Underrated Horror Movies by Jeff Mitchell, Monte Yazzie and Ben Cahlamer

With Halloween around the corner, the Phoenix Film Festival has a scary treat!  The trailer for “Winchester: The House that Ghosts Built” arrived online this week.  Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke star in this horror film about the mysterious Winchester House residing in San Jose, Calif. 


The film arrives in theatres on February 2nd, 2018, but the trailer is here now....


Whew…one might have a difficult time sleeping in that house!  Speaking of sleeping, the Phoenix Film Festival critics pulled together their Top 5 Sleeper Horror Movies for the spooky holiday season.  If you are looking for a horror movie or two that you never heard of or are itching to see an old favorite again, here are our three lists!   Feel free to read them at your leisure…if you dare.  

Happy Early Halloween!



Monte Yazzie’s List….


With the demise of the video store and the rise of streaming services, access to mass amounts of film content is now easily and readily available at the click of a button. And with a streaming service like Shudder, which specializes in only horror genre films, the ability to find both classic and lesser known horror movies is so simple. During the Halloween season take some time to watch the classics like “Halloween”, “The Shining”, and “Psycho” but also make some room in your final days of October to watch something lesser known, understated, or underrated. Here are five films that would be great introductions to some new, lesser known horror films.


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5. The First Power


Three words. Lou. Diamond. Phillips. For some reason I remember seeing the trailer for this film on every VHS horror film I rented in the late 80’s, early 90’s. The premise is similar to a Wes Craven film called “Shocker”, which came out a year before this one. A Los Angeles detective and a female psychic team up to stop a demonic serial killer who has supernatural powers. It’s a police procedural that takes a horror turn. This may be one of those films that means more to people who strolled the video store aisles in the 90’s or who have a soft spot for “La Bamba”.



4. Sole Survivor


Before there was “Final Destination” or “It Follows” there was 1983’s “Sole Survivor”. From director Thom Eberhardt, who also helmed the equally excellent “Night of the Comet”, “Sole Survivor” is a film about a woman who survives a plane crash and is then haunted by the feeling that that she shouldn't have lived through the experience. Just as she begins to move on with her life, the dead begin to come after her everywhere she goes. The film is satisfyingly unnerving; built around a simplistic structure that is nicely composed, crafting an atmosphere that is eerie, and an ambient soundtrack that further adds mood to the surroundings. It’s a film that succeeds on numerous levels, especially in giving the viewer the chills.


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3. Blood Rage


It’s only fitting that we finish the Halloween season and start preparing for Thanksgiving with a slasher film that takes place during the November feast. “Blood Rage” is one of those lesser known 1980’s slasher films that makes an undeniable impression on the viewer, in fact its one of those films that needs to be seen to be believed. The film starts at a drive-in with a violent murder, twin brothers are at the center of the investigation, and the wrong twin gets sent to a mental institute. It’s a completely bonkers premise that makes good on the gore and has that indelible charm that defined horror actors in the 1980’s.



2. Cherry Falls


Some films you discover in the theater, some you discover on late night cable television; “Cherry Falls” is one of those films I discovered on late night cable television more than likely hosted by Ronda Shear or Joe Bob Briggs. In the vein of teenage slasher films that hoped to capitalize on the success of “Scream”, “Cherry Falls” is one of the best copycats. This film subverts the slasher rules in an ingenious way, here the masked killer targets virgins in a small town called Cherry Falls. Brittany Murphy and Michael Biehn lead a fairly recognizable cast, lending a nice balance of drama and comedy to a horror film that makes bold decisions and confident turns.


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1. The Entity


Probably the scariest film on the list this time around. “The Entity” is a film that makes the most of its “based on true events” tagline, crafting a creepy and atmospheric vibe that builds impressive tension and boasts an exceptional performance from Barbara Hershey. A young mother undergoes the terrifying experience of being sexually assaulted, a disturbing and graphic portrayal, by an unseen entity. As she looks for help from friends, who don’t believe her, and scientists, who question her mental state, things only get worse. It’s a shocking and exploitive film that may not be for every horror fan, but for those willing to make the journey, it’s one of those films that will stay with you long after the credits roll.


Jeff Mitchell’s List….


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5. “The Brood” (1979)


Director David Cronenberg made a living for years by delving into body horror, and “Scanners” (1981), “Videodrome” (1983) and “The Fly” (1986) rightfully garner plenty of press and accolades.  Don’t forget his 1979 effort about a woman named Nola (Samantha Eggar) who begins bearing children in a most bizarre and twisted way.  One scene in particular could give you nightmares for days, weeks, months…


4. “Black Christmas” (1974)


“Halloween” (1978) might be considered the first mainstream slasher film, but director Bob Clark’s picture arrived in theatres four years earlier.   A group of sorority girls hope to spend a joyous holiday over Christmas break, but an unknown maniac – with unknown motivations – attempts to murder them one by one.   Creepy and violent, it has a raw and unsettling edge.  Margot Kidder stars.


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3. “Open Water” (2004)


Scuba diving in the Caribbean sounds like a fun way to spend a holiday, but for Susan (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel (Daniel Travis), their trip turns into an unthinkable nightmare.  Their boat mistakenly leaves them, while they were swimming below the ocean’s surface and find themselves treading water with sharks nipping at their heels.  A suffocating movie that will make you hold your breath and lift up your feet from your living room floor.


2. “High Tension” (2003)


This savagely brutal French picture innocently begins with Alexia (Maiwenn Le Besco) inviting her college friend, Marie (Cecile De France), to her family’s farmhouse for rest and relaxation.  Unfortunately, this Norman Rockwell setting soon turns into a place of mayhem, when a mysterious stranger enters and splatters buckets of his victims’ blood all over the figurative artwork.  A wild twist elevates director Alexandre Aja’s already memorable picture.



1. "The Orphanage” (2007)


Laura (Belen Rueda) moves back to the closed orphanage that she lived in years ago and brings her husband and son as well.  Spooky noises and a child with a sack draped over his head appear, as this old house does not contain fun and games for Laura and her family.  Guillermo del Toro produced this emotional stunner from Spain, which is not an ordinary ghost story.






Ben Cahlamer’s List….


Only within the last year has Ben begun to submerse himself in the world of horror, so you may find his list focus on more recent titles. We imagine over the next few years his mind will be blown by what he’s been missing.  Here we go…..


5. “Green Room” (2015)


This film might not be underrated, but it certainly feels underseen. The film from Jeremy Saulnier features Anton Yelchin in one of his final performances. Patrick Stewart is in a role that we’ve seen before, but never in this setting. It’s a lot of fun.



4. “Hounds of Love” (2016)

Ben Young’s debut film is more of a thriller, but the implications of it read horror for the main character, Vicki played by Ashleigh Cummings. Emma Booth and Stephen Curry were equally as dangerous.


3. “Raw” (2016)

This French-Belgian horror film stunned audiences at Cannes in 2016 and ran the art house circuit in the US this year. While the technical side of this film is stunning, especially the makeup, effects and camera work, Garance Marillier was absolutely divine as Justine.



2. “Damien: Omen II” (1978)

In the middle of a mainstream resurgence of horror films, sits Don Taylor’s sequel to one of the more famous horror films. It is not as strong as the original, but the performance by Jonathan Scott-Taylor as young Damien still haunts me.




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1. “Alien 3” (1992)

This entry might turn some heads, but I have an affinity for David Fincher’s first big studio feature. Fraught with production issues, the film makes logical choices given the events of the two films that preceded it, even if they aren’t rational. The reason why I like this film so much is because it makes such brilliant use of dark corners. There really is no place to hide.