The great director Alfred Hitchcock liked to explain the definition of suspense with the "bomb theory." Imagine you are watching a movie. Two characters are seated at a table chatting mindlessly, and suddenly, a bomb goes off. The viewers experience surprise. However, suppose you tell the viewers there is a bomb under the table way before it explodes. The characters chat mindlessly, ignorant of the menace. In that case, the banal conversation will be suspenseful, with the audience anticipating the blast. Let us build up a bit on that analogy. Horror is, then, when the bomb explodes. You can see how it tears apart the characters - and by the magic of identification, you - limb by limb. It's not anticipating something awful but going through it. The pain is yours.
October brings us the usual share of classics' revivals, remakes, and debuts aiming to enter the canon. But there is more fun in digging for those great movies than somehow eluded the success they deserved or fell into oblivion for the whims of the market, studio-concentrated distributors, or franchise-devotee audiences. There are many, many movies meriting the badge of "underrated." Here's a short list of ten to entice you to seek them out.
Before "The Blair Witch Project" (Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez, 1999), considered one of the best horror movies ever made, there was "Ghost Watch." A BBC TV special directed by Lesley Manning, it broke down the wall between fact and fiction by taking the format of an investigative TV show documenting the paranormal shenanigans a vengeful spirit unleashes on a single mother and her two daughters. To enhance the credibility, Manning recruited real-life TV presenters to appear as themselves, anchoring the show and reporting the story "live." Some people thought the events were real as they unfolded, despite the credits at the start - perhaps they tuned in late? -. Once the jig was up, enough people got so mad that The Beeb, fearing for its reputation, buried the program for years, which helped to build a cult around it. "Found footage" classic horror films like "REC" (Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza, 2007) would not exist without it.
Producer, director, and actor Larry Fessenden is a cult figure whose influence expands beyond his native New York. He is the kind of personality other directors seek because he is so awesome. You can hear his voice in Martin Scorsese's "Killer of the Flower Moon" (2023) and see him as a hard-ass military man facing the uncanny in Ted Geoghegan's "Brooklyn 45" (2023). His maverick, low budget movies earned him that cachet. Perhaps the best is "Habit," his disturbing take on vampirism, a story so good he had to make it twice. There is an early 1982 version shot on video, but the 1992 rename is the one to watch - and the only one available on home video. Following the true indie orchestra-man, he also stars as Sam, an alcoholic mourning the death of his father and the end of a relationship. He is easy prey for a bloodsucking beauty in such a vulnerable state.
Sisters Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and Ginger (Katherine Isabelle) enter a nightmare world when a werewolf bites one of them. The girl undergoes an alarming transformation. The teen minefield of dating and school politics goes overdrive as animal aggression takes over Ginger's body and personality. A great addition to the "Canuksploitation" movement, with a welcome feminist streak - David Cronenberg would be proud. Even though it inspired two quickie sequels, it never got the recognition it deserved. For years, it was only available in an egregious pan-and-scan version.
Director Lucky McKee's feature film debut follows a lonely, lazy-eyed outcast whose attempts at developing friendships and romantic relationships backfire with bloody results. Angela Bettis plays the title character, a lonely, socially inept veterinarian assistant who manages to charm a hunky mechanic as a boyfriend (Jeremy Sisto). She successfully moves a lesbian coworker (Anna Faris) to the friend zone. You can feel the clock ticking towards the inevitable collapse. The movie was hard to watch for years, but now you can find it for rent on most streaming services. Be alert to the editing job of a young Rian Johnson. That kid is going places.
Ryan Reynolds turned off his annoying tics for enough time to perform in this horror film by director Rodrigo Cortés. The man who would be Deadpool is pretty good as Paul Conroy, a truck driver who takes on a job as a private contractor in Iraq. The pay is great, probably because the country is at war, and Americans are not welcome. We piece all this information about Paul on the go. When the movie starts, he is already buried alive inside a coffin somewhere in the desert. A cell phone allows his kidnappers to call him, making gruesome demands. At least he can reach out to his family, employers, and authorities, desperately seeking help. Will they be able to reach him in time? Spanish director Rodrigo Cortes belongs to the same generation as Juan Antonio Bayona (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) but failed to break into Hollywood. Still, this claustrophobic wonder is well worth your time.
Director Karyn Kusama was burned twice by the Hollywood machine, first with the mangled comic hero drama "Aeon Flux" (2005) and then with the badly promoted feminist horror piece "Jennifer's Body" (2009). It's no wonder that her follow-up, "The Invitation," was independently produced, granting her full control of the material. Alas, without the marketing muscle of the studios behind it, the movie never got the attention it deserved. Logan Marshall-Green plays Will, a man reuniting with his estranged ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard), who invites him to a dinner party to meet her new husband (Michel Huisman) and reconnect with old friends. As the evening progresses, Will begins to feel things are not quite right. Is it the grief of facing Eden for the first time, years after their young son died? Or something more sinister is afoot? You can feel Kusama's first-hand knowledge of cultish new-age Angelenos coloring the drama. And the final scene is a doozy. Don't miss it. Not to be confused with the vampire horror movie "The Invitation" (Jessica M. Thompson, 2022), starring "Game of Thrones"' Natalie Emanuele.
Some might think it's strange to include a movie by Art House provocateur Gaspar Noe in a list of horror movies, but this is a hill where I'll gladly die, poisoned by acid-spiked sangria. That beverage wreaks havoc on a crew of urban dancers locked in an isolated community center during a snowstorm. It's their last rehearsal before a tour of the US. Very soon, you will realize the show will not go on. Once the drug has its way through their synapses, the monsters they hide inside destroy one another. FiTwo amazing musical numbers and a never-better Sofia Boutella make this a must-watch if you can stomach it. Not for nothing, Coolness Gatekeeper A24 released it.
Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Masaku play a couple of refugees from South Sudan entering the maze of social services in England. Their government-issued house may require a fix, but at least it is safer than the war they left behind until a vengeful specter manifests itself. Is it the trauma they can't leave behind or a new set of horrors? A social problem rarely finds such a powerful consideration in fiction and the horror genre. Rami Weeks deservedly won Best Director at the British Independent Film Awards and Outstanding Debut at the 2021 BAFTAS. Still, stateside, the movie dissipated in the fog that eats up most of Netflix's acquisitions.
A much-bullied, overweight teenage girl (Laura Galán) and a serial killer (Richard Holmes) forge a dangerous bond when she witnesses him taking her tormentors hostage in this darkhearted comedy from Spain. Director Carlota Pereda imbues the proceedings with a profound perception of social mores and the ambiance of a small Spanish town in the dog days of summer. Best of all, Galán provides a beautiful performance about a vulnerable young woman finding inner strength in a dire situation. "Piggy" is one of the best movies out of Sundance 2022. You can read our interview with Pereda. This is where cult classic movies and great horror meet.
The Italian director Luca Guadagnino followed up his misguided, bloated remake of "Suspiria" (Dario Argento, 1978) with its perfect opposite: an original, desolate horror romance set in the heartland with a small cast of actors: no otherworldly shenanigans here nor supernatural tropes. Taylor Russell and Thimotée Chalamet are aces, playing a couple of young lovers united by their hunger for human flesh. Mark Rylance is the creepy elder hounding them, looking for company or a bite. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross bless the bloody proceedings with a killer score, by turns dreamy and nightmarish. Guadagnino took Best Director and Russell Best Young Actress at the Venice Film Festival, but "Chalamaniacs" and moviegoers failed to materialize for the US theatrical run. It's their loss.
After getting into a school fight, a young boy receives a box that once opened, reveals a part of himself he deeply fears.Stream Now
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