The 15 Most Underrated Horror Movies of The 21st Century
As paradoxes go, this one’s up there with Schrodinger’s Cat: while it’s easier than ever to find movies to watch, it’s never been more difficult for a film to find its audience. Most films are sneaked out rather than released, and if you’re not a blockbuster, nobody appears to be paying much attention.
When Troma attempted to self-distribute their movie Poultrygeist: Night Of The Chicken Dead, they lost money on the theatrical release and the DVD. Not because it’s a duff movie – it’s one of Troma’s best – but because they didn’t have sufficient resources to reach viewers. Instead, the movie just lay there, unseen and unsung.
There are lots of these types of films out there, particularly in the horror genre, where dozens of new titles seem to appear each week. Cheaply made and independently distributed, they play a few festivals before going straight to Blu-Ray and streaming, where they’re lost among thousands of other movies.
Made by filmmakers with passion and a vision, they’re usually more inventive and entertaining than “prestigious” studio films, but those are the pictures that the audience gets to see. If you believe in conspiracy theories, you could argue that the studios filter out the “little” movies in order to give more attention to their inferior product.
Here’s the pitch: there’s this drunk named “Lou Garou”, who despite being a cop goes out of his way to avoid confrontation until he’s transformed into a werewolf. Then he regains his confidence as he bites, slashes and beheads the bad guys in his small town.
If you’ve ever despaired of digital monsters and longed to see a non-CGI werewolf movie, you should check out Wolfcop. Emerson Ziffle’s transformation scenes are pretty damn good (especially for the low budget) and it goes without saying that if you’re looking a movie about a talking lycanthrope with a badge, this will suit your needs quite nicely.
Agreeably silly from start to finish, Wolfcop is a better night at the movies than the $150 million The Wolfman with Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins. The film concludes with the promise of a sequel, and if Another Wolfcop is as funny as its poster (which mock Stallone’s Cobra) then director Lowell Dean has another winner on his hands.
If you only watch one horror comedy about zombie beavers this Halloween make it Zombeavers, which has a real shot at being the most entertaining creature feature of the last five years.
Zombeavers is at heart a Roger Corman creature feature, only it’s better written, better acted and all the laughs are intentional. When a barrel of toxic waste washes up near the cabin where 3 college girls are on vacation, it turns the local beaver population into oversized monsters with a taste for human flesh, which the girls realize as soon as they decide to go topless at the lake.
All a fan of this kind of thing wants to know is if the effects are better than your average SyFy movie, to which the answer is an emphatic yes. It’s also better paced and has more likeable characters, though it’ll still be remembered as the first movie where the beaver eats the guy.
13. Mother Of Tears
Described by the New York Times as “silly, awkward, vulgar, outlandish, hysterical, inventive, revolting, flamboyant, titillating, ridiculous, mischeivous uproarious, cheap, priceless, tasteless and sublime” Mother Of Tears is the concluding chapter in Dario Argento’s “Three Mothers Trilogy” and, disappointingly for fans, it doesn’t measure up to Suspiria (1977) or Inferno (1980).
On the plus side, however, there’s plenty of unintentional humour. Argento’s budget is so low that he has to stage Armageddon as cheaply as possible, resulting in a montage of women baring themselves in public while men take clubs to parked cars. Moreover, if the sudden appearance of gangs of loud and obnoxious young girls signifies the end of the world, we really are in trouble.
It’s all something to do with Mater Lacrimarum, the Mother of Tears herself, who revels in chaos and human despair and wants to usher in the second era of witches, the Bush-Cheney years having been a bust. Hazily defined at best, she turns out to be a beautiful naked witch in hastily-applied mascara that can only be defeated by burning the single stitch of clothing she appears to own, thus causing an earthquake. Obviously.
Sneered at on its release (Entertainment Weekly called it “a rough and humourless beast slouching its way towards utter ludicrousness”), Legion casts Paul Bettany in the role you’ve always wanted to see him play – an archangel with a machine gun.
He’s on Earth to battle the forces of darkness that’ve descended on a truck stop in the desert to kill waitress Charlie (Adrianne Palicki), who’s about to give birth to the future saviour of mankind. When the first soldier in this conflict – a potty-mouthed senior citizen who can spider walk across ceilings – fails in its mission, along comes a zombie horde, unaware that Bettany has just armed his troops with enough guns to take down The Wild Bunch.
Legion is incredibly silly, and it’s hard to know if certain sequences were meant to be funny, but as far as movies with machine gun-wielding archangels go, this one’s top of the list.
11. Staunton Hill
Maybe it’s lack of production polish, but Cameron “Son Of George” Romero’s film feels more like a grindhouse movie than Grindhouse did, and despite an obviously low budget it’s a more credible period horror film than the Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot.
Set in 1969, Staunton Hill could be TCM redux as a group of stranded teens arrive at an isolated farmhouse where they encounter the murderous Staunton clan, who run a different kind of slaughterhouse. Because it’s a small world, the head of the family is played by Kathy Lamkin, who had a very similar role in Chainsaw.
Staunton Hill isn’t for everyone: it’s a grim, downbeat movie without heroes, where the lack of budget contributes to the claustrophobic sense of impending dread. Originality may not be its strongest suit, but it makes up for it by not pandering to the lowest common denominator.
10. The Strangers
So similar in plot and tone to the French chiller Ils (2006) that it’s often considered a remake, The Strangers tells a simple story and tells it well, with minimal dialogue and an emphasis on atmosphere. Director Bryan Bertino is clearly familiar with Carpenter, Craven et al, but he’s learnt from them and isn’t content merely to duplicate shots. Young filmmakers, take note.
It’s a very simple, very basic home invasion tale, far more bare bones than, say, You’re Next or The Purge. Bertino isn’t interested in “high concept” storylines or clever twists and he eschews the comically over the top gore of Alexandre Aja’s Haute Tension in favour keeping the focus on the main characters and their struggle to survive.
By refusing to identify his killers, whose faces remain hidden behind masks throughout the film, Bertino makes them more mysterious – and scarier. When Liv Tyler asks why they’re doing this to her, the reply comes, “Because you were home.”
9. Cold Prey
Norway’s answer to the 80s slasher movies, Cold Prey follows five snowboarders who take refuge in an abandoned hotel when one of them (Rolf Kristian Larsen – a dead ringer for Shaggy from Scooby Doo) breaks his ankle on the slopes. What they don’t know (but quickly realize) is that the place closed in 1975 when the owner’s son disappeared, and faster than you can say “Mrs Voorhees’ boy”, they’re being chased through the snow by a pickaxe-wielding psycho.
So far so traditional, but what separates the movie from the pack is….okay, it doesn’t offer anything new but director Roar Uthaug strings the he’s-right-behind-you suspense scenes together better than his 80s counterparts, it’s slickly shot and there’s an in-joke for fans of The Shining.
Audiences responded favourably, so two years later, Final Girl Jannicke (Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Chernobyl Diaries) returned in Cold Prey: Resurrection, which in the tradition of Halloween II (1981) offers more of the same, only set in a hospital.
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