Putting together a most under-rated horrors list is not an easy task, especially when one needs to define the parameters. Instead of focusing on a critical or a popular lack of appeal, I chose to do a culmination of both for this list. In addition, I did not include the many films that may be hard to get, such as POSSESSION (UK, 1980), yet have a strong, and well deserved, cult following. Moreover, TRICK ‘R TREAT (2008) may not have appeared in theatres, but it had one of the most successful direct to video launches of all time, and has been well received by critics and horror fans. Cult favorites and inspiring direct to video horrors are two future lists.
For whatever reason, due to poor distribution, a lack of international exposure, or simply because the film was lost in a sea of other horrors, the following amazing movies may not have received the attention they deserved. Maybe this is why 75% of the list comes from the 2000s. As time marches on, I have no doubt that many of the films from the 2000s will find larger and more appreciative audiences. Then again, some movies may have been under-respected, yet are worthy of another look.
The list begins with the best of the best, and includes some brief comments. For those four star movies, a “one-liner” will hopefully whet your appetite. Either way, all of this films should be given a whirl:
The Last Wave (Australia, 1977) – 4.5 stars
Peter Weir’s dramatic tale follows lawyer David Burton (Richard Chamberlain) as he defends five Aboriginal men in a case of murder. What he uncovers, however, is a prophesy that may lead to an Apocalypse.
Habit (1995) – 4.5 stars
Writer, director, and star, Larry Fessenden brings us the story of a New York City man whose new girlfriend may be a vampire. The dramatic tension and realism, makes the supernatural probability all the more potent and unsettling.
Office Killer (1997) – 4.5 stars
With Carol Kane, Molly Ringwald, and Jeanne Tripplehorn, it’s amazing how Cindy Sherman’s witty and comedic thriller ended up almost lost and forgotten. The tale is dark, and sometimes disturbing, but shines with excellent characters and dialogue.
Blood: The Last Vampire (Japan, 2000) – 5 stars
Many seemed to write this one off because it’s anime. But it’s one of the most visually stunning anime features you will ever sink your teeth into as you follow vampire hunter Saya on a US military base. Director Hiroyuki Kitakubo was the key animator for AKIRA (Japan, 1988).
Love Object (2004) – 5 stars
Desmond Harrington’s office worker can’t meet women, so he buys the best life-size doll money can buy. Then, of course, he meets a beautiful woman in Melissa Sagemiller. Now what the hell does he do? Rip Torn and Udo Kier round out the cast in this stellar and strange tale.
Shutter (Thailand, 2000) – 4.5 stars
Forget the mind-numbingly stupid US version. Directors Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom bring one great story with a car crash full of scares after a photographer sees strange images in his pictures after an accident.
The Uninvited Guest (Spain, 2004) – 4.5 stars
Claustrophobic and unsettling, Felix (Andoni Gracia) let’s a stranger into his home to use the phone – and the guy vanishes. If you hate the feeling that someone’s behind you, Guillem Morales’s film will do this to you from start to finish.
Premonition (Japan, 2004) – 4.5 stars
It’s a newspaper of death that will get you, but not with the silly punch sometimes associated with haunted items. Instead, a father does his best to find out what happened to his daughter, and how he can change her fate.
Isolation (Ireland, 2005) – 4.5 stars
Writer/director Billy O’Brien delivers a science fiction/horror that gets under one’s skin. And it all happens on one isolated farm where Dan (John Lynch) fights to keep a horror at bay that may destroy his farm – and all those around him.
Head Trauma (2006) – 4.5 stars
Lance Weiler, of THE LAST BROADCAST (1998) fame, does it again with an even more riveting film. Here, George (Vince Mola), returns home after a twenty year absence, only to suffer paranoid inducing nightmares after a head injury.
Red Victoria (2007) – 4.5 stars
Anthony Brownrigg wrote, directed, edited, shot, produced, and starred in this feature with a micro-budget. Sure, that’s a bunch of red flags, but he delivers a solid and witty tale with Arianne Margot leading him astray.
Sublime (2007) – 4.5 stars
Tom Cavanagh (George) will amaze as a man in a hospital who experiences terror in a bizarre alter reality. This horror fantasy will keep you guessing as well as freaked out, as George brings his fears to reality.
Grace (2009) – 5 stars
This masterpiece from Paul Solet is a clinic in character development and storytelling. Definitely one of the genre’s most underappreciated. Jordan Ladd stars as a mother with a major baby problem after the child miraculously comes to life after being stillborn.
The Skeptic (2009)
Starring Tim Daly, Tom Arnold, and Edward Herrmann, one would think this would be a comedy fest. Instead, the drama unfolds along with trepidation and paranoia in the face of the supernatural. Zoe Saldana also stars.
Antiviral (Canada, 2012)
Sure, it’s directed by David Cronenberg’s son Brandon, but it’s clear the young man earned the privilege due to his own skills and vision. The phenomenal Caleb Landry Jones stars as a man who will deliver your favorite celebrities ailments so you can feel close to them.
Excision (2012) – 4.5 stars
Richard Bate’s tale of a dysfunctional family with an even more dysfunctional daughter, will overwhelm you with wit, style, and theme. And even though the cast is wonderful, AnnaLynne McCord steals the show along with Itay Gross’s remarkable cinematography.
Resolution (2012) – 4.5 stars
If you’ve been looking for a horror that has one unique premise that leads to a mind-blowing end, this one’s for you. The acting’s solid, and the story unfolds in such a way, you will never know what’s coming around the corner.
Part II next week. In the meantime, I’d love to know what horror films you consider to be under-appreciated.
(Photo from Day of Woman.)
We take a look at both Meir Zarchi’s original I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, as well as Steven R. Monroe’s 2010 remake. The notions of misogyny and female vengeance are explored, and we look at what makes both movies stand on their own. Better still, we also look at other fair, such as THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, THE ACCUSED, and how Roger Ebert’s comments about both films don’t hold much pond water.
On the morning of June 2, I was driving over an hour to the shooting destination for CASE #5930, the crime thriller I would directing. In the passenger seat: long time friend, and a fantastic screenwriter, David McDonald, who’d serve as the production assistant on set. When I asked him why he wanted to take part in the project, he said, “It’s filmmaking 101 for me.” My reply, “Well, it’s filmmaking 101 for me, too. It’s always filmmaking 101.”
I wasn’t being a smartass by any means. Each film presents its own challenges whether due to ever looming financial restraints, location problems, weather, personnel – and stuff you can’t even dream of until it leaps out at you.
CASE #5930 first came to my attention in my New Jersey Screenwriter’s Group. I’ve been a member for nearly fifteen years (my longest commitment to anything), and one Saturday in 2009, friend and fellow screen scribe, Paul J. Williams, brought in this short script. Paul’s always been a remarkable writer, and that day was no different. When we got to the finish, we were all wide-eyed by the concept, story, characters, theme, and potent finale.
So inspired by his unique tale, we called for a feature. Due to costs and concept, Paul realized a short would serve him best. After several rewrites, and after putting a few other shorts behind him, he wanted to move forward and make the film. He asked me to direct, which made me feel honored while leaving me humbled, and he also wanted CASE #5930 to be a Crash Palace production. I knew making the thirty-minute movie would be far from simple, but I couldn’t say no. I had to do this because I believed in Paul’s story.
From our combined experience with short films, and from being on many sets, we knew pre-production was key to a successful production, and we began meeting in August 2013. Like most other people, neither of us had disposable income, so we went with a Kickstarter campaign that worked very well, otherwise, the film would never have happened. Then came the process of auditioning and hiring talent, as well as crew. Yet, for our shoot, the biggest obstacle proved to be location.
I would have loved to have gone guerilla and shoot on the street, but this was a story about a New Jersey State Police officer and his last day on duty. We couldn’t have actors running around in uniforms and toting fake guns. No, that wouldn’t have ended well. We contacted people we knew, drove around Morris County, New Jersey for hours on end, and I ultimately cold called a few places. Thankfully, our one friend, Lil Bibb, offered up her home, but nothing else worked. We were just about to call off the shoot when Morris County allowed us access to county property. Whew.
With cast, crew, costumes, car rentals, food, equipment, and locations secured, we double-checked every single item for the four-day shoot. The only element beyond our control: the weather. Thankfully, the first three days were glorious, and once the sun came out after a rainy Thursday morning, we shot our final scene and wrapped.
CASE #5930 involved some stunts, wild driving, and long scenes. Yet, our amazing actors hit their marks, and we only did a few takes per scene. They listened to the great law enforcement officers on set who taught them everything from how to get out of a police cruiser, where to stand, and how to draw a weapon. Setup and blocking were a breeze. The camera and sound equipment were rock solid. Everybody got along and had a great time. So why did everything work so well? Besides our great planning, we also agreed to hire the best cast and crew. That just doesn’t mean professionals who can fulfill their roles, but people who are great to work with and be around due to positive energy and a great sense of humanity. Once again, I refer to David McDonald who said the shoot was “organic” and that we moved like a single organism.
Every film you ever see is a miracle. Beyond the money, the stars have to align with all of the aforementioned. Nevertheless, CASE #5930 is still a miracle in the making because post-production will soon be underway for a 2015 release. And we’re taking our time with editing, sound editing, and special effects to do it right. Nothing may be perfect, but I’m going to make certain we get as close as possible with the resources at our disposal. After all, everyone who took part in the film has their name on it, and as director and president of Crash Palace Productions, I want this is to be a successful vehicle for everyone involved, and for everyone who invested in the venture.
Many thanks to my gorgeous wife, Ally Bishop, for putting up with me over these many months, and for Paul J. Williams for entrusting me with his award-winning script. And I can’t thank enough every person who came through with our Kickstarter campaign. But here are the people who ultimately brought CASE #5930 to life (I thanked them all so often for their talent, professionalism, and commitment that I ran out of adjectives):
Cast: Merritt Reid, Leon Morgan, Frank Logan, Richard Bell, Jennifer Hall Turner, and Owen McCuen.
Crew: Nick DeMicco, Nick Pietronio, Dylan Keselman, and David McDonald
As for “Filmmaking 101”, I can tell you one truth, if you view the challenges as “problems”, and you don’t have a creative thinking cast and crew to rise above, don’t make movies. You’ll be too disgruntled to ever make it work.
On that note, I salute all the great independent filmmakers who have been on the show for making their own miracles and sharing them with all of us:
David Paul Baker, Oklahoma Ward, Mark Ricche and Christian Stavrakis of Cryptic Pictures, Jonathan Chance, Michael Dougherty, Kyle Schiffert and Ryan Fox of Time to Back Out Productions, Anthony Brownrigg, Erik Bloomquist, Dom Frank, the awesome madman, Mike Mendez, and one of horror cinema’s living legends, the amazing Stuart Gordon. Thank you all for the continued inspiration.
Now, stop reading and do as the independent filmmaking guru Lloyd Kaufman said, go make your own damn movie.
(Merritt Reid and Richard Bell in CASE #5930. Photo by William D. Prystauk)
I’ve had the pleasure of watching 200 British horrors, though the latest, SCHIZO (1973) proved to be a formulaic bore with an ending you could see coming a mile away, regardless of how wonderful the cinematography and color. So be it.
What follows is my top ten UK productions, with a list of co-productions that follows. To
avoid what many might consider the usual suspects, I have avoided Hammer (save one that is rarely mentioned in such lists), which in many ways, I’m still catching up on, though I must say that I love Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee – and probably every “Hammer Girl” ever to appear on screen.
The top ten movies are listed in chronological order.
Peeping Tom (1960) – 4. 5 stars
Michael Powell’s intense horror thriller involves a serial killer photographer that outshines Hitchcock’s PSYCHO of the same year. Due to the controversy of the subject matter, Powell found it difficult to work in England for several years. However, he left us with a strong and provocative film that continues to give us the chills.
Plague of the Zombies (1966) – 3. 5 stars
Sadly, this is Hammer’s only zombie film, but it brings great atmosphere together with one wonderfully macabre tale. An outbreak brings strong young men to their deaths in Cornwall, and Sir James Forbes (Andre Morell) and his daughter (Diane Clare) travel to the village to resolve the mystery. This is one of zombiedom’s most over-looked features.
The Legend of Hell House (1973) – 4. 5 stars
The great John Matheson adapted his own book for John Hough’s film, which delivers suspense and thrills in colorful style with one of horror’s best soundtracks. The story involves four souls visiting a haunting home to prove there is life after death, but will they survive to offer their evidence to the benefactor who sent them?
From Beyond the Grave (1974) – 4 stars
This anthology from Amicus features the great Peter Cushing as the Proprietor who always has what the patron needs. Think Charles Dickens’s “Ye Olde Curiosity Shop” combined with televisions ill-named “Friday the 13th – The Series”. A strong set of stories with one Hell of a great cast. This often over-looked horror should not be missed.
Possession (1981) – 4. 5 stars
Your nerves will shatter at the intense performances of Isabelle Adjani (who needed medical treatment after the film wrapped) and Sam Neill. The story centers on the break-up of a marriage and its psychological unraveling, which mirrors director Andrzej Zulawski’s own marital demise. Make certain to have your therapist on speed dial.
Hellraiser (1987) – 4. 5 stars
Clive Barker’s fantasy/horror of Cenobite induced chaos, is feast for any gorehound who loves a great story to boot. If curiosity killed the cat, it certainly killed many a human along the way, and no one can seem to resist the fascinating puzzle box that opens up a world where the Cenobites are angels to some, and demons to others – though most likely the latter.
Lair of the White Worm (1988) – 4. 5 stars
Bram Stoker’s novel must have bored Ken Russell to tears, who seemingly captured what some might consider drug-induced surreality to create one Hell of a trippy film. A small group of souls battles the D’Ampton Worm once more, and the enticing woman (Amanda Donohoe) who caters to the beast. Enjoy the romp, and be amazed at what Stoker couldn’t do with words.
Dust Devil (1992) – 4. 5 stars
An intriguing mystery/thriller from Richard Stanley, the film follows shattered souls put out of their misery by a bottom-feeding entity. The cinematography mirrors the hopelessness of the people who unwilling wait for the Dust Devil, and the ending brings satisfaction as few horrors do. If you like something heady and psychologically engaging, this is one to watch.
Dog Soldiers (2002) – 4. 5 stars
Writer and director Neil Marshall must have been disappointed in the werewolf subgenre when he created this action thriller feast. In the film, a squad of British soldiers training in the Scottish Highlands comes face to hairy face with a werewolf pack. Using a house as their Alamo, they make their last stand. Definitely a go-to horror for any fan.
Triangle (2009) – 5 stars
In this head-trip of a mystery, we follow a woman (Melissa George) as she indulges in her own sort of GROUNDHOG DAY to right a wrong in her life. But the film is not as simple as that especially when supernatural terror comes into play. Feel free to create your own map between past, present, and future to determine a way out – if you can. Sorely under-appreciated.
Excellent UK co-productions:
The Haunting (UK/USA, 1963), Alien (USA/UK, 1979), The Shining (UK/USA, 1980), Lifeforce (UK/USA, 1985), eXistenZ (Canada/UK, 1999), and The Lords of Salem (USA/UK/Canada, 2012).
(DOG SOLDIERS still from Gaming Trend.)