Rupert Pupkin Speaks is one of the best cinema related blogs out there and all this month it’s been dedicated to under-rated film lists from some great guest blog writers and other cinema luminaries including one from director Joe Dante!
While I am not on the level of most of the contributors, inspired by these lists, I decided to post my own 10 underrated lists here.
The thing about the term “underrated” is that it’s in the eye of the beholder, some on my list might seem obvious to the horror connoisseur, but may have never been heard of by more modest fans. They are ten effective horror films that may not be completely obscure, but also never make the horror cannon.
Son of Frankenstein (1939, Rowland V. Lee)
While not up to par or as thematically intriguing as the first two Frankenstein films directed by James Whale (and featuring Colin Clive), the third entry in the legendary Universal Horror series, and the last to feature Boris Karloff as the monster, is a worthy film. It explores issues that arise from family legacies and even self referentially addresses viewers confusing the family name for the monster’s name. Basil Rathbone is the titular character, and Bela Lugosi is great as the true villain of the piece, the scheming Ygor. (my review)
Tales from the Crypt (1972, Freddie Francis)
Anthology horror has fallen out of favor in this modern age (see Trick R Treat’s non release for evidence) which is strange with the proliferation of short form videos on YouTube. To the many of the blogger age that grew up loving the Robert Zemeckis produced HBO series or Romero’s Creepshow, I recommend you seek out the colorful palette and dark sensibility from director (and noted cinematographer) Freddie Francis. Featuring perhaps the best incarnation of the Monkey’s Paw legend.
Lisa and the Devil (1974, Mario Bava)
After premiering at the Cannes film festival, Bava’s most lyrical, surreal and visually sumptuous film was re-shot and edited by its distributors who turned it into an Exorcist cash-in named House of Exorcism. Bava’s intended vision finally saw the light of day in the 1990s and is included (with the House of Exorcism cut) on the wonderful Anchor Bay Bava DVD set.
Deathdream (aka Dead of Night) (1974, Bob Clark)
Thankfully, my beloved Black Christmas (also directed by Clark) no longer seems to qualify as underrated as it’s become a holiday DVD/Blu-Ray mainstay. Most zombie films are parables that reflect current issues; Dawn of the Dead reflects our consumerist society and 28 Days Later shows the perils of a military state. Deathdream's subtext is simple yet effective, a family receives news that their son had died in battle in Vietnam, but are visited by him the next night, only he’s not quite himself. The effects of war are nicely alluded to within the zombie genre.
Shivers aka They Came From Within (1975, David Cronenberg)
Not his first film technically, but definitely the first “David Cronenberg” film in sense of where his career would go, Shivers is crudely shot and acted at times, but is still effectively creepy as a virus spreads through a modern Montreal sky rise condominium that brings out extreme sexual peccadilloes in all of the residents. Witness an orgy featuring Grandparents! Gasp at the sight of children in S & M paraphernalia! Amaze at a singular horror visionary beginnings!
Night Train Murders (1975, Aldo Lado)
This Italian rip-off of Wes Craven’s nasty cult horror sleaze fest Last House on the Left (the film was released in America under the title The New House on the Left) is amazingly even nastier than its originator. It’s also a better film with stronger acting, better crafted technical aspects including a keen sense of color and use of darkness, and rife with an interesting class system subtext. I wouldn’t recommend this to just anybody, but if Thriller: A Cruel Story, I Spit on Your Grave and the original Last House are up your proverbial alley, then check out Lado’s film, which trumps them all!
The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976, Nicolas Gessner)
I just caught this for the first time about a month ago, but it left quite the impression. It’s more of a psychological thriller than pure horror, but hey people die, so why pick nits? Jodie Foster plays a girl who will go to any lengths to preserve her current life with her (apparently missing) father, and Martin Sheen is at his smarmiest as the pedophiliac son of Foster’s landlord. Lane is rich in snowy atmosphere (shot in Canada but supposedly set in a small New England town), a dynamic acting battle royal between Sheen and Foster (has there ever been a better child actor?) and a seething sense of tension throughout, eww… just thinking of Sheen gives me the creeps!
Road Games (1981, Richard Franklin)
Alfred Hitchcock worshipping Australian director Franklin is generally underrated, he’s crafted such quality endeavors as Patrick, Psycho II and Cloak and Dagger, all films that are still effective today, but his triumph is this thriller set in his home country which can be summarized as Rear Window in a big rig. Road Games stars Stacey Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis as Americans in the Outback, and there are two set pieces—the opening murder and a slaughterhouse set scene—that would make ol’ style loving Hitch proud.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982, Tommy Lee Wallace)
I feel the tide is turning and people recognize that this is the second best film with the word “Halloween” in the title, but for the Mike Myers worshippers out there, this is more brutal, funnier and better written or directed than any film outside of Carpenter’s original. I want to live in the parallel universe where Carpenter was able to produce one Halloween set film every October for the rest of the 1980’s. (an appreciation)
May (2003, Lucky McKee)
Angela Bettis gives a fragile yet disturbed performance that recalls Sissy Spacek’s work in Carrie in this disturbing yet funny and oddly humane debut film from writer-director Lucky McKee. Always awkward in her own skin and around others, May (Bettis) decides to create her own perfect companion, featuring her favorite body parts of people in her life!