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.
50. Lake Mungo (2008)
After 16-year-old drowns in a local dam, her family experiences a series of strange, inexplicable events centred in and around their home. Unsettled, they seek the help of psychic and parapsychologist, who discovers that the daughter/sister they thought they knew led a double life she kept hidden from all of them. Her secrets will all be revealed at Lake Mungo.
Extremely reminiscent of Twin Peaks (down to the fact that the main characters are named Palmer), Lake Mungo is a somber exploration of grief and loss that never tips past loving homage. Names are the same and the general premise is identical but the tone is radically different. There’s no weird Lynch shit anywhere to be found. Just dread and unease.
49. Gargoyles (1972)
There was a time, a glorious time, where made-for-tv horror movies reigned supreme and that time was the 1970’s. Every week, one or more of the major networks would release a horror movie with whatever star they had laying around and it proved highly successful. For a brief period of time, audiences decided to stay home and watch Karen Black get harassed by a possessed tiki doll or Valerie Harper fend off a crazy kid brandishing a pizza cutter instead of going to the theatres.
Gargoyles may not have that top tier TV star cast like it’s contemporaries but it has a goddamn gargoyle in it, which trumps a Robert Wagner or Dennis Weaver any fucking day of the week. With make up effects by the legendary Stan Winston, a fantastic performance by Bernie Casey and an action scene involving dirt bikes that’s gloriously cheesy, Gargoyles is made-for-TV gold.
48. The Wind (2019)
America doesn’t have as rich a folklore as the rest of the world (seeing as how it’s still a baby comparatively) but it does have some unique myths that separate it from every other country and that is the tales of the Wild West. The Western is one of the few genres that’s distinctly American. Italy (and Mexico to a lesser extent) may have adopted it to great effect but they’re just riffing on shit we did. As good as Spaghetti Westerns are, they’re still just a copy or rather, an interpretation of what America is like. Much like how China created the Wuxia film and Japan has the Yakuza genre, Westerns is our legacy but outside of the cowboy and Indian films of old, filmmakers have abandoned it.
Westerns aren’t really being made anymore and when they were, they still barely tipped their toes outside of action. You would think that with over 300 films and shows produced over a 35+ year span, more filmmakers would use that setting as a horror film but outside of a handful, the Western Horror subgenre is pretty much non-existent. Which makes The Wind the best by default. But even if there was a healthy market of them, it would still be a strong contender. While every other film in the subgenre deals with fears of the “other” (cannibals, Native Americans, troglodytes, etc.) The Wind is all about the overwhelming vastness of the prairie and how fast loneliness can turn into madness. Methodically paced and overwhelmingly tense, The Wind is indie horror at its finest.
47. Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993)
Lovecraft seems to be an insurmountable mountain no director can conquer. Stuart Gordon is the only director to find success adapting his work but that comes with a caveat which is that Re-animator and From Beyond are only about 25% faithful to the source material. A truly faithful adaption of his work that is also a good movie is a near impossibility. The Haunted Palace, Die, Monster, Die!, The Unnamable and Curse are all trash, Richard Stanley’s latest film The Color Out of Space isn’t exactly a hit with the critics and Gordon’s own Dagon, Castle Freak and Dreams in the Witch House are all mediocre at best. And that’s not even mentioning Del Toro’s notorious problems trying to get At the Mountains of Madness made.
Outside of some impressive low budget Cthulhu fan films, the only film to really nail Lovecraft is the underrated anthology Necronomicon: Book of the dead. Containing three segments “The Drowned”, “The Cold”, and “Whispers” as well as a wraparound starring Jeffrey Combs as Lovecraft, Necronomicon is a practical effects extravaganza that nails the cosmic dread of the late author. It isn’t perfect but neither was Lovecraft.
46. Paperhouse (1988)
I have no idea how this film was made or its history, but it feels as though Bernard Rose (the director of Candyman), took one look at all the terrible Nightmare on Elm Street sequels and said to himself “I could do that but better.” And he did. A young girl lost in the loneliness and boredom of reality finds solace in the imaginary alternate world she’s created for herself, but soon she’ll discover that hers isn’t the only fantasy world and that the inhabits of the others need her to escape. The best way to describe Paperhouse is, imagine a stripped down (without all the circus characters and the talking cat) live action Coraline or a Guillermo Del Toro directed Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland. It’s brilliantly constructed dark fantasy that deals with childhood trauma in a realistic way. This is the kind of horror film Jim Henson would’ve made if he ever got tired of those damn Muppets.
45. The Voices (2014)
Ryan Reynolds doesn’t have the biggest set of tools in his acting bag but what he’s really good at, almost better than anyone else, is making insane killers or the most obnoxious d-bags likable. It’s more than just charisma, it’s as if he’s managed to some how weaponize likability. You can’t help but like him. Hell, he even makes romcoms watchable. He uses this super power to great effect in The Voices. A mentally unhinged factory worker must decide whether to listen to his talking cat and become a killer, or follow his dog’s advice to keep striving for normalcy. The best performance of his career by a country mile, The Voices is the best use of hitman like likability. He will disarm you will his personality, you will be taken off guard by his talking pets (both voiced by Reynolds) and you will continue to root for him after he fills his refrigerator with severed heads. No other actor could’ve done this role justice and no other actor could’ve gotten it made. It’s a whole lotta messed up but because Reynolds is in it, you’ll love it.
44. Evolution (2015)
There are some artists that are such a singular personality, that even people within their orbit are branded with their style. Once you enter into that world, as either a viewer or a collaborator, you’re signing up for a wholly unique experience. David Lynch is a perfect example of this. His Lynch-ness infected both his daughter, who makes equally weird movies and his ex Isabella Rossellini, who has a penchant for dressing up like bugs and…well, just go watch Green Porno and tell me she wasn’t effected by Lynch.
Another director who’s style is all encompassing is Gaspar Noé. His films are fucking insane and unlike anyone else’s and if you’ve seen them, you know exactly what I’m talking about. So when I tell you that his wife made Evolution, you kind of know what to expect but Lucile Hadžihalilović might actually out crazy her husband. Set on a seaside housing estate who’s only residents are women and boys, Evolution is about an 11 year old who starts to suspect all of his mandatory hospital visits might not be in his best interest. Cloaked in a mystifying atmosphere and possessed by a transfixing, amorphous mood, Evolution is a beautifully strange hybrid of innocence and disturbance.
43. Patrick (1978)
Getting a film recommendation from Tarantino is the literal definition of a gamble. It’s a 50/50 split between being a total hidden gem that’ll become one of your favorite discoveries or an ok film that has something really good about it only he can see. Since he’s a huge fan of Ozploitation, he’s raved about Patrick for years and years and while I can what he likes about it (the slow escalation of dread, creepy tone, great jump scare at the end), it’s a film that might be too good for its own good. Somewhere in this film, are the right ingredients for a proper slice of exploitation sleaze. You take the American cut, which is shorter (which obviously helps with the pacing), the Goblin score from the Italian film and some of the color degrading effects from the sequel Patrick Still Lives! and you probably have a great movie. You’ll be losing the class but who needs class in their exploitation films anyway?
42. Theater of Blood (1973)
To call any Vincent Price film underrated or overlooked is a bit of a misnomer. The man is synonymous horror, with most of his films being classics but amongst his oeuvre, Theater of Blood sticks out as a bit of an outlier. There’s no medieval castles or gothic ambience. It’s not based on a Poe story, nor does it employ any Castle gimmicks. It’s not melodramatic and no one is suffering from paranoia or insanity. It’s just a good ol’ fashioned slasher but by way of Price. Which means there’s tons of black humor, over the top theatrics and one of a kind deaths. It might not be his best movie but it’s possibly his most entertaining.
41. Blood Fest (2018)
The game of death subgenre is amongst the best of all the subgenres in that its perfectly suited for both action and horror. All you need is a group of unwilling contestants fighting for their lives in order to survive. Whether that means navigating deadly traps, confined in an area where they eventually get violent and have to betray each other or forced in a battle arena against other deadly foes. The film can be as big as Battle Royale or as small as Cube. Character driven like Series 7: The Contenders or Cheap Thrills, mystery oriented like Circle or Exam, action packed like 31 or Slashers or crazy as hell like As the Gods Will or the Danganronpa series. The sky is the limit, which is exactly the approach Blood Fest took.
Released around the same time as the similarly themed Hell Fest, Blood Fest became a victim of horrible timing. It came and went with very little fanfare, which is a shame since it’s really fun. A group of horror fans must use their film knowledge in order to survive a series of horror movie related scenarios. It’s a bit like Cabin in the Woods meets the Hunger Games with a splash of Waxworks thrown in. Although its low budget is painfully evident, the characters aren’t annoying, the challenges are fun and the pace is brisk, which for an independent film, means a lot. Is it better than the film that stole its thunder? Eh, not really but it definitely didn’t deserve to die an unceremonious death either.
60-51 | 40-31
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!