The 2000s were a bit of a dark period for horror. While the decade had its bright spots, like The Ring, Saw, and Paranormal Activity, they weren’t nearly as common as they were in some of the genre’s best times, like the 1970s and 1980s (or even the 2010s!). Instead, fans often had to do a bit of digging to find the really good titles. As a result, it was almost inevitable that some great ones would slip through the cracks.
In fact, there are a lot of gems from this period that are downright criminally underseen. I’d like to make a little contribution to help reverse that unfortunate reality. So, if you’ve ever wanted to expand your knowledge of genre films from this decade, you’ve come to the right place. Here are five of the best 2000s horror gems you might’ve missed.
Ginger Snaps is a Canadian werewolf movie from 2000, and it puts a really interesting spin on this classic subgenre. It honors the long-standing tradition of werewolves as very metaphorical monsters but gives them a totally new meaning. The film is about two teenage sisters named Ginger and Brigitte who don’t fit in with their peers. That all begins to change when Ginger survives a wolf attack.
Unlike most werewolf movies, this one isn’t really about a werewolf. Rather, it’s primarily about Ginger’s slow transformation into one. Rather than turning into a monster on the next full moon after she’s bitten, she slowly becomes more and more wolf-like throughout the film. This supernatural change brings about other, more mundane changes as well.
The film uses its metaphor-rich monster in a fresh and creative way. For example, Ginger starts to spend more time with her classmates and less time with her sister. She also begins to grow hair in strange places and menstruate. These changes constitute a clear metaphor for puberty and the social and physical changes girls go through during this mysterious and difficult time in their lives.
On top of all this, Ginger Snaps also features some really likable characters and a bunch of awesome werewolf horror. So, it’s way more than just a cinematic lecture on growing up. It’s an all-around great movie and hands down one of the best hidden horror gems of the 2000s.
Dark Water is a Japanese ghost movie from 2002 (don’t confuse it with the poorly received American remake!). It centers on a divorced single mother named Yoshimi who’s having trouble holding things together as she engages in a bitter custody battle for her daughter. On top of that, Yoshimi also experiences strange supernatural phenomena in her apartment building, including occasional glimpses of a mysterious, long-haired little girl.
Now, if you know anything about Japanese horror tropes, it shouldn’t take you more than two seconds to figure out that this girl is a ghost. In that regard, the film is a bit by the numbers. However, aside from that one very minor flaw, Dark Water does a very good job with its horror. It has a bunch of creepy, atmospheric scenes that build up the suspense at just the right pace. It also slowly unfolds the mystery of the girl’s death in a way that holds your interest the entire time.
But, as good as the horror is, it’s not the best thing about Dark Water. Above all else, the film tells a really compelling story. It does a great job of conveying the hardships Yoshimi endures as she tries to do right by her daughter, so you really feel for her. You quickly become invested in her character and genuinely want her to catch a break.
When you combine that excellent human drama with the film’s awesome horror, you get more than just a great ghost story, you also get one of the best horror movies of the 2000s. So, if you’re a genre fan, this is definitely a film you need to see.
The Host is a Korean monster movie from 2006. It was directed by Bong Joon-ho, who went on to direct the Oscar-winning film Parasite just over a decade later. It’s about a strange, fish-like creature that emerges from a river and seemingly kills a young girl named Hyun-seo. When her family finds out she’s still alive, they embark on a dangerous quest to rescue her.
While just about everything in this movie is done to perfection, two things really stand out. First, it does a great job of making you immediately care about Hyun-seo and her family by presenting them as real people going through a real nightmare. You want these people to succeed, which makes for a captivating story, one that keeps your eyes glued to the screen no matter what’s happening.
Secondly, we have the monster. While the decade-and-a-half-old CGI doesn’t always hold up, pretty much everything else about this creature makes up for the dodgy effects. It features a fantastically bizarre design that strikes an almost perfect balance between familiar and novel. When this thing goes on the attack, it makes for some really cool monster action.
I could go on and on about The Host, but these two elements should be enough to get the point across. This is one of the absolute best hidden horror gems of the 2000s. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you check it out.
With Slither, we come to the only American movie on this list. It was the directorial debut of James Gunn, known today for his superhero films Guardians of the Galaxy and The Suicide Squad. It’s about an alien parasite that comes to earth in a meteor and soon begins turning the residents of a small town into zombie-like monsters.
Admittedly, that premise may sound like a cheap ripoff of about a million other movies. But, trust me, this film is anything but cheap. While I don’t think it’s Gunn’s best movie, it’s still a very worthy predecessor to his later work. For one, it features the hilarious sense of humor he’s since become known for. So, in addition to being an awesome monster movie, it’s also a laugh-out-loud black comedy.
On top of that, Slither also has some really great horror. It’s a super fun homage to classic B-movies like The Blob and Night of the Creeps. When Gunn goes for broke with the gross-outs, he absolutely nails it. This film features some of the most outlandish body horror I’ve seen outside of Society. So, if you have a weak stomach, this might not be the movie for you.
Last but not least, the people in this town are way more than just Friday the 13th-esque fodder for the monsters. You become attached to them very quickly, so you genuinely care about what happens to them. As a result, they ground the awesome horror and comedy in a great story. That makes Slither a lot more than just a hollow scare-fest and hands down one of the best, lesser-seen 2000s horror movies.
Last but not least, we come to The Orphanage, a Spanish ghost movie from 2007 directed by J. A. Bayona and produced by Guillermo del Toro. It follows a woman named Laura and her husband Carlos who buy the orphanage where she grew up, with plans to convert it into a home for disabled children. While there, their son Simón claims to experience some strange supernatural phenomena. Then, the story takes a really dark turn when he unexpectedly goes missing.
Like the other movies on this list, The Orphanage tells a solid story with sympathetic characters and effective scares. However, what really sets it apart is its brutal emotional horror. Unlike most other ghost films, this one isn’t just about a family being terrorized by an evil spirit. Rather, the majority of the horror comes from Laura and Carlos’s loss of their son. As a result, it hits on a much deeper level than mere scares ever could. It taps into a lot of people’s biggest fear—the loss of a child. Regardless of whether or not you have kids yourself, you can still feel Laura’s pain just as acutely as if she were a real person.
On top of that, as Laura tries to find her lost son, she also discovers a terrible truth about the former orphanage. What she learns is just as devastating as what she’s currently going through. It gives the movie an emotional one-two gut punch you won’t soon forget. The Orphanage isn’t just one of the best underseen horror films of the 2000s, it’s one of the best genre movies the decade has to offer, period.