20 Underrated Horror movies of 2010s: The horror genre has been marginally restricted in four walls built by exorcism & ghosts, body horror, black magic or voodoo, and psychological implications. We have been consistently fed these such sub-genres of Horror that anything beyond that really baffles us and sometimes, we discard them downright as a horror genre. But the fact is that the genre in itself consists of multitudes. Even the known fact that someday we all have to die is horrific, the thought that we never lived a worthy life is scary. So, I have compiled the list of 20 underrated horror movies that I found are relatively unknown and unconventional in its tone or approach, while a few of the films on the list are genre-redefining films.
20. Maniac [France/US 2012 | Runtime: 89 mins]
It is the characteristics of human to ‘feel’ and ’emote.’ Or else we are as lifeless as Mannequin standing in the crowd. Director Franck Khalfoun put the audience inside the head of a stalking maniac psycho killer and shows almost the entire film through his eyes while we get to vicariously see the internal functioning of his mind. The film stars our own Frodo Baggins having a mommy (reminds me of Norman Bates) issues shown in flashback scenes when he starts falling for mannequin appreciator Anna (Nora Arnezeder). Wood plays the vulnerable shy guy who is equally terrifying in the moment of his maniac attack. For some, the moral vacuum in which this plays out will prove insurmountable, and understandably so.
19. The Lure [Poland 2016| Runtime: 92 mins]
Agnieszka Smoczynska’s ‘The Lure’ is a vampire-mermaid-musical where two sister-mermaids find themselves a job to sing at a polish strip-club. One of them falls in love with the bass player of the band they had found on a day ashore. ‘The Lure’ features one of these sisters going on a vampire rampage on the human society, while the other wishes to lose her mermaid fins to turn human. The weirdness intensifies as Smoczynska’s film features a lesbian mermaid sex scene, a trippy overdose of insane-ness and mermaids turning into foam as their revenge didn’t run its course.
Check out the 10 Most Weird films of 2016
18. Los Parecidos [Mexico 2016 | Runtime: 90 mins]
There is a middle ground between Hitchcockian suspense and Rod Serling strangeness where familiar ominous sound swells in and transports us into an eerie zone of yester era. In disguise of the trashy B horror movie of the 70s, ‘The Similars’ is an earnest tribute to The Twilight Zone and one of the most original (and yet old-fashioned) horror movies of the year. The film is meticulously structured to play like a feature-length episode of The Twilight Zone episode with traditional Rod Serling style narration. There are references to famous episodes like ‘Five Characters in Search of an Exit’ and ‘Monster Are Due on Maple Street’. Ezban is one of the most talented indie filmmakers working today who can examine terror with a comical gaze.
17. In Fear [United Kingdom 2013 | Runtime: 85 mins]
In this indie-horror from England, the narrow country road is covered with the blanket of darkness and silence. The silence is punctuated by insects stridulation & birds chirping. Altered signpost misdirecting to whirl in a circle, which leads panicking. The presence of unknown drags the fear out in open. As the dark thickness, so does the tension matures. Delusion takes a stronghold, trust grows thin. As horror becomes more tangible, a relationship is put to test. Director-writer Jeremy Lowering‘s ‘In Fear’ takes conventional horror elements of people lost in the woods as they dive into a known landscape without GPS and Cellular Network. However, he still manages to create a bone-chilling film that almost pushes its audience to a nervous breakdown. It’s a taut horror-thriller that keeps you on the edge. Read the review of In Fear.
16. Dabbe: Curse of the Jinn [Turkey 2014 | Runtime: 134 mins]
The Turkish horror film in the ‘Dabbe’ series is a right amalgamation of ancient Islamic cultural references, Turkish voodoo, and mysticism with the underlying theme of ‘Djinn’ that has been recently explored in ‘Under the Shadows.’ Not as substantially written and sophisticatedly shot as Under the Shadows, Dabbe delves primarily in a complex swirl of Djinn possessing a would-be bride, exorcism, and history leading to the black magic event. The screenplay is uneven, it swells abruptly in its storytelling and feels rushed in the second half while it crawls to get the basic plot moving in the first half. But if you could manage to look past the inconsistent screenplay and crude graphics, this low-budget indie horror is frantically edited, decently performed and importantly, self-aware.
15. Baskin [Turkey 2016 | Runtime: 87 mins]
Baskin is an unashamed gorror (gory + horror) film, delighting in its sadistic torture on display and its own brand of messed-up zaniness, though the film first builds up to all this through fun storytelling and effective horror tropes. Evrenol does a great job with the different aspects of the terror. The build-up to the Hellish climax firstly begins at the isolated restaurant where a squad of police officers is caffeinating themselves as they wait for duty call. Amidst some cop banter, that inevitably turns brutal, a discussion between experienced cop Seyfi (Sabahattin Yakut) and rookie cop Arda (Gorkem Kasal) reveals the two have bizarre and elliptical illusions in common, with these hallucination sequences used as segues into other parts of the story in this nonlinear and twisted narrative.
With this crazy unreliable narrator established, it seems anything horrific can happen as the film sets up its supernatural element through psychological trickery. Baskin goes through many varying tried-and-tested tropes of the horror genre and manages to string them together in this simple story that is made all the more engaging and exciting through its interestingly written characters, bold direction, and occasionally surreal visual flair. It isn’t one of the more original or subversive horror films in recent years, nor is it so much a stirring or resonating kind of horror film, getting deep into the psychology and nuances the more ambitious titles of its genre explore. The complete review of Baskin.
14. Absentia [USA 2011 | Runtime: 91 mins]
Absentia is a rare effective horror film that does manage to keep you on your toes and consternated for its entire running length. Even though the plot is not unique, the narration is told with an assured sense of confidence from the debut filmmaker, Mike Flanagan, who displays his craftsmanship with a genuine understanding of tangibly creating discomfort and anxiety for a horror genre. He even takes a risk of teasing the audience with the graphic content of mysterious other-dimensional creature that lasts not more than a few seconds in flashes in the entire film, yes you heard me. Even in the final showdown, you don’t get any visual glimpse of the mysterious creature thus leaving us to imagine the horror of its presence. Read the complete review of Absentia.
13. The Banshee Chapter [USA 2013 | Runtime: 87 mins]
Banshee Chapter quite smartly adapts faux documentary format and do not toy it around merely as a gimmick. Opts for the restrained approach in building up the story, Blair Erickson keeps his film miles away from gore-feast, which it could have fallen prey to. The film opens with the perfectly edited footage of scientists and Mr Bill Clinton apologizing for the Government experiment Project MKUltra going horribly wrong. Then the film cuts to a journalist investigating the mysterious disappearance of a friend, who she believes might have taken a drug that makes malevolent entities from another dimension to seize on the human body.
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The only hint brings Anne (Katia Winter) to form a difficult alliance with crazy Hunter S. Thompson-ish author/recluse (played by Ted Levine). The film constantly switches between ongoing investigation which builds up for the terrific third act and evil outcome of the government experiment that hints necessary clue. This is a slow burner, subtle, and diverting little mash-up of sci-fi and horror tropes, this is certainly a good atmospheric horror.
12. Toad Road [USA 2012 | Runtime: 76 mins]
Even before I jump to discuss this film, here is a little fact that put this ostensible horror film into a proper horror genre. The lead female actor of the film, Sara Anne Jones, died of an overdose on heroin well after production of Toad Road. The film shares a very similar theme that might freak you out for a moment with the thought of watching Sara in the film mysteriously getting disappeared on the road to seven gates of hell after a drug overdose. Toad Road starts with the powerful narration that is beautiful and a little strange. Sara says in voice-over, “Once a boy told me that there are seven gates that lead to hell “she romantically continues saying, “that was the most beautiful thing a guy has ever told her.” That really sets the tone of the film and you curiously invest your time to find out what’s gonna happen. We see a rudderless teenager doing random shit in the wake of their summer vacation that involved setting nether-hairs on fire, randomly playing instruments, swimming, and drugs.
One of the guys, James, is captivated by a girl (Sara) and invites her to join the party. Sara is pretty intrigued by the urban legend of having a trail in the forest that leads to gates of the seven hell. Strange things start happening when already hallucinating James and Sara finally decide to take the road. This is a pure atmospheric horror film without any meta-horror attached to it. There are intimations of the supernatural in Toad Road, but the real horror is in how it captures James’ feelings of panic, as he keeps getting dragged deeper into a life he finds unsatisfying. There is no such substantial character development in the film, and it was not required also, but still, you are interested in the characters of James and Sara. Toad Road may require a second viewing to comprehend the tiny details which you might miss.
11. Honeymoon [USA 2014 | Runtime: 88 mins]
American Horror films have rarely been subversive and cerebral. While Honeymoon doesn’t do anything groundbreaking, but it seems like a spiritual descendant of Body Snatchers where you have married couple, unaware of how strange their spouse. It acts as a metaphor for a delicate relationship; it’s a slap in the face of this generation who rushes into a relationship like it’s fast-food. Honeymoon’s first act feels cliche and probably the least interesting act of the film, but the chemistry between the couple feels genuine rather than just a bait for building something horrible that most horror films succumb to. It’s the second act where things start getting strange. There is not only psychical isolation of the couple but soon they start drifting away from each other emotionally. Bea (Rose Leslie) starts behaving ‘differently’. Something that is unsettling about her behaviour but unexplainable. The film has certain flaws, but the restrained narrative is intriguing enough to overlook those flaws. “Honeymoon” is a simple tale of ‘how well you know your partner’ that will instil the fear in your mind and heart for a long time.
10. We Are What We Are [Mexico 2010 | Runtime: 85 mins]
If you have not seen the film and if you have not seen the English remake of it and you do not know what this film is about, please, I request you, do not read anything over the internet. Go blank, like a clean slate and immerse yourself in this dysfunctional family horror drama that is plagued by a strange ritual. After the sudden demise of a patriarch in a poor Mexican family, mother and her three kids have to find a way to continue their ritual. That ritual demands a leader, who basically decides everything for the family. The crack in the family starts showing up as they are unable to decide how to go about their rituals, and whom to make a leader. The crack widens to such an extreme that the family starts crumbling apart.
9. The Tunnel [Australia 2011 | Run Time: 90 min]
The Tunnel is not only an unusual horror film but the story behind the making of the film is unique and interesting too. The Tunnel is a crowded funded project which is also known as The 135K Project ($135,00 being the estimated budget) & it was released entirely for free, via Bittorent. The Tunnel is a subtle atmospheric horror that has terrific build-up and never cheats you with what it has to offer, no cheap thrills involved. In the wake of looming drought hitting the Sydney, NSW State government is prompted to utilize the trapped water under the dilapidated tunnels that run beneath the surface of Sydney’s streets, but the project is quietly abandoned without any explanation from the NSW Government. Journalist Natasha is intrigued by such silent discloser of a project that tempts her to seek the answer for “Why?”. The film then follows a team of four, led by investigative TV journalist Natasha Warner, who mount an unofficial exploration of abandoned tunnels underneath Sydney’s St James Train Station.
The Tunnel takes its sweet time to build up, it properly fleshes out the character and slowly it sucks you inside the unknown beneath the underground network that looks like an ancient creepy maze. The narration involves perfectly intriguing potpourri of camcorder, security, interview and news footage. The amalgamation of mockumentary meets The Blair Witch Project minus the annoying dizziness. All the four characters have given unnervingly convincing performances, especially from the two lead actors giving an interview. The Tunnel is one of the rarest horror films that will scare you not because there is something inside the underground network of tunnels, but the anticipation of that something might pop up at any moment, and its vivid image of any possible shape & size will scare the shit out of anyone.
8. Demon [Poland 2016 | Runtime: 94 mins]
Dreams are strange but memories are even more potently strange. Memories of war, your first love, your deceased parents, they refuse to bury. Sometimes, atrocious memories inject so deep into the subconscious that it makes a person vulnerable to the point where his/her societal and personal life crumbles apart & collapse to the ground. They possess you like a demon clasping your soul, inflicting pain that degenerates you, bit by bit. The tinted pale image soaring high in celebration of Polish wedding, fueled with secrets buried deep down, mixed with Vodka and skull found in the backyard, weaved around Polish folklore that debunks horror of past.
It eerily squeezes time for a horrible tale to unfold in this slow-burner that invests more on its characters, distancing itself from conventional horror elements and grow inevitably by the virtue of characters reminiscing the past glory. The Polish horror drama, Demon, in quite a subtle manner, allegorically embodies on haunting memories of Holocaust ( As the father of the bride says, ‘Poland is built on corpses.’) and its implication on relationships while it primarily tells a story of a wedding gone wrong. The wedding gets equally unsettling and hilarious as the wedding episode from “Wild Tales”, just that the wedding in ‘Demon’ seems to be crafted by Roman Polanski in some remote village of a Bella Tarr film. The complete review of Demon.
7. The Color Out of Space [German 2010 | Runtime: 86 mins]
The Color out of Space (Die Farbe) is a German film adapted from a short story written by American horror author H. P. Lovecraft in March 1927, and it is the third adaptation; ‘Die, Monster, Die!’ & The Curse being other two films. Shot in sinisterly toned Black & White, unnerving eerie music and minimal dialogues, Die Farbe uses these indigenous ingredients quite effectively to make this slow burner science fiction horror film worth a watch which has a potential to attend cult status. Die Farbe has a unique style of narration that detour from three parts storytelling & frequently flips back and forth in the three-time-zone, 1930, 1945 & 1975 and ultimately ends in a bizarre manner that will leave viewers in the blustered mood for an unanswered puzzle. A man arrives in the local German town in the search of his missing father, who finds an old man named Armin Pierske, who knows about his dad. The film later follows the first-person narration as told by Armin where he explains the strange meteorite hitting the village.
The mysterious meteorite shrinks on its own and releases shimmering globule. Sooner, the land becomes inhabitable, fruits & vegetable grow disproportionately large but inedible, lands go barren, sooner a lady goes mad, oddly one of the sons of that lady goes missing, and such baffling phenomenon laced with deliberate slow-paced drama unravels in such horrific climax that it stays with you after the credit has rolled. Even the scientist is asked to study the meteorite but futile. The sets and cinematography render realism to the film. Houses, farm, and people look normal, but still, it gives a vibe of something menacing and creepy is going around, eerie music (fortunately no loud music is used) has been smartly used in the film.
6. We are the Flesh [France/Mexico 2015 | Runtime: 79 mins]
What is real, what is flesh, what is a soul? Does a soul has to die before a man is awakened from slumber with his eyes open? Do we abide in our heart or mind or we are played sentimentally by the guidelines of society? “We are the Flesh” is that raunchy & contemptuous girl who is looked down upon by society for her perverted & corrupt behaviour. But this is how the rules of socialism are defined by humans. What if these rules are abandoned? Then how we categorize what is sin and what is morally correct? “We are the flesh” is a surreal horror that defies all the grammatical rules of film-making, indulge in blunt philosophy, and play by the rule of shock therapy & voyeurism, and make the cinema so obnoxious & in the face that it will rattle the judgment and vague moral compass of a normal person.
5. Tumbbad [India 2018 | Runtime: 104 mins]
Mythology, that is neatly done, is used as an experimental platform to lay bare the extent of greed a man could go before learning that the world is too small for his greed to fulfil. The film explores Indian folklore recounting the story of the birth of Hastar, mildly put he is God of greed, and eventually how that folk instils the greed in the heart of a kid. The sharp writing of the film in the first half an hour is astounding and builds an eerie atmosphere that is seldom witnessed in Indian horror films. Using the natural lights to fill the darkness, literally and metaphorically, every frame looks as gorgeous as the cantankerous rain that floods the thirsty God. The visuals are a delight to see, even when things start to falter in the second act, the visuals, kind of, distract you enough to not notice them. You can read the complete review of the film, covered at the Venice Film Festival.
4. Under The Shadow [UK, Jordan & Qatar 2016 | Runtime: 84 mins]
Babak Anvari patiently weaves war terror between the Iran & Iraq and the folklore surrounding the ‘Djins’ in this masterfully crafted satirical horror film. The fear and anxiety in Babak Anvari’s Under The Shadow not only lurk around closed doors, broken windows, shady basements, restricted roads, terrorized neighbourhood but travel almost everywhere. The universality of the fear, both supernatural and real, is terrifying to an extent where the human mind starts questioning everything. And what makes Under The Shadow a brilliant horror film is when it proves your guesses to be wrong in every other instance. It’s a smart, skilful and eerie thriller that haunts you out of your mind. Continue reading the review of Under The Shadow.
3. Kill List [United Kingdom 2012 | Runtime: 95 mins]
Ben Wheatley’s frightening and equally fascinating psychological thriller-horror takes a bewildering noir passage that is less travelled. It starts off with a couple, Jay and his wife, squabbling about money issue as they are on verge of the financial crisis and they have invited their friends for dinner. Jay (Neil Maskell), an unemployed former soldier, is a hitman and his wife has no idea about it. He works together with his invited guest-friend Gal (Michael Smiley). Gal informs him about a new project.
Kill List swerves into vigilante territory and then delves into the realm of the bizarre rabbit hole that is unexplainable. What did just happened? Huh… Did they attach the KKK documentary reel into it? The end, which is outright baffling, would leave you with a trembling shock. Kill List has already gained a cult status among the ardent cinephiles. And if you have not seen it, then this is the right film to start watching the pending films from the list.
2. Berberian Sound Studio [United Kingdom 2012 | Runtime: 94 mins]
Cinema is usually considered as a visual medium while ignoring the other most essential element – sound designing – that renders the kinetic to visuals and restructures the entire visual landscape. Sound as a narrative and theatrical language is not often explored in unison. It is rare that a filmmaker sets his/her film in the realm of sound so indigenously that narration relies on its soundscapes than visuals. And Berberian Sound Studio does that exactly. It creates an arousing horror drama using sound as a narrative tool than merely a nourishing landscape for visuals. The narration is further pushed to such an edge of paranoia that delusions overpower conscious state and, just like characters, we are thrown into a melted realm of reality and nightmare. And perhaps, if we look closely, the film works as a satire for those film-makers and audience who do not value soundscape.
Berberian Sound Studio is a film about horror films; In a way paying homage to conventional horror films, while it is in itself a non-conventional, distinctive horror drama. The film is a meta-explosion of disturbing sound, penetrating deep into anxiety & distressful paranoia, in metaphysical form. What is strange but smart that no image from The Equestrian Vortex within the film is ever shown on screen. The parts of “The Equestrian Vortex” is played in the background. We are left in the middle of the dubbing artists lending horrific, sometimes helpless, sometimes screaming sound inside the booth that creeps up your mind, sticks its claws in anxiety and restlessness, and pull us down into the arena of terror. We are impelled to imagine the gruesome visuals of that film in the background while we are feed with sounds of it. That is a surreal horror! Read the complete review of Berberian Sound Studio.
1. Kotoko [Japan 2011 | Run Time: 91 mins]
Kotoko, directed by cult director Shinya Tsukamoto, is one of the most unnerving psychological horrors about a soul grappling with alienation and volcanic rage who descends into despair without any redemption. Kotoko unleashes its horror on a seashore. A calm frame capturing a young girl dancing freely to a creepy tune. An anticipation killing inside. And then the scene cuts to a long shot looking at the infinity of the sea while we hear a loud scream. The year is 2011 when the tsunami hit Japan in the worst possible manner. It might not be clear what purpose the scene serves but upon digging below the surface, it connects well to the preceding events.
Kotoko (played by singer-songwriter Cocco) suffers from the acute hallucination that develops an abnormal illusion of seeing doppelgangers of people around her. As the film progresses, strangely, every time, the doppelganger gets violent without any warning and attacks on Kotoko. She, in her self-defence, beats them to the pulp, but the question remains if it was real or just an illusion. Did she really beat a person or it is just an illusion or the person is merely a shadow of her troubled mind? But the pain she suffers is real. Kotoko, just like the Narrator from Fight Club, is an unreliable narrator.
Director Shinya Tsukamoto draws us cleverly inside the head of Kotoko and vicariously shows us the horror of unconstraint hallucination & paranoia. Cutting the edges of consciousness and hanging us on the hook of delusion. The film gets even more horrific when she has a kid and make him the centre of foci of her intact accumulated love. While it seems initially that Tsukamoto is just interested in showing the mental illness & terrifying hallucinations of Kotoko but the film grows layers when the relationship between the child and her grow unstable to life-threating. It does render a sympathetic alignment towards her but the moment she gets violent and nasty, we are thrown in a perturbed situation and reconsider our alignment. The Complete review can be read here