The 00s became a horror decade known for post-9/11 pessimism and “torture porn” like Hostel (2005) and Saw (2005), mainstream interest in J-horror remakes like The Ring (2002) and The Grudge (2004), and films that are great but have way too many sequels like the Final Destination (2000) and Paranormal Activity (2007) franchises. Because of this, the 00s aren’t remembered as a great horror era by many fans, but that’s just not true.
This was also the decade Zack Snyder made his directorial debut with one of the best remakes of all time, Dawn of the Dead (2004), creating a fertile territory for the epic television series The Walking Dead to premiere in 2010 and zombies to be pretty much everywhere a decade later, including Snyder’s own Army of the Dead and Army of Thieves in 2021. Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford starred in one of the best murder mysteries of all time, What Lies Beneath (2000), and M. Night Shyamalan made an incredible family-drama/alien-invasion movie with Signs (2002). As much as 00s horror movies can be schlocky, misogynistic, homophobic, and (to some) needlessly violent, the decade is also full of less-remembered gems.
Collected here are the best 00s horror movies that are typically underrated, lesser known, or just left off of most “best of the decade” type lists:
This murder mystery follows a WASP couple, Claire (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Norman (Harrison Ford), who live alone in their Vermont lake home after their daughter moves away to college. Claire begins to think their home is haunted and that the ghost has something to do with their new neighbor, Warren, who she suspects is abusing his wife, Mary. However, What Lies Beneath’s genuinely surprising twist ending is even scarier than where viewers assume the film is going.
What The Glass House lacks in quality, it makes up for in nostalgia. This psychological thriller starred early 00s teen star Leelee Sobieski as Ruby Baker, a 16-year-old whose parents have died in a car accident. Ruby and her 11-year-old brother are sent to live with old family friends Erin and Terry Glass in their mansion in Malibu. Ruby senses that something is wrong at the Glass home immediately and attempts to discover what is really happening. The lack of gore in this film also makes it a great movie to watch with people who are squeamish about horror movies.
Joy Ride is an early 00s horror movie that feels like it could belong to any era. The premise is simple: Lewis (Paul Walker) and his delinquent brother, Fuller (Steve Zahn), are on a cross-country road trip that Lewis has somewhat fashioned for the purpose of spending time with his love interest, Venna (Leelee Sobieski). Bored on the open road, the brothers play a prank on a trucker with their CB radio but discover they’ve messed with the wrong guy when he hunts down the trio to make them pay.
Eli Roth’s directorial debut is the classic horror movie formula: A group of attractive twenty-somethings goes to a cabin in the woods for a weekend getaway. The twist is that the danger does not come from supernatural or human predators, but from a water supply infected with some kind of flesh-eating bacteria. Auditions for the role of Marcy were scheduled for September 11, 2001 and included a scene with the line, “[It’s] like being on a plane, when you know it’s gonna crash. Everybody around you is screaming, ‘We’re going down! We’re going down!’ and all you want to do is grab the person next to you and fuck them, because you know you’re going to be dead soon, anyway.” A remake was made in 2016 with Eli Roth as the executive producer.
Ghost Ship has the honor of being one of the rare films that peaks in its opening sequence. The supernatural horror movie is about a salvage crew who find a ghost ship abandoned in the Bering Sea. Once they board, their own ship explodes and the crew is trapped on the boat that has been floating at sea for 40 years. They attempt to repair the ship while dealing with its many ghosts.
Before The Dark Knight (2008) and Inception (2010), Christopher Nolan directed this psychological thriller about two detectives investigating a murder in Alaska. One detective, Will Dormer (Al Pacino), engages in shady tactics to arrest criminals and close cases. On the trail of a serial killer in a town so far north the sun doesn’t set, Dormer begins experiencing insomnia.
“Whatcha readin’ about?”
“Is that for work?”
“Nope. It’s just for fun.”
Angela Bettis was excellent as a lonely twenty-something, May, who has spent her whole life as an outsider. After a failed attempt at a relationship with local fuckboy Adam (Jeremy Sisto), a disastrous turn at volunteering with blind children and accidentally murdering her borrowed cat, May decides to make her own friend. This film never got the attention it deserved despite good reviews.
Medical student Chris (Desmond Harrington) is on a road trip to a job interview when he takes a shortcut and is subsequently stranded in the wilderness along with a group of friends on a camping trip. Soon they discover they weren’t stranded by accident; their vehicles were sabotaged by cannibalistic inbred mountain men. While the Wrong Turn franchise went off the rails, the original is a suspenseful and enjoyable early 00s horror movie.
This film is forgotten or misremembered for its corny premise because the theatrical version is inferior to the director’s cut, which has a completely different ending. Ashton Kutcher starred as Evan Treborn, a survivor of several adverse childhood experiences who has blackouts as a way to cope. Now a college student, Evan discovers he is able to time-travel using his childhood journals but that the unintentional effects of changing the past are disastrous for his current life.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose is one of the scariest demonic-possession movies of all time, in part because it is based on a true story. The plot follows a lawyer (Laura Linney) who takes on the case of a priest charged with negligent homicide when a 19-year-old girl dies after a failed exorcism. Told mostly through flashbacks, the film tells a heavily fictionalized version of the death of a real woman, Anneliese Michel, whose parents had priests perform 67 exorcisms in a single year and died of malnourishment.
A forgotten collaboration between Scream writer/director Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven. Cursed is part werewolf movie and part teen comedy with a cast of recognizable faces such as Christina Ricci, Jesse Eisenberg, Joshua Jackson, Judy Greer, Milo Ventimiglia, Shannon Elizabeth, and the singer Mya. There are also cameos from Scott Baio and Lance Bass. The plot follows siblings Ellie (Ricci) and Jimmy (Eisenberg), who are scratched by a werewolf and are transformed into werewolves themselves. Cursed was “cursed” behind the scenes with production challenges that resulted in the film being worse than it should have been. Frequent Craven editor Patrick Lussier recalled spending 19 months editing the film, which should have taken 6 weeks. Judy Greer joked that filming took “seven years.” Wes Craven’s director’s cut of the film still exists, though it has never been released.
The contract called for us to make an R-rated film. We did. It was a very difficult process. Then it was basically taken away from us and cut to PG-13 and ruined. It was two years of very difficult work and almost 100 days of shooting of various versions. Then at the very end, it was chopped up and the studio thought they could make more with a PG-13 movie, and trashed it … I thought it was completely disrespectful, and it hurt them, too, and it was like they shot themselves in the foot with a shotgun.Wes Craven, A Silver Bullet in the Foot
Rob Zombie’s sequel to House of 1000 Corpses (2003) sees the Firefly family on the run seven months after the events of the first film. After tormenting and murdering a wholesome traveling band, Otis, Captain Spaulding, and Baby steal their van and head out on the road. They are pursued by local Sheriff Wydell and two sadistic bounty hunters he hires. Like Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects is part black comedy, part classic horror film.
Wes Craven directed this forgotten psychological thriller about a hotel manager named Lisa (Rachel McAdams), who is accosted on a red-eye flight by a man named Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy). Rippner discreetly holds Lisa hostage during the flight and demands that she make a phone call to her hotel that will enable him to commit domestic terrorism. Red Eye is a unique airplane horror movie with claustrophobic thrills that don’t veer into unrealistic camp.
“I haven’t washed the shower for about 20 years.“
“That is something that has to be done weekly.“
This short film isn’t “forgotten” so much as it was never mainstream, but it did lead to the more well-known 2014 film What We Do in the Shadows. This short is REALLY FUNNY. It follows a group of vampire roommates who live together and their various grievances against each other.
White Noise is a supernatural horror movie starring Michael Keaton as a recent widow, Jonathan Rivers, who is heartbroken over his wife’s death. He is contacted by another widow who claims to have an EVP (electronic voice phenomena) of Jonathan’s dead wife. Jonathan then dives into the dangerous world of communicating with the other side, against warnings from a psychic he encounters, and he attracts attention from the wrong entities.
The Covenant is a weird 00s supernatural horror movie that tried to be a male version of The Craft (1996). It follows Chase Collins, a new student at Spenser Academy, as he meets “the Sons of Ipswich,” four students at the school who are descended from Salem Witch Trials-era witches. While it wasn’t successful as a serious film, The Covenant is campy fun that inverts horror tropes by focusing the objectified gaze of the camera on sexualized male bodies for a change.
Before Bong Joon-ho won an Oscar for Parasite (2019), he made this monster movie about a man trying to rescue his daughter. It became the highest-grossing South Korean film of all time upon its release.
Guillermo del Toro wrote and directed this dark fantasy film about Spain after the Spanish Civil War in 1944 and a mythical labyrinth. The labyrinth was built by the king of the underworld in hopes that his lost daughter would use them as a portal to return home. Ten-year-old Ofelia discovers the labyrinth and is given three tasks to complete before she can become immortal.
Based on a comic-book miniseries, 30 Days of Night follows a small group of survivors in an Alaskan town that is targeted by a cruel vampire clan during the 30 days where the sun does not rise. This is a fun movie based on the lore that vampires cannot be in the sunlight. Josh Hartnett and Melissa George star, and Ben Foster gives a chilling performance as “The Stranger.”
A rare sequel that’s (marginally) better than the original, Hostel: Part II gets lost behind its predecessor. The sequel opens with a shocking follow-up on Paxton (Jay Hernandez) from Hostel (2005) and then tells the story of three American art students—Beth (Lauren German), Whitney (Bijou Phillips), and Lorna (Heather Matarazzo)—who travel to rural Slovakia for a spa weekend while studying in Italy. Unbeknownst to the women, they are auctioned off to clients of an elite hunting club upon arrival at the titular hostel. With more likable characters, Hostel: Part II is still gory and violent, but with someone to root for.
I needed an actress who would be so vulnerable and so likable, but then really strong when she needs to be. Even though Lauren probably weighs ninety pounds soaking wet and looks like a princess, you feel like she’s kicking ass.Eli Roth, on casting Lauren German as his lead in Hostel: Part II
One of the strangest zombie movies of all time, Pontypool takes place in the small town of Pontypool, Ontario. Radio DJ Grant Mazzy is at work when reports start coming in about a riot at a local doctor’s office. While trying to get more information, Grant and his coworkers receive a message in French that warns listeners to stop using terms of endearment and ends with the ominous warning, “The English language is infected, do not translate this message.”
Following a pandemic started by bats, most of the world has become vampires. However, with few remaining humans, the vampires need to find a synthetic form of human blood to survive. Ethan Hawke stars as a “vampire hematologist” working on a solution while preferring to drink animal blood rather than harm humans.
A creepy sci-fi film about a man named Sam, who is two weeks from the end of a three-year contract overseeing a mining operation on Earth’s moon, where he is its only human inhabitant. Sam begins hallucinating and worries that the isolation has driven him too mad to return to his wife and daughter. Moon lacks the blood and guts that horror fans might be looking for, but it is deeply unsettling in a way that sticks with you.
One of the best twist ending movies of all time, Orphan is about a family of four (parents Kate and John, five-year-old Max and 12-year-old Daniel) who adopt a nine-year-old Russian orphan following the stillbirth of Kate and John’s third child. From the beginning, Esther isn’t a normal nine-year-old, but her family chalks her behavior up to cultural differences. Kate is suspicious, while John believes Kate is being paranoid and Esther plays into this dynamic, driving the family apart.
Written and directed by Sean Byrne, The Loved Ones inverts the horror trope of the villain being someone the Final Girl has turned down romantically, now fueled by rejection and a lack of willingness to see others as autonomous humans. Robin McLeavy (often confused for Aubrey Plaza when the film’s marketing materials are shown) stars as Lola, the obsessed, insecure stalker who plans to make her love interest Brett pay for choosing his girlfriend over her.