Le Manoir du Diable, the first horror movie on record, was made only one year after Arrival of a Train, the first film ever. That’s about 125 years of film, which means there’s 125 years worth of horror for fans to choose from. The sheer quantity of horror movies produced in that amount of time is almost incalculable, which for a cinephile is hell because it’s impossible to see them all. There’s hundreds of thousands of movies and if you don’t know where to look, you’re bound to miss some good ones. Because of the numerous subgenres within subgenres, the VHS boom of the 80’s and the constant stream of new shit being released on a weekly basis, combing through the entire history of horror is a daunting task. This list was made to shine a light on a select few you might not have seen that I think are worth your time.
This is The 100 Greatest Overlooked Horror Movies.
20. Creepy (2016)
In America, Kiyoshi Kurosawa is primarily known for his sole contribution to the J-horror genre, but as good as Pulse is, that’s like Japan associating Scorsese with nothing but Shutter Island. It’s overlooking an extremely solid and varied body of work. It’s not a perfect comparison as Kurosawa has done a couple of other thrillers, while Scorsese arguably only has the one but it’s good enough to prove my point. While I’m not going to get into all of his dramas due to them not being relevant (they’re all amazing and you should watch them), it’s his other other thriller I want to highlight.
Unjustly compared to Cure (the thriller he made before Pulse) or ignored completely, Creepy seemed to get lost within the director’s own filmography. If Pulse was his take on Ringu and Cure his version of Seven, Creepy is him doing The Gift. The plots are completely different: a former detective, now a professor of criminal psychology, gets a request from an old ex-colleague to assistance on an unsolved six-year old case involving a missing family but the tone is similar. It’s a film of two-halves: one is a dread inducing slow burn and the other, a cat and mouse game between the professor and a serial killer. Like a De Palma film, it starts off amazingly and depending on the viewer, falls off a cliff in the second half but if plot holes and unclear character motivation don’t bother you, give Creepy a watch. It’s an effective thriller that’ll mess with your head as well as get under your skin.
19. Horror Express (1972)
The second movie adapted from the novella “Who Goes There?”, Horror Express is as far removed from the source material as The Thing is from The Thing from Another World. There are some similarities (an evil entity possessing everything around it, it’s nigh impossible to tell who’s infected) but 95% of it is completely different. For one thing, the location is different (a train instead of an artic base), the entity itself is different (a prehistoric man contains an ancient evil spirit within its body, waiting to be released) and the protagonists are different. As perfect as the cast is in Carpenter’s classic, Horror Express might have it beat by a hair.
Cushing and Lee play the leads and their chemistry is palpable. The two have an natural rapport and it’s a delight watching them share the screen as allies instead of adversaries. But that’s not all, it also has an extended cameo by the coolest man of the 70’s—Telly fucking Savalas. He doesn’t get much screen time but once he shows up, it basically becomes his movie. If you ever wanted to see Kojack beat the shit out of a demonically possessed Rasputin while Dracula and Van Helsing watch, Horror Express is the film for you.
18. Blood Rage (1987)
When Eli Roth made his Grindhouse trailer Thanksgiving, he knew he wanted his to be a slasher and since every slasher premise has already been done, he decided to base it on a holiday and the only holiday that never received one was: Thanksgiving. Far be it for me to correct the man who directed the Death Wish remake but if Roth did a little homework, he would’ve realized that there are, in fact, Thanksgiving themed horror films. They’re just not good. There’s the cheap-o monster flick Blood Freak, the ridiculously bad Home Sweet Home and the hilariously awful Thankskilling. As this lineup shows, Thanksgiving easily gets the biggest shaft out of all the holiday that have received horror films. Either directors don’t know what to do with the subject matter or realize that trying to top the awesomeness of Blood Rage is a fool’s errand.
This film is operating on another plane of existence. Everything about it, from the performances, direction, tone and plot is absolutely crazy. Louise Lasser spends the entire movie crying on the phone to someone unrelated to the plot and deals with her depression by sitting on the kitchen floor eating Thanksgiving leftovers straight from the refrigerator, there’s a sex scene on a diving board that looks as awkward as it does uncomfortable, the main villain has a good identical twin which isn’t played as twist and the phrase “that’s not cranberry sauce!” is used multiple times to denote that all of the blood found in various places, is in fact, blood. This gem sat on the shelf for 6 years before it was released and whoever made the call to shelve it in the first place deserves to be shot into space.
17. A Cold Night’s Death (1973)
Predating John Carpenter’s The Thing by almost a decade, A Cold Night’s Death is similarly structured in that it all takes place in one location (a laboratory isolated in the arctic wasteland) and involves a group (is two considered a group?) of scientists losing their minds to paranoia. After receiving a distress call from an animal research laboratory where the government is testing the effects of extreme temperature on chimpanzees meant for space travel, a base sends a two researchers to investigate but by the time they get there, they discover the corpse of a lone scientist who froze to death under mysterious circumstances days ago.
The researchers come to completely different outcomes: one thinks the death wasn’t a suicide, while the other chalks it up to extreme cabin fever and this character dynamic is the meat of the film. One is logically trying to piece together the mystery and the other couldn’t care less, until bizarre things start happening that make him wonder if his colleagues theories are correct and that the suicide, may in fact, be murder. ABC’s Movie of the Week only lasted a decade but it produced a ton of gems, most notably Duel and Brian’s Song, and while it never received the same level of success or accolades as those films, A Cold Night’s Death deserves to be mentioned alongside the cream of the crop of TV movies. It’s smart, well acted and incredibly tense. The script is so good, that it could be remade scene for scene and it would be the best thriller released that year.
16. Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead (2014)
Dead Snow has a premise that guaranteed it a cult following. Any film that combines two ridiculous things will automatically garner attention. Such as: snakes + plane, sharks + tornado, ghost + clown, and Nazi + zombie. It’s an easy recipe for success but unlike say Iron Sky (Nazi + Moon) or The Gingerdead Man (cookie + shit), Dead Snow did more than just smush two things together and wait for the coin to come rolling in. The film is a loving homage to the splatter films of yesterday, namely Evil Dead and much like the Evil Dead, it’s sequel is bigger and crazier in every way possible.
Everything in the first is amplified in Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead. Now, instead of waiting the whole movie to see zombie mayhem, you get hordes of them from frame one, a handful of zombies now turn into literal armies complete with tanks, the humor is dialed up to the extreme and if the first film went through gallons of blood, this used an entire slaughterhouse worth. In terms of pure spectacle, this should be talked about with as much reverence as Evil Dead II and Dead Alive. It’s that crazy.
Check out Bob Cram’s review of Dead Snow and Dead Snow 2 here.
15. Late Phases (2014)
Werewolf movies fall into two categories: the “holy shit I’m a werewolf!” and the “holy shit, that’s a werewolf!” The former produced a masterpiece that will never be topped but there has yet to be a definitive version of the latter. The Howling, Dog Soldiers and Silver Bullet have all taken a shot at the title but I think Late Phases deserves the crown. When a group of werewolves beset a secluded retirement community, it is up to a grizzled veteran to deal with the problem lest everyone become tomorrow’s meal.
A contemplative, thought provoking look at how everyone eventually ages out of their usefulness to society and how the old and discarded must find purpose now that no one wants them around wrapped up in a horror film about werewolves, Late Phases is exactly like Bubba Ho-Tep but with a pack of wolfmen instead of an ass sucking mummy, Charles Bronson in the lead instead of Elvis and with a more serious tone. It’s a well acted character drama that becomes a badass monster hunt in the third act. Nick Damici is this generation’s Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee—if he shows up in a genre film, that film just became a must watch.
14. Cold Prey (2006)
Horror fans have been clamoring for a return of the slasher for years and years and while the odd one is released every now and again, the fans want a resurgence in earnest. Every year I think “this’ll be the year it comes back” and every year I’m wrong. I thought it would happen after the release of Strangers: Prey at Night, Happy Death Day and Halloween but nope. I thought maybe Green’s Hatchet series would kickstart it but wrong again. And I really thought the Cold Prey trilogy would be the one and I should’ve known then when it didn’t happen, that it would never happen. Because if Cold Prey couldn’t do it, nothing can.
Five young Norwegians (two couples and their friend) head up to the mountains to snowboard. After one breaks his leg, the group decide to spend the night in an abandoned hotel, closed 30 years ago and since this is a horror movie, they are not alone. This is a meat and potatoes kinda slasher. There’s no 80’s homages or clever twist. It’s a group of twentysomethings being hunted by a lunatic. No more, no less. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel nor does it have to. Nor does its two sequels. The first, which picks up literally right after this one, is the better version of Halloween II and the third is a prequel. It’s not as good but it still delivers an enjoyable hack ‘n slash experience.
13. The Spider Labyrinth (1988)
While I think Italy’s horror films are hands down the most stylish and atmospheric of any country, there’s something about them that keeps me at arms length. For whatever reason, I just can’t get into them. I have no problem with surrealism nor do I mind a slow burn but it’s the combination of the two that keeps me disengaged. If it wasn’t for Goblin and the gorgeous cinematography (and ladies), I wouldn’t make it through most Giallos or the works of Argento and Fulci. There has to be a point to the crazy or a payoff to the slow burn and most films don’t have one.
That’s why I dig The Spider Labyrinth, it commits the same sins as the others but not only does it double down in the surrealism and molasses pace, it damn near triple downs. It’s slow, confusing, bat shit insane and weird as fuck but there is a payoff to the insanity. Everything it throws at you has a purpose. It’s not just crazy for the sake of crazy. There’s a legit mystery with an actual mind blowing resolution. Leave it to the Italians to make the unofficial best Cthulhu film ever.
12. Satan’s Slaves (2017)
A prequel to the 1982 cult-classic of the same name, Satan’s Slaves is the closest a foreign film has come to hitting the same level of success as IT. A massive box office success in its home country of Indonesia, the film eventually became a hit in Malaysia and South Korea, which lead to it being released in 26 other countries, including the America. Tonally and visually like The Conjuring, the film is about a mother who comes home to collect her children after succumbing to an illness six months earlier.
Deriving tension and thrills through its well-sustained ominous ambience, Satan’s Slaves is a finely tuned supernatural thriller with some of the best designed jump scares in any film. There is at least one moment so expertly designed, immediately after watching it, you knew you’d see a variation of it in every horror film to follow. The film is an impeccably made jump-a-thon filled with clever gags and an aura of dread that offsets the haunted house-esque spooks with genuine unease. That is, of course, till the third act kicks in and it goes from unsettling to badass. The ending is one of the best crowd pleasing moments ever. Few films go from bone chilling to badass as effectively.
11. The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
There was a time when Stephen King’s recommendation meant everything. If he liked something, it immediately became a must watch for horror fans. His opinions held so much power, that we owe the existence of Evil Dead II to him. To the Fangoria crowd, he was God and every word he said was gospel. But that was a long time ago. The man who had no problem shitting on his own adaptations is long gone. Now, like Tarantino, if he likes something, you have to take it with a grain of salt. There’s only so many times you can call a movie the “scariest ever made” or “a masterpiece of the genre” before fans start to become suspicious. So when he said “The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a visceral horror to rival Alien and early Cronenberg”, many disregarded it as more hyperbole from old man King. But they shouldn’t have because he was right.
An intensely creepy throwback to the 1970’s era of horror, The Autopsy of Jane Doe is about a pair of corners, a father and son team, that receive a mysterious unidentified corpse with no apparent cause of death. While they examine the dead body, they discover increasingly bizarre clues that hold the key to her terrifying secrets. Like an expertly crafted puzzle box, the film plays like a forensic mystery who’s every revelation opens up more secrets, each more sinister than the last. Not a ghost film in the traditional sense, the film is more of a haunting type story where evil that’s been dormant is unleashed and all hell breaks loose. It’s creepy as hell and doesn’t rely on jump scares to get under your skin. King was not only right, he under sold its effectiveness.
What do you think of the selection so far? What are some of your favorite overlooked horror movies? Maybe they will show up further on the list!