6. Black Sunday (1960)
An export of Italy, Black Sunday is a true international classic of horror. While being burnt at the stake, the witch Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele) vows to enact revenge on her murderers and their offspring. Hundreds of years later, Asa returns ready to keep her promise.
Acting as the debut feature of Mario Bava, Black Sunday is a masterwork of gothic horror. The care dedicated to the cinematography is seen throughout the film. The juxtaposition and manipulation of light and dark compliments the eerie environment. The macabre ambiance is also created with spooky aesthetics. The dark forest, beautiful backlit matte work, and detailed sets all heighten the gothic storytelling.
The gore, an Italian horror specialty, is also present in this film. While it may not be in the colorful splatter style, the iron mask being hammered into Asa’s face and the open eye socket are wildly impressive visuals.
Black Sunday is a fantastic addition to the world of gothic and religious horror.
7. Apostle (2018)
Apostle is an extremely creative and ambitious approach to religious horror. The film takes place in 1905 as parodical son Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) returns home. Unfortunately, Thomas returns home only to learn that his sister (Lucy Boynton) is being held for ransom by a cult. Determined to save his sister, Thomas infiltrates the cult and uncovers more secrets and corruption than he could have ever thought possible.
It is the roughness and unapologetic manner of Apostle that strengthens the movie’s impact on its audience. With the first part of the film being filled with dirt and mud, and the other half of the film consisting of blood and guts, there is a grittiness to the film that cannot be denied. There is even grittiness to the theme of religious, carnal, and social desperation. The director, Gareth Evans, does not desire to hold viewers’ hands. He does not feel the need curb the violence or make viewers happy. Rather, Apostle is unashamedly a creation that enthusiastically embraces the harshness of the horror genre.
Streaming online, Apostle is a movie that should appear on anyone’s Netflix queue.
8. Messiah of Evil (1973)
Messiah of Evil is an underrated gem in the realm of religious horror. In the film, a young woman goes to look for her missing father. Her journey to find him takes her to a strange California city ruled by a cryptic cult of the walking dead.
Messiah of Evil does not depend on a linear plot to achieve scares and garner up an emotional reaction from audiences. The movie is much more of a nightmarish dream in every sense of the word. Purposely disjointed, the film allows viewers to think for themselves. Spectators are left wondering what is real and not real in the end. With so many questions and little answers, it may seem viewers can be left frustrated. However, the surreal quality works well at disorienting audiences and making them infer their own worst conclusions.
Messiah of Evil is a fantastic low-budget horror film of the 1970’s.
9. The Ritual (2017)
The Ritual is an outstanding film that bring Norse mythology into the world of modern horror. After reuniting due to the unexpected death of their friend, four college buddies (Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, and Sam Troughton) decide to hike through the Scandinavian wilderness. Sadly, their hike leads them into the ominous forests of Norse legend, where an evil exists and stalks them.
One element of The Ritual that must be praised is the use of sounds and quick visuals to build up the terror. While the film eventually reveals more, the initial crack of a branch or quick shot of a figure or beast in the woods is extremely effective in establishing a sense of apprehension. Viewers might not know what they are dealing with, but they know it cannot be good.
In addition, the characters are fully developed. They are not dumb jocks or jerks that have evolved into nothing more than overused and boring stereotypes. They do not even irritate the audience with awful one-liners or idiotic decision making. Luckily, the characters presented have clearly seen a horror movie in their lives. They know when they stumble upon a gutted deer in the trees of antler-handed figurines, it is time to run and get help fast.
The Ritual is a terrific slow burn horror show that will entertain a multitude of audiences.
10. The House of the Devil (2009)
For a film that could quickly drift from creepy to campy, House of the Devil stays a truly terrifying thrill ride. The plot revolves around college student Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) who desperately needs money in order to move into her new apartment. When Samantha takes a job watching Mr. Ulman’s (Tom Noonan) mother during a full lunar eclipse, she learns her employers have a horrible secret to use her dead or alive for their own sinister plans.
Another entry from Ti West, it is clear this director is a rising star in the horror genre. Here, West works his magic in the writing, editing, and directing departments to pay homage to 80’s horror while commenting on the satanic panic craze of the era. From feathered hairstyles to the spiral phone cords, the film relives the 80s. However, this film never falls into parody. Rather than idolizing the time, the movie simply uses the setting to its advantage to produce retro yet timeless scares.
Along with clear appreciation for the era, the crafty camerawork by West also keeps the movie’s menacing tone. West shoots grainy, muted colors and applies numerous angles and camera tricks, such as slow dolly shots and low angles, to build anticipation. The film eventually leads to an intense climax viewers will not forget.
The House of the Devil is a 2009 film that feels like a much-needed blast from the past.