The horror genre often acts like its menacing serial murderers, returning to fame and popularity in a cyclical fashion. We’re currently undergoing one such renaissance with the likes of Jordan Peele and the looming possible return of John Carpenter breathing new life into the genre.
This is, perhaps, the biggest major trend in the genre since the dawn of Scream or the J-horror fad. But with each passing generation, there’s a handful of forgotten gems that fall by the wayside. You most likely discovered them collecting dust on video store shelves, only to get appropriate reappraisals in later years. Here are just some of the cult horror movies you may have missed the first time ’round.
10. White Dog (1982)
The killer dog subgenre was never terribly popular, particularly because killing one is akin to killing a child in film – a cardinal sin that major releases rarely commit. But Sam Fuller’s 1982 thriller is an exception to the rule, both for its controversial subject matter and its unapologetic cruelty.
The film takes its title as literally as possible, featuring a vicious canine trained by a white supremacist to attack African Americans. Things take an unexpected, provocative turn when trainer Paul Winfield is tasked with retraining the animal. Paramount was afraid to release the film, so it fell under the radar, only to receive the Criterion treatment decades later
9. Alone in the Dark (1982)
Jack Sholder is not a subtle director, and rarely a good one. Freddy’s Revenge: A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2 is considered a low point in the series, and Sholder has since admitted that he didn’t have the wherewithal to grasp the Cruising-level homoeroticism of it. But his first outing is worth seeing if for nothing more than Martin Landau and Jack Palance’s work as homicidal mental patients.
Adding to the fun is horror icon Donald Pleasance as their overconfident new age doctor. The overqualified cast is clearly having a ball, with Palance later saying of filming it, “We were all sick fucks in that movie.” But it also serves as a fascinating indictment of modern psychology.
8. Late Phases: Night of the Wolf (2014)
Actor and occasional writer Nick Damici has made his mark on the genre with films like Stakeland and Stakeland II, but Late Phases may be his most accomplished work. Though he only stars in the film, he cements himself firmly in a role akin to John Carradine.
Damici is Ambrose McKinley, a grizzled, blind veteran forced to move into a retirement community. It quickly becomes apparent that the gated old-folks home is under siege by werewolves, and McKinley must overcome his lack of sight to fight back. The werewolf effects, thankfully practical, are top notch in this thoroughly entertaining action-horror.
7. A Horrible Way To Die (2010)
Adam Wingard, of the mumblecore horror subgenre, has quickly risen out of obscurity with hits like You’re Next all the way to the upcoming Godzilla vs. Kong. One of his earliest films features regular Amy Seimetz as a recovering addict trying to get her life back together, unaware that an escaped killer is headed her way. Wingard has always had a sadistic sense of humour, but his early work like Die sticks to straight horror.
Seimetz is terrific, as per usual, as is the rest of the cast: including regular Wingard collaborators such as Joe Swanberg and A.J. Bowen. Die is a little rougher than something like You’re Next, but the talent is still there. To spoil anything more would be a sin, but rest assured the final act is one of the most clever, character-based horror in recent years.
6. The Sentinel (1977)
Try and look past the controversy surrounding Michael Winner’s The Sentinel, which found the director using the physically deformed for horrific purposes, and you’ll find a religious horror film that ages as well as its counterparts of the era. After the success of The Exorcist, there was a clamoring for religious and occult terror that lasted well into the early 80s.
While The Omen is the most fondly remembered imitator, The Sentinel’s eerie dream sequences and thick paranoia pays off just as well. When model Cristina Raines moves into a new apartment in New York City, she finds her neighbours are more than a little bizarre. Or do they exist at all? And what’s with that blind, mute priest upstairs? Add in a cast that includes a young Chris Sarandon, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Walken, Burgess Meredith and Ava Gardener and you have the ingredients of a genuinely spooky film.