6. Insidious – 2011 (James Wan)
Insidious is two things: an obvious remake of Tobe Hopper’s Poltergeist, and an unapologetic scary movie. It has no higher calling or deeper meaning. You are not supposed to reflect on anything when you leave the theater. It is designed to scare you early and often, until you are pounded into submission. Performances are almost irrelevant in a film of this sort, you need to be able to look worried all the time and scream when you have too.
The movie is a streamlined thrill ride that starts quickly, and sprints from there. The plot is inconsequential, a family moves into a house, experiences what seems to be poltergeist activity and immediately does the sensible thing and moves.
But they don’t know what the real problem is. And it doesn’t matter where they move.
There are a couple of missteps that keep this from being one of the all-time greats. One of the creatures from ‘The Further’ (In Poltergeist it was called ‘The Beast’) looks like Darth Maul. Poor choice. Also the end is a little too ambitious for the budget, but this movie packs more consistent punch than any other on the list. It did well at the box office, but this movie is consistently underrated or dismissed for what some critics said were ‘cheap scares,’ which is like saying that a quarterback threw for a 500 yard game, but the yards weren’t a meaningful part of the victory.
7. The Burrowers – 2008 (J.T. Petty)
The Burrowers suffers an ignominious fate right away by never getting a wide release and being relegated to video. It also has unfortunate creature design and execution. This would derail lesser movies but not this one.
In 1879 a posse forms to avenge the kidnapping of a family, ostensibly by Native Americans. This is, of course, the wrong conclusion. The family has been attacked by ‘The Burrowers,’ a pale race of subterranean monsters who drug their victims with a natural toxin, bury them alive until they start to rot and then slurp the resulting fluids. This is about as much fun as you would think it is.
The monsters are difficult enough, but the real problem is the Calvary, who slaughter everyone in their path, including Natives that could be quite useful. The performances in the film are better than this sort of thing would generally deserve, the Wild West setting is more than just window dressing, the film is deeper than you would think, and the plot is unpredictable. Like many great horror films it shows how the ignorance and viciousness of human nature surpasses any other horror we can imagine.