There’s never been a better time to be a horror fan: Major studios now realize scary movies have incredible mainstream appeal and have increased the overall quality of these offerings. At the same time, advances in filmmaking technologies have given indie practitioners the tools necessary to compete with the big boys. Those who complain about the current state of horror (claiming there’s nothing new or original being produced, for example) simply aren’t taking advantage of the plethora of offerings available to today’s genre lovers.
If you’re horror movie intake is limited to theatrical releases and Netflix’s latest selections, you’ve only scratched the surface of what’s available to today’s aficionados. Some of the best films I’ve seen never play on silver screens are never lauded in mainstream publications and are rarely included on popular Top 10 Lists—which is a shame. The lesser known movies on this list are all top-notch horror gems that are definitely worthy of your attention.
POKER NIGHT (2014, Directed by Greg Francis, Written by Doug Buchanan and Greg Francis)
A rookie cop spends an evening playing poker with his more experienced colleagues, learning the ropes through the experiences they share. Later that night, he’s forced to match wits against a sadistic masked serial killer with a personal vendetta—but there’s more going on beneath the surface than . Fans of violent crime thrillers and intelligent mysteries are in for a treat.
COLD SWEAT aka SUDOR FRIO (2010, Directed by Adrián García Bogliano, Written by Adrián García Bogliano, Ramiro García Bogliano)
In this Argentinian export, a young man’s frantic search for his missing girlfriend leads him to an abandoned tenement, where a couple of geriatric psychopaths use young women for their twisted amusement. Coated in nitro glycerin gel, their victims know that a single bump will have catastrophic consequences. COLD SWEAT is the definition of white-knuckled, edge-of-you-seat suspense with a jaw-dropping twist.
BUTCHER BOYS (2012, Directed by Duane Graves and Justin Meeks, Written by Kim Henkel)
I’ve been consistently impressed by the filmmaking duo of Duane Graves and Justin Meeks (WILD MAN OF THE NAVIDAD, KILL OR BE KILLED), and BUTCHER BOYS absolutely knocked my socks off. This story of an underground cannibalism syndicate is better than HOSTEL with incredible pacing and shocking depravity. Penned by original TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE scribe Kim Henkel, the film includes so many cameos that feels like a love-letter—and a reunion.
DREAD (2009, Directed by Anthony DiBlasi, Written by Clive Barker and Anthony DiBlasi)
DREAD is based on a short story by Clive Barker, but it has none of the supernatural trappings that are the writer’s usual hallmarks; it’s a gritty psychological nightmare that gets under your skin and really festers! College students participating in a “fear study” get more than they bargained for when forced to confront their darkest fears. Director Anthony DiBlasi went on to helm the lauded supernatural fever-dream LAST SHIFT, one of 2015’s best.
THE WAVE aka BOLGEN (2015, Directed by Roar Uthaug, Written by John Kåre Raake and Harald Rosenløw-Eeg) (COVER PHOTO)
One of the best movies of the year, the disaster horror THE WAVE, has been tragically underseen. The film takes place before and after a coastal town is devastated by a powerful tidal wave. While films like SAN ANDREAS and THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW rely on silly pseudo-science to propel their plots, THE WAVE is firmly grounded in reality. And while the disaster hits after a considerable build, the film’s most impactful moments take place after the waters receded. I know some horror fans shun foreign films because they don’t like reading subtitles, but THE WAVE is a powerful, visual experience that will leave you gasping.
HIDDEN (2015, Directed and Written by The Duffer Brothers)
If you enjoyed 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE but found the “twist ending” outlandish, you’ll love HIDDEN. Both films center on a small group of survivors holed-up in bomb shelters after unknown events have devastated life above ground. In HIDDEN, a family struggles to maintain a sense of normalcy as bands of dangerous “Breathers” scour the scorched earth, seeking prey. Ultimately, the film is an upending of established outbreak and virus horror tropes, with an especially creative third act.
SIGHTSEERS (2012, Directed by Ben Wheatley, Written by Alice Lowe and Steve Oram)
SIGHTSEERS may be the least-famous movie helmed by Ben Wheatley (who directed KILL LIST, A FIELD IN ENGLAND, and HIGH RISE), but it equals anything in his filmography when it comes to overall excellence. It’s also the most hilarious film in his cannon. When things keep going wrong for a vacationing couple in the UK, they find murder is a surprisingly simple and effective way of dealing with their frustrations. The chemistry between lead actors Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, who also wrote the film, is nothing short of brilliant.
PERFECT CREATURE (2006, Directed and Written By Glenn Standring)
After each chapter in the LORD OF THE RINGS and HOBBIT trilogies, PERFECT CREATURE is the most expensive film ever produced in New Zealand—which makes it’s relatively “unknown” status both perplexing and unfortunate. The film’s a dark fantasy reimagining of established vampire mythologies, unfolding in a society where blood-suckers and humans coexist in a quasi-religious state of symbiosis based on mutual respect. If you found yourself disappointed with the direction of the UNDERWORLD films, PERFECT CREATURE may be the kind of nightmare noir you’re looking for.
MALEFIQUE (2002, Directed by Eric Valette, Written by Alexandre Charlot and Franck Magnier)
In the early 2000’s, MALEFIQUE differentiated itself from films considered part of the “New French Extremity” movement (like INSIDE, MARTYRS, and HIGH TENSION) by utilizing supernatural and metaphysical elements its peers avoided. It’s also a much more cerebral experience and comparatively light on blood and guts. Still, it’s got the goods to please gore-hounds and fans of intelligent, multifaceted horror. The story of 4 prisoners sharing a small cell plays out like a twisted hybrid of CUBE and HELLRAISER, with the type of brutal nihilism we’ve come to expect from the French.
INBRED (2011, Directed and Written by Alex Chandon)
A group of troubled teens participating in a team-building weekend in rural Yorkshire are beset upon by a mob of bloodthirsty villagers. Following a series of confrontations, the survivors are taken prisoner and forced to participate in a depraved circus of grotesquery for the townsfolks’ entertainment. Equal parts gore-fest and black comedy, INBRED will thrill fans of films like TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and other tales of backwoods terror.