“Horror is a reaction; it’s not a genre.” – John Carpenter
In the complex labyrinth of the Netflix or Amazon Prime algorithm, the same popular movies usually rise to the top, leaving the smaller independent films and hidden gems to fester beneath the surface. This couldn’t be more true than for the horror genre that has long been known for its variance in quality, best known for classics such as Halloween, The Exorcist and A Nightmare on Elm Street that each enjoys repeat viewings throughout the month of October.
As a genre with clearly defined borders and endless narrative possibilities, horror has long-attracted filmmakers looking to make the most of low-budget film efforts, making for a significantly congested genre. Whilst many of these films indeed are merely trying to capitalise on the disturbing appetites of young teenagers eager for horror no matter the lack of quality, many others celebrate the genre with ingenious takes of finding terror in the most unique places.
Spanning international horror films, classic American slashers, and modern flicks that have eased beneath the radar, at the dawn of October we take a look into ten horror films you (probably) haven’t seen.
The top 10 horror films you’ve never seen:
10. Grave Encounters (Colin Minihan, Stuart Ortiz, The Vicious Brothers, 2011)
Very much a part of the found-footage horror epidemic that spread across the modern genre thanks to the birth of the Paranormal Activity franchise, Grave Encounters differs from its inferior compadres by utilising some genuinely unique elements.
Depicting a faux-reality TV show following ghost hunters exploring an abandoned mental hospital, Grave Encounters may illustrate one of the most cliched horror tales, but it’s in its execution that the film truly succeeds. Granted, jump scares may be heavily utilised, but for a Halloween popcorn flick, Grave Encounters is a fine choice, displaying just enough originality to make it worth watching.
9. Audition (Takashi Miike, 2001)
One of the finest horror films of the 21st century, Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike is familiar with the explicitly traumatic, though 1999s Audition takes his disturbing world to new cinematic heights.
Described by the iconic Quentin Tarantino as a “true masterpiece if ever there was one”, in this strange tale of a widower auditioning local women to be his new wife, Miike crafts a slow burner that patiently culminates into a gripping drama. Brewing beneath the surface of this modern classic is something far more sinister, bringing audiences one of the most surprising tonal deviations in all of cinema.
8. Pulse (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2001)
Fueled by fears of a new digital age, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse (Kairo) is a modern classic of J-horror, seamlessly blending terror and mystery whilst dealing with a subtext of the pertinent isolation of internet culture.
The film itself follows the mysterious suicide of a computer analyst and the realisation of two groups of curious people that spirits may be invading the human world through the door of the computer screen. Using an ingeniously spine-tingling choral soundtrack, Pulse depicts a new kind of spirit made for the unpredictability of the 21st century. Unstable, otherworldly and utterly terrifying, their dreamlike movements brandish their mark on horror cinema.
7. Lake Mungo (Joel Anderson, 2008)
A psychological pseudo-documentary, Lake Mungo is an often terrifying Australian horror that follows the strange goings-on around the titular Lake Mungo after a young girl is found drowned.
Chilling, subtle and strangely moving, the film proceeds to interview several of the key characters as the mystery carefully heightens until a terrifying final climax. An exploration of grief as much as it is a psychological horror, the film often toys with the role of technology in modern-day life, picking apart how our constant use documents our living biographies. With much of the film improvised on a limited budget, Lake Mungo is a clever gem of horror.
6. Noroi: The Curse (Kōji Shiraishi, 2005)
Another modern faux-documentary horror, Noroi: The Curse follows a film team exploring apparently unrelated paranormal incidents, only to discover each is connected by the ancient demon called the ‘kagutaba’.
Proceeding the Paranormal Activity franchise, Noroi: The Curse is a highly superior alternative, making use of its intricate fictional mythology to craft a highly believable story. One of the finest found footage films of the sub-genres history, Noroi: The Curse is a well-assembled horror tale that is genuinely terrifying thanks to its keen focus on atmospheric tension and subtle, intelligent scares.
5. Deathdream (Bob Clark, 1974)
A unique chiller of the mid-1970s, Deathdream is inspired by the W. W. Jacobs short story The Monkey’s Paw, following a young American soldier killed in Vietnam who strangely reappears at his family home.
A creepy, thought-provoking piece of forgotten horror cinema, Deathdream was overshadowed by Bob Clark’s more infamous Black Christmas released in the same year. Mounting careful tension with thanks to the central performances of John Marley, Lynn Carlin and Richard Backus, Deathdream manages to create a compelling horror whilst also telling a sharp Vietnam War allegory.
4. Under the Shadow (Babak Anvari, 2016)
The most contemporary horror film on this list, Babak Anvari’s directorial debut is a captivating Iranian horror film that is as much a critical analysis of the terror of war on innocent civilians.
Focusing on 1980s Tehran, Under the Shadow follows a mother and young daughter who are struggling to cope with the terror of a war-torn city, whilst a separate ancient evil plagues their home. A creepy, atmospheric chiller, Anvari’s film provides a genuinely fascinating perspective of war by heightening the horror with the curse of the djinn, supernatural creatures rife throughout Islamic folklore. Winning Outstanding Debut by a British Writer at the 2017 BAFTA Film Awards, Under the Shadow is available on Netflix and is worth your undivided attention.
3. The Borderlands (Elliot Goldner, 2013)
Hindered by a very limited cinematic release, The Borderlands has since enjoyed a quiet cult following, with director Elliot Goldner using the limited tricks at its disposal to bring English folk horror to new contemporary heights.
Set within a church sat on a mound in rural England, the film follows a team of Vatican investigators looking for signs of genuine paranormal activity. Lovingly handmade, The Borderlands is simple found footage filmmaking, utilising the desolate English countryside to create a fragile atmosphere consistently capable of disruption. It all leads to a final climax that well bookends the terror with a surprising, disturbing resolution.
2. Alice, Sweet Alice (Alfred Sole, 1976)
A cult horror success with a devious attitude to the slasher sub-genre, Alice, Sweet Alice was heavily inspired by Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now and the films of Alfred Hitchcock, emulating a similar sense of careful tension.
Set in 1961, the film analyses key themes of catholicism and the dissolution of the nuclear family, following a divorced religious couple dealing with the news that one of their daughters has brutally murdered the other during her First Holy Communion. It’s a disturbing, well-crafted slasher that certainly sets itself apart from its genre compadres with a more intricate focus on the practice of religion and human grief.
1. Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981)
Celebrating its 40 year anniversary in 2021, there has never been a better time to watch the psychological horror classic, Possession, directed by Andrzej Żuławski and starring Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill.
A visually stunning masterpiece, Possession echoes with the inspiration of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion in its depiction of psychological breakdown before escalating to the body horror of David Cronenberg’s The Brood or David Lynch’s Eraserhead. It all follows the divorce of Anna (Adjani) and Mark (Neill) due to suspicions of infidelity before Anna begins displaying disturbing behaviour that makes way for something far more sinister. A classic of 1980s horror that defied the popular slasher zeitgeist, Possession is a classic of the genre spiked with a socio-politically charged subtext.