Alternate title: 6 horror movies with mixed reviews that might actually be good
We all love a good hidden gem. Those movies that haven’t sold out theaters or won Oscars, films that haven’t hit the front page of Netflix, and great scares you can introduce to your friends. Every now and then it’s nice to be the one who saw the movie “before it was cool”.
I’ve compiled a list of 6 movies that I think flew under the radar. They’re weird little diamonds in the rough I found while watching Chiller TV after school (or while I was skipping school) back in the day. Strange films I’ve come across in the darkest recesses of off-brand streaming services. They all deserve a little more time in the sun, and I’m happy to be the one to bring them to the light.
And if you have seen these films, let me know one of your undiscovered favorites in the comments.
1) Death and Cremation (2010)
So many great things to be said for this creepy little movie. One of my favorites discovered via Chiller TV (rest in peace, forever in our hearts) and absolutely worth checking out if you want a story about death and, you guessed it, cremation.
Crematorium owner and operator Stan (played by the horror legend Brad Dourif – you may know him as Chucky from the Child’s Play series, Billy Bibbit from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, or Sheriff Lee Brackett in Rob Zombie’s Halloween) doesn’t care about making money or living a lavish lifestyle. All he wants to do is burn bodies in peace… and if he burns some problematic people along the way, that’s good too. Goth teen outcast Jarod (played by the incredible Jeremy Sumpter of Peter Pan and Friday Night Lights fame) seeks a part time job at Stan’s crematorium. While working together to provide a final service to the dead, they both have a hard time dealing with the pesky living.
It’s a fun watch with a good amount of violence and little gore. It was met with positive reviews upon release but never won any awards. Except my award for favorite movie to watch while skipping school.
2) We Are What We Are (2013)
This is an obscure streaming site favorite. It’s a remake of the 2010 Mexican film of the same name and certainly worth checking out if you like a slow build-up of atmospheric, small-town vibes and loads of religious trauma.
The Parkers are a reclusive religious family in what appears to be rural Appalachia. When Mrs. Parker suffers a medical emergency and dies, her daughters Rose and Iris are tasked with handling her less-than-pleasant duties in regard to their religion and the sacrifices made on behalf of their beliefs. When human remains wash up on the banks of the river, the town doctor starts to investigate – could the washed up bones belong to his long-missing daughter? And why did Mrs. Parker really die? The autopsy pointed to Parkinson’s, but now he’s not so sure. Perhaps something in the Parkers’ diet might point him to the answer…
There’s a bit of a slow build up that leads to a great twist. The ending is pretty brutal and tends to get the brunt of negative reviews; like Michael O’Sullivan at The Washington Post calling it, “predictable and gross”. But in that delightful, horror movie way. The film premiered at Sundance in 2013 and features some relatively unknown actors. Head to your local sketchy streaming site to check it out ASAP. Reminds me in many ways of Ania Ahlborn’s horror novel Brother. You can read my review of Ahlborn’s Appalachian horror here: http://www.littlebookblogofhorrors.com/2021/10/book-review-brother-by-ania-ahlborn/.
3) My Soul to Take (2010)
Another Chiller TV gem directed by none other than Wes Craven – you know, just the guy that did Nightmare on Elm Street. This film is generally considered to be Craven’s biggest failure, with no success whatsoever at the box office and poor ratings on several film rating websites. Don’t let the critics fool you, however; there is a lot to love about this strange little film. At least watch the opening sequence of Abel Plenkov – a serial killer dubbed the Riverton Ripper with multiple personalities – killing his pregnant wife and several others before eventually disappearing. Sixteen years later, the Riverton Seven (all born the night Plenkov died and alleged to have pieces of his multiple souls within them) gather for an annual “killing” of a puppet of the Riverton Ripper. Shy outcast Bug (played by Max Thieriot of Bates Motel fame) is selected to complete the “killing” but ultimately fails to destroy the puppet due to police intervention. When the Riverton Seven are killed one by one, they can’t help but blame Bug’s unsuccessful sacrifice. Is the Riverton Ripper at it again? Or is it one of the Seven, possessed by his deadly soul?
You have to admit this sounds like the coolest YA horror novel of all time. If this was made as a Netflix original series it would absolutely blow up. Why did it flop upon release? Well, it came out at the same time as the Facebook biopic The Social Network, so that might have something to do with it. Oh yeah, and it released in the dreaded 2010s 3D. Maybe people were expecting another Elm Street and not this departure lacking in killer dream sequences. Either way, it’s worth checking out for the masterful opening sequence and the turkey vulture scene. If you know, you know.
4) Last Shift (2014)
Unlike the last entry, this film has relatively good reviews across multiple platforms – it even has a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes! So, what gives? Why hasn’t anyone heard of it?
Rookie police officer Jessica Loren (played by Juliana Harkavy from The Walking Dead and Arrow) takes her first assignment; the last shift at a police station before it is permanently closed. At first, the shift is boring. After all, it’s a desolate police station, mostly empty of contents and completely devoid of other people… right? Strange noises ring through the empty halls and rooms – knocking, screaming, the occasional laughter of a young woman. Furniture appears to be moving on its own, driving Loren to points of frustrated confusion. Eventually Loren learns that a famous cult akin to the Manson Family committed a group suicide in the police station after being apprehended; a fact that was covered up by police, as it was reported the group was killed in their residence. Loren calls her superior and begs to be relieved of her post, but… well, spoilers.
This movie is just so, so good. It’s intimate, filmed on a small set with great emphasis on the sound and scares. The paranormal activity in the station is delightfully demonic and the mystery of the deceased cult unravels into a grisly and unforgettable finale. Tubi is the place to go for this one – or Amazon Prime Video if you’re feeling fancy.
5) Clown (2014)
Everyone’s terrified of clowns. I think we can thank Stephen King for that. This film, produced by a host of big names including horror giant Eli Roth, capitalizes on the horrors of, well, clowns.
Kent McCoy is a real estate agent and family man who just wants to throw a birthday party for his son. The clown he hired can’t make the party, but as luck would have it, Kent finds an old clown costume in the basement of a home he’s selling and takes it upon himself to be the birthday party clown. Note to self: don’t put on the clown costume you find in a creepy basement. McCoy soon realizes that he can’t take the costume off. Not only that, but he’s experiencing strange hungers and urges. He contacts the costume’s previous owner and discovers the skin and hair of the costume are crafted from the flesh of an ancient Icelandic clown demon that has now fused with McCoy’s physical frame. There are ways to get rid of the demon and take off the costume, but none of them are without a little bloodshed. And one of them involves a Chuck E. Cheese’s.
So this is basically a grown up version of R.L. Stine’s The Haunted Mask but with way more murder and clown demons. Eli Roth actually referred to the film as a version of The Fly, which also makes sense, but you know I can’t pass up a Goosebumps reference. It has pretty scattered reviews, with some critics citing strange pacing and boring build-up as downfalls while others praise the humorous elements befitting of a demonic, killer clown. There are some really interesting ideas here that might have been explored a bit strangely but, hey, at least they were explored. Run, don’t walk to your local sketchy streaming site and behold the killer clownery of your dreams.
6) Shelter [Alternative title: 6 Souls] (2010)
This film is the definition of underrated. It’s well-acted, short on the jump scares, and rife with suspense and true psychological torment. It was released in the UK and other countries as Shelter, later taking on the title of 6 Souls when released in the United States for a limited theatrical release in 2013. It features powerhouse performances by well-known actors like Julianne Moore (you don’t need an example because she’s been in dozens upon dozens of films, but I loved her on 30 Rock) and Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Velvet Goldmine and Vikings).
Dr. Harding (played by Moore) is a psychologist tasked with studying Adam (played by Meyer), a young man suspected to have dissociative identity disorder. Dr. Harding soon realizes Adam’s personalities are those of real people who have passed away under various circumstances – none of them good. One of these personalities leads Dr. Harding down a rabbit hole of blood sacrifices and Appalachian granny magic (what’s with me and Appalachian horror? I don’t know). Religious trauma abounds as faithless souls become simple playthings to those who can control – and consume – them.
All in all, this film is virtually overlooked and I’m not happy about it. The tale is intelligent and suspenseful and rife with the horrors of possession, Appalachian granny magic (stay tuned for this feature article, coming soon!), and unexplainable psychiatric conditions. This one is tough to find but if you can dig it up on the web somewhere, give it a chance. It’ll be worth it for Meyers’ performance alone.
There you have it, friends and foes. A handful of horror films that I think deserve some attention. It seems like most box-office horror films are remakes or continuations of beloved classics – not that I’m complaining. I loved Halloween Kills. But sometimes it’s nice to explore paths less traveled and dig up some under-appreciated gems.
Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or, not. Trick-or-treat, after all.
Movie poster art is used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense.
All other images are certified public domain.