Tis the month of Halloween, 2020’s Halloween so you know it’s serious, as good a reason as any to marathon your favourite masochistic thrills, chills and kills; I know I’m not about to miss such an opportunity to indulge my pick for best movie genre ever. Just my luck that it’s not because of consistency, as we all know horror is a genre with one hell of a bad habit; pumping out bars of gold only one twentieth as often as it does logs of gangrenous shit!
But let’s not throw too much of that shit back its way; I mean at this point it’s more of a Stockholm syndrome-ridden victim than a willing accomplice. I personally blame the studios that exploit the poor old tired out wretch like a Thugee slave driver looking for magic rocks… anyway…
It’s not the gangrenous shit we’re gonna talk about, it’s the glistening diamonds trapped within. I’m in a horror movie mood and admittedly lack the patience to wait until halloween itself to review something scary, so until that time comes I thought I’d put together a very random little list of some horror movies that, I think, not enough people talk about or shower with enough gold… like, literal gold, not… OK, bad metaphor! Praise! They don’t shower with enough praise, that’s better.
Disclaimer! I’m not saying these are the most underrated horror films in movie history or anything, they’re just some under appreciated ones that I feel like putting together and harping about; under appreciated because I say so – obviously. Oh, you should still feel guilty if you haven’t seen or don’t like them, what, you think we’re here to have fun? This is serious business damn you!
30 Days Of Night
It really surprises me that this one has an unflattering score on Rotten Tomatoes, if you ask me, as soon as the shit hits the fan and we’re full speed ahead for what you’d want out of a film like this, any and all problems it might have at first cease with the speed of blood from an open artery. Sure it has one or two script issues in the first 15 minutes or so, from the overly familiar to the odd nonsensical line of dialogue. But 30 Days Of Night has more than enough positives on it’s side to say I might actually kinda love it.
Cinematography so washed out it’s almost black and white, a score that kicks complete ass, brilliant make-up and SFX, a genius premise executed with gusto, and, oh yes, the best movie vampires ever! These creepy blood lusters are cool, as well written as they are acted, appropriately merciless beyond belief, and best of all – they’re legitimately terrifying. Operating like a wolf pack and led by a brilliant Danny Huston, the vampires in this movie deserve to be listed high among the ranks alongside Dracula himself.
There are places on Earth that do not see sunlight for a period of time due to the planetary axis, *populated* places; and what if a cult of vampires were to discover and take full advantage of this? Now there’s an idea for a movie right there! Apart from that there’s nowhere near enough love for its technical specs, not just the applause-worthy practical gore or menacing sound design etc. But the unstoppable action sequences that pop up like so many juicy jugulars, it’s all directed very well and satisfying as frozen hell. 30 Days Of Night is scary, visceral, as bloody as you want and really, really nasty!
John Carpenter’s The Fog
I’m glad this film has a cult status now, but still! You know John Carpenter, right? He’s the guy owed a written apology and offering of severed fingers from every film critic of the 70’s and 80’s who had no idea what the flying-Dutchman-fuck they were talking about! What I love about The Fog, aside from its delicious style, score and unsurprisingly masterful direction, is the pacing. This is a very methodical and patient movie, if I tell you that it’s about a seaside town under attack from a band of ghost pirates; you might go in expecting what the movie isn’t.
The pirates are barely shown, their presence is suggested by that of the titular fog, a seemingly living supernatural creature of which the pirates are the teeth. Even when they are shown they are cloaked in silhouette, only their red glowing eyes piercing through the haze, the camera doing what it can to keep them hidden; the editing seeking a similar result. This is one of those movies that builds and builds before unleashing the best of what it has to offer only in the final moments, and the result is a very tense film indeed.
The pirates never speak, never act like human beings, but rather as death-hungry demons spat upon the living by the cruel mistress herself – slow, stoic, and soulless. Not enough people respect its dedication to its source of horror, or its maturity and plain awesomeness in the presentation of its villains. It should be as much a classic as Halloween or The Thing. It’s not perfect but I love the build up, the atmosphere, not enough horror films have music as effective as this, and some shots of the pirates are just… ugh, so good! An atmospheric exercise in just how frightening smoke machines can be.
If it wasn’t for Martin Scorsese listing this as one of the scariest movies ever, or Quentin Tarantino using its theme music in Inglourious Basterds; who knows what would have become of this underrated shocker. With a 35 on Metacritic, The Entity is an unnerving and deeply uncomfortable watch about a woman tormented by an invisible supernatural threat that sexually assaults and rapes her! Oh no, this ghost doesn’t just make doors slam, lights flicker or unexplainable noises from the next room over; it smacks her about, draws blood, holds her down and violates her.
But if you think it just sounds like your basic exploitation piece of meritless provocation, then oh how wrong you are my friend! It’s a story of a troubled mother with a rough life, and this business with the ghost is just one more unfortunate situation on a list of several. More of a character study than just an episodic sequence of invisible man-esque rape scenes, that being said, these sequences are certainly brutal, invasive and creepily inescapable.
Barbara Hershey plays this hapless heroin with admirable commitment, believability and sympathy; if it wasn’t for her doing such a tremendous job then the film would fail. It’s about her – her life – her children – her interactions with her skeptical doctor; this isn’t some cheap trash out to titillate, it’s a tragic tale of emotional recovery and gaining one’s own power back from evil that would take it away.
The concept crawls under your skin, the acting is great and I can’t stress enough just how creepy and uncomfortable it is as a horror film; we’ll call that a success then! Not enough people talk or know about it and I would like for that to change, it knows what it’s doing and succeeds at that one job so many “horror” films fail at so often – to be actually scary. You thought simply being watched by an invisible force was bad enough? Then this is sure to keep you up at night and aware when it’s too quiet.
You can’t have a list of underrated horror films without inclusion of the Paul W. S. Anderson directed haunted house in space. A film that only went and inspired the game Dead Space; as well as amassing a decent cult status despite a Rotten Tomatoes score somewhere in the 20’s and an utterly shameful box office haul. It’s the future (because of course it is), and a space ship known as the Event Horizon, thought lost during its first attempt at bending the fabric of the universe for quicker and more expansive space travel – the whole purpose for which it was built, has suddenly turned up again after seven years without any apparent explanation.
A team led by Laurence Fishburne, and accompanied by the Event Horizon’s original architect played by Sam Neil, is tasked with investigating the phenomenon, finding out where it went for so long and what happened to the crew – completely unaware as to the grisly truth that awaits them there. Event Horizon is not the most subtle of space horror, coming off more like Alien’s ADHD ridden cousin (who also suffers from ghastly nightmares and delusions so intense that he really aught to remember his meds one of these days), and admittedly has aged about as well as pumpkin pie made from last year’s Jack O’ Lanterns – at least in small parts.
But that doesn’t stop it from being a really good ride, genuinely intriguing and admirably original sci-fi horror flick. It has Sean Pertwee in the cast so that’s an automatic plus, but the originality of this trip to nutty-nova is what clinches it for me above all else. It’s mad, it’s completely and utterly off its face on the most gruesome hallucinations ever put to film, at times being a full on orgy of maggoty gore that should grab your attention and shake it to death like it’s trying to get it to stop crying. It’s clever, different, startling, unexpected and… you know, I think I just realised why the low critic score but eventual cult status. It’s great fun, check it out, it deserves it.
28 Weeks Later
Finally, we have the sequel to Danny Boyle’s no-budget nightmare bringer of a zombie film, 28 Days Later; a film in which the scene set in a church still gives me God-awful dreams to this day. 28 Weeks Later is a film that gets a ton of praise for its nail-biting opening set piece but not much else, despite appearing, on paper anyway, as not doing too badly – earning a fresh Rotten Tomatoes score and a decent run in theatres. And yet so few talk about or remember it for the nerve shredder that it is, it’s not like it was too safe or underwhelming not to have made an impression, it gives me the same creeps the first film did by helping the zombies to keep their heart-racing edge with some really clever directing. Respect to Juan-Carlos Fresnadillo.
After the infected of the first film have died from zero self care, I guess running around screaming and murdering 24/7 will do that to you, in typical dumb-ass government fashion they decide to get started on repopulation asap; all before being absolutely dead cert it’s safe to do so. Sure enough it all goes down the drain and oopsie-daisy, here cometh that pesky second wave! We follow a family struck hard by the original outbreak and it’s through them that most of the plot’s domino effect is able to crash about and make a mess everywhere. I like this film – the whole film, I like its gritty visual aesthetic and efficient directing, and I’ll be honest here, it also freaked me out to fuck, that opening sequence in the farmhouse is viciously well executed and the image of zombies chasing Robert Carlyle across the fields has stayed with me ever since viewing number one.
The zombies are filmed with a camera just as rabid as they are; it’s the technique you see – they’re never just plonked onscreen and expected to be scary just ‘cause. Nope, this one put the work in with its crazies, not just relying on disturbing makeup and psychotic performances but treating them like a delicate chemical process with zero room for error. The camera, the editing, the lighting and even the speed of the footage; everything about them does it for me like no other zombie; before or since. Later on it begins dealing with extreme solutions to catastrophic problems we know very little about, making it not just the zombies to fear but those who are supposed to be looking out for us, a theme culminating in, not just a criminal military, but a zombie in a family’s hierarchy. Underrated Of The Dead, I say!
I’ll hold off saying Happy Halloween until I review a film on its own for the holiday itself, so, until then, perhaps happy… birthday? Bound to be somebody’s.