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Overlooked Horror Movies 2000 – Present: Part 1

There were a couple of reasons I wanted to do this article.  

For one, the home video and VOD market is wide; lots of films come out and sometimes people just happen to miss them.  Another is that sometimes the genre fans just don’t show up to the theater (even though they scream and holler for new original films) and they really miss out.  But the primary reason for this list is this: It’s for the casual fan, the people that only know about the mainstream horror movies of yesterday and today.  These people always want to know about “good horror movies,” so it’s only fair that we pull up the rug that so many movies have been swept under and show them what is out there.  Who knows?  Maybe it will turn them from a casual horror fan into life-long addict like the rest of us.

Also, I’ll do my best to be “spoiler free” in my analysis, however, some of these movies have been out for many many years and it’s not my fault that you haven’t seen them. So be warned, there could be spoilers.


Teeth

Yes, the vagina movie.  If you still haven’t pieced it together, the movie is about a girl with teeth in her genitals.  I’ve come across so many people that have heard of this movie, but haven’t and WON’T watch it.  Why?!  It seems that there is an underlying fear in all men in having harm come to their unmentionables, so they skip out on watching the movie because…they’re scared.  Isn’t that the entire reason that we got into horror movies?  To be scared?  Why would you skip out on a movie because you “don’t think you can handle it,” I’ll call you out right now for not being a true fan if you don’t think you can man up and just watch a movie.

This flick works great on so many levels.  It harbors such poetic irony throughout that it’s overall just a great flick to watch.  Jess Weixler gives an almost career defining performance as the meek but secretly ferocious Dawn O’keefe (see what they did there?).  The movie, while very clearly a horror-comedy, does what a movie of that caliber should do, it’s heart attack-inducing funny, but when the shit hits the fan it’s also pretty terrifying to watch.  This movie is awesome and everyone, regardless of your adoration for your reproductive organs, should watch it.

Deadgirl

Keeping with the theme of horror movies and sex. I’m also not sure how this movie got lost. It played at tons of festivals and got a distribution deal. From what I can tell though, it never played in a theatrical run and went straight to home video. And I can’t help but think that the cover art, a pair of girl’s lips tilted sideways to resemble things we talked about above, was a little more than a turn off for some people. It also wouldn’t surprise me if places like Walmart, where the unrated direct to video horror market thrives, would see the cover and think “Oh hell no.”

I wasn’t sure what to think of this movie when I settled in to watch it the first time. But when the credits rolled I knew I had just watched what I would consider a neo-classic. The young actors in this flick are great, and especially since they’re not recognizable from other films it gives them a more real feel. I think there’s a lot to be said about the underlying tones of the movie, in particular of course regarding sexuality and teenage sexuality in particular. With great performances, production values, and one of the smartest scripts of the past ten years, this isn’t just a good horror movie, it’s a great movie.

Infection

This movie was released during the middle of the Asian horror boom, so why don’t more people talk about it?  The film deals with a infection that is spreading through an understaffed hospital and in true J-horror fashion, it gets weird.  Whenever I would ask friends to watch it, they would say, “No, hospitals freak me out, I can’t watch it.”  Again, going back to my point for Teeth, this is why we got into horror movies, to be scared.  Don’t take the high road of saying, “I can’t watch it, it will scare me.”  Just watch it.

The movie, while a slow burn, has a lot of elements within it that make so many classic and modern movies enjoyable.  It’s plot is very moralistic, the contents of the story wouldn’t have happened without the actions the characters took in order to save their own asses.  In that respect it’s very Twilight Zone-esque, but then when you watch the rest of the movie and it has the very bizarre and totally demented contents that we all know and love from Japanese movies.  This is a strong flick.  All the characters have their own voices, they all seem different, and they’re all in one of the most disgusting situations that one can think of.  If you want to be grossed out (and I’m not talking “Dead Alive grossed out” – this is a whole other level) and love a great character piece and wickedly entertaining movie, this is your dream come true.

Session 9

When your widest theatrical release only hits 30 screens you know you might be in trouble, but there’s hope the home video market has a much much longer shelf life than your theater run.  Unfortunately, for this psychological horror movie it was released just a month before 9/11.  I see this movie discussed a lot online as the go-to movie for the casual fan to get when they “want to watch something scary” and agree that it’s a good film, but how did it become a film that is thrown to the casual viewer as something “for them.”  Not that I disagree with the suggestion, but there are a lot of dark DARK things happening in this movie.

Session 9 is on an entirely different stage from other horror movies of the time.  It has some of the best atmosphere that I’ve felt in a modern horror film, and it’s constructed with such detail and intricacy that the eventual payoff makes it one of the best well-rounded horror stories.  Plus, with some of the best character actors taking up the reins for the entire film you can’t help but be mesmerized by every aspect of it.  David Caruso and Peter Mullan are fantastic in this movie, and there aren’t a lot of horror movies where you can pick out individual actors as really achieving in the realm of acting but this movie is definitely one of them.

Jennifer’s Body

There were a lot of things working against this movie prior to its release.  It was Diablo Cody’s first big writing effort after Juno, so, of course, there’s only one real place to go after both winning an Oscar and the hearts and minds of teens everywhere.  It was Megan Fox’s first big acting vehicle after Transformers made her a (frat)household name.  People only assumed that Fox was, as her name implies, merely eye candy as far as films are concerned and that giving her a lead role in a small picture would be a death sentence.  Well, in terms of box office, yes it was, but as far as the quality of the film is concerned, total opposite.

Jennifer’s Body works well in a few different areas.  Its function as a supernatural horror film is great, the effects perfected the twisted faces and teeth that the Fright Night remake couldn’t get right.  It has a great fantastical set up for a movie and, from there, it develops into one of the more original stories for a horror movie concerning teenagers.  Also, its function as a teenage drama and an analysis of the relationship between Amanda Seyfried and Megan Fox’s characters is a great dissection into female friendships.  Plus, with one of the most chilling and cool endings, it’s one of those movies that paves the way for a sequel, but feels stronger because it doesn’t have one.

Grace

I can’t put a finger exactly on what happened with this film.  As far as I can tell, it only played in two theaters and made a whopping total of $8,000 theatrically.  Well, there’s always DVD, which is how I saw the movie.  Even in this format though I can’t understand why no one I’ve talked to has seen or heard of this movie.  Maybe the cover art is a turn-off, but shouldn’t we not judge a book by its cover and actually give it a chance?  (Oh what am I saying?!)  Horror fans should always be looking out for the next weird thing, it’s why we’re out on the fringes of culture.  We like the truly bizarre stuff in our genre, we should embrace it when it’s quality.

If you fit into the group that isn’t familiar with the film, it is in a lot of respects a modern take on Little Shop of Horrors.  Except, instead of a large plant that eats humans it’s about an infant, who was presumed dead in the wound is actually “alive” when she’s birthed.  Now as a huge fan of Little Shop, I love that story and I think it translated well into the frame that the filmmakers intended with this picture.

Like some of the other films on this list, Grace functions as an all around good movie in addition to being a cool horror movie. It has a lot of qualities to it that make it feel like an art-house picture. It tackles a lot of unorthodox themes for a horror movie such as feminism, midwifery, veganism.  Overall, the movie has a subject that sets it apart from other features in the field, making it probably the most unique film on this list (next to Teeth that is).

Pontypool

A recurring theme on this list is the amount of theaters a film played in.  Pontypool wins because it played in….one.  Another recurring theme is the cover art of the films here.  I think with an abstract cover, Pontypool has one that would send people away, especially since it doesn’t really communicate what the film is actually about and with as bizarre a title as Pontypool I can kind of understand why some people wouldn’t pick it up.

Pontypool is a zombie movie.  Now, if you’ve seen it calm down before you chastise me.  It’s a zombie movie as much as 28 Days Later is in that the people are infected and behave like zombies but technically are not dead.  But in terms of genre, it’s a zombie movie.  However, it displays one of the most unique and interesting ways that the infection is spread.  I won’t spoil it for you because there’s no way I can make it sound as cool and intimidating as the movie does by spelling it out for you.

The movie is aesthetically seamless, and plays perfect.  It’s shot beautifully and has a wicked smart script.  Lead Stephen McHattie takes his role and becomes it.  He owns every minute he’s on screen and makes you believe in him.  The tension builds up so well throughout the first hour that it becomes increasingly more unsettling to watch let alone imagine yourself in the situation.  It also represents a quality that separates so many classic horror movies from modern ones, patience.

Midnight Meat Train

There were a lot of things working against this movie from the start.  The main one being the title.  I can’t even remember how many times I saw the trailer for this movie, where the audience was roped in and when the title card came up they laughed and lost interest.  Do I think this movie would have benefited from a different title?  Probably not.  I like the title and think it explains the premise perfectly; it has just the right amount of camp to it that horror fans should have been drooling for it, I know I was.  Another hindrance was the distributor, Lionsgate, quite literally swept it under the rug.  Instead of getting the proper theatrical release we were expecting, it was presented directly to the secondary film market (dollar theaters).

Both of those things aside, this movie is great.  It’s an old school ’80s slasher movie and features a startling performance by Vinnie Jones (but what else would you expect from the Juggernaut?).  Since it’s based on a Clive Barker story, one can expect a certain amount of weirdness to its plot, and there’s plenty of that to be had, but it’s so intriguing of a story that you can’t imagine it playing out any other way.  This movie also possesses some of the most beautiful cinematography I’ve seen in a recent horror film.  The grimy, disgusting vibe of the city is omnipresent and the photography lovingly highlights the demented deaths that Vinnie serves up in the film.  You can’t help but love seeing Ted Raimi take a meat tenderizer the size of a brick to the back of his head!


We’ve only scratched the surface with these movies.  The rug that so many horror movies hide under is a big rug, you can expect to see part 2 of this list in the coming weeks and maybe a few spin-offs that are sub-genre or era-specific in the not-to-distant future.

You can follow Spencer on Twitter at @ScarySpencer.