The last decade saw the release of several great horror films: Paranormal Activity, Kill List, The Thirst, Martyrs, and The Babadook to name just a few. At least one of these – I don’t need to mention which – became a huge commercial success and spawned several sequels and numerous inferior imitations. The rest all received accolades and became beloved of critics everywhere while still achieving commercial success of a more modest kind.
There are, of course, other films that have slipped beneath the critical and commercial radar, and not necessarily because of a lack of quality. Some had the misfortune to be released at the same time as similar films with bigger budgets and wider distribution, others didn’t chime with the cultural zeitgeist, and for many their flaws made if difficult for people to see the interesting ideas buried within. 15 of these films have been collected on this list. None of them are by any means perfect but all of them are worth a viewing.
1. Feast (2005) – John Gulager
Plot: It’s late at night. Several people are drinking and playing pool in a desert bar. A blood-covered, gun-toting man then bursts in and tells everyone they’re in serious and immediate danger. On-screen text identifies him as ‘Hero’; ‘Occupation – Kicking Ass.’ Hero shows the bar’s patrons the decapitated head of a hideous creature and tells them more of its kind will be arriving soon.
He seems like a saviour. Moments later he is violently killed. Another gun toting individual then arrives: a woman called ‘Heroine.’ Will she have more luck than her predecessor as she and the others in the bar struggle to survive the night?
Reasons to Watch: Right from the beginning Feast plays with your expectations. Each character in the bar is introduced with a profile revealing Name, Occupation, a Fun Fact, and Life Expectancy. The last one varies in accuracy.
Despite these ‘meta’ elements, though, Feast doesn’t reach the smirkingly self-aware levels of other postmodern horrors, such as Scream. This lack of self-indulgence certainly contributes to the film’s appeal.
Other plus points include strong-all round performances from the cast – including Henry Rollins as a motivational speaker. Then there are also the excellent creature effects and enough thrills and splatter to keep the attention of any hardened horror fan.
Interestingly, Feast was the third film to come out of the HBO documentary series Project Greenlit. It’s also the only film from that series to spawn sequels in the form of Feast 2: Sloppy Seconds and Feast 3: The Happy Finish. These are certainly a testament to the first film’s continuing cult appeal.
2. The Signal (2007) – David Bruckner, Dan Bush, Jacob Gentry
Plot: In a story told in three parts, The Signal charts the effects of a mysterious signal, transmitted through audiovisual and telecommunications devices, which causes psychosis in those who come into contact with it. The film’s main thread follows three characters: a woman called Mya, her husband Lewis, and her lover Ben, as they attempt to deal with the societal breakdown caused by the signal and escape from the city of Terminus.
Reasons to Watch: As a low-budget film dealing with something as big as the apocalypse, The Signal obviously has weaknesses. Yet it makes up for these in inventiveness. Firstly, rather than attempting to enact large set-pieces which would be beyond its means, the film instead positions itself as a character study.
It also makes use of other interesting devices you wouldn’t see in a Hollywood movie, such as exposing us to the point of view of those suffering the effects of the signal. This means it can be difficult to discern what is occurring within the ‘reality’ of the film and what is occurring within the character’s minds.
All this comes together to make The Signal a piece that is alternately surreal, disorientating, and horrific, yet also strangely touching.
3. The Children (2008) – Tom Shankland
Plot: A group of adults and their children head to an isolated country house for the New Years holiday. After the youngest child Paulie falls sick, he begins to display increasingly aggressive behaviour. The rest of the children follow suit and as they begin to pick off their parents one by one it seems as if teenager Casey is the only one capable of taking action.
Reasons to Watch: The Children has many things to recommend it. Writer/director Tom Shankland opts for a slow-burn build up, giving us time to get to know the characters and thus giving us a reason to care when the carnage begins.
The snowbound woodland setting, which would otherwise be perfect for a heart warming Christmas film, is perfectly chosen and, thanks to some good cinematography and sound editing, soon turned from a place of innocent beauty into a place of dread.
The film also boasts some incredibly creepy performances from its four child actors and enough freely flowing crimson to keep most gore hounds satisfied. Next time you hear a new parent discussing the joys of parenthood, be sure to recommend it.
4. The Horde (2009) – Benjamin Rocher, Yannick Dahan
Plot: A group of Parisian police go on a mission of revenge after one of their colleagues is killed by a drug dealer. After tracking their target to a condemned tower block in a Paris ghetto, they find themselves forced into an alliance with the dealer and his gang after the tower block comes under siege from a horde of ravenous zombies.
Reasons to Watch: The Horde’s combination of horror, crime thriller, and revenge drama, allow it to stand out from other zombie movies. Despite the addition of elements from other genres, though, the film is never under any illusions about its core audience, cue scenes of zombies being killed by fridges, a guy fighting off the undead with his bare hands, and an old dude causing carnage with a heavy machine gun.
If you want a zombie film that isn’t filled with cumbersome social commentary or faux-scientific reasons for the apocalypse – no reason is given for the zombie’s appearance – then The Horde is certainly worth a watch. Open some popcorn and prepare to have fun.
5. F (2010) – Johannes Roberts
Plot: After a confrontation with a pupil, school teacher Robert Anderson undergoes a downward spiral. He falls into alcoholism, becomes paranoid about the students he teaches, and ends up separated from his wife. His teenage daughter – who’s a student at his school – also grows resentful of him.
One evening, Anderson is supervising detention – in which he has placed his daughter- when the school comes under siege from a gang of hooded youths seemingly intent on slaughtering all those they come across.
Reasons to Watch: Hiding behind the right-wing fantasy of a plot is a simple and effective slasher film. As with any good slasher, it delivers both on suspense and gory kills.
Director Johannes Roberts, using tabloid scare stories as an inspiration, also finds a slasher-worthy setting in an inner-city school. It is this school’s endless maze of stairwells and dark, silent corridors, combined with a minimalist score, that help give F a very unsettling atmosphere.
6. Cold Fish (2010) – Sion Sono
Plot: Nobuyuki, the quiet, meek owner of a tropical fish shop, finds the lives of himself and his family irrevocably changed after he meets a fellow fish salesman who also happens to be a serial killer.
Reasons to Watch: Cold Fish is based on a number of true crime cases, including one involving a pair of Tokyo pet shop owners who murdered four people, and another involving the owner of a dog kennel who went on a murder spree in the 80’s. To his credit, director Sion Sono doesn’t try to stick to the facts of either of these cases too readily.
Rather he merely uses them as jumping off points for something that is far more than just your average serial killer film; Silence of the Lambs this is not – although it certainly matches it in the gore stakes.
The issues that Sono seems interested in here include family breakdown and the desires that unconsciously motivate out everyday actions. In a tale of fish shop owners gruesomely offing the competition, he finds an unlikely but otherwise perfect vehicle for exploring these issues.
Upon its release, Cold Fish received relatively mediocre reviews and little attention. This is a shame, considering there are few other films that meld copious bloodletting and human drama so effectively.
7. A Horrible Way to Die (2010) – Adam Wingard
Plot: Recovering alcoholic, Sarah is just about getting her life back on track and has just begun a relationship with Kevin, a fellow member of her support group. Any thoughts about a peaceful and serene life disappear, however, when her serial killer ex-boyfriend escapes from jail and begins to track her down.
Reasons to Watch: Like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (as well as films on this list like Cold Fish and Found), A Horrible Way to Die attempts to take the standard tropes of the serial killer film and do something interesting with them. Its focus isn’t solely on bloody violence and its victims and perpetrators but also on those on the peripheries; in this case the former lover of a mass murderer. It also explores the wider cultural influence of serial killers in a way seldom seen in films.
Although some of its ideas may be ill-executed and its non-linear editing occasionally frustrating, the ambition of its makers and their willingness to do something different cannot be faulted.