Lost horror movies nobody talks about anymore

Way back at the dawn of time that was the 1970s and '80s, your grandpa and his friends didn't have streaming media like us future people. They had to rely on VHS tapes, great big honkers the size of shoeboxes that displayed crappy video, and did it poorly. The thing is, some pretty cool movies were released to home video during that time, and a lot of them never made the jump to other formats as technology progressed. If you ask the internet nicely enough, you can still find those old tapes floating around, and if you happen to be a horror fan, there's some real gold to mine.

Many of these obscure and underappreciated horror movies of yore are films you'll only be able to watch if you catch some weirdo selling off his old VHS copies on eBay — and if you and four friends are able to haul that old 60-pound VCR out of Grandpa's storage unit. Other films here can be found online, maybe in official DVD releases, or in bootleg format. (Please don't buy bootleg copies — their quality is crap, and you aren't really helping anything.) Here are lost horror films that definitely deserved better.

Blood Beach (1981)

If the title Blood Beach alone doesn't perk up your ears, perhaps a little context. In 1975, a very young Steven Spielberg screwed Hollywood forever by inventing the summer blockbuster with Jaws. During the next several years, there were about 16,984 ripoffs of that film, most of which were in no way subtle. By 1980, audiences had been subjected to so many iterations on the same theme that filmmakers were starting to run out of ways to get people into the mouths of sharks. That's when one desperate screenwriter had a brilliant idea: what if the beach itself was eating people?

That is the supremely insane premise of Blood Beach, which begins with a woman out walking her dog getting sucked under the sand by some unseen beast. Because this is an '80s horror movie, several more sand-suckings must happen before anyone notices, no one is smart enough to simply stay away from the beach, and the film ends with a ridiculous-looking monster getting blown to bits (and an obligatory sequel setup). In short, it's brilliant. Sadly, the potential sequel (Bloodier Beach? Son of the Beach?) never materialized, and the film never received a DVD or Blu-Ray release because its distributor went broke. If you happen to secure a copy on eBay, be prepared for a jolt when it arrives — as any '80s kid will tell you, the VHS cover art is freaking terrifying.

Killers (1996)

Director and editor Mike Mendez is the kind of guy who makes movies with names like Big Ass Spider! and Bimbo Movie Bash. His 1996 debut feature Killers is about as obscure as it gets, but if you're able to hunt down a copy, you won't be disappointed. Because of its title and year of release, it's been assumed by some to be a Natural Born Killers ripoff — but it might even out-crazy that super-crazy film.

The movie opens with two brothers shotgunning their parents in a manner very similar to the famous Menendez brothers case (the basis for the current season of Law & Order: True Crime). They're sentenced to death but escape from prison, in scenes spliced with an introduction to a suburban family that you just know are getting a visit from the Shotgun Brothers. This happens as expected, but then things get weird: The family seems to have been expecting them. In fact, they seem downright psyched, and ready for a little murderin' competition. Before long, the tables have turned completely, as the family members start offing police who show up to help, and the brothers find themselves in an actual basement dungeon with a mutant sex gimp and a bunch of deformed zombies. And then … it goes off the rails in ways we can't really describe here. You'll just have to track down a VHS copy, you freak.

Mr. Frost (1990)

Okay, first off: Jeff Goldblum as the Devil. That's an iron-clad elevator pitch for eight different awesome movies. But the only one that ever got made was 1990's Mr. Frost, an excellent slow-burn psychological thriller that, it should be reiterated, features Jeff Goldblum as the Devil.

As the film opens, the mysteriously rich Mr. Frost is arrested for having tons of dead bodies buried all around the grounds of his huge mansion, which authorities tend to frown upon. Unable to establish his real name, they throw him into an asylum, where he starts messing with the head of a young doctor (Kathy Baker, Picket Fences), insisting that he's the actual Devil and seemingly proving it by doing weird, devil-y tricks. The film builds to a bizarre and inevitable conclusion, wherein it becomes pretty obvious that Mr. Frost is telling the truth. As the great Roger Ebert noted in his review of the film, there's a time-honored tradition of big-name actors playing Old Scratch onscreen, but he called Goldblum's performance "easily the least likable — which is praise, I guess."

The Keep (1983)

Michael Mann is a pretty respected filmmaker, so it seems a little strange for any of his films to have never gotten the DVD or Blu-Ray treatment. But then, 1983's The Keep is nothing like the rest of Mann's movies. It's a Gothic-tinged horror film set during World War II, which is about as far from slick city streets and brooding, handsome cops as you can get. For only his second feature (after the James Caan crime drama Thief), Mann got it into his head to adapt a horror novel that he didn't really care for into an expressionist, nightmarish art film — with predictably weird results.

It's the story of a Nazi platoon that encounters an ancient monster in an abandoned fortress, told through blue filters and with a Tangerine Dream soundtrack, because Michael Mann. While the film was never shaping up to be narratively coherent, studio meddling made the problem worse — or better, if you ask some fans. The extremely disjointed editing serves to amplify the dreamlike feel that was Mann's intent in the first place, and his signature visual style is as sharp as ever. It's not exactly a lost classic, and Mann himself tends to act like the film doesn't exist — but yes, Michael Mann, you did make a movie about Nazis getting eaten by monsters and it was pretty cool.

Blue Monkey (1987)

First things first: There are no monkeys, blue or otherwise, in this film. A little boy makes a comment about a scary dream he had about a blue monkey, and that somehow became the movie's title. The film is about a giant bug monster, and the filmmakers did consider other titles both super on-the-nose (Insect) and crazily over-the-top (Invasion of the Body Suckers) before settling on nonsensical, so at least they considered all their options. But titling issues aside, Blue Monkey is pretty much a mashup of Aliens and The Thing, and is almost as awesome as that sounds.

A man is pricked by a weird, exotic plant and falls ill. He's taken to the hospital, where he promptly vomits up a giant white larva that starts growing way faster than the normal, small white larva that people vomit up all the time. The hospital is quickly quarantined, making those trapped inside easy pickings for the slimy, gross, car-sized bug-creature that the larva grows into before anyone has time to say "Xenomorph." It's an extravaganza of low-budget '80s creature effects, and the fact that it borrows liberally from some much better movies is really part of its charm. That no character ever says, "There's a really bad bug going around this hospital" is the only disappointment here.

Massacre at Central High (1976)

If you've seen the 1987 classic Heathers, then you're roughly familiar with the plot of Massacre at Central High. Released in 1976, the film tells a Lord of the Flies-flavored tale of bullying and the revenge exacted on said bullies, only without the dark humor of the later film (which it directly inspired). No, the revenge here is played quite straight — the humor comes from the film's jarringly silly score and theme song.

While not terribly gory, Massacre is part of a proud tradition of '70s revenge films with grimy, grindhouse aesthetics and cheap special effects. A new kid at school is relentlessly bullied until one attack cripples him, whereupon he decides it's revengin' time. The killing spree takes a while to kick in, although it's pretty satisfying when it does — but that score. It's the epitome of the maudlin schmaltz typical of the decade, and so hilariously inappropriate to the subject matter that it elevates this low-budget little revenge thriller to the realm of high camp. Director Rene Daalder was so pissed about it that he reportedly refused to watch the film for three decades. It's like if The Hills Have Eyes had been given a disco soundtrack … which actually might have been an improvement.

Grim Prairie Tales (1990)

Wayne Coe was an illustrator for Universal in the '80s, and he made "obscene amounts of money" for coming up with the posters for little films like Out of Africa and Back to the Future. All the while, he was dreaming of his passion project, which he hoped would one day be his debut as a Hollywood director: a horror-Western anthology film, for some reason.

Originally intending to shoot one segment every year for five years using his own money, he was eventually able to secure a producer, a small budget, and — in a pretty major coup — the services of James Earl Jones and Brad Dourif to star in the wraparound segment, which featured a couple of Old West travelers trading ghost stories over the campfire. Shot through with a strong streak of social conscience (Coe says Dourif told him they were making a "feminist Western" because racist and sexist men keep getting their asses handed to them throughout the film), Grim Prairie Tales turned out to be quirky, creepy, and effective — which apparently nobody was ready for in 1990. Practically no one saw the film, and Coe retreated into music video and sketch comedy work before becoming a painter. But he got to make a pretty sweet horror flick with James Earl Jones, and he almost certainly has the VHS tape that proves it on hand at all times.

Dream Demon (1988)

If Dream Demon sounds like it could have been a less-inspired alternate title for the popular '80s horror franchise Nightmare on Elm Street, well, you're not too far off the mark. Released in 1988, the film was the brainchild of British filmmaker Harley Cokeliss, who already had some pretty interesting credits on his resume. He'd worked as a second-unit director on The Empire Strikes Back and directed a Tommy Lee Jones action flick (Black Moon Rising) from a script by John Carpenter, but what he really wanted was to screw with people's heads.

In Dream Demon, a young woman anxious about her impending marriage starts having spooky nightmares, which turn into spooky visions, which turn into terrifying reality warps that her unfortunate friend also experiences somehow. The two women try to figure out what the hell is going on while it becomes harder and harder to tell what's real and what's not. It's a well-crafted headscrew of a film that doesn't borrow as much from A Nightmare on Elm Street as you might think — there's no actual demon, burnt up like a weenie or otherwise — but it ports that film's often hallucinatory tone onto an even weirder story.

Island of Blood (1982)

Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, despite going through multiple titles to arrive at one that we can print, is one of the celebrated mystery author's most beloved works. It tells the story of ten guests summoned to a mysterious island who are picked off one by one by an unknown killer, leaving the reader guessing whodunit — until everyone is dead, leading to an explanation of what the hell happened (in the form of a letter penned by one of the guests) that had mystery fans stuffing their brains back into their ears. The 1982 exploitation horror flick Island of Blood pretty much tells the exact same story, but with a lot more gore and a killer who inexplicably chooses a jaunty, uptempo punk song called "Face to Face" for a calling card. 

With lyrics like "spear me, spear me," and "boil me, boil me," the tune seems to be there just to make sure the killer doesn't run out of ideas. There are some pretty excellent death scenes, and the kind of gloriously goofy acting you'd expect from a low-budget film of this vintage, with the whole thing building to a twist that keeps the spirit of Christie's original one while being a damn sight more demented. It's the kind of gonzo, weirdass flick that begs to be discovered in the VHS bin at a garage sale or flea market — or you can buy beat-up copies online from $50 to $100. Just don't start up your own murder spree when you get that stupid song stuck in your head.

Pieces (1982)

A Spanish-Italian production, Pieces is beloved among fans of low-budget horror for just so many reasons, not the least of which are the film's dual taglines: "You don't have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre," and "It's exactly what you think it is!" Also: a ridiculous number of gratuitous breasts, enough gore to fill a swimming pool, and a strange, batty vibe heavy on non-sequitur dialogue and out-of-nowhere kung-fu fights. It begins — much like the far, far superior Halloween – with a young boy murdering a family member, his mother, and ends with one of the most completely insane, bet-you-didn't-see-that-coming finales in all of horror, which is saying a lot.

The boy, whose matricidal onslaught was triggered by his fascination with a jigsaw puzzle of a nude woman, grows up to stalk a college campus in search of actual women to dismember and construct a fleshy puzzle of his own. The movie leans pretty hard into the "whodunit" factor, while leaning even harder into the "dismemberment by chainsaw" factor by way of special effects that are shockingly good for such a low-budget production. Of course, the killer is eventually tracked down in the midst of his final attempted murder by an intrepid police detective — but a film like this wouldn't be a film like this without one last jolting twist, as unexpected as it is sublimely silly. We wouldn't dream of spoiling it.

The Prowler (1981)

Joseph Zito is a man who, under the banner of the notorious Cannon Films, gave the world not one but two Chuck Norris kick vehicles (Missing in Action and Invasion U.S.A.) and also the best film of a venerable horror series (Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter). He also directed a micro-budget movie called Bloodrage under the name Joseph Bigwood, which probably tells you all you need to know about the guy. But his 1981 slasher effort The Prowler is criminally underrated, for one simple reason — Tom Savini. The groundbreaking gore effects artist (whose work on the previous year's Friday the 13th scarred fans of Kevin Bacon forever) contributed some of his best setpieces to Zito's film, and some fans consider it to be his best work.

Not to say that the film itself is fantastic or very original. A jilted lover who murdered his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend in 1945 returns 35 years later to the scene of the crime, prowlin' and slashin' his way through a bevy of young people before being revealed as an authority figure and tragically dying of a blown-off head. However, Savini's gore effects are ruthlessly brutal, lingering lovingly on slashings, impalings, and the agonized expressions of the killer's victims. The film's status as Savini's masterpiece is only challenged by another movie from 1981, a year in which the gore maestro was definitely not screwing around.

The Burning (1981)

The Burning is notable for several reasons. Its story was conceived partially by future mogul and alleged serial harasser Harvey Weinstein and co-written by his brother Bob. Plus, it features early appearances by Jason Alexander (George Costanza in Seinfeld) and Holly Hunter, and its score was composed by Rick Wakeman, a legendary rock keyboardist who has worked with Yes and David Bowie. But among knowledgeable fans, the film is revered pretty much for one reason only — the infamous raft scene, which earned it the title of "Video Nasty" in the U.K. and nearly got it slapped with an X rating in the U.S.

The movie's villain is Cropsy, a caretaker at Camp Blackfoot who was burned and hideously scarred by campers in a prank gone wrong, and who returns years later (you may see a theme developing here) for gory revenge. Savini's effects work is fantastic all around, but the scene in which a group of five unfortunate campers are attacked on a raft in the middle of a lake is on a level all its own. The suspenseful buildup pivots quickly to intense violence which — even in its toned-down-to-get-the-R-rating form — is stunningly realistic. It's all over in a flash, but it's a flash filled with more gory deaths than many slasher films can muster up over their entire runtime. Even critics agreed that The Burning was a cut above other films of its type, genuinely scary and atmospheric — but that raft scene. Yeesh.

Visiting Hours (1982)

Visiting Hours was not the first slasher to be set mainly in a hospital — Halloween II comes to mind — but it is the only one to feature William Shatner, who does what he does best, chewing scenery as if he were taking part in a million-dollar overacting contest. Only this time, he had stiff competition in the form of the great Michael Ironside (ScannersWatchers) who took his psychotic Big Bad act far enough over the top that Shatner was waiting there, sipping a beer and asking what took him so long.

Crusading feminist reporter Deborah Ballin (Lee Grant) draws the ire of an MRA prototype by the hilariously badass name of Colt Hawker (Ironside, as if his real name wasn't badass enough), and she is injured when he attacks her at home. Taken to the hospital, she somehow manages to survive attack after attack by Hawker, who in frustration eventually gives up and just starts killing, you know, whoever. Slasher fans will find no surprises here, but Ironside — who really gave his all with every bug-eyed, deliriously insane performance — is typically unnerving to watch as a single-mindedly murderous psycho, and if he and Shatner trying to one-up each other in the histrionics department in a film that also made the famous Video Nasty list doesn't pique your interest, then you're reading the wrong list.

The Beast Within (1982)

The Beast Within was a mostly crappy fright flick which, for the most part, looks like it was shot for about 10 bucks and was adapted from an even crappier schlock novel. But the story of a teen boy who is the product of rape by some ungodly forest beast, and who experiences sudden and murderous growing pains, perked up fans' ears with its deadly serious marketing campaign. The trailer opens with plain white text on a black screen: "WARNING. This preview cannot show all of the terrifying and grotesque transformation sequences from the last thirty minutes of The Beast Within. The film-makers strongly suggest that those who might be shocked by this unique, horrifying movie use caution when seeing the film." Of course, it wasn't the first movie to make such claims — but it actually was unique in that it totally delivered on its threat.

The film's special effects team are not household names along the lines of Savini, but the sequence in question — in which the teen transforms violently and painfully into one of the most hideous things anyone has ever seen on film — definitively answered the question of where the heck the movie's entire budget went while having theater patrons running for the exits, leaving trails of fear vomit in their wake. Superior filmmakers have invested similar sequences with much more pathos, but The Beast Within's staggeringly long, agonizingly revolting transformation scene is exactly the stomach-churning test of will its marketing promised.

Xtro (1982)

Xtro may have been remembered as just another attempt to cash in on the success of Alien, if indeed it had been content to just stay put in one genre. In its completely gonzo back half, it touches on everything from slasher flicks to zombie movies to Carrie — but it precedes this with a fairly standard alien invasion narrative, punctuated by a jaw-dropping scene that seems to have been conceived with the objective of making Alien's chestburster sequence look like a Disney movie.

Years after a man is kidnapped by aliens, one of the slimy things returns to pay a visit to his wife, impregnating her in a truly disgusting fashion that we can't rightly go into detail about here. But then she gives birth to her husband, a full-grown man, in a manner every bit as graphic and horrifying as you're imagining. Things then get really weird as the man imbues his son with psychic powers, which he uses to bring his toys to life and murder his classmates. The son then inexplicably develops a thirst for blood, and by this point audiences are wondering just how many beats from other films this story can accommodate. Critical reviews were scathing — Roger Ebert called it "an exercise in sadness" — but fans appreciated writer/director Harry Bromley Davenport's willingness to dump every single freaky idea in his head into one supremely bizarre movie, and that birthing scene … well, go watch the movie if you really want to.

The Stuff (1985)

Larry Cohen is one of the most prolific purveyors of questionable yet highly entertaining films there has ever been. His somewhat-more-recent credits include Phone Booth and Captivity, both of which he wrote, but his career as both a writer and director stretches back decades, and he has never been one to let a super-low budget or an insane premise — or both — get in the way of his good time. Case in point: The Stuff, which stars frequent collaborator Michael Moriarty as an investigator determined to find out what's in … the Stuff, a hot new food product that bubbles up from a hole in the Earth, is addictively delicious, and may or may not be sentient.

The film functions equally well as a cutting satire of American consumerism and as a B-monster movie, with several memorably creepy sequences — most notably the one in which a couple discovers that their bed has been infested with the Stuff, a scene that borrowed the set on which Johnny Depp's character met his grisly end in A Nightmare on Elm Street, because Cohen never met a budget corner he couldn't cut. The underrated Moriarty plays perfectly to the material, and the social-satire-as-B-movie aesthetic was ahead of its time, predating Paul Verhoeven's RoboCop and John Carpenter's They Live by several years. The Stuff is a little-seen gem that also happens to boast one of the best horror taglines ever: "Are you eating it … or is it eating you?"

It's Alive (1974)

Director Larry Cohen showed his stripes early on with his fourth feature It's Alive, based on the novel of the same name. Having mainly trafficked in blaxploitation flicks up to that point, his work took a hard left turn with this tale of a woman who gives birth to a somewhat … unusual child. That is to say, it's a mutated monster with fangs and claws, which kills the doctor who birthed it as its warm-up act. Escaping the hospital, it's hunted by police, its father, and a representative of a pharmaceutical drug company whose contraceptive medication almost certainly cause the mutation. It doesn't end well for any of them.

Whether this film represents the most insane possible take on birth control and abortion the '70s had to offer is up for debate, but its seriously disturbing premise and creature effects have made it a cult classic — to say nothing of its marketing campaign, which probably gives children of the '70s nightmares to this day. Its bloody climax, in which Murder Baby is finally dispatched by the police, let audiences relax just long enough to deliver one of the best gut-punch final lines of dialogue in horror: "Another one's been born in Seattle."

The Funhouse (1981)

The late, great Tobe Hooper gave us perhaps the best horror movie of all time in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and also delivered Lifeforce, which must be the best film about naked space vampires the world has ever seen. He also allegedly directed 1982's classic Poltergeist, but the year before that, he helmed the unheralded horror gem The Funhouse — his first and only collaboration with the legendary makeup effects artist Rick Baker. 

Hooper's talent for atmosphere is on full display, as he gives the film's carnival setting a creepy, ominous vibe before we even lay eyes on its human monster, brought to sickening life by Baker and Craig Reardon, a protege who would go on to create such memorable effects as the makeup for Sloth in The Goonies. There are boobs, jump scares, and gory setpieces galore; that the film flopped terribly right smack in the middle of the slasher craze is an absolute crime. Perhaps it just got lost in the shuffle. But if you can't track down a copy on VHS, you might do just as well to try seeking out a copy of its novelization, written (under a pen name) by none other than Dean Koontz. Look, just give the man some credit for writing roughly 500 pretty creepy novels; we can't all be Stephen King.

Hospital Massacre (1981)

1981's Hospital Massacre may be the least essential '80s horror movie set in a medical facility (after Halloween II, Visiting Hours, and probably Blue Monkey), but it at least lets the audience know what they're in for right from the title card, and it delivers on that promise. There's a hospital, and a massacre takes place; really, the film is a paragon of truth in advertising. It could only have been more accurate if it had been called Hospital Massacre, and Barbi Benton Gets Bare.

That's right, none of those other hospital-themed horror flicks could boast the presence of Playboy model (and longtime Hugh Hefner girlfriend) Barbi Benton, who spends much of the film running in jiggly terror from a masked killer who may or may not be a spurned childhood admirer. (Spoiler alert: He totally is.) The mystery isn't mysterious, the deaths are run-of-the-mill, and the ending is telegraphed from a mile away — but here's Benton in the middle of it all, looking ethereally gorgeous and treating the whole cheesy, ridiculous enterprise with deadpan seriousness. It's certainly no Halloween II, but there's no shame in falling short of the bar set by that timeless classic.