It’s getting close to the Halloween season and the time of year in which everyone goes nuts for horror. It’s also the time of year in which people start trying to figure out what their 31 Days of Halloween movie list will be. Any self-respecting horror fan knows that this is the season for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and A NIGHTMARE OF ELM STREET but what if you are looking for recommendations that aren’t the most famous examples of the genre?
I find it frustrating looking for “underrated” horror recommendations. Most of the time it is lists that includes movies like MARTYRS, SUSPIRIA, or AUDITION. Come on! Every single horror fan has seen those movies (if you haven’t, you’re a horror novice). With that in mind, I tried to create a list of horror movies that most self-identified horror fans actually haven’t seen. There are ghost movies, creature features, and hardcore gore flicks here. No matter where your tastes to the genre lay, there’s bound to be a few on this list that you’ll dig and haven’t seen – yet.
FIEND WITHOUT A FACE – Arthur Crabtree, United Kingdom, 1958
(Classic Hollywood Creature Feature)
Invisible aliens that eat nuclear energy and steal human brains and spinal columns to use as bodies are invading!
Everybody loves a good old-fashioned monster movie but so few have seen this great and crazy independent production. While the classic Universal and Hammer films still enjoy popularity this one has slipped into obscurity (even with the Criterion Collection backing it). It’s drenched with classic 50’s paranoia and nuclear war themes but what really makes this stand-out is the amazing monster design. Disembodies brains with antennas and spines for tails are brought to life with wonderful stop-motion animation.
There’s a special charm to the horror of this era and FIEND WITHOUT A FACE is a great demonstration of that aesthetic.
SOLE SURVIVOR – Thom Eberhardt, United States, 1983
(Before FINAL DESTINATION and IT FOLLOWS There Was This)
This is a really cool little gem from the 80’s that seems to be just now finding its audience. A woman is the sole survivor of a plane crash. As she goes back to her life she begins to suffer from “survivor’s syndrome” – an overwhelming feeling that she should have died. Then strange silent people begin to stalk her as she suspects “death” is coming to claim her.
Oddly overlooked when it was released, horror fans are beginning to embrace this almost direct combination of FINAL DESTINATION and IT FOLLOWS – that was just made decades before them. A suspenseful and engaging slow-burn that culminates with a completely out of left field (in a good way) third act.
ANGUISH aka ANGUSTIA – Bigas Luna, Spain, 1988
(A Movie That Is Really More Frightening Now Than When It Was Released)
For the first twenty minutes of this movie you’re going to be wondering why I recommend it. It starts off really cheesy and bad but at about the one third point something happens and it all beings to make sense. Then when the real movie starts you’ll be filled with dread as you realize where this is all headed.
This is the very rare movie that is more disturbing now than when it was released. When this was made the plot was just a horrible fantasy but the events have come true in modern day United States. Trust me, go into this one blind. Don’t read any descriptions or watch any trailers as they give away the twists and reveal the “real” plot.
Every other movie on this list but two get a trailer. This is the first one that you really shouldn’t watch the trailer for.
GHOSTWATCH – Stephen Volk, United Kingdom, 1992
(“Live TV” Gone So Very Wrong)
This movie is a wonderful surprise considering how many strikes it has against itself. It’s made-for-TV, it’s a mockumentary, and large segments are straight-up found footage. No matter your opinions on those techniques, you gotta check this out if you’re looking for a seriously creepy movie.
The BBC is doing a live Halloween broadcast of a supernatural investigation into a supposedly haunted house. The movie cuts back and forth from the studio with the “show’s” host and various guests to the location crew. It shouldn’t be a surprise that everything goes wrong (this is a horror movie) but not in the ways you would guess. This movies goes in some very unexpected directions. Seeing this when it first aired must have been crazy as the BBC did not advertise that the Halloween special was a “movie.”
For this one I don’t have the trailer but you can watch the entire movie on YouTube here:
NECRONOMICON – Brian Yuzna, Christophe Gans and Shusuke Kaneko,
United States, 1993
(90’s Cthulhu Mythos Special Effects Extravaganza)
Considering how popular movies based on H.P. Lovecraft stories and the Cthulhu Mythos have become, I’m always shocked that this movie isn’t more well-known. Hell, this flick has never even been released on DVD.
A three story anthology with segments loosely based on the stories “the Rats in the Walls,” “Cool Air,” and “the Whisper in the Darkness.” Each story has that 90’s low budget horror feel. Monsters and mad scientists fill every minute of the movie and there’s even a giant Cthulhu made with practical effects.
Plus a great wrap-around story starring Jeffrey Combs as H.P. Lovecraft investigating the fabled Necronomicon at Miskatonic University make this a ton of horror fun.
DAY OF THE BEAST aka EL DÍA DE LA BESTIA – Álex de la Iglesia, Spain, 1995
(80’s Style Satanic Adventure)
A priest becomes convinced that the Anti-Christ is about to be born and he must make contact with the devil to stop this from happening. He enlists a metalhead to help him commit as many sins as he can in order to sell his soul and double-cross the prince of darkness. After also getting the help of a TV host who specializes in the occult, the trio go on a drug-fueled adventure to save humanity from Hell.
This movie is SO much fun! If you long for the days of 80’s tongue-in-cheek adventure horror (think RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and RE-ANIMATOR) you’ll love this. Bright psychedelic colors and non-stop satanic imagery make this movie go down great with a few beers.
And who doesn’t want to watch a priest push random people down subway steps?
DEADGIRL – Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel, UNITED STATES, 2008
(Young Boys and a Chained-Up Zombie Chick – It Goes Bad)
This one’s fucking grim.
A group of high school boys discover a naked chained-up zombie chick in an abandoned house. After some debate the boys decide that they aren’t going to tell anyone and they are going to use the zombie as their sex slave. This movie takes the concept of an adolescent male sex fantasy and turns it into a dark and disturbing tale of how far people will go when nobody’s watching.
Written by Trent Haaga who is best known for his work on the playful gore flick made by Troma studios but there’s no sign of Troma’s joy on display here. This is just pure pitch-black hardcore horror.
TRIANGLE – Christopher Smith, United Kingdom, 2009
(Completely Mind-Blowing Horror/Sci-Fi Trip)
A group of friends go out for a summer sailing trip. When a sudden freak storm trashes their boat they are left stranded at sea. They think they are saved when an ocean liner shows up but then they discover that the ship is abandoned. Or at least they think it is…
TRIANGLE is one of those wonderful unsung gems that once you watch it you have to recommend it to everyone you know. The problem is what makes this movie truly excellent is all things I can’t tell you about. The joy to this movie is watching its mysteries slowly develop and how every time you think you know what is “really” going on the movie pulls the rug out from under you.
This is another movie that gives away the twists in the trailer so I can’t share it with you.
GROTESQUE aka GUROTESUKU – Kôji Shiraishi, Japan, 2009
(Seriously Fucked-Up Shit)
A young couple are kidnapped on their first date by a crazy “doctor.” They awake tied down to gurneys and the man begins his psychological and physical torture. No film on this list is more appropriately named – this is a truly grotesque straight-up gore flick. In order to enjoy this one you gotta be the type of person OK with eyeball popping, genital torture, and mutilation to every part of the body in-between.
This one goes so far over-the-top in its violence that numerous retailers around the world have refused to sell it and the movie is officially banned in the U.K. (that’s right – they still ban movies).
DREAM HOME – Pang Ho-cheung, Hong Kong, 2010
(Gore/Home Invasion Ramped-Up to 11)
A woman has been saving to purchase her “dream” apartment but right when she’s going to close the deal it all falls apart. This breaks her and she goes on a vicious murder spree through the apartment building she wanted to live in.
Intense, action-packed, gory as all Hell – this is one wild ride. Some of the gore effects and set-pieces are jaw-dropping in how far they go. It moves with the break-neck speed Hong Kong action movies are known for but how it compliments that with exploitation sensibilities is what really makes DREAM HOME stand-out.
HELLDRIVER aka HERUDORAIBĀ – Yoshihiro Nishimura, Japan, 2010
(Japanese Weirdo Action Gore Freak-Out)
From the “Tom Savini of Japan” who brought the world the amazing TOKYO GORE POLICE comes another modern classic of Japanese splatter. A meteor brings a zombie epidemic to Japan but these aren’t no ordinary zombies – they are fast, can think (sort of), and can even combine their body parts to make organic cars and planes.
The story focuses on a group of people attempting to track down the “head” zombie but, honestly, plot isn’t the big focus here. The movie is much more concerned with its crazy special effects and set-pieces that feel like they were pulled directly out of an anime.
DETENTION – Joseph Kahn, United States, 2011
(Smart Bizarro Teen Horror/Sci-Fi/Comedy)
I almost don’t even know where to begin with this movie – that’s how fucking insane it is.
It innocuously starts off as a story about a group of teens in detention being hunted by a serial killer. But soon time travel, body swapping, and even a grizzly bear from outer space turn this into one of the most fun genre-bending flicks you’ll ever see. Funny, smart, and completely unafraid to go balls-to-the-wall insane at a moment’s notice.
Imagine if Carlton Mellick III wrote SCREAM and got Lloyd Kaufman to direct. That’s what DETENTION is like.
INBRED – Alex Chandon, United Kingdom, 2011
(Sadistic Hillbilly Horror with a Smile)
I love torture porn and this was one that completely passed me by on first release. It enjoys a cult-following in the U.K. but was sadly missed by the sickos in the rest of the world.
A group of students are trapped by townspeople in the middle-of-nowhere and are forced to perform in a gruesome live circus/snuff show. This is the type of shit that would fill H.G. Lewis with glee and will leave the gore-hounds howling. You can practically feel how much fun the director is having putting the characters through pure hell.
If you like your horror mean-spirited, gory, and action-packed, boy do I have one for you here!
THE BAY – Barry Levinson, United States, 2012
(Eco-Horror and the Best Argument for the Found Footage Format)
Found footage gets a lot of shit – and rightly so. Overwhelming it is a technique to hide poor filmmaking and a complete lack of competent character writing. Due to the overwhelming laziness in most uses of the filmmaking technique (quick pet peeve – FF is a filmmaking technique NOT a genre) most viewers outright dismiss any movie using it.
Which is what makes THE BAY so brilliant – it shows what everyone else is doing wrong and tells a story that could only be told by using FF. A deadly parasite infects the water of the Chesapeake Bay and leads to an environmental disaster. The viewer is placed on the front lines as the movie uses phone videos, security camera footage, Skype calls, news footage, and more to detail the deaths of hundreds.
COHERENCE – James Ward Byrkit, United Kingdom, 2013
(A Dinner Party in the Twilight Zone)
A group of friends are having a dinner party when a blackout occurs. They make the best of it but begin to get bored and suspicious. When they go outside they see one house up the street has power. They investigate and so kicks off a surreal nightmare that would have made Rod Serling proud.
This is a fantastic example of how a clever artist can accomplish so much with so very little. With just a budget of $50,000, the movie uses ingenious tricks to melt-down reality with just a properly placed knock at the door or just a simple piece of paper.
LANDMINE GOES CLICK – Levan Bakhia, United States, 2015
(Just Pure Cruel Fucked-Up Shit)
Three American tourists are on a hiking trip when one of them steps on a landmine. What at first seems like an accident quickly becomes apparent that it is not. Now trapped on top of an explosive device, the tourist must figure out how he will survive.
This may sound like that is just an action thriller but make no mistake – this is nasty hardcore horror. Torture and sexual violence make this into one mean-spirited piece of cinema. And just when you think you know where everything is going, the movie completely turns on its head.
RESOLUTION – Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorehead, United States, 2012
(Paranoia and Cosmic Horror In The Middle Of Nowhere – With Meth)
Benson and Moorehead are quickly becoming hot on the indy horror scene. 2014’s romance horror hybrid, SPRING, drummed up a ton of praise on the festival circuit but their skill was already apparent with their 2011 debut.
A guy gets a message from his former best friend who is now living strung-out on drugs in the woods. He goes there with an extreme plan to help him – he’s going to handcuff his friend to the wall, take care of him, and once the detox is over give him a choice to go back to drugs or come back to the city with him. But there’s other people and things in the woods that is going to make his plan a lot more difficult.
This low budget marvel starts off as a kind of sleazy thriller but evolves into Lovecraftian cosmic horror. It’s truly amazing how much the directors were able to pull off with so little. This movie also features my all-time favorite zero-budget scare.
So there’s my recommendations for you! I hope you seek out the ones that sound interesting to you and give more exposure to these overlooked horror gems.
In October I will be doing my own 31 Days of Horror in which I’ll be watching and writing short reviews on 31 movies that I haven’t seen. You’ll be able to follow my progress at www.JeffBurk.wordpress.com
Happy Haunting, everyone!
Jeff Burk is the author of four bizarro books, the head-editor of Deadite Press, and the host of the Jeff Attacks Podcast. He loves gore, monsters, and kitties.