This Halloween video stores will be swamped with patrons clamouring to be scared silly. In the finite universe of horror-cinema most will settle for a franchise fright film or take a chance on an array of current B movie offerings– but not you sweet scare-seeking cinephile. The following list of overlooked horror films, not obscure or ancient but a little off the beaten path and perhaps forgotten, will save you from a frightful night of lame gore, unmotivated zombies, horror porn, and forgettable final girls.
Sunshine (2007) – Look closely at Danny Boyle’s resume and you will find this forgotten horror sci-fi film sandwiched between 28 Days Later and Slumdog Millionaire. Sunshine is Boyle’s biggest budget film to date and his greatest commercial failure-but a veritable masterpiece. The film follows a team of seven astronauts, played by an ensemble cast of unknowns, en route to reignite a dying sun-and oh yeah there is a murderer aboard. Influenced and improving upon visual designs from 2001, Solaris, and Event Horizon, Sunshine is a tour de force of filmmaking that boasts Boyle’s best cinematography. Better yet the horror is equal parts visceral and metaphysical and, in a clever inversion of our primal fear of darkness, it is what lurks in the light rather than the shadow that will really scare you.
Dead Ringers (1988)-Jeremy Irons plays the parts of two identical twin-wunderkind-gynaecologists who go madly medieval for the venereal in this Cronenberg flick. The naughty twin physicians have a nasty habit of surreptitiously tag teaming romantic partners. The implication of their amorous arrangements goes beyond perverse and creepy and well into a Freudian incest-by-proxy situation. When a woman with an anomalous reproductive system comes into their lives and breaks one of their hearts terror turns gynaecological and the film is guaranteed to horrify both genders more than a pap smear at a free clinic.
Jacob’s Ladder (1988) – In this intelligent and thoughtful psychological horror Tim Robbins is Jacob Singer a Vietnam veteran that is haunted by demons-literally. Is the cause of Jacob’s problems drugs, guilt, or insanity? Just remember that ladders go in two directions. An excellent narrative in the tradition of Ambrose Pierce, Jacob’s Ladder is unique in not only being a great horror story but also a moralist tale on the nature of fear, life and death. Not only does the film scare you but it presents a bold and nihilistic explanation as to why we experience the phenomenon of fear.
Martin (1977)-George Romero creator of Night of the Living Dead and its six zombie apocalyptic sequels is the godfather of horror film. Martin is his least known and best film about a troubled and repressed young man who believes he is a vampire. Is he a vampire or is he a seriously mentally ill youth? Either way he is one scary yet sympathetic character. Martin was made for next to nothing using Romero’s friends and family as cast members and their houses as sets. It debuted at Cannes and went on to become an art house classic.
Suspiria (1977)-Italian director Dario Argento is the best director of horror period. Suspiria is Argento’s best work and epitomizes his genius for elaborate murders, vivid colors (the last Technicolor movie made in fact), and direction that is simply sublime. In the film a young American ballet dancer arrives in Germany only to find the ballet school she is to attend is a coven. Maggots, razor wire, rabid dogs, a three alarm fire all ensue. Brace yourself for an American remake slated for 2010 with Natalie Portman playing the lead. Argento in true Italian constrained stoic style remarked that “it will be shit”.
Man Bites Dog (1990)-A documentary film crew follows a serial killer about his routine homicide business. The story goes from strange to surreal when the film crew go from observers to participants in this Belgian horror/black comedy. Beware this film is quirky but horrific and not for the faint of heart since our subject killer is both brutally violent and indiscriminate on his spree. Bizarre, horrifying, and funny–and you thought the cinema verite angle on The Office was clever.
Don’t Look Now (1973)-With a bold ending and one of the most talked about sex scenes on film in the 70s this Anglo-Italian film, adapted from a Du Maurier short story, was the Sixth Sense of its time. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie are mourning parents on a working vacation in Venice–where coincidentally a serial killer is on the loose. Restrained, moving, and foreboding the film is sumptuous to the eyes, an intelligent study of grief, and features the best acting of any horror film on this list.
Frailty (2001)-Bill Paxton plays a loving dad who is instructed by God to kill people, including his two sons, because they are demons. Paxton, in addition to his lead role, directs the film that is not only a good scare but downright disturbing. Matthew McConaughey has the role of his life as one of the grown-up sons seeking help from the law to stop the murder madness. When we learn God speaks through an angel to Paxton’s character on how the killings are to be done-using a lead pipe to render victims unconscious and an axe (named Otis) to behead them-religious tolerance is quickly jettisoned by audiences in favour of the immediate safety of atheism.
Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)-Here is the premise: Elvis is alive and a resident in an East Texas nursing home where an ancient Egyptian mummy is killing off the elderly residents. Bruce Campbell plays the septuagenarian pop icon and gives a great performance that is appropriately hammy and strangely believable. Ossie Davis plays Elvis’s only friend Jack. Jack believes in Elvis’s mummy sightings but then again he also thinks he is John Kennedy dyed black. Complementing the supernatural element of the story is the real horror of growing old in a culture with indifference if not silent contempt for its elders.
Braindead (Dead Alive) (1992)-Before The Lord of the Rings, King Kong,and District 9 Peter Jackson made his career on slapstick horror comedies and Braindead, one of the bloodiest films ever made, was the best of the lot. The plot involves a rat monkey bite that begins a bout of zombie mania exacerbated by patient zero’s son’s denial. Eventually a scourge of zombies and an Oedipus complex come to a head and are resolved with plenty of gore.