There has perhaps never been a better time to catch up on horror than 2020. Is delving into fear a little cathartic considering the real-life horrors of today? Sure, but as it stands, many across the globe are not seeing the end of quarantine any time soon. Additionally, 2020 was shaping up to be a fantastic year for the genre. We were originally going to get new chapters to SAW, CANDYMAN, and HALLOWEEN – all before October’s end too. Pain. Now the year hasn’t necessarily been in a horror ‘drought’ per say, from big-budget hits like The Invisible Man to indie darlings like Relic, there’s been notable success. Though the deeper we get into 2020 and the more COVID-19 delays we see, the more we yearn for what could have been.
No point in kicking ourselves while we’re down though. Horror has recently been thriving with vast pockets of niche and universal interests, and it isn’t going to slow down post-quarantine. Take this break as a chance to catch up on the unsung gems of both new and old. Horror especially faces hurdles in accessibility and distribution. For every Us or Midsommar (triumphs in their own right), there are 3 times as many worthy films that never get that same spotlight. There are many reasons to blame for this, but with the ongoing rise in streaming, you could right some of these wrongs by keeping these films alive.
The DiscussingFilm staff got together to list the most slept on horror films that you can easily access today. We wanted to shine a light on outliers from the last 2 decades, for many of the creative voices behind them are already on their way to shape the future. How did we exactly define “slept on” you say? The films below are not all financial flops, or without devoted fans and critical acclaim, they just still don’t get as much love as they deserve, especially in 2020. Our list is not in any ranked order.
Where to stream: Netflix
The first of many festival hits on our list: Sweetheart is criminally slept on. Premiering at Sundance last year, J.D. Dillard’s creature feature was immediately met with praise. The best horror concepts are often weakened by complications either in plot or by those enforced by a studio. Not Sweetheart. This film is a perfect recent example of “less is more” and studio faith. Kiersey Clemons plays the seemingly lone survivor of a shipwreck stuck on a small, lonesome island in the tropics. She’s more than up to the task of survival, that is until she comes across an unfathomable beast that only feeds at night.
Blumhouse has a strong list of original pictures under their belt, and Sweetheart is close to the top. The seamless execution of a simple, yet classic, narrative matched with the prioritization of shooting on location with practical effects is just *chef’s kiss*. It feels like they just don’t make them like this anymore, backed up with the full support of a rising brand no less. Dillard pays homage to pioneering creature features such as John McTiernan’s Predator while still pathing thrills that are all his own. The monster effects in particular feel like both a throwback and modern showcase – proving that an actor in a rubber suit can evoke just as immersive scares today. Cinematographer Stefan Duscio (The Invisible Man) also frames jaw-dropping moments of horror that are as genuine as genuine gets. With Sweetheart and 2016’s innovative magic thriller Sleight to his name, it’s no surprise that Dillard sealed the deal for his own Star Wars movie. – Andrew J. Salazar
One Cut of the Dead (2017)
Where to Stream: Shudder
POM! Directed by Shinichiro Ueda, One Cut of the Dead is a fascinating meta take on a zombie flick gone wrong. An inexperienced film crew take to an abandoned Japanese WWII facility to make a Zombie film, only to get attacked by the real undead. The opening 40 minutes is presented in an impressive one-take sequence, with a charming low budget B-movie aesthetic that oozes inspiration from George Romero’s classic Zombie flicks. However, One Cut of the Dead truly kicks into gear afterwards, presenting a highly innovative concept that you absolutely must experience for yourself.
The hour and a half runtime is a breeze and the pacing, while seemingly taking its time, becomes a thrill ride that will keep your eyes glued to the screen. The cast is also quite great, with a highlight in Takayuki Hamatsu’s Director Higurashi, who plays both a sadistic director you love to hate and an underdog you will root for. Even though this is a Japanese film, the language barrier should’t stop you from experiencing a classic like One Cut of the Dead, especially when it’s far more unique and interesting than most Zombie stories on the market today. – Yousif K.
Session 9 (2001)
Where to stream: Netflix
Immortalized online by David Caruso’s hilarious “Fuck youu” delivery during the film’s climax, Session 9 is a 2001 psychological horror that went under most people’s radars. Though it’s steady cult following has noticeably bubbled into the film nerd mainstream recently. Shot on an early digital camera that gives it a glossy sheen and overexposed look, firmly placing it in the early 2000’s while also distinguishing it from any other horror film you’ve ever seen. What read as cheap in the 2001 horror scene actually serves to dial up the discomfort and disorientation as the film’s characters gradually lose grip on reality, and sink further into the abyss of their own minds. Watched casually, Session 9 could be the most boring film you’ve ever seen with little in the way of scares or action, but placed in the right setting with full-attention to the screen, we can all but guarantee you’ll have a tough time sleeping that night.
True horror is the kind that creeps up on you, a cold breath on the back of your neck on an otherwise warm day. The rising suspicion that you are in a nightmare, only for the blood to leave your face as you realize you are not. A feeling attempted in countless horror films, but never done quite as well as here. After years of watching horror, many of the scariest when I was probably too young to be watching them, I can sometimes feel desensitized to the genre and films considered to be quite scary. But upon rewatch, I can say without a doubt that Session 9 might be the scariest film I have ever seen and its final line will stay with me until the day I die. I’ll leave you to discover what that line is. – Frankie Gilmore
Last year’s Crawl is a nail-biting hybrid of two B-movie favorites – a creature feature and a natural disaster flick. Set in a dirty Florida basement in the midst of a hurricane, it’s a tale of survival and catharsis for a woman (Kaya Scodelario) and her father (Barry Pepper) as flood levels continue to rise. Oh, and a bunch of hungry alligators are also lurking around looking for some easy meals. Alexandre Aja’s (Piranha 3D, The Hills Have Eyes) latest offers plenty of morbidly delightful scenes of people getting chomped on, but audiences mostly steered away from the film when it hit theaters. Perhaps it was because they made the assumption that it was something you would find playing on the SyFy channel on a late night, albeit slightly more polished.
But Crawl has far more to offer, thanks to a surprisingly smart and even heartfelt script that’s elevated by the performances from Scodelario and Pepper. The film’s protagonist is smart and resourceful, the threat of the alligators feels real and immediate rather than silly, and it’s tight runtime – combined with the ticking clock of the rapidly flooding basement – keeps the pace quick and precise. There’s plenty of hyper-violence for those sorts of horror fans, this does come from producer Sam Raimi after all, but the family drama helps break up the gore without ever being boring. There’s a reason why Quentin Tarantino considers it one of his favorites of 2019. – Nicolás Delgadillo
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Ana Lily Amirpour’s directorial debut marks the first Iranian Vampire Western. A seemingly harmless cloaked woman stalks the streets at night, preying on unassuming men. This black and white fever dream focuses on a slew of characters, from a prostitute to a young boy, in an Iranian locale called ‘Bad City’. The central Girl expertly played by Sheila Vand is not your typical Vampire. She rides a skateboard in a black flowy chador like a bat in the night (which is f*cking boss). Vand exerts an air of mystery, leaving you wanting more. The standout moments are between the Girl and Arash (Arash Marandi), a young man à la James Dean. The moody cinematography captures nuance, especially with the use of long takes. Subtle, charming, and incredibly pulpy, this horror sits with you long after the final frame.
Similar in style to Let the Right One In, this Vampire flick puts a fresh spin on the genre. It completely subverts all expectations of what Vampire horror should be. It’s a mix of many genres all at once, with the romance of Arash and the Girl at the heart of the story. This may not be your usual go-to for the Halloween season, but it’s a worthy revisit to find incredible missed details and an equally exciting watch for new audiences to come. Sheila Vand starred in a new horror film this year as it is, and we look forward to her dominating the genre in the future. – A. Felicia Wade
Beyond The Black Rainbow (2010)
What is sure to be the most divisive entry on our list, Beyond The Black Rainbow blurs the line between fiction and our reality. Mostly taking place within the walls of a futuristic ‘spiritual’ research facility in 1983, we follow a lone woman with psychic abilities undergo the treatment of a possessive doctor. As the truth begins to bleed from the compound walls, the powered patient makes her move to escape, leading to a truly outlandish mind trip of a film. Backed up by a killer synth-heavy score and neon drenched lighting, you have all the ingredients for a film that would regularly be praised on ‘Film Twitter.’ Instead, director and writer Panos Cosmatos looks to pull the rug from under your feet – creating something that is genuinely trying to challenge your expectations from the horror/sci-fi blend.
Cosmatos’ follow up feature, Mandy, is rightfully not slept on. Those who adore the Nicolas Cage madhouse will find much of that same love in Beyond The Black Rainbow. Cosmatos’ signature style and motivations are crystal clear. Much like Mandy, the pacing takes its absolute sweet time, immersing you in an otherworldly realm while giving enough time to strap in for the most “Umm, WTF?” moments of the second half. With nods to George Lucas’ THX 1138 and the films of Stanley Kubrick, it’s no surprise that this has gathered a cult following. Like a 2-hour Daft Punk music video on the wrong batch of acid, this needs to be seen by more though. A worthy watch even if resulting in a negative opinion. In the hellish worlds of Panos Cosmatos, patience is a virtue. The man loves to craft his lore with precision and time, and if you give him that same energy in return, you’re at the very least guaranteed a visceral experience with some of the most unsettling images you’ve ever seen – Andrew J. Salazar
Evil Dead (2013)
Where to Stream: Amazon
One of my great cinematic loves is Sam Raimi’s classic, groundbreaking Evil Dead series. What is now known as a deliciously dark horror/comedy series began as anything but, with the first installment, The Evil Dead, arriving into cinemas as a gratuitously bloody and maniacal little shoestring budget horror film that pushed the boundaries of what could be done in a film. Age makes it seem a bit sillier now, but it was nasty, nasty stuff in 1981 and received the NC-17 rating to prove it. 6 years later, Evil Dead II would change the course of the series, delivering its masterpiece which was lean, mean, and goofy as all hell. This was doubled down on in Army of Darkness which is, for all intents and purposes, a straight-up comedy. In making a follow up to the classic trilogy, one might think to perhaps combine the 3 together, crafting the sort of ultimate horror/comedy and maybe even bringing back star Bruce Campbell to really supercharge the fan appeal.
Sam Raimi and newcomer Fede Álvarez had a different idea in mind. What if instead, you could make good on the original’s promise of being “THE MOST TERRIFYING FILM YOU WILL EVER EXPERIENCE” by juicing up just about everything that film did, cranking the gore up to 11 and doing it all practically. Not giving the fans what they want necessarily, but what they need. A return to the roots of Evil Dead where the only laughs come from how violent and cruel the f*cking thing can get. Álvarez is clearly a massive fan of the series and gives a faithful remake that also doubles as a stealth sequel, with his own stylish stamp marked by remarkable gore effects, killer creatures, and some of the most gorgeous cinematography the genre has ever seen. Evil Dead represents the best of not only horror remakes, but of how effective buckets of blood and freaky demons can be when handled with love, admiration, and just a bit of depravity. – Frankie Gilmore
Where to Stream: Netflix
2017 saw a huge resurgence of Stephen King adaptations that cemented the acclaimed horror writer’s place in pop culture. New film versions of It and Gerald’s Game became instant classics, a botched attempt at The Dark Tower crashed and burned, and series based off Mr. Mercedes and The Mist launched on television. But one adaptation from that eventful year seems to have skirted by almost completely unnoticed – Zak Hilditch’s take on a King novella called 1922.
The film follows a gruff farmer (Thomas Jane) who plots to murder his wife (Molly Parker) and manipulates his teenage son (Dylan Schmid) into being an accomplice. Hilditch perfectly captures the tense feeling of dread that King has become a master of, and the result is a chill-inducing slowburn that mounts consequence after consequence. It’s the closest King has ever gotten to Edgar Allen Poe, as feelings of guilt and sin manifest into terrifying supernatural happenings that torture the family without mercy. The word “underrated” gets tossed around all too frequently now, but 1922 is undoubtedly a prime example of it. The film is just sitting there in the sea of Netflix exclusives just waiting for you to press play. – Nicolás Delgadillo
Little Monsters (2019)
Ironically, both of the zombie flicks on our list are horror comedies that shamelessly delve into B-movie aesthetics. This time, we head to Australia in last year’s Little Monsters. Director and writer Abe Forsythe has built a career on vulgar and crude humor, and even though to many that might come off as an immediate red flag, the filmmaker couldn’t be more humbled in his first approach to horror. A down on his luck, poor excuse for a musician gets the hots for his nephew’s kindergarten teacher. He tries to shoot his shot by chaperoning a Zoo field trip. It just so happens that this Zoo is down the road from a U.S military base where, you guessed it, zombies soon break lose. The adults at hand must learn one of the hardest lessons in life if they are meant to all survive: control uncontrollable kids.
Lupita Nyong’o serenades kids by playing Taylor Swift on the ukulele and also mows through zombies with a shovel… in the same movie. That’s all you need to know to immediately hop on this. For this also premiering at Sundance, it’s kind of insane how Little Monsters doesn’t get brought up in conversations of Nyong’o’s ‘Scream Queen’ status like Jordan Peele’s Us does. To be fair, they are vastly different films and Nyong’o does takes a moment to finally show up in the zombie flick. But from there on, she’s a total rock star. Josh Gad also undeniably gives the most unhinged performance of his career. His take on a corrupt children’s TV personality is simply unforgettable; hearing Olaf basically say “f*ck them kids” will even have the naysayers laughing out loud. Yet, through all the guts and gore, what’s most impressive is Forsythe’s balance of unfiltered mature comedy with the pure wholesomeness of the children. Hollywood has taken a few recent shots at this (Bad Words, Good Boys), and rarely do they reach the heights of Little Monsters. – Andrew J. Salazar
Where to Stream: Netflix
Hush is a vastly underrated film, featuring an unsettling concept perfectly executed by a masterful director and wonderful cast. Kate Siegel stars as a deaf and mute woman trapped in her house by a psychotic man who is trying to break in and kill her. John Gallagher’s performance as ‘The Man’ is outstanding, and leaves you feeling utterly terrified, really engaging the audience. This is wonderfully complemented by Siegel’s protagonist whose performance as a woman unable to hear her attacker or scream for help totally sells the fear within the viewer.
The concept alone is so unique that, similar to films such as The Purge, you could be convinced to watch just based on the logline alone. Unlike some of those other similar films, however, Hush has a fantastic story to back up such a brilliant set up. Pacing is one of the most vital aspects of horror, as moments of fear are only as good as the moments that set them up, and this film is carried by a beautiful pace. Each terrifying set-piece is given time to build and while the sudden brutality may shock you, the moments of silence are where the true fear lies.
Mike Flanagan directed and wrote Hush, and is carving himself as one of the true forces within today’s horror genre. Last year’s Doctor Sleep was another vastly underrated horror film, and Netflix’s The Haunting of Bly Manor is 2020’s “finest and most perfectly splendid show.” Hush is a must-watch this Halloween season, with Flanagan crafting a magnificent plot born out of tension, fear, and a stellar cast, ultimately resulting in a terrifying piece of cinema. – Michael Slavin