I hear a lot of casual horror fans talking about the lack of quality horror films in recent years... and to some extent they have a point. Studio-funded horror films seem to be less prevalent than they were three decades ago, and many mass-marketed horror films are lighter on gore, nudity, and the like than the features of yesteryear (with the obvious exception of the Evil Dead reboot). But there are still plenty of quality horror films being made – it’s just incumbent upon horror fans to look a little harder. There are a plethora of well-made horror pictures being released every year; they just aren’t all getting the mainstream attention that they deserve.
In an attempt to remedy that, and shine the spotlight on some outstanding films that haven’t received a great deal of publicity, we are showcasing five titles from the past five years that may have passed you by, but are most certainly worth your time... even die-hard horror fans may find a title or two here they have yet to check out.
The Revenant (2009)
Kerry Prior’s The Revenant tells the tale of a soldier, Bart (David Anders), who comes back from war to find that he is no longer alive…but he’s not quite dead, either. Not quite sure how to sort things out, Bart turns to his best friend Joey (Chris Wylde), and the pair surmises that Bart is a "revenant" and must take in human blood to survive. Rather than looking in the typical places, the two scour the slums of Los Angeles and pick off criminals as sustenance for Bart.
The relationship between the two leads here is very authentic, and director Kerry Prior has proclaimed in multiple interviews that it was completely organic. It seems that Wylde and Anders hit it off immediately, and that translated to a completely believable onscreen chemistry. Prior also ignored a lot of pre-established rules regarding the undead, and used basic logic to pen his script rather than just going with the norm; the result is a really enjoyable film.
The Pact (2012)
Sisters Annie (Caity Lotz) and Nicole (Agnes Bruckner) reunite after the loss of their mother, but the pair soon discover that their mother seems to be trying to communicate with them from beyond the grave.
This film legitimately scared me. There aren’t a lot of big-budget effects or fancy set pieces, and there is very little onscreen violence, but the film is chock full of atmosphere and there’s a clever twist that wasn’t all that predictable. Nicholas McCarthy directed and adapted the script from his short film of the same name. The only real weak point is a couple of performances which are a bit too over-the-top, but not so egregiously that you can’t still thoroughly enjoy the film. A sequel is currently in development from Dallas Richard Hallam and Patrick Horvath, the duo that brought you the bizarre 2012 slow-burn horror film Entrance. It will be interesting to see where they take this story next.
The Aggression Scale (2012)
When mafia boss Bellavance (Ray Wise) discovers that half a million dollars of his fortune has been embezzled, he sends a group of his goons out to find the prime suspects. Bellavance gives his men strict instructions to recover his assets by any means necessary – and to prove a point. However, he wasn’t counting on Owen (Ryan Hartwig), the not-so-typical troubled teenage son of one of the suspected embezzlers. Owen gives Bellavance’s men a major run for their money by way of a Home Alone-style series of traps and pitfalls that lead us to believe Owen is a young sociopath in training.
The Aggression Scale is directed by one of my absolute favorite up-and-coming directors, Steven C. Miller (Under the Bed), and relative newcomer Ben Powell (Satanic) penned the script. Ryan Hartwig (The Thompsons) is brilliant at conveying a complex array of emotions without saying a single word through the entire film. As always, Wise (Twin Peaks) is fun to watch. The Aggression Scale has plenty of violence to offer, but it’s interspersed with humor, so the film never gets too heavy or loses its primarily lighthearted nature.
Dance of the Dead (2008)
This Ghost House Underground offering chronicles the exploits of a group of high school misfits that don’t have dates to the prom, but end up defending their classmates from the zombies that are invading it.
Dance of the Dead could have been quite successful with a nationwide release – especially given the recent all-out obsession with zombie cinema and television. Jared Kusnitz (Otis) is perfectly cast as the likable slacker turned hero, and the script by Joe Ballarini (Father vs. Son) is filled with plenty of one-liners and enough witty dialogue to set the film apart from the deluge of zom-coms to hit the market in the wake of 2004’s Shaun of the Dead. Gregg Bishop proves himself a more than competent director with Dance of the Dead – which is only his second feature. The effects are surprisingly well done for a low-budget film, and there are plenty of instances of absolutely over-the-top violence.
Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord) is a plain and awkward teen who has her sights set on becoming a doctor. She spends many of her waking hours fantasizing about brutal, bloody and quite graphic surgeries with overt sexual overtones. She also dreams of helping her younger sister Grace (Ariel Winter) overcome the damaging effects of her cystic fibrosis, and feels helpless given the lack of treatment options.
McCord turns in the performance of her career in this ultra-violent film; she is cast completely against type, and she thrives. Traci Lords is also exceptional as Pauline’s mother. The film is brilliantly written and directed by Richard Bates Jr. (his feature film debut), who adapted the script from his 2008 short of the same name, and his script is rich with absolutely filthy, yet often hilarious dialogue.
Have any of your favorite films of the past five years flown under the radar? Let us know in the comments below!