We live in a Golden Age of horror, and the only downside is that many amazing offerings slip through the cracks, never seen by those who would appreciate them most.
As a horror journalist and aficionado, I consider it my mission to celebrate as many underappreciate genre gems as possible, and I’ve already put together more than one list of favorites. But no matter how selective or discerning I am, limiting selections to a batch of 10 or 15 is always heartbreaking as, inevitably, there are more just as worthy of your attention.
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This will be my 4th list of underrated horror movies since I began my tenure at Horror Freak News, but I’m certain it won’t be my last. Have a read and let us know what you think in the Comments section! Are you a fan of any of these lesser-known horror movies? What are some other sleepers that deserve a shout out? Let’s discuss!
The Nameless (1999, Directed by Jaume Balagueró)
Official Synopsis: Claudia (Emma Vilarasau) and Marc (Brendan Price) are horrified and heartbroken when their young daughter’s body is found mutilated. Several years later, Claudia gets a call from a young woman who could be her child. Claudia then launches an investigation involving a detective, Massera (Karra Elejalde), and a reporter, Quiroga (Tristán Ulloa). Their target — a satanic cult, which may be holding and torturing the girl, and whose members could subject all involved in the case to dire fates.
If you liked Martyrs, you should definitely give The Nameless a whirl. In fact, there are so many thematic similarities between this film and Pascal Laugier’s extreme body-horror masterpiece, I’d bet the later was influenced by the first. Specifically, The Nameless deals with a torture cult charged with kidnapping your women and subjecting them to atrocities. The film is presented from the point of view of a desperate mother searching for her daughter.
Open Water 3: Cage Dive (Directed by Gerald Rascionato)
Official Synopsis: Three friends from California head to the rugged Australian coast for a cage-dive encounter with great white sharks. When a massive wave suddenly destroys their boat, they find themselves floating in the ocean with a swarm of hungry man-eaters.
Open Water 3: Cage Dive may have seemed a bit redundant being released in the same year as 47 Meters Down; OW3, however, merely uses the cage diving expedition as a jumping-off point. Like the first 2 Open Water movies, the majority Cage Dive takes place on the surface. While many aspects of this movie are outlandish (and the “victims” are awful people), it’s the most focus, consistently intense film of the trilogy—and also the goriest by far.
Mayhem (2017, Directed by Joe Lynch)
Official Synopsis: Derek Cho is having a really bad day. After being unjustly fired from his job, he discovers that the law firm’s building is under quarantine for a mysterious and dangerous virus. Chaos erupts throughout the office as the victims of the disease begin acting out their wildest impulses. Joining forces with a former client who has a grudge of her own, Derek savagely fights tooth and nail to get to the executives on the top floor and settle the score once and for all.
28 Days Later meets Office Space in Mayhem, an insanely violent romp that definitely lives up to its name. Workplace horror has never been more chaotic or irreverent and political subtexts exploring corporate greed and classism will keep you thinking long after the end credits roll.
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Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl (2016, Directed by A. D. Calvo)
Official Synopsis: A lonely young woman living with her agoraphobic aunt develops a friendship with a woman who hides a strange darkness.
Fans of Ti West’s House of the Devil will swoon for Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl, a retro psycho-sexual creeper that’s a dead-ringer for the horror offerings of the late 1970s and early 1980s. With themes of coming of age, sexual awakening, and metamorphosis there’s plenty of heady subtexts, along with a hefty dose of titillating lesbian love.
Murder Party (2007, Directed by Jeremy Saulnier)
Official Synopsis: A loser finds out the hard way there are worse things than spending another night at home in this horror comedy from first-time director Jeremy Saulnier. Christopher (Chris Sharp) is a nebbish who can’t get any respect at work, couldn’t get a date if his life depended on it, and has practically no social life. Christopher figures he’s going to be stuck at home on Halloween until he finds an invitation for a murder party on the sidewalk; expecting a costume party with fun and games, he slaps together a cardboard suit of armor and shows up for the festivities. The bash is being thrown by a group of bohemian artists who are rather surprised Christopher has shown up — he’s the only stranger to take the bait and arrive for their party, in which their guest-of-honor is actually going to be killed in the name of creativity (and impressing a jaded patron who finances their projects).
Jeremy Saulnier became an indie legend following the release of his sophomore film, Blue Ruin; his third film, Green Room, was regarded as one of the best horror movies of 2016. Still, even genre aficionados who loved both films have been slow to see the filmmaker’s debut movie, Murder Party. It’s more of a straight-forward comedy than Blue and Green, but still deliciously subversive with plenty of gory violence.
Spiral (2007, Directed by Joel David Moore and Adam Green)
Official Synopsis: A reclusive telemarketer has only one semblance of a friend: His telecommuter boss. But the telemarketer’s social circle seems to improve greatly when a whimsical co-worker enters his life. Only, as he begins to sketch his new friend’s portrait, disturbing “voices” from the phone man’s past threaten to lead him into a network of destruction.
When I say Adam Green, horror fans think of the Hatchet movies (or perhaps Frozen and/or Digging Up the Marrow), but the lauded fear practitioner teamed up with Joel David Moore in 2007 to create a taut, character-driven psychological thriller; lite on gore it’s nonetheless well-equipped with teeth and balls. Mason, played by Moore, is one of the most sympathetic and pitiable horror villains since Norman Bates from Psycho.
Among the Living (2014, Directed by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo)
Official Synopsis: Teen troublemakers break into an abandoned film lot and witness a masked figure dragging a woman into an underground lair. No one believes their story — until the masked maniac shows up to silence them forever.
In 2014, Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury (Inside, Leatherface 2017) released Among the Living, an epic slasher and coming of age saga that will blow horror fans away. Among the Living just arrived on Shudder as an exclusive, and genre aficionados will want to devour it. With an intro that plays out like a sequel to Inside and elements of a teenage adventure along the lines of IT and Stand by Me, this is the film horror fans have been begging for. Fans of John Carpenter’s Halloween will swoon, and those who watch Among the Living won’t soon forget it.
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The Canal (2015, Directed by Ivan Kavanagh)
Official Synopsis: David and his family move into a period house by a canal, and dismiss rumors of the place being haunted. David starts having nightmarish visions when he suspects his wife is cheating, and he begins to descend into madness.
The Canal is a rare, successful merger of procedural crime drama and gothic/supernatural horror tropes. The “who-done-it” mystery at the film’s core will keep viewers hooked as they’re dragged down an especially terrifying rabbit-hole. With a disturbing climax that’s impossible to forget and a twist that’ll inspire multiple viewings, this British genre offering is a unique and unnerving treat. While it received positive reviews at the time of its release, The Canal has since drifted dangerously close to obscurity.
The Montauk Chronicles (2014, Directed by Christopher P. Garetano)
Official Synopsis: Montauk Chronicles is a 2014 documentary film from filmmaker Christopher P. Garetano. The film covers the alleged happenings in the Montauk Project conspiracy.
The Montauk Chronicles is a docu-horror unlike anything you’ve ever seen, a thrilling examination of the now-abandoned Camp Hero Air Force Base on Long Island (often dubbed the Area 51 of the East Coast). Fans of horror/sci-fi, conspiracy theories, and jaw-dropping documentaries will want to investigate this movie immediately. The Montauk Chronicles tells a story that immediately expands beyond the confinement of film, becoming a compelling moment of revelation that will motivate viewers to delve deeper into this engrossing mystery. The legends of Camp Hero are also the basis for Netflix mega-hit Stranger Things.
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Suburban Gothic (2014, Directed by Richard Bates Jr.)
Official Synopsis: An awkward, unemployed man (Matthew Gray Gubler) who can talk to the dead teams up with a rebellious bartender (Kat Dennings) to find the vengeful ghost that’s been terrorizing their town.
Suburban Gothic is the middle chapter of Richard Bates Jr.’s loosely-connected Coming of Age Trilogy (which begins with Excision and concluded with Trash Fire). Examined in its entirety, the installments in this trilogy represent High School, College, and Adulthood chronologically. While thematically bound, Suburban Gothic is the most blatantly comedic of the bunch, and the only chapter that delves into supernatural territory. It’s also the only one that has a happy ending (and a cameo from Jen & Sylvia Soska!).
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Horns (2014, Directed by Alexandre Aja)
Official Synopsis: Blamed for the murder of his girlfriend, a man (Daniel Radcliffe) awakes one morning to find he has grown a pair of horns. Armed, now, with supernatural powers, he sets out to find the killer.
Like The Canal (above), Horns was celebrated upon its release, but wasn’t a mainstream breakthrough; thus, this horror gem is already losing the clout it rightfully established. While lite on hardcore gore and supplemented with fantasy elements, Horns is nonetheless a chilling, Kafka-esque tale of metamorphosis, as well as a compelling mystery with amazing special FX. Don’t miss it!
Sunshine (2007, Danny Boyle)
Official Synopsis: In the not-too-distant future, Earth’s dying sun spells the end for humanity. In a last-ditch effort to save the planet, a crew of eight men and women ventures into space with a device that could revive the star. However, an accident, a grave mistake and a distress beacon from a long-lost spaceship throw the crew and its desperate mission into a tailspin.
When I say Danny Boyle, most film fans think of 28 Days Later and/or Trainspotting, but the writer/director’s foray into sci-fi, Sunshine, is a moody and compelling masterpiece. While lite or gore, the film oozes suspense and even conveys the intense metaphysical horror of shockers like Event Horizon. Like 28 Days Later, Sunshine stars Cillian Murphy as a somewhat reluctant hero.
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Stephen King’s A Good Marriage (2014, Directed by Peter Askin)
Official Synopsis: While her husband (Anthony LaPaglia) of more than 20 years is away on a business trip, a woman (Joan Allen) accidentally discovers the man’s sinister secret.
Don’t let the fact that it’s a Lifetime movie fool you; A Good Marriage is an emotional gut-punch that resonates long after the closing credits. Built on the secrets & deceit between a happily married couple, this film feels like a companion piece to Mike Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game (also based on a Stephen King story). You won’t believe you waited so long to check it out.
The Woods (2006, Directed by Lucky McKee) [Featured Image]
Official Synopsis: A tormented teen (Agnes Bruckner) has terrifying visions, while her classmates at a remote boarding-school for girls go missing.
The term “tragically underrated” is used a bit too liberally (I know I’m guilty) but it really is fittingly descriptive of The Woods, a film that will resonate with fans of The Craft and Suspiria. With themes of bullying and sexual awakening, The Woods remains timely over a decade after its release. It also features Bruce Campbell in a non-comedic supporting role, meaning it shows a side of the Evil Dead actor not normally seen.
The Caller (2011, Directed by Matthew Parkhill)
Official Synopsis: A troubled divorcee (Rachelle Lefevre) becomes the object of a terrifying revenge when she tries to put an end to a series of mysterious phone calls.
A surprisingly simple premise becomes a descent into pure terror in The Caller, a character-driven slow-burn creeper that fans of The Twilight Zone will want to devour. The film creates an intensely claustrophobic aesthetic, delivering several unique innovations on established time-travel tropes. A disembodied voice has never been more chilling or potentially devastating. Here’s an interesting bit of trivia: Brittany Murphy was originally cast as the lead, Mary Kee, but was replaced after filming began; had she completed the project, it would have been her final film.