Once again, Halloween is upon us and theaters all over Los Angeles are packed with horror films new and old. While many theaters are screening the classics such as Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and nearly the entire Universal Monsters catalogue, Press Pass LA has chosen to take a look at some of the more underrated and rarely screened horror films in the hope that other true horror fans may discover and cherish them as dearly as we do.
5. Halloween (2007)
Now before everyone goes for my throat, please hear me out. Rob Zombie’s venture into the terrifying universe so masterfully crafted by John Carpenter gave us a deeper look into the psyche of Michael Myers and attempts to provide an answer as to what drove him to commit murder. Being described by Zombie as being split into three acts, we first see Michael as a bulky, slightly overweight child often constantly ridiculed by his abusive stepfather and older sister, Judith. It’s revealed that Michael routinely lets out his built up anger by torturing and killing small animals before finally unleashing it on the people he feels deserve it.
While never specifically stated, one might assume Michael killed his stepfather and sister because he felt he would be freeing himself and his mother from a life of torment and abuse. The second act begins with Michael’s incarceration at Smith’s Grove Sanitarium where Dr. Samuel Loomis (a role made famous by Donald Pleasance and brilliantly recreated here by Malcolm McDowell) spends the next 15 years evaluating and counseling Michael. During this time, Michael begins to fashion masks for himself made of paper plates. According to him, they “hide his ugliness”, implying that Michael not only has hatred for those that mistreated him, but a hatred for himself as well. After Michael’s mother commits suicide to escape the horror of having mothered a murderer, we are taken into the third act of the film, which serves as a fairly faithful re-telling of the original Carpenter classic we all know and love.
On the whole, remakes are often regarded as unnecessary, especially when the original material is so beloved. Rob Zombie’s Halloween serves as not only a suitable re-telling, but also a compelling “prequel” of sorts, given that the original film never presents a reason or motive to Michael’s murderous deeds. Some may argue that it’s scarier without a motive, but fans of the franchise can’t deny that this film offers a compelling look into the mind of one of the most notorious figures in the slasher genre. For those interested, Rob Zombie’s Halloween plays October 30th and 31st as a double feature with its sequel, Halloween II at the New Beverly Cinema.
4. Curse of Chucky (2013)
Three years ago we were taken back into the world of the infamous doll possessed by the spirit of Charles Lee Ray a.k.a. “Chucky”. I remember several fans, myself included feeling divided about this installment after the abortion (pun intended) that was Seed of Chucky. This was the first film of the franchise to be released direct-to-video and upon my first viewing of the film I was completely baffled as to why this didn’t get a theatrical release. This film breaks away from the humor that fueled the previous two sequels and returns the franchise to its terrifying roots; not just in tone, but in story elements as well. The plot concerns that of the Pierce family, whose deceased matriarch is revealed to have had a secret history with Chucky. Despite the all the gruesome kills and brilliant chemistry between the voice talent of Brad Dourif and his real-life daughter Fiona, the film is very seldom talked about or screened. I urge any fan of Chucky or the slasher genre in general to check this one out. You won’t be disappointed.
3. My Bloody Valentine (1981)
This notorious 80s horror film was once referred to as “the most criminally underappreciated of the slasher genre” by Entertainment Weekly. Set in the small mining town of Valentine Bluffs, My Bloody Valentine tells the story of Harry Warden, a coal miner who resorted to murder and cannibalism after being trapped in the mines with some fellow workers during the annual Valentine’s Day Dance. Warden vowed to carry out further killings if the Valentine’s dance ever occurred again, but he was shortly caught and incarcerated for his crimes. Several years later, the murders all begin to happen again and it’s discovered that the asylum that supposedly held Warden no longer has record of him. As the gore intensifies and the bodies pile up, the audience is taken through a non-stop thrill ride through the coal mines of Nova Scotia, all leading up to a shocking twist ending. Quentin Tarantino once referred to My Bloody Valentine has his all-time favorite slasher film.
2. Tourist Trap (1979)
Stephen King once praised Tourist Trap, saying that the film “wields an eerie spooky power, as wax figures begin to move and come to life in a ruined, out-of-the-way tourist resort.” The film follows five friends on a road trip that is delayed when their car gets a flat tire. They find an old roadside attraction museum that houses several wax mannequins and is owned by an old man named Slausen. Slausen agrees to help the youngsters with their car, but strange phenomenons begin to occur as they wander the downtrodden tourist trap. The wax figures seem to move and speak on their own, as well as attack the stranded tourists. The film relies little on gore, but heavily on creepy aesthetic and campy humor. Fueled by tremendous practical effects by Robert A. Burns, a gorgeously chilling score by Pino Donaggio, and a devilishly hilarious performance by Chuck Connors as Slausen, Tourist Trap is a truly underrated horror masterpiece.
1. Race with the Devil (1975)
I personally consider it a tragedy that this explosive 70s thrill-ride is hardly recognized for the triumph that it is. Though a mixture of horror and action, Race with the Devil, to this day, holds the test of time. Starring Peter Fonda and Warren Oates as two motorcycle dealers, the film chronicles the two men and their wives (Loretta Swit and Lara Parker) taking a road trip to a ski resort in Aspen, Colorado. Along the way, the group witnesses a satanic cult perform a ritual human sacrifice. After alerting the local police, the group continues their journey, only to find that they are being followed and terrorized every step of the way by the devil worshipers. The film is packed with heart pounding car chases and explosions as well as a simple, yet horrifying encounter with two rattlesnakes placed in the group’s RV. The film is said to have influenced many filmmakers of today. Kevin Smith once noted that the film heavily influenced his 2011 thriller, Red State. The film is rarely screened to this day, but if one should ever appear near you, don’t hesitate to go.
Written by: Travis Hayward