At the turn of the century, advances in filmmaking technologies coupled with the rise of the Internet and streaming services like Netflix created a new Golden Age for horror movies. The sheer number of genre films available to aficionados swelled to epic proportions. The only downside to this glorious renaissance is that it became easier for truly excellent horror movies to fall through cracks and fly under radars as our cups ranneth over.
This made compiling a list of only 10 underrated gems from the 2000s especially difficult, as dozens of worthy candidates didn’t make the cut. I’ll make no assertion that these are the best unappreciated films of the era, but they’re titles I find myself recommending repeatedly, often lamenting I can’t gush about a their greatness with folks who haven’t seen them. So if you take me up on one of these recommendations, let me know what your thoughts. And please share some of your favorite lesser-known horror movies from the 2000s in the Comments section!
THE NEW DAUGHTER (2009, Directed by Luis Berdejo)
Luis Berdejo’s allegorical THE NEW DAUGHTER is as poignant as it is terrifying. The film, meshes psychological horror with monster tropes to create a metaphor for female puberty and paternal anxieties on par with THE WITCH. Berdejo is best known as the Spanish scribe who penned [REC] and [REC] 3: GENESIS, as well as the American adaptations QUARANTINE and QUARANTINE 2: TERMINAL.
THE NEW DAUGHTER is available on DVD and Blu-ray at a reasonable price; it can also be streamed on Amazon.
CHERRY FALLS (2000, Directed by Geoffrey Wright)
CHERRY FALLS is the most intelligent and subversive evisceration of horror movie clichés since SCREAM. The film centers on a serial killer who targets virgins exclusively, prompting the female students at a local High School to throw a Cherry Popping Party (a “Hymen Holocaust” if you will). The film was viciously slashed by the MPAA so many times, theaters at the time were nervous about playing it. After further butchering, it went on to have the dubious honor of being the most expensive feature film to premiere on television. CHERRY FALLS is actually one of late actress Brittany Murphy’s best roles. She and Michael Biehn (who plays Sherriff Brent Marken) shine as daughter and father.
Thank God for the folks at Scream Factory for resurrecting CHERRY FALLS with a beautiful Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray earlier this year. They were able to restore the film to its R-rated glory but, unfortunately, much of the excised footage is lost forever.
WHAT LIES BENEATH (2000, Directed by Robert Zemeckis)
WHAT LIES BENEATH is a potent psychological and emotional horror with serious supernatural inclinations. Like the title suggests, it’s an exploration of turmoil that hides beneath the surface of what appears to be a happy, affluent, educated couple. Themes of madness and examples of gaslighting abound in a film that delivers one hell of a 3rd Act twist. Prepare to see Harrison Ford like you’ve never seen him before—or since.
WHAT LIES BENEATH has never been released on Blu-ray, but it exists on DVD in several forms. You can get it by itself, as part of THE HARRISON FORD TRIPLE FEATURE along with WITNESS and PATRIOT GAMES, or on 2007s’ FRIGHT NIGHT COLLECTION along with RED EYE, SLEEPY HOLLOW, and THE HAUNTING.
DEAD BIRDS (2004, Directed by Alex Turner)
The historical horror DEAD BIRDS is a platinum example of Southern Gothic, exuding a pervasively dreadful mood under an ever-dreary aesthetic. E.T’s Elliot, aka actor Henry Thomas, is all grown up as Confederate soldier William. He has amazing chemistry with Todd (played by Isaiah Washington) who plays an escaped slave who’s part of the band of thieving deserters. When the motley crew seeks shelter in an abandoned farm house, they’re plagued by the paranormal forces within. Fans of atmospheric thrillers, as well as those who like western-themed horror like RAVENOUS, BONE TOMAHAWK, and THE BURROWERS will definitely enjoy this underappreciated jewel.
DEAD BIRDS doesn’t have a Blu-ray, but you can get a brand new DVD from Amazon for less than $10. It’s an inexpensive way to beef-up your horror movie collection.
SEVERANCE (2006, Directed by Christopher Smith)
English director Christopher Smith is most famous for his plague-era historical horror BLACK DEATH; he’s also been celebrated for his contemporary shockers CREEP in 2004 and the mind-bending TRIANGLE in 2009. But Smith’s most underrated film is also his most unique and mischievous. The straight-up horror comedy SEVERANCE. It’s a film that will have you laughing, wincing, and gagging from start to finish. It’s also a hugely original take on the cabin-in-the-woods motif with a talented cast ensemble cast and a crackling script that Smith co-wrote with James Moran.
SEVERANCE is available to stream on Amazon, and a new DVD will set you back less than $10, but it’s yet to receive the Blu-ray reissue it deserves.
TURISTAS (2006, Directed by John Stockwell)
Coming out less than a year after the hugely influential HOSTEL, TURISTAS was dismissed by many as another torture porn knock-off—which is a damn shame. While there are some surface similarities (tourists with entitlement issues running afoul of locals), TURISTAS is something else entirely. Yes it’s bloody and violent, but there is a purpose to the gore that goes way beyond simple sadistic satisfaction. The situation feels real, and neither the Americans/Europeans nor the locals are two-dimensional stereotypes. Even the main antagonist is surprisingly nuanced (and terrifying!). It also features an intense cat-and-mouse chase through underwater caves that will leave you gasping! As xenophobia and class disparity seems to be on the rise, TURISTAS is suddenly quite timely. If you’re a fan of vacations from Hell like THE PERFECT GETAWAY and CHERNOBYL DIARIES, consider TURISTA a must-watch.
And if you’re a collector, the DVD should be considered a must-own—at least until it’s released on Blu-ray. Fingers crossed.
OTIS (2008, Directed by Tony Krantz)
One of the most underrated horror movies of the 2000s was released straight to DVD, and therefore went unnoticed by many who mistakenly believe the only films worth seeing are theatrical releases. OTIS is almost like a funny reimagining of THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, where a family’s attempt to avenge their daughter/sister’s kidnapping leads to a comedy of errors of Shakespearian proportions. OTIS will also appeal to fans of films like HARD CANDY and YOU’RE NEXT where would-be perpetrators pick the wrong victim to mess with! OTIS would make for a perfect prom-themed double feature along with Sean Byrne’s THE LOVED ONES, as Lola (Robin McLeavy) and the titular Otis (Bostin Christopher) might be soulmates! Just how funny is it? OTIS features Daniel Stern and Illeana Douglas; need I say more?
Rejoice: You can find OTIS on Blu-ray for about $10. What are you waiting for?
THE COTTAGE (2008, Directed by Paul Andrew Williams)
Andy Serkis is best known for the characters he brings to life through motion-capture technology (like Gollum in THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, Cesar in the PLANET OF THE APES franchise, and Kong in 2006’s KING KONG), but he excels as David in THE COTTAGE with nothing but his innate acting skills. What begins as a kidnapping gone bad takes a 2nd Act twist you won’t see coming with a telescope; it ventures into territory fans of gore and slashers will adore. Also, keep your eye out for Doug Bradley (HELLRAISER’s Pinhead) in a wicked little cameo.
THE COTTAGE can be streamed on Amazon or purchased on DVD, but no Blu-ray exists at this time.
THE HILLS RUN RED (2009, Directed by Dave Parker)
The decision to release THE HILLS RUN RED (featured image) straight to DVD as opposed to giving it the theatrical release it truly deserved, was a missed opportunity of epic proportions for Dark Castle Entertainment and Warner Brothers. I’m not exaggerating when I say it could have launched the best horror franchise since FRIDAY THE 13TH. The masked villain Babyface (played by Danko Jordanov) seems like a Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers knock-off, but he’s a more insidious breed of psychopath. THE HILLS RUN RED introduces us to the most dysfunctional horror family since The Sawyers from THE TEXAS CAINSAW MASSACRE. It’s an intelligent, meta-film with subtexts exploring hero worship and artistic obsession. And while the ending is totally satisfying, THE HILLS RUN RED was left wide opened for a sequel. I shake my head every time I imagine what could have been.
No Blu-ray, but you can find THE HILLS RUN RED on DVD or stream it on Amazon.
THE JACKET (2005, Directed by John Maybury)
Fans of David Lynch, JACOB’S LADDER, and asylum-set psychological horror will love THE JACKET, as will fans of metaphysical sci-fi like PRIMER and THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT. It’s a slow burn, character-driven experience, which is probably why it didn’t catch on with gore-loving horror fans. But those in the know can attest to the mind-boggling thrills found within THE JACKET. The cast is A-List all the way, with stellar performances from Adrien Brody, Keira Knightley, Kris Kristofferson, Daniel Craig, and Jennifer Jason Leigh; there’s even a supporting appearance from Mackenzie Phillips. Those who appreciate drama, mystery, and complex storytelling with their horror won’t be disappointed by THE JACKET.
There isn’t a Blu-ray, but THE JACKET can be found on DVD or streamed on Amazon.