October! The month where it officially stops being summer and starts being autumn – probably my very favorite season. The season where the air gets colder, the drinks get hotter, the winds get windier, and the long, eventful year begins to draw to a close. October also marks the official start of the countdown to Halloween, and for us cinephiles, it grants us the permission to binge on all the horror cinema we could devour.
Not surprisingly, we see the same titles pop up every now and again. Someone’s watching The Shining, Nosferatu, and/or the original Evil Dead for the first time? Great! However, in my obsessive search for overlooked gems in all genres, I try to weed out the horror titles that perhaps may not get quite as much attention as the aforementioned. Perhaps they’ve faded into obscurity through the years, or are something that I, going against the grain, personally find merit in. This post is dedicated specifically to those films. I might be a little late with this post, but hey! Better late than never. I hope I can get at least a few of y’all to liven up your movie-watching schedules with some of these truly terrific terror triumphs. Happy haunting! (:
1) ¿Quién puede matar a un niño? (Who Can Kill a Child? a.k.a. Island of the Damned) (1972)
I must confess, although I consider myself a horror fanatic, I mean that in the loosest sense. In reality, I’ve only been actively searching for and watching horror films for about a year. Thankfully, Who Can Kill a Child? was one of the very first I discovered this year, and one that I loved immediately. What impressed me the most was how so much of what is scary isn’t what happens, but rather how the film itself feels. The atmosphere is oppressive, with shock and dread contained in its most unexpected facets. And as the title suggests, this community of deranged children do truly horrific things, wildly clashing with our perception of children as innocent beings. And really, who can kill a child? The film leads to no easy answers, and this – combined with its impressive performances great cinematography – makes for some dastardly horror.
2) Kuroneko (a.k.a. Black Cat) (1968)
Even though this has been released on Criterion’s Eclipse collection and, thus, has reached a wider audience than ever before, I still find it completely underrated. It’s a dark tale adapted from traditional Japanese folklore about two women – mother and daughter – who are raped and murdered, then resurrected as ghosts who enact their revenge by seducing unsuspecting samurai and then tearing their throats out. If that doesn’t sound the least bit intriguing, we can’t be friends! Truthfully, this film is all about atmosphere and indeed a truly dark and dreary tone couples rather well with its languid pace. Besides this, however, it’s a really beautiful film that eventually touches on some humanistic issues. A must-see for anyone into Japanese and/or world cinema.
3) Dead of Night (1945)
With the vast majority of anthology films, we get a few sections that are great, with the rest meandering around just average quality. Dead of Night, however, remains one of the rare examples where every part is relatively enjoyable and presents genuinely pleasant horror filmmaking. Even the backbone story – an architect experiencing a recurring nightmare involving his farmhouse and his collection of guests – is intriguing and provides a nice twist at the end. The highlight of this film, by far, is Alberto Calvacanti’s section, which is deliciously twisted dark comedy involving a haunted ventriloquist dummy. Overall, however, this film has aged wonderfully, and is enjoyable in many, many ways.
4) Viy (a.k.a. Spirit of Evil) (1967)
It took *way* too long to find a decent quality poster of this film at a decent size, so instead I just used one of my very favorite images from this film. If you’re not already intrigued by this image alone, you’re probably made of stone. Apparently this is frequently remarked as the very first Soviet horror film to be made. In general, Russian horror films aren’t quite as well-known as their Italian counterparts (which amazes me, because Russian folklore has some of the scariest stories ever!). But basically it has a lot to do with witchcraft, religion, spirituality, ghosts, and the undead. It’s really great stuff, and I urge every horror-lover to seek this out.
5) Mil gritos tiene la noche (Pieces) (1982)
This film is terrible – yet is also so, so hilarious. If you’re one of those twisted individuals – like myself – who enjoys watching and riffing off of gloriously bad movies with help from a few friends and a few beers, you’re gonna love this one. Its plot really mirrors every other kind of giallo-esque horror, yet the fact that this narrative and script practically defies all logic makes it all the more entertaining. I could throw in a few lines or describe a few memorable moments here and there, but that couldn’t possibly do the film justice. Just trust me on this one. It’s fun.
6) Mother’s Day (1980)
Ah, Troma. Churning out some of the classiest- er, I mean trashiest fun! Mother’s Day is one of the additions to the short list of the late Roger Ebert’s zero-star ratings. With all due respect, I disagree. Sure, much about it is absolutely depraved, but it is also well-intentioned. The repulsive components of the two male antagonists and their dictatorial mother are echoed in the trash aesthetic environment they reside in. It’s not an inventive film by any means, nor is it really scary; however, I think it’s smarter than it appears on the surface. I think it even poses as a sort of allegory on consumerism and media’s effects on the human mind. I wrote more about it here.
7) Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
I know what you’re thinking. Cannibal Holocaust isn’t exactly what one would call obscure, especially among horror fans. However, I do think it is quite underrated. It’s no surprise than many are quite turned off by it’s, shall I say, alternative filming habits. I’m speaking, of course, about the choices of the real slaughtering of live animals on screen. While it’s very easy to write this film off for such immoral tendencies, I think that it only heightens the feeling of repulse that this movie is so famous for. Not to mention that the film itself is, as a whole, distinctly chilling and harrowing down to its very core. Thus, I think this is a very unique, special kind of horror film, the likes of which should probably never be attempted again. I wrote a full review here.
8) Open Water (2004)
Open Water is a film that I watched very recently, and while it isn’t perfect by any means, I was certainly blown away by certain aspects of it. Afterward, I checked to see what other people thought – and came across many one- and half-star ratings and reviews. I was shocked! I do agree that some of the bad CGI and low budget didn’t always work in its favor. But I guess I have a special thing for horror movies where the characters find themselves in unfortunate situations they never foresee, and strike a special terror in my own heart. Given the circumstances, I thought the actors did a wonderful job making the film tremendously scary and really, who could ask for more?