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Monday, September 21, 2020

5 Under-Appreciated Horror Movies from Big Name Masters of Horror

Horror is often associated with smaller budgets and novice filmmakers (which makes sense, as it’s a lot easier to produce an indie slasher than a war epic), but the genre still boasts huge names that have produced some of the greatest films of all time. However, as we praise directors for monolithic achievements like Halloween or Night of the Living Dead, some of their lesser-known gems can slip through the cracks, unnoticed.

That’s why I’ve decided to compile a list of under-appreciated horror movies made by famous directors. There’s nothing wrong with praising outstanding works of art like The Exorcist or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but it’s good to remember that these filmmakers have been around for a while and have made some criminally under-seen gems as well.

Before we begin, don’t forget to share your own underrated favorites with us in the comments below! Now, onto the list…

5. William Friedkin – Bug (2006)

William Friedkin has a funny habit of claiming that his scary movies aren’t actually part of the horror genre. While I don’t have the guts to speak against one of the greatest directors of all time, I think that what he really means is that these movies don’t just focus on horror, and that’s certainly the case with 2006’s Bug.

Based on a stage-play, Bug is a mind-bending thriller about Agnes White, a lonely woman who becomes involved with Peter Evans, a paranoid military veteran who claims to have been experimented on by the government. As reality and delusion collide, we’re left uncertain as to the true nature of Evans’ conspiratorial ramblings, though it’s one hell of a sickening ride as we make our way towards a horrific climax.

Bug obviously doesn’t live up to something as iconic as The Exorcist, but it’s still an incredibly effective psychological labyrinth featuring intense body horror and an eerie dissection of paranoid mentality. The characters are believable and so are their fears, in no small part due to memorable performances by Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon, making this a must-watch for Friedkin buffs.

4. George A. Romero – Bruiser (2000)

Single-handedly responsible for popularizing modern zombies in media, it’s no wonder that the legendary George A. Romero is considered a titan of terror. While his filmography is mostly remembered for the Living Dead series (plus a few other cult hits like The Crazies and Knightriders), there’s one deeply personal film that most Romero fans seem to overlook.

Released in 2000, Romero’s Bruiser is an incredibly weird movie that was unfairly maligned upon release due to some misleading marketing. Fans expected something more akin to a slasher flick but were presented with a pulpy character study featuring lots of dark humor. The film actually has more in common with classics like Falling Down and Man Bites Dog rather than any of Romero’s previous work, but it still succeeds as an existential thriller.

For those who’ve never heard of it, Bruiser stars Jason Flemyng as Henry, a depressed businessman whose good nature seems to be tested around every corner. When he finds himself trapped behind a featureless mask, Henry decides to fight back against those who’ve previously wronged him, revealing his own dark side in the process.

While the picture drags in a few places and the low production value can be distracting, Bruiser is still a worthy addition to Romero’s canon, boasting a surprisingly contemporary message about the dangers of anonymity. It’s worth a watch even if you’re not familiar with the director’s other work, and I’d especially recommend it to fans of The Misfits (who make an appearance in the film and contribute to the soundtrack as a favor to Romero after he directed the Music Video for Scream).

3. John Carpenter – Someone’s Watching Me! (1978)

Halloween may have put John Carpenter on the map, but it wasn’t his first foray into the world of horror. Released on television screens back in 1978, Someone’s Watching Me! was Carpenter’s first attempt at depicting a psychotic stalker on film. Don’t be alarmed if you’ve never heard of this flick, as it was notoriously difficult to acquire on home video until a much-needed 2018 re-release, which rescued it from obscurity.

Starring Lauren Hutton as Leigh Michaels, Someone’s Watching Me! tells the story of a young woman who starts getting strange gifts and eerie phone-calls from a secret admirer. She eventually realizes that she’s become the object of a madman’s deranged affection, and struggles to fight off her voyeuristic stalker with the help of her boyfriend and a concerned co-worker (none other than Adrienne Barbeau, who would frequently collaborate with Carpenter in the future).

While there’s no escaping the made-for-TV sensibilities, this is still a classic John Carpenter experience, benefiting from a witty script authored by the director himself (supposedly based on a true story) and lots of suspense. Personally, I’m glad this one wasn’t lost to the ages, so give it a watch if you can find it.

2. Stuart Gordon – The Pit and the Pendulum (1991)

I love Re-Animator as much as the next guy (well, maybe more), but it’s always saddened me to see the rest of the late great Stuart Gordon’s filmography ignored in favor of that one classic film. If you ask me, Gordon was a master of the craft with several must-watch pictures under his belt, and The Pit and the Pendulum is one of them.

While the director is usually associated with H.P. Lovecraft, he also dabbled in Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, with this being one of my favorites. Starring Lance Henriksen, Rona de Ricci and frequent Gordon collaborators Jonathan Fuller and Jeffrey Combs, The Pit and the Pendulum is a mash-up of several Poe stories with a bit of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame thrown in for good measure.

It might not be as classy as the Vincent Price adaptation, but it’s still a schlocky fun take on classic horror. If you like this one and feel like diving into some more Poe/Gordon weirdness, I’d also recommend the Black Cat episode of “Masters of Horror,” which features Jeffrey Combs as the tormented writer himself.

1. Tobe Hooper – Toolbox Murders (2004)

From The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Poltergeist, Tobe Hooper was no stranger to troubled productions during his time as an esteemed horror director. His popularity may have waned during the later years of his career, but Hooper never stopped trying to scare audiences to death. One of my favorites of these latter-day Hooper projects is the ill-fated remake of Dennis Donnelly’s The Toolbox Murders (which was ironically inspired by Hooper’s original TCM).

Starring the ever-lovable Angela Bettis as our inquisitive protagonist Nell, Hooper’s Toolbox Murders takes the basic premise of the original film (i.e. a series of murders in an L.A. apartment complex) and transforms it into a surprisingly effective supernatural mystery. The characters are likable, the kills are fun and the mythology behind the antagonist is intriguing, but it’s a shame that the film was never really finished.

You see, the Toolbox Murders that we got contains only 2/3 of the intended movie, as production was halted due to financial complications. Unwilling to let all that work go to waste, Hooper took it upon himself to create a watchable cut of the film with the material that they had already shot. Through some clever editing and ADR, he was able to create a Frankenstein’s Monster of a movie that’s somehow still entertaining.

The finished product is a little rough around the edges, with a rushed ending and some questionable story details, but considering what Hooper went through to finish this movie, I think it’s still a fun slasher with a likable main character and unique setting.

On a side note, Christian Bale expressed interest in playing Nell’s husband in this movie, going so far as to mail Hooper an audition tape, though he never received a response from the director.


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