6 Underappreciated Horror Films

A good horror film is perhaps the most difficult type of film to make.  For every truly exceptional horror movie, there are mountains of B-grade trash.  Finding the wheat amidst the chaff is not easy.  In a well-done film, the director is seeking to elicit a specific emotional response from the audience, and will use every scene to enhance and lead towards that emotion.  Far too often, though, a mediocre director will take the easy way out, and overwhelm the viewer with gore and violence.  But this is the mark of an amateur, not a master.  And the masters do know the difference.

Edgar Allan Poe, who on top of all his other achievements in American letters, was a great literary critic and essayist.  He  touched on the question of how to craft a good horror tale in his masterful 1846 essay The Philosophy of Composition.  A good tale of terror, Poe held, should be tightly constructed so that every sentence leads up a decisive, shattering finale.  Emotion is more important than logic.  Long books or long poems are incapable of being good vehicles for terror, because they drag on and are unable to sustain the required emotional momentum needed.  Poe knew what he was talking about:  his tales of terror are among the best short stories in English language, bar none.  Re-read The Tell-Tale Heart, if you need any proof of this.  As a short-story, it is nearly perfect.

H.P. Lovecraft, another great practicioner of the classic horror tale, had his own innovative ideas of how to evoke feelings of dread.  Supernatural Horror in Literature, his 1927 treatise on the subject, describes specifically how terror as an emotion should be nurtured and brought to a crescendo.

According to Lovecraft, the competent horror writer should:  cultivate the audience’s fear of the unknown, as this is the oldest and strongest kind of fear; don’t develop character, as it takes too long; use long sentences, weird ancient gods, and archaic words and spellings to play with the reader and heighten his distress; and try overturn the reader’s sense of what is natural and normal.  Both Poe and Lovecraft made it clear that there was no short-cut to terror:  terror was an emotion that had to be nurtured and kindled, much like a fire coaxed from the smoking embers of a glowing coal.  Film directors would be well advised to take note of Poe’s and Lovecraft’s opinions.

With these considerations in mind, I want to suggest six films that are recent overlooked classics of the genre.  All of them employ Poe’s and Lovecraft’s principles to great effect.  Some of these movies could be considered suspense, rather than horror films.  But the boundaries between film categories can be blurred, and I think we can agree that all are in the neighborhood of horror.  I hope you will add them to your Netflix queue.


Our hapless protagonist enters a nightmare world of violence and crime in 13 Tzameti.

13 Tzameti (2005)

A wayward laborer finds a set of instructions meant for someone else and, on a lark, decides to follow them.  This act plunges him into a demented world of chaos, insanity, and death.  Georgian director Gela Babluani won an award at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival for this, his debut film, and deservedly so.  Its gritty black-and-white patina provides the perfect backdrop to a universe of nihilistic violence and random cruelty.  Often seen as a neo-noir thriller, it can equally be viewed as a horror film.  If horror can be described as everyman being caught in the grip of nightmarish forces beyond his control, this movie without doubt falls within the genre and succeeds brilliantly within it.


The masterful hospital ward scene from the 1990 classic Exorcist III.

Exorcist  III (1990)

Due to inept marketing, this one sadly received little notice when it was first released.  Don’t let the derivative-sounding title fool you.  This is not a sequel to the first two Exorcist movies, but a rendering of the horror novel Legion by writer/director William Peter Blatty.  Blatty, with little experience behind a camera, was somehow able to carry off this project far better than anyone could have predicted.  It has nothing in common with the other Exorcist films (except the name), and only added an “exorcism” scene at the end in final editing to appease the studio bosses.  Featuring the always-watchable George C. Scott in one of his last roles, it manages to evoke a feeling of suffocating dread that it sustains until the very last shot.  It also contains several scenes of heart-stopping terror that have no equal in any other film.


The English countryside conceals ancient and evil secrets in Kill List.

Kill List (2011)

Recommending this great British film is a true pleasure.  Two out-of-work hit men with money issues (Jay and Gal) accept a vague final job to “terminate” several marks.  The fact that they have to sign the contract in their own blood should have alerted them that this will not be an ordinary job.  Their employers are withdrawn and reticent, and refuse to let them out of the job once accepted.  Things progress slowly but surely, with dialogue that is mumbling to the point of inaudibility, and the viewer gets the sense that some sort of web is spinning around the two protagonists.  And boy, are they right…Director Ben Wheatly explores the darkness of the human psyche through the vehicle of occult horror, and the results here are nothing less than spectacular.  The ending is about as demented and unexpected as can be imagined.


Left Bank (2008)

This skillful Dutch-language film by Pieter Van Hees is another great entry into the world of occult horror lurking just underneath the surface of modern European life.  A young female athlete (Eline Kuppens) meets a new boyfriend (Mattias Schoenaerts) and decides to move into his new apartment in the “Left Bank” part of city.  But things are not what they seem, and she begins to notice her body and soul begin to gradually fall apart.  As the web around her tightens, it becomes clear that she has been deliberately selected for a sinister and terrifying purpose.  Great performances by all concerned, with some truly startling visuals at the end.


Sicko John Bunting calls the shots for his minions in The Snowtown Murders.

The Snowtown Murders  (2011)

This is a dramatic recreation of the career of Australia’s worst serial killer, John Bunting, and of his clique of fellow-conspirators he recruited.  If you want to see an unflinching portrait of the face of pure evil, this is the movie.  It is so effective, in fact, that you will feel yourself wanting to take a shower at the end of it just to get these characters off you:  it’s that good.  Director Justin Kurzel shows us step-by-step how Bunting sought out and recruited weak or defective people in his lust to commit serial murder.  The result is a horror film and a crime drama of unrelenting intensity.  One of the most effective techniques (of many) used by the director is the playback of recordings of the victims’ last words, as commanded by the killers.  Hauntingly scored and acted, this great Australian film is not for the faint of heart.


Accepting a job at an abandoned insane asylum is not a good idea in Session 9.

Session 9 (2001)

A depressed building contractor accepts a job to remove asbestos from a decaying psychiatric hospital.  His co-workers discover a series of disturbing audio recordings in the dilapidated basement.  And things just get worse and worse from there.  This is an examination of a disintegrating psyche under the influence of past trauma, and remains one of the most effective portrayals of insanity put on film (an equally effective film on the same subject is Lodge Kerrigan’s 1993 masterpiece Clean, Shaven).  What makes this movie so effective is that random events happen to the characters that we cannot be sure are real or imagined.  There is a sense that arrows are flying in every direction, but mostly at you, the viewer; and the atmosphere of a rotting insane asylum is just about as oppressive as you can get.  The suspends builds slowly but unceasingly, until the final 15 minutes when all hell breaks loose.

One of the greatest pleasures of movie-watching is coming across unexpected gems.  Enthusiasts of the genre (or of good movies in general) will find any of these films worth a watch…or a re-watch.  Horror takes real skill to portray effectively, as Poe and Lovecraft believed, and when a film uses these principles effectively, the results should be applauded.

Read More:  8 Film With Masculine Virtue

65 thoughts on “6 Underappreciated Horror Films”

  1. Interesting list. I remember watching Legion when i was a kid, and liked intro scene very much. I suggest you “Cigarette Burns” from one of my favourite B-film directors, John Carpenter.

  2. Horror is one of my favorite movie genres. I do believe that horror films that depict matter that can actually occur in real life are usually the best and most scariest because of their real plausability. Good post.

    1. It’s also one of my favorite genres, Mr. Mitchell. The problem, as I mentioned in the intro, is that it’s hard to do a good one. It takes real skill. The pressures that directors have from studios to go for the easy buck often prevents them from realizing their vision (assuming they had one in the first place).
      Another problem is that, like any discussion of art or culture, people are going to disagree on what is “good”. That’s fine with me…every man has his own tastes. But what I tried to do here was at least give a philosophy behind what makes a good horror movie or story.
      Someone might disagree with me, but at least I gave reasons behind my opinion.

  3. No “In the Mouth of Madness” with Sam Neill? That was a fucking awesome movie, so hilarious. Do you read Sutter Cane?

      1. AHH YIIIISSSS! I loved that movie. And I love Lovecraft’s stories. Idk, I’ve always liked monsters, magic and stuff like that. But GOOD Horror takes it to another level.

  4. I will have to check these out. Been looking for good horror movies that aren’t always about people getting skinned alive or something gruesome. Great suggestions QC, can’t wait to check ’em out

    1. Agreed. Same problem here.
      I hate the gratuitous gore/torture type of shit movies that take no skill to make, and only rely on cheap “shock” value.
      You won’t find any of this type of movie recommended by me.

      1. I’m thinking that it’s very difficult to come up with an original horror concept. Seems like the writers of these movies/stories have gotten to the point where they have to rely on gore in order to make something scary.

        1. It’s not even the concept any more. The actual nuts and bolts execution of ‘scary movies’ is horrible as well. Jump scares are so overused and predictable that when I recently saw The Hobbit it seemed that every single person in the theatre knew exactly when they were coming. A couple even outright laughed and said “Here it comes!”
          The only really gory movie that I like is the original The Thing. And even by today’s standards, it’s pretty tame. That scene in the dog pen? Wugh, still sends shivers down my spine http://youtu.be/NtgFKdWcKXY

        2. Also forgot to mention Jacob’s Ladder, one of the few movies that perfectly captures the feel of a nightmare.
          It’s definitely not under appreciated though; it’s one of those movies that very few people know of out of hand but which heavily influenced film makers since it’s release.

        3. I was going to mention John Carpenters “The Thing” also. I feel it crosses the genres of thriller and horror beautifully. The gore although tame as you mention easily outshines today’s computer generated effects. For a 12 year old it scared the shit outta me and was the cause of many sleepless nights. The scene where the head sprouts legs and eyes on stalks and scuttles off to guy saying “you gotta be fucking kidding!” before getting the flame thrower treatment…… classic…. oh and Carpenters theme music….

  5. Good article – what I appreciate about Poe’s writing philosophy is that it is applicable to most genres of story-craft, and to life generally. Do more with less. Incidentally, this is why game happens to be so effective.
    ” A good tale of terror, Poe held, should be tightly constructed so that every sentence leads up a decisive, shattering finale. Emotion is more important than logic.” = game

    1. Edgar Allan Poe on game?
      Heh heh…I like that idea. Never thought of it that way, but now that you mention it…it makes sense.
      All writing should have some decent philosophy behind it.
      And sometimes we want to feel the emotion of fear. It takes us back eons in time, when humans quaked in terror at the approach of a saber-toothed cat…

    1. Lol. That poor dude just cant get a break can he? Hahaha. Due to all the free publicity we got him here at RoK! — the ironic thing is he is probably “hittin’ it” now due to his new found glory as a psuedo-celeb.

    1. Been meaning to check that one out. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is a great find too.

  6. You know, full on horror films were never really my favourites. I don’t seek to fill my mind with oppressive feelings just for the sake of it, and many such films end up being just mindless stuff done for shock value. However I can certainly appreciate a really well done thriller.
    When I saw this article’s title I was like “oh well, not for me probably”..but Quintus is as always able to shine a spotlight on things and actually made me look forward to viewing some of these. Well done.

    1. If you’re not opposed to horror/thriller film’s that don’t spoon feed the plot to you (or tell you the plot at all), you might like some of David Lynch’s films. Mulholland Drive has some very frightening moments (and a smoking hot Naomi Watts in a lesbian scene), and Lost Highway has some pretty disturbing imagery as well – particularly the party scene with the Mystery Man. They’re not casual watching fare though – pay attention or prepare to be lost…though with Lynch you tend to get lost no matter how much attention you pay.
      Fair warning though: I mean it when I say Lynch film’s are hard to keep up with. If you’re not a fan of surrealism then stay far away.

      1. Great example, Billy. The “Cowboy” character in Mulholland Drive is a great example of the power of suggestion to create a feeling of menace.
        Same with the Robert Blake (shaved eyebrows) character in Lost Highway: turning reality on its head and putting the viewer on edge by upending the normal laws of reality.

        1. i don’t spook easily, but thinking of that cowboy still freaks me out a bit. g reat list quintus.

        2. watched exorcist III last night per your recommendation. in my opinion not as good as the original, but still superb. george c scott was a titan – and a true alpha.
          TWICE he rejected the academy awards, noting once:
          “The whole thing is a goddamn meat parade. I don’t want any part of it.” i will make a point to use the expression “meat parade” in the future!
          hope you have a nice holiday. rez

        3. just watched snowtown. deeply disturbing. read the roger ebert review moments ago, and he said it was the most chilling cinematic depiction of a psychopath that he had ever seen.

    2. Same here. Have to say the horror genre is totally off limits for me. However, I freely admit SE7EN (1993 Pitt / Freeman / Spacey) was extremely excellent , but as dark-themed as I care to ever buy a ticket for. Brilliantly done, because it left the gore OUT and left the gruesome to your imagination – like a book. Perhaps that amplified my memory of it , because I have a quite a colorful imagination, and I will never forget how that shit fucked up the rest of my afternoon.
      I would rather watch someone getting hacked to bits (yawn, pass the popcorn) then walking me into the scene and describing to me what happened AFTER the fact. The mind will go as far as it can. That was enough for me.
      Will rub my hands together for a good suspense, thriller or mystery (i.e The Usual Suspects, No Country For Old Men) but otherwise, no thank you.
      When traveling, I once made the mistake of watching “SAW” at a hotel. Sicker than sick. That kind of shit just shouldn’t be made, you know. I need to be entertained for my cash. Just can’t bring myself to understand how someone can cross town to PAY to see it.
      In fact, I would bet the studios are thinking exactly the same thing. “Dudes, lets think up the SICKEST shit we can think of, and see if anybody shows up. Let’s see how far we can go before people stop paying. ” I bet it blows their minds and they are just testing the public to see what “enough” is…. and they still haven’t reached it. THAT’s what’s truly horrifying. Not how sick they make the film….. but how sick people have to be to pay to keep GOING!
      …. but I do like the trailers. Horror trailers are often very well done and have great sound tracks and effects. I tend to listen to movies as much as watch.
      Just my three cents.
      And that’s about all it’s worth.

  7. You forgot the most distributing freaky movie of all time:

    Prepare to feel depressed after the film.

    1. Exactly… It doesn’t leave you scared as much as just completely unmotivated and dead inside. Unique in that way I guess.

      1. TBH I just found it to be an interesting approach to and a question about the afterlife. Didn’t really faze me at all. You should check out Ex-Drummer, that movie is really fucked up. It shows the depravity of mankind and the sadism of one who has it all.

  8. Good list. I was going to say the original wicker man is pretty good but it turns out it isn’t really under-appreciated. Imdb ranks it pretty high.

  9. If you dont mind subtitles the Korean and Japanese horror genre can be exquisite.
    A Tale of Two Sisters
    One Missed Call

    1. I completely agree with that. I’ve been hard pressed to find a better horror than ‘Witchboard,’ a Korean horror. I’ll have to look these all up.

      1. I have lots more. Let me know. I have a very large collection of stuff. I can always upload the to The Pirate Bay if you want to download them. I never pay for movies.Ever.

        1. I never pay for movies.Ever.

          Cool philosophy, bro. Pirates RAWK!
          And somehow, I bet you’re the same kind of guy who bemoans the lack of funding for risky, challenging cinema. “How come those dark, indie-type films that I like seem to have such a hard time finding funding? That sure sucks.”

  10. Great list. It’s always a pleasure to read the writings of someone both enthusiastic and knowledgeable about film.
    There are parts of Exorcist III that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind twenty years after I first saw it. And the rest of these I wil be adding to the Netflix queue.

        1. I have given fleeting thought to commenting on movies somehow, in one way or another. One of my friends has been on my back about doing something like that.
          If you guys like these reviews that much, maybe I should post more movie stuff here at ROK.

        2. Pieces on film probably wouldn’t get the hits or comment action that the race-troll and feminist-baiting articles do, but it would be nice to see here. I was thinking of a regular series, perhaps something like “Red Pill Cinema.”
          I’m leaning that way on my own film blog — preparing a series of reviews on films that, however implicitly, contain a lot of the truths and observations that we discuss here in the manosphere.

      1. Exorcist III stands up quite nicely alongside William Friedkin’s 1973 original, I’d say.
        Exorcist II, however, is just all kinds of inadvertent comedy gold — comedy gold sweetened by Linda Blair’s bobbling jailbait titties and ’70s porn-starlet pout.

        1. That would be a statement that works on the presumption that SJW are somwhat legitimately interested in thoroughly reviewing and reflecting on controversial art/film. They aren’t. Melancholia for me was too boring and too insufferable to watch. I couldn’t stand that woman, she really got on my nerves. Antichrist was different, right off the bat it starts with a disturbing event: The death of a young child. What then unfolds is a deeply disturbing plot and quite possibly one of the most disturbing things I’ve seen so far. And I’m certainly not new to the Horror genre, nor am I easily shocked. So that means something. I also liked the playing around with symbolism such as the original sin, the fall of man and the trinity. Which of course directly correlates to the overall meaning of the movie. But make your own assumptions, I don’t want to spoil anything. BTT: How is “A serbian film”? I watched a youtube review about it, the guy says that basically it’s not that disturbing because ultimately the violence and exploitation are very stylized, similar to Ichi the killer, so you can’t really take it all to seriously. He even went so far as to somewhat being to able to see a satirical undertone in that movie.

  11. “Triangle” was another really good horror film that isn’t mentioned enough. The movie had one of the best twists I’ve seen.
    I agree with few others about “In the Mouth of Madness” and “Jacobs Ladder”

  12. It doesn’t count as traditional horror, but it portrays a literally horrible existence: _Threads_ , the BBC TV movie
    As for other genre films that are unexpectedly good, check out Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning on Netflix or Amazon Prime streaming.

  13. Only point on this excellent article, and unfortunately I have to give spoilers to make the point:
    Exorcist III is, indeed, a sequel to the events of the first Exorcist film. The priest who is possessed and Ground Zero for the infestation is none other than Father Damien Karras, the priest who submits to possession at the end of the first film and then seems to kill himself by throwing himself out Regan’s window. The actor who played Karras came back for this one. The detective, William Kinderman, was also in the original Exorcist film, although played by someone other than the Great Scott.
    As said, aside from the final possession scene, the film is a pretty decent attempt at adapting the Legion novel, which in itself is a brilliant, thought-provoking read of its own, one of the few novels that manages to actually draw its plot and subplot together in literally the last paragraph of the story. It’s a great pity that, even with Blatty’s erudite direction, the subplot (“Hurrah for the Brothers Karamazov”) was not given more time or an adequate treatment in the film, because it’s a subplot that is both shocking and yet potentially uplifting. The exorcism scene at the end is a jarring addition, as discussed, but it would have been a compelling film if released and marketed in a slightly different way. Methinks a remake of it today might well do better if treated seriously.
    But as said, it has a wonderful, angry performance from Scott as William Kinderman–
    “There’s a carp in my bathtub, Father. My wife put it there to remove its impurities. And for three days it’s been swimming. Up. And down. Up. And down. And I hate it. I can’t go home until the carp is asleep. You’re standing very close to me, father. That’s right. I haven’t had a bath in three days.”

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