Digital Polyphony

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Top 25 Underrated/Overlooked Horor Films

I’m a huge fan of horror and suspense. I use the term “horror” more because it’s a catch-all term that includes thrillers, suspense, psychological, monsters…you name it. As long as it gets you leaning forward, peering around corners, or turning away, the viewers emotional reaction is the same across the board.

For fun, I started thinking about some films I don’t hear people mention a whole lot (especially outside the internet) or I felt are overlooked entirely. Below is a list of 25 Horror movies that I see go overlooked or are under appreciated.

And yes, it was a really slow day at work...

25: A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)

An influential piece of work, “Chinese Ghost Story” delivers on many fronts. It’s wonderfully shot, funny, twistedly funny I should say, all wrapped around a love story. This movie was pretty popular when it first came out, even outside Asia and for horror in the mid 80s, that’s a good feat. However, this movie has drifted out of the public eye and love over the past two decades and the lack of a proper DVD release has not helped.





24: Asylum (1972)

Behind all the torture porn and gory crap you’ll find in your video store horror aisle, you will sometimes find some nice British Horror from the 60s and 70s, classics like “Tales From the Crypt,” the Hammer series, “Peeping Tom” and “The House That Dripped Blood.” Of course, with all the direct to DVD and big franchises to contend with, Brit Horror is usually cast aside about as quickly as, well, any foreign horror, especially if it came before 2000. “Asylum” personifies British horror about as well as you can expect, especially when it comes to doing anthology (or collections) of horror tales. It’s slower paced, deals more with those things called “character” and “story” and has a sense of ominous-ness behind every little story that is told, all wrapped up with an overarching plot about an insane asylum and the odd inhabitants as our protagonist interviews the inmates, hears their strange stories, and tries to find the one person he’s looking for.


23: I, Zombie: The Chronicles of Pain (1998)

For some reason, direct-to-video movies are often tossed aside when a movie renter goes to the video store. I can’t say as I blame them. There’s never anyone you know in them, you never have heard of the director and they’re low-budget. I don’t know about you, but I just described horror movies to a “T” – even the “big studio” ones. So there’s no reason why horror fans should just walk right by the direct to DVD movies because you’ll miss a potential gem. “I, Zombie” is like a first hand account of a man turning into a zombie and the observations of our scientist hero-to-soon-be-living-dead, Mark. An interesting character study surround with a lovely zombie infection.





22: Witchfinder General (a.k.a. The Conqueror Worm) (1968)

Vincent Price gives, what I find, the performance of his career in this film portraying one of the best screen villains you could ask for. His character of Matthew Hopkins demands your loathing through his scheming, torture and all around dickishness. Controversial for the time, the late 60s British Horror scene in full stride by the time this came out. Many dismiss if for Price’s presence, there being a bit of backlash on him for some reason, but he really becomes lost in his evilness and the brutal ending makes it worth your while.





21: Intruder (1989)

Made on a shoestring budget and shot in an actual grocery store, “Intruder” is destined to be just one of many 80s slasher movies lost in the shuffle. It’s undeniably low budget with cheap thrills, but what sets it aside, other than the absurd motivations of the slasher, is what Slasher movies are made to do: kill people in inventive ways, and maybe scare while you’re at it. “Intruder” does both with some of the best kills on screen. It also has a bit of mystery to it as our teenage grocery store employees try to figure out who the real killer is. Fans of slasher movies, especially when it was in its hey-day, should give it a rent.




20: Don’t Look Now (1973)

I think Roger Ebert, in his Great Film series, describes “Don’t Look Now” wonderfully.
Nicolas Roeg's 1973 film remains one of the great horror masterpieces, working not with fright, which is easy, but with dread, grief and apprehension. Few films so successfully put us inside the mind of a man who is trying to reason his way free from mounting terror.” “Don’t Look Now” seems to have been forgotten over time, but it is one hell of a well-crafted thriller with a reveal that leaves you hollow, even sick, after spending so much time with the characters. The late 60s/70s gave us a lot of films like this: “The Exorcist,” “The Omen,” “Rosemary’s Baby”…I’d put “Don’t Look Now” with any of those more renowned classics sans the Satanism, of course. Plus you get hot Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland sex action….so it’s got that going for it also.


19: Deep Red (Profundo Rosso) (1975)

It might be hard to label a Dario Argento movie as “underrated” but let’s be honest, the man’s work is criminally overlooked. “Deep Red” is about as fine of a suspense/mystery/thriller that you will ever see and is a fine example how he got the nickname the “Italian Hitchcock.” While his library isn’t as deep and films not as notorious, he is every bit the craftsman to justify such a title. I put "Deep Red" on this list because it’s personally my favorite giallo, but in reality it’s Dario Argento as a whole that is on this list. Film fans know him, which is why he isn’t higher, but the casual filmgoer wouldn’t know a Deep Red from a Crystal Plumage.

*Deep Red has a few different DVD releases, but I believe it’s the Blue Underground Version that is far superior and is Region 0.



18: The Exorcist III (1989)

“Exorcist III” gets a bit of a knock for the Fabio cameo, not to mention coming after “Exorcist II,” but outside of that it’s actually a fantastic thriller. Considered to be the legitimate sequel to “The Exorcist” (this is based on the book sequel by William Peter Blatty, who also directs) “Exorcist III” is a smart, murder-mystery around a series of murders that seem strangely connected to the events of the first film. More importantly, though, is the acting and the dialogue. The conversations and the themes the characters discuss and deal with are what really grab you. It’s smart, philosophical and has you questioning faith.




17: The Blob (1988)

I know, I know…remake, right? In the horror genre, remakes, homages, reinvisions…it all comes with the territory. The question isn’t so much “is it better?” as much as “is it different?” Different enough to a) be a good film in its own right and b) not emulate the original so much as you might as well watch the original to begin with (see Psycho). “The Blob,” like any good remake, “reinvisions” the original. It changes it up enough and adds its own twist, in this case keeping it a little campy, and doesn’t deter from the fact it’s about a jello mold killing people (and in this one, we get a better idea of how that’s done). It’s a movie that came and went, but having rewatched it recently I’d forgotten how entertaining it actually was.




16: The Burning (1981)

Setting a slasher movie in a camp is nothing new. In fact, "The Burning," also known as that movie that Holly Hunter was in with Jason Alexander when he had hair, is about as unoriginal of a slasher movie as you’ll see even by 1981 standards. It’s a typical “camp kids wrong someone, he’s out for revenge.” What sets “The Burning” apart, though is that it’s simply well-made and well produced. You have Tom Savini’s special effects (who had just wrapped Friday the 13th), an inventive (and some might say sympathetic) killer that’s half Freddy Krueger half Michael Myers, well planned death scenes with legitimate build up and suspense. I could go on, but slasher movies are a dime a dozen and the trick is to find the ones that are simply well made. Forget the Friday/Nightmare sequels and look to a true original, if anything for the brutal boat killings, “The Burning.”



15: The Stuff (1985)

“The Stuff” is a guilty pleasure for most and especially for me, right up there with “Street Trash” and “They Live” when it comes to those late cable nights. It’s cheesy, funny at times when not meaning to be, but in the end, it’s simply entertaining. I liken it to the Blob’s red-headed step child. Most know about it, but I always found it lacking in talks of good horror movies. “The Stuff” is taking over the world, controlling people and the movie shows us how our gluttony and greed will eventually consume us all through yogurt, but it’s really an interesting commentary on how gluttonous we humans can be-physically and socially.





14: The House on Sorority Row (1983)

With a remake coming out, the original has gained in popularity and many have checked it out to find a pretty well done slasher movie. I’m included in that “many” category. While not as shocking as “Sleepaway Camp” or legendary as “Halloween” or “Black Christmas,” I put Sorority Row on the list for the same reasons I put “Intruder”: it is paced extremely well, there’s a sense of mystery to be solved and you have inventive kills. Purely well done and you actually find yourself routing for the killer through most of it…those girls have it coming.





13: Dog Soldiers (2002)

Neil Marshall rushed on to the scene with the amazing “The Descent,” but his first film is really a one-of-a-kind werewolf movie that shows his talent even early on and with no budget to speak of. In fact, the formula and structure follows more of the zombie route than anything, with cabins being boarded up and infections taking their toll on people. It’s easy to notice a low production value, but the acting is solid and directing top-notch as we follow an abandoned military team lost in the woods with werewolves hunting them. There aren’t a lot of good werewolf movies, I can only think of three or four going back to the 40s, but I’d put this up there with the best of them.





12: From Beyond (1986)

Those that know horror probably know this movie as well. It’s really one of my favorites and reunites the “Re-animator” (another HP Lovecraft story) duo of Jeffrey Combs and director Stuart Gordon as well as the writers. It has elements of science fiction, extra-dimensional beings and power-hungry characters looking to take advantage of us moronic earth folk. It holds similarities to “Slither” in tone as well as giant fleshy man-creatures. Not as widely known as “Re-animator,” and not has polarizing as “Castle Freak,” but a solid follow up.




11: Alice, Sweet Alice (a.k.a. Communion) (1976)

The 1970s had a lot of interesting mystery/suspense movies that really took some chances with its subject matter. So why not make one around the idea that a child is a serial killer? “Alice, Sweet Alice,” like “Don’t Look Now,” isn’t so much a Type A horror movie as it is a character drama that just happens to have a lot of scary/horrific moments. At it’s roots, it’s a slasher movie. Killer kills, people try to figure out who. In this case, though, the questions and mystery is around Alice, played by Brooke Shields in about the only movie she was good at, and her odd, emotionless personality and her strange family and neighbors who simply don’t like her.




10: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)

A movie that has yet to be available on DVD and made in the 1970s for ABC television, this movie of the week offered viewers a surprisingly frightening and well-crafted story about house-demons (or gremlins, whatever you wish to call them). It’s a haunted house/monster movie with a psychological spin of the main character thinking she’s losing her mind. A tame movie by today’s standards, but finely done with great suspense and nags at your childhood when you thought things were under your bed…here they actually are…and they’re planning. DBAD is going to be getting some buzz in the coming months with Miramax looking to do a remake with Guillermo Del Toro writing, so hopefully a DVD release for the original will be up and coming.


9: Habit (1996)

Well…is she a vampire or not? That’s the question you and the main character Sam in “Habit” will constantly ask yourself. “Habit” doesn’t give a lot of answers, just suggestions, and shows how human imagination (as well as a lot of drinking) will make people think and do things they normally wouldn’t. “Habit” doesn’t deal with vampires, per se, as it deals with the idea of vampirism and that, for some people, it could actually exist. Larry Fessenden is an underrated auteur who dabbles more in the human psyches and the ideas of monsters and demons than actual real ones and this film shows that our worst fears emerge when reality gets away from us. I actually haven’t seen Habit since it’s original release, I guess making a list like this gets me all nostalgic and needing to get me a copy right away.




8: Castle Freak (1995)

If you don’t know Stuart Gordon by now, you should just stop. “Castle Freak,” while not as well-crafted as his previous films of “Re-animator” and “From Beyond,” is his most ignored. Same actors, same director, same solid horror filmmaking. The difference, though, is that the approach of this direct-to-video film shows that Gordon can make a serious, sincere horror movie about a neglected man, overcome with sorrow, abuse and disfigurement, trying to be the “good guy” at times and that it’s not so much the external monster we fear, but the internal monster of everyone else. He’s still a monster, yet you pity him because he doesn’t grasp exactly what he’s doing. Castle Freak is a love/hate movie for many, but I think detractors do so in comparisons to Gordon’s previous works with the same team rather than on its own merit, but it’s still a well-done one that you should check out.

7: Ginger Snaps (2000)

I wasn’t sure if I should add this one. It’s actually pretty popular, got fantastic reviews and most know about it. But I don’t think it gets enough credit as more than just a horror movie, it’s actually a very, very well-made, acted and shot film about teenagers and I consider it one of the best monster movies ever made, and possibly the best werewolf movie out there. Reminiscent of “An American Werewolf in London,” or “Heathers” to an extent, “Ginger Snaps” isn’t so much about werewolves as much as it is about teenagers, coming of age and human relationships on our desire for acceptance.






6: Blood Diner (1987)

In the 1960s there was a genre of films referred to as “Splatter” movies. These were low budget b-movies that weren’t particularly well made but were notorious for their depictions of blood and gore. Herschell Gordon Lewis was the director of many of these and one such movie of his, “Blood Feast,” was loosely remade in 1987. The difference in the remake: it did not take itself nearly as seriously. The result: a dark comedy/horror movie that fans of Sam Raimi would find enormously entertaining. Two brothers, who own a diner, are tricked into bringing together body parts to resurrect the goddess Sheetar (tricked, mind you, by a brain with eyes in a jar). They are so matter-of-fact and loose in their looking for victims, violence and nudity lovingly gratuitous, and dialogue so witty that you can’t help but laugh yet be disgusted at the same time.




5: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

Brutal, violent, yet honest. Henry pulls no punches in its depiction of a brutal serial killer and socially disgusting characters. Many movies might try and make you feel sympathy for the killer, and maybe for a moment, in those brief glimpses of a human behind Henry's eyes, you do, then he’ll do something so horrible you throw it all out. “Henry” is a movie that likes to play with your feelings. It’s not as straightforward as similar exploitation movies (Such as I Spit on Your Grave or recently The Devil’s Rejects) but wades around and plays with you, kinda like how Henry plays with his victims. Well reviewed yet often passed by, Henry is for those that can stomach brutality with emotionless eyes.





4: Session 9 (2001)

When it comes to psychological horror, there really is slim pickings. “Jacob’s Ladder” and “The Shining” are two of the more popular ones, showing the horror of someone’s mind (or imagination) than something actually tangible (the fantastic “A Tale of Two Sisters” from Korea comes highly recommended as well) . The popularity of Brad Anderson’s thriller has gone up since DVD has breathed new life in a lot of the movies on this list as well has his fantastic films to follow, “The Machinist” and “Transsiberian,” both showcasing suspense and drama at its finest. Yet, I know nobody outside of internet message boards that have actually seen “Session 9.” Disappointing, as the creepy atmosphere of an insane asylum, solid acting from the cast – yes even David Caruso – shows a young, talented filmmaker working his way into name recognition. “Session 9,” like any good physiological thriller, toys with your perception of reality. It might be slow at times, but this slow simmer rather than boil over allows you to think about it even more and try to wrap your head over the eventual climax you know is around the corner.


3: The Changeling (1980)

“The Changeling” is about as perfect of a haunted house movie that can be made. It approaches the idea of a spirit in a home in a simple form: noises at night, voices, things moving around, and draws many similarities to “The Haunting” in this respect, perhaps this return to classical form is why I liked it so much. George C Scott gives a fantastic performance of a man who doesn’t quite know what to make of all that’s happening in his secluded home – is it a ghost? Is he losing his mind? Is he still just grieving over the loss of his family? It all threads together into a mystery that, while maybe predictable by today’s standards, is fulfilling in its conclusion. Besides, it’s a well-crafted means that justify the end in this case and shows that you don’t necessarily have to see a monster, ghost or gore to make a movie scary.




2: Night of the Creeps (1986)

Like a few other films on this list, the biggest crime is when the movie is not on DVD. “Night of the Creeps,” however, is a worse culprit because it’s a) By a pretty well-respected horror director (Fred Dekker, whose “Monster Squad” is widely loved), b) it stars Tom Atkins which alone demands a DVD release and c) it is available outside the US. It’s creative, has a blend of genres from slasher, to aliens to zombies, is a bit of comedy at times and has some fun, gory moments. If you like “Evil Dead 2” or “Dead Alive” type of horror comedy, this is a movie you will absolutely love. It hits all the right cords at all the right times and shows immense creativity by the director and when that DVD does finally hit October 2009, I expect many falling in love with it and spouting “It’s Miller time” any chance they can.



 1: Dead and Buried (1981)

To me, this one is a clear number one. I adore this movie, yet it’s hard to say why without spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it. But let’s say twists, when done correctly, make the world go around. It has many genre elements, a little “Wicker Man,” a little Romero zombie movie, a little “Pod People,” even a little bit of “Jaws” with our Sheriff trying to figure things out (although James Farentino isn’t up to Scheider’s standards, his performance is still good). It’s all balanced, paced with perfect reveals timed to our expectations and one great ending/ending shot/ending line. It also has fantastic work by a young Stan Winston.

The director, Gary Sherman, has little to his name. He made another solid horror movie with “Raw Meat” (1972) and a few other films, but after “Poltergeist III” he pretty much dropped off the face of the earth. Dead and Buried was recently released by Anchor Bay on DVD and should not be overlooked.


Obviously, lists like these are entirely subjective. I might consider something overlooked, but that’s because in my little world I don’t hear it talked about – that may not be the case for other little worlds out there.

What is left out? Got a movie you think I should cover? Leave a comment and let me know.


Signing Off



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