Best Horror Movies of 2008
2008 was a year of tremendous highs and tremendous lows in the horror movie genre. We'll save the lows for another time and focus instead on the best wide theatrical releases for the year. (For the purposes of this list, "wide" is defined as more than 100 theaters.)
165 5.8 6.11. The Signal (2007)
A triumph of small-time, independent filmmaking, The Signal manages to craft a chaotic apocalypse with limited means, reveling in the emotional impact of the situation -- sometimes harrowing, sometimes quirky. It's unique three-act, three-director storytelling format delivers an offbeat indie vibe little seen in horror movies, touching seemingly every genre -- horror, action, sci fi, drama, romance, comedy -- with equal agility and aplomb.
848 5.9 6.22. The Strangers (2008)
With little on-screen violence, The Strangers still manages to be the most brutal theatrical horror experience of the year. It's emotionally bruising, dragging you through waves of terror, panic and heartache that punctuate the persistent sense of dread permeating the film. The simplicity of the movie is what makes it so real and so very terrifying.
2186 6.4 7.13. Cloverfield (2008)
This involving monster movie delivers blockbuster entertainment on a modest budget, thanks in part to stunningly realistic direction that achieves the pinncacle of POV filmmaking to date. As close to a literal roller coaster ride as a movie can get, Cloverfield packs in action, emotion and a dark streak that's uncommon in PG-13 horror.
446 6 6.24. The Midnight Meat Train (2008)
The stepchild of Lionsgate Entertainment, Midnight Meat Train received a barely 100-theater release, despite its strong cast and production value. Unlike most films that receive such treatment, though, this Clive Barker adaptation is a strong product that received good buzz from fans and critics alike. Kinetic visuals, good special effects and an unpredictable plot make the film a unique experience that, thanks ironically to Lionsgate's submarining efforts, could very well achieve cult status.
396 6 6.25. Lakeview Terrace (2008)
This bit of guilty pleasure is the top thriller of the year, delivering an inteligent, provocative work of suspense that does the unthinkable: it makes you think. Lakeview Terrace might neglect scares in favor of controversial talking points, but that doesn't mean it's without its popcorn thrills. It's well-paced, well-written and well-balanced between the uncompromising aesthetic of Neil LaBute and the accessible nature of your standard potboiler.
526 5.6 6.16. Quarantine (2008)
566 5.2 5.47. The Eye (2008)
Being a Jessica Alba-led American remake of an Asian horror movie, The Eye is better than it has any right being. Some of the credit has to go to French directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud (Them), while some goes to the strong source material, to which Moreau and Palud stick closely. The rest of the credit goes to Jessica Alba's tank top.
514 5.5 5.98. The Ruins (2008)
Unusual depth and character development characterize this well-made creature feature that ends up so focused on character interaction that it neglects thrills and a good deal of common sense. That said, The Ruins contains one of the gore highlights of the year in a grisly case of campsite surgery. Shudder.
992 6.6 6.49. Funny Games (2007)
A shot-for-shot remake can only be so bad, but it can also only be so good. Funny Games, a solid yet slavish reworking of the 1997 Austrian original, embodies both the strength of the original material and the limitations of sticking so closely to it. It succeeds in its aim to shock and disturb -- if not entertain -- just as the first movie did.
987 5.6 5.810. Saw V (2008)
Saw V delivers what fans of the series have come to expect: gore, complex traps, backstabbing group dynamics and a convoluted plot that may or may not make sense when factoring in the space-time continuum. It's not in the neighborhood of the original classic, but the fifth Saw film is as good as any of the other middling sequels and beats out the mediocrity of films like Shutter and The Happening for #10 on the list. Congratulations, you don't stink!
2008 was a bountiful year for quality limited-release and direct-to-video horror movies, led by a strong batch of horror-comedies and foreign films. (For the purposes of this list, limited release is defined as less than 100 theaters.)
Honorable Mentions: 13: Game of Death, American Zombie, Boogeyman 2, Hell's Ground, Inside, The Killing Gene, Storm Warning, Teeth, Wrestlemaniac, Zombie Strippers.
262 6 6.311. Frontier(s)
A tour-de-force of brutality that exemplifies the modern wave of French horror movies, Frontier(s) balances the absurd notion of a Nazi cannibal-run hotel with harrowing action and gruesome effects that anchor the film without making it as arduous a viewing experience as most so-called "torture porn."
257 6.4 6.512. Them (2006)
Unusually restrained for modern French horror, Them still manages to be a terrifying jolt to the senses -- sight, sound and depending on how involved you get while watching it, smell and a bit of taste -- as it tells the simple, The Strangers-like tale of a young married couple who find their new rural home surrounded by a group of unknown assailants late one night.
282 7.2 7.213. Timecrimes (2007)
71 6.1 5.814. Botched (2007)
The best horror-comedy of the year is a wacky misadventure about a "botched" robbery in Russia that strands the robbers (led by Stephen Dorff) and their assortment of zany hostages on a seemingly abandoned floor in an office building. Unfortunately for them, the floor isn't abandoned; it's home to a barbarian-like killer with a penchant for booby traps who would seem more at home in The Hills Have Eyes.
14 5.4 6.515. Black House (2007)
This Korean remake of the 1999 Japanese film The Black House improves on the original by crafting a more serious-minded thriller about an insurance investigator who suspects that a customer killed his son and made it look like a suicide in order to collect an insurance payout. The investigator uncovers more than he bargained for when he pushes too close to the truth and incurs the suspect's warped wrath.
133 6 6.216. The Cottage (2008)
132 5.9 5.917. Dance of the Dead (2008)
230 6.2 6.118. Splinter (2008)
1984 7.8 819. Let the Right One In (2008)
258 6.2 620. The Machine Girl (2008)
Twisted, insane, gory action marks this oddball entry from Japan that feels like Mighty Morphin Power Rangers meets the tea house scene from Kill Bill. It follows the adventures of a schoolgirl who seeks bloody revenge -- with the aid of a machine gun affixed to her amputated arm -- on a gangster whose son killed her brother. Ninjas, chainsaws, flying guillotines, drill bras and death by tempura mark this instant cult classic.
27 4.1 4.921. The Devil's Chair (2007)
100 7 7.122. Red (2008)
33 6 5.923. Baby Blues (2008)
What begins as a dramatic rendering of a serious topic -- postpartum depression -- turns into all-out, slasher-styled horror in this well-made shocker. The premise -- a 10-year-old farm boy defending his three younger siblings from his mother when she suffers a violent postpartum mental breakdown -- is terrifyingly original, and while the final product is imperfect and of questionable taste, its strong cast and direction ensure its lasting impact.
104 5.3 5.824. White Noise 2: The Light (2007)
This is how sequels should be done: keeping the same thematic elements of the first, but exploring different avenues so as not to become a mere retread (Are you listening, Final Destination series?). In the case of White Noise 2, it takes the original and adds elements of The Eye and Final Destination in the story of a despondent man who attempts suicide in the wake of his family's murder but is brought back from "the light" with the ability to see people's deaths before they happen.
34 6 4.725. Cthulhu (2007)
7 5.8 6.126. Brutal Massacre: A Comedy (2007)
33 4.1 5.327. Sick Nurses (2007)
4 6.3 4.928. Conjurer (2008)
Strong writing and acting shine through low production values to craft a tense, involving ghost story with characters you actually care about.
53 5.8 6.129. Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer (2007)
16 3.3 3.430. The Vanguard (2008)
Does a somber, introspective British film sound interesting to you? How about one set in a mutant-spawning plague-ravaged future? The Vanguard is a smart and socially relevant take on standard zombie apocalypse fare with atmospheric music and exhilarating visuals.
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