5. The Love Witch
Another modern homage to the past, The Love Witch is a lovingly technicolor tribute to 1960’s horror. The palette on display is bombastic and stimulating, bright colors fill the screen and the sets are ostentatious, dressed with Kubrickian perfection. Along with her meticulous attention to detail, director Anna Biller fully embraces all things camp. The over-the-top acting, the characters as architypes and the throwback occult horror create a breezy, entertaining and easily digestible atmosphere in which to address present day issues.
Although the aesthetic of The Love Witch is acutely crafted as a tribute to the 60s, its message is a contemporary one. The film dissects love, passion, sex and gender dynamics through a distinctly modern feminist lens. Elaine, the titular witch, proves to be a feminist observation of the femme fatale genre trope; an old-fashioned siren asking modern questions. Even though the story takes place in modern day and its ideas are in-vogue, everything else about The Love Witch make it feel like a rediscovered hidden gem of decades past.
4. Tucker & Dale vs Evil
A box office failure and remaining in relative obscurity until its release on Netflix, Tucker & Dale vs Evil is one of the greatest horror comedies of all time. The film takes every slasher trope you can possibly image and lovingly lays them all out on the ground before dosing each one in gasoline and striking a match. Upending every archetype and cliché that appears on screen with surgical precision, the film is a hilarious exercise in goofy sincerity that is incredible to behold.
This is not a parody film a-la the Scary Movie franchise. Tucker & Dale vs Evil has much more subtle cleverness than that and at the end of the day even remains a decent slasher-horror film. Each character is perfectly cast, and writer/director Eli Craig shows respectable restraint behind the camera, allowing the cleverness of the script to speak for itself. Despite a less than stellar box office performance, Tucker & Dale vs Evil with go down in the pantheon of master class horror comedies.
3. Train to Busan
Although wildly popular in its country of origin, South Korea, Train to Busan only seemed to capture a niche audience of cult horror fans in the United States. Often compared to Snowpiercer due to its post-apocalyptic storyline and use of a train as the central location, Train to Busan is very much its own beast. It’s stylistic foreign popcorn entertainment. Director Yeon Sang-ho fills the frame with some unforgettable moments and cinematographer Lee Hyung-deok captures the action with a steady hand.
A fresh take in the decidedly un-fresh zombie subgenre, Train to Busan frames the apocalypse through a father-daughter relationship. Admittedly, the family drama is familiar territory, but the film’s breakneck pace and expertly crafted action sequences allow a stylistic entertainment value not typically gained by bigger budget zombie flicks of the same nature. When the apocalypse happens—it happens fast, a sprint that barely breaks until the credits roll. If you’re a fan of foreign horror or just want to have a good time, take a bite out of this one (sorry).
The second anthology film on this list aims to be more Lovecraftian than typical fare. Southbound is a collection of five interwoven tales of horror that take place on a dusty stretch of desert highway. From the get go, Southbound communicates that we are no longer in “the normal world” but rather a forgotten place on the edge of reality where drifters and hitchhikers tend to meet disturbing ends.
Southbound is a lot of fun. It’s an entertaining mix of occult and cosmic terror, taking more chances than the usual anthology while remaining a cohesive whole. Subpar horror anthologies often feel like a mess of inconsequential shorts with no relation to one another other. But in Southbound, each tale services the others, combining to offer a frightening glimpse into a Lovecraftian twilight zone.
1. Drag Me to Hell
After concluding his Spider-Man trilogy, Sam Raimi returned to his horror roots by resurrecting an old screenplay that eventually took form as Drag Me to Hell. The film takes a lot of cues from horror films of the late 50s, featuring a classic tale of morality brought on by a gypsy’s curse. While such a tale has been well-told for decades now, Drag Me to Hell is anything but old-fashioned.
Wearing its mutilated heart on its sleeve and placed the pedal firmly on the floor, Drag Me to Hell is high-velocity joyride filled to the brim with gross-out moments and practical effects. It stood in distinct opposition to other horror films of the time, using older filmmaking techniques to create an authentic campiness rather than relying solely on CG and jump scares. While this may have caused Drag Me to Hell to take a hit at the initial box office, it has since cemented its legacy as a cult classic horror film gushing with love and admiration for the genre.