Weekend Roundtable: Underrated Horror Movies

Halloween weekend is of course a great time to watch some scary movies. However, pretty much anyone can be a fan of ‘The Shining’ or ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’. What are some of your favorite underrated horror films that are either largely unknown or generally dismissed even by horror fans, and don’t have much of a cult audience?

This is not a general “Favorite Horror Movies” topic. Please don’t try to sell ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ or ‘Halloween’ as “underrated.” However, if you’re one of the defenders of ‘Halloween III’, now’s the chance to speak up.

Brian Hoss

For me and my household, John Carpenter’s ‘In the Mouth of Madness‘ is a horror classic, and that’s not just because it follows the ‘Wayne’s World 2’ philosophy of casting Charleston Heston in a minor but atmospherically key role. (What a kickass book editor!) In recent years, H.P. Lovecraft has shown an endless vigor when it comes to influence and potency, and Sam Neil’s peek behind the curtain remains a modern blast. (My only quibble with it is the popularity of books in the movie, but when I think of ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Twilight’, it still seems a plausible way to spread horror.) Fortunately, because ‘In the Mouth of Madness’ was a box office flop and isn’t that well-known today, I don’t have to worry about any half-baked remakes appearing in theaters.

Mike Attebery

I’m not a horror fan at all, so I can’t really say this as a proud defender of genre titles, but ‘Troll 2‘ scared the ever-loving shit out of me when I was a kid. My family didn’t have a VHS player until the mid-1990s, so I used to go to my friend’s house for repeated viewings of ‘Last Crusade’ and ‘Batman’. Then one day, he suggested watching ‘Troll 2’. I don’t know what it was about that movie, but dear god did it freak me out. Now it’s considered an absolute joke, but back then, I didn’t know anyone else had ever heard of this cursed movie that had absolutely traumatized me.

Luke Hickman

When I went to see it in theaters, I didn’t expect that I would leave as a huge fan of it, but ‘The Mist‘ totally won me over. Frank Darabont took Stephen King’s story and made it even better – something that even King admits to in the Blu-ray special features. The film maintains the tone of a classic 1950s horror movie by confining the characters in a small place. The few dangerous missions into the deadly unknown feel like bits right out of old scary movies. While the first thing that most people remember about it is the gut-wrenching twist ending, for me, I think of the great moral dynamic that’s put into question: What’s worse, the monsters outside or the people inside?

If you really want it to feel like a ’50s horror movie, check out the black & white version that’s featured on Blu-ray.

M. Enois Duarte

This is a somewhat tough topic because there are just too many underrated titles to choose from. My pick is a relatively recent release that many people have still not heard of, yet it’s the perfect movie for getting into the Halloween spirit: Michael Dougherty’s ‘Trick ‘r Treat‘. In the tradition of horror comics like ‘Tales from the Crypt’ or ‘The Vault of Horror’, the anthology of spooky shorts are actually interconnected by following various people from the same town who get their comeuppance. Connecting each of the tales is a creepy little kid wearing a potato sack, and each story explores different Halloween legends and myths.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

Stung‘ is such a recent release that it hasn’t really had a chance to be underrated yet, but it’s close enough for this topic. The general premise had me hooked: Gigantic wasps invade an elegant New England dinner party. There’s more to the movie than just snickering about WASPs being attacked by wasps, though. If you get stung by one of these mutant creatures, a colossal insect bursts from inside you, leaving all sorts of your fleshy bits dangling from their spindly limbs.

That might sound like some ridiculous Syfy Original, but it’s actually a very slickly shot movie with shockingly high production values. Since the central characters are a couple of snarky caterers, it’s kind of like ‘Party Down’ meets a 1950s giant insect movie, with dashes of the first few ‘Alien’ films (including Lance Henriksen quoting Bishop!). It even draws somewhat from the “Oh no, is someone concealing a bite?” zombie well. It’s fast, it’s frenetic, it’s (intentionally!) funny, it’s more intense and suspenseful than I ever would’ve dreamt possible, and it’s honestly in the running as my favorite action movie of 2015.

The Blu-ray release will just barely miss out on Halloween this year, but when November 3rd rolls around, be sure to get ‘Stung’.

Josh Zyber

From Hell‘, the Hughes brothers’ surprisingly literate slasher movie version of the Jack the Ripper story, was released theatrically in 2001 to unenthusiastic reviews and quickly fading box office. I understand some of the complaints about the movie, I really do. Officially based on an acclaimed graphic novel by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, the film barely resembles its source material, either in plot or style. It feels like it started out as an unrelated Jack the Ripper project that underwent a title change and some superficial alterations when the rights to the comic became available. Johnny Depp plays the lead character as one of his overdone eccentrics, and his love story with a street whore (the very badly miscast Heather Graham) is woefully misconceived. These are genuine flaws.

Nevertheless, judged on its own, the ‘From Hell’ movie is scary, smart and a lot of fun. The Hughes brothers (‘Menace II Society’, ‘Dead Presidents’) take enthusiastic delight in crafting a flashy B horror picture with a lot of gore, yet it’s also a clever police procedural that plays with themes of racism, sexism, class warfare and mental illness. Once you strip away the period costumes and British accents, this is a story about inner city poverty, violence, drug abuse, oppression and crime – all of which are right up the filmmakers’ alley.

Sadly, the movie has been largely forgotten over the past decade and a half. I believe it deserves some re-appreciation.

Tell us about your favorite underrated horror movies in the Comments below.

28 comments

  1. NJScorpio

    Of course I’ll go with a Sam Neil movie…I find ‘Event Horizon’ to be a fantastic horror movie.

    Another mention is ‘Buried’. Being closterphobic, this was a VERY intense movie for me. It was also the one time I was impressed with a Ryan Reynolds performance.

    Oh…and I watched a pretty decent recent release (available on demand) called ‘Hidden’. I don’t want to give anything away, but it might be a good watch for Halloween for those of you who have already seen all those mentioned.

    • Csm101

      Tales From the Hood. I remember rolling my eyes when the I saw the first trailer, but after I rented it, I absolutely loved it. It’s super cheesy, but it has the anthology angle that I love and seeing horror in an urban setting rather than middle class neighborhoods or the forest settings we’re used to seeing also gives a it a a unique vibe. I don’t have the dvd, so I’m hoping one of the culty bluray distributing companies gets their hands on this one. Synapse preferably.

    • Csm101

      Sorry, I didn’t mean to reply about Tales From the Hood to you, NJ. I was going to back you up on your Event Horizon comment. Great flick.

  2. Chris B

    Me and my wife really enjoyed Vacancy with Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale. To this day I don’t understand why it received such a poor reception when it was released. It takes a simple and relatable premise: (a young couple breaks down in the middle of nowhere and is forced to spend the night at a run-down, nearly-abandoned motel), and creates some incredibly tense and affecting scenes once it’s revealed they have checked into no ordinary inn. At 85 minutes it’s lean and mean and wastes no time in scaring the shit outta it’s audience. It’s a far better movie than it’s bad reputation would have you believe.

  3. Lord Bowler

    I’m not a big Horror Fan, myself. I prefer the “Creature Features”.

    Mainly because I can discount them and be able to sleep at night. I stay away from the Religious Horror Films because they scare me too much.

    Being a fan of Sam Neill, I really enjoyed In the Mouth of Madness. Another great one is Event Horizon!

    I also really enjoyed the Paul Walker, Steve Zahn film Joyride!

  4. theHDphantom

    Funny enough, I just recently watched From Hell for the first time on blu-ray a couple nights ago and it bored the hell out of me. Aside from a few gory scenes, it played more like a drama film than horror.

    • Bolo

      I also saw it for the first time recently. I liked it a bit more than you, but I can’t say it totally comes together as a movie.

      Sometimes it feels like the Hughes Bros were going for a comic-book-brought-to-life type of style-over-substance movie like ‘Sin City’ or ‘300’. It works best when it’s really overthetop with Jack The Ripper having that synthesized voice and all the secret society stuff.

      Other times it feels like it’s trying to be a more grounded BBC Sherlock Holmes show. I never really connected much with the more human drama. Depp seems to be going for a more restrained performance that just feels a little too underplayed for the movie he’s in. Heather Graham isn’t much of an actress at the best of times, and she’s stuck playing a cliché that probably should have been retired by the mid-90’s.

  5. Thulsadoom

    So glad to see some love for In The Mouth Of Madness! It’s one of my favourite movies, and terribly underrated. 🙂 I need to get the BD though, as I still only have the DVD. There’s also a really interesting episode of ‘Movie Magic’ (a special effects series from a good few years back) where they covered the making of the ‘monster mass’ from the end of the film. It’s rather fascinating to see how much work went into it when it quite literally is used for about three or four shots that last fractions of a second. 😉

  6. david Batarseh

    For me its a deep cut that was generally overlooked at its time of release (2007;) Steven Soderberg produced Wind Chill. A classic ghost story, staring a then unknown actress Emily Blunt. It feels like a lost episode of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories, so that should be enough to convince any true horror fan to give it a watch. Also 2008’s Splinter is the perfect Halloween movie to watch this year if you have never seen it. Staring the underrated and always excellent Shea Whingham, who is considered by some to be the poor mans Jeremy Renner, but in my opinion he is the superior actor.

  7. Bolo

    ‘Land of the Dead’ gets plenty of repeat viewings from me. It’s weird, but to me that movie always feels like Romero making a Carpenter movie.

    It’s got some really odd casting choices, such as Dennis Hopper as the embodiment of The Establishment. But Asia Argento is right at home as the trashy tough chicken, and John Leguizamo is perfect as the thug who embraces his zombification.

    I get that it’s a bit too cheesy for most tastes, and the tone is certainly different from most of Romero’s other work, but I’m always happy to put it on.

    • NJScorpio

      There are certain actors who I get very excited to discover are in movies I’m watching, John Leguizamo is one of them. He was a great addition to ‘John Wick”.

  8. Scott

    Interestingly enough, the film I am about to mention is one that I believe is soon due to see Blu Ray for the first time. Please forgive me if it hasn’t aged well, or if as a twenty-something I afforded it a better status than it deserved as it has been sometime since I have crossed paths with Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow. That was one that really gave me the creeps and stuck with me.

    Perhaps voodoo as a subject matter intrigued me as it was one of those horror subjects that was unlikely but still possible. It helped that I have always liked Bill Pullman as an actor (except when he is in something terrible like a Roland Emmerich movie), it also helped that the setting (Haiti) was a moody, creepy place in itself. There was also some imagery that stuck with me, a possessed person, our hero drugged and buried alive (unless my memory escapes me).

    I think I just talked myself into buying it when it comes out (or at least when it goes on sale).

  9. agentalbert

    If Stephen King thinks Darabont made “The Mist” better, its only more evidence that King hasn’t a clue these days how a story should end and can’t even recognize when he’s done it right.

  10. charles contreras

    One movie that I could recommend is Drag Me To Hell. The storyline is great, the special effects and gross out makeup is top shelf, and it has some genuinely jump out of your seat moments. The remake of Dawn of The Dead would make my list as well, as it stands up on its own and isn’t what I would call a copycat effort.

  11. Ryan

    I wouldn’t say Trick R Treat is underrated….everyone I have shown the movie to ended up loving it….
    But it is certainly UnderSeen!

  12. Dimwit

    Just for sheer tone I’d go with the original Creepshow. Yeah, each segment isn’t comparable but overall it’s good for a great time.
    For a good creature feature Slither with Fillion is high on my list. And for that “killer performance in a project that doesn’t deserve it” I’ll give you William Fichtner in Drive Angry. Cage is weird, the story is silly, but damn if you’re not entertained by it all.

  13. William Henley

    This is a tough topic for me, as this is not a genera of movies I usually enjoy (especially since the 80s and 90s focused more on gore, and then since 2000, it has pretty much become found footage, which I hate). Another issue I have is when does something cross generas from being Sci-Fi or Suspense to being Horror? I was brought up believing that Terminator was classified as a horror movie.

    Another thing is, what do you call underrated?

    So, let’s knock out two movies that the series they are a part of is considered great, but the individual movies themselves are weak. Selling people on Alien and Aliens is easy, and they are easily my favorite movies in the set. However, for the topic of this discussion, I am going to throw in Prometheus. Yes, I LIKE this movie, and I think its underrated. Its not as good as the first two, but it is hands down better than 3 and 4. I think the issue here is that since it was Ridley Scott, people were just expecting it to be on par with Alien. It’s clearly not. But as an origination story, it’s not a bad movie. I have fun with this movie, and I think it gets knocked way more than it deserves. I mean, how often in movie debates do you hear someone coming to defend Prometheus?

    Along the same lines, I like the Poltergeist movies (as in more than just the first one). Yes, I like Poltergeist 2 and 3 and the 2015 Remake. Once again, they are not as good as the original, but 2 and 3 actually do a great job with expanding the story (too bad this is followed by awful special effects and directing in 2 and a bad script in 3). The 2015 remake is actually a very good retelling of the story, and I think people dismissed it before the movie even came out. No, Poltergeist did NOT NEED a remake, but it got one, and its pretty darn good.

    The last two movies I want to throw out are movies that most people who have seen them regard as good, but even out of the people who have seen them, they rarely list them as their top horror movies. It’s not that they are bad by any stretch of the imagination, its just that most people easily forget about them, hence I consider them underrated. These two movies are The Others and The Woman In Black. Now The Others just really is not that good of a movie to watch again by yourself – where this movie gets fun is watching it with someone who has never seen it before. The fun of this movie is watching someone else try to figure out what’s going on.

    As for The Woman In Black, I think the issue here is that there are so many similar movies. What sits this one apart to me is that it is just so well done – it’s one of the better movies of the sub-genera, it actually feels like it had a budget, it is well directed, well acted (once you get past the fact that that is NOT Harry Potter, and it is not Death Eaters who are making the weird stuff happen), and has a good story. It’s a very solid movie, and one I defend as one of my favorites of the genera. However, whenever I bring this movie up in Favorite Horror Movie discussions, I get a lot of blank stares from people who do not remember it or who just didn’t see it. As such, I think that qualifies this movie as being underrated.

    • Csm101

      Woman In Black is an excellent throwback to gothic horror. Really creepy. I watched it with my nephews last year and it scared the piss out of them.

  14. Pedram

    I watched Stung on Netflix because of the recommendation on this post, and it wasn’t bad, but I didn’t really laugh much (I thought I would from the description here).

    One of the recommended films after watching it was Zombeavers, which seemed like a funny premise so I decided to give it a shot. From the opening hilarious scene with a great cameo I was hooked. It took a bit of a dip after that first scene when the character drama was introduced, but once it got going again the laughs and silliness returned. As long as you don’t take it too seriously, it’s a pretty entertaining movie, and it gets my vote for underrated horror flick.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.