Most horror films are the emotional equivalent of winning the 100-yard dash against Dom DeLuise and every year the press recycles the same article on horror films for Halloween – Halloween, Blair Witch Project, Pippi Longstocking and so on. Like songs you’ve heard so often that they’ve lost their meaning entirely, the usual batch are now about as terrifying as a sheet filled with holes. To counteract this beige malaise, we present 10 underrated films for your viewing agony.
The Mist (2007, available on a Genius Products DVD)
Most Stephen King adaptations are almost lethally stupid in their obviousness, but this one is absolutely suffused with dread, almost from the first frame. Interdimensional monsters attack townsfolk barricaded inside a supermarket and, naturally, their frailties surface and they turn on one another. Spiders that nest in human bodies and shoot webs of acid, tentacles with suckers that double as hungry mouths, and sky-high elephantine creatures are the highlights of this beautifully miserable, depressing film.
The Addiction (1995, currently only available as a Spanish R2 DVD)
Abel Ferrara presents vampirism as a kind of drug addiction. Lili Taylor is bitten and succumbs. Christopher Walken advises her that she can kick the habit and should read Naked Lunch. Includes a mass vampire attack at a party from which there is no escape.
Alone in the Dark (1982, available from Image DVD)
Darkly funny, grim slasher film released at the height of the cycle, in which Donald Pleasance’s patients escape a mental institution and attack a family in their home over the course of one night. Not just a series of faceless killers, these are maniacs with personality, crystallized by the driven, pathological menace of Jack Palance and the twitchy, demonic Martin Landau.
The Burning (1981, available from MGM DVD)
This is the story of camp caretaker Cropsy and how he was almost burned to death by prankish kids. He returns and slaughters as many as he can find. Originally rated X for violence, it’s one of the few slasher films in which the rage and sorrow of the killer is played out in vicious counterpoint to the thoughtlessness of the kids. The suffering is palpable, and that’s partially why it was rated X: realistic torment is something the MPAA cannot countenance.
The Island (1980, currently only available as a German R2 DVD)
Modern-day descendents of 17th-century pirates plague Michael Caine and his son, who’s kidnapped by pirate leader David Warner. They plunder and annihilate coked-up pleasure cruisers and hapless sailors across the Caribbean. The final scene, in which Caine gets his righteous revenge on the buccaneering bastards, is one of the most cathartic moments in cinematic history.
Maniac (1980, available from Blue Underground DVD)
Character study of a grubby Oedipal psychopath and his absolutely revolting murders (courtesy of the great Tom Savini’s early makeup work) make this bizarre and compelling piece of trash difficult to watch but never dull. So disturbing that it made Sylvester Stallone urge titular maniac Joe Spinell to seek professional help. Unrated for violence, of course.
Shivers (1975, available from Image DVD)
David Cronenberg tells this story of an isolated apartment complex besieged by parasites that unleash all the violent and sexual impulses of its inhabitants. Viscerally repellent and claustrophobic. It got him thrown out of his apartment by disgusted Torontonians. I can’t even discuss any more of the plot. Just thinking about it makes me ill. Highly recommended.
Dead of Night (1974, available from Rykodisc DVD as “Deathdream”)
This variation on “The Monkey’s Paw” finds a mother wishing for her dead son’s return home from Vietnam – when he does, he needs blood and he takes it the hard way. The climax, during which the rapidly decomposing undead soldier jumps into a grave he’s dug and starts pulling earth over himself, is one of the most starkly pitiful scenes you will ever see.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973, not available on DVD!)
Kim Darby wonders why there’s a bricked-up fireplace in the basement of her new house and has the handyman take care of it. She starts to hear whispers in the night and then sees frightening little gnome-like creatures intent on dragging her into their netherworld. Of course, everyone thinks she’s bonkers. Of course! Most made-for-television horror films could put a marble into a coma, they’re so boring — thankfully, this one didn’t disappoint. F