Underappreciated Horror Films

Ask the average Joe or Jane about their favorite horror films and you'll usually get a reply that includes films like the Exorcist, the Shining, a Jason or a Freddie movie or anything with the Olsen Twins in it. You have some perennial favorites, and then when you dig a little deeper you'll find that there are some much loved films that don't get the attention they deserve. In honor of Halloween we're going to focus on some of these redheaded stepchildren of the scary film industry.

A few years ago The Sixth Sense was released and went on to do extremely well both financially and critically. The buzz about this film was so great that another film released around the same time never got the attention it deserved. That film was Stir of Echoes, a haunted house story starring Kevin Bacon as a skeptic who makes the mistake of opening his mind to all kinds of forces he doesn't think exists. Stubborn and very down to earth, he gets a little drunk at a neighborhood party and agrees to let his wacky sister-in-law hypnotize him. He doesn't think it will work but the next thing he knows his life is completely turned upside down as a ghost starts asking him for help. His oh-so-average life as a father, husband and blue collar worker falls apart as he becomes obsessed with digging and drinks orchards full of orange juice. The script is based on a novel by Richard Matheson, originally published in 1958. Director David Koepp does a terrific job updating the story and the actors give solid, believable performances. This movie made me jump and squeak.

I took a class in horror in film and literature my first semester at college. We watched quite a few films but only a few have stayed with me. One was Nosferatu, the ghastly silent film originally released in 1922s, another was the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, released in Germany in 1919, this is another Expressionist film and is regarded by film students as the first modern horror film. The film that was the most disturbing, the creepiest and the campiest was Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, released in 1962. Bette Davis is monstrous and eerie as the former vaudeville child star Baby Jane. Joan Crawford plays her sister Blanche, trapped in a wheelchair and subject to the whims of her cruel and freakish sister. This film has everything. A mansion falling down from neglect, dead rats served up for dinner, sibling rivalry, lunatics, and a deep, dark secret which will be revealed at the end of the film!

If you're looking for a film with zombies, voodoo, jaguar spirits and a protagonist who is tortured and buried alive look no further than Wes Craven's brilliant The Serpent and the Rainbow. Based on a non-fiction (really, no kidding) book of the same name that explored the medicine behind the zombie legend, this terrifying film by one of the modern masters of horror has never gotten the play that it deserves. Bill Pullman plays Dennis Alan, a scientist who goes to Haiti to learn all about the biomechanics of zombification and ends up in a surreal world where dreams and waking life blur into danger. Like all of Wes Craven's better works, this film kept me from sleeping for a long time.

The Ninth Gate, starring Johnny Depp as Dean Corso, is a kind of arty satanic detective story. Corso is a rare books dealer who is hired by Boris Balkan (Frank Langella). a collector with more money than sense who is obsessed with a book called The Nine Doors to the Kingdom of Shadows, a book co-written by no less of a luminary than Lucifer himself. (I'm sure it's a complete coincidence that the book was written in 1666 and Balkan's secret password is always 666.) Corso goes chasing across Europe looking for the other two copies of the book. He's pursued by some guy in a car and the obligatory Hot Young Thing who is always there in the nick of time to save him has a special skill: she can kind of fly, at least down the stairs. Surprisingly people start to die in mysterious circumstances, Corso tries to quit, can't and then becomes intrigued as he discovers significant differences among the various copies of the book. What's really going on? Will Satan appear? How many pairs of new glasses will Johnny Depp need by the end of the film? Oh the suspense!

Have a wonderful and spooky Halloween.