Underrated Horror Films

Oct 252006
Authors: JEFF SCHWARTZl The Rocky Mountain Collegian

Here are some classic horror films (and one TV show) that will get your pulse going and remind you that the scariest stuff ain’t psychos with chainsaws-it’s the stuff from the demented playground of the mind.

Alien (1979)

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Ian Holm

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Compared to some modern creature-features, “Alien” might seem relatively tame, considering many of the killings occur off-screen, and nothing much happens in the film’s first 40 minutes. But that’s part of the effectiveness and maniacal charm of “Alien;” so much of the film depends on its buildup. “Alien” stars a then-unknown Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley, a crew member on the Nostromo, a ship in deep space that is forced to answer a distress call on an uncharted planet. What the crew of the Nostromo encounters is one of the most terrifying and grotesque extraterrestrials ever to grace celluloid, whose acid blood and double hinged jaws soon begin to make mincemeat of Nostromo’s crew. An enchanting haunted house of a film.

The Dead Zone (1983)

Starring: Christopher Walken and Martin Sheen

Directed by: David Cronenberg

One of the most acclaimed adaptations of a Stephen King novel, this film focuses on Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken), a teacher who enters into a coma after a car accident and wakes up five years later with the ability to see people’s futures just by touching them. Smith’s newfound power is put to the test when he shakes the hand of a corrupt politician (is there any other kind?) played with smarmy charisma by Sheen, who, if elected, will cause a nuclear holocaust. Though not strictly a horror film, “The Dead Zone” is brimming full of suspense, and it has lost none of its power in the 20-some years since its release.

Manhunter (1986)

Starring: Brian Cox and William Peterson

Directed by: Michael Mann

Before “Red Dragon” and even before “The Silence of the Lambs,” there was “Manhunter,” a sleek, terrifying adaptation of Thomas Harris’ first Hannibal Lecter novel “Red Dragon.” The film is also noted for not featuring Anthony Hopkins in the role of Lecter, but rather Brian Cox, a character actor who has appeared in such varied films as “Braveheart,” “The Bourne Identity” and “Troy.” Cox does not have the menacing, over-the-top charm of Hopkins, but his take on Lecter is subtly hair-raising. The story features Peterson as Will Graham, a criminal profiler who first captured Lecter and must now consult with the infamous killer in order to catch another psychopathic murderer dubbed “the Tooth Fairy.” Highly recommended for any fan of “The Silence of the Lambs.”

The X-Files: The Complete First Season (1993-1994)

Starring: David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson

Directed by: Various

Probably the best season from what was often the scariest show on TV, the first season of “The X-Files” features everything from alien abductions, to artificial intelligence running murderously amok, to a killer who has the ability to squeeze his way through spaces as tiny as ventilator shafts before ruthlessly sneaking up on his victims. Shot on location in Vancouver, the episodes benefit from an authentically creepy atmosphere of fog-shrouded forests and quaint Northwestern towns that look like they might have a secret to hide. But the real success of the series was due to its two main characters, FBI agents Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) whose believability firmly grounded the supernatural series in the real world. And even during the scariest episodes (which include “Ice,” “Beyond the Sea” and “Squeeze”) the action is always leavened by humor, particularly by the caustically charming Duchovny.

Duel (1971)

Starring: Dennis Weaver

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

In both its concept and execution, “Duel” is as nightmarish as any modern horror film. It features Weaver as a traveling salesman who, while on a dusty, rural California highway, indifferently passes a lumbering gas trailer truck, only to be murderously pursued by the same truck for the rest of the film. Anyone who has ever driven on a highway (particularly a rural stretch of highway) will find this film to be horrifyingly plausible. It is also a great example of Steven Spielberg’s genius for suspense, as he fills the screen with epic shots of screeching tires, straining speedometers and the look of utter terror on Dennis Weaver’s face as he tries to avoid being run over by the truck and its never-seen driver. “Duel” is a suspenseful masterpiece with an ingenious ending.

Staff writer Jeff Schwartz can be reached at verve@collegian.com.

The opinions expressed in this article reflect the views of the individual author and not necessarily those of the Collegian.

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