Some Horror Movies You’ve Never Seen (But Should!)

Whether they simply don’t fit traditional formats, are old, are produced outside of the mainstream studios, or simply never get brought over to the U.S. of A., certain horror films just slip by unnoticed, and there are quite a few gems in among all the straight-to-bargain-bin stuff that goes the same way. I thought I’d give a handful of suggestions from among my recent and past favorites.

(Click on the titles to watch the movies’ trailers.)

 

  13: Game of Death a.k.a. 13 Beloved (2006) (Thailand, sadistic game, dark comedy)

Brought to the U.S. as part of an indie horror collection, 13 follows Phuchit Puengnathong, a salesman down on his luck: his girlfriend left him, his parents need money for his siblings’ education, and he’s just been asked to lay himself off. Everything is going wrong for Phuchit when he receives a mysterious phone call from a stranger who informs him that he is now part of a reality game show. All he has to do to win a 3.2 million dollar grand prize is follow the increasingly dangerous and disturbing orders he receives through his phone from a seemingly omniscient body.

This one was a pleasant surprise from one of this year’s movie nights. It’s a little herky-jerky in places: there’s a definite comedic streak in the first half that seems to evaporate in the second, and the ending had some unnecessary expository flashback, but overall it was a very entertaining movie that I’m happy to suggest.

There was a sequel made, 14 Beyond, and an American remake is currently in the works via the Weinstein Corporation. If you want to see the original before the remake comes out, I’d recommend it.

 

 Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) (comedy, slasher, meta)

Freddy Kreuger. Jason Voorhees. Michael Meyers. Monsters of horror, all. But how did they get started? Documentarian Taylor Gentry brings us along on as she interviews Leslie Vernon, a would-be supernatural serial killer who’s just getting his start in the biz.

This movie is decidedly unconventional as far as horror goes. It’s similar to Cabin in the Woods in its self-awareness, and they have a lot of fun playing up the tropes that the slasher horror movies adhere to for laughs. One of the more unique twists is the tangible “fourth wall” changes in cinematography, which shift between the “in the horror movie” world his victims experience and the documentary that’s showing all the footwork and prep that’s going on behind the scenes.

Behind the Mask is one that I would never have found on my own, but thanks to a friend, it’s now one of the special gems in my horror collection.

 

 Carriers (2009) (infection, post-apocalypse)

When the plague came, America fell fast. It wasn’t just that it was easily spread–capable of surviving on surfaces for up to 24 hours–or that it was deadly, but that it took time to kill. Time to infect others. Carriers follows four unfortunate souls desperately fleeing the viral pandemic which has ravaged the U.S. Their survival hinges on a handful of important rules: rules which keep any of them from becoming infected and potential carriers of the disease. Rules which cannot, under any circumstances, ever be broken…

Carriers barely received a release at all. Rob Nelson, a top critic from Variety summed it up the movie’s production history as being, “put into extremely limited release by Paramount Vantage after spending years in studio lockdown, Carriers has moments of genuinely communicable horror and thus deserves better than a de facto theatrical quarantine”. He’s absolutely right–Carriers is a fine film that examines some particularly dark aspects of human nature in an emotionally arresting way. This is an emotionally intense film, which is all too rare in horror cinema today.

(Fair warning: this trip does not have a happy ending.)

 

 The Children (2008) (mass psychosis, zombie-like, infection)

It’s the New Year, and one family and their kids have come to a large, quiet house in the country to be together. One of the kids–Paulie–is feeling a little sick, but that’s what kids do, right? Only, aren’t they acting a little strangely? Even for kids?

The Children has a “the kids aren’t alright” premise shared by multiple other horror films (The Children of the Corn, The Shining, Come Out and Play, etc.) and it stays more or less true to those conventions, but what sets The Children apart are the editing and the cinematography, both of which are extremely sharp, pacing the film’s suspense out to a razor wire.

 

 

 

A Chinese Ghost Story (1987) (Chinese, comedy, fantasy, wuxia, romance)

Hapless debt collector Ning Choi-san is wandering through ancient, rural China trying to collect taxes despite his timid demeanor. One night, in desperation, he finds himself forced to sleep at a deserted temple, where he meets and falls in love with a beautiful woman who disappears the following morning. A chance meeting with a Taoist monk, Yin, informs him that the woman he met was a ghost, who he learns is trapped, bound in servitude to a demonic tree spirit. Yin and Ning decide to work together to try and battle the forces of the underworld and save the woman’s soul.

Wuxia films typically span a range from self-serious to comedic, with the latter tending to also be romance (Once Upon A Time In China) just like in Shakespeare’s works, and this is no exception. The tale of feckless Ning and beautiful Nip is often quite silly, with bits of slapstick mixed in with situational humor, yet the ending is surprisingly heartfelt and sweet.

It is difficult to classify this movie as “horror”, yet there are a number of horror elements to it, including Jason and the Argonauts-esque stop-motion skeletons and some truly wicked spirits. If anything, it’s a fantasy-action romp with horror elements, but I’m putting it on my list because it’s really quite a lot of fun and it deserves a wider viewership.

There was a 2011 adaptation of the film that largely critically panned. One reviewer suggested that it might have been an attempt to cash in on the Twilight franchise’s popularity. All I can say is check out the original.

 

 Funny Games (2007) (home-invasion, thriller, meta, bizarre)

It was supposed to be a pleasant evening at the lake for the Farber family–George, Ann, and their son, Georgie. Someplace nice and secluded in the woods with such a small community that their only neighbor, Fred, comes right up to say hello after they arrive. Fred also introduces two young men of his acquaintance, Peter and Paul, who, it so happens, need to borrow some eggs. Just some eggs, and a moment of their time. And might they say, what a lovely home the Farbers have? They might just stick around a little bit longer, just to visit and be, you know. Neighborly.

Released ten years after the Austrian original, the American remake of Funny Games is fairly faithful to writer/director Michael Haneke’s vision of the film. (Haneke has stated that he never intended the original Funny Games to be a horror film, but that it was classified as such after the fact.) This is likely to be the most divisive film on my list: it’s a horror movie that pointedly subverts all horror film conventions in order to make its point about violent media (and the glorifying of said violence). You might have preconceptions going into it that the film has certain rules it’s abiding by: these preconceptions are a mistake. Some people I know have said they genuinely felt bad after watching Funny Games, so I will be clear: this is not a film for everyone.

That being said, as a fan of horror films, I was very, very pleased with Funny Games. So long as you’re willing to go along with the ride–to bend your brain when the movie asks you to–I think you’ll find a unique experience in this one.

 

 Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988) (comedy, science-fiction, aliens)

When a comet falls to the Earth out in the middle of the woods, farmer Gene Green goes to investigate and discovers, to his surprise, the carnival is in town! Only, despite their appearances, these clowns aren’t here to make jokes. They’re hungry, and it’s up to the teens of Crescent Cove to stop them before they devour everyone and destroy everything in their path!

What a fun, fun, FUN movie! I had delayed seeing this movie for years, thinking that it was one of those “it’s so bad it’s good” movies that had risen to cult status. I was dead. WrongKiller Klowns knows exactly what it’s doing every step of the way. Part of what made Killer Klowns so enjoyable to go back to were the practical effects done by the directors/writers, the Chiodo Brothers, who also did the special effects in Ernest Scared Stupid, Critters, and Team America: World Police. Their use of practical puppetry and matte paintings was a welcome reprieve from the modern over-reliance on CGI effects that never seem to have the volume or weight that their presence in a room should command.

This is a fun movie that was clearly made by people who had a love for the horror genre and wanted to play with it. (I got the same feeling of exuberant glee from this as I did watching Cabin in the Woods.)

 

 The Man Who Laughs (1928) (drama, romance, tragedy)

As an infant, Gwynplaine was abducted and disfigured by slavers, only to be rescued by a wandering thespian. Cursed with a face that would always bear a horrific grin, Gwynplaine’s entire life has been spent on the stage as a freakshow, his every day tainted with self-loathing. Then a beautiful, wealthy woman takes a romantic interest in Gwynplaine, who now finds himself torn between the love of his blind childhood sweetheart and the apparent affections of a woman who may offer him long-sought-after validation and acceptance despite his appearance.

The Man Who Laughs is an important film to American cultural history as the main character–with his painfully toothy grin–was the basis for Batman’s nemesis, The Joker. It’s also a very heartfelt piece. While the acting might be melodramatic (a necessity in the silent film era before “talkies”), the characters are surprisingly complex, and there’s a fascinating tale being told here of a person’s struggle to raise their personal character above their suffering.

This year saw a French remake of the film; curiously enough, just as the public image of the Joker’s grin altered with Christopher Nolan’s dynamic reimagining of the character, the French Gwynplaine now sports a Glasgow smile instead of his former teeth and black lips. Art imitates art, I guess.

 

 Noroi (The Curse) (2005) (J-horror, haunting, found footage)

Masafumi Kobayashi, paranormal expert and documentarian, is still missing. He vanished without a trace on the same night that his house burned down; his wife, Keiko, was found dead inside. The only clue in the mystery of what happened to Kobayashi is his last, unfinished documentary, “The Curse”, which has since been edited together from what footage he made before his disappearance. I should warn you: What you are about to see may shock you.

This film is unusually long and complicated for J-horror, clocking in at a hair under two hours (though still a fair sight shorter than the monstrously large Noriko’s Dinner Table (159 min.)), but I think the longer journey is worth the rewards at the end for all the built-up tension. The journey that Kobayashi’s cameraman, Miyajima, documents is strewn with twists and turns, uncoincidences, unfathomable forces, and pitch black implications. One of the things I love about this film is its Lovecraftian nature, in that neither the characters nor the audience are ever clued in to any reassuring rules governing the supernatural forces attacking them. The best that Kobayashi has to work on is rumor and conjecture in his desperate, life-or-death race to find some means of saving the day, and his gradual transformation from objective researcher to compassionate hero makes his struggle all the more compelling to watch (and his final disappearance all the more disturbing).

I think I’ve touted this film on just about every blog and other mass communication medium I’ve ever touched, at one point or another. (I think I’m unconsciously trying to build up a grassroots movement to get the DVD brought to Region 1…) That said, since it ISN’T in region 1 yet, I feel little ethical quandary in posting this link to a YouTube page where you can watch the whole thing with subtitles for free on YouTube: http://youtu.be/ilHmpETJgZ0

Make sure you stick around after the first credits roll: this is a film within a film. Even after seeing it four times, just thinking about that ending still makes my spine crawl...

 

 Onibaba (1964) (J-horror, historical drama, black and white)

Two women living in a hut have made a cruel living for themselves: they murder soldiers fleeing Japan’s civil war and pawn their armor and weapons. When the love of a man comes between the two women, it leads to infighting which is brought to a head with the arrival (and subsequent slaying) of a mysterious samurai donning a demon’s mask.

Onibaba is an odd duck. Its themes and content were unusually worldly and crude compared to my experience of Japanese cinema from this time. The story it tells is compelling in a Breaking Bad sort of way, watching as characters gather speed and ping off of one-another, threatening to bring the whole thing down around them. It’s obvious that the two women are on a road to ruin, but it’s impossible to see how things are going to shake out until the dark ending.

Like A Chinese Ghost Story, this film seems really to be a drama with horror elements to it, but it’s a very unique piece, in my opinion, and an interesting movie to watch.

 

 Pontypool (2008) (trapped inside, infection, zambambos)

Radio personality Grant Mazzy is heading up the late-night broadcast in Pontypool, Ontario, with coffee in hand, while a blizzard batters the building on all sides. He soon finds himself thrust into the role of a news reporter, however, after an uncomfirmed report of mass homicides at a doctor’s office by a field reporter is unexpectedly cut off, followed by a bizarre broadcast in French warning the people of Pontypool to stop talking to one another. As a mysterious infection breaks through into the radio station, Grant and his co-producers are suddenly locked into a life-or-death struggle with the infected.

I’m still not sure if I really like this one or not–it had some pacing problems, particularly in the third act, but the story it told and the way it told it was surprisingly unique and entertaining, and the concept underlying the infection is interesting as well.

A unique horror movie with a good cast and a strange ending. Also, the principal actor reminds me of Jim Varney mixed with Kevin Bacon.

 

 Resolution (2013) (altered reality, buddy film, meta?, weird)

Michael Danube is Chris Daniels’ best friend, only Chris has a problem: meth. Chris has managed to ostracize everyone who ever cared about him in his fall through addiction: everyone except for Michael. Michael goes to Chris’ house in the woods to help him make one last attempt to save him by chaining him to a radiator and nursing him through his withdrawals. Only, Michael starts to notice things–odd things–around the house: strange people and even stranger phenomena closing in on them, demanding something from them, leading the both of them to their death (or perhaps something worse).

One of the most original horror movies I’ve seen in a long time, Resolution actually shares a lot in common with the buddy road trip genre, all the way into and through its dark, supernatural turn. I thought the ending of the movie was scary, but it also left a large ball of mystery unanswered. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, I think, is up to the viewer. What I do know, is that Chris and Michael had good on-screen chemistry, and that the movie as a whole left a very positive impression in my mind.

Like most of the indie films on my list, Resolution is a very “different” kind of horror, offering a unique, well-crafted experience that you just don’t get from conventional horror cinema.

 

 The Return of the Living Dead (1985) (comedy, zamboozles)

Combine spilled military chemicals, a local graveyard, and a gang of punks. What do you get? Hell on earth.

When Romero decided to make sequels to his first classic, Night of the Living Dead, he and co-creator John A. Russo disagreed with the direction the franchise should go in, and the result was a split in direction. The Return of the Living Dead is a particularly fun offshoot of Romero and Russo’s legacy, and (as far as I’m aware) it’s the movie where the whole “zombies eat brains” trope originates from.

With its super goofy characters, Return features over the top cheese effects, and one of the most iconic zombies of all time (next to Day of the Dead‘s “pet” zombie). There are a ton of memorable scenes and great dark-comedic moments as the idiots stuck at the epicenter of a zombie plague realize with mounting horror just how deep in the proverbial shit they are.

This is a way less self-serious movie than Romero’s sequels, and it’s a great nostalgic time capsule too.

 

 A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) (Korean, ghost, mystery)

Soo-mi and Soo-yeon are two sisters who have just moved in with their father and stepmother into their new house, but tensions between the family members gradually give way to suffering and torment.

Mostly, what I remember of this film was its tension, and not just of the “person walking slowly towards a door” kind, but of a constantly ratcheting discontent between the family members, whose relationships are already strained.

This was a curious film because it really remained a mystery throughout the whole movie. There were a number of twists and turns as the story progressed, and the audience gradually realizes that some of the narrative perspectives at play may not be as reliable as we once thought At the same time, these alterations re-cast different characters’ relationships in new light, giving us an almost Kagemusha-esque look at a fractured mystery.

 

 Teeth (2007) (underdog, comedy, horror movie hero)

A young girl reaching womanhood in a male-run world that seems to prey on women discovers she possesses an unusual gift which gives her an edge (or ten) on those that would hurt her.

Teeth is an odd film to categorize. It reminds me a bit of May with its single, disenfranchised, female protagonist (Dawn) and the portrayal of the rest of the world as bizarre, aggressive, and often mean. It’s a film where the protagonist is the “monster”, but the rest of the world is the villain.

While some of the comedy in Teeth is grotesque and all of it is dark. As far as the horror goes, I’m torn between whether the scenes of dismemberment or the awkward teenager-ness were more cringe-inducing, and that’s really high praise for a horror film. Teeth featured a protagonist who I really cared about by the end and who I was rooting for the whole way through. Her journey to empowerment over the course of the film is profound, and it doesn’t come easy.

Teeth is one movie that is worth checking out. (If you’re a guy, prepare to find your legs crossed by the end.)

 

 Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010) (rom-com, meta, slasher)

Tucker and Dale are two “good ‘ol boys” heading out to the country to fix up a recently-bought ramshackle shed for a quiet fishing retreat. At the same time, a group of teens on a road trip find themselves in the same woods, partying. That’s when things go horribly, horribly wrong.

No trailer on this one: the only trailer online ruins the movie, which is a curious mix of horror send-up and romantic comedy. This is one of those media experiences where you’re better off going in without knowing what it is you’re in for exactly. (See also: Cabin in the Woods, which you should also go see. Now. Go see it now. GO. GOOOOO.)

Really, there’s not much more to say about this movie. I found it strangely heartwarming, with plenty of situational comedy playing off the horror genre to boot, and if I talk about much more, I’ll ruin some of the surprises. This might be a good movie for folks who don’t typically like horror movies.

 

 The Whisperer in Darkness (2011) (H.P. Lovecraft, retro)

It all started with the floods, remarks Albert Wilmarth, Arkham Massachussets researcher in mythology. A series of floods washed up the bodies of strange creatures from up on the mountain, creatures which seem to match the old folk-tales of the region which Albert has staked his reputation on debunking. Given the opportunity, Albert feels he must track down the source of these rumors to their home town, and embarks on a quest that will lead him from the light…into the darkness.

This was the second film produced by the Lovecraft Historical Society, and since Gulliermo Del Toro’s proposed R-rated In the Mountains of Madness got the kibosh, this may be your best means of getting a Lovecraft fix for a while. (Though there are plenty of Lovecraft-adapted films, possibly deserving a blog post in their own right.)

The Whisperer has a very different feel than most typical horror films, even compared to most Lovecraft adaptations (Reanimator, In the Mouth of Madness, Necronomicon: Book of the Dead) which feature sharp-honed spectacle and grotesquerie. The Whisperer develops its milieu like a spooky campfire story with a warm, roomy feel to it; I think this is in part a result of the style in which it was shot, emulating the 1930’s cinema from when the short story was written. It shows great attention to detail, which also happens to dovetail nicely with a super-indie studio’s limited budget. This one didn’t scare me so much, but rather, it felt like curling up in a blanket and waiting with fevered anticipation for monsters to show up.

 

Notable mentions: Baghead (2008), The Bay (2012)Cube Zero (2004), Diary of the Dead (2008)Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996)Lords of Salem (2013), El Orphanato (The Orphanage) (2007)Shadow of the Vampire (2000)The Shrine (2010)The Signal (2007)Society (1989), Videodrome (1983)Wild Zero (2000)




©2013 by Blake Vaughn. The text of this story may be redistributed freely in its original form with attribution to the author, Blake Vaughn, and his website, www.blakevaughn.com, as under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

4 Comments

  1. Posted July 17, 2014 at 7:50 am | Permalink | Reply

    Aw, this was a really good post. Finding the time and actual effort to create a
    superb article… but what can I say… I hesitate a
    whole lot and don’t seem to get nearly anything done.

  2. Posted August 11, 2014 at 5:16 am | Permalink | Reply

    I’ve been exploring for a bit for any high quality articles or
    weblog posts on this sort of house . Exploring in Yahoo I eventually stumbled upon this web site.
    Reading this information So i am happy to show that I have a very just right uncanny feeling I discovered just
    what I needed. I most undoubtedly will make certain to do
    not omit this website and provides it a look regularly.

  3. Posted August 29, 2014 at 10:04 am | Permalink | Reply

    I’m now not positive where you’re getting your info, however good topic.
    I needs to spend a while finding out much more
    or understanding more. Thanks for fantastic info I used to be
    searching for this info for my mission.

  4. Posted September 20, 2014 at 12:11 am | Permalink | Reply

    This is really interesting, You’re a very skilled blogger.
    I’ve joined your feed and look forward to seeking
    more of your wonderful post. Also, I have shared your web site in my social networks!

    Feel free to surf to my website; شركة عزل مائي

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.