We’ve spent more than a month celebrating the best horror movies of each decade, and what that made us want to do is to throw a little party for those under-the-radar gems you may not have caught. This list could go on for days, but we narrowed our recommendations down to a half dozen of our very favorite, woefully underseen horror flicks. Have a look, and if you’ve missed any of these, take our word for it: you need to see these.
6. Eden Lake (2008)
The always outstanding Michael Fassbender takes his girl Jenny (Kelly Reilly) to his childhood stomping grounds – a flooded quarry and soon-to-be centerpiece for a grand housing development. He intends to propose, but he’s routinely disrupted, eventually in quite a bloody manner, by a roving band of teenaged thugs.
European horror tends to do a nice job with the upwardly mobile middle class’s terror of untamed young things. Kids today! The best of these films mix a contempt for proper manners and liberal guilt with a genuine terror of the lower classes.
The acting, particularly from the youngsters, is outstanding. Sure, the “angry parents raise angry children” cycle may be overstated, but Jack O’Connell’s performance as the rage-saturated offspring turned absolute psychopath is chilling.
5. The Woman (2011)
There’s something not quite right about Chris Cleese (an unsettlingly cherubic Sean Bridgers), and his family’s uber-wholesomeness is clearly suspect. This becomes evident once Chris hunts down a feral woman (an awesome Pollyanna McIntosh), chains her, and invites the family to help him “civilize” her.
The film rethinks family – well, patriarchy, anyway. Writer Jack Ketchum may say things you don’t want to hear, but he says them well. And director Lucky McKee, in hi smost sure-footed effort, has no qualms about showing you things you don’t want to see. Like most of Ketchum’s work, The Woman is lurid and more than a bit disturbing.
Nothing happens in this film by accident – not even the innocent seeming baking of cookies – nor does it ever happen solely to titillate. Deeply disturbing and absolutely not for the timid, this is a movie that will stay with you.
4. The Snowtown Murders (2011)
John Bunting tortured and killed eleven people during his spree in South Australia in the Nineties. We only watch it happen once on film, but that’s more than enough.
Director Justin Kurtzel seems less interested in the lurid details of Bunting’s brutal violence than he is in the complicated and alarming nature of complicity. An unflinching examination of a predator swimming among prey, Snowtown succeeds where many true crime films fail because of its understatement, its casual observational style, and its unsettling authenticity. More than anything, though, the film excels due to one astounding performance.
Daniel Henshall cuts an unimpressive figure on screen – a round faced, smiling schlub. But he brings Bunting an amiability and confrontational fearlessness that provides insight into what draws people to a sadistic madman.
There’s not a false note in his chilling turn, nor in the atmosphere Kurzel creates of a population aching for a man – any adult male to care for them, protect them and tell them what to do.
The Snowtown Murders is a slow boil, and painfully tense. It’s hard to watch and harder to believe, but as a film, it offers a powerful image of everyday evil that will be hard to shake.
3. Them (Ils) (2006)
Brisk, effective and terrifying, Them is among the most impressive horror flicks to rely on the savagery of adolescent boredom as its central conceit. Writers/directors/Frenchmen David Moreau and Xavier Palud offer a lean, unapologetic, tightly conceived thriller that never lets up.
A French film set in Romania, Them follows Lucas (Michael Cohen) and Clementine (Olivia Bonamy), a young couple still moving into the big rattling old house where they’ll stay while they’re working abroad.
It will be a shorter trip than they’d originally planned.
What the film offers in 77 minutes is relentless suspense. Creepy noises, hooded figures, sadistic children and the chaos that entails – Them sets up a fresh and mean cat and mouse game that pulls you in immediately and leaves you unsettled.
Watch it. Do it.
2. We Are What We Are (Somos le que hay) (2010)
In a quiet opening sequence, a man dies in a mall. It happens that this is a family patriarch and his passing leaves the desperately poor family in shambles. While their particular quandary veers spectacularly from expectations, there is something primal and authentic about it.
It’s as if a simple relic from a hunter-gatherer population evolved separately but within the larger urban population, and now this little tribe is left without a leader. An internal power struggle begins to determine the member most suited to take over as the head of the household, and therefore, there is some conflict and competition – however reluctant – over who will handle the principal task of the patriarch: that of putting meat on the table.
Writer/director Jorge Michel Grau’s approach is so subtle, so honest, that it’s easy to forget you’re watching a horror film. Grau draws eerie, powerful performances across the board, and forever veers in unexpected directions.
We Are What We Are is among the finest family dramas or social commentaries of 2010. Blend into that drama some deep perversity, spooky ambiguities and mysteries, deftly handled acting, and a lot of freaky shit and you have hardly the goriest film on this list, but perhaps the most relevant.
1. The Ordeal (Calvaire) (2004)
A paranoid fantasy about the link between progress and emasculation, the film sees a timid singer stuck in the wilds of Belgium after his van breaks down.
Writer/director Fabrice Du Welz’s script scares up the darkest imaginable humor. If David Lynch had directed Deliverance in French, the concoction might have resembled The Ordeal. As sweet, shy singer Marc (a pitch perfect Laurent Lucas) awaits aid, he begins to recognize the hell he’s stumbled into. Unfortunately for Marc, salvation’s even worse.
The whole film boasts an uneasy, “What next?” quality. It also provides a European image of a terror that’s plagued American filmmakers for generations: the more we embrace progress, the further we get from that primal hunter/gatherer who knew how to survive.
Du Welz animates more ably than most our collective revulsion over the idea that we’ve evolved into something incapable of unaided survival; the weaker species, so to speak. Certainly John Boorman’s Deliverance (the Uncle Daddy of all backwoods survival pics) understood the fear of emasculation that fuels this particular dread, but Du Welz picks that scab more effectively than any filmmaker since.
His film is a profoundly uncomfortable, deeply disturbing, unsettlingly humorous freakshow that must be seen to be believed.