With Halloween approaching and video stores more or less a thing of the past, we now must look to the internet for our quick fixes of the spooky stuff. When planning your Halloween party, all you need do is head to Netflix and put a few classic horror films in your queue.
But... if you're looking for something on the unconventional side, something the kids in the neighborhood wouldn't watch otherwise, try one of these misfits on for size. They approach horror differently and they haven't been ruined by years of viewings in this most scary time of season. Here are 15 Underrated Horror Movies Streaming On Netflix.
15 All Cheerleaders Die (2013)
After venturing into the heart of darkness with his unsparing 2011 film The Woman, cult filmmaker Lucky McKee went much lighter for his follow-up, a pop-goth valentine to be played loud. Witchcraft and a bus accident turn four cheerleaders into zombies who suddenly have a whole new set of problems beyond the ordinary challenges of getting through a day of high school.
Derided for its flippant tone and featherweight plot (which were sort of the point), All Cheerleaders Die is a fitting heir to the likes of Jawbreaker and Scream in its combination of valley girl sarcasm and black comic violence. And yet, despite its manic energy and disinterest in firm plotting, it actually builds to a surprisingly moving climax. For teens in need of a new movie crush, I could think of worse candidates.
14 House of the Devil (2009)
A small handful of cinephiles recognize House of the Devil for what it is - the defining statement on nostalgia as a cinematic device and the most terrifying little movie in recent memory. Ti West rather adroitly uses the audience's understanding of '80s horror and '80s culture as it’s been fed to children born after 1986 as a motor for dramatic irony. He uses the time period as an intrinsic part of the narrative to make everything scarier. Not that he needed much help.
There is almost certainly nothing more entertainingly terrifying made in the first decade of the twentieth century. A hard-up college student (Jocelin Donahue, speaking of underrated) agrees to a last minute baby-sitting job for a supremely weird couple at their isolated Connecticut mansion. Is the encroaching creepiness in her head, or is something sinister going on? Find out for yourself, if you dare.
13 Sorority Row (2009)
It’s rare that a remake can justify itself through the right kind of excesses. Sorority Row is as trashy as a film can be while remaining on the right side of tasteless fun. Five girls stand helplessly by as their sorority sister commits murder when a prank gets out of hand. A few months later, someone comes after them one at a time.
So many school-set horror films aim for lived-in crassness, but Sorority Row is the real deal. It holds its pretty young criminals in a kind of respectful contempt. If they weren’t such relentlessly awful people, they also wouldn’t be so fascinating. The camera loves them and needs them to stay as unhinged and amoral as possible in order to keep the audience on the hook. A sleazy good time for the discerning connoisseur.
12 The Relic (1997)
A film of old-fashioned craft about a monster made with state of the art technology (at least for the late '90s), The Relic is itself… kind of a relic. Before CGI took over as the dominant mode of monster-making, Stan Winston and his effects team were the band to beat. They made some of the most memorable demons, dragons and devils of the '80s and '90s. The Relic was one of his last great showcases and director Peter Hyams filmed his creation to get the most out of Winston’s superb work.
When a shape-shifting beast stows away on a freighter and takes up residence beneath Chicago’s natural history museum, it’s up to a plucky biologist (Penelope Ann Miller) and a superstitious detective (Tom Sizemore) to stop it. The creature is one of the last great tactile monsters and unlike, say, the anaconda in Anaconda, the filmmaking lives up to it. Hyams relies on shadows, assured performances and production design to help sell the reality of his monster before we start catching glimpses of it. It could have been made in the 1940s, so solid are its foundations. And yet when the creature starts its rampage, there is a different kind of timelessness to this movie. The thrill of being afraid of an unspeakable monster never gets old.
11 Twixt (2011)
Francis Ford Coppola, the filmmaker behind The Godfather trilogy and Apocalypse Now, threw audiences one hell of a curve ball this last decade. After cranking out one high-profile drama after another, he took a decade-long vacation before releasing three strange little personal movies. First was the meta-physical noir Youth Without Youth, then the tender and sweltering artist’s statement Tetro, and finally the self-aware horror comedy Twixt.
Not every one of Coppola's little experiments work equally well, but there is a lot to love about this oddball ghost story (filmed, as it were, on Coppola's own estate). Val Kilmer plays an author stopping on a book tour in a little town that doesn’t know how to keep secrets. Soon he’s helping sheriff Bruce Dern solve a decades old murder case. With an assist from Edgar Allen Poe (for real, He’s played by Ben Chaplin) he uncovers a most flamboyant murder and lays some ghosts to rest. Coppola indulges every whim, ladles in various details from his own life and produces one engagingly bonkers film. Not to be missed.
10 The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (2015)
The sequel to Hammer Films triumphant return to its gothic roots didn’t enjoy much critical or box office success. But The Woman In Black 2: The Angel of Death has one thing on The Woman in Black: it’s a better movie. No, it’s not as scary, and no it doesn’t have adorable Daniel Radcliffe, but it feels like it was written more carefully and directed with an eye towards lasting as a drama, rather than as a jolt machine.
Like the lovely The Awakening (also streaming on Netflix), it’s a ghost story about the grieving conscience of a nation. Phoebe Fox and Jeremy Irvine are tasked with protecting a gaggle of orphaned children during the blitz and make the mistake of bringing them to the astoundingly haunted Eel Marsh House. Ghoulishness ensues, but the filmmakers never lose track of the most important thing: the lives of these characters. A film of deep melancholy, The Woman in Black 2 is much better than you’ve heard.
9 Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014)
Spike Lee’s polarizing remake of the hugely important independent film Ganja and Hess has a few defenders, but mostly it made a lot of people shake their heads in bafflement. Dr. Hess Green (Stephen Tyrone Williams) goes to his colleague (Elvis Nolasco) Lafayette Hightower’s house for dinner. A strange visit from Hightower in the middle of the night quickly becomes a confrontation that leaves host dead and guest infected with a vampiric disease. Green decides after a little soul-searching, to just enjoy himself. This becomes easier when Hightower’s beautiful wife Ganja shows up and joins him in sin.
Lee produces a nakedly experimental fugue that celebrates black skin, excessive appetites and style.
8 Wolf Creek 2 (2014)
Released to near-universal distaste, Greg McLean’s sequel to his stunning debut is not an easy thing to categorize. Sure it’s a gory horror piece… but the tone isn’t quite right. At times it feels clinically distanced from its horrific content, getting a gentle laugh from its taboo smashing. Other times it’s a pastiche western, with men on horses framed against lovely sunlit vistas. And sometimes it gives into muscular little action scenes.
In short, the time McLean spent away from directing clearly put a lot of ideas in his head that he didn’t get to bring to a full boil, so he dabbled in many genres when he finally got back behind the camera. Many people found this a can-miss proposition, but Wolf Creek 2 is a giddily violent cartoon that puts a lot of Australian film tropes in a blender and hits the “pulse” button.
7 The Ward (2010)
John Carpenter has been treated shamefully by the same audience that canonized him. The problem was Americans appreciated his ability to scare them, but never quite got around to realizing he was an artist, not just an entertainer. Case in point: his latest and possibly last film The Ward.
It deals in fairly standard archetypes (Amber Heard is locked in an asylum in the mid '60s and immediately sniffs out a conspiracy among the other patients) but the point is how elegantly Carpenter engineers his scares. Having taken almost a decade off from filmmaking, he stretches out like a cat, luxuriating in the creepy setting, taking to it all in again immediately. He was always good at scaring people, but he was born to make inimitable artwork like The Ward.
6 Mockingbird (2014)
Scott Tobias once said that the best way to watch Takashi Miike’s Audition would be to have it delivered to your house as an unmarked DVD with no knowledge of what you were about to watch. Consciously or not, Bryan Bertino’s Mockingbird kind of achieved that feat. No theatrical release and suddenly on Netflix, the director of The Strangers (a justly beloved slasher film) returned to horror with absolutely no fanfare. His film just suddenly existed for everyone with a Netflix account.
To keep some of this grizzly little movie a surprise, the plot can most coyly be summed up as this: three different households receive a camera as a gift on the same day. They have not won a contest. They are being watched, closely. A nasty little found-footage thriller in which Bertino proves he’s still got it even after 6 years away.
5 Pontypool (2008)
Pontypool really ought to be on every list of superlative horror films. It’s genuinely disquieting and has a marvelously bizarre brain teaser of a plot. As indebted to the furious pacing of Howard Hawks as it is to John Carpenter’s The Thing, Bruce McDonald's experimental horror film concerns a DJ (Stephen McHattie) in a rural Ontario town whose station is overrun by zombies infected not by a bite but by an insidious idea. Their infection is all in their head and it warps them into the bloodthirsty undead.
Pontypool is the smartest and most curious zombie film since the George Romero found his feet, driven by a unique ineffability. It’s as much a metaphysical geometry equation as a horror film, and its pleasures are myriad.
4 Blood Glacier (2013)
Blood Glacier’s home-made practical effect monsters turned a lot of people off, but they’re at the heart of this sleeper creature feature. Their wonky movement, ghastly features and arts-and-crafts execution immediately put you back in the VHS era. Maybe Blood Glacier doesn’t have many surprises beyond the nicely gnarled creepy crawlies waiting behind every locked door, but it’s got a vein of sorrow that keeps its shop worn character types from seeming tired.
Gerhard Liebmann plays a drunk handyman at a remote research station beset by animals mutated by the leavings of the eerie red glacier of the title. Director Martin Kren makes him work very hard to save the day and regain a little of his dignity. His struggle is much more gripping than perhaps it ought to be, and its endemic of Blood Glacier as a whole: the little movie that could.
3 Black Death (2010)
Chris Smith, unlike his peers Jonathan English, Edgar Wright, James Watkins, Neil Marshall, David Slade and Michael J. Bassett, has kept himself more or less on the straight and narrow, churning out understated, fun genre fare at regular intervals without falling on his face or blowing up into a phenomenon. This has allowed him to make exactly the uncompromising films he wants to.
Black Death may be his best work, a film of 70s bleakness that mirrored a politically confused British present. A pre-fame Eddie Redmayne plays a priest assigned to a gang of tough-as-nails witch hunting mercenaries led by Sean Bean. They’re going to a village (run by Carice Van Houten) apparently immune to the plague to figure out just how far in league with Satan everyone is.
Smith paints a fabulously dark portrait of a time ruled by dogmatic platitudes and enforced with swords and fire. If you wonder what paved the way for Game of Thrones, give the unforgettable, under-loved Black Death a try.
2 Dark Touch (2013)
For anyone who’s wished for a slightly less ironic take on Carrie than Brian De Palma's overripe opus (and don’t want to subject themselves to either a made-for-TV remake or a 20 years too-late sequel) Dark Touch is the film you want to watch. Though be warned…it hurts going down.
Young and precocious Missy Keating plays the telekinetic terror Niamh, who can do bad things to bad people. The trouble is your parents frequently look bad even if they’re just tired or trying to do the right thing. After an ‘accident’ involving her parents, she’s shipped off to a foster family, who quickly realize what a handful she is. They don’t count on her being able to retaliate. Children in distress are never easy to watch and Dark Touch is a bruising experience. It’s a daring film with a passel of excellent performers led by the awe-inspiring Keating.
1 The Vampire’s Coffin (1958)
You may not know the name Abel Salazar, but he was one of the busiest stars in Mexico. Right around the end of the Universal Horror boom, he realized that his homeland didn’t have a horror scene of its own. So he dove in headfirst and began producing a bunch of homegrown scare fests, always saving a plum role for himself. With his Rat Pack-charisma and good looks, and a fearlessness born of having a nation’s admiration, Salazar took to his new role as monster hunter with gusto.
The Vampire’s Coffin is a sequel to the first film of the movement, 1957's The Vampire, but works wonderfully on its own atmospheric terms, if not better. A vampire rises from his coffin and runs amok, stealing Salazar’s girl in the process. As thrilling and stylish as any vampire movie starring Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee.
What are some of your favorite oddball horror orphans? What do you watch every year when the jack-o-lanterns come out?
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