Halloween is here and you probably want to celebrate this joyous season of candy and death, while the last thing you want to do is throw on a furry outfit and traverse outdoors in this wet weather. (It would not only be cold and uncomfortable, but everyone would wonder why you thought a bath mat costume was a good idea.)
There's nothing wrong with staying in, hiding behind a giant bag of candy that's "for trick-or-treaters" and just watching a good, old-fashioned scary movie. This year, why not dive a little deeper into the horror DVD bin beyond the typical movies that go bump in the night? It's not like you can put "seen all 11 Friday the 13th movies at least 11 times" on your résumé.
We dug into our movie vault memories and pulled 10 horror movies from the muck that aren't considered mainstream cinema classics, but are still must-views for horror fans and fans of good movies in general.
1. Jacob's Ladder
Outside of the makeup and costume categories, horror movies aren't usually on the short list for Oscar contenders, and this gem from 1990 deserved way more nominations than it received, which is zero.
Tim Robbins plays Vietnam vet Jacob Singer, who returns to the States with an extreme case of mental dissociation. The disturbing things he sees blur the lines between his reality and his deepest fears and guilt stemming from the war and the tragic death of his only son, played by a pre-fame Macaulay Culkin. Time and space seem to circle him sporadically like he's Billy Pilgrim from Slaughterhouse Five. Jacob's more disturbing sights include sudden visions of his loved ones being impaled by tentacled monsters or showing their shark-like demon eyes as they float in and out of his perspective based on their moods. The images are so disturbing and confusing that these blurred existences Jacob is trying to decipher are passed on to the audience, creating similar and genuine feelings of dread, heartache and fear.
2. Cemetery Man (Dellamorte Dellamore)
It's very difficult to describe this twisted romantic horror comedy from Italy because, well ... it's a twisted romantic horror comedy from Italy.
Cemetery Man tries to check off so many boxes in the horror genre that it produces something confusing, completely original and oddly satisfying. Rupert Everett plays a cemetery caretaker charged with killing any newly buried bodies that rise from their grave, something he calls "returners." That's just the basic foundation for the movie; the places it takes you to from there are, to say the least, unexpected. The plot devices that build on each other include a sex scene in a crypt, serial killing, the most awesome Grim Reaper puppet ever committed to film, and romance with a talking severed head and medical castration. Just go watch it and figure it out for yourself, if you can.
It may seem that the awful Twilight movies have forever tarnished the teenage vampire genre, but not even a whole warehouse of shimmery, anemic teens can ruin the haunting beauty of director George Romero's vampire suspense film.
The title character — played by Romero movie staple John Amplas — is a disturbed teen who believes he's an 80-year-old vampire who'll die if he doesn't feed on the blood of the living. He moves in with his grand-uncle Cuda, who also believes Martin's fake status as a bloodsucker, and tries to keep him from feeding on any members of his small town. Of course, even vampires go through puberty and he develops an interest in a married woman in ways that go beyond being interested in feasting on her blood. Martin humanizes the cinema's stereotypical concept of vampires as more than just mindless killing machines who tan way too easily in the sun. Coupled with effects master Tom Savini's creative, realistic onscreen kills, Martin is creepy, tragic and tense in a way that's more complex and compelling than today's string of never-ending cinematic jump scares.
4. In the Mouth of Madness
We had to put at least one of director John Carpenter's movies on this list, because he's got a long list of lesser known films that often get lost under Halloween and The Thing, and we'd rather not find out what the horror community would do to us if we didn't. They've already got a ton of horrible ideas on how to respond thanks to Carpenter's many creative ways of making murder.
In the Mouth of Madness plays like a whodunit mystery mixed with the style of a late-'80s supernatural horror story. Sam Neill plays an insurance investigator who's tasked with finding a horror novelist whose books seem to create mental distress and murderous tendencies in some of his readers. As Neill pursues the case and pieces together clues to the author's whereabouts, characters and scenes from the books seem to come to life the closer he gets, and the lines between reality and fiction start to blur like the lines on a street during a fast motorcycle ride. The movie twists in all sorts of directions, so you never feel quite on your feet, which is how every horror movie should feel.
5. Creepshow 2
The original Creepshow revived the horror anthology genre in the 1980s with memorable horror stories inspired by classic horror comics that helped build an audience for future shows and films like V/H/S and Tales from the Crypt. The second one is just as worthy of mention.
Creepshow 2's story count is down by two from the first film, but they more than make up for the shortage. It's got a supernatural revenge tale called Ol' Chief Woodenhead, a mini-monster movie with a group of horny teens who get served up for feeding time on a remote lake in The Raft and a relentless hitchhiker horror tale with (you guessed it) The Hitchhiker. The animated segues in between these stories add another half of a horror tale as a horror comic-loving kid is pursued by some bullies who lure him into their own homegrown form of horror.
Two decades before TV creator Charlie Brooker made people wonder if we really need iPhones and virtual reality video games with his tech horror anthology Black Mirror, this lesser known, late-'80s movie took a fun, dark look at what happens when technology turns on its masters.
Pulse plays like Stephen King's evil machine mangling Maximum Overdrive, if he hadn't gotten AC/DC to do the soundtrack, or gotten his hands on all the premium nose candy he (allegedly) snorted during production. A very young Joey Lawrence plays a kid who moves in with his father and stepmother for the summer, into a typical suburban home where some kind of electrical infection causes all of the home's appliances and electronics to turn on its operators. The movie doesn't come up with overly complex ways to turn household objects into weapons of mass destruction, but instead leans on our instinctual trust of our basic electrical and mechanical necessities and turns them into menacing monsters with zero morals.
It's not Halloween without an honest to goodness monster flick. The holiday was built on the sturdy shoulders of Frankenstein's monster (don't bother correcting me, you Shelley nerds) and the lore surrounding them. This one should play a bigger role in keeping people up at night.
This '80s horror classic, directed by legendary movie creature effects artist Stan Winston, delivers an interesting story for something that could have just been a popcorn horror flick. Lance Henriksen plays a small-town father seeking revenge for the tragic death of his son in an accident caused by some reckless, dirt bike-riding teenagers. Henriksen consults a witch to avenge his death by supernatural means, and she raises an unholy demon monster hell-bent on death and destruction. Henriksen then tries to stop the evil he's unleashed onto the planet, as his connection to it shows him the monster's rampage through his own eyes.
8. The Midnight Meat Train
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The slasher movie concept has become so stale and recycled that it's desensitized us to the sight of a teenager being hacked up like a Sunday brunch brisket, at least onscreen. The Midnight Meat Train delivers some creative kills, a gripping story and the most menacing version of Vinnie Jones ever seen on the big screen.
This bloody suspense flick moves the slasher genre underground into the New York subway, where a serial killer sets up a human butcher shop in a subway car. Bradley Cooper plays a photographer who starts investigating the serial killer's infamous stories of slicing and dicing subway passengers and gets too close to the truth.
Naturally, the blood and gore reach into the gallons and splatter toward the screen like flying produce at a Gallagher show, but the whole experience feels even scarier because of the cold, colorless, claustrophobic presentation of a bleak and lifeless subway system. The look and feel of the whole thing plays like a 4D experience of cringe-y goodness.