By Robert Bayley
Even those that aren’t considered classics of their form are considered classics of their genre; think of the likes of Friday the 13th, The Last House on the Left and I Walked With a Zombie.
But if you’re a horror buff you‘ve probably already seen these and are looking for some fresh meat this Halloween.
So allow us at Culture Bomb to present you with some new blood you might have underestimated the true terror of, or not realised was lurking in the dark at all: The Top 10 Most Underrated Horror Movies.
10. Tales from the Crypt (1972)
Death lives in the vault of horror!
Quite the rarity, Tales from the Crypt is a horror film adapted from a comic book. An anthology of stories adapted from the EC Comics publication, it has an unfair reputation as a piece of throwaway camp (mostly due to the influence of the later HBO TV series and the Saturday morning cartoon Tales from the Cryptkeeper). However the opening vignette …And All Through The House is honestly one of the most terrifying things this writer has ever seen and disturbingly realistic.
9. The Devils (1971)
Hell holds no surprises for them.
The religious content and imagery of The Devils didn’t go down well in a society barely out of the sixties. Well regarded yet not widely known, the film should be held as a stone cold classic. Starring Oliver Reed, Vanessa Redgrave and directed by Ken Russell at his licentious best, there’s certainly some unpleasant imagery, but the really scary thing is the increasingly powerful sense of dread and the cold corruption of government and power. Sadly it’s very difficult to get hold of on home media.
8. Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
You don’t fuck with the king.
Master of the bizarre Don Coscarelli, most remembered for 1979’s Phantasm, bested his most celebrated work with Bubba Ho-Tep, “a significant piece of American cinema” (WGN Chicago). A string of awards for the script, acting and direction didn’t seem to give the film with such ou`tre´ subject matter the boost it needed. While not as scary a comedy horror as the likes of New Nightmare or Scream, it is one of the more affecting. Anyone who fails to be moved by this poignant metaphor of aging and the treatment of the elderly must be as dead as the titular cowboy mummy himself. A lot also hinges on the work of Bruce Campbell’s career, and what’s a horror movie list without Bruce Campbell anyway? [Editor’s note: Love Campbell forever!]
7. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
This time the terror doesn’t stop at the screen.
A horror that doesn’t take itself too seriously, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is a meta-movie that makes the iconic Freddie Kruger real for the makers of the original series. It’s not just the humour and call-backs to the original series and the genre in general as to why the film succeeds though. Taking back control of his creation, Craven makes Kruger much closer to his original depiction; more sadistic, increasingly repellent, explicitly perverse and much less comical. Treated as a franchise footnote, New Nightmare is even more inspired and frightening than the original.
6. Dog Soldiers (2002)
Six soldiers. Full moon. No chance.
Owing no small debt to classic horror pastiches like The Evil Dead trilogy and An American Werewolf in London, Dog Soldiers delivers brutal gore and violence with its tongue firmly in cheek. The humour and references to the likes of John Wayne and Zulu originally went over many people’s heads, yet even without that, the film still satisfies with its brilliant character interaction, sparky dialogue and a Geordie having a fistfight with a Werewolf.
5. Dead Man’s Shoes (2004)
He’s in all of us.
“This isn’t underrated and it isn’t a horror,” you may cry. Well I would argue that it is. A psychologically damaged person takes violent and lethal revenge on those who have harmed him and his. That’s the main thrust of Friday the 13th, The Burning and Dead Man’s Shoes. The setting and the POV being flipped from the victims’ to the stalker’s may throw people, but few will argue it’s genuinely scary and horrifying. Many don’t see it as a horror and that’s why it’s underrated as one. A truly great film and the highlight of director Shane Meadow’s career thus far [in case you’re wondering, Cheyne-Stoking is a breathing pattern usually afflicting those about to die].
4. The Driller Killer (1979)
The blood runs in rivers… and the drill keeps tearing through flesh and bone.
This film should be played loud. One of Abel Ferrara’s finer films (and only his second after his pornographic debut). The Driller Killer has been called the movie that started the video nasty list, albeit for all the wrong reasons. Well received on release in America, over here in the UK it was a different case due entirely to the marketing campaign. Ferrara, who also plays the killer himself, delivers a nightmarish and nauseating trip through the mind of a painter going insane. Quite artful at times and truly surreal, it’s as intriguing as it is disturbing.
[And it’s also in the public domain, so feel free to watch the entire film, above, courtesy of Culture Bomb!]
3. The Burning (1981)
Don’t look, he’ll see you. Don’t breathe, he’ll hear you. Don’t move… you’re dead!
A mostly forgotten classic arriving at the tail end of the slasher cycle, The Burning delivers some genuinely satisfying shocks. There’s some enjoyably grisly deaths courtesy of the simultaneously vile and sympathetic lunatic, Cropsey . Featuring the slasher genre highlight ‘river raft slaughter’ which earned it a place on the video nasties list, the film was only released totally uncut in 2001. Rick Wakeman’s soundtrack is up there with those of The Thing and Halloween.
2. Videodrome (1983)
First it controls your mind… then it destroys your body.
With his 1983 classic David Cronenberg created the pinnacle of the Body Horror sub-genre. Yes even better than his remake of The Fly. Yet when discussing the man’s oeuvre, few regard it as the peak it is. With elements of 1984 mixed with MTV, the film is incredibly intelligent while still vitally terrifying. Never have such inventively grotesque images been seen and James Woods puts in the performance of his lifetime, while Cronenberg’s script is nothing short of startling. The horror works on all levels, mutilation and gore, paranoia and conspiracy, hallucinatory and yet utterly real. It’s one of the few films able to disgust the viewer while also being able to give them a truly atmospheric chill. It’s a minor classic that deserves to be a major.
1. Black Death (2010)
Journey into Hell.
In the fine British tradition of ‘burn the heretic’ style horror movies, Black Death is the modern successor to the classic Witchfinder General. If one were to try and sum up the tone, narrative and even the characters of Black Death, all could be covered with the word ‘doomed’. The atmosphere is thick as blood, you feel a damp cold just watching it and you can practically taste the plague. Not since Valhalla Rising has a film been so relentlessly bleak. Genuinely fine performances and an intelligent damnation of the madness of religion back up a film which is both brutal and spine-tingling. In the future, people will compare this to The Wicker Man.
Faces of Death (1978)
Banned in 46 Countries!
Taking the Mondo style of film started with Mondo Cane to its logical conclusion, Conan Le Cilaire’s film set new standards in what was acceptable for major releases. These days you’ll only find this hiding in dark corners of larger film shops on sub-labels like Vipco’s Vaults of Horror, but it had a real impact on release and challenged the morality of largely distributed media in its day. The one-time world record holder for Film Banned in Most Countries, however, has aged badly. Even since this writer watched it as a teenager the faked death scenes now seem amusingly so. Those that aren’t only demonstrate an increasingly dated and childish attitude towards the macabre that even Antropophagus: The Beast and Mary Whitehouse favourite, Eaten Alive wouldn’t stoop to in the late 70s/early 80s death-obsessed heyday. It doesn’t get enough attention for changing the face of horror as it did, but then it’s just not that good a film.
So there you have it, children on the damned, Culture Bomb’s Top 10 Most Underrated Horror Movies. Agree? Disagree? Want to complain that 28 Weeks Later, Pumpkinhead and the original Black Christmas weren’t included? Comment below.
Remember, don’t have nightmares. If you can’t sleep, just sing yourself a nursery rhyme…