Fantastic Horror Films that Flew Under the Radar

All too often in mainstream media, the greatest horror films fall under the radar, overshadowed by their big budget, more commercial counterparts. Everything is either a sequel or a franchise reboot nowadays, and sadly, originality and thinking outside the box in the horror genre seems to get swept under the carpet. But that does not mean there are no longer any good, original horror films released, because there are. You just have to look in the right places.

The French have taken the cake when it comes to horror lately. They push boundaries and raise questions in the mind of the viewer that most horror films would not be brave or brazen enough to ask. High Tension started off the French horror resurgence, and in many ways, was a brilliant film (apart from a questionable subtext and a slightly nonsensical ending). It also helped open the door for a flood of brutal yet brilliant French horror films. High Tension seemed simple at first glance. A girl stays with a friend at their family farm and a madman shows up and attempts to systematically take them down, one by one, in increasingly brutal fashion. But the further you get in to the movie, the more it becomes apparent that all is not what it seems.

Not long after High Tension, a French film called Inside was released. Without getting too graphic or too spoiler(iffic), I’ll say that it’s bleak and brutal at times, but it also incredibly scary, tense, and even a bit…existential. This is where French horror differentiates from American. Instead of just assaulting the viewer visually, these movies ask questions that linger long after the credits roll. Inside is about a pregnant woman who has recently overcome a tragedy. On Christmas Eve she is visited by a woman in black who is claiming to have car trouble and needs to use her phone. Suffice it to say, she does not need to use the phone, but she does have an unhealthy fixation with the lead character’s unborn baby. Cue horror. While this movie is not for everyone due to the heavy nature of the subject matter ( it took me a year to sum up the courage to view it ) I was glad I did. I was left with an incredibly graphic and somewhat poignant story about loss, madness and redemption.

Onward to Funny Games. Not the American remake (both directed by Michael Haneke), but the original Austrian film, and it’s one horror movie I was absolutely floored by. It does something no other horror film did before. It takes us from being the viewer, to being an accomplice to the film’s crimes. It is a film about home invasion, and the joy two young men take in playing these cruel games with both the viewer and the family in the film. It is by no means an easy watch, and though no gore is shown in the film, it may be the one I am the most hesitant about recommending. That film has a way of filling you with a growing sense of hopelessness, and that is not a feeling a lot of viewers are comfortable toiling in. But what Haneke does so shockingly well in that film is he places you in those feelings, and then leaves you there for long, drawn out periods, sort of forcing the viewer to deal with these feelings. There’s a scene with a remote control that I will not ruin but I will say it may be the most brilliant deus ex machina ever used in modern cinema. This film is so groundbreaking; the director remade it, shot for shot, word for word, just so we Americans could experience it as well. Because you know, we hate to read.

Meanwhile, in America, it seems that if a horror film doesn’t have known actors or a big budget (unless it’s a Saw or Paranormal Activity installment) then it simply does not get studio support or release, meaning there is no press behind it. There’s no one trying to sell it to the different chains, and sadly, it falls by the wayside. It’s not that America is no longer making good horror films, it’s that they are making them for modest budgets and unfortunately, often don’t have the resources to make the movie and promote it properly. Frozen was a great film that came out in 2010 about a group of friends who go skiing and snowboarding and then get caught up in the lift after the park closes. They figure out it’s Sunday night and the place won’t be open for a week and they panic. Then a storm comes in. Then wolves start circling them below. You can tell it sort of pays homage to the “at the mercy of nature and animal” films of yore, outwardly referencing Jaws many times, but it is still a fun little romp. And while the latter half of the film was not nearly as strong as the first, it was still a fairly creepy film that no one heard about so no one saw. Same thing for another movie from 2009 called The Collector. A thief breaks into a rich family’s house to rob them, only to realize the family is being held captive by a psycho who broke in before the thief and set up a series of traps. The thief then takes it upon himself to try to free the family from the masked madman. And while the movie may be a little far-fetched and contrived at times, it is a fun, gory horror film not many have heard about,  and therefore (say it with me, people) no one saw.

In the indie horror department, you have very little to pick from. Right now, Indie is in, but mostly quirky Indie comedies are spotlighted, so finding an Indie horror film is tough. But there is one worth mentioning, a film called Baghead. There’s little that should be said about it without giving things away, because if you go at it blind like I did, you will enjoy it more. It’s Indie from head to toe, but it works. It reeks of Indie comedy, it has the sorta cute but ugly Indie leads, it has the quirky, acoustic soundtrack and it has a slow, methodical, almost plodding pace. But if you wait it out, it’s absolutely worth it. Original American Indie horror. Who would have thought it possible?

So in closing, good horror movies still exist. Good horror still gets made. It just gets made in different countries, and if it gets made here, no one promotes it so no one knows about it so no one sees it. It is a vicious cycle, and we need to end it. I’ve tried to do my part here, so go out and give one of these a rent.

Other honorable mentions worth looking into if you are a horror fan:

  • The Caller
  • The Ruins
  • Session 9
  • May
  • A Tale of Two Sisters
  • Frontier(s)
  • Stay
  • Triangle ( which has been mentioned on Unreality before )
  • Grave Encounters

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  1. Excellent! Very well written. Im always looking for a great horror movie and there never seem to be enough good ones around. Thanks for all of the suggestions. Cant wait to check them out!

  2. An interesting and great article to read. I believe I remember seeing the Collector and The Ruins about a few (or more) years back ago. Most indie films like these do need to be promoted more often! Thank you 🙂

  3. Great subject Remy. I’m always in the mood for some great horror movies. Inside is the only one that I’ve seen and I thought it was pretty good.
    I’ve seen I Saw the Devil a few weeks ago and that’s really one of the best horror films I’ve seen in years.

  4. Paranormal Activity has known actors and a big budget? Come on, man, I appreciate you throwing it up for the little guys (lots of great picks here, if a little obvious) but when you say things that are that backwards, you are likely to make people disregard anything you say. Also, The Ruins? Seriously? How about Frostbiten, Rec, Last Horror Movie, End of the Line, and Bereavement?

  5. @trashcanman

    I think you need to re-read what was written: “Meanwhile, in America, it seems that if a horror film doesn’t have known actors or a big budget (unless it’s a Saw or Paranormal Activity installment) then it simply does not get studio support or release, meaning there is no press behind it. ”

    maybe you shouldn’t jump to bashing someone because you didn’t fully read the sentence you’re bitching about?

  6. @Einzatsgruppen, THAT is the only one you think I missed? It was really hard figuring out which ones to plug, because I actually had about 30 films written down (Baby Blues, Thirst, Dead Snow, Train) Outpost was cool and original, but did not scare me. @ Drester, cut my I Saw the Devil part of this article out for size, but truly a mesmerizing and brutal revenge film with two staggering performances. @ trashcanman Good point regarding Paranormal Activity ( Mika was the worst actor ever ) but you have to admit, they marketed the sh*t out of that movie. SCARIEST MOVIE EVERYONE HAS EVER SEEN. They could have subtitled it : Doors Opening Slowly because that sums up the film. The scariest thing about Paranormal Activity is the extremely disturbing original ending, which was, of course, dumbed down for us Americans. As for your other choices, Bereavement was good, but I did not want to have to go into the whole trilogy aspect of it. And REC is my favorite horror film of all time, but it has 2 American versions and is on part 3 in Spain. That is a 5 movie series. That is hardly under the radar man, at least by my definition. To everyone else, thank you for the kind words.

  7. Thanks! I definitely agree with the movies on this list (the ones I’ve seen). I found myself getting bored with Inside after a few minutes but will definitely give it another shot because of this article.

    Also, can’t wait to check out Baghead.

    Very curious. have you seen Martyrs? Not sure if that is very under the radar, however it is quite truthfully the scariest movie I’ve ever seen.

  8. @ chelsea
    You were getting bored with Inside and Martyrs is the scariest movie you’ve seen? Personalty, I really liked the first hour of Martyrs but after that it was unbelievably boring. If that’s your scariest movie I presume you haven’t seen [REC] yet.

  9. I LOVE the movie Martyrs, but did not mention it because most people don’t actually make it to the pay off of that film ( an ending I find absolutely brilliant ) and for people who do not make it to the pay off, you literally watch a beautiful French girl get punched in the face for 8 minutes straight at one point. Her torture in that film is VERY hard to swallow at points, but worth it for the ending. I found it hard for me to recommend a movie that I know most people wont finish, only because I didn’t want to be labeled as the guy who enjoys watching woman get tortured, because honestly, that is SO not my thing. That movie is actually what inspired me to mention existentialism in this article. Is Martyrdom an attainable state through extreme torture and does Heaven exist? That is an INCREDIBLY brave set of questions to pose in a Horror film. Leave it to the French to be brave enough to pose them.

  10. @ Remy

    You have to explain to me why you liked the ending. I’m interested in what you think happened in the ending and why she did it. Probably needs some spoiler signs.

  11. Good list, some inspired picks. I’d like to add Murder Party (even though it’s straight up horror-comedy) and Pop Skull which is awesome.

    Also, if you take my rec and Netflix Pop Skull be advised that if you’re prone to seizures, you will stroke the f*ck out. It’s got a ton of flashing lights and pulsating/flashing cuts.

  12. @ Andrew, Good call on Murder Party. That movie was a ton of fun. I almost preferred that to Baghead, which I listed and is ever so slightly similar, but I felt Baghead would sell the indie scene angle just a little better. Maybe Paul will be kind enough to let me do a follow up piece to this one day, because a lot of you cats had GREAT suggestions. In hindsight, I really regret not plugging the movie OTIS, but perhaps I will get my chance down the road. This next comment is aimed at Drester but contains MAJOR SPOILERS for the movie Martyrs so read forth at your own risk. There are multiple reasons I liked the ending of Martyrs, but the most prevalent for me is the fact that every soul I talk to walked away with something different taken from that ending. How many films can achieve a closed yet open ending? Very few that I have seen. If you are asking me why I think the matriarch offed herself, I dance with that question a lot. Did she kill herself because she knew there was NO God, or did she kill herself because she knew there was a Heaven and she could not wait to get there. I tend to lean toward the theory that the girl did indeed communicate with God in her broken state, and God stated a truth to her. Whatever that truth was, when she told the matriarch, it literally destroyed her. Took all her hope, so perhaps validating the existence of Hell, but if that is the case, why would she take her life to rush there? See, that is the thing, you try to answer a question about Martyrs and it only causes more questions. THAT is exactly why I love Martyrs, and French horror in general.

  13. Thank you for saving me from whatever God awful, mainstream, over sequel-ed, monstrosity that is soon to be released in theaters. This list should hold me over for some time. Keep them coming. Excellent read.

  14. @Drester – i’ve seen [REC] and thought it was pretty decent, but Martyrs was just terrifying to me for some reason. the first hour was definitely more intense than the last, however it just really struck me for some reason. i’m definitely going to give Inside another shot.

    i agree with Remy about the ending of Martyrs. although it lost a lot of the earlier shock and awe and all-around horror, it left you with more to think about and was more than just the Americanized torture/revenge/whatever film.

  15. @Remy

    MAJOR SPOILERS for the movie Martyrs

    I`ve seen Martyrs three times now and recommended it to a bunch of people. When they ask me what I think happened I answer exactly the same as you did. The most probable option to me is that the girl told her that she was going to hell for what she did and wanted to keep the hope alive and herself couldn’t live with what she knew. But that would mean that she would rather go to hell than repent. An other option I like to say to rattle the cages is that in fact there is no Christian god but a Muslim god. And how does she know that the girl is saying the truth. Questions, questions, questions.

  16. @ Drester, Great points. It’s funny, if they Americanized that movie they would force feed us some idealistic, open ending so they could make a franchise, therefore killing the whole point of the film and what made it good. Let’s hope us Yanks keep our hands off that gem.

  17. Remy,

    Great article, and I’ve never heard of Baghead, so you’ve done me a huge favor. The bad news is that an American remake of Martyrs is in the planning stages. Daniel Stamm (The Last Exorcism) is currently attached as director, and has publicly stated that he’s going to change the ending to make it more hopeful.

    I’m not against remakes in general, but Martyrs goes way beyond horror into art territory. Why purposely dilute the raw power of a true work of art. Oh yeah, money!

  18. Thanks for the kind words Marvin. Actually, and I had no idea about the Martyrs remake. As a result of that news, I feel an awful lot how I imagine the matriarch must have felt at the end of that film. Now if you’ll excuse me…..*random gunshot

  19. I have seen the collector and its sequel the collection(which i think might be a little better than the first move). Its a must see for horror fans. Its a great movie. It thinks outside the box its got the brutality of saw and it still has enough compelling story and characters in it to keep your attention (ok and Madilne Zima toppless didn’t hurt at all.) but the best part of it was that the Title villain the Collector did not say a damn word the entire movie and still scared me witless.

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