Once upon a time, it was the dark star power of marquee names like Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi that drew audiences to horror movies. Today, it’s the horror film directors that lure viewers into theaters. Yet even the greatest directors have some hidden gems lurking in their filmographies.
These underrated pictures by killer horror filmmakers deserve your attention. What’s your favorite little-known nightmare of the silver screen?
1. James Whale’s The Old Dark House (1932)
Long before the age of the horror film auteur, there was James Whale. In the midst of making a string of genre classics—between , , and —Whale also helmed a less-well-known but equally potent blend of Gothic horror and gallows humor called The Old Dark House. The film was considered lost until 1968, when B-movie director Curtis Harrington unearthed a print in the Universal vaults.
2. George Romero’s Season of the Witch (1972)
Best known as the father of modern zombie cinema, George Romero shot a host of other horror films—from the vampire/serial killer classic to , one of the greatest horror anthology films of all time. A somewhat odd entry to his eclectic filmography is Season of the Witch (also known as Hungry Wives or Jack’s Wife). By Romero’s own admission, the film is “not really” horror, but rather a plunge into the psychosexual witchcraft paranoia that was popular in the 70s. While it may seem a little dull to those looking for zombie carnage, Season of the Witch rewards anyone willing to take a detour into an outer limits of dark cinema.
3. John Carpenter’s Someone’s Watching Me! (1978)
Released the same year as his genre classic , Someone’s Watching Me! finds John Carpenter doing his very best Alfred Hitchcock imitation in a movie that flips the premise of . Besides being the first time that Carpenter worked with Adrienne Barbeau, it also marks Carpenter’s first overt (if throwaway) reference to Lovecraft. Though an early Carpenter classic, it remains sadly underseen—despite the fact that many of its themes are just as pertinent today as they were in 1978.
4. Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse (1981)
Best known as the director and co-creator of , Tobe Hooper was also the director behind a string of other genre classics, including and the original TV mini-series version of . Less remembered, however, is the movie that he made between those two screamers. Ostensibly an early slasher, The Funhouse makes great use of its grimy carnival setting and hearkens back to Texas Chain Saw‘s nihilism. It also boasts one of the best opening credit sequences in horror movie history.
5. Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)
The late, great Wes Craven, who passed away in 2015, made game-changing movies throughout his career. While he’s best remembered for and the franchise, a few of the maestro’s freaky visions remain criminally underseen. A personal favorite is his 1988 vodou zombie picture The Serpent and the Rainbow, starring Bill Pullman of fame and inspired in part by the real-life story of .
6. James Wan’s Death Sentence (2007)
When it comes to contemporary horror cinema, few names are as inextricably linked to multiplex terror than James Wan, architect of , , and . Even his haunted ventriloquist dummy flick Dead Silence has seen a recent critical reassessment. And while it may be a bit of a cheat, since it isn’t much of a horror movie, fans of Wan’s directorial technique would do well to check out his brutal 2007 crime film, Death Sentence. As an added bonus, keep an eye out for an intense turn by John Goodman, prefiguring his acclaimed role in 2016’s .
Poster for "Season of the Witch" (1972) via Latent Image / ; Still from "The Old Dark House" via Universal Pictures; Still from "Season of the Witch" via Latent Image; Still from "Someone's Watching Me!" via Warner Bros. Television; Still from "Funhouse" via Universal Pictures; Still from "The Serpent and the Rainbow" via Universal Pictures; Still from "Death Sentence" via Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation