spend money, and pursue wealth at the expense of realizing who’s really running the planet. John Carpenter always has his mind on some greater force when he’s making a movie, but the paranoia and brute rage conveyed by (of all people) professional Rowdy Roddy Piper in this action-sci-fi-horror hybrid has made They Live one of those What did he know? classics that endures. Carpenter used the pseudonym Frank Armitage on this movie, a nod to one of the characters created by the writer H.P. Lovecraft, whose work often depicted the world underground and the expired gods questing to return to rule the world.

1989: ‘Pet Sematary’

Actual Oscars: None

Runners-up: Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, Puppetmaster, Shocker, Tetsuo, the Iron Man

Signature Scene:

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One of my personal sadnesses about horror in the 1980s and ’90s is how few of Stephen King’s works got the film adaptations they deserved. Now, there was no shortage of King movies—see our next entry. He is the load-bearing wall of modern horror. But so many of his best books—The Stand, It, Salem’s Lot—were relegated to television miniseries due to their scope and length. And so TV series got TV filmmakers and TV budgets. Those miniseries shaped some of the horror to come, but they could never have the impact of The Shining or Carrie. Pet Sematary kicked off something new: the modest, micro, highly enjoyable King adaptation. Not since 1984 had there been a full-length King book adapted, but this would set off a stream: Misery, The Dark Half, Needful Things, Dolores Claiborne, et al. Pet Sematary was a hit, and also, notably: still one of the biggest horror movies ever directed by a woman, Mary Lambert, who was until then best known for a string of iconic music videos for Madonna, Janet Jackson, and the Go-Go’s.

1990: ‘Misery’

Actual Oscars: Best Actress (Won)

Runners-up: Arachnophobia, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Nightbreed, Tremors

Signature Scene:

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Simply put, Misery is the best King horror movie since The Shining and the last great one we’d get, arguably, ever. (I have a soft spot for The Mist, which came 27 years later, and, of course, there’s last year’s It.) Masterfully adapted by William Goldman, one of the five greatest screenwriters of all time, and directed as if inside James Caan’s skull by Rob Reiner. Reiner was just one year removed from When Harry Met Sally and one year away from A Few Good Men. (How’s that for a crowd-pleasing run?) And he uses practicality to make the movie so effective. There’s no evil, no zombies, no cursed MacGuffins, no serial killers—just a deranged lonely person and a self-regarding jerk. Together, they make terror.

1991: ‘The Silence of the Lambs’

Actual Oscars: Best Picture (Won); Best Actress (Won); Best Actor (Won); Best Director (Won); Best Adapted Screenplay (Won); Best Film Editing (Nominated); Best Sound (Nominated)

Runners-up: Cape Fear, The People Under the Stairs, The Pit and the Pendulum, Sometimes They Come Back

Signature Scene:

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Only three films have won all five major Oscar categories: 1934’s It Happened One Night; 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; and Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs. The existence of this movie—harrowing, tense, and unforgettable—almost obviates the necessity of this exercise. Almost.

1992: ‘Candy Man’

Actual Oscars: None

Runners-up: Army of Darkness, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dead Alive, Raising Cain

Signature Scene:

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This is a strange moment in horror cinema—everyone sort of seemed to be making fun of themselves. Peter Jackson’s goofy gorefest Dead Alive, Sam Raimi’s medieval capstone to his Evil Dead trilogy, and the cheerocracy satire of the original Buffy all seemed to use horror as a Trojan horse for settings, if not ideas. One of the few movies from this period that had no inclination to wink at its audience was Candyman, a movie that instead eyed urban legend and the way it intertwines with brutal history. Candyman is a slave story told under the guise of a slasher film. Its legacy is waning, but it remains one of the most impressive—that Philip Glass score!—and gazeworthy movies of its kind.

1993: ‘Cronos’

Actual Oscars: None

Runners-up: The Dark Half, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, Leprechaun, Needful Things

Signature Scene:

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As the genre was going through a creative lull in the early ’90s, a new generation of filmmakers was honing its craft. Cronos, the crafty debut of a young Mexican filmmaker named Guillermo del Toro, emerged as a warning shot. His tale of vampirism and immortality is half horror, half historical fable—like all the best del Toro work to come.

1994: ‘In the Mouth of Madness’

Actual Oscars: None

Runners-up: Cemetery Man, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, New Nightmare, Wolf

Signature Scene:

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When a style is in a rut, turn to a maestro to lift it to the sky. John Carpenter hadn’t made a true-blue horror since 1987’s Prince of Darkness when he took on future Oscars producer and longtime Hollywood executive Michael De Luca’s script about the people who become overtaken by the haunted novels of a cultish author named Sutter Cane who resembles both Lovecraft and Stephen King from different angles. His movie has a lot to say about the dangers of cultural obsession and what happens when you give yourself over to the creators you idolize.

1995: ‘Se7en’

Actual Oscars: Film Editing (Nominated)

Runners-up: Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight, Lord of Illusions, The Prophecy, Species

Signature Scene:

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How do we define horror? The stormy, sooty, blackened unnamed city in David Fincher’s murder mystery feels a little like hell—infested with cretins, sinners, and pretty boys with a death wish—and that sure makes me think Se7en is one of the foremost horror movies of modern times, as influential in its crushing reveals and stylish construction as anything on this list. Future films like The Babadook, Black Swan, and Kill List evince some of the hallmarks of Se7en—the evil inside the lie of the nuclear family, the corruption of government, the overwhelming force of grief. And if that big finale isn’t a downbeat horror kicker, I don’t know what is. It’s horror whodunnit. Why don’t they make more of these?

1996: ‘Scream’

Actual Oscars: None

Runners-up: The Craft, From Dusk Till Dawn, The Frighteners, The Stendhal Syndrome

Signature Scene:

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A massive disturbance in the atmosphere. Not every movie can do what Scream did—verbalize tropes, subverting them while paying homage—but after this one did, with wit and sincere horror, it revolutionized an audience. No one really tries to emulate what Scream did. But virtually everyone knows that once it happened, we could never go back.

1997: ‘Funny Games’

Actual Oscars: None

Runners-up: Event Horizon, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Mimic, Scream 2

Signature Scene:

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If Scream felt like a revolution, Michael Haneke’s Funny Games is like the political cartoonist mocking said revolution in the newspaper. You really want brutal, senseless violence delivered with a smile? the Austrian filmmaker seems to be asking throughout this thought experiment about two cheery tennis-kitted sociopaths who visit a family and terrorize them while making bets, breaking the fourth wall, and literally rewinding the story when it doesn’t go the way that they want to. Haneke’s films are famously pessimistic, blackhearted affairs that peel back the thin veneer of politesse hiding human monstrosity. This isn’t his best movie, but it is his most viscerally frightening.

1998: ‘Ringu’

Actual Oscars: None

Runners-up: Blade, The Faculty, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, John Carpenter’s Vampires

Signature Scene:

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After the impact of Scream, you can feel filmmakers and producers not knowing quite what to do. They tried to revive franchises like Halloween. They searched for new slasher icons. They tried to channel the spirits of their forebears. When that failed, they looked overseas. Ringu, Hideo Nakata’s eerie story of a cursed tape and the ghostly girl trapped in the well, became a sensation when it came to America in a glossily effective remake by Gore Verbinski. But the original works best—especially the contents of the tape itself, a Lynchian collection of delicately composed weirdness. Nakata’s patient, slithering movie has many imitators, but no equals.

1999: ‘The Blair Witch Project’

Actual Oscars: None

Runners-up: Audition, Ravenous, The Sixth Sense, Stir of Echoes

Signature Scene:

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Low-budget ingenuity. There was a considerable number—some might argue a majority—of people who went to go see The Blair Witch Project believing it was a documentary. Think about that. That’s how uncommercialized found footage was as a conceit, and how elegantly crafted this movie is. It could not be a success today—not with the internet and not with a generation of know-it-alls shitposting the ending in every blog post. But at the time, it was a quake.

2000: ‘American Psycho’

Actual Oscars: None

Runners-up: Final Destination, Ju-On: The Curse, Pitch Black, What Lies Beneath

Signature Scene:

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I’ve always found Mary Harron’s vision of Bret Easton Ellis’s arch satire of ’80s greed, excess, and grooming to be a lot funnier than its reputation. Sure there are vicious murders. But the Phil Collins, the business cards, Christian Bale’s abs—those are the jokes. Is the movie’s conceit—that Reagan-era bond traders are vainglorious enough to relish in hightoned ax murder as much as boardroom chest-puffing—a little simple? Sure. Doesn’t make it untrue.

2001: ‘Trouble Every Day’

Actual Oscars: None

Runners-up: The Devil’s Backbone, Frailty, Jeepers Creepers, Session 9

Signature Scene:

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Claire Denis’s vicious, beautiful cannibal film went unrated in America and thus never found its way to Blockbuster, or even to many theaters beyond the arthouses on the coasts. It only recently found its way to Amazon’s streaming service. I recommend you find it and watch it immediately. It is languorous, moody, and—like all of Denis’s films—shockingly perceptive about (in)human behavior. It is also spare and unwilling to overstate its point. Its style is European in all the ways that are often lazily deemed pretentious. But rarely are those pretenses so perfectly horrific.

2002: ‘28 Days Later’

Actual Oscars: None

Runners-up: Cabin Fever, Dog Soldiers, Dark Water, The Ring

Signature Scene:

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Points for a wrinkle: these zombies are fast. The vanished London society that Cillian Murphy wakes up to at the start of this movie is one of the most brilliantly staged horror movie openings ever, and the survivalist battle that closes it caps a powerful story of disease paranoia. But it’s the sprinting, slobbering, infected ghouls racing across the countryside that have been burned into my brain.

2003: ‘High Tension’

Actual Oscars: None

Runners-up: A Tale of Two Sisters, House of 1000 Corpses, Irreversible, Wrong Turn

Signature Scene:

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There are two versions of the film—the dubbed and edited R-rated version that Lionsgate premiered in theaters in 2003, and the unedited, NC-17 version that French filmmaker Alexandre Aja rolled out at the Toronto International Film Festival at a midnight screening. Roger Ebert infamously flayed the R-rated version in a brutal one-star pan. I would argue that the originally intended version is the ne plus ultra of work from the so-called Splat Pack generation of directors (among them Eli Roth, Greg McLean, and Aja) who grew up idolizing Carpenter, Craven, and Hooper, but also the Italian masters like Argento, Fulci, and Bava. High Tension is all kinds of wrong—narratively, corporeally, politically. But it also knows what it’s doing—it’s an arterial spray of expression, a celluloid dare to take it to the next level. Fifteen years later, it doesn’t play safe. But that was never its point.

2004: ‘Saw’

Actual Oscars: None

Runners-up: Dawn of the Dead, The Grudge, Shaun of the Dead, The Village

Signature Scene:

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For sheer innovation, Saw took torture porn—that grim, indefensible strand of the genre that burbled to the surface just as America was invading Iraq—to its logical, gamified conclusion. Never terribly clever, but always intestinally challenging, this successful and discomfiting collection of films shows art in extremis—a real-time effort to take mainstream entertainment to its most brutal end point. It succeeds, sort of.

2005: ‘The Descent’

Actual Oscars: None

Runners-up: The Devil’s Rejects, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Hostel, Wolf Creek

Signature Scene:

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An all-female cast, a claustrophobic cave setting draped in red light, and an anarchic, vicious fight to the death that ends in a bloody pool at the bottom of hell by any other name, all brought to you by the guy who made Game of Thrones’ “Blackwater,” one of the most gutripping episodes of television ever. Need I say more about one of the most physically taxing movies of the century?

2006: ‘The Host’

Actual Oscars: None

Runners-up: The Hills Have Eyes, Silent Hill, Slither, The Wicker Man

Signature Scene:

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An eco-disaster movie that pays homage to Godzilla and Creature From the Black Lagoon in equal measure. When The Host was released, South Korea’s Bong Joon-ho had not yet evinced the affection for creatures that we’d come to find in 2017’s Okja and this mega-monster movie, which arrived two years before Cloverfield, four years before Monsters, and nearly a decade before Godzilla was revived stateside. The Host filled a crucial hole in our horror life: a big, hulking, unstoppable force that we accidentally created and can’t control. Bong’s film is an allegory for an unchecked global economy.

2007: ‘Paranormal Activity’

Actual Oscars: None

Runners-up: 30 Days of Night, The Mist, The Orphanage, [REC]

Signature Scene:

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Truly a genre re-defining moment, the found-footage phenomenon Paranormal Activity is dollar-for-dollar one of the most financially successful movies ever made, grossing $193 million on an estimated $15,000 budget. It spawned five sequels and trampolined producer Jason Blum into the position of foremost horror impresario of the decade to come. Is Paranormal Activity innovative? Not really. Scary? A little. Important? Undeniably. And that’s enough for our fake awards.

2008: ‘The Strangers’

Actual Oscars: None

Runners-up: Cloverfield, Eden Lake, Let the Right One In, The Ruins

Signature Scene:

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What is really standing between you and someone wandering into your house for no reason? Just a door and human decency—the social contract that states we will not terrorize our fellow man. That’s what The Strangers—perhaps the most unsettling film on this entire list—explores. Sometimes evil happens without explanation. Rarely is it shown in such plain, quiet, horrifying fashion. Don’t watch this alone.

2009: ‘Drag Me to Hell’

Actual Oscars: None

Runners-up: The House of the Devil, The Human Centipede (First Sequence), Orphan, Zombieland

Signature Scene:

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The old horror master Sam Raimi took a break from Spider-Man movies and Wizard of Oz prequels for this handmade, homespun throwback to his Evil Dead days. The premise is old-fashioned—a gypsy curse haunts a young woman—but the execution is glorious, as funny and cockeyed as it is gasp-inducing. Often, horror directors are imprisoned by their genre roots. Raimi escaped that trap—sometimes, I wish he’d lock himself in that dungeon more often.

2010: ‘Black Swan’

Actual Oscars: Best Picture (Nominated); Best Actress (Won); Best Director (Nominated); Best Cinematography (Nominated); Best Editing (Nominated)

Runners-up: I Saw the Devil, Insidious, The Last Exorcism, Piranha 3D

Signature Scene:

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Imagine if David Cronenberg filmed Swan Lake. That’s what Darren Aronofsky’s treatise on the physical terror of performance and ambition feels like. It’s a whirling dervish of a film, the camera spinning and zooming—in on Natalie Portman’s traumatized face, her cracking toenails, her befeathered back. It’s a sensory overload—loud, furious, and rapturous. It remains the best, most visceral work from virtually every single person involved in the production.

2011: ‘You’re Next’

Actual Oscars: None

Runners-up: Absentia, Fright Night, Kill List, Red State

Signature Scene:

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Arguably the best thing to be even tangentially connected to the so-called mumblecore film movement, Adam Wingard’s nasty, scrupulously violent home-invasion film is like if the killers from The Strangers went people-hunting after a screening of Cannibal Holocaust. The key to this movie is the expert nature it’s filmed in—in contained environments, with all the attendant tension that comes from a big family dinner. It may not have the big-idea mojo of many of the horror movies that have defined this decade, but what it lacks in that department it makes up for in sadism. (And whither the movie’s brilliant, tenacious heroine Sharni Vinson, who has sort of vanished from the screen of late.)

2012: ‘The Cabin in the Woods’

Actual Oscars: None

Runners-up: The Devil Inside, The Lords of Salem, Sinister, V/H/S

Signature Scene:

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Shot in 2009, scheduled and shelved in 2010, and mercifully released in 2012, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s maximalist meta-commentary on the horror genre isn’t just one of the most fun and clever movies on this list, it’s one of the most persuasive, aggressively making the case that horror needed a reboot from slasher flicks, virginal heroines, foggy cinematography, and stoner humor. The Cabin in the Woods is a love letter and warning to the genre: evolve or die. Sometimes the best criticism is in the movies themselves. And it still works as a fun flick unto itself. If you haven’t seen it, run, now.

2013: ‘The Conjuring’

Actual Oscars: None

Runners-up: Mama, The Purge, Oculus, We Are What We Are

Signature Scene:

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I did not see the Conjuring Expanded Universe coming. With five films in six years, and another three already in development, the series has already become the second-biggest horror franchise ever, trailing just the Alien films. It all started with this expertly made, crowd-pleasing ghost story loosely based on a case from the files of Ed and Lorraine Warren, two paranormal investigators with an almost-spiritual commitment to their craft. There’s nothing terribly new about Australian director James Wan’s sixth film—it’s just a testament to good scares.

2014: ‘It Follows’

Actual Oscars: None

Runners-up: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Babadook, Starry Eyes, What We Do in the Shadows

Signature Scene:

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The virgin has been a sacrosanct concept in horror movies ever since Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode stayed celibate throughout Halloween—and survived. But sex had never been literalized as an evil, inescapable force force until It Follows, a quiet but tremulous vision of teenage physical discomfort and emotional distress. Venereal disease may haunt the dreams of an HPV-aware generation, but not like this.

2015: ‘The Witch’

Actual Oscars: None

Runners-up: Bone Tomahawk, Green Room, The Invitation, The Visit

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One of the most artfully composed, heartstopping films on this list, Robert Eggers’s queasy folktale of a banished clan of pious farmers questions both the virtue of a God-fearing life and insists upon the evil in the mundane. Like, say, a goat. Which might be something more than that.

2016: ‘Don’t Breathe’

Actual Oscars: None

Runners-up: 10 Cloverfield Lane, Hush, Ouija: Origin of Evil, Raw

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Sometimes a low-rent, disgusting, irredeemable movie is just what the world needs. The summer of 2016 was a difficult moment in recent history and Fede Alvarez’s heist-movie-turned-torture-saga worked as an effective distraction—an almost operatically stomach-turning distraction—from the events of the time. Sometimes that’s enough. Will this movie enter the canon? Probably not. But we’ll never look at a turkey baster the same ever again.

2017: ‘Get Out’

Actual Oscars: Best Picture (Nominated); Best Actor (Nominated); Best Director (Nominated); Best Original Screenplay (Won)

Runners-up: Gerald’s Game, It, It Comes at Night, Mother!

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Last year for The Ringer, K. Austin Collins wrote the following about Get Out: “The wildest ideas in Get Out have real-world anchors — that’s their humor, and their horror. Take the frequent minority complaint that with their tans and butt implants, white people are trying to be Latino or black. What if that were literalized? A historical drama about race can’t give you that.” Many of the best horror movies often feel as if they are commenting on our present moment, but few hit the bull’s-eye the way Get Out did, arriving in the immediate aftermath of a fiery presidential election, with pronounced racial tension in the country, and a sense of disenfranchisement that throttled segments of the country into a kind of despair. Get Out didn’t solve problems, but it gave an idea pictures—representation of a kind. What more could you ask from a movie?

2018: ‘Hereditary’

Actual Oscars: None. (Yet.)

Runners-up: A Quiet Place, The First Purge, The Nun, Unfriended: Dark Web

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The year isn’t over yet, but I’m not sure the image of Toni Collette crawling across the ceiling of her son’s bedroom will be topped in 2018. One part still family psychodrama à la Ordinary People, one part convulsive freakout along the lines of Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession, Ari Aster’s directorial debut is one of the memorable in years that splits the difference between the intellectual, arthouse horror that’s been a hallmark of the decade and a good old-fashioned demonic horror story. A fitting fusion for our times.

Source: https://www.theringer.com/movies/2018/10/1/17921290/horror-movie-academy-awards-halloween-40-alien-shining-nightmare-elm-street-silence-lambs-scream

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