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.
10. When a Stranger Calls Back (1993)
When a Stranger Calls has, in my opinion, the greatest opening to any horror film ever. It packs more white knuckle suspense in its first fifteen minutes, than most films can pull off within their entire running time. It’s not as fun as Ghost Ship or pulse pounding as the Dawn of the Dead remake nor is it as iconic as Jaws and Night of the Living Dead but no other film jangles the nerves as effectively. It assaults the viewer with weaponized terror, a feat only two other films have accomplished: Them and the underseen sequel to When a Stranger Calls.
When a Stranger Calls Back feels like a precursor to the 2018 Halloween in that it’s a reboot as much as it is a sequel. Like David Gordon Green’s film, it takes the best elements of the last film and tries to improve upon them. Such as adding levels of complexity to the female lead, dialing up the creepiness and out doing its iconic beginning (the latest Halloween moves the single shot attack to the middle) but unlike that film, When a Stranger Calls Back actually succeeds. It’s heads and shoulders above the last film in every way. The opening is just as impactful, it doesn’t drag in the middle, has a far more memorable villain and the ending, while not as scary, is satisfying in its own way. Craven needs to cut this film a royalty check for stealing its beginning for his film Scream.
09. Calamity of Snakes (1982)
If the site Does the Dog Die included all animal deaths, Calamity of Snakes would be included with a giant FUCK YES. If you thought Cannibal Holocaust was ethically reprehensible for its real-life killing of a turtle and monkey, Calamity of Snakes may not be for you. About twenty thousand snakes were used in the production and almost all of them were killed. Hundreds of them are burned alive, hundreds more are bulldozed and a couple are sliced in half by a samurai sword. The irony being, all of these snakes died for a film who’s message is “don’t kill snakes or else!”
During the construction of luxury apartment buildings, a huge nest of thousands of snakes is discovered. Refusing to delay the construction, the boss orders the extermination of the legless lizards but construction workers miss a nest and soon the reptiles come back for revenge. If Roar leaned into the horror a bit more or if The Birds was made by a complete psycho, they still wouldn’t be as insane as this film or its finale. I guarantee that if you showed Tippi (who had birds thrown at her and was attacked by fucking lions) the end of this film, she’d strongly consider going through that shit all over again instead of being part of this film. Even if it was just a cameo. Without giving anything away, that luxury apartment becomes the target of thousands of killer snakes under the lead of a giant Boa and even a magical kung-fu snake master can’t stop them. It’s a hard watch but I guarantee you’ve never seen anything like it and you never will again.
08. Viy (1967)
Based on the same story that inspired Mario Bava’s masterpiece, Black Sunday, Viy is about a young priest who is ordered to preside over the wake of a witch in a small church of a remote village. The wake lasts three nights and with only his faith to protect him, he must endure the tricks of the witch and her witchcraft. As beautiful as it is crazy, Viy is what would happen if Raimi, Tarkovsky and Bergman teamed up to remake The Witch. At under 80 minutes, the film’s brilliance lies in its minimalism. It’s able to tell a compelling story that’s fraught with scares and startling imagery without ever lagging. It’s like a delicious cut of Kobe beef: it might be the smallest cut but there ain’t no gristle and there ain’t no bones. Or as Sum 41 would say “all killer, no filler.”
07. Juan of the Dead (2011)
Juan of the Dead, Cuba’s first zombie movie, garnered immediate attention due to its mere existence and although though it received critical acclaim and was a huge success in its home country, it seems to have disappeared just as fast as it arrived. Either American audiences were looking for something scary like The Walking Dead or were under the impression that it was a parody of Shaun of the Dead. Nevertheless, it was ignored and it eventually faded from the public consciousness. Since it’s one of the handful of zombie films released this decade that doesn’t suck, I think it’s time people are reminded of its greatness.
Two middle-age layabouts decide to open up a zombie killing service after the government all but ignore them declaring the flesh eaters “U.S. funded political dissidents.” If you couldn’t tell by that description, the film is a political satire but it never hits the audience over the head with its message. It saves the hitting for the zombies and that’s what makes up the meat of the comedy. The various ways in which the undead are dispatched is a sight to see. Never has a slingshot been more deadly or nunchucks more hilarious. The characters anchor it, the political message elevates it and the heart sets it apart.
06. The Boxer’s Omen (1983)
Remember the beginning of Rocky IV where Apollo gets beat to death by Drago? Now, imagine if Rocky took all of his anger and instead of wasting it in a training montage that lasts 45 minutes, he channeled it into a purpose. Not one the requires punching a Russian so hard that it ends the Cold War but one that involves moving to Thailand to learn black magic so that he can avenge his friend. Predictably, things do not go according to plan and he’s now forced to beat the shit out of evil wizards, Taoist monks, rampaging monsters, spooky apparitions, beastly crocodile skeletons, an assortment of flying human heads, a sexy female zombie, and demonic bats. As out of control as Hausu, as non-stop entertaining as Evil Dead II and as unpredictably chaotic as the best of Miike, The Boxer’s Omen is what happens when a sentient pile of cocaine knocks up an animated copy of Fangoria.
05. Messiah of Evil (1973)
If the dream world of Carnival of Souls collided with Carpenter’s Antonio Bay and then Bava made a movie about it, that movie would be Messiah of Evil. A riff on Night of the Living Dead but with a euro exploitation edge (although the film feels Italian, it’s actually directed by the American pair who did Howard the Duck), the film is a phantasmagoric nightmare about a woman who goes to a seaside town in search of her father only to find it overrun by a mysterious undead cult. If you were to grab this film and squeeze it like a sponge, the amount of style that would pour out of it could fill buckets. Every frame is oozing with atmosphere. It has the striking visuals of an Argento film but the engine of a Carpenter story. The film is constantly moving, like a restless snake on the hunt or an unpleasant dream that chases its victims long after they’ve awoken. This is the perfect example of a waking nightmare. Everything is based on dream logic, nothing makes sense and the true terror begins when you realize you can’t wake up.
04. Dead & Buried (1981)
When I think of Dead & Buried and what happened to the original cut, I’m reminded of the 1928 masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc. After completing the original cut of the film, director Carl Theodor Dreyer learned that the entire master print had been accidentally destroyed. With no ability to re-shoot, Dreyer re-edited the entire film from footage he had originally rejected. One of the greatest films of all time was made up of takes the director felt were inferior. I can’t imagine what his original version must’ve been like. Would it have some how improved an already perfect film? Were the changes so insignificant, that it would’ve been impossible to tell anyways? Or could it have some how damaged the film in some way? Since the original cut is lost forever, it’s impossible to know.
Just like it’s impossible to know what the original cut of Dead & Buried would’ve been like. We know at least two killings in the film were reshoots but apparently the first cut was radically different. The producer who bankrolled the film reportedly said “If I wanted a Bergman film, I would’ve hired Bergman”, which implies it was a slower paced art-house film but the director claims he originally made a dark comedy. The fact that there’s potentially a better version out there or at least was out there, is fascinating to me considering the cut we have now is flawless. It’s perfectly constructed mystery that somehow manages to successfully pull off not one, but two amazing plot twists. A lot of films feel Hitchcockian but this is the first to nail the look and tone of a Rod Serling story.
03. The Day of the Beast (1995)
Believing the Antichrist is appropriating, a priest teams up with a metal head and an expert of the occult to commit as many sins as possible in order to draw the attention of the beast so that he can kill it. In a day and age where every film gets a remake, it’s amazing to me that we’re not on our second or third by now. The premise is as perfect as it is ingenious. A holy man must commit as many sins as he can, as quickly as he can, in order to come face to face with Satan. You could eliminate the supernatural from it entirely and just have it be about a psycho who thinks he’s on a mission from God and it still works. The tone could be more grim like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer or it could be a straight comedy. My point is, it’s mind blowing to me that this story hasn’t been used a hundred times by now.
The story is so good, it doesn’t really need anything else. Every element of the film is in service to the plot and while it could get by with nothing more than its perfect set up, it’s its actors that make it amazing. The Day of the Beast is the ultimate one-two punch of a hook that immediately reels you in and a cast that that’ll blow you away. The three leads are all equally amazing but a special has to be given to the metal head played by Santiago Segura. He’s the token dumbass that finds himself way over his head but Segura imbues him with courage that’s uncharacteristic within the genre. He’s not the hero but he’s also not running away either. Filled with manic energy, infectious enthusiasm and a fighter’s spirit, José María is the best character Jack Black never played. And that’s just one small part of the film. Everything about it is either working on the same level or higher than the best of the genre.
02. Litan (1982)
There’s a scene in the action masterpiece Gymkata where the gymnast cum action hero finds himself in a bizarre village who’s inhabitants want to murder him for unclear plot reasons. He conveniently finds a cement pummel horse located in the middle of the town’s square which he uses to fend of the angry mob. Now, remove the aerobic ninja and half of the angry villagers and fill that now near desolate village with the inhabits of The Wicker Man and you got yourself a Litan. Completely original and 100% singular, there’s no way to accurately describe this film. A Silent Hill film directed by Wojciech Has? Whistle and I’ll Come to You by way of Johannes Schaaf? The last ten minutes of Kill List stretched to feature length but way crazier and directed by Ken Russell? Those pairings come kinda close to painting a picture of the absolute weirdness found within but even they fall short. It’s bonkers but in a good way. Everything is designed to throw the viewer off balance. There are so many odd and bizarre things in the film, that by the half way point, you’ll start wondering if everything you’ve seen actually happened or if you imagined it. It casts a spell on you so potent, it lasts forever. Once you see this film, you’ll never forget it.
01. 3615 Code Père Noël (1989)
Due to its obscurity, I highly doubt either John Hughes or Chris Columbus saw this before making Home Alone but the resemblances between the two are striking. They both involve a kid having to booby trap their home to fend off invaders on the night before Christmas but where they diverge is in the tone. At no point during Home Alone do you believe Kevin McAllister is in any real danger. He’s beset by live action Looney Tunes characters that pose no actual threat. The kid in this though? He could die any second. The home invader in this isn’t a petty thief who wants to burglarize a house, he specifically targeted this house to kill the kid inside. Not for revenge or any other ulterior reasons. He wants to kill him because he kills children. No more explanation needed. He’s a terrifying psycho dressed as Santa who will stop at nothing to satisfy his blood lust and the kid is a Rambo obsessed rascal who’s as clever as he is capable. 3615 Code Père Noël is a pulse pounding, thrill-a-minute Christmas classic just waiting to be discovered.
What did you think of the selection? What overlooked horror movies did you think should have made the list?