The horror genre is often dismissed as exploitative, gratuitously violent, and outrageously silly. Admittedly, this stigma has been justified with several major duds. There are, however, a number of horror movies that heroically redeem the genre’s good name–it’s just too bad that they have yet to receive the widespread recognition they deserve. Here is my top five list of underrated horror films.
5. “May” (Lucky Mckee, 2002)
Strange, sad and darkly hilarious, dir. Lucky McKee’s “May” is definitely unlike any other movie out there, and that’s probably the best thing about it. Tales of a homicidal young woman with a penchant for sewing might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m positive at least a few of you will adore the sweetly insane May, perfectly played by the unforgettable Angela Bettis. With its offbeat tone, campy visuals and resonant themes of alienation and longing, this is one film that warrants a major increase in its current cult following.
4. “Jennifer’s Body” (Karyn Kusuma, 2009)
Should one actually watch this movie with a deeper focus on thematic elements instead of Amanda Seyfried and Megan Fox’s 15 second lip-lock, I’m confident they’ll find that there’s more to “Jennifer’s Body” than meets the eye. The terror of peer pressure, finding an identity, and cultural expectations of beauty and female sexuality are all appropriately explored under the shade of horror-comedy. Certain audiences may feel disappointed as they watch apparent “sex-symbol” Fox attack and eat her male suitors instead of coo under their gaze as she has done in other movies. Regardless, I will continue to support this film for its strong performances, sensitive script, and courage to defy the mainstream’s expectations.
3. “The Descent” (Neil Marshall, 2005)
Imagine the scariest experience of your life. Imagine how trapped you felt, the onslaught of the fear, and ultimately, how utterly, utterly hopeless you were rendered, if even for a brief moment. Most of us have been there, which is why Neil Marshall’s conversion of that fear into the metaphor of a bottomless cave is so incredibly powerful. Perhaps this inevitable discomfort is in fact the very reason this film has not been as widely viewed as it should be—the prospect of experiencing the same claustrophobia and paranoia as the characters is understandably not the most appealing for some audiences. Nevertheless, “The Descent’s” engrossing narrative and highly original concept makes it a landmark horror film which must be experienced.
2. “Near Dark” (Kathryn Bigelow, 1987)
Long before sparkling shovel-faced men and their dead-eyed mouth-breathing lovers, little-seen “Near Dark” truly did justice to a well-known sharp-fanged being. Blood-thirsty, sensual, sun-sensitive misfits living outside the margins of society are depicted in this beautiful combination of horror, western, and classic vampire genres. Being a vampire is a curse, not a blessing, and any glamorization is substituted with a grittier reality of what it is to bear such a lonely existence. The dusty atmosphere, special effects, characters, and even the logic of this film as a vampire story sets it apart from certain recent additions to the vampire genre which may have won numbers in the box-office, but fail miserably in areas where this movie triumphs.
1. “Dead End” (Jean-Baptiste Andrea, 2003)
It is only thanks to the marvels of late-night internet searching that I came to know and love this absolute gem of a horror movie. Ray Wise and Lin Shaye play the mother and father of the Harringtons, a typical middle class American family in all its glorious dysfunction, as they embark on a mundane holiday road trip. Even though Mr. Harrington is positive that the direction he is driving will take them through a short cut, it becomes more and more clear that the only thing about to be cut short is his family’s life. This movie is awesome. It must be seen by all for boasting a story so creepy and incredibly clever that it borders on a Hitchcock level of suspense, all the while producing a wildly funny study on the darker side of familial relationships. As far as complexity and intelligence goes in horror films, it doesn’t get any better than “Dead End.”