When it comes to horror movies, it’s all too easy to fall into a deep rut. For the casual film fan, Halloween might be the only time of year when the cobwebs get dusted off the scary stuff, and annual traditions are popular and fun to create. But, once those routines form, the effort to discover new options inevitably fades, leaving scores of quality movies buried in obscurity.
We understand that it’s tempting to become a little lazy when your favorite movies are already pretty good, but it’s our business to expand your cinematic boundaries, and we’ve dug up some bloody brilliant gems that are frightfully underrated. So if your Halloween party is in need of some new blood, one of these classics might just make you the hero of next year’s festivities.
10. Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971) – John D. Hancock
A movie with a title this unorthodox deserves an equally quirky story to match, and Let’s Scare Jessica to Death delivers. This wonderfully distinctive cult classic perennially flies under the radar, but once discovered it’s not easily forgotten. Loose comparisons to Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s classic novella Carmilla have added an extra layer of intrigue to the film, which still possesses the power to unnerve and terrify.
After leaving a mental institution, Jessica (played by Zohra Lampert) travels with some friends to stay in their newly-purchased old farmhouse. They’re puzzled to find a strange girl already living in the house, but decide to invite the drifter to stay a little longer. But soon, Jessica starts seeing strange apparitions, and the newcomer seems to be the source of increasing tension in the group. Are the troubles related to their new friend, or is Jessica suffering a relapse of mental instability? Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is a memorable head trip of a film.
9. Inland Empire (2006) – David Lynch
Most people either love or hate David Lynch’s films, but you owe it to yourself to at least give his entire body of work a fair hearing. Of all his full-length movies, Inland Empire is perhaps the least known, and it could be argued that it’s the most challenging. Clocking in at more than three hours, and with a plot sure to twist your brain in knots, you’ll want to approach this one with a fully charged emotional battery.
Let’s start with just a sampling of the cast here – Laura Dern, Justin Theroux, Jeremy Irons, Harry Dean Stanton, Naomi Watts, Julia Ormond, Nastassja Kinski, Wiliam H. Macy… shall we go on? It’s obviously an impressive group, and they deliver impressive results in Inland Empire. The story follows Nikki (played by Laura Dern), an actress who’s taken on a new film role. But she soon learns that the film is the continuation of an unfinished project which witnessed the murders of its leading actors. As we know, David Lynch can conjure horror from the most innocuous material, and Inland Empire is sure to haunt you.
8. Dead of Night (1945) – Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer
This British horror anthology remains an influential classic of the genre, even while being criminally underseen by the public at large. Perhaps that’s due to its difficulty to find on home video, but true film fans know better than to be told what to watch by distribution companies. Dead of Night deserves to be sought out, and it promises to reward those willing to put in the effort.
The four individual segments here are directed by four different directors: Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer. There’s not a weak story in the group, but the most iconic one features an unstable ventriloquist who develops a disturbing fascination with his dummy, which he thinks is really alive. Dead of Night is a uniformly excellent early anthology that holds up well to this day.
7. The Wailing (2016) – Na Hong-jin
When a Japanese man comes to live in a South Korean town, he keeps to himself and lives a quiet life. But, coinciding with his arrival, a strange sickness breaks out in the village, and the stranger comes under immediate suspicion. A police investigator tackles the case with an open mind, but is quickly deluged with wild stories about the mysterious newcomer. As the body count increases, paranoia and fear threaten the sanity and the lives of all involved.
This South Korean film delivers its terror with a double-edged sword: not only does it depict genuinely frightening physical events, it also dives into the dangerous psychological realms of paranoia and suspicion. Delving into themes of Eastern mythology, The Wailing shows itself to be a supremely literate movie while still unleashing plenty of frights upon those who dare to undertake a viewing.
6. Eye of the Devil (1966) – J. Lee Thompson
J. Lee Thompson’s Eye of the Devil has one of the best casts in horror history. With Deborah Kerr, David Niven, Sharon Tate, David Hemmings, and Donald Pleasence on the screen, the quality of the script almost wouldn’t matter. Thankfully, Eye of the Devil is blessed with an intriguing story in addition to its dynamic performances that holds our interest throughout.
David Niven plays a wealthy landowner who is called to one of the estates where he owns a vineyard which has been failing. He is quite secretive about his trip, and refuses to bring his wife along or discuss his family heritage through which he acquired the estate.
When his wife and children arrive to visit in spite of his wishes, they find an unwelcoming atmosphere and hostile hosts. A witch and her brother who live on the estate seem especially intent on ruining their experience and driving them away. Eye of the Devil is a classic, underrated shocker.