I got a lot of great feedback on my last list of underrated horror gems from the 21st Century. And since it was a struggle limiting my last list to only 15 entries, I relish the opportunity to create another one. Many of these films were painful cuts that absolutely deserve recognition. Some of these have, like good wine, have grown finer with age, finding endurance through resurgences or the persistence of social trends. Others are genuine sleepers that have somehow become more relevant now than they were at the times of release.
Have a read and let me know what you think in the Comments section. Do you agree that these are underrated genre gems worthy of your attention? Do you have any suggestions for lesser-known 21st Century classics you’d like me to consider for a future list? Let’s discuss!
Identity (2003, Directed by James Mangold)
Official Synopsis: When a vicious storm breaks out in the Nevada desert, 10 people seek refuge in an isolated motel. At the same time, a serial killer (Pruitt Taylor Vince) under the care of psychiatrist Doctor Mallick (Alfred Molina) — who has just found the killer’s revealing journal — awaits execution for murdering a group of motel guests. When the storm-stranded travelers realize they are being killed off one by one, limo driver Ed Dakota (John Cusack) bids to stay alive and reveal the murderer’s identity.
Identity excels thanks to an amazing ensemble cast, and intelligent mystery, and a truly unexpected twist that will have you rushing to give the film a second watch.
Red Eye (2005, Directed Wes Craven)
Official Synopsis: In the wake of her grandmother’s funeral, hotel manager Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams) is waiting to fly back home when she meets charming Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy) at check-in. She thinks it luck that they’re seated together on the plane, but soon learns otherwise. Jackson hopes to assassinate the head of Homeland Security, but to do so, he needs Lisa to reassign the official’s room number at her hotel. As insurance, Jackson has kidnapped Lisa’s father (Brian Cox).
One of Wes Craven’s least outlandish thrillers, one without any supernatural trappings and very little violence, is nonetheless one of his most riveting—and underrated. Cillian Murphy is an intense villain, a cold character who hides sadistic tendencies behind boatloads of charm and good looks. Red Eye takes a common situation (a random conversation with a stranger on a plane) and turns it into something completely engrossing and original—not to mention terrifying!
Bug (2006, Directed by William Friedkin)
Official Synopsis: At a rundown desert motel, Agnes (Ashley Judd) begins a tentative relationship with a newcomer named Peter (Michael Shannon). He has a strange charisma, one that offers fearful and unstable Agnes a flicker of hope. When Peter reveals that the military deliberately infected him with a bug and that he has tiny insects crawling under his skin, paranoia begins to envelop the desperate pair.
Looking through the discount and used DVD bins at your local shop (if you have one) you’d think Bug is one of the least-loved films ever made. There are hundreds of copies out there. If you stumble upon one of these orphans, please consider giving it a home. Bug is pure psychological horror from the director of The Exorcist. Yes, the film takes place primarily in a single room and features two actors almost exclusively, but the terror knows no bounds. It’s a harrowing journey into the heart of insanity.
Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000, Directed by Joe Berlinger)
Official Synopsis: As it follows the twisted path traveled by five people fixated on “The Blair Witch Project,” “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2” journeys into a dark and dangerous place where the line between truth and fiction blurs and perhaps vanishes altogether. Individual perception grows increasingly untrustworthy as the film’s protagonists find themselves caught in a vortex of unspeakable evil, the origins of which — human or supernatural — remain chillingly uncertain.
Maybe now that 2016’s Blair Witch turned out to be such a disappointment, people might be willing to re-evaluating 2000’s Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. It bombed when it was released, but I’ve always maintained that the film was unfairly judged against the expectations set by its predecessor. Book of Shadows is an engrossing, tense, suspenseful horror with plenty of twists and an amazing cast. Put down that bottle of Hater-ade and give Blair Witch 2 another whirl.
Related Article: “Blair Witch 3” Tanks Worse Than Panned “Book of Shadows”
Cherry Falls (2000, Directed by Geoffrey Wright)
Official Synopsis: A small-town sheriff, Brent Marken (Michael Biehn), discovers the presence of a serial killer in his sleepy hamlet. Since the perpetrator has been targeting only virgins, both male and female, the deaths cause panic in much of the local high school population. Sheriff Marken’s daughter, Jody (Brittany Murphy), is among the potential victims, since she has yet to sleep with her boyfriend, Kenny Ascott (Gabriel Mann). Can the lawman stop the killer before he goes after Jody?
The behind-the-scenes saga of what it took to bring Cherry Falls to fruition is epic; you can read about it in the link below. The film is the best teen slasher send-up since Scream, and may, in fact, be that film’s most brilliant protégé—a spiritual successor if nothing else. A villain who targets virgins exclusively inspires local teens to throw a Cherry Popping Party (a Hymen Holocaust) in order to protect themselves. A movie where parents are encouraging their daughters to get laid is absolutely one of a kind. It’s a great memorial to actress Brittany Murphy and one of Michael Biehn’s best.
Related Article: “Cherry Falls” Reissue and the Mysterious Death of Brittany Murphy
Bubba Ho-Tep (2002, Don Coscarelli)
Official Synopsis: After falling into a lengthy coma following a freak accident involving hip gyration, a now aged Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell) wakes up in an East Texas nursing home, where he befriends Jack (Ossie Davis), an African-American senior who claims to be President John F. Kennedy. After residents of their quiet retirement community start dying of dubiously unnatural causes, Elvis and Jack discover that the perpetrator is Bubba Ho-Tep (Bob Ivy), an Egyptian mummy with murderous intentions.
In between installment of his long-lasting Phantasm “Phranchise”, Don Coscarelli released a couple absolute gems, including the bizarre and hilarious Bubba Ho-Tep. The deadpan humor might go over the heads of those who only register slapstick, but the practical FX and supernatural meanderings will please most Horror Freaks. It also a chance to check out Bruce Campbell as a hero who isn’t Ash Williams!
Related Article: Don Coscarelli Still Hopes to Make “Bubba Ho-Tep 2” Someday
Dead End (2003, Directed by Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa)
Official Synopsis: When a family en route to a Christmas Eve gathering decides to take a shortcut down a wooded road, an eerie sequence of events signals trouble ahead. After nearly colliding with an oncoming car, father Frank (Ray Wise) picks up a ghostly hitchhiker (Amber Smith) and her infant child. With the sudden appearance of their new passengers, the route becomes dark and treacherous — and the family’s numbers rapidly begin to dwindle in a series of seemingly connected, grisly roadside accidents.
A trip to grandma’s house becomes a nightmare ride into madness in this film sure to thrill fans of The Twilight Zone and enigmatic supernatural mysteries. Horror mainstay Lin Shaye (Insidious and Ouija franchises, among many others) goes off her rocker, and her interactions with her onscreen husband, Ray Wise, is unnerving and compelling.
Creep (2005, Directed by Christopher Smith)
Official Synopsis: Party-loving Kate wakes up in a London tube station to find the place locked up and deserted. With no choice but to stay there until morning, Kate soon finds that some things are much more frightening than being alone, as she heads into the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the city, pursued by an unknown attacker.
Not to be confused with 2014’s amazing found footage offering from Patrick Brice and Mark Duplass, Creep from director Christopher Smith (Black Death, Triangle, Severance) is a claustrophobic creature horror that gets incredibly extreme. The titular Creep is a deformed monstrosity, a pitiable beast, a Gollum-esque fiend straight out of a nightmare—the perfect evil dweller for the film’s subterranean labyrinth.
Final Destination 5 (2011, Directed by Steven Quale)
Official Synopsis: During a bus ride with his colleagues to a corporate retreat, Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto) experiences a horrifying vision: the suspension bridge that they — and many others — are crossing starts to crumble around them. When his vision ends and, almost immediately, starts to come true, Sam takes quick action that saves a number of people, including his girlfriend, Molly (Emma Bell), and his best friend, Peter (Miles Fisher). However, the survivors soon find that Death will not be denied.
If you haven’t seen Final Destination 5 and think you might want to, go ahead and skip down to the next entry. But considering the film is over 5-Years-old, I think it’s okay to discuss the film’s amazing twist. Despite every indication that F5 is yet another sequel, it’s actually a prequel, one that ends with the events of the original Final Destination, released in 2000. Would you believe that the 5th installment in a franchise is actually better than the first? Believe it! The bridge collapse sequence is epic and the inclusion of Tony Todd as Death’s harbinger brings everything full circle.
Pulse (2006, Directed by Jim Sonzero) [Featured Image]
Official Synopsis: After her boyfriend commits suicide, a psychology student (Kristen Bell) and her friends begin receiving unsettling e-mails and video messages. After a number of disappearances across campus, she teams up with a computer hacker (Ian Somerhalder) to shut down the deadly force before it spreads to the rest of the world.
When I talk about movies improving with age, 2006’s Pulse is a perfect example. It arrived during the J-Horror remake craze along with the likes of The Ring, The Grudge, and One Missed Call. As part of that subgenre, Pulse is often disregarded, but its focus on atmosphere over overt scares actually sets it apart from its peers in a good way. Pulse is Goth as fuck, completely steeped in a pervasive and palpable gloom. Explorations of the isolating and potentially deadly effects of technology also make this film both enduring and relevant.
Borderland (2007, Directed by Zev Berman)
Official Synopsis: Ed (Brian Presley), Henry (Jake Muxworthy) and Phil (Rider Strong) are three American college graduates in search of wild times in Mexico. After a night of partying with two local women, Ed and Henry realize that Phil is missing. Joining forces with an ex-cop, their search for their friend leads them to a horrifying encounter with cultists who practice human sacrifice.
Fans of vacation horror along the lines of Hostile, Turista, and The Perfect Getaway will want to check out Borderland, but be warned: It’s way more extreme than any of those other movies. In addition to being an allegorical warning to horny young Americans who may seek to visit developing nations for lecherous debauchery, Borderland is based on a true story! Per IMDB the film is:
Loosely based on actual events which occurred in Mexico in 1989. A group of “narcosatanicos” were discovered to have killed at least 20 people and used their body parts in ritual sacrifices. Cult members were responsible for the abduction and murder of Mark Kilroy, a Texan pre-med student who disappeared in March 1989 during a spring break in Mexico.
Re-Kill (2012, Directed by Valeri Milev and Michael Hurst)
Official Synopsis: Five years after a zombie outbreak, the men and women of R-Division hunt down and destroy the undead. When they see signs of a second outbreak, they fear humanity may not survive.
Re-Kill is the movie World War Z might have been, had the producers of that film chose to stay true to the source materials. This isn’t the zombie outbreak scenario we’ve seen 100 times, and it’s not the oft-tread “new reality” of life after the fall of society. Re-Kill takes place at a moment in time where the military has the zombie menace on the ropes—until the threat of a second resurgence looms large. If you think there’s little room for innovation in zombie movies, check out Re-Kill for some solid reinvigoration.
Related Article: Best 21st Century Zombie Movies (So Far)
Open Grave (2013, Directed by Gonzalo López-Gallego)
Official Synopsis: A man awakes– without memory — in a pit full of bodies and must figure out if the people who rescued him are the killers, or if he is the murderer.
A mind-bending mystery with serious scares, the characters in Open Grave face one of mankind’s greatest collective fears: The unknown. Stripped of all recent memories, archetypes struggle for understanding and control of the nebulous yet terrifying menace that surrounds them.
Red State (2011, Directed by Kevin Smith)
Official Synopsis: Three horny teenagers — Travis (Michael Angarano), Jarod (Kyle Gallner) and Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun) — can’t believe their luck when they meet a woman online who says she wants to hook up with all three of them at once. But the promise of sex is a trap, and the boys find themselves in the hands of Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), a lunatic preacher who spews so much hatred that even neo-Nazis stay away. Cooper means to kill the trio for their sins, prompting a desperate bid for escape.
Before Kevin Smith launched his True North horror trilogy set in Canada (Tusk, Yoga Hosers, and the yet-to-be-produced Moose Jaws) he served up a healthy portion of southern fried terror in Red State, a film that begins like Porky’s and ends in a firefight of unusual intensity, all set on the compound of a conservative doomsday cult. Red State includes an incredible performance from John Goodman as Joseph Keenan.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014, Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon)
Official Synopsis: A masked maniac terrorizes the same small community where a murderer known as the Phantom Killer struck decades earlier.
A meta-film that’s both a remake and a sequel to the influential 1976 movie of the same name, The Town That Dreaded Sundown is both a throw-back and a reinvigoration of dated slasher motifs. It’s also an intelligent exploration of how dark history lingers, sometimes becoming inseparably tied to particular geographies.