This post was originally written for Taste of Cinema – http://www.tasteofcinema.com/2019/10-great-horror-movies-youve-probably-never-seen-2/?fbclid=IwAR3jR2IhBNi8FvjSGvkJD1xowN-BrywlcwIxaB3FC3rrGboFGiTqFvK1dPI
With horror being maybe the single broadest genre for film, it can be a challenge to try to keep up with it. With so many different sub genres, directors and classics to see, films can easily slide under the radar for one reason for another.
Hopefully, this list can serve as a reminder of some horror films you may have accidentally skimmed over, or at worst, remind you of some greats from the genre. From the unkempt mastery of Lucio Fulci to the creeping discomfort of Ulli Lommel, here are ten great horror films you’ve (probably, or hopefully) never seen.
1. Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (Lucio Fulci, 1971)
Starting with the second craziest film on here, Lucio Fulci’s frequently overlooked Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (there is a reptilian joke waiting to be made there, but I’ll let some of you cover that front), a tense merging of crime and erotic horror.
Released in 1971 and coming from one of the greatest of all horror directors, Italian maestro Lucio Fulci, this film is incredible. Disorienting from its freakish opening scene to the very end, with many of the greatest dream sequences ever put to film and some of the most wonderfully expressive set design of all time making it completely indelible, this might just be Fulci’s finest film, which is really saying something considering that this man is also responsible for The Beyond and City of the Living Dead (two extra horror films that you should see, if there are any completionists out there).
It is wonderfully energetic, so well shot its hard to believe (it has maybe the greatest use of zooms alongside the films of Luchino Visconti, they’re incredibly expressive!) and the plot, though admittedly inconsistently paced, is so enticing. It’s a near perfect introduction to Giallo, too, if anybody needs one, with the focus on women, the dizzying neon and the brilliant murder mystery at the centre.
2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (Tobe Hooper, 1986)
Okay, admittedly, this one is much more of a comedy than it is a horror film, however, Hooper clearly knows what he is doing with horror and knows exactly how to subvert it to make one of the funniest films of the 1980s here.
The often (understandably) misunderstood sequel to his 1974 masterpiece, Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 released in 1986, receiving little praise due to the fact that it was just so different to the original. Taking the characters from the original and placing them in a much lighter, much sillier film (to great effect!), the film feels completely different to the original, and yet it works.
Much more along the lines of the work that Wes Craven would go onto do with something like The People Under The Stairs (though this one doesn’t have the biting social commentary to it that makes Craven so special, unfortunately) than Hooper’s, the film has pacing that roars, some of the best moments in any comedy/horror mix, and for once actually manages to get the mixing between horror and comedy just right, being just as unhinged and thrilling as it is funny and endearing.
It’s a film often skipped over because of the negative attention it gets and the fact that the original simply didn’t need a sequel, but it is one that deserves more of a chance than it receives. It does have a small cult following now, deservedly.
3. Maniac (William Lustig, 1980)
Bringing to mind the exploitative early work of the great Abel Ferrara in a way that so few are able to, William Lustig’s infamous Maniac (1980) – later remade into the cult favourite Maniac starring Elijah Wood – is one of the most grimy films ever made.
Incredibly discomforting, disjointed from the start and featuring one of the most startlingly disturbed performances of the 1980s overall from Joe Spinell as the titular maniac, a man who removes the scalps of those who become his prey and places them on mannequins in his home.
It’s just as distorted and freakish as it sounds, the mesmerisingly hazy and grainy cinematography only adding to the eerie discomfort that comes from never being quite able to really see what’s going on (relying more on what you can picture is happening makes it far more frightening that it really should be) and the set design contributing more to this bizarre, fragmented film.
It’s one that always seems to be underestimated by its audiences, and by the time it’s finished, they always seem to look and feel as if they’ve been hit by a train or smothered by a passing stampede. It’s a film of unexpected power, one that seems innocent enough due to the low budget and some of the tropes that it falls into, however, it’s the underestimation from the audience that makes what comes later on in the film so incredibly powerful.
4. Opera (Dario Argento, 1987)
At least one Dario Argento film was destined to be on here, so why not make it the lesser known one of his prime years? Opera is just magnificent. Following Argento’s typical choices in genre and style of narrative, the film follows a young artist (in this case, of course, an operetta) as a crazed, deranged serial killer stalks them around and slowly kills off their friends and colleagues making the walls close in and the tension slowly tighten.
It’s nothing new, but the popular phrase ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ comes to mind with films like this, and Argento manages to make his approach to the film more than refreshing enough for the audience to be able to forgive and forget the tropes followed in the narrative structure as the scares themselves are just so much fun and up the ante so much more than many horror directors would ever really dare to.
Featuring multiple scenes with needles being mere millimetres away from entering eyeballs, it’s easy to see why this one gets an audience as worked up and tense as it does so consistently, with the manic killer in this one being an edge more mysterious and holding a special place in the hearts of the fans of the film.
Its pacing is ridiculously fast, the presence of both Argento’s camera and the killer are genuinely profound and this one is bound to provide scares aplenty for you and your friends when you need something frightening to watch.
5. The Girl Who Knew Too Much (Mario Bava, 1963)
Though it is scarcely mentioned, Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much may be the film most responsible for the Giallo craze that followed. Focusing on a tourist who, after witnessing a grizzly murder, becomes involved in a series of ‘bloody killings’, The Girl Who Knew Too Much has some of the most enchantingly gorgeous black and white cinematography put to screen and, though the acting leaves a little to be desired, it’s stunning in its entirety.
Surprisingly tense, even for a Bava film, with some of the best editing in Giallo cinema (which is really saying something with some of the directors in the Giallo game), this one is bound to make your skin crawl at some point, and for that alone it’s well worth at least one viewing, the added contextual importance is just an added bonus!
6. I Drink Your Blood (David E Durston, 1970)
The other silly entry on this list (alongside The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) is David E Durston’s wonderfully low budget and schlocky I Drink Your Blood, a film that focuses on… wait for it… a group of rabid hippies. To quote the google synopsis directly, the film follows ‘A group of satanic hippies becomes rabid and cannibalistic after being fed meat pies injected with dog blood.’, and yes, it’s every bit as crazy as it sounds.
Whilst for the most part the film is simply concerned with being gross and off kilter, what is really surprising here is when it does become genuinely quite uncomfortable, with some scenes being so strange and surreal that they become seriously discomforting rather than just enjoyable as silliness.
The ending specifically is genuinely quite freakish, and its the way that those moments contrast against the previous silliness and the light tone of the rest of the film that really emphasises that horror and makes the film surprisingly memorable.
It’s easy to imagine that the film would be awful, but it is one of the most pleasantly surprising film experiences out there. Bafflingly weird, wonderfully tasteless and such an oddball merging of horror and comedy that you can never really tell which it is trying to do.
7. Sombre (Philippe Grandrieux, 1997)
There was bound to be a more arthouse film on here somewhere, and what better film to include than the underrated Grandrieux. With a sole focus on tone, setting the story to one side and keeping the characters as vague as possible, Sombre is a film that definitely won’t effect everyone in the same ways – its large dependence on the audience being immersed and in the right mood for the film makes it more polarising than it even needs to be.
However, if you do happen to fall under its enchanting spell, you’re bound to have one of the most unforgettable, disturbing experiences of your entire life, one that you won’t be able to scrape off of your brain that night when going to bed, or maybe ever.
The cinematography and the sound design are simply dizzying, the soundtrack is incredible and the performances are something else. It’s mostly completely incomparable (other than to Grandrieux’s other films, with the exception of Despite the Night), but if one had to compare it to something, Angst comes to mind.
8. Tenderness of the Wolves (Ulli Lommel, 1973)
A German film released in 1973, Tenderness of the Wolves is based on the true story of Fritz Haarmann, a man who lived in Germany during World War II who would seduce visiting young men back to his home before murdering them, and selling the meat he took from their bodies as a way to stay afloat during the commercial struggles that were provided by the war.
It’s exactly as nerve-racking as it sounds, and one of those films you can see once every few years (hell, once in a lifetime will do) and will always find engraved in your memory, still remembering random scenes and moments, usually when you least want to think about it.
With a stunner of a lead performance from the late, great Kurt Raab (many of you will know him from his many collaborations with the wonderful Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who actually does act in this in a minor role) and a distinctly theatrical visual style to boot – with mise-en-scene and lighting that will leave any filmmakers drooling – Tenderness of the Wolves always comes to mind as one of the most unfairly and consistently slept on films of the 1970s. It’s just brilliant.
9. Freaks (Tod Browning, 1932)
By far the oldest film on this list, and one of the most controversial films ever made with its look at deformities and disabilities (and using them as a crux for creating tension and horror, admittedly still a more than questionable practice), but… frankly, it works.
The black and white cinematography certainly adds an additional layer of mystique and ghostliness to the film, which has the feeling of a ghost story through and through, something typical – to be expected – of practically any 1930s horror, though definitely not always to such a degree.
Clocking in at just 62 minutes length, it’s a great starting point to exploring early horror, and the final act is simply unforgettable, with the brilliant characters and the incredibly culmination (this one gets the pacing just right, gradually straying from a romance to all out horror, it’s wonderful just to observe the way the plot progresses). Highly recommended to any fans of classic cinema, or anyone looking to explore something – this one is short and undeniably pretty sweet.
10. Stagefright: Aquarius (Michele Soavi, 1987)
And one more murder mystery horror for good luck, here is Michele Soavi’s criminally underrated and overlooked StageFright: Aquarius. Working on the typical Argento template of a story of a group of artists being trapped someplace with a maniacal murderer, it’s certainly nothing new, however the film is a great time nonetheless, with a mysterious masked killer and gore aplenty.
It’s far from complex, but it’s so much fun that it becomes easy enough to forgive for its lacking originality. This is one of few on here that pretty much anyone can enjoy to a certain extent, a must for horror fans (especially those with inclined to slasher films specifically) and one more than worth viewing for those with an interest in the genre yet to be fully realised.