While there were far too many influential figures in the horror genre this decade to include them all here, below are the 25 that were (arguably, of course) its greatest movers and shakers. From the video game revolution to sequel-happy movie studios; from the dark world of metal to the pages and panels of horror literature, love ‘em or hate ‘em the below 25 simply made too much noise to ignore. If you think we missed anything, throw it in the comment section below and say your piece. It’s all welcome!
Defining work: High Tension (2003)
Why he’s on the list: Aja ushered in the era of extreme French horror with his gory High Tension and attained mainstream credibility after directing the successful remake of ‘70s exploitation classic The Hills Have Eyes. In the process, he opened the Hollywood door for contemporaries like Xavier Gens (Frontiere(s)), Pascal Laugier (Martyrs) and Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury (Inside). Whether or not his career continues to flourish Stateside, he’s the man responsible for opening the blood-spattered floodgates.
Defining work: True Blood (2008-2009)
Why he’s on the list: Ball had dabbled (more like rubbed our faces) in death before, particularly with his hit HBO series Six Feet Under, but True Blood marked the first time he crossed over fully into the realm of the supernatural. By doing so he managed to tap into the Twilight zeitgeist and spawn a genuine pop cultural phenomenon. Of course, his show’s so good it probably didn’t need Stephanie Meyer to succeed.
Defining work: 28 Days Later (2003)
Why he’s on the list: Boyle’s zombie art film 28 Days Later unleashed the modern wave of walking dead movies on American multiplexes, but none of his adherents were able to match his uncompromising vision. As an Oscar-nominated director, his foray into horror gave a rare boost of critical respect to a genre often relegated to the cultural dustbin.
Defining work: The Halo series (2001-2009)
Why they’re on the list: Considered the Xbox’s “killer app” and largely credited with the initial success of both the original console and the Xbox 360, the influence of developer Bungie’s Halo series on the next generation of first-person shooters cannot be underestimated. Breaking records with each new installment in the franchise, 2007’s Halo 3 grossed $170 million in its first 24 hours of release, a feat even Hollywood had never managed. The series has gone on to spawn five bestselling novels, two graphic novels, and countless other associated merchandise. The film version, now postponed indefinitely, has attracted the likes of Guillermo del Toro, Neil Blomkamp, and Peter Jackson to the table. Undoubtedly, it’s become one of the most successful franchises ever, in any medium.
Defining work: Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Why he’s on the list: With The Devil’s Backbone del Toro proved there were still visionaries left in the horror genre. With Hellboy and its sequel he demonstrated that he could meld his unique sensibilities with a large-scale Hollywood production. With Pan’s Labyrinth he created a modern-day classic that shattered boundaries. Like The Silence of the Lambs before it, his Franco-era dark fantasy became the rare horror film to transform into a year-end critical darling and major awards contender.
Defining work: Dexter (2006-2009)
The creative team behind the hit Showtime series about a blood-spatter expert/serial killer with a moral grounding are responsible for creating a genuine word-of-mouth sensation. While exec-producers Cerone and Phillips have exited the series (Cerone after the second season and Phillips after the fourth), Hall may be the man most responsible for the show’s success. He has accomplished what few actors could with his darkly humorous portrayal of the titular character: he’s made a serial killer likable. The fourth-season finale of the show became the most-watched single episode on Showtime ever. Water-coolers are buzzing.
Defining work: Lateralus (2001)
Why he’s on the list: While Tool may have come of age in the ‘90s, their greatest influence wouldn’t be seen until the ‘00s, upon the release of the double-platinum-selling Lateralus. The progressive tendencies of the band were carried to their logical extreme with this album, which cemented their status as the Radiohead of prog-metal. Of course, lead singer and creative force Maynard James Keenan didn’t rest on his laurels during the band’s long hiatus leading up to 2006’s 10,000 Days; his formation of platinum-selling A Perfect Circle with guitarist Billy Howerdel early this decade gave us the rare side project that nearly lives up to its forebear.
Defining work: The Walking Dead series (2003-2009)
Robert Kirkman’s critically-acclaimed Walking Dead series brought a level of sophistication to the zombie sub-genre rarely seen in comic books, with a plot as focused on its human characters as on the guts and decapitations. Tony Moore set the tone with his award-winning black-and-white artwork in the first six issues; Charlie Adlard took over after the sixth issue (although Moore continued to draw the covers through issue #24). Kirkman has translated the series’ success to the television format, with a planned AMC series executive-produced by Frank Darabont set to debut next year.
Defining work: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake (2003)
Why he’s on the list: Facts are facts, no matter how painful they may be. And the fact is, no one person was more responsible for the glut of horror movie remakes in the ‘00s than Michael Bay. They may not be works of art; they may even represent a cynical cash grab (duh). But there’s no denying that Bay is the instigator of the most pervasive trend in the horror genre over the last ten years (and the man most burned in effigy by fanboys). There’s certainly something to be said for that.
Defining work: Leviathan (2004)
Taking the world of metal (not to mention the music industry as a whole) by storm upon its release in 2004, Leviathan is considered by many the pinnacle of progressive metal band Mastodon’s oeuvre thus far. The heaviness and dark themes of the band’s previous work was combined with polished melodies on the Moby Dick-inspired concept album, the result of which was a work that defied easy description. With Blood Mountain and this year’s Crack the Skye, the band has followed through on their early promise and brought mainstream critical acceptance back to heavy metal.
Defining work: The Road (2007)
It may seem strange to include an author who has been releasing novels for over 40 years on a list of movers and shakers in the ‘00s, but Cormac Mccarthy’s 2007 The Road not only earned him the Pulitzer Prize, it became an Oprah Book Club selection and subsequently shot onto bestseller lists. Considering that the book tells an exceedingly dark tale, detailing a bleak post-apocalyptic world and horrific acts of cannibalism, these twin feats (not to mention that the novel was adapted into a major, awards-bait Hollywood film) are all the more impressive.
Defining work: The Twilight series (2005-2008)
Second only to the Harry Potter phenomenon this decade, Stephanie Meyer’s young-adult vampire series has sold over 85 million copies worldwide (and counting). While critics can gripe about the books’ literary merits and horror fans can bitch that the series shouldn’t be covered in the horror film press (this website included), the massive success and influence of the franchise on pop culture is undeniable. The copycats are rising up in droves (see shameless coattail-rider The Vampire Diaries), but none of them have a chance in hell of topping Meyers’ monolithic achievement.
Defining work: Audition (2000)
Why he’s on the list: Ever the prolific auteur, Miike has directed over 40 films since the beginning of the decade (that’s four films a year). The sadistic and unnerving Audition may have put him on the map in the States, but the films subsequent to it proved he wasn’t just a one-hit sensation. While he was often lumped in with the J-Horror trend, the controversial director has subsequently proven his worth as a stand-alone brand.
Defining work: The Black Parade (2006)
Why they’re on the list: One of the musical acts most associated with the “emo” movement, My Chemical Romance also perfected what’s been termed the “neo-goth” aesthetic in their performance image. Sure, the band is radio-friendly “punk-lite” more than anything, their music only a shade removed from the likes of Fall Out Boy. But the pop hooks are utilized in service of dark lyrics dealing with somber issues like death, murder, loss and tragic love affairs. By the time concept album The Black Parade was released in 2006, lead singer Gerard Way had become a pinup boy for 13-year-old goth girls everywhere.
Defining work: 30 Days of Night (2002)
Possibly more than any other comic book writer this decade, Steve Niles is responsible for bringing the horror genre back to prominence in the world of comics in the ‘00s. Gory vampire fable 30 Days of Night (co-created by artist Ben Templesmith) proved to be his breakout success, spawning a series of successful follow-ups and a well-received Hollywood film directed by David Slade. Other adaptations of Niles’ work on the horizon include 30 Days of Night direct-to-DVD sequel Dark Days, Wake the Dead with Jay Russell attached to direct, and Freaks of the Heartland helmed by David Gordon Green.
Defining work: Paranormal Activity (2009)
Why he’s on the list: Much like The Blair Witch Project at the end of the last decade, Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity sent the message to Hollywood (again) that bigger doesn’t necessarily equal better. Some might say the kudos are premature, but consider this: an entire new division dedicated to nurturing films made for under $100,000 was created at Paramount due to his movie’s success. Not to mention that despite the inevitable backlash, Peli crafted a pretty good flick.
Defining work: Grindhouse (2007)
Why they’re on the list: You could try to separate these two filmmakers into their own individual mentions, but it wouldn’t make much sense considering that their Grindhouse collaboration represented the ultimate expression of their mutual obsessions. While the two films were quite different stylistically, the directors’ love of Z-budget exploitation filmmaking was of a piece. The double-feature flopped upon its release, but it’s subsequently become a midnight-show favorite at theaters across the country. Like its shoestring inspirations, the film has become a cult classic all its own. Separately, the two directors’ towering 21st century genre achievements came in the form of Kill Bill (Tarantino) and Sin City (Rodriguez).
Defining work: Hostel (2006)
Why he’s on the list: While Saw reeled in audiences with its traps and mind games, Roth stripped the sub-genre labeled by the media as “torture-porn” to its bare essentials with Hostel. With that film and its follow-up, along with his earlier indie hit Cabin Fever, he showed a flair for tongue-in-cheek humor that was completely lost on his most adamant critics. Hordes of cheap imitators followed in his wake.
Defining work: Slipknot (1999)
Why they’re on the list: Following in the theatrical footsteps of groups like Kiss, Gwar, and Insane Clown Posse, Slipknot catered to the horror crowd by integrating horror movie-inspired masks into their image and stage show. Some saw it as a gimmick, but the band nevertheless managed to turn out four solid metal albums in the last ten years that proved to be both critical and commercial successes. At the same time, they provided further proof of the horror community’s buying power in the music business.
Defining work: Toxicity (2002)
Why they’re on the list: Amidst the barrage of weak, “nu-metal” acts like Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park and Staind that were unleashed upon the listening public in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, System of a Down broke the mold with their brand of wildly unhinged, neo-gothic alt-metal. Following on the heels of their well-received self-titled debut, Toxicity proved to be their breakthrough album; lead singer Serj Tankian’s guttural growl sounded like a rallying cry in the wake of Fred Durst’s frat-boy whine. Twin album follow-ups Mezmerize and Hypnotize upped the insanity quotient even further and went on to become platinum-certified best-sellers.
Defining work: The Silent Hill series (1999-2009)
While they haven’t attained the mega-selling status of more action-packed video-game franchises such as Resident Evil and Left 4 Dead, the Silent Hill series introduced a unique psychological depth into the arena of horror-themed video games that hadn’t really been seen before. Team Silent, the staff responsible for the first four titles in the ongoing series, crafted a truly unnerving atmosphere that more than any game before or since approximated the feel of walking through a horror film.
Defining work: Half-Life 2 (2004)
It’s been a good decade for the folks over at Valve. In 2004 their highly-anticipated, long-in-the-making sequel Half-Life 2 sold millions of units and won many top awards in the video game industry. Following on the heels of this success, the co-op video game Left 4 Dead and its follow-up Left 4 Dead 2 have become hugely popular first-person shooters. This is due in part to the integration of the artificial intelligence component coined “The Director”, which gives vidders a truly cinematic experience during gameplay. The sales of the first entry were more than doubled by follow-up Left 4 Dead 2 last month, giving the developer another viable franchise.
Defining work: The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
Why he’s on the list: Few could have anticipated that House of 1,000 Corpses would be such an assured entry into directing for the monster-obsessed musician; fewer still could have predicted the mainstream critical respect he would garner with The Devil’s Rejects. His remake of Halloween was simultaneously loved and reviled by horror fans, but in a decade of watered-down, faceless PG-13 fare he at least had the audacity to follow through on his Southern-fried vision. In the process he revived horror’s punk-rock spirit.
Defining work: The Saw franchise (2004-2009)
Why they’re on the list: Produced for $1.2 million, Saw was a shot in the arm to lovers of gore everywhere upon its release in October of 2004. Masterminds James Wan and Leigh Wannell, more than anyone this decade, revitalized the horror genre and made it marketable again. For his part, Darren Lynn Bousman took the reins with aplomb and became a major creative force in the series as director of the first three sequels. Five years after its debut, the franchise has become the highest-grossing in horror history.
Defining work: Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Why he’s on the list: When it was released with little marketing in April of 2004, Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead was barely a blip on the pop cultural radar. That’s before it went on to become one of the most successful horror comedies of all time. He’s since inspired a slew of imitators, but compared to the razor-sharp wit of Shaun, they cut about as deep as butter knives (although some would argue Zombieland came close to matching it).