Terrifying people through the medium of storytelling has been a pastime for humans throughout history, and as a result - the horror film genre has shifted and changed over time.
Over the last hundred years, the horror film industry has also changed and evolved considerably. Horror is a genre that has endured many peaks and troughs, but one thing that cannot be disputed is the fact that horror genre itself is wonderfully diverse, due to how it seems to have to constantly reinvent itself over and over again in order to remain relevant (and often with mixed results).
Even though the genre has experienced popularity, it still seems to get a bad rap. This is likely due to the fact that it has become regarded as a genre that focuses on formulaic plotlines, needless gore and sometimes questionable special effects.
But every year that there are a slew of horror films released, there are actually a few hidden gems. Sometimes good films go unnoticed, often due to a lack of marketing or a low budget, or simply due to the fact that the horror market has reached saturation point – so it’s difficult to sift through the dregs and find a real diamond in the rough.
If you’re struggling to find an entertaining new horror flick, check out the following article and discover some of the most underrated horror movies from recent years.
Image source: 30 Days of Night (Columbia Pictures)
A smart British survival horror starring Michael Fassbender and Kelly Reilly, Eden Lake is a terrifying tale of an idyllic trip gone wrong. The film follows the couple as they are terrorised in the woods by a group of youths, and the stakes get higher as the group becomes more and more savage. The film succeeds in its realism – there are no ghosts, no ghouls – just a group of British teenagers with knives.
While this might not sound all that threatening on the face of it, the barbaric display of group mentality and delinquent behaviour is scary because it’s believable. Eden Lake is a straight-forward slasher film that plays on our societal fears. Armed youths in hoodies – what could be worse?
Image source: Eden Lake ( The Weinstein Company)
While the title sounds somewhat unappealing, Skinwalker Ranch is a surprisingly chilling horror flick who’s title doesn’t really do it justice. It is a movie that sits within the (somewhat overdone) ‘found footage’ genre – but it actually brings a refreshing take on this rather tired trope.
The film begins with the showing of a home video, in which ranch owner Hoyt Miller witnesses his son disappear into thin air, presumably abducted by alien forces.
The rest of the film centres around the actions of a research group, (who have been drafted in to investigate, naturally) as they join forces with Hoyt to try and unravel the mystery of Hoy’ts lost son. It’s creepy in parts, and genuinely scary in others. When we finally come face to face with the alien forces at the end, the payoff is satisfactory, as the alien beings do look truly creepy. If you’re a fan of the found footage genre, and enjoy creepy alien stories (akin to the likes of The Fourth Kind or Dark Skies) then definitely give Skinwalker Ranch a try.
Image source: Skinwalker Ranch (Deep Studios)
The Loved Ones
This is not your typical teen prom night horror movie. The Loved Ones is a relatively low-budget Australian horror and is a delightfully deranged flick that contains some dark humour and unexpected twists.
It follows the story of Brent, an angsty teen grieving after the death of his father – and his unfortunate encounter with Lola, an obsessive girl from his school. Lola asks Brent to the prom, and when he turns her down… let’s just say Lola doesn’t take the rejection well.
Brent is subsequently kidnapped by Lola and her mentally unstable father, and finds himself attending a twisted enactment of a prom at their remote home, bound to a chair and enduring disturbing and yet imaginative acts of torture.
The movie switches into survival horror mode as Brent tries to escape. It’s bizarre, entertaining, and graphic without being overtly gratuitous. Definitely worth a watch, if you can stomach it.
Xavier Samuel in The Loved Ones
Rose Leslie (Ygritte from Game of Thrones) and Harry Treadaway star in this creepy horror flick. It’s an interesting, if at times a little confusing, story about two newlyweds – Bea and Paul – who take a trip to a remote cabin in the woods to enjoy their honeymoon. But things don’t go as planned.
The first signs that all might not be well in these quiet woods is when we see strange lights floating in the distance. This appears to be the inciting incident that kicks off some strange happenings – with Bea undergoing some creepy changes. She goes sleepwalking one night and returns from the woods, but not quite as herself.
She’s more akin to an actress, attempting to play the part of Bea but without enough source material to draw on. The film gets more and more bizarre, as Bea’s behaviour becomes erratic and confusing – and Paul is determined to figure out just what, exactly, is happening to his new wife. A creepy, understated movie that’s definitely worth your time.
Rose Leslie in Honeymoon (2014) - Magnolia Pictures
When a group of cub scouts go on a camping trip in the depths of a creepy forest, they don’t realise that there’s more truth to their scary campfire tales than meets the eye. Cub is an interesting blend of slasher and mystery, and has elements of the paranormal and grim folklore thrown in for good measure. The plot centres around a troubled cub scout named Sam, who discovers something evil lurking in the woods – in the form of a monstrous by wearing a pagan mask.
The film turns from atmospheric and creepy, to slasher-esque toward the end as we discover more and more about the mysterious ‘cub’. If you enjoy suspense, mystery and thrilling violence, Cub is the film for you.
Maurice Luijten as Sam in Cub (2014)
If you're tired of monster stories and prefer a good old-fashioned haunting, then give The Orphanage a try. A modern twist on a classic ghost story, it is set in contemporary Spain and manages to be both gripping and frightening at the same time. And since the film is presented by Guillermo del Toro, the creator of critically acclaimed Pan’s Labyrinth, you know it’s going to be something special.
It does play on some of the more predictable tropes of the genre – namely creepy kids and terrifying masks, but the payoff does not disappoint. It’s emotionally engaging as well as tense and ‘cover your eyes’ scary at times. This one is great if you like scary movies filled with more atmosphere than gore, and also if you don’t mind reading subtitles (it’s Spanish, after all).
Image source: The Orphanage (2007)
By and large, 'home invasion' style horror movies are usually pretty scary. The idea of being attacked in your own home - a place that is supposed to be your safe haven - is a terrifying one. While You're Next is scary in the way you'd expect a home invasion movie to be scary, it's worth a mention on our list because it is filled with dark humour that lightens the tension, and makes for great watching.
The plot centres around a quiet family reunion, gone horribly wrong. Erin, the protagonist, is visiting her boyfriend Crispian's family when masked assailants begin an attack on the family. But what the attackers don't know is that Erin is a trained survivalist - which makes for interesting viewing as things go from bad to worse within the home. You're Next is one of those low-budget movie gems you're sometimes lucky enough to stumble across; definitely worth watching if you'd like a refreshing little twist on the survival horror or home invasion genre.
Image Source: You're Next (2011)
Do you have an underrated horror movie suggestion that you think we should have included?
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Cover image source: Suspiria (1977) - 20th Century Fox