Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Underrated Horror - Adam Jahnke ""

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Favorite Underrated Horror - Adam Jahnke

Adam Jahnke is a Senior Editor and columnist for The Digital Bits, one of the leading DVD/Blu-ray websites on the net. Among other things, he's responsible for the annual Hell Plaza Oktoberfest horror-thon and, most recently, Burnt Offerings, a weekly column devoted to Manufactured On Demand DVDs from Warner Archive and other studios. 
Also, check out the Underrated Comedies list he did for me a while back:
And his Underrated Dramas too!
Depending on who’re you’re talking to, recommending underrated horror movies is either the easiest thing in the world or the hardest. There are plenty of people who just plain don’t like horror. For them, pretty much everything is underrated because they stopped paying attention to the entire genre about five minutes after they were traumatized by The Exorcist.

But if you’re talking to another fan, it’s virtually impossible. Horror fans are voracious, eagerly watching anything and everything that looks even remotely scary. We are opinionated, talking up (and down) what we’ve seen to anyone who’ll listen and a fair amount who won’t. We are also extremely forgiving. This isn’t meant as an insult. I’m including myself in this. But honestly, we do enjoy a lot of movies that really aren’t very good. In some cases, it’s because we can legitimately see past the flaws to focus on the few things the filmmakers got right. But sometimes there’s no real excuse. The movie’s crap, we know it’s crap and we like it anyway.

For this list, I’ve steered clear of the “guilty pleasure” movies (a term I despise but what can you do). These are all genuinely well-made movies. Some are scary, some are creepy, some are funny. And while I believe all five have cult followings, none of them are as large as they ought to be. Even in hardcore horror circles, they don’t come up as often as I think they should.

Mad Love (1935) – Maurice Renard’s 1920 novel The Hands Of Orlac has been told, retold and ripped off so many times, it’s hard to imagine it was ever actually scary. Director Karl Freund’s super-stylish adaptation does the trick, thanks in no small part to Peter Lorre’s amazing performance as the unhinged Dr. Gogol. Lorre alone would be reason to watch this but Colin Clive also has his best non-Frankenstein role as the concert pianist who receives a killer’s hands after his own mitts are crushed in an accident. Full of unforgettable images, this is one of the most unusual horror movies of its era.

The Asphyx (1973) – The title alone makes this a difficult movie to recommend to people. But after Beavis and Butt-Head get over their giggle fit, explain that this is a highly original, atmospheric British horror gem. Robert Stephens stars as a 19th Century scientist who uses primitive photography to identify the Spirit of the Dead, the Asphyx, a creature that comes for the living at the moment of death. He resolves to summon and imprison his own Asphyx and discover the key to immortality. The sole directorial effort by cameraman Peter Newbrook, the movie is undermined slightly by an apparently low budget and would probably have benefited from a more experienced director. But the movie’s ideas are so strong and the story is so compelling, it comes awfully close to being a truly great, unsung classic.

Torso (1973) – If you were to tell me you don’t like giallo, those uniquely Italian horror-thrillers that thrived primarily in the late 60s and into the 70s, because they’re all the same, you wouldn’t get much argument from me. The elements are so routine, you could practically watch them with a checklist by your side. Sergio Martino’s Torso is no exception to that. In essence, this is just another masked killer slaughtering beautiful women in Italy shock-fest. But the thing that makes certain movies stand out in this admittedly repetitive genre is the filmmaker’s mastery of the camera. And make no mistake, Martino is a master. If this movie’s finale doesn’t have you on the edge of your seat, you may want to check your pulse.

The Day Of The Beast (1995) – It is one of the great frustrations of my life that Spanish filmmaker Álex de la Iglesia isn’t more well-known in this country. I’ve been talking about how great his movies are since I first saw this gonzo horror-comedy back in the 90s. The Antichrist is due to be born in Madrid on Christmas, so a priest decides to embrace his dark side in an effort to summon Satan, uncover the location of the birth and kill the Antichrist. He gets some unlikely help in the form of a death-metal record store clerk and the host of an occult TV show. Very dark, completely unhinged, wildly funny…and virtually unknown. This was never even released on DVD in the US after its brief theatrical run. I blame Satan.

Murder Party (2007) – When I first wrote about this movie back in 2007, I was sure I’d discovered a new cult classic. I still am. It’s just taking a whole lot longer for people to discover it than I’d thought. On Halloween night, a lonely parking violations officer (Chris Sharp) stumbles across an invitation to a “Murder Party”. With nothing else to do, he bakes some pumpkin bread, whips up a homemade suit of armor costume from cardboard and tinfoil, and heads out. Thing is, the party is being thrown by a group of artists competing for a grant to see who can kill whatever poor slob responds to the invite in the most artistically transcendent way. Written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier and produced by a collective of friends called the Lab of Madness, Murder Party is sharply satiric, enthusiastically performed and stylishly directed. I still think it’s a gem waiting to be unearthed. Fortunately, Saulnier and the Lab’s second feature, Blue Ruin, is currently getting good buzz on the festival circuit. I can’t wait to check it out and I hope it’ll be successful enough to get more people to seek out their debut.

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