Tuesday, September 27, 2011

31 Alternative Films for Halloween

(Insert the usual excuses for another absence on my part here, employment problems, family health issues, yadda yadda.)

Well, as everyone probably knows by now, Halloween's almost here once again, and you know what that means, right? Uninspired top ten lists from every non-genre media source imaginable! Because the experts at Entertainment Weekly who also put Glee on their covers three out of four times in the month know exactly what they're talking about!

Here's a rundown of what you're going to see on just about every damn list that people will be passing around on Facebook and the like while the sites rack up hit counts (don't even get me started on that one title per page bullshit these sites are doing now): Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Shining, etc. They'll also throw in a more contemporary title like Paranormal Activity to be hip and get people debating whether it deserves to be counted. It's the same every year. And why? Even non-horror fans of heard of all these and have most likely seen them by now. Must be hard shooting fish in a barrel.

Look, one of the main reasons I bothered to start this blog (and occasionally use, bada-BING!) was to pass the word around about lesser known films and to help discover otherwise overlooked movies. The films these lists perpetuate are great films, I'd never deny that. They are essential viewing for any horror fan, or film nerd in general. Problem is no one's addressing the question of what's next. With that in mind, here are 31 movies that I've noticed are either under-appreciated or just flat-out ignored. One for every day of the month! For you! See what I did there?

I tired to find a good mix of just about every kind of horror film out there, from dead serious to completely moronic, just to cover the spectrum of tastes. Are all these movies great? Hell no. No way are these better than the big guns of say The Exorcist, but why live your life on repeat? Take a chance, live a little. These films all have a least a few qualities that worth appreciating and I feel that every one of them are at least entertaining enough to create a fun October.

As for me, I'm going to partake in the October Horror Movie Challenge over at DVDTalk where I'm going to see how many horror movies I can watch in a month, of which just about all are going to be first time viewings in order to provide me with a whole new set of ammunition for this blog, lists like this, and a potential Youtube channel. We'll see. If anyone would feel inclined for a fun time and good conversation all about horror, anyone and everyone is encouraged to sign up and participate over there. In the meantime, please enjoy the following films. Find them anyway you can, buying, streaming, whatever you've got to do, man. I'd prefer people to buy and support the releases, especially for the specialty labels such as Code Red, but we all know how money's tight nowadays. Anyway, I hope you enjoy my list of flicks to check out.

1. Paranoiac

Rather than watching Psycho and it's well-known twist ending (SPOILER: It was a sled) for the 1,000th time, check out this Hammer entry inspired by Hitchcock's opus. A long-thought dead brother returns to upset his family, and Oliver Reed drinks. And drinks. And drinks. It builds up slow with a few good suspense scenes until a pretty satisfying twist ending. It's a fairly overlooked film in Hammer's catalog, probably because it doesn't have their customary takes on the old Universal Monsters, but it's worth checking out, and the boxset with seven other Hammer movies on it is definitely worth hunting down.

2. Isolation

If you're in the mood for something along the lines of Carpenter's The Thing but know that film by heart, check this one out. After messing about with cow genetics, a bovine monster is born and terrorizes a small group of people on the farm that birthed it. It sounds hooky, but the creature and the birth scenes are fairly disturbing and fall in line with the grotesqueness of Bottin's designs. A relatively recent and passed by movie.

3. Sheitan

A Frenchie's take on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The combination of surreal plot turns, a morbid sense of humor, and highly uncomfortable situations create a film you can't turn away from, even if you desperately want to. Vincent Cassel especially will be hanging around your subconscious for a while after a viewing.

4. The Convent

One of the two main titles I will spout on about every damn year until I hear people actually checking it out. There's nothing new here, really. It's a callback to the classic Night of the Demons, which if you haven't seen that you need to do so promptly, but The Convent treads similar ground with a unique sense of humor and characters that are genuinely fun to watch. A bit goofy, intentionally I feel, but fun as hell. The perfect movie to have on during a party.

5. Primal Rage

One of the films I've found only through the dvd releases of Code Red. It's a predecessor to films like 28 Days Later, but a lot more low-budget and a lot more Italian. Diseased monkeys instill a murderous virus in humans which spreads among a campus. One of the highlights of the film is the Halloween party scene which has the largest assortment of bizarro costumes and masks I've seen, in a film or otherwise. I think the effects guy was allowed to just go nuts and make every mask he could dream up. Great 80's fun.

6. Lisa and the Devil

Movies like Black Sunday usually get all the attention from Bava fans, but of the man's work that I've watched thus far, this is probably my favorite. A twisting dream-like excursion through a gothic mansion, with Telly Savalas, who may or may not be Satan, chewing (or should I say sucking) every scene he appears in. A lovely little mind trip. There's an alternate version with new footage that tried to cash in on the Exorcist craze on the same dvd but I haven't gotten around to watching that version yet so I can't tell you if it's worth your time. From what I hear, it's probably not.

7. Theater of Blood

There's a wealth of Vincent Price movies you can pick from for the holiday, and for your sakes you better watch at least one each year. If you haven't seen it, then I'd throw this one out there for my pick of the year. Price plays a bitter actor who gets his revenge on his critics through murders inspired by Shakespeare plays. The inventiveness of the kills as well as the film's gallows humor combine for a perfect mixture that's great to watch on a crisp fall afternoon.

8. Dance of the Dead

Only a couple of years old, but it already feels overlooked when you look at how far lesser zombie films have been received in the same time frame. Successfully recreating the sense of humor that was found in The Return of the Living Dead is no easy feat, but to do so in a film that also stands on its own is truly worth commending. It's great to see a truly fun film that calls back to the older classics without falling into the trap of relying solely on fanboyism like so many other indie films have lately.

9. Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer

Speaking of which, how many times have you had to sit through a horror-comedy and watch as yet another movie tries to pass off a pale imitation of Ash from Army of Darkness as the next big thing? How would you like to see a movie that's successful at it? I'm still surprised at how little-seen this film is. The internet horror community seems to know it, but it deserves to catch on with a bigger audience. Jack Brooks as a character is hilarious and compelling that manages to stand as a unique creation, while the film revels in a latex-laden ode to 80's monster movies. Jack's initial meeting with his psychiatrist alone is a scene for the books, in my opinion. It's not high art, but it's goddamn fun.

10. Dead End

The other film I will evangelize until the world ends. A family's road trip for the holidays ends up being a trip that's both funny and disturbing, frequently at the same time. The film's worth watching for Ray Wise's performance alone, which will have you questioning why this guy isn't a major name. A perfect example of how great a movie can be with the right combination of good writing, performances, and atmosphere all in a limited location with little means. The one film above any other on this list I'd recommend.

11. Re-Cycle

Maybe not a full horror film, but there's enough upsetting imagery and atmosphere to qualify it enough. It mostly takes place in the dreamscape, creating the opportunity for Asian horror's answer to Tarsem's visual spectacles. As well as a few tense sequences, the end's just heartbreaking making for a nice, more thought provoking film to counteract the usual crassness of the genre. The film came out just a bit after the bubble burst for Asian horror here in the U.S. but it's well worth checking out. Especially if you're burned out on the whole long-haired girl with the haunted Ipod thing they've been doing for over a decade.

12. Tales From Crypt (1972

Probably a more familiar title to those who are fans of older horror, but there's a few generations now that aren't as well versed with this one. Before the puppet cackled for HBO, the Cryptkeeper was played with his usual British elegance by Sir Ralph Richardson, who dispensed with the customary stories of bad choices and twisted morals. For no other reason, it should be watched for Peter Cushing's story which remains one of the few sequences in film that moved me to tears.

13. Vengeance of the Zombies

Probably not the best place to start with Paul Naschy, but dammit, I love the weird ones. A combination of Bava-like gothic sensibilities, giallo, and old-fashioned voodoo zombies, the film is definitely not for those who enjoy logic. But if you love being draped in the dream logic of Eurohorror, this is going to be a good time. Plus it's got all the Naschy hallmarks, including playing three(!) roles, bedding numerous women, and displaying his manliness at every opportunity.

14. Blood and Black Lace

I threw this in mainly for historical purposes in case someone comes by and is interested in dabbling into the pool of the giallo since I know a lot of horror aficionados are at least aware of this one. Considered to be the first true giallo, this murder mystery is filled with the Bava touches that made his films so succulent. Blues, reds, oh my! Start with this one and go on to discover all of the lurid offspring it created.

15. Home Movie

With all the interest in found footage movies, this one was completely skipped over. A priest comes to discover how evil children can be while filming home videos of his family. It gives you just enough to leave you bugged out by the time the film ends but never tips its hand and ruins the effect, creating a tense little movie that'll creep up on you later as you think it over.

16. Malefique

A tight little movie that primarily takes place in one jail cell, showing just effective economy of space can be with a little bit of good writing. Four inmates find a book of spells but of course receive more than they bargained for once they try their hand at it. With it's Lovecraftian feel and an odd sense of humor, it'll feel right at home alongside the likes of From Beyond. And of course, for his efforts, what do we offer the director? The remake of One Missed Call. Poor son of a bitch.

17. Dead & Buried

This not-quite a zombie film has developed a strong cult following but deserves a larger audience. The denizens of a coastal town take a strong dislike to tourists, at least until their corpses start walking around. A beautifully shot, well written little horror film with a few squirm inducing moments that has flown under the radar too long. Just quality film-making.

18. Trick or Treat

The internet has been abuzz the last few years for Michael Dougherty's Trick 'R Treat, but let's not forget the other flick that'll pop up in a Google search. It basically boils down to Skippy vs. Heavy Metal, directed by the fucking accountant from The Untouchables. You'll never forget such moments as a demonic entrance via a record played backwards or a woman assaulted by a monster unleashed through her walkman (TM.). A perfect example of the fun 80's horror would frequently provide and which is sadly little-seen today.

19. Contamination

You love Alien? You wanna see a complete bastardization in the grand style of Italian exploitation? Then look no further! Never again will there be such a record number of stupefying putrefying and gravity defying explosions of bodily goo! Beware the most gag-inducing egg sacs ever committed to celluloid! Beware the bird-beak of the asparagus mother alien! Find a copy! Today! Exclamations!

20. Just Before Dawn

A morality tale to promote the awareness of the legions of crazed rednecks in the Oregonian woods. Though in reality, you'll probably just a find a gaggle of hipsters going green or whatever they call it nowadays. Essentially, a backwoods horror film with young kids running afoul of hillbilly murderers, this one stands out thanks to great photography, excellent pacing, and a truly whack job of an ending. Boy howdy!

21. Flashback

A slasher from Germany, this one will definitely surprise you, especially if you're expecting another early-DV shot shitfest that littered video shelves through out the first half of the 2000s. Even though the dvd here is full-frame and dubbed, the beautiful cinematography and mischievous sense of humor still shines through. I've never seen a movie revel in its own wickedness as I did in this one's final act. Definitely a little known gem that should be sought out.

22. Satan's Little Helper

If you just want a movie with a flat out fucked up sense of humor, this is your target. Probably one of the most twisted movies released in years, a little boy goes about helping his beloved Satan as he goes about murdering and terrorizing about a small northeastern island. Through it all, it somehow convinces you that what you're watching is hilarious. What a pair of balls on this one.

23. Vampire Killers

Let's be frank, a hell of a lot of imitators set out among the fallout of Shaun of the Dead to capture some of the same success. Thus far, this is the only one to come close to the quality of the aforementioned film. Created by the team behind the quality BBC show Gavin & Stacey, the film sees a pair of dolts out for female accompaniment get caught up in a centuries old plot involving...lesbian vampires. It has a similar sense of humor as Shaun but manages to carve its own identity as it goes. The final shot in the movie is just uproarious.

24. Blood Dolls

Now, you've got a lot of options when it comes to Charles Band and tiny terrors. But nothing matches the sheer absurdity of this film. There is not one aspect of this movie that comes close to reality or logic. Everything and everyone is unhinged, leaving you with a giant case of What the Fuck? as it ends, leaving you not sure if you should be giddy or get some fresh air to remember what sanity was.

25. The Possession of David O'Reilly

You'd be forgiven for passing by this film's horribly nondescript cover on Netflix Instant. But that shouldn't stop you from going back and checking out a fairly creepy and frightening film. It manages to find that perfect sweet spot of showing you just enough and leaving the rest to your imagination, creating moments of pure terror. Forgotten to the world for the most part, this one is at least readily available.

26. The Ugly

At first glance, this might appear to be a take off on Silence of the Lambs, and that approach is probably how they got their funding, but it delves into a smaller, more intimate case study of a disturbed young man. The performances in the film are top notch and the climax will haunt you for a while upon viewing, which is why I'm still surprised how little known the film is some fourteen years after its release.

27. Biozombie

And now for something completely different. A Japanese punk rock zombie comedy, which is frequently hilarious. Filled with reprehensible characters, it's an overall nihilistic movie that exists solely for zombie mayhem and crass humor. And it's glorious. For an unabashedly filthy good time, this is your best option.

28. Curse of the Fly

The original Fly and Cronenberg's remake are well known, but the third installment of the original series is an often passed over gem, offering tragedy of Shakespearean proportions in the guise of a B-horror movie. I do believe that I have never watched as depressing a horror film amongst what would be considered the "classic" era. There may not be much in terms of an actual Fly monster, but the title does not deceive. This deals with the consequences of the legacy left behind from the original film, leaving no character untouched by the time it reaches its conclusion. Heavy stuff for its era.

29. Christmas Evil

Black Christmas and Silent Night Deadly Night tend to steal the thunder when it comes to Christmas themed horror movies, but if you want another slice of crazed, yuletide fun, this would be a great runner-up. A sad little man keeps track of all who's been naughty or nice all year long, waiting for Christmas to let his mind snap and dole out "gifts" before concluding with a baffling final farewell shot. Guaranteed fun times.

30. The Bloody Pit of Horror

A bizarro slice of cheese, this oddball concerns a group of models arriving to a decrepit mansion (yet it looks so chic...) only to find a deranged man believing himself to be an executioner from the Middle Ages calling it home, and doesn't particularly like interlopers. Basically, it involves women succumbing to the ridiculous traps of a man who dresses and and acts like a rejected villain from the 60's Batman series. It's as hilarious as it sounds.

31. American Gothic

Yes, this gleefully totes its connection to the famous painting all over its cover, which would make you believe it takes place on a traditional mid-western farm, yes? Well, no. It's set among the coastal cliffs of an island off the Pacific Northwest. And that's not all that's whacked in this movie that involves more backwoods terror as a group of young people (aren't they all?) stumble across a family seemingly stuck in the 19th century, and two fifty year olds mentally stuck as children. Pretty crazy fun that many may remember from its VHS cover when perusing the rental shelves, but not as many have actually seen it. Now's as good a time as any.


  1. Your list is amazing.

    Jack Brooks was a surprise to me, didn't expect it to be that good.

    As for Vengeance of the Zombies... I WISH more people watched Naschy...

    '72 Tales from the Crypt is a nice touch too. I HATED Contamination though... well except the exploding people, and entire end sequence and Ian McCulloch... ok maybe I LOVED it.

    Biozombie is one of the better cookie cutter zombie movies of the last twenty years... EVERYONE should see it.

    Finally, Dead and Buried? Dan O'Bannon? Hell yes.

    Awesome post.

  2. Hey! Sorry I didn't see your comment until just now. Life's been keeping me away from the blog for a while. Thanks for the kudos. It was a fun list to do and I hope I can come up with as good of one for next year. Take care and thank you for the feedback!