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30 Terrifyingly Under-Appreciated Horror Movies — IndieWire Critics Survey

From "Jennifer's Body" and "Halloween III" to gonzo Japanese zombie movie "Wild Zero," here are 30 horrifying diamonds in the rough.

“Jennifer’s Body”

Jen Johans, (@FilmIntuition),  FilmIntuition.com

Overlooked during its theatrical run back in 2007 when it was released more than a week after Halloween and not nearly close enough to the Christmas holiday which is when director Franck Khalfoun’s intelligent scarefest takes place, “P2” is a thinking person’s horror movie.

Perfect for fans of the female-centric “Panic Room” and “Red Eye,” “P2” finds Rachel Nichols held hostage in the locked parking garage of her office building at the start of the three day holiday weekend by Wes Bentley’s unstable security guard.

A strong two-hander featuring a dark, hammy turn by Bentley who dives into his role as the Elvis obsessed villain with Nicolas Cage-like abandon, the film takes the time to introduce and endear us to its main characters before it pulls the ripcord.

And much like Nichols does everything in her power to outwit her captor, “P2” respects its audience enough to rely on logic as much as possible for the film’s first two acts before culminating in a series of convoluted but no less effective cat-and-mouse confrontations.

Recommended not only for Halloween but also to have yourself a scary little Christmas, this word-of-mouth horror favorite is a cult classic in the making.

“P2” is available to rent via Vudu, Amazon, etc.

Joel Mayward (@joelmayward) Cinemayward.com, Freelance

It’s an iconic scene in horror cinema: a crazed, alcoholic father takes an axe to the locked door barricading him from his wife and child, who cower in fear as the pounding blade splinters the wood into a face-framing hole. I’m talking about Victor Sjöström’s 1921 silent classic of Swedish cinema, “The Phantom Carriage,” Sjöström’s fantastical horror adaption of Swedish novel, “Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness!” written by Selma Lagerlöf. Drunkard David Holm (Sjöström) is visited by Death on New Year’s Eve as the film shows a series of flashbacks of David’s tragic life, akin to a working-class “A Christmas Carol.” While the story sometimes borders on sentimentality, the film’s special effects of double exposure and its use of color tints are still extraordinary, and certainly influential for future horror legends. Ingmar Bergman based his portrayal of Death in “The Seventh Seal” on Sjöström’s black-cloaked reaper, and of course Stanley Kubrick payed homage via Jack Torrance’s memorable “Here’s Johnny!” scene in “The Shining.”

“The Phantom Carriage” is not really all that scary, but it certainly is dread-inducing and horrifying–it’s a morality tale (more like a mortality tale) about the thin line between grace and damnation, a cinematic depiction of a literal Dark Night of the Soul. True horror fans and cinephiles should seek it out: Criterion released the film on Blu-ray in 2011, and I believe it’s currently streaming on FilmStruck until that service takes its own trip to the grave.

Anne (@annemitchmcc), Teen Vogue, Ms. Magazine, Bonjour Paris

Although it is not specifically a horror movie, I’ve always identified the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film “Rebecca” as one that scares the crap out of me. Between “Psycho” and “The Birds” and “Rear Window,” this is arguably one of Hitchcock’s lesser-known films. (It’s by no means underappreciated, though; “Rebecca” won two Oscars in 1940, including one for Best Picture, and it was the opening film at the first-ever Berlin Film Festival in 1951.) But “Rebecca,” in all its creepy glory, is certainly one worth watching, particularly this time of year. It tells the story – based on the eponymous 1938 novel – of a widower, his second wife, his housekeeper, and his first wife, Rebecca. I won’t spoil anything, you’ll need to watch it for yourself to truly appreciate its eeriness. “Rebecca” was also Englishman Hitchcock’s first American project; if it were made today, that’d be grounds enough to consider it terrifying.

Emmanuel “E-Man” Noisette (@EmansReviews), The Movie Blog

“Rec” (2007) would get my vote as it barely gets the credit I think it deserves. The film is about a TV reporter and her cameraman who are doing a story on emergency workers. They end up following the workers to an apartment building only to find out that that they are trapped inside for unknown reasons. I think “Rec” was one of the best looking, and authentic horrors that has received very little attention. Despite being later adapted into an American version called “Quarantine” (2008), the original Spanish film was way more terrifying in so many different ways. The movie throws you smack dab into the middle of a situation with very little information. As we follow the lead character, we get to unravel bits and pieces of a strange mystery.

The best way to approach this film is to walk in cold and dive right in. That way you can allow yourself to discover the upcoming terrors alongside the characters. The scare tactics do not rely on cheap jump scares and thanks to the first person POV, you’ll feel every inch of creepiness that the dark atmosphere has to offer. To this day, I cannot name a more bone-chilling, eerie, and down right scary moment in a film compared to the final scene of this movie. The cinematography’s usage of the cameraman’s night vision feature was simply brilliant. I would also strongly encourage watching the follow up sequel to this “Rec 2” (2009) as it does a wonderful job of expanding the lore and plot to a new level. “Rec” (2007) is available on Amazon video for rental or purchase.

Edward Douglas (@EDOuglasWW), The Weekend Warrior

This is one of the easier questions, as I seem to always run into “horror fans” who have never seen Brad Anderson’s “Session 9” (2001), although it’s still one of the creepiest and most disturbing films I’ve seen, mostly due to the performances by the mostly male cast including Peter Mullan from “Ozark,” David Caruso and Josh Lucas. It takes place in an insane asylum, and I imagine it had some influence on the Asylum season of “American Horror Story.” I’m not sure why but there’s something particularly creepy about insane asylums but even moreso when they’re abandoned and decaying, which also proved true with the recent doc “Cropsey.” I seriously suggest anyone who considers themselves a true horror fan try to find and watch “Session 9” and then try to sleep after watching it.

Mike McGranaghan (@AisleSeat), The Aisle Seat, Screen Rant

Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” is rightly considered an all-time horror classic, but its status as such has overshadowed the sheer brilliance of its sequel, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2.” The film envisions Leatherface as the product of a very twisted clan that includes a chili chef father, a brother who has become deranged after enduring trauma in the Vietnam War, and a grandfather so old and frail that he can no longer hold the hammer when he tries to bash someone’s head in.This time, the story features Leatherface falling in love with a radio DJ (played by Caroline Williams) that his relatives capture and want to kill.

Hooper knew he couldn’t top his original, so he wisely took another path, making a movie that is half-slasher flick and half-comedy. He twists his original concept into a satiric commentary on family dysfunction, politics, and sex. And yes, every once in a while, Leatherface comes after someone with his power tool of choice. There’s also a great gonzo supporting performance from Dennis Hopper as a Texas Ranger with a personal reason for wanting to hunt this murderous family down.

I truly believe that if “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2” had been an original and not a sequel, it would be held in much higher regard than it is. The movie is free to stream now with Amazon Prime.

Rosie Knight (@rosiemarx), Nerdist, IGN, Slashfilm, Ms En Scene

Claire Denis essentially invented the lauded and controversial French New Extremity movement with this brilliantly brutal film, yet when it screened at Cannes in 2001 it almost sunk her career. Erotic, gory, sensual and terrifying this is a story of all consuming love, obsession, science and cannibalism. Denis executes an unexpected and gripping narrative about a couple on their honeymoon, but whilst the wife longs for romance and intimacy her husband searches for a long lost colleague with a fervor that has an almost obsessive quality. To give anymore of the story away would be to ruin some of its magic, but Denis truly delivers a raw and radical horror film with “Trouble Every Day” and it has been ignored, shunned and written out of film history for over fifteen years. Where Gasper Noe and Alexandre Aja were lauded for their genre blending uber violent films mere months later Denis was never given the credit and respect she deserved for “Trouble Every Day”. That’s finally changing, especially with her spectacular and lauded return to sci-fi horror with “High Life”. Either way if you love weird gory horror movies with a razor sharp sci-fi edge then “Trouble Every Day” is for you.

Currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Sarah Marrs (@Cinesnark), LaineyGossip.com, Freelance

“Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” doesn’t get nearly enough love for being the brilliant horror-comedy it is. It takes every backwoods horror trope from “The Hills Have Eyes” to “Deliverance”, along with a bucket of teen slasher cliches, and twists them around so the hillbillies are the heroes and the whole thing is just a case of mistaken identity. It’s a golden premise–Tucker and Dale are a couple well-meaning rednecks out to fix up their vacation cabin, which is an obvious horror movie death trap. The teens dying in the woods would stop dying in the woods if they would just stop making assumptions about Tucker and Dale based on how they look and where they live. And then there is a saw mill climax that is just…bonkers.

“Tucker and Dale” is very funny but it’s also very smart about horror movies, cleverly playing off cliches and expectations as the best parodies do, with a consistency and naturalism that recalls “This Is Spinal Tap” and its totally built world of hair metal, or the steeped-in-cinema-history riffs of “What We Do in the Shadows”. It’s criminal that “Tucker and Dale” hasn’t become a go-to modern Halloween classic, but it’s never to late to build that cult, especially as it is available on Netflix.

Roxana Hadadi (@roxana_hadadi), Pajiba, Punch Drunk Critics

I suppose you could say “Under the Shadow” is like an Iranian version of “The Babadook,” but I think that undersells both films — the way “The Babadook” underscores postpartum depression and the way “Under the Shadow” examines how the horrors of war infringe upon daily life. But “The Babadook” has gone on to reach cult classic status — especially when the titular monster unexpectedly became an LGBTQ+ icon, thanks to Netflix — while “Under the Shadow” remains somewhat overlooked. You can change that by viewing “Under the Shadow” this Halloween. The film is set in Tehran during the 1980s and takes place entirely in an apartment building in the country’s capital, which is constantly under attack.

Mother Shideh (Narges Rashidi), a former medical student banned from university for her leftist political activism, lives with her daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) in the building while her husband, doctor Iraj (Bobby Naderi), goes off to help care for wounded soldiers. At first it’s just Shideh and Dorsa in the apartment, but when a little orphan boy moves in with the family next door, strange things start happening — Shideh’s books and Dorsa’s doll are moved around, a chador (the long black veil Muslim women wear) floats around the apartment without an accompanying body, and doubles of Dorsa and Shideh begin to appear. Are they being haunted? Possessed? What does the being want, and why? Filmmaker Babak Anvari builds layers of themes here, commenting on Iranian domestic life during the turmoil of the 1980s, the varying pressures put on women forced to abide by new Islamic law, and the superstitious beliefs that still resonate within Iranian families. It’s educational and terrifying all at once! “Under the Shadow,” which may remind you a bit of Guillermo del Toro’s “The Devil’s Backbone,” too, is available to stream on Netflix. Get ready to be creeped out.

Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@chrisreedfilm), Hammer to Nail, Film Festival Today

Jonathan Glazer’s 2013 “Under the Skin” (available right now on Netflix) is as odd and disturbing a sci-fi horror combo as it gets. Starring Scarlett Johansson as an alien come down from the heavens to feast on our flesh, the film offers very little in the way of plot, instead leading us into its elliptical narrative through evocative visuals and eerie sound (the score is by experimental composer and musician Mica Levi, otherwise known as Micachu). Johansson’s creature roams the streets of Glasgow, Scotland, at night in a dark van, picking up men whose life-force she later steals by luring them into a vat of viscous liquid where they appear to disintegrate over time.

In the actual production of the movie, Glazer had Johansson drive, alone, with hidden cameras recording her initially improvised conversations with unsuspecting prospects (another vehicle with the director and crew followed closely behind, for safety), lending these scenes an unsettling quality. Almost nothing like the eponymous 2000 source text, by Michel Faber, the film stays with you long after its completion, getting not only under your skin, but into your mind. The most upsetting image in the entire movie is of a baby abandoned on the beach after its parents have both vanished. Scary, sad and horrifying.

Richard Brody (@tnyfrontrow), The New Yorker

The Unseeable.” In this smart, tangy neo-gothic ghost story, the Thai director Wisit Sasanatieng (“Tears of the Black Tiger”) cleverly recycles every cliché in the book and adds a sense of wonder all his own. Nualjan, a poor, pregnant country girl, wanders far from home in search of her missing husband, and, exhausted, stops at a lonely rural manor. There, Somjit, a tyrannical housemaid, grudgingly takes her in with a warning to stay far from the mistress of the house, Madame Ranjuan. But a glimpse of Ranjuan through a high window reveals her odd resemblance to Nualjan herself. And when the guest gives birth, Ranjuan takes an unusually strong interest in the newborn. To the film’s eerie apparitions and disappearances, an evil old crone, a vampire legend, secrets behind the door, and long-hidden crimes, Sasanatieng adds a rhapsodic romantic melodrama, as well as a compelling visual design that conjures up the all-seeing gaze of looming spectres. The result is an engaging, surprisingly heartfelt entertainment.

Luke Hicks (@lou_kicks), Film School Rejects, Birth.Movies.Death., Bright Wall/Dark Room

”Valerie and Her Week of Wonders” directed by Jaromil Jireš. I don’t think anyone would put up a fight if I said that American audiences don’t drool over Czechoslovakian surrealist horror from the 70s. Then again, it’s not a loaded category. However, what little does exist is both fascinating and terrifying in one of the strangest senses. “Valerie” seems born out of a place and time totally unrecognizable in history. It’s absolutely bone-chilling. How Jireš dreamed it up is beyond me, but that’s one of the most lovable aspects of the film.

Aaron White (@FeelinFilm), Feelin’ Film Podcast, FeelinFilm.com

It might be strange calling a film “underrated” when it sits at 99% on the RT aggregator, but despite the overall critical praise for this film, it is woefully under-seen. “The Wailing” tells the story of a policeman who must solve the mystery of a sickness that has beset his village shortly after a stranger arrives in town. Director Na Hong-Jin’s two and a half hour story is an epic battle between good and evil for the souls of the village, intricately woven into a crime drama with thrilling twists and turns, making this a truly unique piece of cinema within the genre.

The film opens with the words of Jesus Christ in the Gospel of Luke proclaiming a simple message: “Just believe, and your family will be saved.” This perfectly sets the stage for a ghost story steeped in religious ideas, and all the way to the end these themes collide with Eastern mysticism, cultural taboos, and xenophobia to create one of the most unique and challenging films that you will ever see. Its strengths are many, but the clumsy, fallible (and yet full of conviction) human performance by Kwak Do-Won as a father doing all he can to save his daughter creates a relatable emotional connection with the viewer that is not often found in horror, and makes the terrible building dread of his situation palpable. The drama of “The Wailing” is compelling on so many levels and it is a joy to watch a horror film that doesn’t rely on cheap genre gimmicks. This is a film that will shock you, terrify you, and haunt you, but also leave you immediately wanting to see it again. Its secrets are vast and encourage an examination of every scene in detail to glean whatever lessons possible from its twisted and dark tale. Not just one of the most underrated horror films, or even the best of 2016, “The Wailing” is a masterful piece of storytelling and deserves recognition as an all-time great.

Now available streaming on Netflix.

Q.V. Hough (@QVHough), Vague Visages, Fandor, RogerEbert.com, Crooked Marquee

For Constant Streamers, I recommend Emiliano Rocha Minter’s 2016 Mexican-French horror “Tenemos la carne” aka “We Are the Flesh” (currently on Shudder). Framed as a post-apocalypse thriller, in which a deranged man corrupts the minds of two siblings, this film doesn’t fully execute across the board with its shock visuals — and many viewers will likely tune out halfway through (“We Are the Flesh” currently has a 4.7 IMDB user rating) — but the final reveal legitimizes various narrative tactics. “We Are the Flesh” manipulates plot information to first challenge the viewer, only to leave one contemplating the characters’ backstories and intent.

While the contained setting doesn’t allow for a physically expansive storyline, it accentuates the psychological horror as the characters are literally stripped down and forced to “perform.” Minter offers a bizarre yet effective commentary on societal underworlds and performative human behavior, and “We Are the Flesh” is definitely not for everybody.

Stream if you dare. Most viewers probably won’t forget Noé Hernández’s unnerving portrayal of Mariano, a man with a crooked smile and a unique manner of speech. He’s also one helluva drummer.

Ken Bakely (@kbake_99), Freelance for Film Pulse

I decided to give “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” another watch over the weekend, and I came away with a much renewed respect for the film. I’ve heard more than a few people sing its praises recently, and its status has been rising in general, but I’m ready for a full-scale reappreciation.

Often wrongly written off as merely a preview of Craven’s chronological and thematic transition to the “Scream” stage of his career, “New Nightmare” is really quite something all its own. A movie by and about the creators of a very popular work ruminating on its cultural impact, as well as its effects on them as artists and human beings, the film dives much more wholeheartedly into the depths of meta-storytelling than “Scream.”

Depicting fictionalized versions of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” cast and crew (playing themselves) as Freddy Krueger creeps from the fictional realms to the “real world,” Craven expertly manipulates the dimensions of the film’s universe, both playfully referencing the dream-based motifs of the horror franchise and sincerely using it for genuine horror effect. It doesn’t cheapen itself with lazy winks to the camera; rather, it’s both winking the entire time and not at all, taking its own philosophical basis seriously as an individualistic assessment of a specific piece of pop culture, as well making an ambitious attempt to reconsider the eternal question of why we love to seek out art that scares us. And though it may not always succeed, it’s fairly remarkable that Craven was even given the chance to make it in the first place, and all the more puzzling that it’s taken so long for it to join the list of his most discussed efforts.

Sean Mulvihill (@NotSPMulvihill), FanboyNation.com

For me, the most underrated horror movie is “Wild Zero,” the absolutely insane zombie movie directed by Tetsuro Takeuchi and featuring the Japanese punk band Guitar Wolf. There’s a personal connection for me with Guitar Wolf and this particular movie. In the late ‘90s, Guitar Wolf released “Jet Generation,” a record billed as “the loudest album ever made.” It was a wild mix of highly distorted guitars, ear-piercing feedback, and a punk rock ethos that prioritized attitude over talent. My friends and I were able to get our underage selves into a show of theirs and our lives were immediately changed, eventually forming our own band in the weeks after. Then came word that this leather-clad punk band had headlined their own zombie movie in Japan. This was before streaming, so tracking down the film took a bit of maneuvering. I was able to track down a Japanese region DVD of the film. We watched it and once again the mad geniuses of Guitar Wolf had blown our minds.

The story of “Wild Zero,” which takes its name from a Guitar Wolf song, has young rockabilly lover and Guitar Wolf fanatic Ace (Masashi Endô) trapped in a zombie apocalypse after catching his favorite band in a show. While running from the hordes of the undead, he meets Tobio (Kwancharu Shitichai) whom he immediately falls for. Meanwhile, Guitar Wolf (the trio of Seiji, Billy, and Toru) coolly cruise through the chaos of the dead rising from the grave as the crooked club owner Captain (Makoto Inamiya) is hot on their trail, hoping to exact revenge for a violent confrontation earlier. Black leather, rock ‘n’ roll, and blood-splattering headshots ensue en masse.

“Wild Zero” isn’t quite a straight horror film, as it blends Guitar Wolf’s insanely loud punk rock with zombies, aliens, and a transgender love story that seemed bizarre for my teenage self but turned out to be incredibly progressive not just for its era but any era. Guitar Wolf’s singer Seiji appears in a sudden vision when Ace doubts his love for Tobio after she reveals that she’s transgender to dissuade his moment of transphobia, proclaiming at the top of his lungs, “Love has no borders, nationalities, or genders! Do it!”

Sadly, the film isn’t available on any streaming platform or Blu-ray (get on it, Criterion!) but it’s still in print on a DVD edition from Synapse Films which you can purchase off Amazon. “Wild Zero” is more than worth your time and money. There isn’t a single movie like it. What other movie in existence features a Japanese punk band with almost supernatural powers, motorcycles and microphones that spew flames, and samurai swords that are pulled from the necks of guitars?

The Best Film Currently Playing in Theaters: “Suspiria”

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