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The horror genre is vast, and it adds new titles very quickly. By the time you've watched the latest hit scary movie, half a dozen other worthy films have come and gone, leaving you flailing to catch up.
That means that, even if you spend a lot of time keeping track of the big releases, some stuff slips through the cracks, but of course the good news is that you then get to go looking for all the stuff you missed. Spend a little time on various streaming services, or hang in the right horror circles, and you'll find all sorts of hidden gems you missed out on, whether we're talking about forgotten films from horror's great directors, early efforts from the genre's current all-stars, or just very good movies that crept into the world very much under the radar. If you're looking for films that fit that description, we've got you covered. From indie mockumentaries to thrilling Netflix productions, here are 15 hidden gems worth checking out.
1. Eaten Alive (1974)
Director Tobe Hooper would arguably never top the cultural touchstone moment he reached in 1974, with the release of his indie horror classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but while his follow-up isn't nearly as well known, it's certainly worth a watch.
Made just two years after Chain Saw, Eaten Alive is another Texas horror story from Hooper that moves the action to the swamps of East Texas, where the strange owner of a backwoods hotel goes on a killing spree that also involves the friendly neighborhood alligator dwelling in the water right by the guest rooms. Shot on soundstages, Eaten Alive weaves a surrealist nightmare that stands in contrast to Chain Saw's docudrama frenzy, and presages some of what Hooper what due with Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 a few years later. Throw in Neville Brand's startling central performance as the villain, and you've got an unsettling night on the couch.
2. Thirst (1979)
Not to be confused with Park Chan-wook's excellent 2009 vampire film of the same name (which you should also check out), Thirst combines a high-concept horror narrative with elements of science fiction and vampire lore to become something that, while perhaps not as compelling as other vampire films of the 1970s, definitely fits the mold of a cult classic.
The story follows a group known as The Brotherhood, a secret society of vampires who feed on human "cattle" as a matter of both ritual and basic societal structure. They believe they've come across a descendant of the legendary "blood countess" Elizabeth Bathory. The worldbuilding alone that stems from that hook is worth the price of admission.
3. The Changeling (1980)
Sure, you've probably heard of The Changeling, the haunted house classic starring the legendary George C. Scott, but have you actually taken the time to watch it? If you've worked your way through major modern horror releases and you're looking to brush up on some of the best films in the genre, it definitely deserves a place on your list.
Changeling centers on a composer (George C. Scott) who moves into a very haunted mansion alone after the tragic deaths of his wife and daughter. Soon, he is forced to investigate the source of the things that go bump in the night. Peter Medak's film is a masterful slow-burn exercise in mounting tension and terror, and it features some of the most atmospheric haunting sequences of its era, along with a compelling emotional storyline to support a robust and inventive collection of scares.
4. Possession (1981)
Andrzej Żuławski's Possession is a film that, for many horror fans, has lived on by reputation alone for years thanks to rather scattered availability. In celebration of its 40th anniversary in 2021, though, the film finally got a beautiful 4K restoration and an exclusive streaming home over at Metrograph, where it's very much deserving of your time and attention.
The story of a distant spy (Sam Neill) who returns home to find his wife (Isabelle Adjani) asking for a divorce, Possession is a nightmarish descent into psychosexual terror, a mixture of body horror, psychological drama, and creature feature that includes several images you won't get out of your head any time soon. It's a film worthy of its reputation, and that reputation will only grow in years to come.
5. Night of the Creeps (1986)
A year after co-creating the Universal Monsters homage The Monster Squad, writer/director Fred Dekker released this intentionally goofy love letter to 1950s sci-fi B movies. While Night of the Creeps hasn't yet built a cult following on the same level as Monster Squad's, it definitely deserves a lot of love. Creeps follows a group of university students and a detective haunted by his past (Tom Atkins, in top form) as they battle an invasion of alien slugs that turn whoever they inhabit into mindless zombies. Tom Atkins steals every scene he's in, the visual effects are pure practical '80s fun, and the climactic battle against a horde of zombie frat boys is both hilarious and oddly socially relevant.
6. Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight (1995)
The first Tales from the Crypt feature film is enjoying a re-appraisal of sorts among horror fans in recent years, and revisiting it lately, it's easy to see why.
Demon Knight combines a diverse cast with a fun, ambitious concept for a wild ride packed with creatures, gore effects, and moments of dark comedy perfect for the Tales from the Crypt aesthetic. The story of a mysterious artifact that dates all the way back to God's creation of the world (yes, really), the meat of the film involves of a group of relative strangers holed up in a former church turned rooming house, while demonic monsters outside fight to get in. From the neon-green monster blood that oozes throughout the film, to Billy Zane's fun performance as the Big Bad, there's a lot to love about this feature-length spinoff.
7. Session 9 (2001)
Shot largely in one extremely spooky location with a digital video setup and a low budget, Session 9 is one of the most unsettling horror movie experiences of the 21st century. It is a psychological exercise in suspense that gets under your skin and just festers there.
The film follows a blue-collar work crew as they fight a tight deadline to remove asbestos from an old mental hospital. Once they get inside, though, they find the most harmful thing about the asylum is evidence of a patient's care that seemingly starts to infect each of the workers' minds. Tense, atmospheric, and full of wonderful character work and a hell of a twist ending, Session 9 is a fantastic example of less-is-more horror filmmaking.
8. Lake Mungo (2008)
If there's one film on this list that I've been hammering my friends to watch more than any other, it's Lake Mungo, director Joel Anderson's mockumentary film about a grieving family who begins to suspect some aspect of the daughter they lost might still be with them. As it begins, the film plays like something you might find on a PBS station, a portrait of a shattered home that's also a deconstruction of spirit photography and false hope. Then Lake Mungo digs deeper and becomes an experience not just of loss, but of existential horror, all building to one of the most effective scares ever in a horror film.
9. The Awakening (2011)
There's a reason people keep making horror films in classic haunted house settings. If you execute it will enough, it just works, no matter how many times you feel like you may have seen this story before.
That's the case with The Awakening, a chilling, intimate 2011 film that stars Rebecca Hall as a woman who specializes in debunking supernatural hoaxes. When she's called to an all-boys boarding school to investigate reports of a haunting, though, she finds more than just a few drafty rooms and overactive imaginations. If you love Hall in The Night House, one of 2021's best horror films, you should check out this chilling film — which is a blend of The Others and The Haunting of Bly Manor.
10. Honeymoon (2014)
I love horror films that can do a lot with just on location, a couple of actors, and a heavy dose of atmospheric tension. Honeymoon, starring Game of Thrones' Rose Leslie and Penny Dreadful's Harry Treadaway, is that kind of film, and an intriguing showcase for future Fear Street trilogy helmer Leigh Janiak. Leslie and Treadaway star as a couple who head to a secluded cabin for their post-wedding vacation, only to find they might not be in the woods alone. What starts as a few strange lights in the trees soon becomes something more disturbing, as suspicions mount between the couple and it's clear that at least one of them might not be the same as they were when they arrived. It's essentially one long build-up to a single, extremely disturbing reveal. But when that reveal hits... it really hits.
11. The Invitation (2015)
The last few years have brought some well-deserved respect and attention to Karyn Kusama's horror film Jennifer's Body, and the same should also be extended toward her 2016 effort, The Invitation. The story of a dinner party that turns sinister over the course of one harrowing night, The Invitation got very solid acclaim upon its release in 2015, and remains one of that year's best films.
12. Hush (2016)
Before he became the guy who spearheads prestige horror shows for Netflix, Mike Flanagan was making feature films for the streaming giant. If you only know him from shows like The Haunting of Hill House and Midnight Mass, you're probably looking for more of his work right about now, and Hush is handily right there on the same platform, ready to plunge you into some decidedly non-supernatural terror.
The setup for Hush is very simple: A deaf novelist (Kate Siegel, who also co-wrote the script) is home alone at her house in the woods, and a masked madman (John Gallagher) decides he's going to kill her. That's it. What Siegel, Gallagher, and Flanagan do with that setup over the next 90 minutes is...well, just watch it.
13. Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)
That's right, another Mike Flanagan joint, because he's quite possibly the most gifted and prolific mainstream horror director working right now, and quite a few people still haven't worked through his back catalog. Though it's technically a prequel to 2014's Ouija, you don't need to have seen that film to enjoy this one, and that's by design. It's just the story of an earlier family — led by a mother (Elizabeth Reaser) who works as a phony medium to give closure to grieving people — who pick up a Ouija board and find it's about more than self-suggested seance games.
Beautifully shot, compellingly acted, and full of emotional details that would eventually become Flanagan hallmarks, Origin of Evil actually improves upon the film it was prequelizing.
14. The Wind (2018)
I don't know if "prairie folk horror" is an actual subgenre yet, but if it is, The Wind deserves to be its haunting calling card.
The Wind hinges on a pair of 19th century couples who move to the plains of New Mexico to start a new life, and director Emma Tammi delivers an understated, unnerving, elegant exercise in supernatural suspense. With a non-linear storytelling approach, beautiful production design, a great cast, and a story that will haunt your dreams, The Wind is a very particular kind of period horror we don't often see, and a modern folk horror essential.
15. Blood Quantum (2019)
You might think you're burned out on zombies, but that's only because you haven't seen Blood Quantum yet.
Jeff Barnaby's film about a group of people on a First Nations reserve in Canada, and their response to a zombie outbreak, certainly carries with it a few familiar tropes. But if you haven't seen this film, you've probably never seen those tropes executed in such an effective way. Incisive, clever, darkly funny, and packed with both social commentary and inventive imagery, Blood Quantum is the zombie film that will cure you of zombie fatigue.