As we move into the Halloween season, Outward would like to share a selection of films in the horror genre that might have slipped under your radar. Whether your taste is for psychological chills, unnerving mystery or straight-up gore fests, we might just have some new favourites for your collection…
Ravenous (dir: Antonia Bird, 1999)
A great opportunity to nod to the criminally underrated British director Antonia Bird, who sadly passed long before her time last year, with this clever, character-driven tale of 19th Century cannibalism. Set on a remote military outpost during the American Civil War, cowardly Captain John Boyd (Guy Pearce) must overcome his querulous nature and strengthen his stomach, as he encounters a horrifying discovery while on a rescue mission. Bolstered by a terrific soundtrack from Michael Nyman and Blur’s Damon Albarn, Bird derives great performances from her excellent cast (Robert Carlyle is particularly on red hot form) and she crafts a blackly humorous, unsettling and tense piece of storytelling. Bird’s triumph is in understanding the consumption of our own flesh acts as a telling metaphor for the internal struggle human beings face with their own inner demons.
The Guardpost (dir: Kong Su-Chang, 2008)
This little-discussed Korean film deserves much more attention, with the combination of an intricate plot, meaty direction and deep, dark atmosphere creating a full on horror experience. Improving on his similarly plotted R-Point, director Kong effectively delivers a terrifying ordeal as a squad of soldiers are sent to investigate a seemingly deserted military outpost, only to find a deeper horror lurking within. The inviting premise has been undercooked by many in the past but Kong succeeds by keeping the film within a human sphere and thereby exploring the group dynamic among the soldiers. Effective equally as a body horror, psychological thriller and blood and guts action picture, its attention to detail carries you through some serious twists, right up to the satisfying finale.
Soft For Digging (dir: J T Petty, 2001)
A genuine zero budget shout out in this list, The Burrowers director Petty made this unusual and abstract horror film while still a student on a reputed budget of $6,000. An old man living alone in the woods goes searching for his missing cat one day and discovers the body of a young girl. The film’s key gimmick is that there is barely any dialogue and Petty uses the absence of verbal communication effectively to create a film that is really about loneliness (the mystery is resolved but the ambiguity never entirely deserts the picture). The budget restraints are obvious but there’s an impressive imagination and skill at work behind it.
Dumplings (dir: Fruit Chan, 2004)
This tale of the human quest for immortality effectively disorients and disturbs, with a ‘yuk’ factor that never borders too much on the exploitative. Like all quality horror films, it’s a film where the imagination is running wild and the human factor drives the story. Even though you can guess what the final twist will ultimately be, Chan ensures the ride is well worth taking in the full-length version of his original Three Extremes short.
Rubber (dir: Quentin Dupieux, 2010)
This daft and admittedly inconsistent splatter flick about a homicidal car tyre is nonetheless great fun if you’re in the mood. The nods to genre classics like David Cronenberg’s Scanners are welcome and the film does often hit the mark with a pleasing sense of irony. Quentin Dupieux proves that great B-movies need intelligence in their creation to make a true impression. And the tyre itself is strangely charismatic.
Hour of the Wolf (dir: Ingmar Bergman, 1968)
The great Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman had a gift for horror that was only ever acknowledged explicitly in this chilling portrait of madness and isolation of the soul. The great Max Von Sydow commands the screen as an artist confronting his repressed desires during a holiday in the country and subsequently slips into wild abandon, largely at the expense of his pregnant wife. Bergman’s use of imagery still stuns even by modern standards and the mise-en-scene really helps the story seep under the skin.
Possession (dir: Andrzej Zulawski, 1981)
As surreal an experience in horror that you could wish for, Polish art-house director Andrzej Zulawski’s exploration of a relationship falling apart combines some of the most compelling imagery in horror cinema with a frenzied sense of tension and pace. Nicely militarising the locations and production design, there is an astute political commentary behind that of the human tragedy of a marriage disintegrating. It’s a film that is so much more than a genre piece but I’m happy for the excuse to include it.
Dust Devil (dir: Richard Stanley, 1992)
This atmospheric and abstract horror film by Hardware director Richard Stanley moves like a waking nightmare. A shape shifter preys on the lonely and vulnerable and the edge-of-the-world feel to the setting really work on the nerves and plays with your expectations. Mysticism pervades the film without it ever being too on the nose about the supernatural elements and Stanley keeps the mystery cooking nicely right up to the end.
Vampyr (dir: Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1932)
Legendary Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer brought his unique cinematic language to the horror realm with this superbly constructed flip side to the spiritual themes at work in his better known movies such as Ordet and The Passion of Joan of Ark. The black-and-white cinematography is beautifully detailed, allowing the creeping shadows to run up and down your senses and the storyline keeps everything on a knife’s edge. Despite its age, it still has a certain power to unnerve and it is a brilliantly made film by a brilliant filmmaker.
Infection (dir: Masayuki Ochiai, 2004)
A sorely overlooked addition to the golden period of Asian horror films, this focuses on a viral outbreak at a remote hospital that turns the afflicted into homicidal zombie maniacs. The plot is the very best in B-movie but, for all that, it is a mature and deeply disturbing work. The atmosphere has something of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (though Ochiai’s film ups the viscera) and is driven by our fear of our only true predator, bacteria, and even touches on evolutionary theory. The gore is well integrated into the themes and it’s hard not to duck behind the sofa during many scenes.
The Borderlands (dir: Elliot Goldner, 2013)
This low-budget, found footage, British-made tale of a Vatican crack team investigating paranormal goings-on in a remote village doesn’t promise much more than cliché but delivers the goods with aplomb. The employment of the camera is cleverly utilised to avoid the normally incredulous contrivances of the found footage sub-genre and succeeds in being unbearably tense. There’re some pleasingly subtle riffs on Hammer traditions and it’s a film that deserved a wider appraisal.
Stake Land (dir: Jim Mickle, 2010)
There’s an ugly, realist interpretation of vampire lore through Jim Mickle’s eyes and his 2010 vision does feel like a world on the edge. The well-worn post-apocalyptic plot surprisingly produces intelligent commentary on political and economic decay (in fact, you could even view the vampires as the disenfranchised and forgotten lower classes) and this adds weight to the meaty action scenes. It’s dark, grim and soaked in blood and it feels spookily close to what an abandoned society might entail.