Now that 2019 has come to a close, horror heads into 2020 stronger than ever. The last decade of the genre has given us some truly classic and frightening experiences that have kept fans coming back for more again and again. But what about that one movie you and your friends have seen and love but no one else has even heard of? It seems only fitting to count down some of the best horror movies of the last decade that were either shockingly underseen, disappointingly underappreciated or completely overlooked for whatever reason. In no particular order, here are the chillers I believe rightfully fit the bill and deserve your attention.
Long before Mike Flanagan gave us enthralling nightmares like Gerald’s Game or The Haunting of Hill House, the writer-director crowdfunded a small little horror flick named Absentia. Following a young woman and her sister as they struggle to come to terms with the sudden disappearance of a loving husband, Absentia is a low-budget masterclass in atmosphere and dread.
With his debut, Flanagan showcased his ability to take a simple concept and stretch it as far as it can go. From an ominous focus on dark tunnels to the creepy stalkings of something completely unnatural, Absentia masks its low budget through the strong technical ability of Flanagan’s direction. There are moments within the chiller that evoke the same bizarre, unnerving brilliance David Lynch has made an entire career out of. After Absentia, it seemed only fitting that Flanagan would go on to provide such massive hits like Oculus or Doctor Sleep. If buckets of atmosphere in horror pushes your buttons, then you can’t go wrong with Absentia.
The Battery (2012)
Zombie flicks became something of a trend in the 2010s. When shows like The Walking Dead proved how successful the sub-genre could be, it sent everything into complete overload. But back in 2012, first time director Jeremy Gardner aimed to bring a unique, fresh concept to the undead creatures. That vision, titled The Battery, took the zombie sub-genre and placed it alongside the stylistic cues of classic movies like Easy Rider or Midnight Cowboy.
Feeling like a road movie from the 70s or 80s, The Battery follows two former baseball players as they traverse a post-apocalyptic USA and at its core, is a movie entirely invested in the dramatic journey of its two main protagonists. With strong screenwriting and character development, The Battery goes deeper and more offbeat than most zombie flicks would dare to attempt. But be warned, it still may just become your new favourite of the sub-genre.
No One Lives (2013)
Have you ever wondered what Commando would look like if you turned Colonel John Matrix into a deluded psychopath? The answer is Ryuhei Kitamura’s ridiculously entertaining action horror No One Lives. It’s campy, extremely violent and most of all, it has glorious one-liners.
Luke Evans gives an incredibly enjoyable turn as a man hellbent on vengeance with much more hidden under the surface than you would think. The actor embraces the campy nature and extreme brutality to the fullest and gives a performance worthy of an approving nod from action icon Arnold Schwarzenegger. Criminally underrated, No One Lives won’t appeal to everyone but if you seek some mind numbingly fun, over-the-top action horror that knows it is exactly that, then it’s the perfect movie for you.
Jug Face (2013)
Chad Crawford Kinkle’s Jug Face is a horror movie that almost entirely went under the radar despite praise from critics. Hugely underseen, it offers a unique little concept centering around a strange backwoods community, prophecies of trauma and the haunting nature of human sacrifice.
Kinkle’s movie is a carefully constructed piece that isn’t afraid to take some gambles with expectations. With some splendid cinematography and even stronger acting, Jug Face manages to escape the confines of its low budget and offers some delicious atmosphere throughout with an emphasis on the tortures of morality and their twisted consequences. While not the most technically profound movie on this list, Jug Face is a good ol’ fashioned slab of American horror.
Richard Bates Jr. is a director full of surprises with a strange perception on life and death. His debut feature Excision is the strongest example of this. It follows the aptly demented Pauline as she takes some truly disturbing steps towards earning the acceptance of her manipulative mother.
Excision is a movie that went under the radar thanks to the burgeoning success of a similarly styled little flick by the Soska Sisters called American Mary released the same year. But be under no illusions, Bates Jr’s film is just as strong as its aforementioned compatriot. Brutally bleak and certainly not for the faint of heart, Excision is a gore hound’s delight with the brains and technical flair to match. It’s nasty, vile, hilarious and downright psychotic but we all crave a bit of madness from time to time.
Cheap Thrills (2013)
And the award for the funniest movie on this list goes to E.L. Katz’s Cheap Thrills, a comedy/horror that embraces the dark side of the economic crisis and asks the age old question: ”Just how far would you go for money?”.
Yes, Cheap Thrills can be extremely silly but underneath lies a hugely entertaining slice of comedic savagery that, when it needs to, hits all the right notes for genre fans. One moment it is devilishly fascinating and the next it is frighteningly dark and disturbing. Ethan Embry and comedy legend, David Koechner are even involved giving solid performances in a movie loaded full of strong acting and impressive characterization. Truthfully, Cheap Thrills may just be the best comedy horror you’ve never seen.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
Let’s be honest, there aren’t exactly a huge amount of classic Christmas horrors out there to choose from without the usual greats like Black Christmas or Gremlins topping everyone’s list. In 2010, and all the way from Finland, came a little movie about Xmas that would bring joy and happiness to the most defiant of horror fans. That was Rare Exports.
When Roger Ebert gives your movie three and a half out of four stars and considers it a cross between an R-rated Santa Claus origin story and John Carpenter’s The Thing, that really speaks volumes. Rare Exports is a terrific monster movie that is deliciously dark and crudely funny when it needs to be. If you enjoyed recent Christmas horror Krampus, then Rare Exports will leave you grinning just as sadistically as its demonic Santa Claus.
Burning Bright (2010)
In recent years, mainstream horror movies centering around humanity’s fight to survive against gnarly predators have had a huge resurgence of popularity with the likes of The Shallows, The Meg and Crawl. Back in 2010, director Carlos Brooks made a small horror movie, focused on a young woman and her autistic little brother who become trapped in a house with a voracious tiger that largely went unnoticed and unwatched.
It’s a pity as Burning Bright is a great little horror movie well deserved of your attention. Much like the eerily similar Crawl, Burning Bright is a solid slice of entertaining survival cinema that focuses on tense atmosphere and the actions of its lead to propel its focus into the limelight. Brooks does a superb job of hiding Burning Bright’s underlying budget issues while illuminating its positives to strong effect.
Probably one of the more well-known flicks on this list, Housebound is still an example of a terrific film being praised through the roof and still going by largely unseen and underappreciated. A perfect concoction of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist and Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, the simple premise of a young woman’s return to her childhood home and the evils it may contain remains fresh and exciting for the entirety of its 107-minute runtime. It is rare to find a movie that provides plenty of laugh out loud moments while still keeping its scares serious in tone. Housebound truly excels at this.
The greatest aspect of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s cinematic dive into drug addiction and the difficult task of going cold turkey is that both these directors stretched that storytelling idea as far as they could and wouldn’t settle for anything less than impressive. Breaking free of its low budget shackles, Resolution is a movie designed to play with your psyche in the same way kicking addiction would torment your thoughts and actions.
Starting out with simple creepiness, Resolution progresses slowly and carefully, piece by piece, into a finale that will leave you morbidly satisfied and full of questions. Horror movies like this don’t come along very often but when they do, they instantly feel like a breath of fresh air. If you finish Resolution and are left wanting more, be sure to check out Benson and Moorhead’s The Endless for a couple of nice surprises.
The Sacrement (2013)
Ti West was a young filmmaker with a huge amount of promise when he helmed The House of the Devil in 2009 and many horror fans were expecting more great things from him in the future. Since then, he has had a rocky career, especially more recently. Yet, back in 2013, West made a little horror movie based on the Jonestown Massacre that went by largely and unfairly underappreciated.
The Sacrament was released to mixed reviews and many stayed away from it due to the cursed art of filmmaking known only as ‘’found footage’’. I think West’s movie’s problem was that it was released at a time when found footage horror was dying and people just didn’t care anymore for that type of film. It’s a shame as The Sacrament is a solid slice of documentary style horror filmmaking that had everything from tense atmosphere to impressive performances to genuine scares – feeling like a standing testament to what can be achieved with the form. Even though it was largely overlooked on release, The Sacrament is more than worthy of a visit now.
A Dark Song (2016)
Liam Gavin’s Irish horror A Dark Song went so under the radar that I, shamefully, did not see it for the first time until last year. A supernatural horror movie that relies almost entirely on its masterful creepy atmosphere, it’s truthfully one of the strongest horror debuts in years. Revolving around a mourning mother and the occultist she seeks out for help, A Dark Song is entirely configured around the repeating routine of strange rituals and the dangerous consequences of seeking counsel with the dark side.
Gavin’s creepy chiller oozes unnatural terror and dread throughout. Very few horror movies have managed to possess this much atmosphere without ultimately hitting breaking point and suffering from it. The repeating ritualistic soundtrack is the true gem of this movie though, each orchestral drone or percussion hit resonating with fear and hopelessness. A Dark Song is a must see for fans of movies like Robert Eggers’ The Witch or Ari Aster’s Hereditary.
Yes, I know what you are thinking and please, just hear me out. After 2011’s Red State, Kevin Smith had something of a reawakening and committed entirely to the macabre, taking his comedic genius in a new direction. Red State may have been more serious in tone but with 2014’s Tusk, Smith took the biggest gamble of his career. Inspired by The Human Centipede series and a hoax story regarding a sinister billboard posting, Tusk introduces us to Howard Howe and his sole desire to turn a living human into the walrus companion he yearns so strongly for.
Tusk is Smith at his most experimental and manages to combine his love for indie comedy with his penchant for off-beat plot proceedings, taking both to the next level. Extremely strange, darkly hilarious and completely riveting at times thanks to fantastic performances by both Justin Long and Michael Parks, Tusk is probably the writer-director’s most ambitious work to date. Yes, it isn’t perfect and has many faults. But the sheer audacity of Smith to even take this silly premise on is hugely admirable and for those who dig its ridiculousness, you are sure to find an over-the-top tale brimming with atmosphere and some deeply unsettling moments. Probably the most polarizing entry on this list but at its core, Tusk is ”different”, for better or worse.
Premiering first in 2004 on Channel 4, horror parody series Gareth Marenghi’s Darkplace is a beloved cult classic that unfortunately didn’t last long and its creator Matthew Holness disappeared for a while aside from brief on-screen appearances throughout the years. In 2018 though, he returned with a very different form of terror to his beloved brainchild debut. The result, Possum, is a dark descent into the bowels of trauma and emotional loss that went by largely unseen by the masses – disappointing given the film is a superbly strange entry into the psychological horror sub-genre.
Centering around a disgraced puppeteer and his return home to face his childhood demons, Possum is a bleak exercise in atmospheric terror. Each panning shot or creeping close up of the title marionette is drenched in unease while its bleak plot proceedings are far too intriguing to overlook or cast aside. With Possum, Holness crafted another solid look into the mind of a director who takes pride in the bizarre. If given the opportunity, his latest will haunt many long after the credits have rolled.
The Loved Ones (2010)
Sean Byrne’s The Loved Ones should have never been anything more than another forgettable entry into the dying ”torture porn” sub-genre that took the 2000s by storm. Instead, Byrne’s Australian horror stands as one of the shining examples of what this aforementioned sub-genre can achieve when handled with precision and care. When Lola’s crush, Brent, refuses to accept her prom invite, things take a vicious turn and a night that should live long in the memory of many becomes a nightmare for Brent.
The Loved Ones is nasty and refuses to ever pipe down on the brutality. Yet, it stands out among the crowd for its impressive acting, well written plot and deliciously dark humour that undermines Brent’s every whimper of pain and agony. Many overlooked The Loved Ones due to its torture porn label. It’s a shame as Byrne’s movie is an example of a horror breaking free from labels and confinement to become something else entirely. If you do eventually indulge, you are sure to find not only an extremely accomplished shocker but one of the strongest horror movies of the 2010s.
Cold Fish (2010)
Sion Sono is already something of a genre legend with his tales of morbid insanity and his proficiency at producing consistently strong movies at a pace that gives Takashi Miike a run for his money. In 2011, the Japanese filmmaker gave us, arguably, the defining moment in his already illustrious career. Cold Fish loosely chronicles the real-life tale of Sekine Gen and Hiroko Kazama, a husband and wife duo who had a penchant for murder along with an undying love for fish.
Cold Fish may possibly be Sono’s most grounded movie, though that says a lot about the filmmaker’s inherent bizarreness given how events progress throughout its 145-minute runtime. Sono’s reliance on morbidly dark humour and the ever-growing lust associated with deception and manipulation results in a fresh depiction of serial killer insanity that is undeniably new and interesting. Cold Fish was a movie that was heralded upon release but was underseen by many. With the decade closing, it’s about time you got your hands on it and gave it the attention it truly deserves.
Hounds of Love (2016)
Ben Young’s Hounds of Love is a depressing tale about psychological and physical torture that stands as one of the most carefully constructed thriller/horror movies on this list. The film is an exercise in terror and uneasiness that just wouldn’t work if the cast weren’t up to scratch. Thankfully, Hounds of Love is just as powerfully acted as it is directed.
Focusing on one victim’s attempt to manipulate her vicious captors to survive, Young has excelled at taking a supremely simple concept and pushing it as far as he possibly can. It’s utterly riveting, uncompromisingly horrifying, shockingly hard to watch at times and seriously goddamn good. Building to a truly harrowing finale, Hounds of Love is an exercise in punishment and manipulation well worth taking.
Focusing on a wedding day celebration turned nasty due to supernatural meddling, Marcin Wrona’s Demon is a Polish horror that strives on tension and absurdism – the latter of these being possibly its biggest detractor amongst critics. It’s a movie that embraces the avant-garde and twists and turns multiple times throughout.
Boasting a third act that will be sure to condemn it entirely for many or elevate it to new heights for others, Demon for the most part is an extremely well-constructed low-budget horror flick that brings some fresh new ideas and concepts to a sometimes far too underwhelming sub-genre of horror. Sadly, Wrona took his life after completing Demon but what he left behind is a superb little possession flick showing just how much talent the filmmaker had to offer the horror community. He will be duly missed.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015)
When you are the son of a beloved genre icon like Anthony Perkins, your debut entry into the horror genre better be impressive. Thankfully, Oz Perkins’s The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a horror movie almost solely reliant on atmosphere and psychological terror. A torso thick atmosphere looms over the entirety of its runtime like a fog rising from the remnants of Silent Hill.
For a movie centered on a boarding school rumoured to house Satanists, The Blackcoat’s Daughter is exactly what I want from a slow building tale of horror atmosphere and dread. Each scene drips style, providing the substance to match. By its conclusion, Perkins’ debut proved he’s a filmmaker to keep an eye on. This small slice of psychological heaven (or hell) is a splendid watch.
Demian Rugna’s Terrified is a horror movie that came out of nowhere and stunned critics. Reviewers hailed it as an extremely creepy slice of psychological terror and rightly so. But Terrified subsequently received little promotion outside of its native Argentina. As such, it has gone by largely unseen by the horror community.
Terrified is a movie that exists purely out of Rugna’s desire to creep the fucking crap out of you. Set in Buenos Aires, it chronicles the strange events that occur in a small town and follows the skeptical group of characters who seek to find an answer. The strongest tool Terrified has is its unpredictability. Couple that with Rugna’s technical proficiency for scares and the result is a chiller that will be sure to impress many if given the opportunity. One scene in particular will make your skin crawl and haunt you long after it is over.
One of my personal favourites on this list, Luz was a movie I knew barely anything about before watching but came out the opposite side pleasantly surprised. It follows a young female cab driver who becomes a frightening obsession for a demonic entity hellbent on making her its lover.
Luz feels like something made in the 80s. Boasting strong cinematography and engrossing atmosphere, it’s strange and utterly compelling. Just over an hour long, German director Tilman Singer’s movie is like a creepy, murky mix of Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder and Sidney J. Furie’s The Entity. For a debut feature, Luz is hugely impressive and well worth your time if you are a fiend for possession movies trying to push the envelope and completely shake up what’s been done before.