But there are always those great horror films (or horror/sf mixes) that are ignored, either accidentally or intentionally. Even with all of the viewing options available to us today, there are still many great horror films that haven't been seen or recognized by people who consider themselves film geeks. What follows are my own picks for the best horror films that many have not seen or have passed over. It's just my view, my opinion, but I welcome any and all discussions about the films and any suggestions for additions.
So, let's start with the films, the year each one was released, and a brief synopsis....and they are in no particular order.
--THE THING (2011): John Carpenter's THE THING (1982) was mauled by the critics and ignored by viewers on its release, but over the past 30 years the film has been recognized as a true science fiction/horror classic. This prequel takes place a few days before Carpenter's film, and it too was mauled by the critics and ignored by viewers on first release....and it's actually a good film. Unlike most prequels, it actually does sync up well with Carpenter's film, and it's clear upon watching it--if you have an open mind--that the cast and crew bent over backwards to make sure the prequel did so. They clearly respected Carpenter's film and it shows. Yes, there are a few rough patches, but for me, it works, and the film does not skimp on the blood and gore.
--PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987): One of John Carpenter's best films, but also one of his most underrated. A team of university students in advanced physics team up with a priest to study a mysterious canister found in the basement of a nearby church....and end up facing the possible rebirth of the ultimate evil. And then there's the eerie dreams that are actually messages sent from the future, warning of an impending apocalypse...I'll admit, this film scared me out of my wits when I first saw it, and even watching it now, the "dream messages" still creep me out. It's also one of the few films to show the convergence of science and religion--when was the last time you saw a film talk about quantum physics while discussing the Bible? Carpenter wrote the film under the pseudonym "Martin Quatermass", a tip of the hat to the Quatermass TV serials/movies created by Nigel Kneale.
Which leads us to:
--FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (1968): The discovery of a five million year old skull and what appears to be an alien spacecraft under the streets of London leads to the horrifying truth about mankind's evolution--and that the alien spacecraft and the dead aliens aboard are from Mars. It turns out that the ship is not dead....Released in the US in the same year as 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, FMYTE was Nigel Kneale's take on a science fiction ghost story, exploring themes that were also featured in 2001, and to some extent in later films like PRINCE OF DARKNESS and PROMETHEUS (2012). The film has a slow buildup, but there are some generally creepy scenes, and there's also a bleak ending--the evil is destroyed, but at great cost. Granted, some of the visual effects are, well, not so good, but the film overall is worth watching. It's usually shown on TCM from time to time.
--WICKED CITY (1987): Yoshiaki Kawajiri's fantastic anime adaptation of Hideyuki Kikuchi's novel is, well, not for kids--obviously. It is an adult anime but in no way should one compare it to LEGEND OF THE OVERFIEND (even if both films have a good dollop of sex and violence and er, tentacles). A truce between the human world and the "dark world" has existed for hundreds of years, and will soon be renewed. But some in the dark world want to prevent that. Human agent Taki is paired with female demon Maki to be bodyguards for the man needed to sign the treaty, but as the two fight off increasing assaults from Dark World terrorists, is there another purpose behind their pairing? Okay, I admit that as a teen, I watched this for the sex and violence. But as I got older, I appreciated the film for its real merits--it has fantastic animation and direction by Madhouse and Kawajiri, respectively, boasts impressive creature designs (one of which is an homage to a creature from THE THING) and has a terrific twist near the end. It's also one of several collaborations between Kawajiri and Kikuchi, and one of the best (along with VAMPIRE HUNTER D: BLOODLUST and DEMON CITY SHINJUKU). The movie pulls no punches, but it's actually a bit toned-down from the original novel (which has been translated into English). No cute and cuddly character designs here--this is an animated film for adults that has action, horror, some comedic bits, and, well, romance. Even more important, it has a brain. It's one of the best animated films I've ever seen.
--LET ME IN (2010): A strong remake of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (and based on the novel), this film is one of the best remakes ever made, but it's a strong film in its own right. In 1980s New Mexico, a lonely young boy befriends a young girl who is actually a decades-old vampire. The criticisms tossed at the film before it was released were insulting--claims that it was going to be "another Twilight" or it was just going to suck careened around the Net. And yet, director Matt Reeves pulled it off. The film does not skimp on the dread or the gore, and Reeves cast two very talented young actors as the leads--both Chloe Grace Moretz (KICK-ASS) and Kodi Smit-McPhee (THE ROAD) were still kids themselves, and they really make the movie work. Richard Jenkins (CABIN IN THE WOODS) and ELIAS KOTEAS (THE PROPHECY) are also very good in their roles. For me, the film was much darker than the original. I like them both, and even the original author of LTROI, John Lindqvist, praised the remake.
--CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961): A tragic horror story about a young man (Oliver Reed)--conceived during a rape, born on Christmas Day (which somehow is a sin...who knew?), who, despite the love of his adopted family and his fiancee, eventually becomes a werewolf that must be stopped at all cost. No happy endings here, but this is one of the best of the Hammer films.
--THE BURROWERS (2008): A horror film set in the Old West, in which a search party looking for a missing family discover that the real threat isn't a hostile Native American tribe or outlaws, but something far more sinister....and hungry. Some of the cast members have great horror/sf credits, like Clancy Brown (HIGHLANDER, STARSHIP TROOPERS), William Mapother--Tom Cruise's cousin! (MINORITY REPORT, LOST) and Doug Hutchison (THE X-FILES, THE GREEN MILE), so give this one a look...
--DOG SOLDIERS (2002): Neil Marshall delivers a slam-bang werewolf movie that's scary, gory, and is pretty funny in some spots. It also has the best use of the line, "There is no spoon" outside of THE MATRIX. A team of British soldiers on a training mission in Scotland soon find themselves in a real battle to the death against a pack of vicious and hungry werewolves. Oh, and there's a cute dog in there too.
--IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1994): One of John Carpenter's best films, and certainly his best of the 1990s, this film drips with Lovecraftian dread. Sam Neill (JURASSIC PARK) plays an investigator looking into the disappearance of popular writer Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow), but soon finds that Cane is...well, not who he seems to be, and that his latest novel "In the Mouth of Madness" just might be the trigger to the end of the world. This is a mindf**k of a film, and if you're a fan of H.P. Lovecraft's work, you're in for a real treat, thanks to Carpenter's direction and Michael DeLuca's screenplay.
--THE RESURRECTED (1991): The late, great Dan O'Bannon (ALIEN, BLUE THUNDER) directed this new take on H.P. Lovecraft's "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward". A detective is called in by the wife of Charles Dexter Ward to check out her husband's unusual activities which involve delving into the writings of his ancestor, Joseph Curwen. The truth, as it turns out, is that Curwen has found a way to cheat death--and he's used his descendant, Ward, to accomplish this. Grim stuff, and the movie has a few scenes that will shock and scare.
--RAVENOUS (1999): Director Antonia Bird (PRIEST), who sadly passed away recently, directed this unusual tale of paranoia and cannibalism in the Old West. The film has a solid cast with Guy Pearce (MEMENTO, PROMETHEUS), Robert Carlyle (ONCE UPON A TIME, STARGATE: UNIVERSE), Neal McDonough (MINORITY REPORT, JUSTIFIED), and David Arquette (SCREAM). It's not for everyone, and has an offbeat flavor (no pun intended), but it works.
--NEAR DARK (1987): Kathryn Bigelow, who became the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Director with THE HURT LOCKER, directed this unusual but effective vampire film involving a "family" of vampires driving around the Western US who end up trying to bring a naive young man into their fold. Brutal and well-acted and directed, this film boasts the talents of Bigelow,and actors Lance Henriksen (ALIENS), Jennette Goldstein (ALIENS), Bill Paxton (ALIENS....hey, wait a minute here.....), Jenny Wright (THE LAWNMOWER MAN) and Adrian Pasdar (HEROES, PROFIT). No sparkling vampires here--these vamps are grungy, vicious, and more likely to smile while tearing your head off.
--PULSE (KAIRO) (2001): Kiyoshi Kurosawa's chilling ghost story shows what happens when ghosts use the Internet and modern technology to break into our world...and the results ain't pretty. Nope. When a group of university students investigates a series of suicides, they soon discover that ghosts are trying to break through into our world, and no, these are not friendly ghosts at all. I haven't seen the American remake, but I found the original film to be one scary movie, and it's certainly one of the best "J-Horror" films I've seen.
....and that's my list. Feel free to comment or add any more films!
"I sell my soul, but at the highest rates."