The Underrated Horrors Lurking in Cinema’s Shadows
When the world dons a dark cloak, throws on a hat of mystery, and indulges in the tales of the macabre, there’s a cavalcade of films that have, over time, cast a long, intimidating shadow over the genre of horror.
Names like “The Exorcist”, “Psycho”, and “The Shining” come to mind. But lurking beneath this colossal titan of mainstream horror exists a collection of gems, lost in the annals of cinematic history, waiting for their due. And for those who dare to venture deeper, there are book adaptations that keep the lights on and the pages turning.
Film: “The Changeling” (1980)
A masterclass in how to induce sheer dread, George C. Scott’s haunted house tale is a prime example of atmosphere over jump scares. The tale of a man grappling with personal loss, only to find himself in the midst of a ghostly child’s plea for justice, has been overshadowed by the big-budget spectacles of its time. But it’s the film’s quiet moments, the slow-burning tension, and the meticulous build-up that leaves the audience gasping for breath.
Book and Screen: “The Woman in Black” (1983, 2012)
Susan Hill’s novella is a chilling Victorian tale that combines isolation, mourning, and a malevolent spirit to hair-raising effect. The bleak marshes, the haunted Eel Marsh House, and the eponymous Woman in Black come together to create a tableau of pure terror. While the Daniel Radcliffe film adaptation takes a few liberties, it captures the book’s desolate atmosphere. An old-school ghost story, it’s a surprise that this hasn’t secured its place among the genre’s elites.
Film: “Lake Mungo” (2008)
It’s a documentary-style film that feels so authentic, one might be forgiven for thinking it’s real. Following a family’s attempt to come to terms with the drowning of their daughter, the film slowly unveils a series of dark secrets. It’s an unsettling watch, not because of what’s shown, but because of what’s implied, what’s left to the viewer’s imagination.
Book and Screen: “Ghost Story” (1979, 1981)
Peter Straub’s novel is an epic tale spanning multiple generations, drenched in dread and punctuated by moments of visceral horror. The story revolves around four elderly men bound by a terrible secret from their past, as they confront a vengeful entity. The film adaptation, starring Fred Astaire and John Houseman, among others, condenses the narrative but retains its eerie essence. It’s a spine-chiller that deserves a second look.
Film: “Session 9” (2001)
An atmospheric horror set in an abandoned mental institution, it delves into the psyche of its characters while offering a fair share of scares. The movie’s gradual descent into madness, combined with its bleak setting, creates a palpable tension that lingers. It’s less about what lurks around the corner and more about what lurks within us.
Book: “The Little Stranger” (2009)
Sarah Waters crafts a post-WWII tale wrapped in class struggles, familial decay, and something potentially supernatural. Dr. Faraday, our reliable or maybe not-so-reliable narrator, becomes entwined with the Ayres family and their decaying mansion. Is it the house? Is it the mind? Waters doesn’t offer easy answers, making this a compelling, ambiguous read.
Film: “The Blackcoat’s Daughter” (2015)
It’s a tale of possession, but not the kind you’d expect. Set in a boarding school during winter break, the film weaves two parallel narratives that converge in a heart-stopping climax. Its strength lies in its atmosphere, the overwhelming sense of dread, and its commitment to show the emotional toll of its characters.
Book: “The Fisherman” (2016)
Langan’s novel is cosmic horror at its finest. Two widowers find solace in fishing, only to discover a mysterious fishing spot with a dark history. The narrative takes a detour midway, recounting a tale within a tale. It’s an unsettling journey that explores grief, redemption, and the unknowable.
Film: “The Ritual” (2017)
Four friends embark on a hike in the Scandinavian wilderness, honoring a dead friend. But when they take a shortcut, things go south. The film blends Norse mythology with personal guilt, resulting in a creature feature that’s as much about internal demons as it is about external ones.
Delving into the overlooked corners of horror reveals that there’s more to the genre than meets the eye. From the cold corridors of haunted houses to the chilling expanse of desolate landscapes, from age-old secrets to modern-day anxieties, these underrated treasures beckon with open arms and whispered promises. The big names might dominate the marquee, but the hidden gems, they’re the ones that stay, lurking in the shadows, long after the credits roll. And for the brave souls who seek them out, the rewards are immeasurable. The stage is set. The reel’s rolling. The page is turning. Dive deep and discover.