Back in 2004, when Michael Cucinotta and I first created Icons Of Fright, one of our main goals (besides providing extensive informative interviews) was seeking out and advocating independent films and filmmakers; the ones that clearly wore their love of the genre both on their sleeves and very apparently in their work, and whose films had something special worth gushing about to like-minded fellow horror fanatics. Thanks to savvy genre fans such as yourselves, flicks like The House Of The Devil, Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon, Hatchet, Feast, The Signal and so on and so forth have become cult favorites. But there are still a handful of horror films over the course of the last decade that for whatever reason have slipped through the cracks and have become somewhat hidden gems. Here are 6 obscure horror titles from the 2000's that require your attention. And while not all of them are easy to get (although Amazon does help tremendously), I personally always did appreciate the thrill of the hunt and perhaps some of you out there still do too.
LITTLE ERIN MERRYWEATHER
This is actually the movie that inspired this entire article. While it initially started production back in 2003 and took a few years to complete, it wasn't officially released on DVD until August of 2007 via Indican Pictures, which is probably the main reason it's remained an unknown gem this entire time. (More on that in a minute.)
The story revolves around Peter Bloom, a college student for the local school paper who starts investigating the mysterious murder of one of his fellow classmates. When more people start falling victim to the murderer, including one of Peter's close friends, he begins to put the clues together to uncover the identity of the budding new serial killer. We're pretty much told who the killer is up front (hell, the title kinda gives it away), but it's more about uncovering the pieces of Erin Merryweather's past and figuring out how and why she adopted her Red Riding Hood persona that sets this apart from the traditional slasher pic. And that's the other neat thing about this movie – it's a female serial killer, and an iconic-looking one, who wears creepy doll-like make-up on her face and a bright red riding hood outfit. The visual alone of her in her complete regalia for the third act make her presence indelible, even long after the credits roll.
Tonally, the film borrows more from John Carpenter's original Halloween than it does from the crop of early 80's slasher flicks which it emulates. And the credit for capturing that look and making it feel as if it were a long lost gem from that time period goes to writer, director, and star David Morwick. It's slow-paced ala Halloween, it's got a small body count, and the kills are mostly goreless, but the story and style more than make up for what you don't see on screen. And the thing that truly makes Little Erin Merryweather stand out is the beautiful illustrated artwork (tying it into the original Red Hiding Hood tale via periodic narration) by Kelly Murphy and the lush orchestral score by Paul Cristo.
At the time of its release, Lionsgate or even Anchor Bay Entertainment would've seemed like an ideal home for the film, but instead it went to Indican Pictures who did not get the film as much distribtuon as it deserved. I skimmed through the trailers on the DVD release for their other library titles and most of ‘em don't look half bad! The problem is I've never heard of any of them. Hopefully this will shed some light and you genre fans looking for something old-school will seek this one out. Check out my ICONS interviews with writer/director/actor David Morwick HERE and Erin Merryweather herself, Vigdis Anholt, HERE.
Of all the titles I'm suggesting in this article, this is the most recognizable of the bunch, but I still feel it doesn't have as wide an audience as it deserves. Writer/director Stevan Mena crafted Malevolence back in 2004 as the middle part of an epic trilogy telling the story of serial killer Martin Bristol. Yet again, here's another film that absolutely captures the feel and tone of Carpenter's Halloween, as well other classics like Tobe Hooper's original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and even a touch of A Nightmare On Elm Street (primarily with Mena's score).
When a bank robbery goes terribly wrong, the 3 fugitives of the crime take a woman and her daughter hostage and hide out in a secluded house in the woods. Little do they know that the property next door belongs to Graham Sutter and is inhabited by his protégé Martin Bristol; an emotionless and seemingly unstoppable killing machine. It's pretty much the "wrong place at the wrong time" scenario that awakens this purely evil character. And at the time of its release, fans were split down the middle in terms of whether the film was a proper homage to the great slasher classics or simply a rip-off of them. Now with Bereavement, the prequel to Malevolence, finally out there, I think it clearly shows that Mena has had this all planned from the get-go, and that in itself is impressive. Hell, even the Friday The 13th sequels were making things up as they went along, but this could very well be the first intentionally plotted trilogy in "slasher" movie history.
While you can watch them chronologically, with Bereavement first and then Malevolence, I still recommend viewing them in the order of their release. It maintains a lot of the surprise elements of Malevolence if you don't know anything about it, then you can backtrack and see how it all came to be with Bereavement. After watching both films, I think you'll agree that Martin Bristol is one of the most vicious and horrific serial killers we've ever encountered in our beloved genre.
Anchor Bay Entertainment recently put out a 2-pack double feature that has both Malevolence and Bereavement so this one is pretty accessible. Read my ICONS interview with writer/director Stevan Mena HERE.
Long after the Scream franchise and I Know What You Did Last Summer movies wore out the horror revival of the mid-90's, along came this obscure little slasher pic called Cherry Falls, which was released in 2000 starring a still relatively unknown Brittany Murphy, comedian Jay Mohr (!?), and Michael Biehn! The plot? A serial killer is on the loose and targeting the students of Cherry Falls high school. The one common thread? All the victims were virgins. Hence, in an attempt to survive, the kids organize a "pop your cherry" party. But alas, there is a far darker secret that the town holds, which is the true origin behind the killer's motivations.
While most definitely a slasher film in line with the cult classics of the early 80's, Cherry Falls is one of the few post-Scream films to nail that humor/horror hybrid that Wes Craven's influential franchise did so well. And ya know what? The backstory created for Cherry Falls' killer is actually really solid and unique. Don't want to give too much away, but let's just say the killer crashes that "pop your cherry" party for a pretty awesome all-out massacre! And by the way, this movie's got Brittany Murphy at her absolute cutest.
This movie never got to play theaters here in the States and I can only imagine it's because studios and theater chains were extremely sensitive and nervous (especially with horror films) to run this type of violent material so shortly after the Columbine tragedy. For years (with the exception of VHS), this one was really tough to find. However, it is available on DVD, and paired up as a double feature with Terror Tract starring John Ritter.
Ah, next up is The Convent from director Mike Mendez! Following his low budget (and even more obscure) debut feature Killers, but preceding his well received After Dark/8 Films To Die For flick The Gravedancers, The Convent is one of the rare comedy/horror hybrids that gets it all right. (Although most, including Mendez himself would probably argue that it's more of a straight comedy than a horror movie.)
So this is how the movie opens – a hot babe in a leather jacket bursts into a church, beats a bunch of nuns with a baseball bat before pouring gasoline all over them, setting them on fire and then blows them all away with a shotgun. OK, look, turns out the nuns are all demons so it's not as bad (or awesome) as you think. Oh and that babe grows up to be Adrienne Barbeau?! Are you sold yet?
Cut to present time, a group of college kids break into the now boarded-up convent, stumble upon a group of wanna-be Satanists and end up getting possessed by a bunch of demonic spirits still lurking about the old church. What follows is a tremendous amount of fun and even boasts a cameo by genre fave Bill Moseley and rapper Coolio as two police officers.
Why haven't you heard of it? While it did in fact get a theatrical release overseas in Europe, it completely bypassed a US theatrical release, and instead went direct to home video. On top of that, Blockbuster Video (which around the year 2000 was the biggest chain in the video market across the country) refused to carry it because of that opening nun massacre sequence. Hence, this instead became a cult favorite DVD that would be traded and shown off in college dorm rooms and during parties.
And whatdaya know, looks like The Convent will be on FearNET this month so you'll definitely have the opportunity to check it out! Also check out my ICONS interview with Mike Mendez about The Convent right HERE!
All of filmmaker Dante Tomaselli's films are somewhat of an enigma, but none of them quite so much as his second feature length movie, simply titled Horror. While most might be more familiar with his follow-up movie Satan's Playground, thanks to a healthy release from Anchor Bay Entertainment and starring horror alumni Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp), Ellen Sandweiss (The Evil Dead), and Edwin Neal (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and which also followed a traditional straightforward narrative story, I prefer the odd nightmare-like lunacy of Horror. Horror feels like what I imagine a bad acid trip would be. It's colorful and moody, evoking the visual style of Italian masters of horror like Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. But between the sound design and the non-narrative structure, it feels like a series of nightmares straight out of a David Lynch movie. This is most definitely not for everyone, but if you'd like to see some really crazy, bizarre visually simulating horror, then seek this one out. The 5-minute extended trailer above is a good indicator of what you'll be in for; just imagine that for 77 minutes. Read my ICONS interview with writer/director Dante Tomaselli right HERE.
This one is really difficult to discuss without giving away key elements as to why S&MAN (aka "Sandman") works as a horror film, but I'm just going to flat out say that filmmaker JT Petty is a genius and this flick is the proof. While his first two feature films, Soft For Digging and Mimic 3: Sentinel, were both impressive, it's S&MAN that truly showcases Petty's skill as a storyteller.
In basic terms, S&MAN is a documentary about underground horror filmmakers and the underground movies they make; and I'm talking about the way underground guys. It explores the voyeuristic nature of the films that you can buy directly from these filmmakers at the horror conventions. We're talking the super low-budget stuff that guys make in their basement, all shot on video and that borders on well… fictionalized "snuff". But what if one of them wasn't fictionalizing it? The further Petty delves into the world of these various filmmakers and examines these films, the more the line between what's real and what isn't gets blurred. It's a fascinating exploration of why we as genre fans respond to horrific material the way we do; and this movie is what garnered the attention of the producers of the (still-in-the-works) Faces Of Death remake that Petty is set to helm. While the film began shooting in 2006 and was completed shortly after that, it didn't get an official release until October of 2010 from our friends at Magnolia Pictures. This one is still relatively new, but should be sought out immediately. Check out ICONS interview with JT about S&MAN right HERE!
And there you have it! 6 obscure horror gems from the 2000's for you to sink your teeth into. Stay tuned… I'll be dialing the clock back to the 90's and plucking some more obscure gems from that decade for you in the not-too-distant future!