By Robbie Barnett
In the spirit of Halloween, watching horror flicks this time of year is about as common as carving jack-o-lanterns and stocking up on candy. Though horror is not typically deemed a respectable genre in film, the month of October gives us all a free pass to indulge in its guilty pleasures and entertain our inner scaredy cats.
Instead of rolling out a list of the same old classic horror films we’ve all seen a million times, I thought it would be more interesting to compile a list of lesser known titles you may have missed over the years. While the films in this list are not considered enduring classics – though they have their cult audiences and are known by seasoned horror fans – each is worthy of a look, available through Netflix and capable of inducing nightmares. Most importantly, they are all given the stamp of approval by this devoted horror fan.
If “The Exorcist” tops your Halloween viewing list, try checking out “The Sentinel,” a gothic chiller about a woman who discovers the gateway to Hell in her Brooklyn apartment building. It boasts an impressive array of cast members – Burgess Meredith, John Carradine, Ava Garnder – and was released in the mid ‘70s when, thanks to Linda Blair and some pea soup, an onslaught of devil-themed movies terrorized theaters. Unjustly lost in the stampede, “The Sentinel” succeeds in delivering more than a few devilish scares.
The standout scene is an outrageously absurd underwater zombie attack on a real Tiger Shark. How many horror films can boast that?
Director David Cronenberg is best known for his remake of “The Fly” and his mind control thriller Scanners (yes, the one with the exploding head), however his offbeat psychological horror “The Brood” is one of his most disturbing films to date. Samantha Eggar plays Nola, a woman being treated with an intense, experimental psychotherapy whereby she personifies her suppressed rage into mutated child-like creatures. These grotesque assassins are then unleashed upon the individuals whom Nola’s rage is directed towards. It is as bizarre as it sounds and has a memorably sick climatic ending.
Films about the walking dead are rampant in the horror genre, but 1979’s “Zombie,” by Italian director Lucio Fulci, is not one to overlook. Gorier and more adventurous than Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead,” the film takes place on a small, Voodoo influenced Caribbean island where corpses rise from graves and moldy zombies roam the countryside. If you can get over the awkward voice dubbing the reward is some of the goriest moments in horror history. The standout scene is an outrageously absurd underwater zombie attack on a real Tiger Shark. How many horror films can boast that?
Peter Weller of “Robocop” delivers a strong performance in “Of Unknown Origin” as a character whose newly renovated Manhattan brownstone, and ultimately his life, is invaded by an unusually intelligent and large rogue sewer rat. Never campy or corny like some other man vs. nature flicks – “Kingdom of the Spiders,” “Frogs” and “Empire of the Ants” come to mind – this is played straight and is well made, tense and terrifying.
If gore-free ghost stories are more your thing, then “Lady in White” should whet your appetite for thrills and chills. After a prank results in a young boy named Frankie being locked in a classroom cloak closet on Halloween night, he sees the ghost of a little girl who was murdered in the room years before. Soon after seeing the ghostly girl, Frankie is attacked by a shadowy intruder. After escaping the incident with his life intact, Frankie sets out to solve the murder and find the mother of the ghost girl, the aptly named “Lady in White.” With its sleepy, small-town New England setting, 1960s nostalgia and eerie atmosphere, it makes for an entertaining and satisfying supernatural mystery.