The screenwriter behind the epic sharks vs. Daryl Hannah and F. Murray Abraham tv movie Shark Swarm, the devil-worshipping biker film Hard Ride To Hell, and Mike Mendez's upcoming slasher mash-up Overkill, shares his top ten cinema obscurities in the hopes that watching them will help you avoid killer sharks, satanist bikers, and boredom!
1. Dust Devil (1992): Cult director Richard Stanley’s art-house horror masterpiece, this follows demonic shapeshifter Robert Burke as he roams the bleak deserts of South Africa in a quest to consume the souls who have lost the will to live. Hunted by a policeman recovering from the death of his son, the demon holes up with an abused woman who has recently left her husband. With an utterly unique storyline, exceptional performances and sumptuous visuals, this is one of my favorite films of ANY genre.
2. Nomads (1986): It’s a shame that director John McTiernan (Predator, Die Hard) never did more in the horror genre, because his first film, featuring Pierce Brosnan as a French anthropologist who discovers that a group of homeless Los Angeles punks are actually restless, wandering spirits, packs one hell of a punch. Surreal, slick and nightmarish, it’s one of the greatest undiscovered horror films of the 80s and is ripe for rediscovery.
3. Night Warning (1983) : One of the most bizarre psychotronic films of the 80s, this follows an orphaned teenager who becomes the sole obsession of his overbearing, psychotic aunt (a truly disturbing turn by Susan Tyrell). She quickly draws him into a web of madness and murder, while an equally unhinged homophobic cop doggedly following his own demented agenda blames the boy for his aunt’s misdeeds. This film pushes at every taboo and boundary possible and leaves one deeply bothered by the time the credits roll.
4. The Beguiled (1971) : It begins as a Southern period drama with Clint Eastwood (in a career-best performance) in the role of a wounded Union soldier taking shelter in a Confederate girl’s school. There he does his best to charm and manipulate both the teachers and students... leading to a drastic decision from the headmistress. As it slowly moves into gothic horror, it features one of the most squirm-inducing "surgery" scenes ever filmed. Remarkable on every level, think of this as director Don Siegel’s thoughtful take on Tales From The Crypt.
5. Race With The Devil (1975) : During a motorcycling trip through Texas, drinking buddies Peter Fonda and Warren Oates, along with their wives, accidentally stumble across a Satanic sacrifice. Once they’re seen by the evildoers, they go on the run, only to discover menace lurking around every corner as their pursuers steadily close in, leading to an inevitably stark ending. I first caught this super-creepy film at a Texas drive-in during my youth, and it’s never left me – it even served as a primary inspiration for my own similarly themed 2010 horror film, Hard Ride To Hell.
6. Xtro (1983) : Imagine E.T. The Extraterrestrial re-envisioned as a surreal, low budget horror film in which a malignant alien enters the life of a boy with a missing father figure... and then the alien begins to rape and murder characters while occasionally eating snake eggs and bringing toys to life. Yes, it’s just as nonsensical as it sounds, but it’s also filled with indelibly bizarre images and endlessly fascinating.
7. Shock Waves (1977) : On a deserted island, a former Nazi U-boat commandant (played by the great Peter Cushing) has done the unthinkable – he has created an army of Nazi Zombies! I repeat...Peter Cushing, Nazi Zombies. If that doesn’t immediately excite you, then you’re not my kind of horror fan. There are images here (notably those of the undead soldiers slowly rising from the water) that will haunt me for the rest of my days.
8. Burnt Offerings (1976) : Genre god Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows, The Night Stalker) helmed this theatrical feature in which Oliver Reed, accompanied by his wife, young son and mother-in-law become summer caretakers for a gothic country mansion that soon exerts an unearthly influence and brings out their sinister sides. The movie is a slow burn that leads to a genuinely shocking ending, and if I were a betting man, I’d lay odds that Stephen King was at least partially influenced by this when he wrote The Shining.
9. The Boogens (1981) : This fun, gory creature feature popped up in the middle of the early-80s slasher cycle and was a welcome relief from the onslaught of films featuring cardboard characters getting diced by masked maniacs. When a Colorado silver mine is reopened, hordes of scaly, mutated creatures get loose and commence killing every small town citizen in their path. It’s worth seeking out if for no other reason than to witness the scene in which a poodle is yanked through a tiny heating vent and pulverized.
10. A Cold Night's Death (1973) : The 1970s was the golden age of horror, and even small screen offerings were better than most genre material today. This telefilm, produced by Aaron Spelling long before his 90210 days, features Robert Culp and Eli Wallach as scientists sent to an Arctic research base (shades of The Thing) to conduct isolation research on a group of primates, is a case study of mood and chilling atmosphere. It seems that the last team of scientists all turned up dead, and our two heroes soon begin to think that supernatural forces might be at work... or is it something else altogether? The film is incredibly difficult to track down, but the twist ending alone makes it worth the hunt.