6. God Told Me To (1976)
Playing on the public mass shooter phenomenon that has only gained relevance since the ’70s, God Told Me To is an unfairly forgotten film that explores the role religion plays in our lives. It’s a fiercely independent film that uses its low-budget freedom to tell a raw and aggressive story that lingers with viewers long after it’s over.
Good Told Me To follows Peter Nicholas, a New York detective who becomes wrapped up in a series of killings. Nicholas suspects the cases are connected, as each killer claims that “God told them to”. As Nicholas takes on these cases, he finds a cultish conspiracy coalesced around a figure named Bernard Phillips, who appears linked to the killings.
Combining the raw police procedural with Sci-Fi sensibilities, the movie plunders the depths of psychological horror to deliver a film that is decades ahead of its time. The intersection of religious fanaticism and conspiracy theorism, unfortunately, remains as relevant today as it did in 76′.
God Told Me To is a compelling crime horror that showcases a gritty New York thrown into apocalyptic madness. The mix of B-movie aesthetics with prescient subject matter lands God Told Me To into the parse collection of genre films that only get better with age.
7. The Last Exorcism (2010)
The Last Exorcism had the misfortune of coming out at a time when people were tired of the found-footage possession genre. Overshadowed by Paranormal Activity and followed by The Devil Inside and Apollo 18, The Last Exorcism was lumped in with the imitators and never managed to break out from the pack. However, the movie stands out as a unique film that offered a breath of fresh air from the countless Paranormal Activity sequels and knock-offs.
The film follows Cotton Marcus, a reverend who is making a documentary to delegitimize the exorcism process. Cotton agrees to perform a standard exorcism of Nell Sweetzer, a farmer’s daughter who is allegedly killing livestock. Cotton shows the tricks of his trade, exposing the manipulative tactics used in exorcisms. But during his stay, he starts to find that Nell’s possession may be more real than he thought.
The Last Excorcist plays on tropes of both found footage movies and exorcism films and manages to redefine both genres. Featuring breathtaking setpieces (the cat scene is an all-timer) and engaging performances, the movie delivers genuine scares and a fresh take on a genre that was already over-saturated. It’s one of the few mockumentaries that actually benefit from the format rather than using it as a crutch.
As we continue to gain distance from the found-footage era of horror, The Last Exorcism continues to stand out as one of the best entries in the genre.
8. Body Bags (1993)
In 1993, John Carpenter of Halloween fame tried to create an anthology TV show reminiscent of Tales From the Crypt. The premise was that Carpenter would play a mortician who would pull out random bodies and viewers would see a series of segments that would illustrate how each body died. Unfortunately, Showtime pulled the plug on the show before it ever got a chance to air. However, three segments were already shot, so Showtime released this pilot as a made-for-TV movie.
Body Bags is an anthology film that contains three shorts. The Gas Station, directed by John Carpenter, follows Anne, a young woman working the night shift at an isolated gas station convenience store kiosk. Throughout the night, she is accosted by a variety of memorable characters, including an ax-wielding murderer.
The second short, entitled Hair, is a classic “be careful what you wish for” story from Larry Sulkis. The short follows Richard Roberts, a middle-aged businessman who is self-conscience about his thinning hair. He decides to meet with a sketchy doctor who gives him a hair growth solution. After being granted luscious locks, he finds that his hair won’t stop growing, and starts growing in unexpected places.
The third short, Eye, is a nasty and shocking entry from Tobe Hooper of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame. The short follows Brent Matthews, played by Mark Hammil, who is searching for an eye transplant. After receiving the surgery, he begins to suffer intense visions, escalating to a full insanity break.
As a cohesive film, the results are mixed as each installment varies in quality. However, unlike most anthology films, there are no bad shorts, as all three stories are fun in their own right. The Gas Station, in particular, is the most compelling of the three, offering tight direction and a gripping story. The variety of entries and the mastery of craft on display make Body Bags a breeze to watch. The movie is also strengthened by a wonderful framing device, with John Carpenter delivering a goofy performance as a nasty mortician introducing each story.
9. Lords of Salem (2012)
Lords of Salem is one of Rob Zombie’s least popular efforts. The movie eschewed the over-the-top gore and absurdity of films like The Devil’s Rejects to deliver something more atmospheric and moody than his fanbase was expecting. The result was a fierce split between the fans who were expecting something gorier and the fans who appreciated Zombie for making something different than his usual fare. With nearly ten years of distance from the movie, The Lords of Salem has only aged better as movies like The Witch and shows like The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina have revived mainstream interest in witchy folk horror.
The film follows Heidi, a recovering drug addict who works as a radio DJ. One day while working, she receives a mysterious song from an anonymous band labeled “The Lords”. The music triggers disturbing hallucinations in Heidi. She starts to find that the hit song may be the first step in a reckoning brought on by blood-thirsty witches who are hungry for retribution.
Cleverly framing the Salem Witch Trials as a metaphor for addiction, Zombie crafts an intimate and empathetic story that deals with the personal demons that addicts must battle. The film is a cacophony of surreal setpieces and witch lore that come together to create an abstract vision of deteriorating mental health. With a disquieting score, haunting visuals, and a powerful story, Lords of Salem is an undervalued and mature entry in Rob Zombie’s filmography. It’s an assault on the senses that’s backed by memorable images and an engaging performance from Sherri Moon Zombie.
10. Shadow in the Cloud (2020)
Dismissed by audiences as a miscalculated Chloë Grace Moretz vehicle, Shadow in the Cloud is a fun B-Movie that knows exactly what it is. The movie is a light adaptation of The Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”. In the episode, a man witnesses a gremlin crawling around on the wings of his airplane while in flight. Shadow in the Cloud takes this basic premise and infuses it with a gendered perspective of being a woman in the WW2 era. But as the movie progresses, director Roseanne Liang lets the narrative fall into the type of reckless goofy fun that seems to be missing from so many modern movies.
The film follows Maude Garrett, a female flight officer assigned to B-17 Bomber that is occupied by an all-male crew. The crew doesn’t understand why she’s there and reacts to her with hostility, banishing her to a turret at the bottom of the plane. The first act of the film is largely one-location, as Maude is stuck in the turret due to a malfunctioning door. While there, she sees a creature walking among the wings of the plane. As the creature begins to tears the plane apart, Maude is met with disdain from a crew that neither trusts her nor believes her.
The effective and stylized first half gives way to an absurd action-horror fusion that shows an audacious disregard for logic in favor of delivering memorable setpieces. In this way, it’s one of the most effective modern B-Movies in recent memory. It also earns the distinction of being one of the most successful full-length Twilight Zone adaptations of all time. With solid performances, a tight script, and a wonderful synth soundtrack, A Shadow in the Cloud is pure fun, a breath of fresh air in a genre that is too often consumed with self-awareness and subversion.