Last week I went over some of my obvious favorite horror flicks. This week, I thought I’d share some of my favorites that don’t get as much love. It’s honestly hard for me to tell what’s obscure anymore –between years of immersing myself in garbage, the good folks at Scream Factory and Arrow digging up esoteric corpses left and right, and the Internet’s love of critical reappraisal, any of these are ripe for rediscovery at any time. Still, probably some of you aren’t as deep into the weird world of horror as I am, so hopefully this’ll be useful for you. Here are some ideas for your Halloween viewing pleasure.
PHANTASM II (1988, dir. Don Coscarelli)
How many times have you watched a horror sequel and thought that the best part was the last act, when the feckless protagonists FINALLY decide to hunt down their particular Boogeyman and fuck him up? Well, Phantasm II is an entire movie of that. The survivors of the first film decide to hunt down the Tall Man (played by the great Angus Scrimm) and shove a four-barreled shotgun up his ass. Part road trip movie, part revenge flick, part surrealist nightmare, this is everything you didn’t know you wanted from a fear franchise in one gore-soaked package.
THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968, dir. Terence Fisher)
THE great overlooked masterpiece to come out of England’s Hammer House of Horror, The Devil Rides Out was adapted from a novel by conservative reactionary Dennis Wheatley by the brilliant Richard Matheson (I Am Legend, Legend of Hell House) and features Christopher Lee as an actual good guy. It’s one of the few Satanic panic films that actually succeeds in making the devil feel like a threat. It’s still Hammer, so there’s a lot of British people talking in parlors, but how many films put you on the edge of your seat for an extended sequence of four people lying inside a chalk circle?
DEMONS (1985, dir. Lamberto Bava)
When you think of Italian horror, you think of Argento or Fulci or (Mario) Bava. And while those directors made some great flicks (ok, maybe not Fulci), they were never quite as insane as promised. Demons, on the other hand, is completely batshit nuts from the word go. Produced by Dario Argento, directed by Lamberto Bava (Mario’s son), and with a script by hackmeister Dardano Sacchetti, this is the rare effort from a supergroup that doesn’t suck. The plot doesn’t make any sense, there’s no main character, and the scenarists didn’t really worry about a consistently logical world. That said, the scene where a guy rides through the movie theater on a dirt bike chopping up demons with a samurai sword to Accept’s “Fast as a Shark” may be the most metal thing ever put to film.
THE ORPHANAGE (2007, dir. J.A. Bayona)
This Spanish-language film wasn’t directed by Guillermo del Toro (although it was produced by him), so not many people paid attention to it at the time. I’ve only seen it once, around when it first came out, but I still remember the emotional devastation it wrought on me — that’s how effective it was in telling the story of a mother’s desperation and grief. It has all the requisite scares, sure. Those aren’t what stay with you.
THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964. dir. Roger Corman)
I know what you’re thinking (because I’m psychic) but an Edgar Allen Poe adaptation directed by Roger Corman himself doesn’t sound like a recipe for a good time. Add in some amazing production design and a virtuoso performance from Vincent Price, however, and you have a delicious technicolor delight (and I think I lost the metaphor somewhere in one of the labyrinthine rooms of the costume ball).
STAGEFRIGHT AQUARIUS (1987, dir. Michele Soavi)
I love Italian horror movies, if you couldn’t tell — I don’t have to turn off my screenwriter brain when I’m watching them because most don’t make any goddamn sense to begin with. I can just sit back and enjoy the madness and surreal visuals. Stagefright Aquarius has about a million names, but it’s the only slasher movie I can think of where the killer wears an owl head. This is pure style, but who cares when it’s this stylish?
PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987, dir. John Carpenter)
Yeah, okay, it’s a John Carpenter movie, how obscure can it be? People do tend to forget about this one — mostly because it’s really damn weird. How many other movies combine quantum physics with demonology, or have an incarnation of Satan that’s glowing green goo in a can? It uses the Assault on Precinct 13 “trapped in a building” model to great effect as scientists and priests combine forces to prevent Armageddon. Costarring Alice Cooper as a homeless person/zombie!
THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991, dir. Wes Craven)
Another one from a well-known director that tends to get overlooked, this early 90’s shocker from Wes Craven has a really weird structure. Basically, it’s an extremely fucked up, violent, horrifying kid’s film. The man character is a kid, the bad guys are cartoonish, the whole thing feels like a really dark fairy tale — and that’s what makes it so effective. Craven hides its extremely sharp social commentary in this outlandish scenario so that at the end, when our hero stands in the middle of a room filled with gold and money hoarded away by the crazy white landlords for generation and says “No wonder there’s no money in the ghetto,” you realize it’s been our world all along.