Every once in a while, a great horror film gets buried with time. It can be for any number of reasons—bad promotion, bad timing, changing tastes—but today, let’s give eight of those amazing yet obscure horror films their due.
Now of course, for some of you devoted horror cinephiles, these movies might already be sitting on your DVD shelf or in your streaming history. But for anyone looking for an unusual horror movie to add to their watch list, then definitely consider these eight gems that each deserve a much bigger audience.
This dark fantasy fairy tale directed by Ann Turner explores the unsettling life of the title character, a little girl living in 1950s Australia during a time of government oppression as well as oppression from within her own family. While some of the creepiest moments come from Celia’s own growing fear of a storybook monster called the Hobyah, the bulk of the terror arises from the existential horror of growing up and the way that adults too often refuse to have compassion for the children looking up to them. Building steadily to a boiling point of a climax, this beautiful and devastating film should have a much larger following than it does, so if you come across it on your streaming channels, be sure to give it a chance. If you love weird coming-of-age stories, you won’t be disappointed.
Screen legend Rock Hudson in a horror movie from the director of The Manchurian Candidate—this is truly a film I didn’t even know existed before last year. Now it’s a film I won’t ever forget. From the opening sequence featuring a desperate man dashing deliriously across Grand Central Station to the final shot that serves as a damning indictment of the so-called promises of the Eisenhower era, there isn’t a solid moment of comfort to be found in Seconds.
Instead, this unrelenting film from director John Frankenheimer proves just how terrifying the conformity of 1950s America really was. A middle-aged man who realizes his life is without purpose or meaning decides to seek out the help of a shadowy organization that offers to give him the second chance he craves. Things don’t go as expected. This is without a doubt one of the most haunting and downright distressing films I’ve ever seen, and it’s also one you should watch as soon as possible.
Stage Fright (1989)
A killer in an owl mask. I mean, that alone has to get your attention, right? Directed by Michele Soavi, a protegee of Dario Argento, Stage Fright is one of the stranger slasher films to emerge from the 1980s horror craze. A surreal foray featuring a theater troupe, an escaped mental patient, and some very bizarre interpretative dancing, there’s nothing else quite like it. While it won’t ever be joining the pantheons of Freddy and Jason and Michael, this is still a worthy entry into the horror canon, especially if you like a little dark and irreverent humor with your scares.
Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary (2003)
If you think you’ve seen every possible iteration of Bram Stoker’s classic, then think again. This atmospheric adaptation from 2002 blends elements of the silent film era with sumptuous ballet sequences, all with a devoted cast and gorgeous sets that are out-of-this-world gothic. The end result is one of the most unusual and memorable versions of Dracula ever to be filmed. And at a mere seventy-five-minute running time, you’ll surely be able to make room in your streaming schedule to fit this one in. Believe me when I say that it’s more than worth it.
Un Chien Andalou (1929)
The shot of the razorblade to the eyeball is enough to earn this French silent short film a place on the list. Released in 1929, Un Chien Andalou remains a celebrated landmark among dedicated film fans, but it doesn’t often get its due in horror circles. That’s a shame since it’s one of the weirdest films of early cinema. It also marks a unique collaboration between surrealist artist Salvador Dalí and filmmaker Luis Buñuel.
With its dream logic and frequently horrifying imagery, Un Chien Andalou is undoubtedly a film that has to be seen to be believed.
Blood & Donuts (1995)
The title alone should catch anyone’s attention. This bittersweet, low-key vampire flick from director Holly Dale seems to have flown mostly under the radar for the past quarter century. From 1995, it feels very much like a product of the independent cinema boom of that era with its cast of quirky characters populating offbeat nightscapes. But at the heart of this eccentric and affecting film is an age-old question: how should we own up to the pasts that haunt all of us? The resulting story is at times a messy and funny and even tragic exploration, but it’s ultimately a worthwhile journey. Bonus points for the David Cronenberg cameo.
Sugar Hill (1974)
For anyone who’s a fan of American International Pictures or Blaxploitation cinema, you almost certainly already know all about this fabulous 1974 zombie film directed by Paul Maslansky and starring Marki Bey. But for those horror fans who haven’t seen this one yet, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Fun, fashionable, and with some biting social commentary, Sugar Hill follows the eponymous fashion photographer as she takes on the Mafia that killed her fiancé, using voodoo to summon the dead to get her revenge. Even in the 1970s, not every great zombie movie had to be directed by George Romero—and I say that as a denizen of Pittsburgh and a huge Romero fan.
Sugar Hill proves single-handedly that there’s still so much fertile ground left to explore in the zombie subgenre, and it’s an absolute must for horror aficionados everywhere.
Daughters of Darkness (1971)
Brutal bloodletting, lavish locations, and Countess Elizabeth Bathory in glorious couture—who could ask for anything more? This gem from 1971 has experienced a bit of a renaissance over the last few years, so perhaps it’s not as obscure as it once was. That being said, plenty of horror fans still haven’t had the chance to experience Daughters of Darkness yet, and that needs to change. The lush cinematography and production design imbue this colorful and weird film with just the right amount of style and scares.
An absolutely unsung classic of vampire cinema, put this one on your watch list immediately.