There are many things for which the world of horror is understandably recognized—chills, frights, and beastly delights abound in this cinematic macrocosm of inexplicable noises and bumps in the night.
Yet a seemingly endless saturation of retreaded concepts, polemical contrivance, and botched attempts at nuance may leave more astutely inclined moviegoers with the impression that this terrifying genre has long since lost whatever vestiges of vitality afforded it such widespread appeal once upon a time.
Indeed, moviegoing audiences and professional critics alike still laud the tantalizingly spooky efforts of the tried and true, the vintage and violently venerable—Silence of the Lambs, Halloween, and A Nightmare on Elm Street take their seats at the head of the table, while modern-day critical darlings like Don’t Breathe and Halloween (2018) are often forced to sacrifice some measure of originality in hopes of proving themselves against the dread-filled chops of their 20th-century predecessors.
Thus, it seems tragically inevitable that some of horror’s more subdued efforts—those overlooked simply due to distribution, marketing, or even a poor first-impression appraisal—would be doomed to live out their days in an abyss of forgotten flicks, their one and only hope being an unlikely ascension to cult status. But don’t let modest box-office returns and a lack of overwhelming publicity fool you; these 10 Overlooked Horror Movies are as relevant and thrilling as any Quiet Place or bloodthirsty pack of masked Strangers:
10. Fender Bender
Even the summer of 2016’s most ravenous horror addicts probably missed this surprisingly eerie slasher flick about a girl named Hilary who gives her personal information to the driver of a car that “unintentionally” slams into her own. Though literally none of the automobile accident was Hilary’s fault, her parents still find her more than culpable and elect to leave her behind as they take their family vacation without her.
If that sounds like a recipe for disaster, it most certainly is. And what’s even worse is that Hilary discovers that her boyfriend is cheating on her the very same day. Left behind with nothing but her friends as comfort, Hilary has precious little time to try to pick up the pieces before the film’s absolutely relentless antagonist descends on her home to wreak his own brand of high-wire havoc.
On its surface, Fender Bender feels like yet another slasher flick about yet another final girl. But it sets itself apart by injecting moments of empathy, strength, and courage to tell the story of a teenage girl whom audiences can reliably root for. Her friends feel like more than set pieces; they’re people, and they fight like any person would.
And even though some of the movie’s strongest emotional heavyweight moments may emerge a bit unfinished, Fender Bender’s tension and downright terror is wild and engrossing enough to atone for a few underperforming bits in an otherwise very durable horror excursion.
Despite great acting and stellar reviews, despite startling cinematography and genuine unpredictability, and even despite the courage and gusto to tackle the oft-derided found-footage genre, Creep somehow still hasn’t made it big.
Sure, there are critics and blog posts that applaud the movie’s unique cinematographic take on the source material; and sure, there’s a modest following of Netflix junkies interested in hosting the film at movie-night screenings for their closest pals—but there’s no media platform that’s really, really talking about Creep to the extent that it deserves.
This film wrings out every last bit of tension that could possibly be had from what would otherwise be a very simple premise: a videographer puts out a Craigslist-style ad and meets an eccentric man with a dying wish to film a video diary for his unborn son. It’s an unusual feat, to be sure—moments of genuine terror intermingle with seemingly mundane scenes of sunlit forestry and ever-so-faintly-squawking birds.
The viewer never really knows when to relax and when to proceed with caution, and that’s perhaps the most unsettling thing about this metaphorical foray into the lives others keep hidden and the secrets they allow to burst through the surface.
8. Cherry Falls
Among the most divisive of films on this list, Cherry Falls definitely never debuted to widespread critical acclaim. At a time where the Scream franchise had just revitalized the horror genre with a fresh breath of life, only precious few reviewers—and even preciously fewer moviegoers—managed to peg this movie for the creatively twisted slasher that it is.
The death of sexually active teenagers is a staple of scary movies that has probably constrained the spilling of more buckets of Karo syrup than any other trope. But Cherry Falls manages to invert this classical cliché and tips the scales, instead placing virgins in the precarious crosshairs of its sadistic killer.
Leaving its capable but somewhat self-conscious protagonist to solve the mystery of the film’s brutal killings, Cherry Falls sets itself apart with an uncommon premise and a tortuous plot that, while all the more ridiculous at times for its idiosyncrasy, nevertheless delivers on chills and thrills.
7. American Mary
Though widely lauded as the most original body-horror picture of 2012, the Canadian import American Mary was largely forgotten by those less interested in the anatomical grotesquerie of modern film. While some criticized the movie for an apparent emphasis on slicing and stabbing rather than storytelling, others recognized the strength of the metaphorical drive underpinning Mary Mason’s grim journey from medical student to surgical body-modification specialist.
The practical effects alone warrant at least a casual viewing, but American Mary leaves its mark with the power of its plotline’s unique flare—the gripping tale of a young woman thrown into a quasi-medical world that’s as cruel to her as it is tantalizing. It works as both a narrative of female empowerment and a cautionary tale about vengeance and the circles in which people are willing to travel to get what they want.
6. The Loved Ones
Perhaps part of the reason for this film’s modest box-office success is the fact that its trailer almost entirely spoiled the story, and perhaps another part of the reason is that Australian horror films tend not to excel domestically.
But in the case of The Loved Ones, at least the critics knew that they had a real horror gem on their hands. For while the idea of a lonely and awkward teenage girl who kidnaps the boy of her dreams may not seem to sparkle at first, this movie actually has more than a few things to say about the psychological impacts of rejection, loss, and unfulfilled desire—all visited out upon unwilling teenagers.
The Loved Ones is a film with a lot more heart than the most viewers expect, as heavy themes and agonizing tension litter this genre piece like the blood-soaked confetti of a prom party cannon. It’s bold and daring, and its climactic payoff doesn’t disappoint. And while it’s not without a few flaws, The Loved Ones remains a scary, stylish flick about a girl off her rocker and all the horror she can bring.