Fresh smell in the air, leaves languidly falling to the ground, ghouls and goblins popping up here and there—it must be that time again. Time for tricks and treats and time to check out some spooky horror films! And if you’re tired of the tried and true horror staples and boring old zombie movies, here are a few underestimated, undervalued, undermined, underrepresented, and under-heralded diamonds in the rough!

Creep

Given the general tenor and emotional cringiness of this low-budget/no-budget horror flick, the title should actually be Creepy!–because this is one creepy motion picture. The ever-versatile and DIY filmmaker Mark Duplass stars as Josef, an overly friendly dying man with terminal brain cancer. He employs the financially strapped videographer Aaron, played by the film’s director Patrick Brice, to chronicle his last days on this plane. What follows is an increasingly uneasy and unnerving business relationship which gradually sheers off the rails. Creep employs the found-footage technique to great effect here as the video diary aspect of the film seems altogether germane to the story. This is essentially a two-man play, but Mark Duplass steals the show. He manages to portray an affable, if not goofy, companion who effectively hides an outrageously hideous dark side. The ending of Creep is a bit dodgy, but what horror movie isn’t? Regardless, it doesn’t detract from a truly horrifying journey shared by two lost souls in a lost world.

Edge of Sanity

1989’s Edge of Sanity finds the notorious horror icon Anthony Perkins in peak form. Not since his role as both Norman and Mother in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho has Anthony struck such fear, dread, and terror in the hearts of his audience. He plays a brooding Dr. Jekyl in Victorian London experimenting with the new wonder drug cocaine; but, when his laboratory blows up in a freak accident, the good doctor inadvertently inhales a monstrous whiff of pure freebase. Enter Dr. Hide–a freewheeling London hipster who haunts the streets of Whitechapel with a crack pipe in one hand and a scalpel in the other! Who knew Jack the Ripper was a crack head? Perkins plays the somber Dr. Jekyl and the cracked-out and unhinged Dr. Hide with equal self-possession. And as the old bobbies close in on the renowned physician, the tension ratchets up to unbearable levels. Be forewarned: Edge of Sanity doesn’t skimp on the corn syrup and the images can be gruesome. But if you’re in the mood for a wild ride through the darkest streets of London, Edge of Sanity is your Huckleberry!

1408

“Nothing would make me happier than to experience a paranormal event.” Those are the famous last words by the burned-out ghost hunter and failed novelist, Mike Enslin. Suffice it to say, Mike comes to regret such an insouciant utterance. This film, like many on underrated lists, got ripped by critics upon release. Thereupon, the film was dead on arrival. But 1408 just might deserve another look. In a near pitch-perfect performance, John Cusack loses his daughter and ends up searching for the meaning of life through the investigation of supernatural phenomenon. Enslin checks into the notorious room 1408 of the Dolphin hotel to ostensibly debunk reports of paranormal activity, and predictably, things spiral out of control rather quickly. Simple premise, yes–cliche even. But in room 1408, Mike Enslin’s descent into a hellish phantasmagoria makes a bad acid trip look like a stroll along the Santa Monica bluffs on a Hulu bicycle. This film is Twilight Zone on steroids. And be on the lookout for a surprisingly understated performance by Samuel L. Jackson as the reluctant hotel manager Gerald Olin. Sam’s tete a tete with John Cusack’s Mike Enslin is a masterclass for aspiring actors.

Race with the Devil

For those of you who wanna go old school, this is your jam. Race with the Devil is B-grade horror at its finest. Originally a TV movie and later a drive-in favorite, Race with the Devil features an A+ cast including the Easy Rider himself, Peter Fonda; the great character actor Warren Oats; and Loretta Swit, “Hot Lips” Houlihan from Mash. Two ordinary couples jump in a RV and hit the rode on a carefree vacation only to be stalked and relentlessly pursued by a band of rabid satanists. The pacing of this film is just so good you can’t help but get caught up in the ultimate hell ride. And the Deliverance-like rural characters are an ultimate menace on a fundamentally visceral, and even primal, level. Pure horror!

In 2009’s House of the Devil, another underrated gem, the title card reads, “During the 1980’s over 70% of American adults believed in the existence of abusive Satanic cults.” Race with the Devil makes such effective use of that underlying fear and latent paranoia; when the credits roll you just might wonder if there’s anyone left out there to trust!

So, it must be asked, are these horror films underrated classics or pure B-movie schlock? And how about your own underrated gems? Please share!

 

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