Marty Mckee is a man of refined tastes. This can't be argued. See his list of underrated horror films below if you doubt me! Also check out his wonderful blog and entertaining Twitter feed! Thanks Marty for the list! (in no particular order)
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981)
My all-time favorite slasher! The participation of old pro director J. Lee Thompson (THE GUNS OF NAVARONE) and movie legend Glenn Ford (!) lends a certain credibility to this slick flick released by Columbia Pictures. It earned much notoriety upon its initial release because of its graphic poster, which showed a young man about to be skewered in the throat by a shish-kebab (!), and for the casting of LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE actress Melissa Sue Anderson, who strips, swears, and smokes pot amid the often bloody killings. Thompson wisely doesn't skimp on the gore (which is why we’re watching in the first place), the smooth camerawork and Canadian locations add a touch of class to the proceedings, and the orchestral score by Bo Harwood and Lance Rubin hits all the right notes. I still find it surprising that a star of Ford's stature agreed to be in this.
SH! THE OCTOPUS (1937)
This very short (53 minutes) and very confusing (almost no one turns out to be whom he or she initially claims) Warner Brothers mystery/comedy is a definite guilty pleasure and won't be admired by everyone. It features a pair of bumbling detectives; a mysterious lighthouse; a grizzled, hook-handed old salt appropriately named Captain Hook; a multitude of secret passages and trapdoors; numerous red herrings (you wouldn't believe how many strangers will drop by an abandoned lighthouse during a torrential storm); an enemy submarine; and strange octopus tentacles that emerge from hidden panels to snatch unsuspecting victims. As you can guess, a lot happens during the film's brief running time, and while most of it seems to make absolutely no sense, all will be explained in the twist (and perhaps frustrating) ending. I happen to like the film's energy, its chaotic structure, and the amusing (if old hat) performances by Hugh Herbert and Allan Jenkins as the detectives. The uncredited musical score is pretty lively, and the direction and camerawork are often striking. Coming soon as a Warner Archives DVD-R.
SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983)
The greatest final shot in the history of slasher movies. Although not overly explicit in the gore and nudity departments, this slasher with a cast of unknowns is one of the kinkiest and most disturbing of the genre and contains by far the most memorable and shocking ending. Most of the feeling of unease the film inflicts is due to its very young cast. We're used to seeing cheap horror movies where the kids curse, act like jerks, get naked and have sex, and are brutalized in a myriad of creative ways, but they're usually 18-year-olds played by 24-year-old actors. Here, the victims are 14 and they look 14. While many slasher films use sex only to tease the audience with a flash of breast to signal an impending murder, SLEEPAWAY CAMP is unusual in that sex is a motivator for everything that happens.
SATAN’S CHILDREN (1974)
This extremely cheap and obscure regional horror movie was made by a director of newscasts and other local programming at a TV station in Florida. It has some bad acting and pretty outrageous story twists, but it's always fascinating. It starts with a wimpy red-haired teen named Bobby who, sick of being mistreated by his bullying stepfather and seductive stepsister, runs away from home, only to be gang-raped by four bikers who leave him unconscious and naked near a compound for Satan worshippers. And it only gets crazier from there. Available with ASYLUM OF SATAN on a Something Weird Video/Image DVD.
This is a terrific and very atmospheric swamp-monster movie that somehow had trouble finding theatrical distribution. It’s one of the scariest films of the 1980s. Oscar-winning FX wizard Stan Winston made his directorial debut with this backwoods horror with a well-designed monster suit and a strong performance by Lance Henriksen, who plays a hillbilly in the Deep South who conjures up a mythical seven-foot monster called Pumpkinhead to wreak vengeance upon the six campers who killed his little boy.
If you’ve already seen JAWS and want to see something just like it, but with a humorous twist, seek out director Joe Dante and writer John Sayles’ cheeky Roger Corman ripoff. Many, many movies were made in the late 1970s to jump on the bandwagon featuring killer animals striking back against humans, often with an ecological theme, but PIRANHA is certainly one of the best of them. Dante and Sayles’ masterstroke was to play the story with wry humor, allowing the eccentric supporting cast to have fun spinning the usual clichés. Using subtle gags to offset the scares helps the more extreme scenes, such as a setpiece involving children at a summer camp being victimized by the razor-toothed fishies, go down more easily.
THE UNSEEN (1981)
Shot on location in and around Solvang, California, the sleazy and strange THE UNSEEN alternates between suspense and unintentional hilarity so frequently that the DVD should come with Dramamine enclosed. It’s a bold picture that takes a lot of chances—a slow buildup, little gore, a potentially silly “monster”—that mostly pay off. It’s better not to say much about the story, but the gorgeous Barbara Bach (CAVEMAN) stars with the always unsettling Sydney Lassick and former Flounder Stephen Furst. The edgy Danny Steinmann (FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V: A NEW BEGINNING) directs.
SILENT RAGE (1982)
Just call it CHUCK NORRIS MEETS FRANKENSTEIN. The chopsocky star's first foray into the science fiction/horror genre ranks among the best of his early vehicles. Director Michael Miller (JACKSON COUNTY JAIL) wastes no time tipping off his influences, beginning the film with a three-and-a-half minute tracking shot clearly based on the opening of HALLOWEEN. Norris is a small-town cop with a fat deputy (Stephen Furst again!) who fights an unstoppable zombie created by scientists Ron Silver, William Finley (PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE), and Steven Keats.
THE INCUBUS (1981)
John Cassavetes, of all people, stars as a physician/surgeon/medical examiner in a small New England town rocked by a series of brutal rapes and murders. So much semen is found inside the female victims that, at first, a gang of rapists are suspected, even though the sperm is colored red! Cassavetes soon suspects the attacker is an incubus, a demon who takes the male form to impregnate women while they sleep. Director John Hough skillfully films the attacks as graphically as he can without going too far (although some may argue that he did), and the monster suit is actually pretty good, but as is often the case, the film is scarier if we are allowed to use our imagination as to the creature's appearance.
FORBIDDEN WORLD (1982)
Made to capitalize on the success of GALAXY OF TERROR, this gore- and nudity-filled ALIEN ripoff is a blast from start to finish. Space cowboy Jesse Vint is sent to the planet Xerbia where some scientists are trying to create artificial foodstuffs. Somehow, the scientists manage to create a (literally) bloodthirsty creature consisting of both human and alien DNA, which proceeds to bump off the tiny cast one at a time, usually by eating them with its sharp teeth. The sets and special effects were obviously created on a very low budget—the hallway walls are clearly made out of Styrofoam McDonald’s containers and cardboard egg cartons—but they’re also imaginative and effectively gruesome.