Editors Note: This article was originally published in October of 2009.
Sure, the Halloween holiday is a prime time to curl up with a terrifying title. Even those folks out there who don’t share a huge proclivity for scary movies with other horror cinemaphiles can’t resist the urge to pull the covers up to their eyes and experience a fine fright fest. However, many of these people tend to stick to the staples such as Halloween or Psycho, and while these films are true classics, there are plenty of other lesser-known gems out there that fans may not be aware of that can still pack tons of scares, gore and fun into an evening. It’s with this in mind that we present a host of rare to semi-rare frightful favorites that have been released within the last thirty-some years that can be enjoyed on All Hallows’ Eve or any time of year whether the viewer is a genre devotee or a fledgling horror buff.
Squirm (1976): There have been countless horror films made about various wild animals running amok and feeding on humans—especially during the ‘70s—and they included just about every species of scary and vile creature. from spiders (Kingdom of the Spiders), to snakes (Rattlers), to bees (The Swarm), to ants (Empire of the Ants) and more. However, the title that many may have missed was this slimy winner that has thousands of angry earthworms terrorizing and feeding on local townsfolk when electricity from downed power lines brings them to the surface during a storm. What the movie lacks in star power and budget, it more than makes up for with atmosphere, special effects from makeup artist extraordinaire Rick Baker, and yes, lots and lots of worms. Try not to let them get in the egg cream.
Fright Night (1985): When it comes to vampires films, there probably aren’t that many worthwhile efforts that fans don’t know about, with the exception of maybe this one. The movie does a fantastic job paying homage to the genre, as likable teen William Ragsdale encounters trouble when a dark stranger (Chris Sarandon) who Ragsdale thinks is a vampire moves in next door, and no one believes him. The problem is, Sarandon IS a vampire. What’s worse, he has set his sights on Ragsdale’s girlfriend. The frightened youngster then turns to the only person left who could possibly help him, washed-up, B-movie vampire killer Roddy McDowall. Laughs, credible performances and superb special effects permeate the effort.
Night of the Creeps (1986): “The good news is your dates are here. The bad news is… they’re dead.” Part zombie film, part alien sci-fi yarn, NOTC isn’t the most original horror film, but it sure is a good time. When feuding aliens unfortunately release slug-like creepy crawlies onto Earth, the slithery creatures infect humans by entering through the mouth and turning them into deadly zombies. Matters get incredibly dire when the slinky sliders invade a college campus, and a handful of students have to fight back. College kookiness, action and gore then ensue. A fine genre entry.
The Convent (2000): Most of the aforementioned films have their fair share of comedic elements, but this one is perhaps the most over-the-top of the bunch. However, just because the movie plays for laughs, doesn’t mean it isn’t a legit entry in the horror genre. After all, many of the great horror titles over the years have incorporated moments of humor. A throwback to the teen splatterfests of the ‘80s, The Convent deals with a group of college kids that dare to spend the night having a party in an old, abandoned nunnery with a hellish, tragic history. Unbeknownst to them, evil still lurks within the walls and they’re soon besieged by possessed zombie nuns. It’s then up to the lone survivor (Adrienne Barbeau) of the convent’s first catastrophe to save the day. Director Mike Mendez maintains a fine balancing act between yukking it up and providing decent goo (inspiringly and excessively complete with garish, neon-colored blood) without derailing the narrative. Additionally, Coolio (believe it or not) provides an enjoyable bit part.
Ginger Snaps (2001): A slick twist on the werewolf movie, this release never wimps out on the issues at hand. Katharine Isabelle (Ginger) and Emily Perkins (Brigitte) play two troubled teenage sisters who are obsessed with death and bullied by their classmates. They make a suicide pact together, but their problems are compounded when Isabelle is attacked by a hairy beast on the night she starts menstruating. Isabelle soon begins to turn, and Perkins must scramble to save her sister and her vilified peers. The script deftly draws incredible parallels between transforming into a werewolf and puberty. Always unapologetic, the film careens to its conclusion and admirably treats its subject matter seriously. A fine mix of teen angst and genre attributes is blended with great performances from Isabelle and Perkins. There’s even some solid mess for gore hounds, successfully pulled off with a low budget. This one shouldn’t be missed.
Session 9 (2001): Admittedly one of the few films on this list that doesn’t exactly deal with creepy monsters, Session 9 is largely an experiment in atmospheric and psychological terror. While critics who pan the movie’s script for being a little underdeveloped aren’t completely wrong, they may also be missing the point. It’s doubtful that screenwriters Brad Anderson (who also directs) and Stephen Gevedon (who also co-stars) were trying to “wow” anyone with some sort of surprise ending or twist. Session 9 is the type of film that instills viewers with an impending sense of dread until they must uncomfortably wait for the unnerving conclusion. It’s like having the feeling of being followed, and then not being surprised to suddenly turn around to find a knife in the gut. Anyway, the title concerns a five-man crew charged with hastily removing the asbestos from an abandoned insane asylum. The decayed institution was shut down due to unspeakable horrors such as torture and Satanic rituals that are only exacerbated when Gevedon finds interview tapes (hence, the “sessions”) with a former female patient suffering from multiple personalities. Will the spirits that may still reside in the ward get the better of the team, or will their own personal demons ruin them first? Great direction and taut performances from Peter Mullan, David Caruso and Josh Lucas make this one worth a look.
High Tension (Haute Tension) (2003): No horror list would be complete without including a slasher flick on it, and this French film (aka: Switchblade Romance) is not only the best one to come along in quite some time, it features an interesting spin on the old premise. Additionally, the release, unlike the aforementioned Session 9, is hardcore heads-to-the-wall intense just about all the way through and it never lets the audience catch its breath. College students Alexia and Marie retreat to the remote farm of Alexia’s family for the weekend to get some studying done. However, there will be none of that, as a creepy, grungy and maniacal killer enters the home and ruthlessly executes Alexia’s family in brutal fashion and takes Alexia away as a hostage while unknowingly leaving Marie behind. Marie then follows the murderer’s insidious truck in an effort to save her friend. Unflinching in its graphic violence and bloodletting, the title preys on the basest human emotions.
Feast (2005): It’s quite simple. Take Night of the Living Dead and substitute grotesque aliens in place of the zombies, and viewers will have Feast in a nutshell. It’s certainly been done before, but—much like The Convent—the movie will remind many of the campy classics of the ‘80s, which is one of the reasons it makes this list, since horror seems to be a lost art during the latter part of this decade. It’s also worthy because anyone looking for blood, spurting viscera and other slimy proceedings will find a glut of it here, and it’s incredibly impressive considering the shoestring budget the effort was produced on. In fact, Feast has the only distinction of perhaps being the only successful—at least on a production level—film for Project Greenlight (the contest started by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon to give aspiring filmmakers a shot). Plenty of riotous tongue-in-cheek antics also take place when the motley patrons of a bar in the middle of the desert join together to protect themselves and their watering hole from the grisly alien predators. Combine that with interesting turns from Henry Rollins, Jason Mewes and Judah Friedlander, and fans will have a delightfully sick romp on their hands.
Trick ‘r Treat (2008): As previously mentioned above, admirable horror entries are scarce these days as evidenced by all the ridiculous remakes and banal PG-13 teen cop-outs that adopt either superior or insulting tones for the genre. However, this film is a relieving departure from all that. Five intertwined stories dealing with one suburban town’s celebration of Halloween are presented, with dire consequences for most involved. It’s a great little movie reminiscent of classics such as Creepshow and Trilogy of Terror that simply aren’t made anymore. Witness the various fun and ghoulish issues tackled, such as what happens when a jack-o’-lantern gets turned out before midnight, not satisfying trick or treaters, playing holiday pranks, and more. Additionally, horror fans may have a new icon on their hands, and he goes by the name of Sam.
Happy Halloween, film freaks!