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Seven Underrated Horror Films

September 23, 2015

‘Tis the season to indulge in horror, fa-la-la-la-la-la EEE, EEE, EEE! That’s right, it’s that time again–time to hunker down with greasy popcorn and chocolate candies, and get your fright on. It’s a glorious time of year, as it affords us all the opportunity to scare the snot out of ourselves without incurring any guilt or condemnation. And after the season is over we can get back to our action movies, romantic comedies, and the ever-sacrosanct “serious” films. Indeed, advertising and the industry have been pushing Halloween since August, so you might as well get your money’s worth!

But we all know cable and TV channels will play the same old stuff that you’ve been watching for the last twenty years. Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Night of the Living Dead, Texas Chainsaw, Friday the 13th, etc. will dominate the airwaves and saturate the senses.

However, if you’re looking for something a little different to blow back your fright wig, here are some overlooked gems of get your heart a-racin’!

The Invasion

Taking on a classic like Invasion of the Body Snatchers is never a good idea, but this 2007 remake featuring a terror-stricken Nicole Kidman as Carol Bennell, a psychologist hunted by aliens while protecting her only son, manages to honor the original atmosphere of suspense and tension while updating the seminal concept with modern challenges, including pharmaceutical dependence and pandemic fears. The ending has been criticized for being a bit too tidy, and that may be true, but the sense of dread abides long after the end credits. Like many of the films on this list, The Invasion received generally poor reviews upon release, but that’s how you get on an underrated list, isn’t it?

Frailty

Bill Paxton plays a single father, Dad Meiks, trying to rid the world of demons and, concurrently terrorizing his two adolescent boys in this family drama-horror thriller. Frailty’s bravura is in its highly original premise, and the shocking plot twists that roll out in devastating waves. The tension ratchets up to excruciating levels as dad and the boys struggle to live with the awesome responsibility of killing demons, and the attendant disorientation of exterminating evil. The two young actors, Matthew O’Leary and Jeremy Sumpter are excellent, and Matthew McConaughey gives a chilling performance as Dad Meiks’ grown son, a young man hoping to come to terms with his father’s legacy.

Cube

More an allegorical tale than a horror film, Cube derives its scares from prevailing human behavior rather than supernatural hijinks. Seven complete strangers find themselves trapped in a seemingly endless maze replete with lethal booby traps, and the only way to survive is by depending on one another. But people are flawed, and escape is never easy; kind of like life. Be forewarned, Cube moves at a glacial pace, and there’s very little in the way of splatter or gore, but it delivers in suspense and drama, and the insane tension of claustrophobia. It could also be argued that Cube is a prescient film as it predates Saw and its many imitators.

Near Dark

Kathryn Bigalow’s first film is one wild ride through blood-soaked honky-tonks and desolate hotels. Caleb, a young cowboy, falls for a lovely, mysterious girl only to find that she’s “turned” him into a bloodthirsty creature of the night. Caleb takes up with a bunch of ravenous vampires on an endless road trip, but his reticence to feed is a definite problem. It’s interesting to note that the word vampire is never used, and Near Dark eschews many of the vampire clichés of fanciful flights and wanton romanticism. Bill Paxton steals the show here as a rednecked ghoul out for kicks and cheap thrills as much as blood and guts. Just watch for the brutal tavern scene! Near Dark is a very gory film with images of intense brutality, but if you have the stomach, it’s one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite horror films!

Jack’s Back

Don’t let the lame title fool you; Jack’s Back is a gripping psychological thriller starring a young James Spader as two very different twin brothers. When an apparent serial killer honoring the anniversary of Jack the Ripper’s slayings kills med student John Wesford, twin brother Rick goes after the maniac with steely vengeance. But, is Rick himself the killer? Everyone loves a whodunit, and Jack’s Back is a good one. But that’s not all by a long stretch; Jack’s Back displays equal parts murder mystery, occult thriller, noir drama, and bada– revenge flick. This should have been a breakout role for Spader as his acting chops and charisma are on full display, but the picture wasn’t marketed intelligently, and it fell through the cracks and landed in the dreaded B movie horror bin. Real shame because Jack’s Back is killer!

The House of the Devil

2009’s The House of the Devil moves very slowly, but it packs a punch; this one is high on atmosphere and creep, and decidedly low on action. Jocelin Donahue plays a college student desperately trying to make her rent, but when she takes a job grannysitting for an eccentric couple, her best friend is murdered, and things get tense. The criticism laid on THOTD is that it is derivative of classic 70’s horror, and that critique is warranted. But writer-director Ti West approaches his subject matter with such reverence and skill, the film comes off as a cool period piece rather than a cheap knockoff. Tom Noonan, who played the original Hannibal Lector in 1986’s Manhunter, gives a super creepy performance as the lanky and menacing Mr. Ulman, and Mary Woronov delivers another whacked-out, bizarre, and terrifying character as the sinister Mrs. Ulman. For those who like their horror hard and fast, this movie is not for you; but if you appreciate a slow build and satisfying resolution, The House of the Devil delivers!

The Ruins

The Ruins will, quite literally, get under your skin. When a group of college-age friends visit the Mayan ruins, local villagers inexplicably trap them at the top of a sacred mountain. With their food and water supply running low, the kids are forced to try to make their way down the mountainside, but at the same time, they must care for a badly hurt comrade. And to make matters worse–and this film just keeps getting worse and worse–there is a toxic germ infiltrating the youngsters’ bodies and brains. The Ruins is a fairly bloody affair, and it’s pretty high on the dread factor, but it also makes great use of moral dilemmas, the bonds of friendship, and survival under the most extreme circumstances. This one is not for the squeamish, but your heart will still be racing long after the end credits!

So, any underrated horror films we missed? And are these films underrated or just plain bad? Please be nice in your comments, as “important” discussions like these have torn family and friends apart. ‘Tis the season!