Former Frankenstein Boris Karloff portrayed a monster of the human variety in this disturbing tale of an innocent woman wrongly committed to a barbaric mental asylum in 1761 London. The last in a series of elegant horror films produced by Val Lewton, “Bedlam” abounds with nightmarish images of jabbering lunatics forced to perform for Karloff’s diabolical amusement.
“The Devil Rides Out” (1968)
This British occult classic concerns a French nobleman who suspects that the son of a friend is in danger of losing his soul to Satan. Genre icon Christopher Lee plays the hero for a change as he battles with the Devil’s minions, who appear in the form of a goat-headed creature and actor Charles Gray, best known for his role in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
“The Blood on Satan’s Claw” (1971)
When a deformed skull is accidentally unearthed by a careless plowboy, the children in an 18th century British farming community begin to show signs of demonic possession. Despite its wonderfully lurid title, the film is moody and atmospheric rather than gory. But that doesn’t mean the rural setting escapes blood-free once the human sacrifices begin.
“Alice, Sweet Alice” (1976)
Catholic guilt leads to psychotic murder in this beautifully directed shocker set in working class New Jersey. Also released under the title “Communion,” the film deals with the brutal killing of a young girl, and the effect it has on her family and church. First-time actress Paula Sheppard gives a nuanced performance as the victim’s sister and the main suspect for the bizarre crime.
Hal Holbrook stars in this obscure gem about five doctors hunted by an unseen killer while on a fishing trip in the remote Canadian wilderness. The film owes much of its reputation to Stephen King, who praised it in his 1981 non-fiction book “Danse Macabre.” Waking to find their boots missing, the desperate docs have no way to escape the horror that awaits them in the woods.
“He Knows You’re Alone” (1980)
Usually referenced for being Tom Hanks’ first film, this creepy slasher movie about a bride-to-be who finds herself stalked by a psycho with an axe to grind against weddings is worth watching for its expertly choreographed suspense sequences. Director Armand Mastroianni ratchets up the tension using eerie silences punctuated by sudden screams.
“Just Before Dawn” (1981)
Five friends in an RV head deep into the mountains of Oregon with the deed to an inherited property, but must fight for their lives when two hulking maniacs interrupt their trip. Although the premise is familiar, the film is distinguished by its breathtaking scenery, better-than-required acting and a haunting score by Brad Fiedel, composer for “The Terminator.” The climactic struggle between beauty and the beast is unforgettable.
“The Nameless” (1999)
Five years after the murder of her daughter, a distraught mother receives a phone call from her supposedly dead child, hinting that someone has been holding her captive. When an investigation exposes the existence of a mysterious cult called “The Nameless,” the horrific motives behind the crime are finally revealed. Richly atmospheric, this Spanish horror film lingers in the mind long after the final ghastly image cuts to black.
“Chasing Sleep” (2000)
Jeff Daniels showed remarkable range in this troubling tale of a college professor whose sanity begins to crumble when his wife goes missing. As insomnia takes hold, Daniels’ waking hallucinations become increasingly surreal and violent. Echoing Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion,” this vivid depiction of a man’s nervous breakdown is a dark sleeper waiting for rediscovery.
“Paranoia 1.0” (2004)
Perfect for fans of David Fincher, this visually striking mood piece stars Jeremy Sisto as a reclusive computer programmer whose life is shattered when he begins receiving mysterious empty packages delivered to his apartment. Set in a grim near-future, and co-starring genre legends Lance Henriksen and Udo Kier, “One Point 0” builds from suspicion to paranoia to the kind of full-blown body horror reminiscent of early David Cronenberg.
Set on a lonely Irish cattle farm, this deadly serious creature-feature revolves around a bovine genetic experiment gone horrifically wrong. While the idea of a killer cow might sound laughable, the film itself is anything but. With stomach-churning autopsy scenes to rival John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” and a climactic hunt through a gloomy barn that recalls Ridley Scott’s “Alien,” “Isolation” is a thinking man’s gore film.
Proving that fear is an international language, this French-Romanian horror film yields maximum terror on a minimal budget. When strange sounds wake them in the night, a young couple discovers some unwelcome houseguests in their crumbling country estate. A nerve-shredding addition to the home invasion genre, “Them” takes viewers step by inexorable step toward its gut-punch ending.
“Eden Lake” (2008)
Before he donned Magneto’s helmet in the X-Men franchise, Michael Fassbender ran for his life in this brutally effective British horror film about a couple whose romantic getaway is spoiled by a group of obnoxious teenagers. A small conflict quickly escalates into a fight for survival as the young thugs pursue their prey through the formerly idyllic setting. A nihilistic shocker that feels all-too real.
“Kill List” (2011)
What begins as an intense crime film about a pair of working class British hitmen who agree to commit a series of killings in return for a huge payday slowly becomes a masterpiece of dread and psychological horror. Powerfully contrasting the banality of their day-to-day family lives with the murderous rigors of the job, “Kill List” takes a late period turn into the realm of the occult, and the result is truly chilling. Watch it with someone you trust.
“Alyce Kills” (2011)
After impulsively knocking her friend off the roof of a building, an introverted young woman spirals into madness. Actress Jade Dornfeld delivers a tour de force performance as the guilt ridden title character. Her descent into a maelstrom of drugs, sex and psychotic violence is equal parts twisted and tragic. Not a film for all tastes, or the squeamish, “Alyce Kills” is a challenging and original work of avant-garde horror.