October is upon us, and the tidings of the season are centered on one glorious, oh-so-beautiful word: Horror.
To pay homage to the genre that dominates the Halloween season, here are 10 horror films that you may have never heard of. In my opinion, these movies are under the radar and deserve a higher viewership.
Trick ‘r Treat
There are plenty of anthology horror films out there, and some are better than others. What hinders most of them is the jerky narrative structure in which the segments do not have a cohesion to a larger arc. Trick ‘r Treat is different. Taking place in a small residential town, each segment of the film involves characters in the town on the night of Halloween. The characters’ stories overlap with each other, and the viewer is able to see the same scenes from different, revealing perspectives.
Some stories in Trick ‘r Treat are better than others, but they all progress well. They unravel slowly and then take abrupt turns. It also boasts strong performances from the likes of Anna Paquin, Dylan Baker, and Brian Cox. Dark and humorous, Trick ‘r Treat is a treat for horror fans through strong acting performances and an overlapping narrative.
Pontypool is a zombie film unlike your average, run-of-the-mill zombie film. It is contained and actually somewhat simple. The conceit is a DJ in small town Canada finds out over the course of the film, via his radio program, that a zombie outbreak is occurring in the world outside the studio. It strips away the laziness that fills the zombie movie genre by taking a unique perspective.
The majority of the film passes by without event the sight of a zombie. But the film hooks you in via lead actor Stephen McHattie’s charismatic performance and the intriguing nature of the zombie virus itself. Unlike zombie films that simply throw bumbling hordes of undead at the characters, Pontypool makes the viewer genuinely interested in the outbreak itself. It is an inventive indie horror film that is definitely worth the watch.
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
Perhaps its appeal is for horror fans and horror fans only, but Behind the Mask is a wonderful skewering of horror movie tropes and cliches. The film is a mockumentary that follows a small town legend about a serial killer. The film crew searches for and finds the killer, Leslie Vernon, and puts him in their film. The first half of the film is comprised of interviews that pry at the standard conventions of horror films through the eyes of the killer.
The comedy of this movie is best grasped by those who are familiar with and enjoy classic slasher franchises such as Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street. Robert Englund, Freddy Krueger himself, makes a cameo in the film as Leslie Vernon’s mentor. Being a guy who grew up loving to break apart the conventions of horror films, Behind the Mask is a horror-comedy treat.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
Like Behind the Mask, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil uses the done-to-death conventions of horror to its benefit to create an uproariously funny horror comedy. Led by wonderful performances by Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, and Tyler Labine, the film takes what on paper is a sketch comedy premise and extends it to feature length perfectly.
Smartly penned, the film takes two dim characters and puts them in an obnoxiously over-the-top situation. Writer-director Eli Craig hasn’t done much else besides this film, but watching it makes me clamor for more.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
The most recent film on this list, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is a beautiful film. It mixes genres in the strangest way, but it is amazingly effective. Set in the atmospherically empty “Bad City,” the film tells the love story between a man and a vampire (but it is absolutely, 100% nothing like Twilight).
The film is the directorial debut of Iranian-American filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour, but it feels like the magnum opus of a veteran auteur. The sound work and the use of black and white set a mesmerizing tone. Sheila Vand’s performance is wholly engrossing and praiseworthy. As I’ve said in my review of this film, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is “one of the most beautiful movies I’ve seen in years.” I stand by that statement.
To be fair, this movie was a box office success in its initial release, shattering its meager $2 million budget. It also led to the unfortunately underwhelming Hollywood adaptation Quarantine. But I still feel that [REC] doesn’t gets enough love. Even more so, I feel that Quarantine and the film’s hit-or-miss sequels have made this film even more of a horror pariah.
[REC] is a contained “zombie” film taking place in an apartment complex. We see the film through the camera lens filming Angela Vidal’s (Manuela Velasco) documentary television program that is following local firefighters as they respond to a routine night call. Only, the situation on the other line isn’t as routine as the character’s think.
In my opinion, [REC] is one of the best uses of shaky-cam in the horror genre. The use of the space inside of the apartment complex makes shots notable. I don’t think I’ve ever considered a shot in a found footage horror notable before this movie, and [REC] has multiple shots like this. Add to this a great performance by Velasco and pure terror waiting at every turn, and [REC] shoots to the top of many a list.
I know, I know. There’s a trend starting to form. Maybe I just have a soft spot for horror comedies. But there are just so many good ones that I feel don’t get love. Slither is indeed one of these movies. Despite its inability to succeed at the box office and horror fans complaining that it rips off earlier films, Slither is still a romp of a film.
Led by an ensemble cast including Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, and Michael Rooker, Slither is a tongue-in-cheek yet at times flat out disgusting take on the creature feature. Alien parasites crash to Earth on a meteorite and begin infecting people. The film is the directorial debut of James Gunn (yes, that James Gunn. The Guardians of the Galaxy James Gunn), and he does a great job.
Not quite what mainstream audiences tend to flock to, Slither still has a lot to hold on to for horror fans and comedy fans alike.
To be fair, this might be my least favorite film on this list. That said, it has a lot going for it.
Grave Encounters follows a television crew a la Ghost Hunters who stay the night at a supposedly haunted psychiatric hospital. It falls on the crutch of found footage horror, which is almost never a satisfactory cinematographic choice ([REC] still remains one of the few exceptions). However, its narrative conceit is intriguing. I don’t want to give much away, but the haunted setting becomes surreal and supernatural as the night goes on, to the point of crazed confusion. It’s quite fun to behold.
Brutal. Pure, unrelenting pain. Martyrs is the most “un-watchable” film on this list, in that it is over the top gruesome and disturbing. Part of the New French Extremity movement of transgressive film, the film depicts two women exacting revenge on those who abused them physically in their childhood. It is an intense, cringe-worthy excursion into abuse and the psychological trauma that it causes.
Martyrs doesn’t let up, but it isn’t torture porn. There is an artistry to the entire affair, a meta self-actualization of the film’s own violence. To be honest, I was not a huge fan of this film on my first viewing, even though I saw what it was trying to accomplish. Still, I left Martyrs feeling that it transcends the company that it keeps. I liken it to another New French Extremity film, Irreversible. However, I feel that it doesn’t portray its themes as smoothly as Gaspar Noe’s film does.
I can only recommend this film to those who can stomach it. Even with that prerequisite fulfilled, this film is very divisive. But fans of the New French Extremity will find this film to be a shining example of the movement’s goals.
This is an interesting one. It has attained ultimate cult status, so it is perhaps more well known now than it’s ever been. Still, I feel that this is one snapshot of horror history that needs to be seen, simply for its surreal zaniness.
I refuse to ruin any of this movie, because part of the draw of this movie is the surprise factor. Just know that it is set up as a basic, low-budget slasher flick, but that it is anything but. The epitome of camp and outlandish plot points that are unintentionally hilarious, Sleepaway Camp is a must-see for horror fans. In some regards, it is unlike any horror movie I have ever seen.
There it is folks! Let me know what I got right, what I got wrong, and what you think about these films. What are your favorite underrated horror films? Give me a title or a full list. I would love to be exposed to more under-the-radar horror.
As always, thanks for reading!
–Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)