Modern horror is often derided by horror fans, and horror movies of the 2000s are considered especially weak, thanks to a proliferation of teen horror and the never ending horror sequels that continue to haunt horror movies to this day.
But even beyond the big hitters of the 2000s, like Drag Me to Hell or Let the Right One In, there are many truly terrifying horror movies from the aughts that slipped under the radar. These underrated horror movies include freaky orphanages, deranged killers, non-sparkly vampires, and creepy boarding schools (are there any other kind?). Settle in, and spend your night with one of these underseen horror movies from the first decade of the century.
2000: Shadow of the Vampire
A very meta horror movie, Shadow of the Vampire is a fictionalized version of the filming of the classic vampire film Nosferatu. Unbeknownst to the cast and crew, the director has hired an actual vampire to play Count Orlok. The film captures the pathos and strange humor of a vampire’s existence while managing to thoroughly frighten its viewers.
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2001: The Devil's Backbone
Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is rightfully famous for its vision and the terrifying fantasy world it created. But his earlier film, The Devil’s Backbone is just as good—and possibly even scarier than Pan. In The Devil’s Backbone, a supposedly disarmed bomb, money, secrets, and a ghost threaten a boys’ orphanage in the Spanish countryside.
2002: One Hour Photo
Robin Williams goes seriously creepy in this 2002 psychological thriller. Williams stars as a technician who develops film at a one hour photo booth (remember those?). He becomes obsessed with one of the families who drops off their photos with him. Once it becomes clear that the objects of his obsession are not as perfect as he believes, Williams goes off the deep end.
2003: Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary
Another vampire film that revisits the silent era, Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary uses dance (yes, dance) to retell the story of Dracula in a truly terrifying film. Pages from a Virgin’s Diary takes advantage of the sexual undertones of the original vampire story to create a strange and scary film inspired by black and white horrors. This film is currently only available for streaming through Shudder.
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2004: Shallow Ground
This low-budget film punches well above its class. When a naked, blood-soaked teenage boy walks into a rural police station, the sheriff knows he's in for a terrifying ride. Meanwhile, the sheriff is searching for the murderer of a local girl—it's been a year since her body was found.
2005: Dark Water
Jennifer Connelly’s portrayal of a terrified mother is the lynchpin of this 2005 gem. Inspired by a story written by Koji Suzuki (known for The Ring), Connelly’s Dahlia is trying to find a better home for her daughter after an acrimonious divorce. Unfortunately for them, their new apartment is haunted by the ghost of a drowned girl.
2006: The Woods
When rebel teen Heather is sent to a boarding school, she quickly discovers that it’s not as wholesome as it seems. Headmistress Traverse (Patricia Clarkson) has been subjecting her students to mysterious tests of their intellect, and the other students have been conducting strange rituals. Can Heather discover what they’re up to in time to save herself?
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Never trust a motel. This 2007 flick takes its inspiration from classics like Psycho and newer escape horror movies like Saw in trapping its protagonists inside a motel room where (as they soon discover) the manager likes to trap, torture, and kill visitors.
This slightly goofy but distinctly terrifying Canadian film has gained cult status since its very, very limited release. A virus has begun spreading through the English language, leaving radio station DJs to try to fight it or escape. Bonus: Pontypool is currently available on Netflix.
Starring Chris Pine pre-Star Trek fame, this pandemic horror features two brothers and their friends’ attempts to escape the virus killing the whole world. Emotional and terrifying, you’ll want some popcorn for this ride.
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Sure, 2009’s Neil Gaiman adaptation is technically a children’s movie. But, uh, whoever filed this flick in the kids section was not paying attention to the truly terrifying “Other Mother” and her button eyes. Maybe kids are just stronger than adults—in either case, watch this with the lights on. We won’t judge if you need your teddy bear afterwards. You can even watch in bed on Netflix for easy cuddle access.
The Mothman Prophecies
The Mothman is a legendary creature that appears as a harbinger when disasters are coming. Richard Gere stars as a journalist researching the existence of the Mothman—he soon discovers the legend may be more real than he thought. The Mothman Prophecies is currently available with an HBO subscription or on Amazon.
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
A mockumentary with a streak of black humor similar to Scream, Leslie Vernon is an aspiring serial killer. Follow along as he hones his trade. You’ll laugh, but you’ll also be scared by the killings and desires of Leslie.
Featured still from "The Woods" via Metro Goldwyn Mayer