It still blows my mind when I hear horror fans complaining, “There’s nothing original,” or “Everything sucks,” or “Horror is dead”. Anyone who really cares about this genre knows nothing can be further from the truth. There has never been more quality content available to aficionados looking for top-notch thrills and intelligent storytelling.
The problem may be that with so many options to choose from, it has become increasingly difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. Just as there are more great horror movies than ever before, there are more duds to wade through. Horror fans can’t be blamed for being apprehensive about trying something new, but here’s the problem: Those who limit their viewing choices to what gets released theatrically and/or what becomes available to stream on Netflix, will never find the truly original, exceptional gems.
Related Article: 15 Amazing Horror Movies from 2016 You Probably Missed
Lucky for you, you’re friends with a Horror Freak who has done the legwork and heavy lifting for you: Me. You can benefit from my hours wasted viewing mediocrity, and you can trust me to bring you suggestions that are absolutely worthy of your attention. These 15 films may have slipped under your radar, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t incredible.
Got a suggestion for another great underrated horror gem? Let’s talk in the Comments section!
Pet (2016, Directed by Carles Torrens)
Official Synopsis: A psychological thriller about a man who bumps into an old crush and subsequently becomes obsessed with her, leading him to hold her captive underneath the animal shelter where he works. But what will the victim have in store for her captor?
Pet is the most recent film on the list and it was definitely one of the best horror movies of 2016, but it came and went with little fanfare. The DVD wasn’t sold in outlets like Walmart or Best Buy (at least not the ones near my house) and it isn’t available on Netflix. So dig a bit deeper to enjoy great performances and a crackling script by Jeremy Slater, showrunner for Fox’s The Exorcist. There’s a power dynamic at play that only reveals itself in the 3rd Act, and Pet is a great metaphor for female power that simply can’t be caged.
Frozen (2010, Adam Green)
Official Synopsis: Three skiers stranded on a chairlift are forced to make life-or-death choices which prove more perilous than staying put and freezing to death.
Adam Green proved his horror movie mettle by launching the Hatchet slasher trilogy in 2006, but Frozen never got the props it deserves. Yes, the premise is incredibly basic, but it speaks to the banality of evil (in the case the danger of natural forces) and serves as a grim reminder that life can change at the drop of a hat (or the stalling of a ski lift). Don’t think a story about 3 people in a single location can be engrossing, shocking, and gut-churningly disturbing? Think again.
Intruders (2011, Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo)
Official Synopsis: Two children living in different countries are visited nightly by a faceless being who wants to take possession of them.
There’s a touch of magical realism to this haunting psychological horror that will definitely speak to fans of Guillermo del Toro. The story of a family haunted by a mysterious specter becomes a metaphor for facing past demons. Intruders succeeds by imposing childhood fears upon an adult audience with gripping effectiveness. This is a smart, scary story anchored by a fantastic cast and script.
Paranormal Activities: The Marked Ones (2014, Directed by Christopher Landon)
Official Synopsis: When a young man becomes the target of a malevolent entity, he must uncover its true intentions before it takes complete control of him.
The Marked Ones is perhaps the forgotten Paranormal Activities movie, the red-headed stepchild of the franchise that no one, it seems, considers canonical. Even the studio seems unwilling to lump it in with the other installments, condemning this official “spin-off” to second-class citizen status. It’s a shame because the shift in cultural perspective adds volumes to the series’ mythology while working as a metaphor (better than any of its siblings) for drug addiction and depression. It’s also scary as hell, although the scene of the dog on the ceiling is tough to watch.
Stoker (2013, Directed by Chan-wook Park)
Official Synopsis: After India’s father dies, her Uncle Charlie, who she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her unstable mother. She comes to suspect this mysterious, charming man has ulterior motives and becomes increasingly infatuated with him.
Coming hot on the heels of Byzantium, another, slightly more successful art-house vampire saga, Stoker perhaps missed its window to stand out as both superior and more original. Horror Freaks may be surprised to discover that this examination of lust and metamorphosis was directed by Korean filmmaker Chan-wook Park, best known for his revenge masterpiece Old Boy. As with his other films, Park never shies away from controversial or uncomfortable examinations of the horrors lying below the surface.
The Battery (2012, Directed by Jeremy Gardner)
Official Synopsis: Forced together by a zombie apocalypse, two former baseball players (Jeremy Gardner, Adam Cronheim) find their relationship becoming strained as they struggle to survive each day.
Think the zombie subgenre is played out? Think again! But The Battery is a standout, not for any ambitious innovation, but for its return to the basics: The realities of life after the fall; the day to day actions necessary for survival that seem so shocking initially, have now become commonplace. As much as it’s a zombie movie, it’s a buddy movie—one with a dark and emotional resonance that will haunt you long after the credits roll.
Stage Fright (2014, Directed by Jerome Sable) [Featured Image]
Official Synopsis: Blood begins to spill soon after the daughter (Allie MacDonald) of a Broadway diva wins the lead in the summer showcase at a performing-arts camp.
I know a horror musical is a hard sell, believe me; it’s probably why it took me a couple years to finally give Stage Fright a watch. But this one is entertaining start to finish; any similarities to sparkle-trash like Glee is purely satirical. Stage Fright, first and foremost, is a summer camp horror, and the backdrop of a student play is reminiscent of 1990’s Popcorn. Theater Geeks make awesome protagonists—and victims! And it’s totally worth noting that there’s not, like, a ton of singing. It’s not an opera.
The Guest (2014, Directed by Adam Wingard)
Official Synopsis: A soldier introduces himself to the Peterson family, claiming to be a friend of their son who died in action. After the young man is welcomed into their home, a series of accidental deaths seem to be connected to his presence.
Before Adam Wingard and his consummate writing partner Simon Barrett became the whipping boys of horror following the underwhelming reception for 2016’s Blair Witch, they were a golden duo lauded for the breakout success of their first collaboration, You’re Next (which may have single-handedly reinvigorated the home invasion subgenre). But in between career peaks and valleys came The Guest, a smart, simmering story that builds slowly to an incredible climax. And no, building slowly does not mean it has pacing issues. While it lacks the nonstop violence of You’re Next in favor of character building and emotional drama, as well as the name recognition of an established franchise, The Guest is my favorite Wingard/Barrett creation to date.
The Voices (2014, Directed by Marjane Satrapi)
Official Synopsis: A likable guy pursues his office crush with the help of his evil talking pets, but things turn sinister when she stands him up for a date.
The Voices is a side-splitting horror comedy right up until the moment when it becomes something else entirely—something much darker and decisively unfunny. You may feel like you’ve had the rug pulled out from beneath you, but you won’t soon forget Ryan Reynolds in a role unlike any other. Be sure to laugh it up while you can, because you’ll be crying later.
Cheap Thrills (2013, Directed by E. L. Katz)
Official Synopsis: A series of escalating bets pits recently reunited friends against each other.
That goofy kid from Can’t Hardly Wait (Ethan Embry) grew up to be a man with a drinking problem some serious anger issues! A couple old friends run into each other in a dive bar before being seduced into a high stakes game of Dare or Dare! The question isn’t whether the request will be painful and humiliating; the question is: Who’s desperate enough to damage and demean themselves first. Cheap Thrills becomes a timely metaphor for the manipulation of the poor by the rich. David Koechner plays Colin, a character you wouldn’t be surprised to find torturing a tourist in some Slovakian dungeon.
Asylum Blackout (2011, Directed by Alexandre Courtès)
Official Synopsis: Employees (Rupert Evans, Kenny Doughty, and Joseph Kennedy) at an asylum get locked in with dangerously insane inmates during a power outage.
What makes Asylum Blackout fun is that it’s about a group of friends facing terrifying challenges together. But these aren’t kids like the protagonists of Stand By Me, these are 20-somethings who want nothing more than to rock and roll all night (and party every day). But bills still have to be paid, so the trio works 9-5 in the cafeteria of a mental asylum for the criminally insane. There’s system-wide power outage and, well, I bet you can guess what ensues. My favorite part about Asylum Blackout is that there are just enough hints dropped throughout to make you question what’s really going on.
Blood Punch (2014, Directed by Madellaine Paxson)
Official Synopsis: A young man becomes entangled in a dangerous love triangle.
If you liked Milo Cawthorne as the love-struck metal head who unwittingly initiates a worldwide apocalypse in Deathgasm, you’ll definitely enjoy the actor in Blood Punch; he absolutely brings his signature brand of goofy sincerity, his boy-next-door charm and approachability. Blood Punch is like Groundhogs Day by way of Christopher Smith’s Triangle, a mind-bending metaphysical repetition that traps both characters and viewers in a challenging maze. Can you solve the riddle?
Poker Night (2014, Directed by Greg Francis)
Official Synopsis: When you become a detective in Warsaw Indiana – you go to Poker Night, where you play against some of the best cops in the business. They tell you stories about their time on the job – their successes and failures. When new Detective Stan Jeter leaves the game, he is caught by a vicious psychopath and locked in a basement. Using the stories he heard at Poker Night, he must match wits against his captor – and save not only himself, but the young girl trapped in the basement with him. Like Seven and Usual Suspect, Poker Night combines thrills and twists and turns that will leave you guessing till the very end.
The stylish masked villain of Poker Night (played by Michael Eklund) definitely has icon potential. The story will thrill fans of procedural horror like Saw and Zodiac, but this one really emphasizes the comradery among cops. Poker Night also has a self-deprecating humor to it that’s truly endearing. There are plenty of surprising reveals and shocking twists, propelled by a razor-sharp script and a cast that includes Hellboy’s Ron Perlman. Warning: Watching Poker Night once will definitely make you want to watch it again!
It’s In the Blood (2012, Directed by Scooter Downey)
Official Synopsis: When a father and son become stranded in the wild, they must confront the horrors of their past to escape with their lives.
Everyone loves Lance Henriksen but hardly anyone talks about It’s In the Blood, which is a damn shame. This movie isn’t just one of the lauded actor’s more obscure films, it’s one of his best. He plays a grizzled hunter with the wisdom of an ancient soul, delivering eloquent observations in his hypnotic, riveting baritone timber. It’s the story of a father and son facing their tragic past together, and the manifestations of their demons are harrowing. If you enjoyed 2016’s The Monster (and you’d have to be crazy not to have), you’ll want to seek out It’s In the Blood. Consider it a must-see.
Hellmouth (2014, Directed by John Geddes)
Official Synopsis: A throwback to the genre films of the ’50s, Hellmouth is about a grave-keeper who is drawn into a hell dimension to save the soul of a beautiful woman. He battles the world’s most horrific ghouls and ghosts in a graveyard that turns reality into outer world fiction.
Every wish there was something with the stylish aesthetic of Sin City that was an actual horror movie? Then enter the Hellmouth, a psychedelic throwback that’s like dropping bad acid with the Cohen Brothers in the land of Oz. This reimagining of Dante’s Inferno and the myth of Persephone is completely out of time and in a class of its own. Hellmouth stars Stephen McHattie, well-known to horror fans for turns in mainstream and indie films like Pontypool, Watchmen, Exit Humanity, Haunter, and Pay the Ghost.