Although mainstream horror cinema has been slow to churn out titles, and as of late seems to have opted to focus primarily on remaking the classics of yesteryear, there is a vast quantity of low budget and independent titles coming out every week. Due to limited means and the microscopic marketing budgets associated with independent filmmaking, it’s easy for quality films to slip through the cracks. In response to that, we created this recurring segment to explore titles that might have flown under your radar.
[If you missed out on our previous lists of forgotten gems, follow the links to Part One and Part Two of our series.]
As we’ve mentioned before, we think it a travesty that well-made titles are going largely unnoticed by the genre film community and being placed on the back burner in favor of sometimes tepid theatrical releases. In an effort to remedy that, we're offering up five titles from the past five years that you may have missed... but should definitely see. Hopefully, even those accustomed to seeking out slightly more obscure titles will find something on this list they have yet to take in.
The Hole (2009)
In this film by horror legend Joe Dante, Brothers Dane and Lucas discover a hole in their basement that appears to be a gateway to Hell. What’s worse, the cavern plays on and exploits people's worst fears. The premise is slightly reminiscent of films like The Gate, but as the story unfolds, The Hole distances itself from that which we’ve seen previously. This kid-friendly horror film is light on gore, relying instead on atmosphere, and is reminiscent of the more family-friendly aesthetic Dante brought to films like Gremlins. The Hole was shot in 3D, which seems strange since the home video release is not, and the film barely graced any screens in its theatrical bow. Either way, there is nothing lost watching the film in two dimensions. My only real complaint is that the relationship between the brothers doesn’t feel entirely authentic, but this wasn’t enough to keep me from enjoying the film and being overcome with a wave of nostalgia for family-friendly horror films like Something Wicked this Way Comes, The Watcher in the Woods and The Monster Squad.
Absentia drops in on a woman (Courtney Bell) preparing to have her husband declared dead in absentia, but just as she has made peace with her decision, he returns with no explanation as to where he's been. Absentia is an example of crowd-funding well spent: the filmmakers used Kickstarter to finance the film, and made a fairly polished feature with mostly believable performances and effects that are impressive in spite of the low budget. Writer/director Mike Flanagan keeps the script simple but effective, and delivers impressive atmosphere.
Kill List (2011)
A pair of British hit men wind up with more than they signed on for in this genre-bending flick. Kill List isn’t exactly a horror movie, but it doesn’t quite fit neatly in any other genre, either. The story has definite horror overtones, but I won’t go into too much detail, as that would be a disservice to prospective viewers. Director Ben Wheatley went on to helm the comedy/horror hybrid Sightseers, and the segment "U is for Unearthed" for horror anthology The ABCs of Death. Wheatley sets an ominous tone that leads up to an epic finale, which will quite possibly incite mixed audience reactions. I thought it was brilliant, but inevitably not everyone will agree. Kill List bears subtle similarities to other genre fare, but it's primarily unlike anything I’ve seen before; it kept me guessing up until the final frame... and after taking time to process what I had just seen, I arrived at the conclusion that I really liked it.
Eden Lake (2008)
This was an early appearance for Michael Fassbender (Prometheus), and he turns in an arresting performance as one half of a young couple tormented by a gang of reckless and violent youngsters. The script is smart, and the character development is well thought out. I almost immediately found myself invested in the leads; their devotion to one another when things get dicey is very endearing. Eden Lake puts an interesting spin on the well-tread revenge flick: it purports that the villains are not always pure evil, and the victims aren’t always entirely innocent... and the ending is both shocking and unexpected.
Home Movie (2008)
David Poe (Adrian Pasdar) is a minister and his wife Clare (Cady McClain) is a psychiatrist. Their children, Jack and Emily, are wicked little creeps who take glee in disturbing and perverse activities. The clueless parents seem ambivalent to the particular brand of fuckery that their demon children excel in, and that ignorance may work to their detriment. Aside from The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, and a handful of others, I'm usually not a big proponent of "found footage" films; the subgenre seems as though it can encourage any idiot with a palm-corder to think they're Oliver Stone. But there are exceptions to every rule, and Home Movie is a very noteworthy exception. Employing the found footage style makes the picture more atmospheric, and it's done in such a way that the viewer is saddled with a genuine curiosity as to what has become of the film’s stars. Home Movie also raises some interesting questions about whether nature or nutrure plays the greater role in the development of a young psychopath, and it seems to make the case for nature... but you’ll have to check it out to get the lowdown.