This October we asked our writers about their favourite examples of underrated horror: the underdog films that never got the recognition they deserved, the much maligned movies that are actually worthwhile despite the negative press, and the quirky horrors that most of us probably missed along the way. Below are six of the writers’ picks that you might want to check out or revisit this Halloween!
The Dark (2005)
If my forays into Welsh gothic cinema have taught me anything, it’s that it is particularly a nihilistic subgenre, pulling no punches and offering no mercy to characters or viewers alike. It’s maybe why I found The Dark far more memorable and disturbing than I expected when I first watched the DVD of what appeared to be fairly standard noughties fare.
Maria Bello and Sean Bean play grief-stricken parents, willing to do anything to get their daughter back after she drowns off the coast of a seaside village (which was actually shot on the Isle of Man for reasons of the Welsh countryside…supposedly not looking Welsh enough? There’s already some weird shit right there.) Not long afterwards, another mysterious young girl arrives on their doorstep, and Bello discovers local folklore about the long-dead daughter of a local shepherd: he killed other locals in an attempt to make a trade and return his daughter from the dead. Things only get more and more twisted as the various stories becomes further enmeshed, including the cinematography which introduces an impressive Coraline Other World-type vibe. The Dark is the kind of horror that sticks with you long after it’s over. Sarah Cullen
Ghost Stories (2017)
Ghost Stories received warm reviews upon its release, but it is my contention that it still counts as underrated. It is one of my favourite cinematic experiences ever; 90 and a bit minutes of my life where all my stupid little neurotic thoughts stopped and I was wholly absorbed in something better and more worthwhile.
The film begins with Professor Philip Goodman, a smug TV presenter and debunker of the supernatural, being summoned to the caravan of Charles Cameron, a James Randi-esque figure who Goodman idolised as a child. The elderly Cameron has since become a recluse living in a caravan park. He has some bad news for Goodman – namely, his whole career has been a complete waste of time, because malevolent supernatural forces absolutely do exist, and he’s got three unsolvable cases that prove it.
This opening gambit nimbly sets up a satisfying, pacy structure for Ghost Stories, as Goodman investigates each of the cases in turn. We end up getting three spooky short films, anchored by sumptuous performances from Paul Whitehouse, Alex Lawther and Martin Freeman in turn. Slowly, Goodman notices some unsettling connections between the cases, and this leads to a thrilling, mind bending denouement.
The liberal sprinkling of comic actors gives Ghost Stories a hint of a light touch, but the balance is perfect, tilted heavily towards being creepy as heck. Lawther’s segment, in particular, is relentlessly unnerving. There was not a second in Ghost Stories where I could guess what would happen next, and it was such a pleasurable bewilderment. If you enjoyed this year’s Beau is Afraid but fancy something leaner, more overtly horrific, and plot driven, make Ghost Stories priority Halloween viewing. Jack Stevenson
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Although it’s the third instalment in the Halloween franchise, it has very little to do with the films that preceded and followed it. For a start, Michael Myers (aka The Boogeyman) is nowhere to be found and the films dabbles with elements of the sci-fi genre as opposed to being a straightforward slasher. So what makes it stand out as an underrated gem? Well this was actually planned to take the series in more of anthology direction but following a poor box office reception, it was decided that the focus should shift back to Myers stalking babysitters in Haddonfield, Illinois.
Despite the contrast in quality and narrative, the film heavily promotes the spooky season more than any of the other Halloween films. There’s trick or treaters, spooky decorations and it fully embraces all of the iconic imagery and trademarks of Halloween night. It may not be perfect and there are certain plot points that aren’t fully explored but you can’t fault it for trying something different. It may not be a perfect entry in this beloved slasher series but you have to give it an ‘A’ for its ambition. Seán Moriarty
Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Meyers (1996)
The original cut of The Curse of Michael Myers is infamous for doubling down on the cryptic mythology alluded to in the fourth and fifth films, wherein a mysterious Thorn symbol appears on Michael’s wrist, and a fedora’d man with cowboy boots appears out of nowhere to break Michael out of prison in the final act.
Far too many franchises nowadays would dump any of this kind of extraneous baggage at the first sign of trouble and reboot back to familiar territory (as the very next instalment of the series would end up doing). Instead Halloween 6 (released a full six years after the fifth film!) dares to charge into this brave new world, one populated by men in silly cult robes like something out of Power Rangers Ninja Storm, one where the Myers family tree has grown so unwieldy that incest has finally reared its ugly branch, one where we are given the gift of an excited (and hilariously miscast) Paul Rudd ranting about runestones
counteracting ancient energies like Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
From the loose, disparate elements left dangling in the previous film, a whole bonkers mythology about an ancient Druid cult is extrapolated, culminating in a scene where Michael Myers is rendered inert by a carefully assembled circle of Druid rune stones, a sort of Michael Myers kryptonite. It’s this steadfast commitment to the tomfoolery of the assignment that makes Halloween 6 so interesting to some and so loathsome to others. Rob Ó Conchúir
The Haunted Palace (1963)
The Haunted Palace isn’t the best of Roger Corman’s Poe adaptations, but it is the only one not adapted from a story by Edgar Allan Poe. The title is taken from a poem by the master of the macabre from which Vincent Price, always an excellent reader of Poe, records a few lines of narratively pointless bookending voiceovers. However, The Haunted Palace is that rare feat: a competent adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft.
Corman doing Lovecraft honours the genealogy of American horror fiction. It also indicates the difficulty of doing Lovecraft properly. The source material is The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Vincent Price plays the eponymous Ward and his warlock ancestor Joseph Curwan. Lon Chaney and Elisha Cook appear alongside Yog-Sothoth. Despite the Outer God’s appearance, this is a decidedly Gothic affair. An atmospheric, stage-bound Arkham is perennially shrouded in fog and there are things lurking in the walls, going bump in the night. The thickly applied special effects make-up is irrepressibly silly, in an AIP, drive-in fashion.
The Haunted Palace succeeds, however, precisely because it readily slots in with the Poe cycle. Adapting Lovecraft is a fool’s errand, it’s only a shame they seldom hand it off to fools. While not as famous as Stuart Gordan’s adaptations (most notably, the atypical HPL Re-animator), The Haunted Palace delivers on the promise of supernatural horror in cinema. Now, let Guillermo del Toro make At the Mountains of Madness. Do it for the fools. Thomas Mozden
Under the Shadow (2016)
An underrated brilliant horror film that reminds me of Get Out (2017) in its ability to convey emotions and delve into the psychological complexities of ongoing systematic suppression, Under the Shadow (2016) marks Babak Anvari’s directorial debut. It depicts the life of Shideh, an expelled medical student, and her daughter, Dorsa, in 1980s war-torn Tehran. As a portrayal of Iran’s suppression of women at the time and the ongoing Iran and Iraq’s war trauma, the film has been able to embody Shideh and Dorsa are affected by PTSD and trauma.
The film addresses the impact of the sociopolitical changes in post-revolutionary Iran on people’s lives, represented by mysterious, haunting figures invading people’s privacy and personal lives. As well put by Gholam-Hossein Sa’edi in his monograph on myths and superstitions in Southern Iran, referenced in the movie, “Winds are all the mysterious and magical forces that exist everywhere… Where there is an abundance of fear and anxiety, there is an abundance of wind.” As the psychological stress intensifies, the malevolent elements appear to grow in strength and reveal their faces to Shideh. She first denied their existence due to her positivist attitude but later on in the film, is convinced that they exist and feels defenceless and vulnerable. M.M.Rojhalat