The headline says it all, yet to avoid being too presumptuous I will preface the whole list by saying there may be a few more mainstream choices present just as a means to give less discerning horror fans easier to swallow choices. I might have taken liberties with what is or isn’t considered full on horror, but either way they are at least related to the genre and are great movies I want to bring to people’s attention that they may not have been aware of before.
Everything else you need to know about the list is that I specifically tried to avoid going too far back in years- one reason being that based on a few conversations I had people tend to avoid some older movies because the age seems to make it harder to connect with (which I can appreciate), the second reason being aside from a few classics my retro horror knowledge isn’t all that extensive either.
I also want to point out that I tried to put in a mixture of semi obscure choices as well as some that are a little more accessible and digestible for genre newbies as I know all too well that if you try to overextend what you’re willing to accept in a movie, especially horror, you are setting yourself up for a truly unpleasant experience. It is my sincere hope that I hit on a few that you haven’t seen and are interested in- though I also expect that my choices won’t be met with an overwhelming wave of approval. One of the fun things about horror are the vast majority of tastes and preferences within the genre so at the very least I hope this sparks some interesting conversation. Also feel free to share some of your favorite lesser known horror titles.
In the horror genre there is usually a lot of bicker back and forth about rather or not something that doesn’t even try to break original ground is in fact a good or successful horror movie. More often than not I’m in the camp that loves or admires a movie for trying to do something different even if it fails, but then again I also enjoy the same old formula every now and again if its done well and that perfectly explains COLD PREY.
There is nothing original about a group of 20 somethings in a secluded location being stalked by a killer, but the way it’s executed more than makes up for any ho-hum the premise evokes. The long awaited sequel hits DVD April 23, 2013 and is also well worth checking out if not even more so than the original. Both 1 and 2 are easy watches for people who don’t like over-the-top gore and want more suspense.
I also really dig the backstory of the killer that’s fleshed out a bit more in the second film. Fair warning for anyone who finds reading annoying during a movie that its subtitled and as with most foreign films I strongly recommend staying FAR away from the English dubbing.
Midnight Son - When coming up with this list I only just realized I hadn’t even taken the time to write a review for this one. However, since this isn’t a list about reviews I haven’t written but probably should I’ll just give its due now.
MIDNIGHT SON is the type of vampire movie that TWILIGHT haters will love (I hope)- it takes the vampire cannon and does its own thing with it, but not to the level of making their skin glitter in the sunlight. The main character’s performance is fantastic and it’s got equal amounts of deep dark vampire horror and awkward sexuality to go along with the engaging character work.
Triangle - This is basically going to be the Christopher Smith all encompassing pick as I believe every last one of his films belongs on the list, but TRIANGLE happens to be my personal favorite, followed closely by BLACK DEATH. To my knowledge as of this exact moment I’m writing everything but TRIANGLE is currently on Netflix Instant (CREEP, SEVERANCE and BLACK DEATH) and you should definitely go out and rent TRIANGLE and hold a Christopher Smith marathon immediately.
TRIANGLE absolutely broke my brain when I first watched it and it still gives me headaches to this day, but aside from the engrossing puzzle that it is Melissa George gives a fantastic performance. Also, for the more mainstream fans, THE HUNGER GAMES’ Liam Hemsworth is also in the film.
The Loved Ones - As if I haven’t felated the hell out of this movie already I am going so far as to say if you watch no other movie on this list if you watch this I will be happy. Possibly one of the best horror movies of the past decade is this demented little Australian flick about a girl who REALLY wants a date to a dance, but if she has to settle then apparently a little depraved kidnapping and torture will suffice.
Boosted by an extremely dark sense if humor and fantastic performances this is a movie no horror fan should miss.
All The Boys Love Mandy Lane - Jonathan Levine may not be a household name just yet, but he’s on his way. Which makes it all the more confusing why ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE can’t find its way to the states on every retail shelf in the country. Luckily if you do live in the states, you can get your hands on a Blu-Ray copy that’s region free from Amazon and plays on almost every Blu-Ray player (It would not load on my PS3).
As far as teen slashers go, this little flick has a pretty wicked little ending that made me fall in love with what I was actually kind of lukewarm on until then. As of the start of SXSW 2013 it sounds like the Weinsteins are bringing this bad boy back to life for theatrical release in 2013. Keep an eye out and check it out if it comes to a theater near you.
Splinter - Creature features are a gamble. They run through risks of too much CGI, terrible practical effects, unimaginative creature designs and any number of other genre trappings. SPLINTER is kind of a wonder in the creature feature genre with its tension, creature effects and conceit while also being infinitely entertaining.
The performances are great and the idea of the creature and the stuff the characters endure because of it are really something to watch.
Inside/Martyrs - For a while there French horror was pulling out all the stops and were shocking audiences with the brilliance of their film’s not just in the unflinching violence, but overall composition of the film in general. INSIDE came out from Dimension Extreme and I bought it based on a few recommendations and I could not get it out of my head.
In a similar fashion MARTYRS did the same thing a year later, but to an even more extreme degree. I don’t want to go into detail about either film, except to warn anyone that both films are incredibly brutal downers that you need to be prepared for before sitting down to watch them.
The Burrowers - At a time when Western set movies are kind of popular this is a film perfect to sneak in for late night viewing as not only does it take place in a Western setting, but it’s also a creature feature.
Granted that if you are watching it late at night it’s not a fast paced action/horror that will jolt you awake, but it is an engaging and well acted little overlooked flick well worth a watch.
Pontypool - At this point in horror there isn’t a whole lot we haven’t seen in regards to the zombie subgenre. However PONTYPOOL offers an alternate perspective, even if it drops the ball once the explanations start becomming clear especially from one specific character’s acting.
Overall though the buildup in PONTYPOOL is pretty great and there are some pretty unsettling moments in a mostly talky horror flick.
The Shrine - Of all the films I’ve listed so far I’m going to come right out and say that this might be my weakest choice- at least in terms of my enjoyment. The first half of this movie is quite a chore to sit through, but if you stick with it there are some really cool horror elements to round it out.
There’s an old school vibe to some of the climactic scenes and some really creepy settings, but it takes quite a commitment to get into the last half of the film if you haven’t already fallen asleep.
Deadgirl - Way back when, in the days I was a foolhearty kid that didn’t try to watch everything that I possibly could I would have watched something like this and either scoffed at you for wasting my time or been turned off on movies altogether. This isn’t the type of film you show to people that consume brainless Hollywood blockbusters like Skittles, it’s not even a horror film you recommend to people looking for a way to get turned on to the genre.
This is the type of horror movie you show to people with an extremely twisted sense of humor, are not easily offended (due to the subject matter and actions of the characters) and tend to have a very pronounced bit of morbid curiosity. As the movie watcher I am now, I have all of those traits and I find something like DEADGIRL kind of fascinating and fun- though I mean that in a way as I would study the psyche of the main characters and in some of the humor in the film.
It is my sincere hope that if you’re reading this list you already are in a place where you check stuff out for morbid curiosity or are ready to bridge the gap from traditional horror to more off the beaten path horror.
The Corridor - The indie spirit is something that I feel makes the horror genre as strong as it is. With a limited budget and limited means filmmakers have to get creative with their films and that means finding subject material that breaks the norms to gather an audience or be so clever with their technical aspects that people are forced to pay attention.
Those are the things I want to be more dominant in my horror films and while THE CORRIDOR is a bit shaky with some of the effects in the latter half of the film, it takes the indie spirit to some pretty awesome places. To say the film is strange would be an understatement, but the story and the way it unfolds is so engaging and mind boggling that it really deserves an audience to help spread the word about it.
Heartless - I love the premise to this movie and even though I’m including it on this list, I’m not in love with it. I do however, appreciate the film on some level and recognize that there will be people out there that will eat this movie up more than I did. I’m not saying I don’t like it on some level, I’m merely saying I didn’t think it was great on any specific level.
The Frighteners - This will likely be the oldest film on the list and for the sole reason that it was a film I remember seeing in theaters and loving the hell out of it at the time. I don’t even know where awareness of THE FRIGHTENERS currently stands, but given the popularity of Peter Jackson and his immensely popular LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy and of course the recently released first installment of THE HOBBIT I felt people should have an awareness of where he came from that’s a bit more friendly for the audience of LORD OF THE RINGS and THE HOBBIT as opposed to throwing them straight into something like DEAD ALIVE- though by all means seek that out too if you’re ready for some really awesome gross out horror.
THE FRIGHTENERS is a whole lot of fun and has kind of a slapstick humor about while also being very dark under the surface and is something I still watch on a regular basis.
Home Movie - I actually just checked this one out recently based on another list that highlighted some lesser known horror movies which then inspired me to kind do a list of my own and “pass it forward” so to speak.
This really is a wicked little film with some deeply disturbing moments. For the vast majority of this film the tension builds and the dimeanor of the characters morphs from scene to scene until it all culminates in an ending that pops the bubble that’s been developing from the start in a startling way.
The Children - While on the topic of evil kids I would be really disappointed if I didn’t mention the most recent evil kid flick that really got under my skin. Not unlike HOME MOVIE it features kids with what seems to be complete indifference to the continuation of their parents lives.
With a tagline like “You brought them into this world. Now they will take you out” how can you not at least be intrigued. It came out of Sam Rami’s Ghosthouse Productions label which picked up and released mostly duds in the same vein the After Dark Horrorfest releases, but this is the one that came from it that deserves to be sought out.
The Ruins - Of the vast majority of the films on this list very few of them got solid releases in theaters- sure it’s possible you got to see it in theaters, but in smaller markets (like mine) people have to keep tabs on the smaller releases so we can check them out on DVD. THE RUINS was a little more Hollywood than most of these other releases as it has recognizable faces and had a pretty solid release- which I say based on the fact that I saw it on opening day, take that as you will.
I will give anyone their space when they see the film is essentially about killer vines, but I think you’d be doing yourself a disservice to write the film off. The conflict that arises from a group of 20 somethings stuck in a horrific situation and the people forcing them to stay on the pyramid or face execution make the film horrific on a psychological level as well as the actual horror of being consumed by plants. THE RUINS is also shot beautifully as well so at least there’s some stunning photography to stare at here and there.
If you’re a completist the film is also based on a book that is also good in its own right that I would also recommend checking out.
Frozen - Now while on the subject of 20 somethings stuck in a hopeless situation that doesn’t involve a cabin in the middle of nowhere Adam Green’s FROZEN is a much different beast from his cheesy horror throwback HATCHET. This one much like THE RUINS stars Shawn Ashmore as one of three college friends that get stuck on a ski lift after hours because of a mistake made by the slope’s crew and the slope itself will remain closed for the weekend.
So, stuck in freezing weather in a chair raised high off the ground the trio are forced to make tough decisions in order to survive. I know plenty of horor buffs and non horror folks that have understandable issues with this one, but I love it. The film is shot and acted perfectly with a tremendous amount of restraint on the part of Green to lay off the gore switch which emphasizes the drama of the situation.
Aside from a shot near the end the gore is quite tame, but the violence that is there is realistic and horrifying. Say what you will about the behavior of certain elements within the plot, I was engaged from beginning to end with this one.
Sleep Tight - The majority of movie going audiences want nothing to do with subtitled movies- hence why we see remakes being greenlit left and right. What people don’t realize is that more often than not something gets lost in translation and the source material that inspires these remakes gets lost to obscurity.
I’d really hate to see that same fate happen to this little gem from 1/2 of the duo that brought us REC and REC 2 as it’s almost a guarentee that the material that makes this so disturbing would be scrapped entirely to make an English remake more marketable.
This is an extremely well directed and tension filled flick that while subtitled does not contain huge stretches of dialogue- the majority of scenes revolve around silence and a character hiding/sneaking around. The film is immensely rewarding to genre buffs as the finale is enough to make anyone’s skin crawl.
Kill List - Every once in a while you come across movies where the characters are actually speaking English, but are nearly impossible to understand through their accents. KILL LIST has those moments, but when it matters everything comes through perfectly fine and the film revels in moments of tension and quiet to get your attention before intense eruptions of violence.
The finale, while familiar to another (more despicable) film that came out recently hits viewers differently, but if you are fully on board for the ride it will leave you with an empty yet satisfied feeling with plenty of questions to fuel conversations afterward.
Attack The Block - Much like THE LOVED ONES I cannot sing enough praise for ATTACK THE BLOCK. This was my favorite overall film of 2011 and one that I also argued in favor of with quite a few people I recommended it to.
It’s a tough sell to get people to come around to liking a group of kids that start off so unlikable at the beginning of the film and again the really tough to decipher dialogue through thick English accents.
If you can get passed the accents and slang dialogue this film is immensely rewarding with a phenomenal score, awesome alien effects and a pretty great central performance from John Boyega. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t want sit and watch this on a loop throughout the day.