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10 Horror Films From Off the Beaten Path

Every year around Halloween, the same television channels play the same horror movies – “Sleepaway Camp” on TBS, “Hellraiser” on AMC, etc. While one would not wish to deride the positive qualities of these films, it is difficult to deny that a good amount of equally wonderful films tend to fall by the wayside. So, without further ado, I present to you (in no particular order): 10 Horror Films From Off the Beaten Path.

10. The Other (1972) – Although probably better remembered for “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Robert Mulligan also made this largely bloodless (for the squeamish) adaptation of Thomas Tryon’s Southern Gothic tale of twins with psychic powers. Featuring incredibly gorgeous southern photography and grotesque plot twists which keep on coming, “The Other” has many good things to speak to.

9. Dust Devil (1992) – Quite possibly the most beautiful film about a serial killer ever made, Richard Stanley’s South African “Dust Devil” was practically unknown until its 2006 DVD release, when it finally began to develop a cult following. Once described as “Tarkovsky on acid,” this film features sumptuous desert photography, an electrifying score by Simon Boswell and exploding heads. How can you go wrong?

8. Kwaidan (1964) – While basically a standard on the art-house circuit, “Kwaidan” has frequently been dismissed by fans of the horror genre as being “Slow-moving and hokey.” This misguided accusation comes from the film’s hand-painted sets and immersion in the pace of Japanese folk tales (which provide the film with its stories). While some of the stories (for “Kwaidan” is an anthology film, like “Creepshow”) may be a bit uneven, the peaks the film achieves are undoubtedly highs for the genre.

7. Cemetery Man (1994) – Before Rupert Everett attended “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” he was the night watchman/zombie killer at Buffalora Cemetery in Michele Soavi’s 1994 twisted little horror-comedy, “Cemetery Man.” This is one of the few films which actually features something for everyone: the gorgeous Anna Falchi, who, while not the best actress, still has her own (ahem) assets; the existential crises faced by a zombie killer; and, finally, one of the most perplexing, beautiful and bizarre endings that any “genre” film could possibly contain. “Cemetery Man” was called “one of the best Italian films of the 1990s” by Martin Scorcese. Who are we to contradict him?

6. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) – Although most horror fans would normally be wise to shun remakes, the fact that Philip Kaufman’s rendition of this classic tale of alien doppelgangers has fallen under the radar for most is a crime. There are sequences in this film which easily surpass the original in terms of suspense. Donald Sutherland plays an effectively twitchy hero, and there are many terrifically gooey set pieces, most of which certainly couldn’t have been pulled off in the 1956 film. Be sure to keep an eye out for Leonard Nimoy.

5. Angel Heart (1987) – Mickey Rourke gives the performance of his career as an insurance gumshoe who gets in over his head in this 1987 Alan Parker noir homage with supernatural overtones. Although usually remembered for its controversial blood-stained love scene between the protagonist and Lisa Bonet, this film in fact has much more to offer than initially meets the eye. With a skin-crawlingly perfect performance from Robert De Niro as Louis Cyphre (see if you can spot the pun), an incredibly subtle and bizarre score, gorgeous extended shots of seemingly painted skies and an ending that will haunt you for days, “Angel Heart” has much to recommend it.

4. Bay of Blood (1971) – This gore-soaked Mario Bava classic of the murder-mystery genre is probably most known for its direct influence on basically every slasher film that followed it. From its inventive kills – including a woman in a wheelchair who is hung – to its baffling (in the best way possible) ending, “Bay of Blood” is sure to entertain any fan of the modern serial killer film. Keep an eye out for the spear sequence, which was copped by “Friday the 13th” shot-for-shot.

3. Madman (1982) – As a perfect follow-up to “Bay of Blood,” check out this delightfully trashy “Friday the 13th” knockoff. With little to differentiate it in terms of story from your typical camp-based slasher film, “Madman” has to get by on personality alone. And boy, does it deliver in that department. With some of the most annoyingly hilarious 2-dimentional characters seen by the genre, a theme song that will stick in your head for days and some incredibly silly set pieces (the refrigerator scene is a highlight), for that night when all you want to do is laugh uproariously at a trashy slasher film, “Madman” is the way to go.

2. The Unknown (1927) – For fans of silent film, this Tod Browning (“Freaks,” “Dracula”) chiller will be sure to please. Starring Lon Chaney as a legless knife thrower at a carnival and Joan Crawford as the woman he loves, “The Unknown” is a great chance to see these classic thespians in their prime. Of course, the film has much to offer in terms of scares, as well. Let’s just say you may not look at horses the same way, soon after watching “The Unknown.”

1. Sisters (1973) – While Brian De Palma usually receives credit for the classic horror films he made during his peak early years (“Carrie,” “Dressed to Kill”), this dark little Hitchcock homage starring Margot Kidder tends to be unjustly swept by the wayside. It truly is a shame, because there is no denying that this film is at the very least equal to his more popular classics. The tale of a beautiful woman, her murderous doppelganger and the reporter who becomes caught up in their dark secret, this suspenseful tale isn’t one to miss.

Mark Schiffer can be reached at mschiffe@student.umass.edu.

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