The Best Canadian Horror Movies You've Never Seen

(Welcome to The Best Movies You've Never Seen, a series that takes a look at slightly more obscure, under-the-radar, or simply under-appreciated movies. In this edition, we look towards our neighbors to the north for some chilly tales of terror.)

2018's only half over, but it's already been a pretty fantastic year at the movies for horror fans. One of the best and creepiest is Adam MacDonald's Backcountry follow-up, Pyewacket, which is as terrifying a feature as you're likely to find from an otherwise polite and kind-hearted Canadian filmmaker. Canadians are a humble people and don't often brag about their accomplishments, but the country has gifted us with numerous horror gems over the years including acknowledged classics (Black Christmas, The Changeling), slasher favorites (Happy Birthday to Me, My Bloody Valentine), early David Cronenberg flicks (The Brood, Shivers), and ridiculous cult favorites (Cathy's Curse, The Pit).

There are plenty more where they came from – the country's filmmakers didn't earn the Canuxploitation label for nothing – and in the spirit of this very bi-weekly column, I thought I'd point you in the direction of a few films that aren't talked about nearly enough. Keep reading for a look at six of the best Canadian horror movies you probably haven't seen.

Black Mountain Side (2014)

An archeological discovery in Northern Canada draws a research team to explore its history and meaning, but what should have been a scientific celebration instead descends into nightmare. Their pet cat is slaughtered, they lose connection with the outside world, and madness slowly begins to infect the team. And then things get even worse.

The influence here isn't exactly subtle, and the end result is an eerie homage to John Carpenter's The Thing set against a gorgeous but chilly landscape. Paranoia and blood fill the crisp air, and all of it works to ramp up the atmosphere as the truth behind the stone monument comes clear. Is the threat biological or psychological? Both? Neither?! The film teases out the truth with patience and smarts delivering an effectively creepy slow-burn that builds to a memorable and unsettling conclusion.

The film doesn't feature a monster in the traditional, physical sense, but it really doesn't need one either. Growing mistrust between the men combined with the clear sense that something is amiss works to build more than enough tension and terror in equal measure. Time is given to the character,s which in turn leaves viewers more connected and concerned with their impending fates. It means the horror is more mental and reactionary than visceral at times, but it's effective in its ability to slowly heighten the uncertainty.

Watch Black Mountain Side on Amazon Prime.

The Carpenter (1988)

A woman recently released from a mental institution moves into an old home alongside her husband with plans on remodeling and repairing the exterior. She stops taking her medication and is soon visited by an odd carpenter working late hours with fantastic results. He looks out for her, but that concern soon leads to killing folks who don't appreciate his construction skills.

You'd be forgiven for thinking this was your standard tool-based slasher more akin to The Driller Killer or Slumber Party Massacre – the cover certainly suggests a homicidal handyman – but it's actually something a bit more complicated. Alice's madness is clear as hallucinations have followed her home from the hospital, but the dead bodies piling up are very real indeed. Is she responsible for the killings and simply imagining the kind and very handy carpenter?

Wings Hauser plays the title role, and his performance is the film's main draw. He's damned enthusiastic about doing a good job whether it be repairing a gutter or stapling a guy's eyes shut, and he does it all with a smile. It's not necessarily a gory film, but blood flows pretty readily alongside a blackly comic sense of humor. The guy who gets his arms sawed off while standing there dumbfounded is a particular delight. I won't pretend I fully grasp the third act's explanation for it all, but the spin it takes is entertaining and it's worth it to see our heroine beating the hell out of drywall with a vengeance.

Watch The Carpenter on Amazon Prime.

Ghostkeeper (1981)

Three friends snowmobiling in the snowy Canadian Rockies make the mistake of venturing onto private property and soon find themselves trapped by circumstance at an old and abandoned hotel. On the upside, they're not alone as an old woman has taken up residence there. On the downside, though, she's hiding something terrifying in the basement.

The joy of this methodically paced horror film comes in its willingness to toss more than one genre element at viewers to hold their attention and build a story. A creepily empty hotel in the middle of a snowbound landscape, a psychotic old woman fond of sharp objects, her murderously mute son, mental instability among the visitors, and some manner of humanoid creature chained up below all come together to keep viewers just a little bit unsure where the threat is truly coming from. The film touches on the wendigo legend, but leaves just as much up to the horrifying capacity of the human mind.

It's very much a slow burn at times – and those times are between kills – as our protagonists explore their surroundings and argue about their situation, but as the pieces fall into place, the violence ramps up leaving people sliced, shot, impaled, and eaten. It's an effective setting, and while it reminds of The Shining, the closer comparison is to the Norwegian horror/thriller Cold Prey. Hotels are meant to be bustling with life, and these films understand the unease that comes from that absence while brittle cold seeps in from outside.

Watch Ghostkeeper on Amazon Prime.

The House By the Lake (1976)

A dentist brings a model to his country retreat for a weekend of sex and sunshine, but his sleazy plans are interrupted by an even more immoral foursome. The quartet begin with minor harassment, but escalate to home invasion after being embarrassed by the woman's driving skills.

This entry may strike some as more of a thriller than a horror film, but while it fits into the rape/revenge subgenre, it's more interested in the tension and dread of what's to come than in the sexual assault. (Fair warning, it's not graphic but still occurs.) The men arrive at the house and begin their games that range from bullying and vandalism to physical attacks. We know it's building to a line that shouldn't be crossed, but it teases that suspense out with incremental and inevitable increases in terror.

Brenda Vaccaro is the unlikely lead here, and she does strong work as a competent and confident woman forced to step up her game even further if she wants to live. Her weekend's something of a double whammy of awful men as, in addition to the terrible trio, she discovers the dentist is a real sleazebag. It's no spoiler to say she gets the last laugh though. Vaccaro shares the spotlight with character actor Don Stroud who, while no stranger to playing bad guys, gets to shine here as the lead villain. He's creepily aggressive and frightening in his wild-eyed unpredictability.

The House By the Lake is not currently available.

The Interior (2015)

James is in a bit of a rut, and it's affecting both his home life and time at work. Bad news from his doctor convinces him it's time for a change, so he heads into the woods for peace, quiet, and solitude. He's not quite alone, though, as unnatural sounds echo through the night, someone or something stands menacingly outside his tent, and he quickly descends into a nightmare of pitch-black paranoia.

If you do give this one a spin, you should know that its first act is far from indicative of what's to come. The film opens as a slacker comedy of sorts as he tries to fill his days with unmemorable activities, but once he decides to head deep into the forest, the mild wackiness is tempered and replaced with genuine fear. It's a one-man show from that point forward, and we feel his isolation and terror growing with each passing minute. The smallest noises become ominous threats, and the only things more terrifying than the glimpses of movement and shadow are the things we can't see at all.

Camping is already terrifying – you're stuck in a tent where you're both visible to predators and easy pickings for them! – but movies like this one and Backcountry up the fright factor considerably. The film features the scariest tent-based scenes this side of Willow Creek, and it only gets more unsettling when James heads into the dark with only a flashlight to illuminate his surroundings. If there's a film that makes better use of the pitch black darkness, then I've never seen it.

Watch The Interior on Amazon Prime.

She Who Must Burn (2015)

Angela works at a rural clinic for women – think Planned Parenthood – doing what she believes to be right, but when the state shuts her down, she refuses to close her doors and leave. Some in the community appreciate her dedication, but others, including a fundamentalist evangelist and his flock, feel decidedly different.

This is both the most realistic film on the list and the most terrifying (for that very reason). Angela faces pressure and threats experienced by thousands of very real doctors and employees across our country today, and as we know from real life those pressures sometimes lead to tragedy. I won't spoil if it does so here, but the journey is undeniably harrowing as the religious fanatics make their presence known through ignorance and intimidation – a potentially deadly combination – while she stands up for the women in her care and the principle of it all.

Cults are frightening as they're home to mob mentality by default, and fanatical believers (no matter the faith) fit the description. The dangers of right-wing fundamentalists are very real, and the film drives that home by walking a fine line between straight drama and tense tale of terror. The ending won't be to everyone's tastes as it pushes some very uncomfortable buttons, but some buttons need to be pushed no matter how unappealing the outcome.

Buy She Who Must Burn on DVD from Amazon.