The horror genre is one that includes many subgenre,: anywhere from slasher films to paranormal flicks to monster movies, and etc. There are also many creepy classics in horror that are more unconventional than others and don't necessarily fall into a specific genre. The film coming out this weekend directed by M. Night Shyamalan "Old" would most likely fall into this category. We definitely can't say yet whether it will be a horror classic, but from the trailer we certainly can tell that it's unconventional.
Shyamalan is known widely for turning the tables and putting clues right in front of your face that you'll never see, only to realize by the end of the movie that they were there all along. That's the beauty of horror films... they can be whatever you want them to be. You can give someone a mask and audiences will be spending the entire movie trying to guess who's underneath it. You can introduce a character that seems to be living, but maybe they're only living in someone's mind. Because of how diverse horror films can be, we've picked out our top 25 for the most unconventional classics you should check out immediately.
Four plus decades later, even though “Jaws” is one of the classics, it might not seem that unconventional for a horror film. At the time of its release, though, it was exactly that, introducing a popcorn adventure film aesthetic on top of a traditional monster movie premise. It ended up becoming the template for all summer blockbusters to follow…while still scaring the bejesus out of beachgoing audiences for good.
2Eyes Wide Shut
While Stanley Kubrick’s last film was viewed as a bit of a disappointment when it was released in 1999, its reputation has only grown in the past two decades. Now it's viewed as a fine psychological/horror warfare about sexual intimacy, which in retrospect, is a fascinating view as well of its once-married stars Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.
It isn’t just that Hollywood can be terrifying for those who come to it seeking fortune and fame. Here, David Lynch reveals it as a poisonous place that will actually consume souls. Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring are both effective as women trapped in Tinseltown who try to uncover a mystery behind one of their identities.
Top of the funnel is the hit Jordan Peele horror flick, that plays upon the anxieties of its black man in trapped in a white world premise in spectacular fashion and comes up with a surprise ending that really is a surprise. Kudos to Peele, and it paid dividends with the equally well-reviewed “Us.”
This pitch-black comedy from filmmaker Yorogos Lanthimos, starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, features an absurd premise where single people are forced to find a mate within 45 days. If they're unable to do so, they'll be transformed into an animal of their choice. Constant hilarity, though, isn’t really the point. Lanthimos is more concerned with creating an environment of unease and discomfort, which he successfully builds and maintains up to the film’s unconventional conclusion.
Martin Scorsese’s landmark ‘70s film is a showcase for Robert DeNiro as the paranoid New York City cabbie whose harrowing psychological journey is a mirror of the dark underbelly of American society. While the casual headlines at the end of the film make De Niro’s Travis Bickle out to be a hero who saves a young prostitute from the streets and the clutches of her sinister pimp, everything leading up to it tells a different story. One that’s quite horrific and disturbing.
In 1997, “Event Horizon” was unfairly maligned with such descriptors as “ugly,” “repellant” and “absolutely abhorrent.” 24 years later…all those words fit. And that’s what was intended. This is a sci-fi horror, ghost ship movie that’s disturbing in all ways, and all the more memorable for it. The now-acknowledged cult classic features sinister, supernatural, dark and evil undertones throughout. And there are lots of ghastly, gory scenes that once seen, can’t be unseen. Do you see? Yeah, we see it. And you can see it, too…at your own risk.
Michael Mann’s 1986 terrifying crime thriller, which some would argue is his finest film (“Heat” fans notwithstanding), is the prequel to the “Silence of the Lambs.” It involves FBI agent Will Graham’s pursuit of the notorious “Tooth Fairy” serial killer, eventually enlisting the aid of that other famous imprisoned serial killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (a role made famous five years later in “Silence of the Lambs” by Anthony Hopkins, but played here first – quite ingeniously – by veteran actor Brian Cox).
While “Donnie Darko” is also a science fiction film, and in many ways a superhero origin story about teenager Donnie Darko’s ultimate sacrifice, there’s a dark undercurrent throughout that makes most of it fit right into the horror genre, too. It’s there in the pacing, the cinematography, the music and score, and especially in Jake Gyllenhaal’s moody and committed performance as the title character. And we can't forget that weird inflection in his possessed voice. Plus, there’s whoever’s wearing that crazy demented bunny costume.
Darren Aronofsky is a master at creating horror films disguised as other genres – low-budget sci-fi (“Pi”), action (“The Wrestler”) and drama (“Requiem for a Dream”). While Jennifer Lawrence in the maternal horror “Mother!” seemed to go off the rails for most audiences, the intense ballerina nightmare “Black Swan” hit the discomfort sweet spot for critics and moviewatchers, and in turn won Natalie Portman a well-deserved Best Actress Oscar for her performance as the eternally tortured Nina Sayers/The Swan Queen.
Based in part on the Columbine school shootings, filmmaker Gus Van Sant’s fictional “Elephant” is an exercise in slow-building, real-life horrors, employing a mostly nonprofessional cast in the telling of a high school massacre which has no easy answers or explanations – just terror that’s still all-too real and happening too often in our world two decades later.
This 1990 cult gem isn’t nearly as well-known as some of the other titles on our list, but trust us, it’s thoroughly surprising and disturbing. You’ll remember it, and you’ll have nightmares. Even more terrifying than the visions Vietnam vet Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) experiences once he’s back to society and ‘70s New York are scenes of domestic normalcy…that seem completely satisfying and perfect…except they’re not. This is one head trip that once seen, can’t be shaken.
Described as a “supernatural psychological horror” film, “It Follows” holds tight onto two primal sources of anxiety – love and sex. The premise finds a supernatural terror being passed on from one to another via sex, and taking the form of human entities that can only be seen by the person being haunted. Thankfully for Oakland University student Jay (Maika Monroe), and audiences, she has lots of support from her male and female peers – making this a scarily effective roller coaster ride.
Atmosphere is critical for this unconventional horror classic, set in a remote countryside house in the Channel Islands in the aftermath of World War II. Nicole Kidman stars as a mother of two children whom she keeps hidden from the sunlight due to their own photo sensitivities. Her children claim to see ghosts. However, there may be something else at play – which we most definitely won’t reveal here.
This Aussie indie horror was initially a box office dud in its native state, only to be re-evaluated after its 2014 Sundance Film Festival premiere. Much like other recent horror independents such as “It Follows,” “The Witch” and “Hereditary,” “The Babadook,” which tells the creepy story of a mom and her young son haunted by visions of a tall, pale-skinned demon, succeeds more on an atmosphere of sustained dread than any type of big-budget gory effects. The conceit’s made even more terrifying by the departed husband/father, who was killed in a car accident driving his pregnant spouse in labor to the hospital.
16In the Mouth of Madness
John Carpenter has directed a ton of great, recognized horror films (“Halloween,” “The Thing,” “The Fog,” “Christine” and on and on). But this one starring Sam Neill as an insurance investigator looking into the disappearance of a horror novelist remains an underrated gem. It’s scary, unsettling and features no shortage of upsetting visuals as the protagonist descends deeper and deeper into insanity.
17Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
Perhaps no other David Lynch tale of terror invokes as much empathy for the suffering protagonist as his equally celebrated and reviled “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.” Like the TV series that inspired it, the film features lots of quirky touches and recounts the history of Twin Peaks and the times of Laura Palmer, the beauty queen who’s eventually raped and murdered by a malevolent force. The movie takes place in the days before her death, and makes clear that her life and spirit were consumed by darkness.
18Evil Dead 2
Sometimes, a horror movie is fairly straight up in its intents to scare the living daylights out of you. Other times, though, the film is bound and determined to do something different…and still be freaking scary. “Evil Dead 2,” one of the unconventional horror classics from Sam Raimi, does two things in equal measure…the atmosphere and gore and effects are still really upsetting…but they also tickle your funny bone. It’s sort of like The Road Runner on acid, and with an R rating.
19The Company of Wolves
Long before she was Mrs. Potts in “Beauty and the Beast,” or reached legendary status on “Murder She Wrote,” Angela Lansbury played the oh-so-seemingly-gentle Granny in director Neil Jordan’s (“The Crying Game”) gothic horror “The Company of Wolves.” This film reimagines the tale of Red Riding Hood in a fashion where the terror’s very real – and possibly never-ending.
Gone-too-soon actor Bill Paxton (“Aliens,” “Apollo 13,” HBO’s “Big Love,” countless other memorable roles and projects) also directed a gothic horror minor masterpiece called “Frailty,” which recounts the story of the “God’s Hand” serial killer. Paxton himself plays the widowed blue-collar worker who receives word from above that he must vanquish demons in the form of humans from the Earth, and recruits his two young sons to help him.
21Under the Skin
Technically, “Under the Skin” is a sci-fi/thriller starring Scarlett Johansson as an alien disguised as an attractive woman who stalks the Scottish countryside in search of human (men in particular) prey. As directed and co-written by Jonathan Glazer, it’s a supremely haunting, unnerving and terrifying experience.
Pretty much every film from director David Lynch deserves a spot on our list of unconventional horror classics. But at the top of that horrifying oeuvre is his 1977 film surreal classic “Eraserhead.” Whether it's your first or 50th viewing, it's hard to stomach. The bizarre images in our bizarre protagonist Henry’s (Jack Nance) world include a disfigured woman who lives inside his building’s radiator and a young offspring who’s more otherworldly creature than actual human being.
23The Cabin in the Woods
What looks to be another typical “cabin in the woods” slasher film involving an incredibly good-looking and increasingly diminished group of young twentysomethings turns out to be something much more complex – and nefarious – than those surface elements. Writer-director Drew Goddard, and producer Joss Whedon (fresh off “The Avengers”) upend the genre with some “meta” plot devices that still play quite nicely within the film’s horror genre framework.
Mentioned briefly in connection to Jordan Peele's other hit "Get Out," we would definitely consider this film as one of the most unconventional horror classics. When just taking a glance at the trailer, this film is almost impossible to interpret or understand. We see some murderous doppelgangers trying to kill their lookalikes for no reason that we can think of. The other big question... where did they come from? The mind of director Jordan Peele is one that continues to produce some new and inventive ideas, with his new upcoming film "Nope" already in the works.
25The Sixth Sense
Here’s where filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan made his name – and has been trying to live up to it ever since. “The Sixth Sense” is a veritable thriller/suspense classic on par with the best from genre master Alfred Hitchcock. It was a deserved pop culture phenomenon, and still has one of the best endings in movie history.
About the Author
Jesse is a writer and content manager for Noovie. When he's not working, he's on the beach playing volleyball.