13 Influential Horror Films
Article By: Tyler Doupe
The term influential can be a difficult one to define in terms of filmmaking. What one person considers a significant contribution may differ greatly from another person’s perspective. Moreover, nearly every film made in recent years has drawn inspiration from something that came before it. With that said, we are spotlighting 13 horror films that have had a profound impact on the genre in recent years and have inspired or influenced the creation of other works in their wake. Read on for our picks for 13 of the most influential horror films of the past 13 years.
1. The Devil's Rejects
The Devil’s Rejects was significant for a variety of reasons. It proved that there was still an audience for ultra violent, R-rated theatrical horror. The film took in roughly two-and-a-half times its budget during its domestic theatrical run and also did well on DVD. Rejects helped pave the way for the resurgence of horror period pieces that followed. Unfortunately, not all of the throwbacks that followed were a resounding success (IE: The Sleeper) but you can’t win ‘em all. The Devil’s Rejects also helped spark a renewed interest in neo-grindhouse filmmaking that has been going strong since and can bee seen to this day in pictures like Carnage Park.
Although it is easy to dismiss Hostel as full of sophomoric humor, ultra violence, and copious amounts of nudity, it still has its merits. And, moreover, it paved the way for many of the films released in its wake. It helped popularize the torture porn subgenre and served to make a name for director Eli Roth. The influence of Hostel can be seen in many films to come out in its wake, like The Tortured, Turistas, and Train.
While V/H/S was undoubtedly influenced by features like Paranormal Activity and Trick ‘r Treat, it still had a profound impact on the horror genre and its influence continues to be seen with the resurgence of anthology films in the time period since its release and the way that the found footage subgenre continues to thrive on the direct-to-VOD market. One such film that drew a certain amount of inspiration from the V/H/S model is the upcoming found footage anthology flick The Dark Tapes (which is worth checking out based on its own merits).
4. Paranormal Activity
Although The Blair Witch Project paved the way for the found footage explosion, Paranormal Activity proved that the success of Blair Witch could be replicated and that its very lean financial model was not just a fluke. If it were not for Paranormal Activity, there would likely never have been films like Cloverfield, Trollhunter, or the blatant Mockbuster Paranormal Entity.
5. The Conjuring
The Conjuring may not have inspired legions of knockoff (yet) but it has helped to revitalize the supernatural horror genre. As one of the most profitable horror films of all time, it helped prove (once again) that there is still a market for R-rated horror. Moreover, it has already spawned a successful sequel and a spinoff franchise in Annabelle. If it weren’t for The Conjuring it is unlikely that we would have seen studios as willing to continue to take a chance on putting R-rated supernatural horror films out in wide release in the years since The Conjuring hit theaters.
There are a variety of ways in which Saw influenced the modern horror landscape. It helped to usher in the wave of torture porn films that followed but it also showed what could be done on a very modest budget. The picture was made for an estimated total of $1.2 million dollars and it made a killing at the box office. There are numerous feature films to see release in the wake of Saw that were clearly influenced by James Wan and Leigh Whannell’s horror hit. 13: Game of Death and Would You Rather are just two examples.
7. Shaun of the Dead
Shaun of the Dead is, perhaps, singlehandedly responsible for the inception of the rom-zom-com subgenre. There have been countless films in the same vein released since Shaun of the Dead. None have quite lived up to their predecessor but some have come close. Rom-zom-coms to see release after Shaun include titles like Night of the Living Deb, Warm Bodies, and A Little Bit Zombie.
8. The Cabin in the Woods
I’m surprised that I’m including this. I thought that The Cabin in the Woods put a cap on meta horror and would lay it to rest. But it seems to have actually inspired more filmmakers to take a stab at it and often with satisfying results. The 2015 horror film The Final Girls took cues from a variety of genre flicks to come before it and it did so with a meta spin that was somewhat reminiscent of the wicked sense of humor that was present throughout The Cabin in the Woods.
9. Trick ‘r Treat
Films like Tales of Halloween and Holidays owe a great debt of gratitude to Trick ‘r Treat. Although it was unceremoniously dumped on DVD rather than being granted a theatrical release, Trick ‘r Treat still found its audience and proved that holiday anthology horror was viable and a niche market that fans were interested in exploring.
10. High Tension
Although not everyone loves the twist in High Tension, it is impossible to ignore the impact the film had on the French Extremity movement and the horror genre at large. High Tension paved the way for titles like Martyrs and Ils (a.k.a. Them). The twist from that film has also been repurposed and adapted for a variety of other horror films to see release in the years since High Tension made its debut.
11. The House of the Devil
The House of the Devil helped reignite interest in both ‘80s throwback films as well as satanic panic flicks. There have been several attempts to recapture the magic of The House of the Devil in the years since its release but it’s hard to think of any feature film since its debut that has done it nearly as well. Devil’s Due and The Devil Incarnate both tried to touch on some similar subject matter but were unable to recapture the magic that was The House of the Devil.
12. The Strangers
The Strangers is one of the most terrifying and suspenseful home invasion films I’ve seen. It is brilliantly simplistic and plays more on your fear of what you don’t see than what you do. It’s not surprising that a sequel has been in development for some time. Unfortunately, it has been plagued by a series of false starts. Films like You’re Next and Trespass have certainly taken at least a modicum of inspiration from this highly effective 2008 feature.
While Inside may have benefited from the success of High Tension, it also made a major impact all on its own merits. It showed just how well an almost entirely contained home invasion thriller can work and paved the way for a yet-to-be-released English language remake. Certain elements from the film have had an influence on more recent fare like Mike Flanagan’s exceptional home invasion thriller Hush.
Tyler Doupe is a film critic and journalist. He is the managing editor at Wicked Horror and an occasional contributor to Fangoria and Rue Morgue.