I have written quite a few of these “amazing horror films not enough of you have seen” lists, for quite a few different sites, and every time I do, I pick a handful of different horror films. I think of myself as a horror aficionado, you see. I am pretty sure I have seen every horror film ever made. And maybe even a few that haven’t. Honestly, I have no idea what that last sentence means, but it sounds ominous and foreboding, so it felt fitting. Essentially, what happens is I watch every horror film ever put on celluloid, and I wade through all the coal, so only you people get to see the diamonds. Here are seven diamonds among massive piles of coal.
I Saw the Devil
There is something so utterly magical about Korean revenge movies. I don’t know what it is or why South Korean filmmakers have such a keen pulse on revenge, but they do. While you may think a ‘revenge’ movie is not a horror movie, I would have to argue. If something is ‘horrific’ and hard to watch, isn’t that horror? When a woman begs a man with a hammer not to kill her because she is pregnant, and he beats her face in twice as hard as a result of it, to me, that is a horror film. Maybe there is no actual undulating monster with tentacles, but trust me, there is a monster in this film. His calm disposition, in many ways, makes him far more dangerous than any monster who looks the part.
Yes, that is Choi Min-Sik from Oldboy. And yes, he is a method actor. *Shudders.
I will warn you right away, this movie is brutal and unflinching, and it shows what happens when the person chasing the monster loses site and becomes the monster themselves. I don’t want to ruin any of the amazing nuances of the story, but I will give you a quick overview.
I Saw the Devil is about a man whose wife gets brutally murdered by a serial killer (maybe the scariest character I have ever seen on film, actually) and then we follow the man’s slow descent into madness as he tries to catch the man and turn that killers life into a living version of hell. Also, this is the guy who played Storm Shadow in the terrible GI Joe movie as the main character, and the guy who played Old Boy as the bad guy. These two play so well off each other, it is scary. Literally.
I can’t quite sum up the words for what this movie will force you to endure.
From the performances to the breathtaking ending, this movie is dark and disturbing, and damn-near-perfect.
File this one ‘under horror movies that genuinely surprised me by being ten times better than they had any right being.’ Grave Encounters felt like a throwaway movie to me. And I am really glad I gave it a chance. Because honestly, everyone talked about Paranormal Activity. A film that was hugely overrated and had all its major scares ruined in the trailer. And at around the same time, this movie came out, and no one cared. Well, let me tell you: Care.
There are scenes in this movie that genuinely freaked me out, and that is rare.
The story is a simple one. The movie is all presented like an episode of a ‘ghost hunters’ type of show. There is even an intro, and we see some behind the scenes stuff. Grave Encounters is a (supposed) show that goes around to haunted places and checks stuff out, all while filming. The best part is, we see glimpses in between takes of what they really think of all this ghost stuff. And before things really go South, they think it is all a big joke. Note I said before.
Though the movie suffers from a few ‘cheap scares’, overall, it is creepy and tense throughout.
I can honestly say that some of the acting in this movie sucks, and that takes away from its effect, overall. But there are a few scenes in this movie that have always stuck with me. The fingers running through the hair is when it all starts, and it never stops from there.
I have talked about this movie before on Unreality., and I will talk about it again.
I feel like I could stand on a mountaintop and sing the praises of this movie to the whole of the internet, and none of you would still watch it. What the hell is wrong with you? I am the guy who told you about Martyrs and Inside long before anyone else did. What makes you think I would mislead you now? I can tell you, flat out, the idea behind this story WILL be the one of the next big fads in horror. Mark my words. Stories about our technology turning against and turning us crazy.
Well, this movie is not that simple of a premise, but trust me, this will be big. Look out for Stephen King’s Cell. Same kind of concept.
Funny at times, and extremely grim in others, you have no idea what is in store for you with The Signal.
The Signal is about a, well, signal, that comes through all electronic devices and makes the people who hear it or see it go crazy. Like, foaming at the mouth and stabbing you with a pitchfork crazy. And the best part? The movie is broken up into three segments, by three different directors. And each segment looks at the signal itself a little bit differently. One minute your laughing, and the next minute you are cringing, and that is the beauty of it.
It is like The Crazies mixed up with 28 Days Later, and served over a bed of WTF.
Also, I need to point out that The Signal has, what I consider to be, one of the greatest and vastly misunderstood endings in recent horror films. For the few people who understand it, it makes you look at the whole movie that came before it with different eyes.
So did you know one of George Romero’s best movies was not a zombie movie at all? It was a vampire movie. Or was it? That is the thing about Martin, you are not really sure of what kind of movie it is until the end, and even then, you are left with a real feeling of uncertainty.
Why this film has not been remade is honestly beyond me.
Martin is the story about a serial killer who thinks he is a vampire. Or, is this the story about a vampire who has to be a serial killer? That is what makes Martin such a remarkable film. You are not wholly sure which side of the coin Martin falls on. You know something is wrong with him, but what? You also quickly realize at this film is an awesome take on the vampire mythos and deserves some more recognition then it has gotten over the years.
There is something about horror made in the seventies that I find even more unsettling than modern horror.
Anytime I have decent, booze fueled discussion with other horror fans and I bring up Martin, I expect more people to say “Hell yes!” and then pick me onto their shoulders and cheer. Suffice it to say, that never happens. Which tells me more of you people need to see it so we can all get on the same page.
When did French horror become the ultimate horror?
I know you guys are wondering why this movie would be on the list over INSIDE, MARTYRS, or even HIGH TENSION the reason is simple. Anyone who knows true extreme horror has seen those movies, and this one is the lesser known. I almost went with the French horror film, Kidnapped, but the ending messed me up too much to talk about yet.
Kidnapped is a wonderfully upsetting movie I will talk about at another time.
This will be a question I will explore more deeply in a forthcoming article, but really, the French have taken over horror in the last decade. The stories they tell are original, and the way they tell them are truly unflinching. The last culture that took to horror with such aplomb was the Italian horror of the seventies that never blinked an eye, either. But the French are in a completely different league. Frontier(s), much like the brilliant ‘Inside’, is horror at its most extreme. Think Hostel. Times ten. On Acid. And you have an idea.
French horror films have taken the “manic pixie dreamgirl” archetype and turned it on its head.
Frontier(s) is about a group of thieves who hole up for a night in an inn run by sadistic, neo-Nazis. Man, I HATE when that happens.
While you wouldn’t think you wouldn’t sympathize with a bunch of thieves, that is what makes the movie work. There are many layers to it. Many layers of skin. And boy, do they get peeled.
Great, now you can add “Inns on the French countryside” to places I will never dare to stay. Gee, thanks horror.
And while there are points in this film where all it feels like “too much”, there is something that keeps you glued to your seat, curious to see just where it will go next. I will tell you, in all confidence, that you have no idea. But be warned, much like the first film on this list, this movie is unrelenting. It’s smart to pause it every twenty minutes to go pet an animal or kiss someone you love. Seriously, it gets THAT bad.
I had heard a great deal about this movie in the last year or so as a result of some genuine horror buzz. Everyone told me that is starts slow and has some pacing issues, but that it is worth it.
When I started watching it, it felt more like it was a documentary about a family coping with loss more than it felt like a horror film. And though I still would stand behind the fact that this movie is not ‘horror’ in the most exrteme sense (it is ten times milder than the other films on this list), there are some moments and reveals that are very well written, and the acting is consistent and believable.
Do you see her? In the corner? Yes, well, you won’t notice her first time you watch the movie.
Lake Mungo is about a family coping with the recent, tragic loss of their daughter, and the strange circumstances that have happened since. It is all done ‘faux documentary’ style, and it is all very convincing. It never beats you over the head with any scares. Instead, it relies on a growing sense of tension that honestly builds and builds, and goes in a few directions I did NOT see coming. That is why I loved it. It felt like the movie changed three times, and each time, it surprised me.
So is it a ghost story? A story about loss? Is something more malicious at work? I won’t ruin it for you.
When Lake Mungo ended, I can honestly say I sat there impressed at how different of a film it ended up being from what I had initially expected. It may start slow, but the road takes some genuine twists and turns you don’t see coming.
I love, love, love this movie. I now, and will always say, this is one of the greatest horror movies ever made. Angela Bettis, who plays May, is a wonder to behold in this film. A woman who cannot make connections with people, no matter how hard she tries.
Though Bettis has delivered many horror movie performances, there is little argument that, with this role, she pretty much nailed the broken, detached girl better than anyone else who has tried.
Cue every damaged girl I was attracted to in my twenties.
The thing is,. May is somewhat disturbed, yes. And May is dark, yes. But May is also stuck in a world full of people who just don’t understand her, so it is important for the viewer to know that this tale is tragic. And in an odd way, beautiful.
It really is a crime how few of you have experienced May’s story.
May is the story of a young woman who was pretty much ruined by some things that happened to her earlier in her life. And though she tries and tries, she just cannot seem to make a real and genuine connection with anyone. May figures this out before even we do, and is doing something about that. I won’t ruin what that is (non-spoiler articles rock), but you owe to yourself to see this movie.
Lucky McKee, who wrote and directed May, has directed some other truly horrific films, but I will save those for another list. Yes, Lucky McKee gets his own list.
That should tell you what kind of league he is in.