Obscure Horror Movies

When we talk about Halloween and Friday the 13th launching a wave of rip-offs, we’re talking about movies like Final Exam. It came out so soon after Friday the 13th that you’d think its similarities were coincidences, but the truth is that MPM Productions simply made the movie double quick. Six months from absolutely nothing to prints in theaters.

They made it on the cheap and dirty, and it rips off all sorts of visuals, but it’s still good. Maybe it deserves to be forgotten, but it doesn’t deserve to be as forgotten as it is. Fortunately, it was kept alive by fans of horror b-sides. You can own it on Blu-ray.

So, it’s obscure, but good and available. A Venn diagram centers that’s growing every year.

Obscurity is its own currency in genre filmmaking. It grants a special sheen to certain movies that manage to be entertaining (or downright excellent) without finding an audience. Some movies hit and then faded into the mist, some failed to ever surface, and some deserve to stay buried.

But others rightfully become the stuff of whispers shared between fans who have seen everything else and want more. They’re secret passwords. More and more, they’re becoming accessible thanks to an internet era were niche audiences can command a Blu-ray release and you can dive into the obscure without necessarily doing your other horror homework. The definition of “obscure” blurs when most everything is a tidy Google search away.

If you’re at the bottom of the cult classic pile, give these obscure horror films a shot in the dark.

Cure (1997)

Before making Pulse, writer/director Kiyoshi Kurosawa made this startling, nihilistic detective movie that questions the worth of a life. It makes a perfect pairing with Se7en even if they chart into vastly different territory.

The set up is raw noir. Depressed detective (K?ji Hashimoto) with an ailing wife (Anna Nakagawa), mysterious murders with a trademark X slashed across the throat, and a gray-brown atmosphere of constant dread. What makes it special? The murders are all done by different people who are usually at the scene of the crime and immediately confess.

It’s a puzzler that claws out our dear detective’s soul. Cure deserves to be loved, and my guess is if it had come out even a few years later, it would be a household horror name like The Ring. At least Bong Joon-Ho’s a big fan.

The Velvet Vampire (1971)

Finally, an answer to the question of whether you and your wife should go to a secluded manor of a beautiful, flirtatious woman who is probably a vampire that’s trying to sleep with you both. It’s yes? Or no? Really hard to say.

A patchwork of arthouse, camp, lush horror, and exploitation, writer/director Stephanie Rothman utilized the full freedom of the pre-slasher era to mess around with what fear could feel like on film. As a result, the film shines more for its visuals than its plot and more for its exploration of sexual politics than outright scares.

It’s a gorgeous object of fascination with one foot in the broad Hammer tone of the 1950s and one foot searching for purchase in the blood-soaked gore of the 1970s.

Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

Pure made-for-TV magic. This slasher works brilliantly because it sets about unnerving you instead of trying desperately for scare after scare. It’s genuinely frightening, but it’s also cathartic because you want to see all the victims get hacked.

That’s because all of them are bigoted assholes who set their own demise in motion by killing an innocent man. With a set up that The Green Mile echoes, a mentally challenged man named Bubba (Larry Drake) saves young Marylee (Tonya Crowe) after she’s attacked by a dog, but constantly sweaty mailman Otis (Charles Durning) blames Bubba.

He rounds up a posse, and Bubba hides by dressing as a scarecrow in a field, but the mob of four finds him and shoots him dead. At least, they shoot him a lot, but that doesn’t stop a mysterious scarecrow from appearing soon after, tormenting the men and piling up bodies.

The Witch in the Window (2018)

Andy Mitton’s sweet scorcher found love at genre festivals (Hi, Matt!) but struggled to find a foothold in the general population. That’s a shame. It’s a sleek ghost story that’s maybe just a few inches too far into drama territory than some horror fans can stomach, but it’s still a disturbing peek into the challenges of raising a tween son in the age of constant anxiety.

Simon (Alex Draper) brings his kiddo Finn (Charlie Tacker) to Vermont where nothing good can happen he’s flipping an old farmhouse. They fight, they bond, they bicker, and apparently there’s a ghost still living in the place that grows stronger as they improve the premises.

If you’re looking for jump scares, keep moving. If you’re looking for something that will make you feel like none of your clothes fight quite right for weeks after, dig in (and try not to lose all faith in the world).

Paperhouse (1984)

A little girl draws a house and then dreams of being in it. She draws a little boy and meets him. She draws her father and meets a monster.

Bernard Rose, who also directed Candyman, crafted this label-defying descent into darkness that toys with reality, compassion, and geography. Unlike other experiential films that playfully trip synapses, Paperhouse isn’t just unsettling, but often deeply horrifying. It’s a hellish dreamscape, disorienting and claustrophobic. Let it wash over you, but understand that you might drown.

The Uninvited (1944)

It featured two big stars of the day, scored Oscar attention, gets name-checked by the best living filmmakers, and yet is woefully absent from most conversations about horror. A true classic that’s been culturally silenced even as it plays on TCM at midnight. It’s prestige terror that takes haunting seriously.

Siblings (Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey) buy a super creepy estate house on the cheap only to discover that it’s haunted by the ghost of the former owner’s wife. She fell off the cliff a few years before, and her daughter Stella (Gail Russell) is obsessed with being in the house to feel the spirit’s presence, but the mystery of what’s going on runs far deeper into the dark.

The Mix

Whether you’re watching Beyond the Black RainbowThe Bird with the Crystal Plummage, or Who Can Kill a Child?, or if you’re simply settling in for whatever mainstream comfort horror is currently streaming, we salute you. If you find some rotten gems, please share them. Great things shouldn’t remain obscure.

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