News Column

Top five overlooked horror movies to check out this Halloween

October 31, 2013


Oct. 31--There are such classics as "Psycho," "The Exorcist" and "Rosemary's Baby." Or contemporary hits "The Conjuring, "The Ring" and "Paranormal Activity." But what of the lesser-known horror flicks, those loved by pale, nerdy cinephiles (such as yours truly) and obsessive scary-movie-aficionados? They may not be as popular, but they still deserve some love this Halloween. These five cult favorites have often been criminally overlooked by audiences but have, nevertheless, carved out a small niche for themselves in the ever-expanding pantheon of horror films, and they are perfect additions to any scary-movie marathon being held this All Hallow's Eve.

"Dead Alive" (1992)

Before Peter Jackson tackled Tolkien's Middle Earth with the "Lord of the Rings" and "Hobbit" trilogies, he was directing super low-budget horror films in his native New Zealand. Most notable was the comedic "Dead Alive," which follows Lionel, who must care for his possessive mother after she's bitten by a rat-monkey (that's right, a rat-monkey) and turned into a zombie. For those with a taste for gory movies, you really can't get any nastier than this -- the climactic showdown between a horde of zombies, Lionel and a lawn mower reportedly used 300 liters of fake blood. And Jackson, already showing his flair for visual opulence, has great fun continuously pushing the proceedings further and further over the top, and it's just a disgusting blast from start to finish. For those without a strong stomach though, stay far, far away.

"The Orphanage" (2007)

This ghost story from Spain was reportedly inspired by a diverse range of past works, most notably "The Innocents" and, oddly enough, "Peter Pan." And in telling the story -- about a young married couple who, after buying the shut-down orphanage the wife stayed in as a child, have to deal with the sudden disappearance of their son, which may possibly be related to the appearances of a spooky ghost-child wearing a burlap-sack mask -- director J.A. Bayona uses old-school horror film techniques, such as mysterious bumps in the night and well-timed jump-out-of-your-seat scares, instead of gratuitous gore and violence. What makes the thriller even more noteworthy, however, is how surprisingly effective it is as a drama. Come for the scenes of a creepy ghost kid wearing a busted old scarecrow mask; stay for the moving study of a woman coming to terms with her troubled childhood.

"Parents" (1989)

It's a bit of a stretch calling this mostly forgotten black comedy from 1989 a horror film, but there are several truly disturbing images and moments to be found. In a satirical look at American suburbia of the 1950s, 10-year-old Michael begins to question the perfect facade of his Ozzie-and-Harriet-esque parents, particularly in regards to where they get the giant slabs of meat served for dinner each night. It's done in the same vein as the David Lynch's Americana nightmare "Blue Velvet," but "Parents" never gets quite as over-the-top; instead, it maintains a fairly somber tone throughout, making the proceedings even more unnerving.

The "[REC]" trilogy (2007)

Yes, technically, these are three films, not one, but this is MY list, so don't question me. This Spanish-language series, which started in 2007, with a fourth film scheduled for release next year, is probably the best entry from the overused "found footage" genre, utilizing a fake news anchorwoman and her loyal cameraman (thus the title "[REC]," which stands for "record") as they investigate a quarantined apartment building and its residents, who are falling victim to what appears to be a deadly virus. What starts out as a standard zombie plot gets weirder and weirder as it goes along, concluding with a genuinely frightening denouement (and a not-very-good, watered-down American remake called "Quarantine"). Its official sequels, "[REC] 2" and "[REC] 3: Genesis," follow the same general structure as the first while also expanding on its supernatural plot, though the latter has more darkly comedic moments, such as when a young bride attacks a zombie with a chainsaw while screaming, "This was supposed to be MY special day!" And, really, you can never go wrong with that.

"Something Wicked This Way Comes" (1983)

I don't know why this Disney movie creeps me out so much. Maybe it's the juxtaposition of a nostalgic, coming-of-age tale with the always-relevant battle between good and evil. Or it could be Jonathan Pryce's slithery performance as the mysterious carnival owner Mr. Dark. Perhaps it's the two awful child actors they cast as the leads. Whatever it may be (SPOILER ALERT: It's the terrible child actors), this adaptation of Ray Bradbury's classic novel about the arrival of a sinister traveling carnival to a small Midwestern town was part of Disney's early-'80s trend of releasing darker "family friendly" flicks, such as "The Watcher in the Woods" and "Return to Oz," that actually scared the bejeezus out of many a child. Its special effects may look wonky nowadays, and the studio's interference in making it more appealing to audiences is distractingly apparent in certain scenes, but as a whole, "Something Wicked" can be quite effective -- its nostalgic depiction of childhood innocence is well handled, as are the eerie scenes of Mr. Dark and his nefarious carnies. But, man, those child actors are awful.


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