Top 10 Horror films you've never heard about (1/2)

Some movies make it big, some don't - and some just get lost along the way, but deserve to be much bigger than they are.

Horror movies are a special kind of movies. They're more or less obscure by definition, as they deal with the uncomfortable side of our psyche. But this inherent obscurity opens the doors to the bizarre, the extreme, and the experimental, creating movies that do not attract the masses, but in some cases are brilliant, sometimes unique, little or not-so-little pieces of work with qualities unseen in any other genres. Some of these films never reach a wider audience due to their unusual content or style - others just get forgotten, overshadowed by bigger productions, or washed away by the flood of output from the film industry.

Whatever the reason, some unknown horror movies have spectacular camera work, plot twists you cannot forget, outstanding acting, or just insane amounts of gore, pure outrageousness, breaking your last taboos, and need to be seen for exactly these qualities.

In no particular order, here are five (=part one, link to part 2 at end of article) out of ten lesser known horror movies you should not miss:

I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale / Torso (1973)

Director: Sergio Martino


Aah, good old 1970s gialli. You've probably seen the brilliant Dario Argento ones, but you might not have heard of this one. As with every giallo, it's a twisted story involving murder, and beautiful girls. This time, a scarf and a mirror are the keys to stop the killer. But beware, there's a lot more going on in between, and some of the visuals will probably stay with you for a long time. Awesome camera work and settings, a script that would make Alfred Hitchcock proud, Suze Kendall, and when a saw is involved things get really ugly... - "I corpi presentano..." has everything, from sleazy nude scenes, to hair-raising suspense and violence. This is serious sex & crime cinema from Italy at its very best.


Tesis (1996)

Director: Alejandro Amenábar


"Tesis" is a clever film, but it doesn't come across as overly intellectual. It's subjects - questions about media and responsibility, cinema's relation to its audience, and the voyeuristic motivation inside of us - are nicely interwoven with a sensitive, totally non-soap love story, and an intense, suspenseful, scarily realistic thriller. On top of that it has a couple of nicely surprising ideas in direction, making it one of those rare little low-budget gems that are highly capitvating in both form and function. "Tesis" is not a pure horror film, but it easily fits the horror department. There is not much gore here, but with its serious approach, and ugly subject (you can make a guess from the poster), it's certainly still not for the squeamish. High tension!


Alucarda (1977)

Director: Juan López Moctezuma


So you thought the Italians had nailed the catholicism thing the darkest possible ways in cinema. Well, you're wrong, the Mexicans did. One of them is director J. L. Moctezuma, his "Alucarda" just oozes guilt, sexual repression, and blasphemy. The imagery ranges from dreamy to nightmarish, it'll almost make you forget the story is more or less set in the present day.

Actress Tina Romero plays the title character with passion and conviction, the setting couldn't be more medieval, the age of enlightenment seems to have never happened in "Alucarda". Just like the movie poster, the entire film is a bold, relentless vision of the dark ages, with an ultimately simplistic story, but one that many will be able to relate to. It doesn't go into the psychological details of each of its characters, but the result speaks for itself: pain, blood, fire, sex, and the Devil. "Alucarda" is a dangerous, evil, and sad, fairy-tale for grown ups, that might shake your beliefs. Or just give you excellent nightmares with it's surreal images.


Messiah of Evil (1973)

Directors: Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz


The entire "Messiah of Evil" is almost literally a nightmare, in the best possible sense. This movie is a weird beast, somewhere between modern art, and a zombie movie, but without zombies. There's an artistic beauty between the lines, it's clearly a labour of love, but also feels disjointed and plain hellish, and is probably intended to be like that. At no point in the movie you'll feel safe, it eliminates the classic roles a viewer will identify with, and the classic way of telling a story that evolves towards some conclusion. Rather is sucks you in, deeper and deeper, not knowing where this will lead to, a nightmare that's not supposed to end quickly... "Messiah of Evil" is a true one-of-a-kind low budget masterpiece that defies classification, has tons of atmosphere, and some really disturbing scenes. The Messiah comes to town. Be strong, bear up. You have been warned.


Le notti del terrore / Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror (1981)

Director: Andrea Bianchi


"Le notti del terrore" is a bit like "Hell of the Living Dead" on LSD - a must-see for low budget zombie movie geeks, it's certainly the most outrageous of the Romero-style ripoffs. It also draws some elements from Lucio Fulci's work, and even the gothic horror line of ideas, but ultimately it sits somewhere in-between, with added hints of the base motives sometimes seen in cannibal or nazisploitation movies. Cheap thrills, cheap sets, (very) uncomfortable love scenes, lots of gore and guts, slow zombies, even slower victims, all put into slightly surreal images and delivered in diffuse rhythm - "Le notti..." is a weird experience. It's a bad movie, but it has some stylistic qualities, intended or not, and gets some of the creepy atmosphere just right. But most of all it's just bizarre, sometimes disturbing. It's one of those movies that just aren't for everyone. But for those who are into the lows of humanity, it's a feast.


* * *

Thanks for reading!

* * *

This article has a follow up:


Best outbreak movies to watch during COVID-19

What do you do when you're done with your home office work the best you can, have cleaned the entire house for the third time today, have checked the latest numbers on COVID-19 spread, and properly washed your hands (again!)? Watch a proper movie!

COVID-19 currently has pretty much the whole world in its grip. Many countries have restricted public life, to varying degrees, but one thing is very common these days: a huge number of people need to stay at home. A lot. This of course sets some limitations on how people can spend their day - and as we all know, movies are a great way to kill large amounts of time, and keep your head occupied when there's really not much else to do.

Here are some recommendations for chilling, sometimes outrageous or shocking, and entertaining movies that will certainly NOT get your mind off the current situation:

The Crazies (1973)

Director: George A. Romero

George A. Romero was a brilliant observer of human psychology and social dynamics, no surprise you'll find a couple of his films on this list. A virus outbreak pushes a community to its limits - it theatens the very nature of living together. Romero's "The Crazies" is a bold attempt to picture the catastrophe on many levels. It's a low budget movie, and it has its flaws, but nontheless it's a fascinating and chilling look at how society disintegrates when individual survival collides with social requirements.



Outbreak (1995)

Director: Wolfgang Petersen

An outbreak movie with Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, and Morgan Freeman, directed by the guy who made "Das Boot" and "In the Line of Fire"? You certainly can't go wrong with this one. "Outbreak" is a big budget, full scale Hollywood production, it's to outbreak movies what "Saving Private Ryan" is to WWII movies. It might not be as realistic as "Saving Private Ryan" in every aspect, but if it happens that way, that's how it's gonna look and feel. The race to find the host of the virus, and save a town and its people from destruction will make you hold your breath until the end.



Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Director: George A. Romero

The king and queen of all outbreak movies is Romero's "Dawn of the Dead". Never before, and never again, has the social apocalypse been dissected that precisely and spectacularly. This is the virus taken to the extreme, humankind on the brink of extinction, death is everywhere, and it's spreading, fast. What will you do? Will you run? Will you shoot? Will you dig in? Why will you do so, and why will you succeed, or fail? A pop-art masterpiece, "Dawn of the Dead" is the best outbreak movie and best zombie movie ever - in bright colors, with iconic characters, and some of the most memorable images ever put on film, it explores the roots and branches of social interaction under exceptional circumstances. And it's a hugely exciting movie to watch, it's fast, atmospheric, touching, gory, funny, sad, visionary, and what not else. You must not miss this one.

A note on the many different cuts of the film: get the "US theatrical" or "Euro-Cut/Argento" version, or just watch both. Avoid the "extra long"/"Langfassung"/Oliver Krekel "Ultimate-Final-Cut"/FSK16 cuts.



The Crazies (2010)

Director: Breck Eisner

"The Crazies", again? Yes, it's a remake - and, yes, it's a good one! George A. Romero's cult classic got a new treatment in 2010, and they nailed it. It's different from the original, very different, but the mood is completely there - and then some. Everything is bigger, more polished, more stylized - but it still feels right. So what happens when the TRIXIE virus spreads, and people meet the "crazies"? Well, things don't look too good, in fact they look dead serious and horrific.



The Andromeda Strain (1971)

Director: Robert Wise

Based on Michael Crichton's book of the same name, "The Andromeda Strain" borders on a horror movie, with it's sometimes surreal, always stylized images. At each instant you expect a giant bug to leap into frame and eat someone. Yes, it's a creepy movie, but there are no giant bugs. Rather it's a fascinating, detailed look at the methodology and mindset of a set of scientists. The horror crawls up from inside of you, realizing the lengths and dangers involved in the process of examining the alien substance, and trying to uncover the mystery of "The Andromeda Strain".



Shivers (1975)

a.k.a. "They came from within", "The Parasite Murders" - Director: David Cronenberg

"Shivers" is a weirdly dark, claustophobic, creepy movie, and a clever one, too. David Cronenberg has never failed to create an oddly believable and intellectually stimulating setting for his ideas, and "Shivers" is no exception. Sexually charged infected roam the streets. Think about it, the concept might sound absurd on first thought, but then - heck, it's an intriguing idea, assuming THAT's where the infection strikes, people driven mad by the need to reproduce. Anyway, watch it. It's a kind of low-fi movie, the sober tone only David Cronenberg is capable of creating, as he would later do in "Rabid" and "The Brood" and pretty much all of his movies.



Ebola Syndrome (1996)

Director: Herman Yau

Now this one is really hard to stomach. The trailer doesn't do it justice at all. Trust me, tastelessness has never been written in such bold letters. If "Ebola Syndrome" won't make you choke with hysterical laughter and repulsion at the same time, I don't know what will. Among all the mayhem, there's a simplistic, but decent story that has the potential to make you think, but ultimately it just adds to the insane cynicism. This movie will scare the Devil out of you, by the Beelzebub. COVID-19 is a walk in the park compared to "Ebola Syndrome". Happy Quarantine. You're gonna need it.



Diary of the Dead (2007)

Director: George A. Romero

It's 2020, people are restricted to their homes due to COVID-19 outbreak. The internet has become the prime source of information. Bloggers and Vloggers start to question and rival offical channels and education. - George A. Romero at it again, he saw it coming, long before it happened. "Diary of the Dead" re-visits the days (or nights) of "Night of the Living Dead", the early days of the outbreak, only in a slighly updated setting: We're not experiencing the apocalypse first hand, but second hand, through the eyes of digital social media. "Diary..." is overshadowed by its predecessors, but it will be recognized as a prophetic vision, and a milestone, just like "Night..." would be, many years after being released.



* * *

Thanks for reading!
What do you think? Which are your favourite outbreak movies?


The Amusement Park (1973) - restoration finished!

It's finished! George A. Romero's unseen film "The Amusement Park" from 1973 has been restored in 4k, and the restoration premiered at the New York Museum of Modern Art!

This is great news for fans of Romero, and fans of modern US cinema in general. In a review for Consequence of Sound, Matt Prigge wrote that "The Amusement Park" in a certain sense is "...the scariest film Romero ever made". From "Night of the Living Dead" we know where Romero gets his most effective scares from: the individual psyche in a social environment, and the very personal horror of failing to create healthy communication between the two. With "The Amusement Park" set to portray the problems of the elderly in society, and the film being so shocking to initial viewers it was put away, we probably can make a rough guess where this is going...

Internet Movie Database has updated the film's page with a movie poster:

Currently, there seem to be no plans for distribution, "The Amusement Park" will probably only shown on particular occasions, like the aforementioned premiere at the MoMA during the annual "To Save and Project" festival, or similar events.