6. The Keep (1983)
You’ve probably never seen this one because it was notoriously difficult to find, with no DVD or Blu Ray release in the U.S. This probably stemmed from a difficult production, studio cuts, and a terrible box office reception. Still The Keep has plenty to recommend it, from its director (Michael Mann), soundtrack (Tangerine Dream), and cast (Scott Glenn, Gabriel Bryne, and Ian McKellen).
Set in WWII Romania, the film centers on a mysterious castle where Nazis have released some evil, otherworldly entity (as Nazis are wont to do). As a Jewish professor (McKellen) faces the ethical dilemma of using the entity against the fascists, a mysterious stranger appears (Glenn) with an agenda of his own. With a slow pace and a strange, dreamy tone, The Keep’s imposing, fog-shrouded sets and trance-like music feel like a combination of Blade Runner and Dracula.
7. Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
It’s bizarre this film isn’t more well-known, especially with its all-star cast of John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Cary Elwes, Eddy Izzard, and Udo Kier. The film fictionalizes the making of 1920s horror classic Nosferatu, with the premise that its star, Max Schreck, who plays the insidious Count Orlok, is truly a vampire. Thus, the film centers on the dark comedy of egotistical but brilliant director F.W. Murnau (John Malkovich) desperately trying to make his film while Shreck (Willem Dafoe) gleefully kills off the cast and crew one by one. Murnau knows Schreck’s true vampire and, in fact, hired him for verisimilitude.
This results in a darkly hilarious conflict as the director treats the vampire like a petulant star, rather than the unholy abomination he is. In one fantastic scene, he angrily berates a smirking Schreck for eating the photographer rather than the script girl. Hilarious, yet frightening, particularly for anyone who’s ever worked on a film crew, this underrated horror deserves to be called a classic.
8. Session 9 (2001)
This low-budget classic received acclaim on release but still flew under the radar. Taking full advantage of its incredible setting, the abandoned Danvers State Mental Hospital in Massachusetts, the film follows a crew of asbestos removal workers as they prepare the hospital for demolition. Things soon go awry after one of the workers Mike (Stephen Gevedon) discovers taped interviews with one of the patients who suffers from multiple personalities with demonic undertones. Soon, another worker goes missing and the horror ramps up.
The brilliance of the film lies in the way director/writer Brad Anderson reveals the deep horror in what is/was commonplace, from domestic violence to lobotomies. Peter Mullan’s performance as Gordon, the owner of the asbestos removal company, particularly enthralls with quiet despair and confusion as he struggles to cope with the possibly otherworldly horror that haunts his crew. Session 9 proves, once again, that often the best horror films are the simplest.
9. Housebound (2014)
You’ve probably heard of What We Do in the Shadows (2014), Taika Watiti’s hilarious vampire mockumentary, but New Zealand has another fantastic horror comedy up its sleeve with Housebound, which came out the same year.
The film begins with Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly) and an accomplice ineptly attempting to rob an ATM. After her inevitable arrest, the government sentences her to house arrest with an ankle monitor, answering the horror genre’s most persistent question: why doesn’t the protagonist just leave the haunted house? And Kylie’s mother’s house, the site of her imprisonment, certainly seems to be haunted with strange noises and occurrences, but Kylie believes there is an intruder instead. Her psychiatrist dismisses her claims, but with research, Kyle discovers a sordid history behind the house and neighborhood. It’s only a matter of time before she takes matters into her own hands and uncovers the truth of her house. With a fearless heroine and a unique blend of horror subgenres, Housebound even earned the praise of Peter Jackson (who’s no slouch in the horror comedy department himself).
10. Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (2002)
This last entry is particularly niche, but does an excellent job reworking its timeless source material. In Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary, Canadian auteur Guy Maddin adapts the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s performance of Bram Stoker’s classic novel. Like most of Maddin’s work, the film revels in silent film aesthetics, but with modern twists. For example, the film is shot in black and white, but shocking streaks of blood will be vibrant red. Maddin also emphasizes the book’s themes of xenophobia and sexuality (which are, sadly, still relevant), from the opening shot as the beautiful Lucy Westenra (Tara Birtwhistle) writhes in her sleep while bloody title cards read “Immigrants!” and “Others! From Other Lands!”
Casting also reinforces these themes with talented Chinese ballet dancer Zhang Wei-Qiang playing the Count himself. Still, the film retains surreal humor with highlights including a steampunk Van Helsing and sexy, dancing nuns. Probably the weirdest horror film you’ll see which is saying something. Pages from a Virgin’s Diary remains surprisingly entertaining and fun.