Thursday, October 31, 2019
HIDDEN GEMS (Horror Movies)
By Randy Romero (With contributions by Dexter Lynch)
In case you’re looking for some new (well, old) horror movie recommendations, I decided to compile a list of twenty hidden gems. Now I understand that some of these may not be considered hidden gems to horror fanatics like myself, but I’m sure some of these titles have been overlooked by many. And don’t expect any long, drawn out reviews. I’m only going to name the titles and share some personal thoughts or give a brief description of each title. Special thanks to Dexter Lynch for helping me put this together. You can find him on Twitter @SonOfSamLoomis.
My Little Eye (2002): If you’re looking for blood and gore, this will disappoint you. This film is a very slow burn, and relies more on mystery and nail biting suspense. The film is about five young adults who are selected to spend six months in an isolated mansion while being filmed at all times. The catch is that none of them can leave. If they last six months, they each walk away with a million dollars. They think they’re part of an internet based reality series, but when a lost computer programmer who spends most of his time on the internet, shows up on their property and doesn’t even recognize them, they begin to suspect otherwise. This film features a small cameo from a young Bradley Cooper, who plays the stranded computer programmer.
Frailty (2001): Underrated is the first word that comes to mind, though underappreciated might be the better term. This is a film about something that truly scares me because it’s very real; fanaticism. Directed by and starring Bill Paxton, the film also stars Matthew McConaughey and Powers Boothe. In the film, McConaughey’s character pays a visit to an FBI agent (Boothe) and unloads an unbelievable tale about his childhood, where his father (Paxton) believed he was being commanded by God to kill demons in disguise. When their father died, McConaughey’s brother picked up where he left off.
Waxwork (1988): A story about a group of teens lured to a wax museum, where they discover the horror exhibits are even realer than they appear. If they get close enough to the displays, they are transported to a different period in time, where they come face to face with a werewolf, Count Dracula, and the Marquis de Sade, among other threats. There was a sequel, which honestly wasn’t very good and I could’ve lived without watching it.
The Borrower (1991): This title blends horror with science fiction. An evil alien is banished to the planet Earth as punishment for his intergalactic crimes. He’s disguised as a human but with one small problem…every few hours, the alien begins to revert to its true form, prompting him to “borrow” heads from helpless victims to continue to live in disguise and evade capture. Twin Peaks fans may spot Madchen Amick in a small role as a rock groupie. Tommy Towles from House of 1000 Corpses and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer also has a role in this enjoyable Sci-Fi horror flick.
The Hidden (1987): Another film that falls under the Sci-Fi/horror genre. This title is about an alien parasite that possesses human bodies, forcing them to commit violent, senseless crimes. Hunting this extraterrestrial criminal is an FBI agent who may have a few secrets of his own (played by Kyle MacLachlan of Twin Peaks fame, a show where he also played an FBI agent). The film is definitely more Sci-Fi and action than it is horror, but it’s still a fun ride. The opening car chase sequence is a great set up. Directed by Jack Sholder, who also directed Nightmare on Elm Street 2.
Madman (1982): A group of campers accidentally summon an axe-wielding killer named Madman Marz. This is a by-the-books slasher that borrowed a tiny bit from its predecessor Friday the 13th, but memorable enough to stand out on its own. Fans of Friday the 13th and similar titles should definitely enjoy this campfire killer story.
Intruder (1989): The crew of a local supermarket are terrorized and killed off one by one by an unseen stalker. Is the check-out girl’s jealous, violent ex-boyfriend behind all this, or is this the gruesome work of somebody else? Written and directed by Scott Spiegel, produced by Sam Raimi, and featuring a cameo by Bruce Campbell. The film was also produced and co-written by Lawrence Bender (Pulp Fiction). Another fun fact: This is the first film that KNB Effects worked on.
Videdrome (1983): Directed by the brilliant David Cronenberg (The Fly, The Dead Zone, Scanners), this movie follows the president of a small TV station that reels viewers in with everything from hardcore violence to softcore pornography. When Max Renn (James Woods) stumbles onto Videodrome, a pointless, plotless show where people are seemingly tortured and murdered for the viewers “pleasure”, he wants to find out who made it and get it on the air. Once Max is exposed to Videodrome, he experiences bizarre hallucinations that combine sex with violence. Is Max losing his mind? Or is there a power behind these Videodrome transmissions?
Witchboard (1986): I was pleasantly surprised the first time I watched this. I went in not knowing what to expect and was actually quite impressed. A young woman uses a Ouija Board at a party and is promptly terrorized by a spirit that wants to weaken her in order to possess her. This is a creepy and clever little flick that often gets avoided or overlooked. But I think it deserves to be on this list and I hope more people give it a shot.
The Prowler (1981): By the early 80's, the horror genre was booming, with new titles popping up on a weekly basis. One of the adverse effects was the fact that a lot of these slasher titles got overlooked. Such is the case with The Prowler. In 1945, a couple is attacked and murdered by a mysterious prowler dressed in World War II army fatigues. 35 years later, the prowler returns.
The Prince of Darkness (1987): The name John Carpenter is synonymous with horror. The man gave us horror classics like Halloween and The Thing. He terrified us with The Fog. He blew us away with Escape from New York. But I feel like this title always gets overlooked. A priest, played by Donald Pleasence, discovers a mysterious cylinder containing a strange green liquid. The liquid is the embodiment of Satan himself, and those that are exposed to the liquid become possessed. Like most early Carpenter films, this one is tense and carries a classic Carpenter music score.
Eaten Alive (1976): The “forgotten” Tobe Hooper film. Texas Chainsaw fans will rejoice with this film, which retains the same manic, psychotic energy of his seminal film. It also continued Hooper’s brilliant use of sound to enhance the craziness and the suspense. In the film, crazy Judd runs the Starlight and sacrifices his guests to the crocodile that lives in the swamp beside his hotel. The film features an early appearance by Robert Englund, and also stars Marilyn Burns of Texas Chainsaw fame.
Angel Heart (1987): Takes elements of horror and the supernatural, and applies them to a 1950s hardboiled detective story. With Mickey Rourke as its main star, and Robert DeNiro playing the mysterious Louie Cypher, I don’t know if this counts as a hidden gem. But it’s a horror movie that rarely gets mentioned. Harry Angel (Rourke) is a private detective who’s hired to track down a missing musician named Johnny Favorite. His client is bizarre and mysterious, the people he questions start to turn up dead, and horrific visions plague him on his journey to find Johnny Favorite.
Slugs (1988): A movie about killer slugs that were spawned by toxic waste (it’s always toxic waste or nuclear radiation, isn’t it). The film is that simple. It sounds cheesy, and it is. But it’s fun to watch and surprisingly well written. The film maintains a small cult following from horror geeks like myself.
Happy Birthday to Me (1981): Another slasher cult classic that got lost in the fray. I don’t want to spoil anything because this is a film with a twist. But this slasher flick is a step above the rest and very memorable. If you’re a fan of the 80’s slasher genre, you definitely need to check this out.
Curtains (1983): This is not your standard slasher movie. An actress gets herself committed to prove to her director how dedicated she is to her role in his next film. The director is in on it and even helps her get committed. You can imagine how surprised the actress is when she finds out the director is looking to cast a new lead in the film. He invites a few girls up to a secluded mansion to audition for the role. But one of the girls is willing to kill for this role, and that’s exactly what they do. The mask featured in this film is super creepy.
Cutting Class (1989): Featuring Brad Pitt in one of his first major roles. Teachers and students start turning up dead at a high school, and suspicion falls on Brian Woods, a problem teen who was just released from a mental institution not too long ago. But is somebody setting Brian up? Or is he truly guilty? The kills in this slasher are pretty unique, and you could tell by watching this that Brad Pitt was destined to be a star.
Dead and Breakfast (2004): It’s horror. It’s a comedy. It’s a musical? Well, it is in one particular scene. This zombie comedy is a riot and the plot doesn’t follow the standard zombie playbook. A group of friends on their way to a wedding get stranded in the small town of Lovelock. They crash at the bed and breakfast. But when the cook is murdered and the proprietor dies under suspicious circumstances, the stubborn sheriff forbids any of them to leave until he gets answers. The sheriff is played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan of TWD fame. The eccentric owner was in possession of a mysterious box that has the ability to trap and possess souls. Once it ends up in the wrong hands, all hell breaks loose. The special effects are gnarly and the film itself is quite entertaining.
Deep Rising (1998): This film is a guilty pleasure of mine. This has enough gore to classify it as a horror film, but there’s tons of action and plenty of sharp, witty dialogue to make it a joyride. I think Roger Ebert said it best when he said this film is basically Aliens with a fresh paint job. Instead of a spaceship, they’re trapped on an actual ship. Instead of alien creatures, its mutated sea creatures. There’s even a little nod to Aliens when the tentacle creatures open their mouths to reveal a second mouth. The creature effects are quite impressive for its time, when they were just starting to get the hang of CGI and digital effects. The film has a great cast of recognizable actors who all play their parts very well.
Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016): The entire film has this lingering sense of dread and doom. Bravo to the director for pulling that off. I don’t want to spoil too much. It’s better if you just watch it and see how it unfolds. The cops discover a bloody multiple homicide, and make an even more shocking discovery in the basement, when they find a fourth body. A son assists his coroner father in doing the autopsy on the Jane Doe. There are no external visible signs of trauma, but her ankles and wrists are fractured, her tongue has been crudely cut out, her organs scarred and blackened. I don’t know if this title quite belongs on this list, but I’m sure there are some people who have missed out on this film.