Happy Halloween month, otherwise known by some people as October. Since it is the spookiest of seasons, I figured I’d put my hours upon hours of horror movie-watching to use and scour my brain for some last minute, lesser-known horror movie recommendations. There are, of course, undeniable classics like John Carpenter’s 1978 film, “Halloween,” or Wes Craven’s 1996 film, “Scream;” however, there are other films on the sidelines that deserve just as much recognition.
“The Descent (2005)”
Released in 2005, Neil Marshall’s “The Descent” is a dark, claustrophobic nightmare. The film follows a group of women on a caving expedition into the depths of the earth, where it doesn’t take too long for things to start going terribly wrong. Alone, underground and enveloped by the pitch black Earth, the group of friends are forced to use what little resources they have to overcome the challenges thrown at them as they try to make it back to the surface.
Right off the bat, the film begins to develop the relationship between its characters. It is immediately understood that these women have known each other for a long time, and as the movie progresses the viewer finds themself becoming so invested in their relationships that it almost feels like they’ve known them for years as well. The acute anxiety and numbing tension throughout the film comes not only from the situations these characters are put in while in the cave system but also from the personal conflicts that arise among each other. Every character has their own strengths and weaknesses, forming an elite, kickass subterranean unit. Subverting what is probably one of the most frustrating horror movie tropes, every character in “The Descent” is a clever, three-dimensional character that, given the situation they’re put in, makes the best decisions they can under pressure.
“The Descent” is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
“Lake Mungo (2008)”
Premiering at the Sydney Film Festival in 2008, Joel Anderson’s “Lake Mungo” is an Australian horror gem. The mockumentary-style film chronicles the lives of the Palmer family after the death of their daughter Alice (Talia Zucker). After her death and identification of her body, the family begins to experience, and even capture, paranormal activity around the house.
The mockumentary is so extremely dedicated and detail-oriented that it is almost impossible to distinguish it from reality. Unknown actors were cast to maintain this authenticity, and the script contained no written dialogue; this created an atmosphere where the actors had to improvise with only the outline of the story provided. Using news footage, home video and blurry photographs adds a creepy nostalgia to the film and only adds to its legitimacy. It is reminiscent of early YouTube search results of “ghost caught on tape” or “real ghost caught on camera.” Fun fact: I once showed this film to someone and told them it was a real documentary, which they believed — especially terrible when you consider what truly makes this movie spine-chilling. Using hidden figures in photographs and interviews, the film’s subtle form of horror preserves its realistic storytelling. With a ghastly figure potentially lurking in any shadowy corner, “Lake Mungo” creates an environment filled with tension and vulnerability, especially when the viewer realizes they missed something looking at them in the dark just five minutes prior.
“Lake Mungo” is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
“I Saw the Devil (2010)” or “악마를 보았다”
“I Saw The Devil” is a 2010 South Korean film directed by Kim Jee-woon that premiered in the U.S. at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. “I Saw the Devil” is an intensely violent film not for the faint of heart. With less focus on scaring you and more on shocking you with its grotesque sadism, this is a revenge story with the most brutal game of cat and mouse imaginable. After discovering that his wife has been ruthlessly murdered and dismembered, NIS agent Kim Soo-hyeon (Lee Byung-hun) sets out on a vigilante mission to avenge his wife by torturing the serial killer who murdered her.
There is a case to be made that this film is more of a bloodsoaked thriller than a true horror film; however, the acute focus on brutality and explicit torture tips the film into horror territory. While this film won’t keep you awake at night, its images might just be burned to the backs of your eyelids when you try to sleep. “I Saw the Devil” begs the question of true justice and leaves the viewer wondering what it feels like to get a knife through the hand. Impressive stunt work in intense action scenes leaves the viewer’s body aching afterward, and they’ll find themselves finally taking a breath after realizing how tense they were the entire time.
“I Saw the Devil” is available on VOD on Amazon Prime Video and YouTube.
“The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)”
The early 2010s were filled with forgetful and repetitive found-footage movies, but 2014’s “The Taking of Deborah Logan” stands out among them as a film worthy of remembering. Directed by Adam Robitel, the film centers around a student documentary crew making a film about Alzheimers, settling on a subject named Deborah (Jill Larson). As they document her daily life, the crew and Deborah’s daughter Sarah (Anne Ramsay) begin to experience increasingly inexplicable events.
While seeming like every other found-footage film of its time at first, it slowly becomes apparent that “The Taking of Deborah Logan” puts in a lot more care and precision into its scares than most. It keeps a steady pace, never taking too long before its next jump. However, the horror never becomes stale or cheap. It is a simple possession film that isn’t super complex or overwhelming, and is truly just a good and scary time. “The Taking of Deborah Logan” doesn’t revolutionize the genre, instead opting to follow and perfect its own sub-genre conventions and create a rewatchable and highly enjoyable found-footage film.
“The Taking of Deborah Logan” is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
“Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (2018)”
“Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum” is a 2018 South Korean horror film that became the second-highest grossing South Korean horror film behind only 2003’s “A Tale of Two Sisters,” after just three weeks. The film’s commercial success makes it surprising that this film isn’t featured in more horror movie must-watch lists. Directed by Jung Bum-shik, the found-footage film trails a group of horror streamers as they livestream an episode for their web series “Horror Times.” The episode has the crew sneak into the abandoned Gonjiam psychiatric hospital, where they split off into pairs and try to capture paranormal activity.
The hospital they go into is a real hospital, featured on CNN’s “10 of the freakiest places around the world,”’ as referenced in the film itself. Although not filmed on location and instead filmed in a highschool, the film most definitely captures the essence of a decaying and cursed building isolated from the rest of the world. In order to create that atmosphere, it does take a bit of time setting the tone and building to its scares. There is no doubt that that time is necessary and completely worth it, since the film delivers scares that would haunt even the most seasoned horror enthusiasts. Every horror fan is apprehensive when hearing hype about a movie’s scare factor; however, this film does not disappoint in that area. Filled with absolutely haunting imagery that will no doubt become iconic in years to come, this film is most definitely one to watch as late in the night as possible.
“Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum” is streaming on Shudder.
“The Empty Man (2020)”
“The Empty Man:” a terrible name for an amazing, under-the-radar movie. With a title that evokes films like 2017’s “The Bye Bye Man” or 2018’s “Slender Man” — both critical and financial failures — it sets itself up to sound silly and be easily written off as just another bad, supernatural flop. But unlike the two aforementioned films, David Prior’s “The Empty Man” uses its two hour runtime to construct a truly eerie ambience and shroud of mystique that keeps the viewer hooked for the entire run. The narrative follows a retired cop as he attempts to unravel the mysteries behind the disappearance of a group of teenagers in his small town.
Originally filmed in 2017, the film received poor ratings and was shelved until its quiet theatrical release in October 2020. Since then, the movie has gained a sort of cult following for being an obscure hidden gem, and for good reason. This is definitely a slow-burning film; however, the secrecy pulls the viewer in, keeping them invested as the story unfolds faster and faster with increasing force, like a stone rolling down a hill. This is definitely a must-watch for viewers who enjoy horror more on the thriller side. However, that is definitely not to say this film doesn’t have heavy and undeniable horror elements, most of which stemming from its imagery and reveal. It really is best to go into the film knowing as little as possible.
“The Empty Man” is streaming on HBO Max.
I narrowed this list down to six frightening features, though there are countless others that would make for a spooky movie night. Every one of these films is very different from the next, but what they all have in common is that they will stick in your mind relentlessly for a long time to come.
Hilary Gil is an Entertainment Staff Writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.