***Minor Spoilers Ahead***
Every year towards the end of October when horror fanatics are concluding their horror marathons, they all remember (myself included) the under-the-radar horror gems they left off of their watchlist. Whether it’s a supernatural found-footage film or a gay, modern-day homage to 80s giallo films, countless deserving horror films always seem to slip through the cracks and remained unwatched until the following year. As a solution to this recurring problem, I decided to gather up some horror films that haven’t gotten enough love this spooky season, compare them to widely-known horror films, and write little blurbs to give a preview of the great horror content you missed out on during this October. So, I present to you fifteen of the top horror movies that were greatly overlooked this Halloween season.
1. If you liked Unfriended (2014), check out Host (2020)!
Back in 2014, Universal Pictures changed the trajectory of film as a medium with the release of Unfriended, given that it utilized computer screen technology in a similar fashion as found-footage movies. However, while Unfriended was the trailblazer in the computer screen film, Host revitalized the sub-genre and expanded it in countless unexpected ways. Despite a runtime of 56 minutes, Host takes its time getting to the thrills and chills that this hellish séance has to offer, and once all hell actually breaks loose, it keeps you in a choke-hold until its near-perfect ending. Basically, you’ll never be able to use a Zoom face filter the same way again.
2. If you liked The Lighthouse (2019), check out Night Tide (1961)!
After Robert Eggers‘ smash film The Lighthouse, audiences were left craving more of this nautical madness that the film had to offer. While the search for similar films only yielded popular creature features (e.g. Jaws) and subpar slashers (e.g. Ghost Ship), one diamond in the rough seemed to prevail: Night Tide. Even though this gothic film lacks some of the more outrageous aspects that Eggers‘ sophomore feature had to offer (such as Willem Dafoe on a leash), Night Tide is still an incredibly intriguing film filled with sailors, seductive mermaids, and sublime homoeroticism. Also, it stars Dennis Hopper in his first film role, so what’s not to love!
3. If you liked Dressed to Kill (1980), check out Knife+Heart (2018)!
Love Brian De Palma’s style? Hate the blatant transphobia in his film Dressed to Kill? Try out Yann Gonzalez’s Knife + Heart! Gonzalez’s 2018 feature, which centers around a French gay porn producer (played by Vanessa Paradis, who gives one of the best horror performances in recent years) trying to make her biggest film yet as her actors get killed off by a masked assailant, is one of the most perfect giallo homages in modern cinema. Due in part to its saturated visuals and haunting score, Knife+Heart is shocking, heart-wrenching, and most-definitely horny, and there’s not much else to say to give this queer horror masterpiece the justice it deserves. If you choose to watch only one thing from this list, this film better be it.
4. If you liked Jaws (1975), check out Grizzly (1976)!
There’s no one on this Earth that’s unaware of the dangers hiding underneath the waves of every shore, thanks to Steven Spielberg’s chilling masterpiece Jaws. The universal experience of running out of the water on a hot summer beach day at the thought of a great white shark lurking down below has all frightened us at one point or another. If we’ve felt this way about the ocean, then why haven’t we felt this way about other facets of nature like the forest? In the mass wave of Jaws success, a film about a park ranger aiming to take down a large grizzly bear in an extensive park entitled Grizzly tried to cash in on the hype. Sadly, the film is pretty cheesy and rarely has the same genuine moments of terror that its original inspiration brought to the silver screen less than a year ago. Regardless of actual quality, Grizzly is still a cheesy knock-off that has some quality if you’re looking for a ridiculous 70s horror film.
5. If you liked Repulsion (1965), check out Bug (2006)!
Before Catherine Deneuve’s gripping performance in Repulsion, audiences had rarely been given the chance to see a horror film solely centered on a woman and her unraveling psyche. Truthfully, this performance paved the road for countless actresses to have their own unhinged moments throughout their careers (I’m looking at you, Elisabeth Moss). But one performance that stands out in this recent upsurge of female-centered horror films is Ashley Judd’s performance in William Friedkin’s Bug. After meeting an offbeat Michael Shannon and in her desolate, run-down desert motel, Judd’s character starts to unravel at the contagious thought that there is a deep-rooted government conspiracy afoot that involves her, Shannon, and millions upon millions of bugs. Bug contains a career-best performance from Judd, and watching her unfurl over the entire runtime until the blood-chilling conclusion of this film will be one of the scariest things you’ll see for weeks.
6. If you liked Raw (2016), check out Dans Ma Peau (In My Skin) (2002)!
What made Julia Ducournau’s breakout film Raw so incredibly refreshing was the use of cannibalism to mirror the typically taboo nature of female sexuality and maturity. The gross, natural, and, you guessed it, raw nature of everything Justine (played by a superb Garance Marillier) goes through to unearth the own power within her body is uncomfortable to say the least, but also incredibly liberating at the same time. Thankfully, Marina de Van’s Dans Ma Peau approaches femininity and cannibalism in a similar manner. Potentially as a way of establishing autonomy over her own body by intentionally destroying it, de Van‘s character Esther uses these self-mutilation methods in a paradoxical way that mirrors the confusion of her own identity, similar to the way Justine uses cannibalism to mirror her own sexuality. Essentially, these films will give you tons of ideas to chew on and make you wonder why all horror films in the past haven’t been directed by French female directors with an affinity for body horror.
7. If you liked Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), check out Kristy (2014)!
Being stranded at your college’s campus, for holiday weekends or otherwise, is downright eerie. The isolating imagery of empty dining halls, barren libraries, and spacious sidewalks all seem to creep into one’s psyche for a 3-day vacation. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, while an incredibly fun sequel that places the notorious Michael Myers at a barren college to once again stalk Laurie Strode, never truly realizes the sheer horror of its setting. Kristy, on the other hand, perfectly understands and exploits this fear to great lengths. It uses the unknown identities of its killers (yes, multiple), as well as its insufficiently-lit campus to its advantage, to perfectly relay all the horrifying possibilities of holing up in your dorm over a long weekend. It’s chilling, engaging, and it’ll make you rethink your plans of skipping out on the family Thanksgiving feast this year.
8. If you liked The Addiction (1995), check out Bliss (2019)!
It goes without saying that Abel Ferrara’s punk vampire film The Addiction, despite being the more “popular” film of this pair, is still not as widely known as it should be. This cold and unflinching look into mid-90s New York begs a lot of the viewer with its constant contemplation of themes like mortality, identity, and addiction (duh), as well as its perfectly bleak perspective. Now, imagine a film with this type of introspection with the erratic and brash nature of Climax. Great, now you have the insanity that is Bliss. This film is truly one-of-a-kind and is a must-see for anyone trying to avoid the typical horror films shown every Halloween, and instead watch an ambitious and underappreciated horror gem that’ll get under your skin and stay there long after the credits roll.
9. If you liked The Craft (1996), check out Bit (2020)!
Upon its release in 1996, The Craft immediately started to gain cult status among teens who idolized the film’s 4-piece coven, secretly wished they could hex their bullies, and emulated the iconic goth aesthetics of the film. But as we’ve ventured into the new millennium, no horror films have truly captured the same essence of what The Craft was going for, all while adapting it to the social landscape of the time. That was, however, until Bit was released. The film follows Nicole Maines as Laurel, a trans teen who moves to her brother’s apartment in LA and unexpectedly gets involved with four “intersectional feminist vampires”. Even though this film and its well-intentioned vampire gang don’t have the foothold that our previously mentioned coven does, Bit totally has cult classic potential and some refreshing transgender representation that makes this film more enjoyable than it has any right to be.
10. If you liked Scream 3 (2000), check out Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000)!
Love sequels in 90s horror franchises? Love slashers that center around a killer picking off the actors on a movie set one-by-one? Love Scream 3 and all of its early-2000s glory? Do we have a movie for you! Urban Legends: Final Cut is an entertaining, overly-meta entry into the Urban Legends franchise that’s jam-packed with fun kills and some of the coolest set pieces you’ll see in a Y2K slasher film. Despite its inherent corniness, Urban Legends ultimately completes what it sets out to do, and then some. And if all of that didn’t convince you to check it out, the film also stars Eva Mendes as a badass, lesbian DP. Thank me later!
11. If you liked Climax (2018), check out Braid (2018)!
Let’s face it: there’s nothing quite like Gaspar Noé’s Climax. It’s brash, in-your-face, and borderline-incoherent in the best ways possible. The film’s wholly original, acid-tripped point-of-view sears its feral howls into the viewer’s impressionable brain, and creates an unrepeatable experience that’s unable to be shaken for days. While no other film can quite live up to the reputation Climax has received from some viewers, Braid is without a doubt a worthy addition into the subgenre of drug-fueled horror. Centered on two girls who decide to rob an unstable friend who lives in a made-up fantasy world, Braid is already has a surreal premise from the get-go and its use of hallucinogenics only makes the film weirder. It’s absolutely out-of-touch perspective on femininity and friendship is horrific in the best ways possible, and it’s truly the closest thing you’ll find to satiate that hunger you have for another Climax viewing experience.
12. If you liked Ginger Snaps (2000), check out Blue My Mind (2017)!
Films about the true horrors of girlhood are few-and-far between, especially those that are actually written, directed, and crafted by women. Even though the early-2000s gem that is Ginger Snaps was directed by a man, it’s evident that this allegory that feeds into Barbara Creed’s Monstrous Feminine theory was written by a woman (Karen Walton), which ultimately saves this film from becoming the standard werewolf film it could have been. Filled with memorable dialogue (e.g. “I get this ache…and I thought it was for sex, but it’s to tear everything to fucking pieces.”) and an unabashed view into the newfound sexuality and transformations that puberty brings, Ginger Snaps helped define the modern era of monstrous feminine works for this generation. One film that was undoubtedly inspired (or at least helped) by this film is Lisa Brühlmann’s film Blue My Mind, which takes a similar approach to other teenage monstrous feminine films, but by swapping a werewolf motif for a mermaid one instead. While it doesn’t contain the same, ferocious energy that Ginger Snaps has, Blue My Mind is still an undervalued gem that leans into the femininity it exudes and deserves to be in the ranks with other Monstrous Feminine films like Jennifer’s Body and Teeth.
13. If you liked The Blair Witch Project (1999), check out Noroi: The Curse (2005)!
Perhaps one of the most notable subgenres within the horror genre, found-footage films took the world by storm in the late 90s upon the release of The Blair Witch Project. Made by two fresh UCF Film grads, this film utilized standard home video cameras and a small cast of unknown actors to create what some might call a masterpiece out of a premise that’s basically any other standard student film. Given that these kinds of films could be made on a shoestring budget and still deliver really impactful scares and moments of tension, herds of directors flocked to have their own Blair Witch moment by simply by trying to follow a cast of unlikeable characters by utilizing tasteless shaky cam. However, director Kōji Shiraishi understood that proper setup and tension-building to describe the lore of found-footage films were needed to truly shock audiences and drag them into the world within his film Noroi: The Curse. Shiraishi’s film, which documents a paranormal journalist investigating strange occurrences that soon turn malevolent at the hands of a demon named Kagutaba, is truly the closest thing you’ll find to the bleak, off-kilter energy that the original Blair Witch has to offer.
14. If you liked She Dies Tomorrow (2020), check out Starfish (2018)!
Encapsulating the true essence of death within the medium of film is one of the hardest (and one of the most horrifying) tasks to set out and accomplish. In 2020, director Amy Seimetz did just that upon the release of her timely and haunting sophomore feature, She Dies Tomorrow, which floored audiences everywhere due to its deeply contemplative nature. Thankfully, other recent films have similarly projected some of the most contemplative ideas onto the silver screen and have allowed us to process our most inner-most thoughts. In Starfish, writer-director A.T. White perfectly encapsulates the nuances of the grieving process, set against the perfect backdrop of an apocalypse. It’s a heartbreaking and intoxicating glimpse into grief and regret and ebbs and flows within the tides of the end of the world, and while it may not be your typical horror film, it’s definitely horrifying in its own right.
15. If you liked Black Swan (2010), check out Helter Skelter (2012)!
Upon its release in 2010, Black Swan was met with critical acclaim, which praised everything from director Darren Aronofsky’s direction to Natalie Portman’s stellar performance that depicted the world of a diligent ballerina slowly start to crack under the pressure of her new roles as the Black and White Swans in her company’s production of Swan Lake. It’s truly one of the best horror films ever made on a technical level, and the film’s sleek descent into pure madness on the basis of trying to achieve perfection through identity and work is truly unnerving to practically every viewer who witnesses it. With that said, if you’re in the mood for a psychological horror film that deals with the struggles of perfection, and if you’re looking to expand your taste, look no further than Mika Ninagawa’s film Helter Skelter! Adapted from the popular manga of the same name, Helter Skelter follows rising star Lilico (played by Erika Sawajiri) as she undergoes countless cosmetic surgeries to catapult herself into stardom, which ultimately end up deteriorating her body and mind and force her to spiral toward rock bottom. The film is one of the most slept-on films on this list, given how few people have seen a film of this caliber, and it’s a must-see film even if you didn’t get around to it during this spooky season.