I love October. Not because of the candy or costumes (you dress up as Dora the Explorer one time and nobody lets you forget it!), but because it’s THE month to watch scary movies. There are a few classics I revisit every couple of years, but sometimes I’ll get lucky and find something I’ve never even heard of (or was told wasn’t worth watching) that scares me silly. Because of my love for this time of year, I decided to compile and share a list of the best of these underrated or under-acknowledged gems with my fellow horror fans. These are some of my favorite, lesser-known horror films that you may have missed.
Honorable Mention: Mandy
Mandy is only an honorable mention because it’s fairly new and therefore can’t be considered underrated just yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if its limited theater release (it’s already on VOD, by the way) doesn’t allow it to gain the attention it deserves. Initially a visually stunning 80’s-inspired slow burn, Mandy eventually takes a horrific turn into revenge-thriller territory, and it’s all bolstered by some genuinely unsettling imagery, brutal action, and a stellar performance from Nic Cage. Mandy is easily one of the best movies on this list, possibly my favorite film this year, and is worth a watch for any horror fan looking for something unlike anything they’ve seen before.
Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
Behind The Mask: Rise of Leslie Vernon is a mockumentary set in a world where supernatural serial killers like Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees are real, and keeps its tongue planted firmly in cheek throughout the entire runtime. Being viewed from the perspective of a film crew following an aspiring slasher allows for some interesting and often comical looks at classic horror tropes. Behind the Mask isn’t as revolutionary as the films it riffs on, but it’s still a great movie that’s more than worth your time.
Lake Mungo is one of the most unique and unsettling films I’ve ever seen. It’s also a fake documentary, but it’s presented in a completely different way than Behind The Mask. It’s also a film that’s best seen with as little background information as possible, so I’ll stop with this: make sure to sit through the credits.
Curse of Chucky
Fans of the Child’s Play franchise have been subjected to some of the most awful sequels ever regurgitated by Hollywood (I still can’t forget about Seed of Chucky despite years of trying to block it out). Luckily, Curse of Chucky managed to bring the series back around. The soft reboot balances fear, camp, and self-awareness better than any of the other sequels, and is a VERY welcome return to form for the murderous toy.
Last Shift has been available on Netflix for an extremely long time, and it’s one of my better finds from late night binges. It’s an interesting twist on the classic haunted house tale, following a rookie cop as she guards an empty police station before its closure. If you have Netflix, I urge you to add Last Shift to your watchlist.
The Final Girls
This horror comedy revolves around a group of teens that get thrown into a classic, campy, Friday The 13th-like horror film, and oh man, does the movie make the most out of that awesome setup. The Final Girls is the least scary movie on this list, but it’s hilarious and surprisingly heartfelt. I’m still crossing my fingers for a sequel.
The titular sickness might be deduced fairly quickly by horror veterans, but watching the strain on the friendship between the two protagonists as one of them slowly changes into something else is still a scary treat to experience. I was getting pretty tired of found footage films when I learned of Affliction (while googling something along the lines of “lesser-known horror films”), and it rekindled my love for the sub-genre.
Unfriended is presented almost entirely through a computer screen which allows it to capture the same uneasiness as found footage horror flicks without feeling stale. As the number of people chatting and breathing dwindles, the distrust between the remaining characters (and the audience’s anxiety) rises equally. It’s not perfect, but Unfriended is unique and scary enough to make me wonder why it didn’t spawn a slew of imitations like Paranormal Activity did.
This creepy and quirky South Korean film about a family fighting to save its youngest member from a bizarre creature mixes scares, comedy, and drama into a something unlike anything else in the genre. The emotional beats are greatly effective thanks to the terrific cast, and the beast is one of the coolest movie monsters I’ve seen in recent years.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
New Nightmare is the most inventive Krueger flick since the original, and I think it’s even scarier. Actress Heather Langenkamp, who played the series’ most prominent heroine, portrays herself as she’s stalked by a new, darker Freddy in the real world. This ultra meta version of the dream demon trades in the campy “charm” and one-liners that made him less intimidating over the previous few films for a trench coat and refreshingly sinister demeanor, one that makes him more terrifying than ever.
Home invasion flicks are inherently frightening, but Hush is scarier than most. Hush sets itself apart from others in the sub-genre by following a protagonist who is deaf, which allows for some seriously next level “LOOK BEHIND YOU” moments. That might initially seem like a simple one-trick pony, but I assure you that this movie is more than clever enough to keep you on your toes through its runtime.
A Dark Song
This is another one of those films you should go into like Jon Snow (knowing nothing), so all I’ll say about a A Dark Song is that it aims to keep you consistently confused and uncomfortable as it slowly builds up to a finale that is equal parts poignant and intense.
Netflix’s 2017 horror comedy isn’t particularly scary, but it knows exactly what it wants to be, and it should hit all the right notes for those who enjoy the occasional horror film with just a little extra cheese. The witty writing, pitch-perfect cast, and total self-awareness make The Babysitter a hilarious and bloody good time.
HEADS UP: The Babysitter contains a major spoiler for Mad Men, so wait to see this flick if you haven’t finished the series.
1408 & The Mist
I paired these Stephen King adaptations together because they both received fairly positive reviews and financial success upon their releases (they’re probably the most popular films on this list), but have been mostly forgotten since. Neither of them are quite as great as Misery or last year’s IT remake, but 1408 and The Mist are still two of the best Stephen King stories brought to the silver screen so far. And it’s worth mentioning that they have two of the most memorable endings in horror history.
Speaking of Stephen King…
Storm of the Century
Full disclosure: I’m cheating with this one. It’s a (fairly short) miniseries and not a film, but I just can’t leave Storm of the Century out because it’s so damn good. This Stephen King story (which he wrote as a screenplay and not as a novel) is a chilling tale about a small town that’s visited by an ominous drifter (played to spine-tingling perfection by Colm Feore) during the titular tempest. And just like 1408 and The Mist, Storm of the Century’s ending will stick with you long after it’s over.
A24 has given us some of the greatest horror films in the past few years, and almost none of them have received the widespread recognition they deserve. For example: Green Room is one of the studio’s best, but I only know one other person aside from me who saw it in theaters. The story centers around the members of a punk rock band who witness a heinous crime at a neo-Nazi rally, and are forced to defend themselves. Leading the band is the late Anton Yelchin in one of his final roles, and the skinheads’ boss is played by Patrick Stewart, who gives a performance that might change the way you look at Captain Picard and Professor X for quite some time.
Before working on Godzilla: King of The Monsters, Michael Dougherty wrote and directed this holiday-themed horror comedy. Thanks to a strong cast of both comedic and dramatic actors like Adam Scott and Toni Collette, an entire sackfull of memorable monsters, and a better balance of laughs and scares than any other horror comedy I’ve seen (sorry, Shaun of the Dead), Krampus is easy to recommend.
Trick ‘r Treat
Trick ‘r Treat is hands-down the best horror anthology I’ve seen, and I’ve watched so many others because of it. Unfortunately, very few have come anywhere close to matching the overall greatness of this direct-to-DVD treasure. With multiple stories featuring a mix of supernatural suspense, classic monsters, and plain old evil people, Trick ‘r Treat has something for everyone. And now that he’s finished with Godzilla: King of The Monsters, maybe director Michael Dougherty will finally give his fans the sequel we’ve been waiting for since 2009.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter
Another of A24’s most underseen movies is this terrifying gem. The premise, two teenage girls find themselves alone and in danger at their Catholic boarding school, is nothing too original, but there are more than a few twists that were able to catch me completely off guard. Elevating The Blackcoat’s Daughter even further is an extremely sinister atmosphere that creeps into almost every scene, fantastic acting from its leading ladies, and an ending that left me stunned.
Bone Tomahawk is a brilliant, bloody, and brutal mash-up of the horror and western genres. Stars Kurt Russell and Patrick Wilson may be known for playing tough guy characters, but that doesn’t make their encounters with this insanely vicious clan of Native Americans any less harrowing. Bone Tomahawk is probably too violent for some, but it’s still far, FAR less sadistic/disgusting than anything that the dozens of Saw-inspired gore-fests have subjected their unlucky audiences to, so I urge you to sit through this one if you can.
The House of the Devil
Like A Dark Song and Lake Mungo, the less know about The House of the Devil before seeing it, the better. I will warn you though: It’s a slow burn, taking its time, waiting for the perfect moment… Which it finds, and then grips you with sheer terror until the credits roll.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Exorcism films often get overlooked because of the high bar set by The Exorcist, but I’d argue that The Exorcism of Emily Rose is just as great. This movie made my blood run cold the first time I saw it, and is one of the only three or four horror flicks to rob me of a restful night’s sleep… So, maybe watch it during the day.
The final A24 movie on my list is The Witch, my second favorite horror film ever and what all slow burn horrors should aspire to be. The Witch has a similar atmosphere to The Blackcoat’s Daughter and A Dark Song, but it’s far more powerful because virtually every moment is laced with menace, dread, paranoia, or worse. Even in its slower scenes I was practically squirming in my chair with overwhelming unease from almost every single sight and sound, all masterfully presented with the intention to never let the audience get any semblance of comfort. Eventually, The Witch uses all that tension and build-up to unleash Hell and leaves us with an utterly haunting finale.
It frustrates me to no end that I have to place my favorite horror film of all time on this list, but I will continue to champion The Strangers until it’s widely regarded as the masterpiece it is. No other film before or since has created the same level of immersion, tension, and pure, unadulterated horror I felt while watching this home invasion flick. I was even terrified to be in my own home after seeing it for the first time, and I rarely rewatch it because of how uneasy it still makes me. The Strangers is incredibly, insanely, unbelievably underrated, and is the scariest movie I’ve ever seen, no question.
Also, the sequel is pretty great too!
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