13 fantastic scary movies you’ve probably never seen
September 20, 2012 11 Comments
Ask your friends to name their favorite thriller and you’ll probably get answers like “Halloween,” “Friday the 13th” and “The Blair Witch Project.” Older fans of your acquaintance might suggest a few of the classics, such as “Psycho,” “The Birds,” or even “The Exorcist.”
Those are all good choices for any mainstream movie fan just starting to dip a toe into the horror pool, but what if you’ve already sampled most of the standard scare fare offerings and are hungering for something even more classic or perhaps a little more offbeat?
Well, lucky you, because there are hundreds of lesser-known scary movies out there that can supply delicious chills and thrills, sometimes without even one drop of blood being spilled!
The following is a very personal list of 13 somewhat obscure but terrific horror examples spanning the decades, and includes a few that even devotees may have overlooked. So grab the popcorn, turn off the all lights and settle in for a scary good time with one of these unusual spooky thrillers.
Vampyr (1932) – Bela Lugosi’s “Dracula” is usually the first movie people think of when talking old school vampires, but few beyond the most avid fans have seen “Vampyr,” the surreal French-German production made around the same time. Almost devoid of dialogue, this black-and-white talkie looks a lot like the silent film its Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer originally intended it to be. So much the better for highlighting its disorienting visual effects, languid pace and dreamlike storyline about a man trying to free two women from the grip of a vampire. There is a hallucinatory quality to this classic, and its striking visuals depicting bloodlust, ghostly echoes and a live burial linger long after the last reel flickers out.
The Old Dark House (1932) – Travelers seeking shelter from a raging storm take refuge in a gloomy tumbledown mansion whose maniacal owners are just as likely to ignore them as to murder them. This delightful blend of subversive humor and scares was directed by the inimitable James Whale, and released the year after his masterpiece “Frankenstein.” This was for a time thought to be a lost film. After it resurfaced in the 1970s, fans of early cinema were tickled to death by both its snappy 1930s dialogue and rich Gothic atmosphere. Watch this to see just where all those endless parodies of the horror genre got their start. “No beds! No beds!”
Night of the Demon (1957) – (US title: “Curse of the Demon”) Jacques Tourneu’s occult masterpiece with Freudian overtones might have played even better as a purely psychological horror film if only the producers had not insisted on actually showing us the monster (sadly, they even slap it on the posters). That aside, this story of a professional disbeliever being slowly forced to accept that true evil really exists is effectively unnerving. “Night of the Demon” may be a weird mix of 50s B-movie horror and foggy British atmosphere, but it’s still incredibly effective as a thriller. “It’s in the trees! It’s coming!”
Peeping Tom (1960) – A cameraman spends his off hours murdering girls so he can film the expression of terror on their dying faces. It’s revealed that his violent obsessions are the result of his father’s intense psychological experiments in fear during childhood. Unfortunately for acclaimed British director Michael Powell, critics were appalled by the sexual violence and uncompromising and even sympathetic portrayal of a three-dimensional serial killer. Public outrage caused the film to be pulled from theaters just five days after its release, thus effectively ending Powell’s career. Although its violence and sexual subject may be tame by today’s standards, the film is still shocking in its exploration of the attraction to violence.
Eyes Without a Face (1960) – A brilliant surgeon works in secret to restore the face that his once-beautiful daughter lost in the terrible accident for which he was responsible. Each successive transplant of facial skin taken from the young female victims his assistant procures for him ends in agonizing failure and death. The horror here lies less in the disturbing facial surgeries (where the gore is minimized and viewers only think they see more than they actually do), than in the idea that this doctor implacably continues murdering in an attempt to erase his own mistake. This French film contains images that will burn into your skull.
Carnival of Souls (1962) – Mary survives the watery car accident that killed her friends and tries to get on with her life, but finds that life might not be quite so willing to have her back. Made for just $33,000 back in 1962, the extremely low production values actually work in this movie’s favor. If you can look past the plodding script and non-existent acting skills, you’ll be rewarded with some of the most unsettling music and nightmarish imagery ever dreamed up.
The Haunting (1963) – One of THE scariest movies ever made. No blood, no gore, no serial killers and no monsters, well, except for the ones we carry around deep inside of our psyches. For pure psychological and emotional terror, this 1963 black-and-white chiller has no parallel. A professor gathers together a disparate group of psychics at an eerie old mansion for research into the existence of ghosts. Madness and death ensue. I get chills just remembering the sound effects! (Amazingly, director Robert Wise is the same person who gave us “The Sound of Music” the following year!)
Theatre of Blood (1973) – Vincent Price is wickedly hilarious as a failed Shakespearean actor who wreaks poetic justice on his critics by offing them in the most ingenious and often goriest ways possible, with each death based on a scene from one of the Bard’s plays. Diana Rigg joins Price as his equally demented daughter in this very devilish and very black comedy. Full of 1970s camp and buckets of blood, also supposed to be Price’s favorite film.
The Changeling (1980) – After the tragic accidental deaths of his wife and young daughter, a composer rents a historic house in which to work and discovers something otherworldly living there, something that craves justice and wants his help in finding it. The slow-building suspense in this incredibly atmospheric haunted house film is unrelenting. Absolutely no blood or gore whatsoever, but plenty of solid frights abound. This film is certainly much too scary for kids — and for those afraid of the dark.
May (2002) – A socially awkward and painfully lonely young woman decides to take her mother’s words (“If you can’t find a friend, make one.”) to heart. “May” is many things, drama, dark comedy, gory slasher flick and psychological horror story all rolled into one. The empathy you invest in the title character during the first half of the movie gets its real test in the second half once blood starts to flow. You may not like May very much, but you’ll find it hard to hate her.
Three… Extremes (2004) – This film is a trilogy of Asian horror stories by three different indie directors. “Cut” is the most sadistic (and bloodiest) of the three segments, “Box” is the most disturbing and “Dumplings” is the most stomach turning. Taken together they provide a really fascinating introduction to some of the most prominent themes in East Asian horror. You won’t feel hungry after watching this one!
Noroi (2005) – Forget “Blair Witch,” the Japanese film “Noroi” is what found footage-style horror films should look like. A documentary filmmaker explores several unrelated paranormal incidents connected to the legend of a demonic entity. This film is so stuffed full of mood and disquieting images that you’ll almost forget it’s not a real documentary about real events. Makes the most of using a first-person narrative with legitimately creepy results.
The Orphanage (2007) – Laura brings her husband and 7-year-old adopted son back to the now-dilapidated orphanage where she herself grew up, planning to create a home for disabled children. Her son almost immediately acquires an imaginary friend and starts acting oddly. During an opening day children’s party, the boy disappears soon after he and his mother fight. This moody Spanish thriller is terrifically creepy with just a few slam-bang shocks, and contains one of the saddest endings I have ever seen in a horror film. Its producer (Guillermo del Toro) plans a big budget US remake, but see this one first.