We’re all used to films like Psycho, Night of the Living Dead and The Exorcist being cited as classics of the horror genre, but what about the less well known classic that deserve but unfortunately don’t receive anywhere near as much exposure?
Here are five unsung horror masterpieces, that each bought something unique to a genre that many have attempted to perfect but few have achieved.
Five Great Little Known Horror Films
Asian cinema is known for excessing in the bizarre, the obscene, and in some instances the downright ridiculous, and this 1991 martial arts prison flick from Hong Kong is an embodiment of why we love movies from the East corner of the world.
Ricky is sent to a maximum security prison for extracting revenge on the gangsters who killed his girlfriend. Ricky also happens to be superhuman to some degree, something the corrupt prison officials learn the hard way as they attempt to prevent the eventual uprising that he causes.
When it comes to the extreme, Ricky-Oh is the main course. Yes, the overweight martial artist really does try to strange Ricky with his own intestines. Yes, Ricky really does force a gas inflated freak into a meat grinder. The icing on the cake is the fact that because the film takes itself so damn seriously most of the violence ends up coming across as being downright humorous and even more bizarre than intended. Definitely a must see for both martial arts and horror enthusiasts.
2. Higanjima – Escape From Vampire Island (2010)
Not content with just one Asian film being on this list, Higanjima – Escape From Vampire Island defines the category of little known (the film doesn’t even have a damn article on Wikipedia), which is a shame really, not only because it’s fucking awesome but because its high production values seem to indicate that it would at least get more exposure than it did.
A young man and his friends travel to a strange island off the coast of Japan, not present on any map, to seek out his missing brother. Too bad for him that the island has been overrun with vampires.
Anyone pissed off at how vampires were destroyed during the Twilight craze can rest assured, the vampires here are evil, nasty and brutal, just as they should be. And as the friends are eventually forced to fight to survive, we are treated to some surprisingly Hollywood style action sequences, resulting in a showdown with a giant skeletal dragon like creature that appears for no apparent reason other than to add another layer of awesomeness to a film that is bound to become a cult classic.
3. The Ghoul (1975)
During the mid-1970s, the popularity of British horror was waning significantly, with Hammer Studios looking likely to close its doors. Though not a Hammer production, The Ghoul was released at this time, from Oscar winning cinematographer turned director and Hammer veteran Freddie Francis.
A young couple going for a drive in the country soon get stranded and seek the help of the ‘Doctor Lawrence (played by screen actor Peter Cushing, who made crew members cry by reminiscing on his deceased wife during a scene where his character does the same) and well, the nice old doctor can’t possibly be sinister in any way, can he? Like he can’t possibly be luring strangers to his house and feeding them the thing that lives in his attic…
Also starring John Hurt in an early performance, The Ghoul was a fine example of how to perfect the familiar ‘lost in the woods, character start getting killed off’ scenario that so many films seem to get wrong.
Criminally, The Ghoul has not been released on DVD, but that’s why we have Youtube, eh?
4. Vault of Horror (1973)
Also in the 1970s when British horror seemed to be dying, another film came along that reminded us that the life support should not yet be switched off. Vault of Horror, released in 1973, was an anthology about a group of strangers who become trapped in seemingly secret floor in a high rise building and decide to talk about their dreams to pass the time. Turns out that they all dream about themselves committing evil deeds. Who would have thought?
Stories include a neat freak who drives his wife insane, grave robbing, magic ropes and voodoo. 83 minutes might seem rather short, meaning that some of the stories hurdle through their paces, but the final, nasty twist tying all the stories together, and appearances from future Doctor Who Tom Baker and comedy star Terry-Thomas, make it worthwhile.
Made five years after the abolition of the Hays Code (which never affected European cinema too much anyway) Vault of Horror delights in its freedom to show just about whatever the fuck it wants. A man’s hands are both severed by a paper cutter, a tap is inserted into a man’s neck so that vampires can pour his blood into glasses, a shelf shows jars filled with a man’s severed body parts, including one called ‘odds and ends’, a hammer is embedded into a man’s head, a man is hit by a truck and, a shovel tears away at someone’s skull, acid is thrown in a man’s eyes and more. Sadly most DVD releases are censored, with some even putting a black censor box over the gore, but if you can find an uncut version then you are in for one Hell of a ride.
5. Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)
Although its title would suggest yet another generic straight to DVD horror film, Killer Klowns from Outer Space actually manages to prove its worth by being inventive, original and at times downright hilarious.
Circus shaped space ships, flesh eating popcorn and toy guns that are actually, well, real guns. Yup, we’re in crazy land alright. And although the acting is hardly spectacular and the effects even less, the film serves as a reminder that low budget horror does not always have to follow a tried and tested route but can instead be creative and unique in its own right.
This also has the distinction of possibly being the only film where the phrase “knock my block off” is given a literal meaning.