While the movie industry (as a whole) flounders, the horror genre is gaining strength. As studios realize the financial viability of scary movies and mainstream audiences’ tastes drift towards the more macabre, the mid-2010s have created a perfect storm for amazing horror. While I’m not saying everything being released these days is elite, there are definitely more great genre films for today’s aficionados to choose from; the downside of this phenomenon is that many incredible films slip through the crack, never getting the attention or accolades they deserve.
It’s my mission to change all that! Regular readers of Horror Freak News know I’m big on celebrating underappreciated genre gems, and I’ve brought you some lists of underrated winners in the past. Today, I’ve got another batch of heavyweights to introduce you to and, this time, I’m focusing on recent releases (nothing over 4 years old).
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Check these films out before they become certifiable sleepers with massive cult followings. And let me know what you think of my choices in the comments section. Do you have any other suggestions regarding recent creepers that deserve a shout-out? Let the debates begin!
Let Me Make You a Martyr (2016, Directed by John Swab and Corey Asraf)
Official Synopsis: Adopted siblings (Sam Quartin, Niko Nicotera) hatch a plot to kill their abusive father (Mark Boone Junior), a local crime boss who won’t go down easily.
Let Me Make You a Martyr got lots of press when it ran the festival circuit in 2016, with many critics praising an ice-cold performance from Marilyn Manson as a sadistic hitman. When it was released on DVD & VOD last January, however, horror enthusiasts weren’t rushing to see it. Yes, it’s a depressing descent into violence featuring sexual abuse and incest, but there’s much more going on in this film than you first realize; it becomes a metaphysical conundrum you won’t soon forget.
We Go On (2016, Directed by Andy Mitton and Jesse Holland)
Official Synopsis: A man offers a reward to anyone who can prove there is an afterlife. He embarks on an adventure through Los Angeles to meet with three viable candidates, and he has no idea he is about to experience an unthinkable nightmare.
A horror movie doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel to be extremely entertaining, and We Go On is proof positive. One man’s search for the afterlife becomes a neverending nightmare when he realizes some doors can’t be closed once opened. A mid-point shocker will send you reeling and a poignant twist ending will give you the feels.
They’re Watching (2016, Directed by Jay Lender and Micah Wright)
Official Synopsis: Crew members (Kris Lemche, David Alpay) of a reality TV show become embroiled in a centuries-old web of revenge and horror when Eastern European villagers attack a woman suspected of witchcraft.
In Moldova, you don’t hunt houses; houses hunt you! Those who think the found-footage craze is over need to give this gem a peep. Filled with unnerving villagers and surrounded by creepy forests, They’re Watching will take you way outside your comfort zone before giving you a hefty dose of terror. Directors Jay Lender and Micah Wright built slowly to an extremely satisfying (and hilarious) ending, heavy on special FX.
Be My Cat: A Film for Anne (2015, Directed by Adrian Tofei)
Official Synopsis: A young man in Romania goes to shocking extremes to convince Hollywood actress Anne Hathaway to star in his film.
This one always makes my personal list of the most disturbing film ever made. In my opinion, the line between fiction and reality has never been more skillfully (and terrifyingly) blurred. I genuinely felt concern for the actresses in the film; I kept telling myself “It’s only a movie” but there’s an unshakable authenticity to Be My Cat that all disbelief is eradicated. Adrian Tofei excels as one of the most convincing movie psychopaths since Norman Bates.
Come Back to Me (2014, Directed by Paul Leyden)
Official Synopsis: A woman (Katie Walder) installs a hidden videocamera in her home in a desperate bid to learn the truth about her blackouts and memory lapses and, in the process, discovers a terrifying secret involving her neighbor.
Come Back to Me is one of the most unconventional horror thrillers in recent memory, one that delivers compelling and complex thrills without a big budget. Convincing performances by talented thespians make this film a winner, and creative innovations will push you back for multiple viewings.
The Unkindness of Ravens (2016, Directed by Lawrie Brewster)
Official Synopsis: A homeless veteran battles to survive against his demons in the remote Highlands of Scotland.
Horror movies aren’t known for being socially conscious, in general; sure, there are examples of films that tackle real-world issues like racism and violence against women, but The Unkindness of Ravens is a touching and harrowing meditation on the after-effects of war.
Antibirth (2016, Directed by Danny Perez)
Official Synopsis: Hard-drinking, pill-popping, bong-ripping Lou and her best friend Sadie spend their days adrift in a drug-induced haze. But one wild night out becomes a bad trip that never ends when Lou wakes up with symptoms of an unexplained, highly abnormal pregnancy. As her due date approaches with alarming swiftness, the fear, paranoia, and conspiracy theories begin to pile up about the pregnancy.
Natasha Lyonne and Chloë Sevigny kill it as a couple hard-drinking, bong-smoking, pill-popping party-girls in a film overflowing with neo-feminist subtext and genuine body horror. It’s also a madcap exploration of reproductive freedoms, motherhood, and nihilism. If you’re looking for a visceral mix of horror and social commentary, you can’t go wrong with Antibirth.
Colossal (2017, Directed by Nacho Vigalondo)
Official Synopsis: Gloria is an out-of-work party girl who leaves New York and moves back to her hometown after getting kicked out of her apartment by her boyfriend. When news reports surface that a giant creature is destroying Seoul, South Korea, Gloria gradually comes to the realization that she is somehow connected to this far-off phenomenon. As events begin to spiral out of control, she must figure out why her seemingly insignificant existence is having such a colossal effect on the fate of the world.
This kaiju-themed horror movie is unlike any of its peers as director Nacho Vigalondo flips established giant-monster tropes on their heads. What begins as a drunken semi-fantasy descends into a brutal exploration of entropy (or lack thereof), domestic abuse, and emotional blackmail. Like Antibirth above, Colossal features some heavy neo-feminist subtext. Believe me, you’ve never seen anything quite like this.
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Trash Fire (2016, Directed by Richard Bates Jr.)
Official Synopsis: Owen and Isabel’s love story simmers with spiteful rage and unfortunately for everyone, Isabel is pregnant with Owen’s child. To prove to her that he can become a stable father, Owen agrees to reconnect with his only living relatives at Isabel’s request. The couple take a trip to visit his perversely devoted grandmother and his sister Pearl, who was severely burned in a fire, to finally bury the hatchet. But sometimes the ties that bind can cut off all circulation.
The third in Richard Bates Jr.’s “Coming of Age” trilogy, Trash Fire follows Excision and Suburban Gothic; while it has no direct connection to those films, there are, according to the filmmaker, connected in spirit. Trash Fire is as engrossing as it is brutal, a modern American Gothic complete with extreme family dysfunction, a mad-woman lurking upstairs, and skeletons buried beneath the house.
The Hallow (2015, Directed by Corin Hardy)
Official Synopsis: A family who moves into a remote millhouse in Ireland find themselves in a fight for survival with demonic creatures living in the woods.
City folk like me may scoff at the thought of evil fairy’s, but when trapped in an isolated millhouse in the remote Irish highlands, cut off from the lights and bustle of modern society, suddenly, anything’s possible. The Hallow may stoke fears you didn’t even know you had while making you think twice about what lurks in the primordial darkness.
The Evil Within (2017, Directed by Andrew Getty)
Official Synopsis: A lonely and mentally disabled boy who lives with his older brother is urged by a reflection in an antique mirror to go on a murderous rampage.
This film took 15 years to make, but that’s hardly the most notable feature of The Evil Within. It’s a psychological creeper with teeth, a surreal nightmare that’s impossible to turn away from. Culminating in a bat-shit display of insanity and animatronics, Andrew Getty’s one and only film proves he had incredible skills and insights. It’s a shame we’ll never get another, but The Evil Within is a great film to leave as a legacy. Bravo.
Stung (2015, Directed by Benjamin Diez)
Official Synopsis: Chaos strikes at a fancy garden party when killer wasps mutate into 7-foot-tall predators and go on a grisly rampage.
Sometimes, you just want to see a gross-out flick with monsters attacking partygoers—and Stung is there for you! Like all great horror comedies, this one is more disgusting than terrifying; it’s enhanced by a quirky courtship and a knock-out performance from Lance Henricksen as the urbane Southern Gentleman, Caruthers.
Stage Fright (2014, Directed by Jerome Sable)
Official Synopsis: A snobby musical theater camp is terrorized by a blood-thirsty killer who hates musical theater.
In general, I don’t like musicals. That said, I loved Stage Fright, which is actually more of a meta-film than a straight up horror-opera. The music camp is a perfect setting for a send-up of slasher films of the 1980s and the drama-obsessed kids make for perfect protagonists (and victims!). The film features Meat Loaf (yes, the Meat Loaf!) as the head counselor/director in a great performance that’s worth the price of admission alone.
The Editor (2014, Directed by Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy)
Official Synopsis: A one-handed film editor becomes the prime suspect in a series of violent murders.
A loving send-up of the Giallo subgenre, The Editor mixes elements of 1970’s deadpan retro and neo-grindhouse.
Bloodsucking Bastards (2015, Directed by Brian O’Connell)
Official Synopsis: An office worker (Fran Kranz) springs into action after learning that his colleague (Pedro Pascal) is a scheming vampire.
Ever feel like your boss is trying to suck every drop of life out of you? This turns out to be the case, literally, for a trio of office workers just looking to make it to quitting time alive! Fran Kranz was a consummate scene stealer as Marty in The Cabin in the Woods, but he’s front and center throughout in Bloodsucking Bastards; it’s a subtitler performance, but just as enjoyable. Personally, I’d love to see Kranz in more horror movies. What do you guys think?