5. Who Can Kill a Child? (1976)
As mentioned, the murder of a child is the sacred cow of any film genre. But an entire film based around the idea takes a certain amount of courage. In Nicolas Ibanez Serrador’s film, couple-on-the-rocks visit an island mysteriously bereft of adults. That there’s no explanation for the murderous child cult only adds to the terror.
What’s more, it serves as an exploration of children fighting against self-involved adults. This dates it slightly, given the rise of helicopter-parenting. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating relic.
4. Bedlam (1946)
With little budget and only his wits to go by, producer Val Lewton competed against Universal’s classic monster juggernaut. The studio gave Lewton free reign with only two stipulations: the films came in under budget and weren’t longer than 80 minutes.
Lewton, himself a failed novelist, managed to crank out some of the most literary horror films in history. Bedlam is perhaps the most outright horror, with Boris Karloff overseeing a madhouse with iron-fist cruelty. Sadly, Lewton is always overshadowed by Universal’s output, but he has his supporters – including director Martin Scorsese.
3. Eden Lake (2008)
In the early aughts, a series of British films were released focusing on “hoodies”. Seen by older generations of England as the downfall of a great society, the films portrayed the youngsters as vicious, immoral hooligans.
Eden Lake is the best of the bunch, with couple Jenny (Kelly Reilly) and Steve (Michael Fassbender, in an early role) terrorized by a gang while vacationing on the beach. It’s brutal and unforgiving, with an ending that puts the blame where it probably belongs: parental neglect.
2. The Children (1980)
There’s a certain charm for the amateurish production of films like The Children: the effects are weak, the acting shoddy and the story distasteful.
After a toxic cloud appears in the sky over the town of Ravensback, a group of five elementary school children are transformed into zombies who chemically burn anyone they put their hands on. There’s little to say about the plot, but it serves as a perfect midnight movie.
1. The Woods (2006)
Lucky McKee first exploded onto the horror scene with May before fading into relative obscurity. It’s a shame, too, because McKee’s output has since been some of the more brutal and fascinating horror out there. Not so with The Woods, a quieter effort from the director about a troubled girl (Agnes Bruckner) who is forced to attend an all-girls reform school in the mid-60s, only to realize the school is run by a coven of witches.
What separates The Woods from other private school horror films is the very real friendship Bruckner develops with fellow classmate Lauren Birkell. The bond is never overtly sexual, though it borders on it. Before exploding into violence at the end, Mckee shows surprising restraint. It’s easy to draw comparisons to Suspiria, given the plot, but The Woods hearkens back to earlier films, with a focus on well-drawn characters rather than gore.