That’s what we want to do when someone suggests another conventional, popular scary movie to watch for the Halloween season.
We all know the usual suspects, don’t we?
Sure we do. We have “Psycho,” “The Haunting,” “The Exorcist,” the complete works of Dario Argento, “Repulsion,” “Halloween,” the “Elm Street” franchise, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” the “Evil Dead” trilogy, Universal Studios’ classic monster movies, TV films “The Night Stalker” plus “Trilogy of Terror” and all the tried-and-true others.
Submitted for your approval: 13 off-the-beaten-bloody-path chillers not necessarily on everyone’s movie radar. (Sorry, no slasher films or torture porn qualify.)
1. “The Orphanage”
Juan Antonio Bayona’s 2007 supernatural shocker (produced by Guillermo del Toro) tells the tale of an adult orphan (Belen Rueda) who buys the rickety old seaside house where she grew up and transforms it into a school for disabled children.
Then her 7-year-old son begins talking to people nobody else can see. Add to that a missing child and Geraldine Chaplin’s skeletal paranormal investigator and you’ve got the creepiest movie ever made that constantly references “Peter Pan.”
Angela Bettis’ underrated performance as a shy, introverted high school student highlights Lucky McKee’s perfectly pitched 2003 gothic drama about a lonely girl’s unorthodox efforts to create the perfect friend. Anna Faris and Jeremy Sisto help her out, not always willingly.
St. Charles’ police chief (Bruce Davison) and his deputy (Randall Batinkoff) investigate the possible return of an escaped serial killer in the locally shot “Munger Road.”
3. “Munger Road”
Produced and shot in St. Charles by local resident Nick Smith, directing and writing a first feature combining an escaped serial killer, two high school couples stuck over some haunted railroad tracks, and a very worried police chief (Bruce Davison). An unusually confident first effort with some nice scary flair.
Anthony Hopkins creeps out audiences as a ventriloquist with a nasty dummy in “Magic.”
Long before he gave the world Hannibal Lecter, Anthony Hopkins played a failing ventriloquist whose career receives an adrenaline shot from a new, nasty dummy named Fats.
Yes, Michael Redgrave already did the evil ventriloquist’s dummy routine in “Dead of Night,” but Hopkins’ tortured 1978 performance is a worthy match for William Goldman’s polished screenplay and Richard Attenborough’s direction.
5. “The Devil’s Backbone”
Guillermo del Toro’s ghostly 2001 period political allegory foreshadowed his later production of “The Orphanage.” During the Spanish Civil War, a couple operating a remote orphanage takes in a young boy left behind by his parents. He begins to experience strange visions at the same time an unexploded bomb from Franco’s forces lies in the nearby courtyard.
Two sisters (Ambyr Childers and Julie Garner) make a terrible discovery in the horror tale “We Are What We Are.”
6. “We Are What We Are”
Jim Mickle’s slow-fused chiller is one of those “what’s wrong with this family?” dramas climaxed by a horror-ific scene nobody sees coming. Two sisters (Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner) keep saying they want to lead normal lives after the death of their mother, and the rest of the movie shows us why they’re can’t, especially with their strange dad (Bill Sage) in charge.
7. “The Girl Next Door”
If you see this movie once, you will never want to see it again. Reminiscent of “The River’s Edge,” this 2007 conscience-blanching drama tells a harrowing story about a girl trapped and tortured in a basement while neighborhood kids hang around and watch — but never think to tell anyone about it. Gregory Wilson’s humanity-scorching movie, based on Jack Ketchum’s novel, laments the horror of children devoid of empathy chips.
A claustrophobic study in burgeoning paranoia awaits a radio talk show host (Stephen McHattie) whose evening drive time becomes flooded by reports of people succumbing to an ominous form of homicidal dementia.
The idea of spoken words containing communicable viruses is diabolically clever in Tony Burgess’ eerie story, which Chicago’s own Straw Dog Theater recently adapted into a riveting stage show.
9. “Black Christmas”
Before he gave us the beloved cult comedy “A Christmas Story,” Bob Clark directed this harrowing tale of a psycho killer lurking around a sorority house populated by “Romeo and Juliet” star Olivia Hussey and a pre-“Superman” Margot Kidder. Those eyeball-in-the-door-jamb shots! Yikes!
Clark’s film predated “Halloween” by four years, but his film wasn’t circulated in the U.S. until the 1980s under the title “Stranger in the House.”
10. “Let’s Scare Jessica to Death”
This harrowing early cheapie effort from first-time director John D. Hancock (“Bang the Drum Slowly”) makes no attempt to explain anything, and that’s its power. Steeped in hilarious 1971 period attributes (Hey, cool peace sign on your car door, man!), the story concerns a recently discharged mental patient (Zohra Lampert) who moves to a farm with her hubby. Then haunting voices begin taunting her, and the townspeople get a little strange.
11. “The Re-Animator”
Stuart Gordon, controversial former artistic director of Chicago’s Organic Theatre, whipped up this gross, 1985 indie classic between Thanksgiving and Christmas. H.P. Lovecraft’s updated Frankenstein story of a mad scientist (Jeffrey Combs) bringing back the dead. Black comedy has never been so nervously hilarious.
Not the virtual reality headset hyped by Mark Zuckerberg. It’s Mike Flanagan’s risky, twisty tale of two siblings struggling to destroy an evil entity that’s been killing people for centuries while hiding in a large mirror.
Flanagan based his feature on his own short film shown at 2007’s Microcinema Fest in Palatine, where it deservedly won the Best of the Fest award. The big unsettling question the movie poses: How do you fight something with the power to control what you see?
13. “The Lady in White”
This atmospheric little gem comes from filmmaker Frank LaLoggia, who wrote, directed and composed the nerve-jangling score for this Norman Rockwellian tale of a small town menaced by a serial killer of children. When a boy (Lukas Haas) locked in the old school house witnesses a ghostly re-enactment of a murder, he’s plunged into a dangerous mystery finessed with style and intensity.