Halloween is upon us; you can tell because supermarkets have been selling pumpkin themed decorations and vampire teeth for at least a month. Halloween means scary movies but, if you are bored of watching Friday the 13th on Channel Four every year, you should take a look at one of these lesser known flicks instead of the usual re-runs. This is a list of movies that, for whatever reason, have been overlooked. Who knows? If you dare to take a look, you might find a forgotten classic.
American Mary (2013)
Directed by the Soska sisters, American Mary is a film about a young medical student (Katharine Isabelle) training to be a surgeon, who finds herself alienated from her peers. With debt rising, she resorts to applying to work at a strip club. However, noticing that she has some surgical training, her prospective employer ropes her into performing an illegal surgery in his basement for cash in hand. What follows is a story about a young woman who carves a niche for herself in the world as an extreme body modification surgeon. Isabelle puts in a near perfect performance as Mary. Expect a good chunk of body horror with this one; some of the surgeries are skin crawling.
The Bay (2012)
Ask someone if they remember Barry Levinson’s The Bay and the chances are they won’t. 2012 was a very big year for cinema; Avengers Assemble, The Hunger Games, Breaking Dawn: Part Two, Skyfall, and The Hobbit all hit the multiplexes that year and grabbed everyone’s attention away from smaller projects. The Bay is an environmental disaster horror filmed in found footage style. The story is about Cymothoa Exigua, tongue-eating parasites found in fish, which are mutated by pollution and begin using humans as hosts. What is especially scary is that this kind of thing could theoretically happen in real life.
The ABCs of Death (2012)
Twenty-six short films about death. Honestly, this one is a mixed bag. Some of them are absolutely fantastic (see Lee Hardcastle’s ultra-disturbing ‘T is for Toilet’), but there is the odd stinker (‘G is for Gravity’). That doesn’t matter much though because the individual films are only a few minutes long each so if you don’t particularly like one, you don’t have long to sit through it. Overall it is an intriguing and often abstract look at horror with the occasional political jibe mixed in. And some completely crazy left field stuff from the East Asian directors in the project.
Funny Games (1997)
Directed by Michael Haneke, this Austrian film sets out to shock the audience. Not in a Human Centipede sort of way though; this film actually tries to provoke thoughts that aren’t “oh god, why am I watching this”. The plot follows an affluent German family, on holiday in a country house, who are intruded upon by a pair of sadists who subject them to horrific torture. By breaking the fourth wall, the film is able to question why the audience is watching the film and why they would enjoy such graphic violence. If you like cinema that is intelligent and meaningful then you really ought to see Funny Games.
Bad Taste (1987)
Everyone remembers Peter Jackson for the Lord of the Rings films but he, like so many other talented directors, started out with low budget horror comedies. Bad Taste is a sci-fi comedy horror with a wicked sense of humour, a smattering of remarkably grisly gross-out scenes and a side-splitting scene involving a sheep and a rocket launcher. The plot follows four government men who have been sent to investigate a town in New Zealand, where the inhabitants have mysteriously disappeared in the wake of an alien invasion. It’s worth watching this film as a piece of cinema history; Bad Taste was the film that Jackson needed to make a name for himself in the film industry.
A radio host comes in for what looks like another day at the office until he ends up breaking news on a series of “riots” that escalate into a full blown viral outbreak that turns victims into babbling, enraged, animalistic hosts. It’s essentially a zombie flick, but with an original twist. Pontypool takes place almost entirely in a radio broadcast studio, where information is steadily drip fed to the audience through eye witness reports and external correspondents. We don’t see a zombie until the third act but the film still manages to create a sense of dread and foreboding regardless. Zombie films are so commonplace these days that filmmakers have to produce something special to stand out, which director Bruce McDonald does with aplomb.
The Eye (2002)
I’m talking about the Pang brothers’ master class in suspense and horror and not the 2008 Jessica Alba abomination, the latter of which is sadly what usually comes to mind when western audiences think of The Eye. A young woman has her sight restored by a cornea transplant, but with her new eyes, she can see horrifying spirits that foreshadow deathly fates. What follows from this is a fantastic film that will have you cowering behind the sofa at its most terrifying moments. The Eye proves that not every scene needs to be overstated and that gore is unnecessary to producing a truly masterful supernatural horror.
Martyrs is a divisive film with a stone-faced mood and a pitch black tone. We follow Lucile, who has escaped from captivity as a child where she was tortured and physically abused. We see her grow up, having to cope with the deep psychological scars of her ordeal, to become an embittered young woman seeking revenge on her captors. What follows is a relentlessly brutal film that is often difficult to watch for reasons that, without spoiling anything, go far beyond gore (although there is plenty of that too). Directed by Pascal Laugier, this is definitely one to watch if you thought Hostel and Saw were too cheery.
Lifeforce is a film about space vampires. Space. Vampires. When the crew of a shuttle discover a space ship with three living crew in suspended animation and get them taken back to earth for research, they get more than they bargained for when the vampiric aliens awaken and start to terrorize London. As a premise, this film just shouldn’t work; the idea is beyond ridiculous at a glance (since when has combining two genre tropes actually produced a good film?). However, the whole thing just works. This is mainly because of director Tobe Hooper’s efforts to keep everything fun; even the sections between the scares and the gore. If that doesn’t convince you, Patrick Stewart’s presence in this film should.
The Frighteners (1996)
I tried to avoid putting a second Peter Jackson film on this list, but they are all so entertaining and the only Jackson horror comedy most people have heard of is Braindead. The Frighteners is about a man who is capable of communicating with ghosts of the dead following a traumatic experience and was Michael J Fox’s last leading live action feature film role before his semi-retirement. Hampered at the box office by being released close to Independence Day (the film, not the American national holiday) and further set back by poor advertising campaigns, The Frighteners was not the commercial success it deserved to be.
So, if you feel like you need something different to scare you this Halloween, pick a film off this list and give it a go.