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Friday, December 29, 2023

Best of 2023: 10 Hidden Horror Gems You Might’ve Missed

As another year of horror ends, we reflect on the best this genre had to offer. Usually, that means focusing on those movies that drew the most attention. However, there are also those movies that slipped under everyone’s radars for whatever reason, ultimately causing them to be overlooked. So the objective here is to bring more attention to these releases as horror fans play catch-up.

Like last year, 2023 was a strong year for horror. And these ten hidden gems might have escaped notice at the time, but it’s never too late to discover them now.


Hidden Gems

Image: Ava Rose Kinard in D.W. Medoff’s Pollen.

In the vein of other horror movies about misunderstood outsiders, like May and Love ObjectD.W. Medoff‘s first long feature Pollen focuses on an individual whose awkward and unconventional ways make her stand out in society. Although, it wasn’t always that way for young Hera (Ava Rose Kinard); the eager worker only started coming undone at her office job after a traumatizing encounter with her abusive male coworker. As she copes with her ordeal, Hera then regularly sees a humanoid tree monster in her dreams, which have already begun to bleed into reality.

Some viewers will disregard the metaphorical Pollen because they don’t consider it horror. What has to be remembered, though, is horror comes in many shapes. Hera’s experience is real and terrifying to herself — and surely others — and Medoff makes that unusual situation both compelling and accessible.


hidden gems

Image: Paris Peterson in Robbie Smith’s Grieve.

Robbie Smith‘s atmospheric Grieve is a simmering, arthouse drama underscored with macabre imagery to help manifest the protagonist’s anguish. Paris Peterson plays the distraught Sam, who retreats to his mother’s New England cabin for some much needed healing and soul-searching after a recent loss. In time, though, Sam’s depression stirs up a disquieting presence that may or may not be all in his head.

As its title strongly suggests, Grieve is a horror movie centered on grief. However, Smith doesn’t use a straightforward approach. That choice will urge more willing viewers to pore over the story’s most ambiguous moments and form their own interpretations.

Loop Track

loop track

Image: Tom Sainsbury in Thomas Sainsbury’s Loop Track

The New Zealand bush hides terror for several unsuspecting campers. Writer and director Thomas Sainsbury wears multiple hats here as he plays the nervous Ian, a man too scared to trust his instincts. Yet as he detects someone — or something — stalking the area, he struggles to convince the other campers that the danger is, in fact, real.

Loop Track is a familiar enough story, but its strong lead performance and terrific execution make up for that. The suspense is overwhelming and the reveal is effectively frightening. Sainsbury does something exciting with such a hoary concept.

Marui Video

hidden gems

Image: The cast of Yoon Joon-Hyeong’s Marui Video.

This mockumentary follows a reporter and his crew as they investigate an urban legend; there’s a supposedly cursed videotape of a heinous murder that was said to be lost after being locked away from the public. Of course the characters find said tape and, as a result of their meddling, they unleash more than just the truth.

Marui Video is South Korea’s answer to Noroi: The Curse. Apart from the found-footage element, there is a touch of folk-horror to go with the persuasive true-crime framing. Yoon Joon-Hyeong‘s movie is twisty and, at times, convoluted. So be sure to pay attention. In time, your patience and scrutiny shall be rewarded.


hidden gems

Image: Harry Greenwood, Alexandra Park and Sisi Stringer in Sean Lahiff’s Carnifex.

Sean Lahiff‘s Australian eco-horror and creature-feature Carnifex was released in its homeland late last year, but the movie has since reached parts elsewhere. Reality enters the story as a pair of conservationists (Sisi Stringer, Harry Greenwood) and an aspiring documentarian (Alexandra Park) look into the damage caused by recent bushfires. As they go deeper into the woods, they make a surprising — not to mention dangerous — discovery.

Carnifex hides its antagonist’s identity in plain sight; anyone curious about the title will quickly learn what preys on these greenies. Those less inclined to do any prior research should be pleased to know the creature is uniquely Australian. The evergreen appeal of humans battling a monster out in the wilderness is hard to resist, especially when the final product features such gorgeous displays of natural scenery.

Play Dead

hidden gems

Image: Bailee Madison and Jerry O’Connell in Patrick Lussier’s Play Dead.

Play Dead is from the director of the My Bloody Valentine remake, Patrick Lussier. While the movie premiered overseas first, it eventually slipped back home as a Tubi Original. This is, for the most part, a one-location story about a college student fixing her younger brother’s severe mistake. Set inside a city morgue, Bailee Madison fakes her death so she can retrieve the evidence linking her sibling (Anthony Turpel) to a robbery. Little does Big Sis know, Jerry O’Connell’s creepy character, simply credited as The Coroner, is running a twisted business. And he’s not gonna let his latest patient go without a fight.

Here Lussier serves up a compact cat-and-mouse movie reminiscent of schlocky yet fun 2000s horror. Play Dead echoes Don’t Breathe in its setup, but this is more plain-spoken. That doesn’t mean it lacks in real thrills because this story always keeps both the characters and the audience on their toes.

Satanic Hispanics

Satanic Hispanics Mike Mendez

Image: Efren Ramirez in Satanic Hispanics.

As higher quality and new horror anthologies become more rare nowadays, Satanic Hispanics shows how wonderful this format can be when placed in capable hands. In this case, Alejandro Brugués (Juan of the Dead), Gigi Saul Guerrero (V/H/S/85),  Mike Mendez (The Gravedancers), Demián Rugna (When Evil Lurks) and Eduardo Sánchez (The Blair Witch Project) came up with stories linked by a central element. In the movie’s wraparound, the police question the lone survivor from a house massacre; Efren Ramirez plays a mysterious character called The Traveler. During the interrogation, The Traveler shares stories of his adventures, which include fighting demons and other supernatural entities.

No two tales are alike here, so expect to see some healthy variety in ideas as well as tones; some segments are scary and others are funny. As a whole, this thematically cohesive and creative movie is a step in the right direction for modern horror anthologies.

We Might Hurt Each Other

hidden gems

Image: Šarūnas Rapolas Meliešius in Jonas Trukanas’ We Might Hurt Each Other.

The slasher subgenre became more visible again not too long ago, but these days, few turn out like Jonas TrukanasWe Might Hurt Each Other (a.k.a. Rūpintojėlis). This SCREAMBOX movie puts a refreshing spin on the well-worn plot of teens partying in the middle of nowhere before being picked off by a bloodthirsty killer. Helping Lithuania’s first slasher feel more special is its folk-horror aspect.

When his graduating class’ after-party risks being cancelled on account of them losing the original venue, Marius (Šarūnas Rapolas Meliešius) volunteers one of his mother’s empty properties: a cabin in the woods. This overused prompt becomes more intriguing once a local myth then comes into play. You can anticipate startling character choices on top of all the satisfying carnage.

Sorry, Charlie

hidden gems

Image: Kathleen Kenny in Colton Tran’s Sorry, Charlie.

Colton Tran‘s best directed horror movie so far is Sorry, Charlie. This more leisurely paced character piece focuses on the title character played by Kathleen Kenny. And from her home, helpline counselor Charlie reaches out to those in need. She also has her own personal demons to contend with, and soon enough, Charlie will have no other choice but to confront (and bury) them.

Sorry, Charlie — which is said to be based on true events — includes a laudable performance from its lead actor. And the sinuous conclusion is something to look forward to.

Horror in the High Desert 2: Minerva

hidden gems

Image: Dutch Marich’s Horror in the High Desert 2: Minerva.

Dutch Marich‘s Horror in the High Desert has developed a following for good reason; the first entry in this found-footage franchise is eerie as hell. In case anyone missed it, the next installment, Horror in the High Desert 2: Minerva, was finally released earlier this year. Plenty of critics and fans argue it’s even better than the first movie, seeing as it improves significantly on the scares while also cutting back on the “talking heads” format of the original.

In Minerva, Gary Hinge’s case is connected to one woman’s strange death and another woman’s unexplained disappearance. The journey to find some answers, albeit vague ones, is deliberate. However, this sequel’s last ten or so minutes are absolutely terrifying. You hold your breath that entire time. Marich’s world-building is paying off and fans are looking forward to each new chapter.

The post Best of 2023: 10 Hidden Horror Gems You Might’ve Missed appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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