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More Horror Movies to Watch in the Dark

Creeping in the shadows, hungry for the warm blood of a new audience, many of today’s best horror movies have been rushed out of theaters or even sentenced to straight-to-DVD shelves. New classics — like The Children, [REC], or Grace — don’t have a chance in a genre that’s saturated with ridiculous remakes and boring teen horror. But true Horror Hounds sniff out the freshest cinematic kills to feed their horror addiction. Last year, the Filmcritic staff dug up 13 unconventional horror movies as a sacrificial offering for the Halloween season, and we’ve done the same this year, mixing new classics with some unsung horror staples of yesteryear. So if you’re tired of watching the same horror movies every year, feast upon this horrific horde.

The Children (2008)
What’s more frightening than a skin-peeling head injury or fatal knife plunge? Kids. As a parent, you try to control them, comfort them, and keep them safe, but you may often feel that you’re on the edge of losing control. Between the blood-soaked snow and eye-stabbings, The Children‘s most terrifying moments are when the quiet routine of family life is interrupted by the violent scream of a child in protest. They aren’t going to eat their peas, they aren’t going to sit quietly, and they aren’t going to listen to anything you have to say. It’s the loss of control that scares us. That, and the garden weeder to the face. (Jason Morgan)

Martyrs (2008)
Martyrs is this year’s Inside — another brutal French import that offers as much psychological horror as gallons of gore. Though the blood doesn’t flow quite as freely as you might expect from the recent New Wave of French horror, Martyrs’ brutality is as intense as it gets. But it’s not without purpose. Who knows why Anna hangs around Lucie? Lucie kills a family in cold blood and claims to be terrorized by a demon. When Anna hangs around weirdoes like that, it’s no surprise that she gets caught in the middle of Lucie’s problem and is condemned to martyrdom at the hands of a secret society looking for an afterlife. If the intense physical abuse doesn’t make you sick to your stomach, the twist at the end will take care of that. (Jason Morgan)

Fright Night (1985)
On the surface, Fright Night looks serviceable, but forgettable: a boogeyman’s version of Rear Window in which a teen boy (William Ragsdale) discovers a vampire living next door. Two big assets move it to a higher level. The first is Roddy McDowall, starring as a broken-down horror movie star whom the boy tasks to slay the bloodsucker. The second is the bloodsucker himself, played by Chris Sarandon with the perfect mixture of charm, menace, and tragedy. Their marvelous presence — a cowardly pretender vs. a monster who wishes things were different — makes for a unique twist on the standard vampire tale. While Fright Night definitely shows its mid-’80s age, the anachronisms are as much a part of the fun as the blood and fangs. (Rob Vaux)

Grace (2009)
First-time motherhood is frightening enough, but in writer-director Paul Solet’s natal nightmare, birth and breastfeeding take on a whole new level of creepiness. A hopeful young mother (Jordan Ladd) suffers a stillborn delivery… until the baby begins crying after a few minutes. It’s soon clear the child is, um, different, with a particular thirst (okay, need) beyond milk. Solet’s style is isolating and dizzying, an appropriate nod to Rosemary’s Baby. And under the surface, the director is awed by a mother’s dedication. Not for young mothers-to-be. Seriously. (Norm Schrager)

[REC] (2007)
Handheld horror isn’t new, but [REC] is the first film that shows off its strength. The first-person point-of-view puts us shotgun on a TV crew’s fire station ride-along. After taking a mysterious 911 call, we’re in the middle of a full-blown zombie outbreak. Confined to an apartment building full of long, tight corridors and endless staircases, [REC] leverages its style to create tension. And thanks to the framework of a TV show — the cameraman is an actual cameraman, which helps cut down on much of the nauseating shaky-cam work that scares off many from handheld horror. (Jason Morgan)

In The Mouth of Madness (1994)
If Stephen King books really drove people crazy, the world would look a lot like In the Mouth of Madness. Director John Carpenter aims a satirical barb at would-be censors with his tale of a bestselling author (Jurgen Prochnow) in contact with creatures Not Of This Earth. Sam Neill plays a cynical private investigator hired to find the author after he disappears with his latest manuscript in tow. The trail leads down a horrifying rabbit hole of Lovecraftian abominations, blurring the lines between the written word, the cinema screen and the audience. Though not as well known as Halloween or The Thing, Madness stands as one of Carpenter’s very best: a forgotten little gem in dire need of discovery
. (Rob Vaux)

Fear(s) of the Dark (2007)
Far from convention, Fear(s) of the Dark taps the morbid minds of six amazing French graphic artists, who produce five vignettes ranging from classic macabre to contemporary philosophical terror. Each story is steeped in its own unique atmosphere — from rough, almost violent, pencil sketches to smooth, seemingly unnatural computer animation. While the movie is filled with creepy moments — human-to-insect mutation and bizarre nightmares — the film’s final story of a man alone in a house is the highlight of the film. There’s nothing scarier than an empty, creaking house that’s full of memories. (Jason Morgan)

Scanners (1981)
Before Videodrome, The Fly, and A History of Violence, director David Cronenberg focused his dark mind on the devastating physical effects the mind can inflict. Scanners are telepathic, telekinetic, and, if the impressive head explosion in the first 15 minutes is any indication, dangerous. Killer special effects combined with a subtext of rampant prescription drug use keeps Scanners feeling fresh even though Cronenberg has moved on more grandiose films. Plus, Michael Ironside’s creepy performance will have you and your friends drunkenly acting out the scanner duel. (Jason Morgan)

Near Dark (1987)
Director Kathryn Bigelow has a knack for treating genre conventions like clay: twisting and sculpting them into fascinating new forms without violating their essential spirit. Near Dark constitutes a definitive high point in those efforts, combining the tenets of classic vampire films with the conventions of a modern western. Adrian Pasdar plays a young Oklahoman abducted by a band of predatory drifters. They possess preternatural strength, never seem to age, and burst into flames at the touch of sunlight… and yet the word ‘vampire’ is never heard, even when it becomes clear that they require blood to survive. The stunning balance of Old World monsters and New World outlaws gives the genre an undeniably American spin, as well as ranking among the best horror movies of the past 30 years. (Rob Vaux)

Suicide Circle (2001)
Beyond the dark-haired, white-garbed J-ghosts of current infamy, Suicide Circle uses stinging social satire, depressing themes of loneliness and a couple hundred gallons of fake blood to terrify its audience. After a group of 50-plus teenage high school girls jump in front of a train, suicide clubs become all the rage amongst Japanese youths. With hints of Carpenter and Argento influence, Suicide Circle is most terrifying as a tale of personal isolation. Not to mention the rabid J-pop, girl-band fandom offering suffocating cuteness that would make any American pop act slit their wrists. (Jason Morgan)

The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)
It’s not the blood-covered monster with gigantic fangs and a hunger for human flesh that keeps us awake at night. It’s the brutal carjacking down the street, the pervert in the neighborhood who likes picking up little girls, or the home-grown serial killer who was just the quiet guy next door. The Poughkeepsie Tapes‘ faux-documentary style lures us into the world of the Water Street Butcher — a barbaric serial killer who videotaped most of his murders. While our fear of the footage keeps our guard up, there’s a part of us that’s intrigued by this monster — after all, we can’t help but feel partially responsible for creating him. (Jason Morgan)

Three… Extremes (2004)
The title says it all. This 2004 Asian collaboration features three separate 40-minute horror films (Dumplings, Cut, and Box) from 3 acclaimed Asian directors (Fruit Chan, Park Chan-Wook, and Takashi Miike). Expect something as unconventional — and morbidly disturbing — as modern horror movies come. You’re not going to see a slasher wearing a mask or a ghost floating through a haunted mansion; Three… Extremes delves into a different breed of horror, the kind that provokes gasps more than screams. Trust us, the gore in all of the Saw movies combined can’t compete with the cringes you’ll experience after learning about the secret ingredient in those Dumplings. (Blake French)

Cannibal Holocaust (1980
Every horror fan worth his weight in gore eventually slips into a schlock shock phase. Tales of Cannibal Holocaust‘s extreme brutality, unabashed voyeurism, and on-screen live animal killings make just about anyone squirm. But beyond the surface shock lurks an evil that is far more terrifying. The story of the found footage from a lost documentary crew turns the tables on us by raising the question of why we’d want to watch such horror in the first place. Cannibal‘s awareness of its actions makes it as challenging and relevant as it was in 1980, but consider yourself warned. (Jason Morgan)

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