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10 Overlooked Horror Movies

Horror Movies for Halloween You May Have Missed

By Rob Vaux     October 26, 2009

 

 
Paranormal Activity has arrived out of the blue to become a massive hit… followed, no doubt, by the inevitable popular backlash, poorly conceived sequels, and direct-to-video knock-offs obscuring its otherwise terrific pedigree. But not every film in the genre has enjoyed its surprise success, despite being first-rate efforts unto themselves. Here are 10 movies from the last 25 years well worth a second look for your Halloween delight.
 

10. Below

The notion of combining a haunted house movie with a submarine movie may seem like a gimmick at first, but in the hands of director David Twohy, it becomes a quietly brilliant exercise in paranoia. Both settings feature darkness, spooky noises, and enclosed spaces with no easy way out. And when a group of castaways are rescued by a patrolling sub at the height of World War II, they soon find the similarities closer than they can bear. The boat seems cursed for one thing, with strange accidents a matter of course. Then there's the question of the missing captain, who no one else seems eager to talk about. Look for current comedy It Guy Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover) in an early role.
 
 

9. Carriers

When Carriers was hustled into theaters last month, it felt like a quickie attempt to cash in on star Chris Pine's newfound success as Captain Kirk. It turns out to be a modestly cool little thriller on its own. As a worldwide epidemic causes the collapse of civilization, four teenagers attempt to flee to safety in their car. When it breaks down in the middle of nowhere, they must fight off not only the infected but their own need to survive at any cost.
 
 

8. The Devil's Backbone

Before becoming genre royalty with the likes of Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy, Guillermo Del Toro helmed this 2002 effort about a ghost in a boy's orphanage during the Spanish Civil War. He expertly contrasts the industrial horrors of battle with something much older, making beautiful use of mood and atmosphere in what amounts to a single large set. (Trivia note: Several of the characters here make unnamed appearances in Pan's Labyrinth.)
 

 

7. In the Mouth of Madness

John Carpenter's last truly great film made little impact when it was released in 1995. That's a shame, because it remains a gleeful--and gleefully scary--bit of social satire. An author (Jurgen Prochnow) whose books literally drive people mad goes missing, along with his latest text. Sam Neill playing a cynical insurance investigator hired to track him down, only to find the path leading straight into the pages of the author's text. Carpenter pays loving homage to H.P. Lovecraft--with monsters bearing a more-than-passing resemblance to the Old Ones--even as he deftly skewers social censors who believe they can fix everything by banning what they don't like.
 
 

6. Inside

Europe has seen an incredible output of top-notch genre films in the last few years, not the least of which is this 2007 French effort about a very pregnant woman (Alysson Paradis) stalked by mysterious figure in her home. The violence is quite intense, but unlike the Sawfilms and their ilk, it has a lot more in its corner than blood and guts.
 


 

5. Near Dark

Twilight fans need to be strapped down in the A Clockwork Orange chair and made to watch this 1987 vampire film from director Katherine Bigelow. Masterfully combining the undead with the tenets of a modern Western, she posits a clan of wandering nomads who never age and must drink blood every night to stay alive. They prowl honky-tonk bars and backwoods truck stops, dragging an innocent farmboy (Heroes'Adrian Pasdar) with them almost on a whim. For people whose notion of bloodsuckers starts and ends with Stephanie Meyer, Near Dark is a bracing introduction to what the genre is really all about.
 
 

4. Prince of Darkness

Carpenter's other great forgotten movie comes from 1987: The story of an investigative team that discovers a strange cylinder containing the essence of evil in an old church. Though it holds elements of other Satanic stories, it stays away from cheesy pentagrams and Doberman pinschers in favor of a more nuanced philosophy. It's no less frightening for the shift however… especially when Alice Cooper and an army of possessed street people come knocking on the church's door.
 
 

3. Session 9

Otherworldly evil never shows its face in Session 9, though it remains a palpable unseen presence. A clean-up company is assigned to clear the asbestos out of an abandoned lunatic asylum. In the process, they uncover a series of tapes--apparently covering a patient's therapy session--which casts a strange spell over the crew's leader. The horrors limit themselves to quiet manifestations… until the last five minutes, which feature sights and sounds that linger in nightmares for weeks.
 
 

2. Severance

If horror-comedy is your thing, check out this 2007 British import, about a group of office drones on a corporate-mandated retreat. The catch? They work for a weapons firm, the retreat is in Romania, and thanks to some poor directions, they end up in a patch of woods controlled by sociopathic recipients of their company's hardware. Things quickly deviate from the approved schedule of coworker bonding.
 


1. Splinter

Director Toby Wilkins posits a slick variation on the classic zombie movie with a parasite that causes its victims to sprout alien spines all over their bodies. Several of the uninfected take refuge in a gas station, and their standard-issue fight for survival is augmented by Wilkins' excellent sense of tone. Syfy reruns this one on a regular basis… proving that even they aren't totally devoid of quality movies.
 
 

 


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COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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Richard J. 10/26/2009 6:23:37 AM

Happy to see In The Mouth Of Madness on this list.  It's an old favorite of mine and I've always felt it was highly under-rated.  Some of the effects could use some work but it's plot is excellent.  Sam Neil really did a great job in it.

LOL on that bit about SyFy's movies.  Most of them really do suck so I never even tried Splinter.  Have to give it a try now I guess.

TigerPrime 10/26/2009 6:54:52 AM

I love In the Mouth of Madness, scared the crap outta me the first time I watched it (and subsequently led to my love of Lovecraft). Splinter surprised me, I watched it on my computer from Netflix, and even viewing it that way was creepy. Watched Session 9 a long time ago, don't remember it much other than it was indeed uber-creepy. may have to re-visit it. Thanks, great list!

ponyboy76 10/26/2009 7:25:15 AM

I haven't seen most of these movies. I have seen Severance though and the story is pretty freaking crazy but it is pretty funny too.

avidfan 10/26/2009 7:35:10 AM

Good list.  One Ommission- Frailty.  This is one of the best.  Thanks for including Mouth of Madness... Sutter Kane rules!  Please check out http://www.persona-non-grata.com maniacs!

twomcs 10/26/2009 7:38:48 AM

 Speaking of Sam Neil, I also love Event Horizon!

Wiseguy 10/26/2009 8:23:44 AM

twomcs hit it on the head, IMHO the most underrated sci/fi horror flick ever Event Horizon.

Prince of Darkness is right on Rob, after Halloween this is Carpenter's best horror film but for some reason it never got the recognition it deserved

Devil's Backbone and Session 9 were crap to me, haven's seen Inside with the "very pregnant woman". I can agree with most of the list though

I would've added The Brood and Trick 'r Treat, Night Flier or PumpkinHead to replace those 3. TrT is fairly new but it never got that wide release but I'm sure it's going to catch on as time passes by. I mean who wouldn't love Sam

Like avidfan I love Frailty but I wouldn't necessarily classify it as horror, but definitely an underrated film with a very good cast (IMO) and twist

Chopsaki 10/26/2009 8:46:21 AM

I caught Splinter one night on the Syfy channel and was pleasantly suprised. I don't know if it's because my expectations are low when I tune in but it was entertaining.

silversurfer 10/26/2009 9:26:46 AM

I own In the Mouth of Madness and Prince of Darkness....I do agree that those are great movies, and happy to see that they made this list.

Near Dark is a very good movie...and it does give you a very clear idea of what a Vampire/Horror movie should be like....I enjoy it whenver I get to see it....

torvar72 10/26/2009 9:28:03 AM

In The Mouth Of Madness and Near Dark both great movies. In fact I took a date to the theater the weekend In The Mouth Of Madness came out and it scared the hell out of her. Fraility is another great film that makes you go WTF just happened ate the end of it.

MrOptimusPrime 10/26/2009 10:30:01 AM

I also own In the Mouth of Maddness and Prince of Darkness on DVD and they are great movies.  I ahve not seen the rest but they all sound like they are going on my most wanted watchlists for movies.  I am always up for a really good, outside of the Hollywood mainstream tells us this movie should scare the crap out of you, flick.  Maybe my Halloween won't suck so bad this year after all.....now if I can just get a beautiful woman to watch these with me who is scared easily!!!  Oh well!!!

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