October 25, 2012

The Movies: 10 great horror movies you've never heard of

Our resident film geek loves to have the bejesus scared out of him. Today, he shares favorite flicks that were up to the challenge.


For some of us, Halloween is a year-round thing movie-wise. We seek out the creepiest, the goriest, the just outright wrong-est horror movies the globe has to offer. And, frankly, we look at the last-minute October horror tourists scrambling around the video store shelves for their one "scary movie" night of the year like a guy with New York license plates asking, "Hey sport -- where's a guy get one o' them lobsters around here?"

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“The Orphanage” rises to the level of greatness in the horror genre, as do "Pontypool," “The House of the Devil,” “Martin,” “Behind the Mask” and others, shown below.

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Luckily, this particular horror snob is using his powers for good (albeit in service of evil movies) this year in order to help you spice up your Halloween night. So here are my picks for 10 great overlooked horror movies:

"Pontypool" (2008): Don Imus-like shock jock Grant Mazzy (a tour de force performance from the grizzled, mesmerizing Stephen McHattie) is on the skids, his only job the wee-hours morning shift at a tiny station broadcasting out of a church basement in the titular tiny Canadian town. One morning, as a blizzard rages outside, he and his two-person production crew start to receive rumors of unusual behavior amidst the usual traffic reports and Mazzy's rambling, sardonic monologues. Reports of people speaking strangely and, well, eating people.

A bizarre, thoughtful, darkly-comic entry in the crowded zombie genre, "Pontypool" gradually and masterfully builds tension, with the three-person crew finding out snatches of the increasingly terrifying situation alongside the audience.

"The Signal" (2007): Another attempt to wring fresh fear from the zombie concept, "The Signal" skillfully builds a world where human civilization gradually, inexplicably unravels in the face of the inexplicable. In this case, it's a mysterious broadcast whose scattered sounds and images get inside the human mind, causing madness and murderous violence. As a star-crossed young couple (a very sympathetic Anessa Ramsey and Justin Welborn) fights to stay alive and find each other amidst the mounting madness, we're treated to three separate vignettes of a world gone murderously mad.

With its bloody mix of drama, gore and ghoulish dark comedy, "The Signal" will get inside your head.

"Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon" (2006): A far more clever (and scary) example of "meta-horror" than "Scream," this low-budget indie posits a world where movie-style serial killers are an accepted fact of life. A documentary film crew follows one such aspiring slasher Leslie Vernon (a slyly menacing Nathan Baesel) seeking to craft himself into the next big killer.

At first, the film's clever deconstruction of horror tropes (if you think you're a potential slasher victim, do not hang out with a virgin) and cliches are amusing. But, just as the viewer starts to get smug and comfortable, things take a darker, more unexpected turn.

With able support from industry vets Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger), Zelda Rubenstein ("Poltergeist") and, creepiest of all, character vet Scott Wilson as Vernon's semi-retired slasher mentor, "Behind the Mask" is both an insightful treat for horror fans and a gripping slasher flick in its own right.

"Martin" (1976): Between his seminal zombie classics "Night of the Living Dead" and "Dawn of the Dead," legendary director George A. Romero made this unusual, character-driven horror about a young man (John Amplas) who believes himself to be a vampire. The film plays it cagey as to whether young Martin is a bona fide bloodsucker or if he's just been driven mad by the fanatical insistence that he is from his fundamentalist (and lunatic) uncle.

Vampire or not, Martin gets up to some bloody (and very disturbing) acts and yet, in the hands of Romero's subtle direction and Amplas' troublingly sympathetic performance, the character's tragic nature makes "Martin" a haunting, upsetting horror sleeper.

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“Cube,” a 1997 release out of Canada, finds seven strangers held captive in seven identical cube-shaped rooms, some of which are diabolically booby-trapped.

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