Our writers are exploring buzzed about horror films from the 80s to present day they previously missed out on, and you’re invited along for the ride.
Since we can’t hop on a plane, set sail on a cruise, or drive across country right now, our exploration of uncharted territory is limited to the small screen. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still great adventures to be had. While we may have been forced to cancel our summer vacation plans, at least we get to watch more movies now than ever before. It also means we can round out our horror education by finally tackling our “to be watched” Blu-ray piles or making a dent in our digital streaming queues.
In an effort to make the most of our summer staycation and encourage more new horror discovery, I asked the Morbidly Beautiful writing staff to pick films they’ve wanted to see for some time but still haven’t for whatever reason.
Previously, we shared the first time viewing experiences of ten of our writers, each of whom finally discovered a horror classic — from films released from the 1920s to the early 80s. Today, we’ve got ten more writers sharing maiden cinematic voyages. However, this time, our writers explore more modern horror films — ranging from those released in the mid 80s to just last year.
1. Re-Animator (1985)
Explored by Maggie Stankiewicz
I am not the woman I was before viewing Re-Animator. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to find that younger, doe-eyed, bereft version of me ever again. I don’t know what took me so long to treat myself to this campy, bloody, 86-minute Lovecraftian exploration of mortality, biomedical ethics, and luminescent serums. But I’m glad I finally got over those invisible obstacles.
After a bloody and memorable cold open that characterizes the titular re-animator Herbert West as a cold-blooded scientist, Re-Animator introduces viewers to medical student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) and his slightly forbidden romance with Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton), the dean’s daughter. Their tryst quickly becomes the least of their problems when Dan acquires a new roommate who is none other than Herbert West. It doesn’t take long for things to go completely off the wall, starting with the death of Dan’s cat Rufus who definitely maybe was killed by Herbert in the name of science and…re-animation.
This is the first film made by genre cult creators Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna.
With Gordon directing and Yuzna producing, Re-Animator was bound to be the mordantly hilarious body horror romp it turned out to be.
I had heard that this movie would be a lot of fun, but I was luckily spared the context of the humor. That was something I got to experience first-hand, and I’m sure glad it worked out that way. This is one horny movie – which only adds to its comedic flare. Disembodied heads are horny. Crawling hands are homicidal and horny. All while being drenched in buckets of blood and played out by a cast with incredible chemistry. Who wouldn’t call that a good time?!
This film’s sound design is as ooey-gooey as the blood-spattered on every single wall for half of the movie – and its practical effects deliver. So much so that I had to stop eating my popcorn part-way through the viewing. There was too much to see, to hear, and to worry about as Herbert’s re-animated experiments rose naked from the beyond with murder on the mind.
Re-Animator was truly a dark delight, and because of its influence, I have raised my standards for movies aspiring to find the perfect balance of camp, blood, nudity, and morally ambiguous doctors with perfectly pouted lips (I’m looking at you, Herbert).
2. Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)
Explored by Patrick Krause
I’ll be honest: I have actively avoided watching Killer Klowns From Outer Space until this article opportunity came up. I don’t have a good explanation as to why because I’m a fan of movies like Critters, Ghoulies, and Invaders From Mars, so it’s not like I don’t like cheesy, ridiculous horror movies. Killer Klowns From Outer Space was released in 1988, and that is right in my wheelhouse for when I was starting to discover a broader world of horror movies through local video stores that were beginning to open.
Until a few years ago, Killer Klowns wasn’t a blip on my radar. I may have seen an image of the clowns in a magazine, but the movie never registered with me. A few years ago, though, public interest in the movie seemed to explode out of nowhere. From an amazing Arrow Video release of the film to Killer Klowns getting a maze and a house at Universal Hollywood Horror Nights, the movie was suddenly back in the spotlight.
It was a Saturday night when I finally gave in to the pressure to watch this cult classic. I gave my wife fair warning about what was about to happen, smoked some premium bud, and hit play on Killer Klowns From Outer Space.
The movie was what I expected from a 1980s low budget horror film. Incredibly cheesy acting was on display from the start, married to some truly cringe-worthy dialogue, and trippy clown effects. Maybe I’ve been too groomed by the kind of horror movies I watch, but I had expected more gore. Fortunately, however, that’s about the only criticism I can muster regarding Killer Klowns.
I was absolutely gleeful over the alien clowns.
The design didn’t move the needle for me when I saw still pictures of the clowns, but seeing them in action was a different story. I loved that these alien monsters actually acted like clowns to lure and kill their victims. They used devices that turned people into pies, encased them in cotton candy to turn their prey into people smoothies, used shadow puppets to ensnare humans and more. The clown antics reminded me of the villainous devices created by the enemies of Batman in the 1960s television series.
Maybe it was the pot talking, but I fell in love with Killer Klowns by the time the end credits rolled.
I realized that more horror movies centered on clowns should take the same route with portraying evil killer clowns. The clowns we see in horror movies today are more like Pennywise in It or Art the Clown in Terrifier. They are terrifying, certainly, and entertaining to watch most definitely. But with this, my first viewing, I realized I want more T-Rex shadow puppets eating people, corpses turning into marionettes, and the use of cotton candy as a means for melting people.
Count me in as a rabid, new fan of Killer Klowns From Outer Space.
3. Audition (1999)
Explored by Bud Fugate
I often get distracted when it comes to movies to watch. I have a huge queue in about 4 or 5 different streaming services full of 80s horror, 70s kung fu and cheap 90s action. When it comes to Audition — a late 90s, Japanese horror film with subtitles — I always found excuses not to watch it. But finally, in these strange times of the year 2020, I decided to give this 1999 film from Takashi Miike a shot.
Mistakes! Have! Been! Made!
For about the first hour and a half, I was beyond bored and confused. I’ve never looked into this film, never watched a trailer and never read a review — so I had no idea what I was in for. The first two acts are really nothing more than a bizarre romantic story about a man looking for love after the loss of his wife. Nothing spooky, nothing really eerie or even gruesome happens. On more than one occasion, a friend has suggested this movie to me, stressing, “It’s really fucked up.” I thought they were talking about the main character luring women into a relationship with a fake casting call.
But then a man with no fingers, ears, feet or tongue emerged from a burlap sack in a woman’s apartment and ate her puke.
WHAT. THE. FUCK.
No one told me there was some serious torture.
No one told me that there were graphic displays of people getting limbs cut off. No one told me that the film explodes from a seemingly normal romance movie into an insane fever dream with tortured ballet girls, puke eating monster men, bizarre sexual confusion and decapitations.
I am not overly familiar with Takashi Miike’s work but I do know he is an oddball director whose work spans multiple genres. But my best guess for this one is that he started making a standard romantic comedy and somewhere during production he said, “Fuck it, let’s get gross.”
It is now 21 years after the film was released, and I am kicking myself that this is the first time I’ve watched it.
Audition is equal parts slow burn, body horror, psychological and nightmarish torture porn fever dream. Instantly, this is one of my all time faves, and I am glad I finally got around to watching it.
4. Idle Hands (1999)
Explored by Jason McFiggins
One month before prom and two months before high school graduation, the spring of 1999 was feeling pretty great. A few of my friends at the time were going to the movies that last weekend in April to see a new horror/comedy called Idle Hands. It sounded like a fun time, but I opted to see the Sean Connery and (more importantly) Catherine Zeta-Jones action/crime flick Entrapment with my girlfriend at the time. Zeta-Jones slowly moving her body like a slinky while maneuvering those lasers was worth it. “Besides,” I reasoned with myself, “I’ll catch Idle Hands next week.” Next week turned into 21 years later.
Welcome to 2020, where the world is on fire and my high school graduation is so far in the rear view mirror it hardly seems like a part of my life anymore. On a warm Thursday night in July, one week after my 39th birthday, I finally watched Idle Hands. 39. Yikes. It helps a little bit to realize that Jessica Alba, the dream girl of the new millennium, is now also the same age and the mother of three children. Of course she’s still as gorgeous as ever, but at least time passes for all of us.
But watching Idle Hands was like hitting 88 miles per hour and going back to that time before high school graduation in ’99.
Seeing familiar faces like Seth Green, Devon Sawa, and Jessica Alba (all on the verge of hitting the prime of their careers), was in a strange way like seeing old friends. Seeing Vivica A. Fox and hearing Motley Crue on the soundtrack are two more things that 39 year old me could appreciate just as much as 18 year old me.
Despite Motley Crue, the soundtrack was a bit of a disappointment. I was hoping to hear a number of familiar tunes that saturated the airwaves of the late ’90’s, but instead of sounding familiar, the music just had that familiar sound. We do get to hear Rob Zombie and Sublime, but an appearance by The Offspring has them covering a Ramones song instead of belting out one of their own.
The film itself is stupid, silly fun. Not really sure where the reported $25 million budget went. But this teen horror flick finds the perfect balance between ridiculous horror and goofy comedy. I enjoyed the hell out of every minute, and I think watching Idle Hands at this point in my life somehow means more to me than it ever could have back when I was eighteen.
If there’s a movie that’s been kicking around your watch list for a while (a long while), give it a watch. You might need to see it more than you realize. It’s a like a hello from your younger self, a nudging to let you know that younger version of you is still inside.
Movies are funny that way, and that’s why I love them.
5. Inside (2007)
Explored by Jay Krieger
Every horror fan assumes they have found the ceiling of horror carnage. I mean, you can only watch so many characters be stabbed to death before you become desensitized to it. And then once in a while, a film such as Inside comes along and tests your tolerance for torture and terror.
Written and directed by the creative duo Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, Inside found itself smack dab in the middle of the New French Extremity movement; 21st-century French horror films emphasized pushing the boundaries of extreme violence. A sub-genre it would fit into in bloody fashion.
Set on Christmas Eve, pregnant widower Sarah (Alysson Paradis) is terrorized by a scissor-wielding psychopath (Béatrice Dalle) who breaks into her home. Some might assume that due to Sarah being pregnant, the directors are limited in the types of harm that they could inflict. And, much like I was, you would be very wrong.
Inside shines as an example of showing even the most hardcore audiences that their tolerance for blood and gore can still be tested.
In exceeding the horror boundaries most are used to, a sense of genuine unease permeates throughout the film. Generally, viewers can assume the parameters a film must abide by, but the film gleefully disregards those parameters.
My initial hesitation to watching Inside was its notoriously extreme nature and that it is seemingly only revolving around two characters. Such a small cast could result in the film feeling somewhat redundant and one-note, despite its brisk 85 minute run time. In a rare turn of events, the film’s adding additional characters helps its breakneck pacing have a wider variety of narrative avenues making way for even more depraved violence.
The film is as sinister and nasty as possible, showing little regard for its protagonist, who was grappling with her own grief and mourning before being hunted by a scissor wielding psychopath. And just as you think you have seen everything Inside could throw at these characters, the film’s finale rips the rug out from under you. Or, instead, it doubles you over with an unforgettable gut punch.
Films such as this, that push even the most seasoned gore hounds to their limits, are essential for the genre. The unrelenting intensity and downright lack of remorse for its protagonist remind audiences that films can still genuinely shock us.
While it isn’t for the weak-stomached, Inside is a monumental horror achievement.
6. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
Explored by Vicki Woods
The challenge to watch a movie I’ve always wanted to see created a serious dilemma. Which film would I choose? Since I love black and white, I decided to check out the first Iranian Vampire Western ever made. I mean, how could that description not intrigue me?
The title of writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a bit misleading. At first glance, you are to believe the girl is in danger. That could not be farther from the truth. Our leading lady is lovely, young, wears a black cape with her head covered, and is extremely dangerous. Only known as The Girl, (Sheila Vand) she is the predator, and those out at night are her prey. A blood-sucking feminist beauty with morals; she is a vigilante of sorts. This vampire feeds primarily on those who deserve it.
Wandering about at night are the usual people you would expect: prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers, junkies. The crime rate must be exceedingly high in this dark Iranian town christened “Bad City”; it is complete with a ravine where you can dump dead bodies. Also hanging out in the night is the handsome young Arash (Arash Marandi) who dresses like James Dean and drives the coolest T-Bird ever. When they meet at a costume party, with him dressed ironically as Dracula, I almost cried. They were oddly perfect for each other, and Arash is immediately taken with The Girl.
In no hurry to get to the point, this film explores how loneliness can bring two vastly different people together, despite their backgrounds.
We never discover how long our girl-with-no-name has been a vampire, but she seems to spend most of her time watching and trying to emulate the living folks around her.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a slow burn, atmospheric tale of love, mystery, and strangeness. Amirpour was able to create a film that is more like performance art. Watch and listen attentively, or you could miss the minuscule amount of dialog. Look at each character and prop with care. There is a purpose to everything. Nothing in the film is by accident or chance.
Much like Eraserhead, Sin City, Nosferatu, and any spaghetti western (which all seemed to have influenced this film) A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is an aesthetic, sexy and stylish experience.
Watch A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night on Shudder, and let this beautiful film envelop you.
7. The Shape of Water (2017)
Explored by Christi Bandy
Though The Shape of Water came out in 2017, for some reason, I simply missed it. The following year, I purchased the Blu-ray on Black Friday with the intention of watching it, but it never happened. Now is the time to catch up on movies, so I was looking forward to checking out this Best Picture winner.
As the movie started, I recognized Guillermo Del Toro’s signature style immediately. The whimsical music, creative opening to the film, and the sparse but important décor struck a note with me.
This movie puts the characters center stage, and though the background is period-perfect (I loved the movie theater), it doesn’t pull your focus away. My first glimpse of the creature (or “Asset,” as he is referred to in this film) was pleasurable. I couldn’t believe how wonderful he looked, how realistic, and how amazing. I was instantly excited to see where the story went and had a dumb grin on my face.
The story at the heart of this film, which is one of love and understanding, definitely resonates.
The black and white scene when Eliza (Sally Hawkins) drifts off to fantasize about a dance sequence with the creature had me cheering.
I am really impressed with what they did with Doug Jones’ costume. As a genre fan, I see a lot of CGI, a lot of subpar costumes and phony-looking effects. This costume is absolutely incredible and looks so realistic that I completely bought everything about it — the shimmering quality it had, the breathing, his pupils.
I purposely didn’t read about the film when it came out so I wouldn’t know what happened, and I was on the edge of my seat until the movie sank into its immensely satisfying, watery conclusion. What an amazing and beautiful film.
What a journey! I definitely see why it received so much praise and recognition, and I highly recommend it for anyone else who missed it.
8. Mandy (2018)
Explored by Jamie Marino
I didn’t really need any convincing to see Mandy. It just wasn’t on my priority list. I was much more eager to see Richard Stanley’s The Color Out of Space (which is a psychedelically blinding, slimy space nightmare, by the way). There were lots of odd references to Mandy in horror groups, such as how red-washed and incomprehensible it is. And there were Cheddar Goblin memes all over the place. I think the thing I found most curious about the movie was how the hell the Cheddar Goblin fit into the whole thing.
When people claim a certain movie is a must see film because of how extraordinarily good it is, I usually don’t pay much attention.
I find my personal tastes don’t always align with popular consensus, and I don’t rush out to see every critically acclaimed or universally praised film. However, when I hear a movie described as extremely violent, disturbing, relentless or (my favorite) utterly bizarre, my enthusiasm is definitely heightened. I love to watch movies that defy categorization and description — the films often described as being “unlike anything else that’s come before it”.
With that in mind, it seems crazy now to think about how long it took me to finally dive into the wonderfully weird waters of Mandy.
Mandy is a movie the haters claim has no story, no structure, and makes no sense. It’s all style, and all flash. But the gifts Mandy is offering they aren’t interested in.
Mandy exists in a red, murky world where palaces are made of wood and glass and chainsaws are the size of small cars. It’s far from reality, but not too far. Nicolas Cage, often teased for overacting, was a perfect fit for this role. Rather than dial down his performance, he was given a field big enough to run as far and fast as he wanted.
I was charmed. Enchanted. Delighted.
The muddy blues, purples, and reds flood into the screen. It radiates blistering heat. In the same way The Thing makes you feel cold, Mandy makes you feel like you’re slow-cooking in a campfire.
I can’t believe I wasn’t more excited about this when it first came out. Mandy would make a fantastic double-feature with The Color Out of Space. If your mind and eyes can take it.
9. Little Monsters (2019)
Explored by Jamie Alvey
Little Monsters is one of those films that flew woefully under the radar and came out during a super busy time in my life. I resigned myself that one day I would get around to watching it, and I can say that I am ashamed that I didn’t get around to watching it sooner than I did. In these harsh times, there’s a definite need for movies like Little Monsters, and I am honestly glad that I did finally give it a watch when I did.
If you have a soft spot for horror comedy fair with heart, then Little Monsters will definitely scratch the itch you have for not only gore, but also lots of laughs and a dash of pure wholesome sweetness.
Little Monsters takes the tired comedy trope of insufferable man-child and turns it on its head in the form of Dave, a man who has recently gotten out a long-term relationship due to his petulant ways and refusal to grow up. Dave goes to stay with his sister and her precocious son Felix. Dave soon becomes enamored with Felix’s kindergarten teacher Miss Caroline and volunteers to go with the children as a chaperone on a class trip to a petting zoo. When a zombie outbreak takes place, it’s up to Dave and Miss Caroline to protect the children from the onslaught of the undead.
In the midst of the zombie crisis, Dave’s character evolves, and he changes for the better. For a movie that deals with such bloody and bleak horror facets, it’s a heartwarming and sweet story about becoming a better person.
There’s something to be said about storytellers who can spin a yarn that can successfully tackle many seemingly conflicting topics with ease. Strong acting and well delineated lead characters pull the viewer in and make the outlandish premise believable.
Lupita Nyong’o’s Miss Caroline and Alexander England’s Dave are the backbone of the film, but they are assisted by a vibrant cast of kiddos as well as a delightfully foul Josh Gad as a children’s TV show personality.
The cast’s chemistry is completely genuine and extremely adorable. Nyong’o, England, and the kids will surely win you over in no time. Nyong’o never ceases to amaze me with how well she navigates every role that she takes on, and Miss Caroline should become a cult horror icon in her own right with her sunny personality and protective drive. Nyong’o should consider sticking with genre film in addition to her other various and outstanding projects, because she’s definitely a one of a kind asset that horror needs.
Between Us and Little Monsters, she’s well on her way to scream queen status and has already become a memorable final girl.
We all could use a bit of optimism in our lives, especially in some excessively trying situations, and Little Monsters is a beautiful sunny little film that is chock full of all the optimism that a person can crave.
Little Monsters is truly what I’d call a feel-good horror film and would definitely pair well with other infectious and uplifting horror comedies like Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil.
10. Doctor Sleep (2019)
Explored by Ethan Robles
Doctor Sleep (2019) was doomed to fail. How could anything stand up to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980)? Was it even possible for a movie to recreate the intimacies of an older, alcoholic Dan Torrence? Questions like these feel like they are the reason that Doctor Sleep underperformed at the box office. People thought that they didn’t need a sequel to The Shining. They were wrong.
Yes. Stephen King’s The Shining (1977) is a genre-defining horror novel. Moreover, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) is, undoubtedly, one of the most important horror films ever made.
Producing a sequel sounds like insanity. It feels excessive. But, of course, King delivered on a novel that took the horror out of the hotel and into the modern world. It was only a matter of time until Doctor Sleep (2013) was optioned and filmed. And in the Stephen King cinematic universe, there is only one director that could tackle such a herculean task: Mike Flanagan.
Years after the events at the Overlook Hotel, Dan Torrence is a recovering alcoholic using his psychic abilities to help people find solace in death. He soon finds another young woman who shines bright and a group of psychic vampires that want to feed off her for as long as they can. A much different plot than the isolated hotel horror.
Doctor Sleep (2019) is a controversial film. There’s no avoiding it. Die-hard Stephen King fans weren’t happy that Flanagan accepted Kubrick’s Shining as canon. Kubrick fans didn’t want King’s dislike of Kubrick’s film messing with the adaptation. Flanagan found himself trying to please both parties, while still producing an adaptation that would be entertaining.
Flanagan pulled it off. Doctor Sleep is best watched directly after Kubrick’s masterpiece.
Perhaps the best way possible to experience the Shining-universe is to read the book, watch Kubrick’s film, watch the King produced Mick Garris 1997 mini-series, and then watch Doctor Sleep. But for the casual fan, seeing Kubrick’s version is enough.
For me, The Shining is paramount. I’ve read and seen the story in book, film, and mini-series and I pushed off Doctor Sleep for a long time. When I read the book, I found that it filled a gap that I didn’t know that I was missing. I was skeptical about Flanagan’s adaptation, but I was mistaken.
Flanagan crafts a world that feels real. One of the hardest things to adapt is the consistent inner monologue in King’s work. Somehow, Doctor Sleep makes it natural. The visual effects, the story, and the emotional investment in Dan Torrence is all thanks to Flanagan’s delicate, intricate love for all things Stephen King. As a King fan, you feel seen and heard and understood. That is no easy feat.
Decades from now, horror fans will look back and count themselves lucky to be living in the age of Mike Flanagan.
If you’re stalling on Doctor Sleep, don’t. It’s a must see and a loving sequel to a beloved film.