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Fright night: Seven unappreciated horror movies

Seven truly scary movies perfect for Halloween viewing

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Freaks (1932) Not many horror movies from the thirties have retained their shock-factor, but Tod Browning’s pre-Code homage to sideshow performers still startles, primarily because he chose to use actual carnival stars. The main storyline involves a romance between a clown named Phroso (Wallace Ford) and the acrobat Venus (Leila Hyams), but the reason to watch remains the quirky snapshots of the sideshow acts, including The Stork Woman (Elizabeth Green), conjoined twins Daisy and Violet (Daisy and Violet Hilton), the Human Skeleton (Peter Robinson) and of course, the Living Torso (Prince Randian), armless and legless but still quite capable of rolling and lighting a cigarette using only his mouth.


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Near Dark (1987) Long before she collected a Best Director Oscar for The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow helmed this powerful contemporary spin on the vampire drama. Set in the dusty American southwest, the story revolves around a restless farmhand named Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) who falls for the sexy young drifter Mae (Jenny Wright). Turns out Mae is a vampire but kind of likes Caleb so instead of draining him of blood and leaving him to die, she turns him into a fellow bloodsucker. Her decision does not rest well with Mae’s “family,” a nasty crew of biker-style bloodsuckers run by the very ancient Jesse (Lance Henriksen) and psychotic helper Severen (Bill Paxton). Not overly bloody, but very scary.


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They Live (1988) The film canon of director John Carpenter has more misses (The Fog, Prince of Darkness, Ghosts of Mars) than hits (Halloween, Escape from new York), but he was firing on all cylinders with this apocalyptic sci-fi saga. The story features pro wrestler Roddy Piper delivering a surprisingly solid performance as the drifter named Nada (Spanish for nothing), who is wandering through a burnt-out L.A. in search of day labour and a place to sleep. Nada’s perspective shifts markedly, however, when he happens upon sunglasses revealing the truth—specifically, billboards commanding people to Obey or Sleep, and paper money that says, “This is Your God.” Aliens have taken over and are brainwashing us! Look to the skies!


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eXistenZ (1999) Written, produced and directed by Canada’s own David Cronenberg, this offbeat sci-fi horror feature is a head trip from start to finish. Set in the near future, the setup features Jennifer Jason Leigh as the enigmatic Allegra Geller, the world’s top video-game designer, who is in the middle of testing her latest virtual-reality game, called eXistenZ, with an unwitting focus group. After an assassin with a strange organic gun attempts to kill her, Allegra takes it on the lam with only the ineffectual marketing trainee Ted Pikul (Jude Law) to protect her. While on the run, Ted has a gameport installed into the base of his spine and soon the pair enter a disturbing game world where reality seems an afterthought.


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Dark City (1998) The future is a dark and terrible place in this neo-noir thriller directed by Alex Proyas (The Crow). Rufus Sewell plays a dour amnesiac named John who can’t remember if he committed a series of brutal killings, but is still dodging a dogged cop (William Hurt). John attempts to recover his memory with the assistance of the unhinged scientist Dr. Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland), but his efforts are derailed by The Strangers, a species of tall, bald and seriously malevolent aliens that leave beneath the city streets and feed off the memories and dreams of humans. Watch for the great Richard O’Brien (better known as Riff Raff in The Rocky Horror Picture Show) as the Stranger named Mr. Hand.


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Dead Alive (1992) Nobody can say Peter Jackson doesn’t like to mix humour and horror. In his second film (following the gross-out Bad Taste), Jackson pulled out all the special-effects stops to tell the story of the hopeless smalltown nerd Lionel (Timothy Balme), who is saddled with caring for his wretched mother Vera (Elizabeth Moody), but hopeful of a romantic future with local girl Paquita (Dana Penalver). Then Vera is bitten by a Sumatran rat monkey at the zoo and is transformed into a ravenous, flesh-eating zombie and Lionel is the only person capable of preventing her from infecting the rest of the town. If you can get through the goop, it’s a hoot.


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Mimic (1997) As he’s shown with the films Pan’s Labryinth, Hellboy and, most recently, Pacific Rim, Mexican film director Guillermo del Toro has his own unique style in the horror genre. In this unsettling story, Mira Sorvino plays an entomologist who has teamed with her scientist hubby (Jeremy Northam) to genetically create a large breed of insect in hopes of stemming New York’s cockroach scourge. Problem is, the new insect turns out to be a super-sized winged creature nearly six-feet in length with a healthy appetite for meat and the ability to imitate other creatures. As with most new arrivals in the Big Apple, the giant killer-bug finds refuge in the city’s subway tunnels.


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