By Aaron "Red" Mason, special contributor to The Video Graveyard
When you consider what makes a "good" horror movie, it usually comes down to how many times it scares you and for how long, what kind of atmosphere it produces, and if it breaks any new ground. I suppose it also depends on what you consider "good" horror, and what you're willing to sit through. In this article I'm going to look at some lesser known horror films, which may not be scary or reinvent the genre, but they're still entertaining and may just change your perception of "good" horror.
Most of these films feature something too bizarre or unnatural to be consumed by the mainstream, other's are too violent and contain too much nudity for the general public, while still others just never caught on. But if you look at these misfit movies, without comparing them to what is the norm, you may find they're actually quite good.
First we have The Return of the Living Dead, it's not exactly what you'd call scary and it's very derivative of Romero's more popular dead trilogy. What could Return possibly offer when set alongside the Dead trilogy? Well, it has punk rockers fighting zombies, a great soundtrack, Linnea Quigley's nude grave dance, and most importantly, over-the-top gruesome deaths. The zombies in Return of the Living Dead, while far less realistic than others, all have a unique look and can take it to anybody out there - including an entire force of police behind a barricade. If you're looking for the inspiration for 28 Days Later, I'd suggest looking here rather than Romero's trilogy.
The next film we'll look at is more recent, and definately artistically better than most films that've been released on this side of the world in some time. May is the story of a very strange young lady, so strange in fact that she listens to an inanimate doll for advice, and soon decides that she should literally make some real friends. Watching this movie it's no suprise that it achieved no mass success, it's somewhat confusing, overly downbeat, and filled with in-jokes that only horror fans might notice. It's definately not for everybody, but it could well be the new Suspiria.
Despite being made by horror fans for horror fans, The Dead Hate the Living is sorely neglected whenever talk of zombie films comes up, yet it contains everything a horror film needs. Genre fans have praised Fulci's The Beyond for years, yet they fail to realise that this film tells the same story, but much more clearly and with a better pace. Granted, the gore isn't quite as extreme as The Beyond, but it's still heaped on good and the zombies are much better looking. This is another film loaded with witty banter, but unlike Scream and it's clones, these guys actually look and talk like true genre fans. The Dead Hate the Living definately deserves more attention than it's given, especially by the people it's made for.
I'm hesitant in using Dagon on this list, as it's made by genre favourite Stuart Gordon and definately has it's fans within that community, but it's very rarely mentioned outside talks of Lovecraft in the cinema. That said, it is possibly the best translation of an actual Lovecraft story to film, it keeps true to the source material and has the feel of unknown evil throughout the entire film. Even for non-Lovecraft fans, Dagon offers enough of the horror staples to keep any fan watching. The gore and violence is piled on from the very beginning, the creatures are horrible, and there's definately a chill throughout the entire film. It's hard to say why Dagon didn't catch on as well as Gordon's other efforts, but watch it some rainy day - you may be suprised.
Of course, there's hundreds of films that could be mentioned in this article; from the horror comedy of Night of the Creeps and The Convent, to plain weird films like Versus and Night Breed. But that's another article all together, and I only have so much space. So the next time you're deciding between Evil Dead and Halloween, think of some of these under-appreciated films, and remember; even Night of the Living Dead was unknown once...
E-mail Aaron and let him know what you think are under-appreciated gems.