October signals the single greatest time of the year for movie maniacs like myself, as we’ve finally reached the stretch of fall where many projects thought to be in February’s Oscars conversation are beginning to be released and – even more importantly – it’s officially the month of the horror genre. I generally like to revisit numerous favorite horror classics of mine during this period while mixing in a few new additions every year. As I dug through a multitude of titles I hadn’t seen in a long time without knowing which to choose, I decided to take a look back at a few of the more underappreciated horror films I’ve seen in recent years.
It Follows (2014)
Of all the films on this list, It Follows likely carries the most notoriety. However, this inventive beauty still doesn’t receive the proper attention it deserves, in my mind. It’s absolutely brilliant conceptually, generating a wildly effective tale of suspense that’s rooted in strong visual allegory. It’s perfectly creepy as it minimizes the ever-trite jump scares and emphasizes multiple sequences that build dread relentlessly. The characters are actually textured and intriguing (Maika Monroe is particularly outstanding in the lead) and the camera angles/perspectives employed are as unique as they come. And to top it all off…the astonishing soundtrack. I shudder just thinking about it.
Bone Tomahawk (2015)
Kurt Russell back out in the western wilderness certainly doesn’t sound like a premise for an effective horror movie, but don’t be fooled. Full of distinctive imagery and campy dialogue (“you’re pretty angry for a guy named Buddy”) with plenty of tense (and often grisly) shots. It’s buoyed by a (surprisingly) strong supporting cast alongside Russell that works beautifully on the contained scale that’s used here. There’s also The Scene, which is harrowing to a degree that I’m not sure I’ll ever witness again. It’s definitely…something.
After having seen this initially and loving it (despite mixed ratings), I quickly pulled up some critic reviews to see if I’d missed anything for some reason. The first one I read described Stoker as “deliciously twisted” – and that remains the most appropriate description I’ve come across. Not a traditional horror, but very stylish and utilizes its fantastic sound design exceptionally, helping build a conducive atmosphere for a haunting central character whose life is so woozy and mysterious that you’re never quite sure what to make of her. The twists eventually hit one right after another, with each successive one arguably more potent than the last. Definitely go into this one knowing as little possible.
Drag Me to Hell (2009)
I’ve always been an absurdly big fan of the original Evil Dead trilogy (also directed by Sam Raimi), so the various references/callbacks to it in here may have influenced my enjoyment of this ever so slightly. Still (despite its PG-13 rating), DMTH is far scarier than most R-rated horrors these days. It’s augmented nicely by Alison Lohman, whose endearing demeanor and comedic relief really help elevate every other element. As I alluded to though, if Evil Dead isn’t your thing – this may not be the best selection, but I’d still suggest giving it a watch. I shamelessly maintain that this is the GOAT PG-13 horror film.
A New Zealand gem that I stumbled onto by complete accident, having heard nor seen anything about it beforehand. Primarily horror but incorporates a ton of well-conceived humor and wraps it around a terrific narrative. The protagonists are rough around the edges to start but win you over as it moves along, sprinkling in some genuinely touching emotional moments. The writing is superb (arguably its best attribute) and keeps you off-balanced with a number of jarring twists scattered throughout the runtime. It’s unfortunate that this is as obscure as it appears to be.