Author’s Note: “It’s been awhile since the last review. Creativity ran stale, redundancy set in, and posts went extinct…until coming across fellow blogger Rupert Pupkin Speaks and his excellent ‘Favorite Underrated Horror’ series. The past two months, he’s invited several guests to highlight horror films that they believe haven’t received proper recognition or may have slipped past the modern audience radar. I encourage everyone to check out his blog and view all the excellent posts. (Follow Rupert Pupkin on Twitter: @bobfreelander) Instead of re-creating the wheel or simply carbon-copying his idea, I will stamp my personal entry into the series here. Without further ado, I give you my favorite underrated horror films. – rkummer”
Two of my favorite words attached to any horror film are “mixed reviews”. It implies a divisive adventure filled with wonder and imperfection. Critics don’t always get it right, and general audiences tend to have narrowed taste. Couple these factors to readjusted expectations and one may find something…unexpected! The criteria to provide framework by which I come to explain these films’ place on this list: (1) pick five films in any order, (2) they must be classified under the horror genre and not just contain horror elements, (3) only films released from 1980 to 2013, and finally (4) use IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes to support the underrated definition. Onward!
MY LITTLE EYE
(2002; directed by Marc Evans)
IMDb: 5.6 / 10
Three guys and two girls sign up for a “Big Brother” reality webcam series. The contest: spend six months locked inside a mansion. If nobody leaves, they will receive one million dollars. If anyone leaves, everyone loses. As they get close to the six-month deadline, friction erupts between the five parties. One could point to several reasons for the lukewarm reception: simple premise, not necessarily an original story line, a cast of mainly unknown actors (aside from a cameo appearance by a pre-Hollywood Bradley Cooper), and a slow-burn approach. With the recent surge in “found footage” horror, it’s puzzling how My Little Eye is easily one of the most superior and yet sadly forgotten. DP Hubert Taczanowski utilizes CCTV-like camera shots with such visual beauty, setting the mood akin to a very dark version of MTV’s ‘Real World’. You’re let in on all the backroom alliances and secrets between house members (and actually care!). Marc Evans masterfully paces the film, slowly peeling away answers like an onion while ratcheting up the tension without burning your eyes. The ending isn’t surprising or unpredictable, but remember it’s not always about the destination; rather, how you got there.
THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU
(1996; directed by John Frankenheimer)
IMDb: 4.2 / 10
No underrated horror list is ever complete with adding the flawed masterpiece that is The Island Of Dr. Moreau. A man stranded at sea (David Thewlis) comes upon an island with a scientist (Marlon Brando) and researcher (Val Kilmer) who are conducting a strange experiment: mixing human and animal DNA to create servant creatures. When a revolt by the creatures gets out of control, they must find a way out. Most are well-aware of the history behind this film’s troubled production – an overweight Marlon Brando, Val Kilmer going through a divorce, original director Richard Stanley’s firing days into the project and replaced with Frankenheimer, constant script changes, and actor improvisation. The film only made $9 million dollars more than it’s budget and received Razzie nominations for Worst Picture and Worst Director. Could it really be that bad? Far from it. In fact, the quirky acting actually work well in the mythical world painted by Stanley’s script. The man-beast creatures made by Stan Winston are sadly not seen much in today’s CGI-preferred cinema. The film invites allegorical conversation about Man, nature and playing God. Dust off your copy and enter the world without law and without pain!
(2009; directed by David Morlet)
IMDb: 5.5 / 10
Let’s face it, with popularity comes over-saturation – and the zombie horror sub-genre is no different. From Danny Boyle’s excellent 28 Days Later and Zach Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake to Frank Darabont’s current TV series The Walking Dead, everyone has tried to put their name and take on the genre. Originality seems to be hard to come by, and David Morlet isn’t a name that stands out for anyone, but the French film Mutants proves that while you can’t change the zombies themselves, you can plug in a unique and gripping story. Morlet doesn’t take influence from Romero or Fulci; instead, we are witnessing Cronenberg and Zulawski. Marco and Sonia are a couple on the run to survive a viral outbreak, but when Marco is infected after an attack, Sonia has to turn her focus towards saving her lover. Think The Fly and Possession. The dissolution of a relationship/marriage mimics the outside destruction of society and civilization as we know it. Strangely, it’s the romantic drama elements of the film that catapult Mutants above other genre entries. Unfortunately, it was put out quietly on DVD by IFC Midnight without much fanfare – a pity considering the blueprint Morlet gave filmmakers on the storytelling potential in the zombie saga.
(1982; directed by Roger Christian)
IMDb: 5.9 / 10
Famed director Quentin Tarantino called The Sender his favorite horror film of 1982, and apparently only I agree. A nameless boy (Zelijko Ivanek) is taken to a hospital after a failed suicide attempt. The doctor assigned to treat him (Kathryn Harrold) begins to experience audio and visual hallucinations. She starts to realize it may have something to do with her new ‘John Doe’ patient. I kept seeing a copy of The Sender at my local used store, picking it up to admire it’s cover. But since I hadn’t heard of the title and wasn’t in a ‘blind buy’ mood, I would place it back on the shelf. One day, I finally decided to find out what this was all about and am very glad I did. Why glamorize when that’s not the film’s point? It’s just an interesting and strange effort with a great acting turn by unknown Ivanek as the odd amesia-like boy with a misunderstood condition (or gift?). While supplanted firmly in the horror genre, the film does slide across many sub-genres (supernatural, science fiction, body horror). The shock therapy scene is worth the price of admission alone.
(1996; directed by Kei Fujiwara)
IMDb: 5.4 / 10
I wrote a guest film review for actor Kei Fujiwara’s directorial debut Organ at FilmBizarro.com earlier this year. Many will better remember Fujiwara for her role as the lead female character in Tetsuo: The Iron Man. While Tetsuo has achieved cult classic status and a legion of western follows, it’s kind of bewildering why Organ remains so obscure. A Tokyo police officer falls victim to a Yakuza syndicate involved in organ harvesting. The syndicate leader’s brother, a biology teacher, conducts experiments on the limbless body of the officer, keeping him alive with blood from high school virgins. Like directors Shin’ya Tsukamoto and Shozin Fukui, Fujiwara paints a bleak world with added modern perverseness. A visual experience is heavily favored over the muddy plot, which has always been a staple in the Japanese cyberpunk sub-genre. I implore those with a taste for the weird and subversive to welcome Organ into their catalog.
ALIEN3 (1993; directed by David Fincher)
IMDb: 6.4 /10 RT: 42%
THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (2009 remake; directed by Dennis Iliadis)
IMDb: 6.5 /10 RT: 41%
CANNIBAL (2006; directed by Marian Dora)
IMDb: 4.7 /10 RT: n/a
PANDORUM (2009; directed by Christian Alvert)
IMDb: 6.7 /10 RT: 27%