Christmas. The perfect time for viscera splattered horror. As this year's festive season is currently looking like something out of a incredibly banal John Carpenter movie, the need for thrills, fears and grisly escapism is more required than ever. With that in mind, we got in touch with genuine horror connoisseur and Possessor frontman Graham Bywater to check out his picks on his top underrated horror gems to binge this Christmas. Grab some eggnog, slap on Possessor's latest record Damn The Light and enjoy some festive viewing.
The Dead Pit (1989)
"Whilst I’m not the biggest fan of zombies this film is in a league of its own, and boy does it look good!
A woman known simply as Jane Doe (the charismatic Cheryl Lawson) is admitted to a psychiatric hospital with amnesia, where she soon begins to experience morbid visions of an evil doctor who, twenty years prior, was killed and entombed with his macabre human experiments. Until now…"
"Filled with all the glorious horror tropes you’d need – cheesy, melodramatic acting, eye catching green fog, stomach turning gore, arbitrary nudity, dream sequences, supernatural nonsense – The Dead Pit is way better than you’d expect and is a truly haunting eighties frolic with the undead! Get to it."
The Loved Ones (2009)
"By now, I’m sure most horror nuts have seen this Australian gem (what is it about Australian horrors?! I love them so!) but I feel it’s the right time of year to give this twisted, lavish treat a reappraisal."
"After rejecting an offer to the school dance with outcast Lola (the brilliant and woefully underrated Robin McLeavy), moody goth Brent (Xavier Samuel) finds himself drugged, bound and brought before Lola and her sinister father for a particularly unforgettable first date. Can you guess where this is heading? If you’ve yet to experience this film, beware… it’s insanely brilliant. And not for the squeamish."
"I hate to compare films or throw unnecessary categories around, but I guess one way to sum up this film would be Carrie White starring in Audition with the script from Misery. Either way, The Loved Ones is not a torture film despite what you may have read; it is in fact a rather moving study of rejection and mental health. It’s also an incredibly well made, darkly hilarious and beautiful film. Highly recommended for the Christmas season."
The House on Sorority Row (1982)
"I only recently discovered this one but what a fantastic film it is. Not to be confused with a million other sorority/slumber stinkers, Mark Rosman’s House on Sorority Row is one to keep an eye out for."
"In what at first seems like the usual slasher premise, a group of sorority sisters throw a graduation party. Soon things take a nasty turn and a prank involving their grumpy old house mother and a swimming pool goes decidedly wrong. Whilst trying to hide her body they soon realise someone may have witnessed the crime as one by one the sisters are killed off."
"The end is possibly one of the most captivating and overlooked in the whole of the 1980s slasher explosion and well worth waiting for despite the slightly mid-paced and leisurely feel up to that point. The film never feels derivative or lacklustre; in fact, the whole production is highly competent, and the majority of the cast really give it their all. Hell, even the idiotic male characters are kind of likeable despite their oafish behaviour."
"A cult film that has inspired many. Check out the first season of Scream Queens and you’ll see what I mean."
"For me, if ever a film felt a little underappreciated, it’s this one. Following in the same footsteps as Tobe Hooper’s life affirming Ed Gein-inspired classic (and released the same year), Alan Ormsby’s brilliantly unsettling Deranged is an absolute must see this spooky season."
"Led by the creepy-as-hell Roberts Blossom, Deranged is a demented and utterly chilling film. At times funny, constantly unsettling but always mesmerising, this is one of those crazy midnight oddities that really gets under the skin. You all know the story of Gein, but this is head and shoulders above most tellings of the story and provides us with an uncomfortably sympathetic central character in Blossoms’ Ezra Cobb."
"There remains something disturbingly real about seventies exploitation movies; regardless of the budget and how minimal the films often looked, the grimy ambience felt like it saturated the actual film stock, an effect that modern cinema can never come close to emulating. Much of the film’s running time is spent inside the Cobb farmhouse where atmosphere is so thick it feels like it’s breathing over your shoulder, helped in no small part by the effects of mastermind Tom Savini who cut his teeth on this cracking little bastard of a film. Watch the final five minutes and tell me you don’t want a hot shower or some fresh air."
"Deranged is horror gold. Unique and bloody brilliant."
Just Before Dawn (1981)
"The backwoods slasher with the weirdest final death ever? Quite possibly."
"Of all the F13 rip-offs and camping slashers that permeated the early eighties, Just Before Dawn is an often-ignored entry. Not excessively gory or violent, it relies more on a deliberately foreboding vibe for the majority of its running time, giving it more of a Deliverance feel, minus the pig squeals and instead starring a horse-riding George Kennedy as the forest ranger!"
"Unlike many films of this ilk, the performances here are reasonably convincing; notwithstanding the usual boozing and pissing about, the characters never really feel anything less than fully realised. This lot seem to even do their own stunts, despite wearing the smallest shorts known to man. Also worth a mention is the electrifying soundtrack by Brad Fiedel, which holds the film in a constant state of unease as our protagonists are stalked by the mysterious rednecks we meet at the start but actually learn very little about. It’s these kinds of odd open-ended elements that make Just Before Dawn extremely creepy."
"If you can find this film, and need a quick dose of forest dwelling carnage, it’s a total blast. Don’t expect too much and you will be pretty satisfied as the final shot of the sun rising fills the screen."
Last House on Dead End Street (1977)
"The cinematic equivalent of being drugged to the gills and punched in the head in a darkened room, there really is nothing quite like Last House on Dead End Street, and while it’s not an easy one to recommend to the uninitiated, its barbaric low budget rage is positively heavenly if you want to test your stamina and get really grubby. LHODES (aka The Fun House aka Cuckoo Clocks of Hell) is a mysterious and extremely sordid underground art piece, a once in a lifetime exploit that was subject to various rumours regarding what the hell it actually was and where in god’s name it came from."
"There is a very thin plot of sorts, but it matters very little. The skin crawling visuals create a waking nightmare that crashes from weird hallucinogenic scene to grating stomach turning scene of violence and sadism. In short, this film ain’t safe or fun. Hell, I’m not even sure I’d call it a film."
"In 2000, American grindhouse nutcase Roger Watkins confirmed himself as the director, writer, and lead actor, explaining that film’s budget was non-existent but what little he had was almost entirely blown on drugs. Watkins died in 2007, leaving LHODES as his most revered and feared work."
"The film’s relentlessly downbeat world view may just stay with you forever and you’ll probably have that demented heartbeat in your head long after it’s finished. It’s not a snuff film, despite what you may at first think. Just keep repeating ‘it’s only a movie’ – and stay off the drugs, kids!"
Motel Hell (1980)
"Motel Hell is possibly best described as Texas Chainsaw Massacre given the Airplane! treatment. As gross and nightmarish as certain elements of the film are, they’re dwarfed by its pitch-black humour and from-the-heart tone. A perfect Halloween film, and one that deserves its rightful place as one of the more unique midnight movies, it’s never quite garnered the bigger audience it deserves."
"The story takes place at a rural Motel owned by the charming Farmer Vincent (Rory Calhoun) and his sister Ida (Nancy Parsons) who have until now been getting away with making smoked fritters out of their guests in their secret garden. Oh, but Vincent’s brother happens to be the local law enforcement. Cue some serious Peter Jackson-esque chuckles and carnage!"
"The swampy setting is rather wonderful, as are the occasionally off-putting and unhinged tonal shifts that take the movie from satire to horror. And while Motel Hell is not a masterpiece, it’s oddly captivating and never dull.
Keep an eye out for John Ratzenberger, who was also filming his cameo for The Empire Strikes Back around the same time. What a year he must have had!"
Cold Prey (2006)
"Cold Prey doesn’t win any awards for originality, but it certainly makes up for any shortcomings with its skilfully crafted pace and instantly isolating setting and tone."
"The plot is pretty average and at times non-existent, but in a nutshell, five Norwegian youths set off on a snowboarding trip, end up at deserted old hotel and find themselves fending off a faceless serial killer in the snowy tundra, a stock plot which benefits hugely from mouth-watering cinematography, atmospheric lighting and a genuine sense of fear, claustrophobia and tension. Not to mention some pretty solid casting, led by the truly badass final girl Ingrid Bolsø Berdal as Jannicke."
"Whilst clearly inspired by Kubrick’s The Shining, along with every other stalk and slash film ever made, Cold Prey contains everything that a modern teenage horror film should. It’s not ground-breaking but it is at times extremely brutal and scary, which is what horror is about, right? In a flashback towards the end, we see the killer as a boy being buried (seemingly) alive by his parents. So perhaps he only wanted a hug after all."
"Watch this one late at night."
Without Warning (1980)
"Gloriously silly but hugely fun, Without Warning is like a spoof X-Files crossed with Invaders from Mars, although not a patch on either. Apparently an inspiration for the Arnie classic Predator, it’s best enjoyed with a beer and a mate to share its shortcomings with."
"A film without pretence or ideas above its station, this low budget oddity features a wonderfully gnarly alien presence lurking in the woods with a taste for human prey. Hurling gooey, blood sucking, intergalactic starfish at its victims, the effects are rather dated by today’s standards and while it is hard to take the ‘predator’ too seriously, it does create a certain sense of creepiness that is heart warming if you have an open mind and low expectations. Lying somewhere between a camp Friday the 13th and a not so disturbing Xtro, it's an enjoyable ride, and a charmingly nostalgic one at that. It’s certainly better than Independence Day."
"For our viewing pleasure we also get quite a nifty genre cast, featuring Cameron Mitchell, Jack Palance and a very young David Caruso! So there’s that."
Lost After Dark (2014)
"Retro homages and spoofs often fall short, and in this day and age they’re even harder to successfully pull off. Tarantino only just about managed it with Death Proof, while the Robert Rodriguez-directed Planet Terror perhaps pushed the overly stylized approach a little too far, making the film far less enjoyable than it could have been. But maybe that’s just me. Lost After Dark is a tribute to the classic slasher films of the eighties, and it’s obviously something of a polarizing affair because (as stated above) you can’t please everyone. I for one really enjoyed its ability to saddle the nostalgia of its forefathers while boasting a few genuinely enjoyable twists and turns."
"The plot here is so bloody obvious I won’t even bother with it. Needless to say it’s a rather perfect Halloween film, and while the addition of Robert Patrick will more than likely be the film’s selling point for many, we also get some wonderfully named central characters that I’m sure we will all recognise from the classics. Jamie (Lee Curtis), Sean (Cunningham), Wes (Craven), Marilyn (Burns), Laurie (Strode), Adrienne (Barbeau), Heather (Langenkamp) and John (Carpenter). All this is either cringe inducing or lovable. You decide."
Damn The Light is out now via APF Records.