Another COVID-19 Halloween means you probably aren’t partying the night away while squished into a room with hundreds of strangers. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make the most of your night.
Here are three of my top underrated horror films to get your adrenaline pumping and make this Halloween one to remember.
The first underrated movie you should consider watching is 1979’s Phantasm.
The supernatural flick is written and directed by Don Coscarelli and follows two brothers named Mike and Jody, played by Micheal Baldwin and Bill Thornbury, as they take on the “Tall Man” — a sinister, shapeshifting undertaker.
The plain-looking “Tall Man” is played by Angus Scrimm, who portrays the perfect snarling villain. He’s able to regenerate his limbs and appear in dreams. He runs while chasing his victims, which I think is arguably scarier than Michael Myers’ cliché slow pace.
As a result of Phantasm’s low budget, Coscarelli was creative with practical effects — for example, using mustard to create the “Tall Man’s” blood and ketchup for humans.
The theme of death is apparent throughout the film. Mike is looking for solace after the death of his parents, leading him to visit a psychic who tells him he must decide for himself to move on from his grief. He spends the movie trying not to give into fear, choosing to change his perspective.
That being said, the dialogue is sparse, leaving the viewer to interpret what they see for themselves.
The second movie on this list has us looking into Guillermo Del Toro’s debut film Cronos — a minimal and modern vampire movie.
Released in 1993, the story trades castles for research labs and focuses on the technical side of becoming immortal.
The plot follows an antique dealer named Jesus Gris, played by Frederico Luppi, who discovers the 400-year-old Cronos — a mechanical device that enables its owner to live off of human blood forever. Meanwhile, a dying tycoon, played by Claudio Brook, is after the artifact as well, leaving his nephew and goon, played by Ron Perlman, to hunt down the dealer.
Vampire movies traditionally show the creature as solitary and manipulative; Del Toro’s is lonely and confused.
After Gris accidentally sells his soul to the Cronos and begins to become vampire-like, his granddaughter Aurora is one of the only people he has to keep him company. The movie shows his wife trying to move on after losing her husband because it would be too painful for him to reveal his new form to her.
The tone works well for the tragic theme.
The string score fits perfectly, a hold-over from classic vampire films. It keeps anxious moments tense and odd moments comedic.
The effects in Cronos echo earlier body-horror movies. Instead of being well-dressed and caped, Gris starts to decay after he refuses to drink blood. Del Toro mixes that imagery with close-ups of the devices’ steampunk gears, bringing together flesh and machine.
Noroi: The Curse
The final movie on this list is the 2005 Japanese film Noroi: The Curse.
The film weaves together possession, folklore and conspiracy all into one generational horror tale. Written and directed by Kōji Shiraishi, it’s filmed as a found-footage movie. The narrative is presented by the cameraman, who cut the footage together after ghost hunter Masafumi Kobayashi, played by Jin Muraki, went missing.
Together, the cameraman and Kobayashi investigate the curse of “Kagutaba,” a demon that requires a young host.
Kobayashi works with multiple experts throughout the fake film while hunting the demon. Apart from mediums, the fictional filmmakers question historians, sound engineers and everyday people with their faces hidden off-screen to stay anonymous.
The filming style is so similar to CBC’s The Fifth Estate, you almost forget that you’re not watching that.
One supporting character caught up in the demon’s curse is Marika Matsumoto, who plays a fictionalized version of herself with psychic abilities. Having a talented, known-star portray herself helps add to the authenticity of the “found-footage” concept.
The highlight of Noroi: The Curse is its suspenseful pacing. Even in moments where the movie is providing historical context, it still remains engaging.
All three films may be hard to find on regular streaming services. The internet is big though and has a lot of economical-viewing options that the St. Thomas University administration would disapprove of.
So, I’m not telling you to illegally stream them, but all I’m saying is, happy Halloween.