Horror Films 101: Overlooked and Obscure Gems of Horror Cinema.

1. Director Bob Clark’s debut feature was the campy and extraordinarily low-budget zombie film Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972). A theatre group is brought to a graveyard located on a remote island by its flamboyant and eccentric director Alan. With the aid of a magical grimoire, Alan performs a necromantic ritual as some sort of elaborate sick joke, presumably at the expense of both his frightened comrades, as well as the deceased buried on the island. His violation of the dead is further compounded when, disappointed by the seeming failure of his ritual, he opts to desecrate a grave — exhuming a corpse named Orville with whom he amuses himself. Needless to say, when the dead finally do rise from their graves, they’re out for bloody vengeance. A strange and darkly comedic film, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things has a slow build that rewards its audience with a satisfyingly creepy ending.

2. The post-Vietnam/Watergate/Charlie Mansion paranoia of 1970’s America played out in that decade’s horror films. Beginning with seminal genre films like Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968), terror was primarily psychological in nature. Claustrophobia, paranoia and mental illness are themes central to 1977’s The Sentinel, a horror film populated by Satanists and other strange, eerie characters. A beautiful but mentally fragile NYC fashion model moves into a furnished Brooklyn brownstone, unaware that the reason for the remarkably cheap rent is the “portal to Hell” that exists in her building. While an impressive list of American actors — including John Carradine, Burgess Meredith, José Ferrer, Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, Beverly D’Angelo, Ava Gardner and Tom Berenger — appear throughout, its the creepy, nightmarish atmosphere which elevate this film from your typical ’70s Satanic-horror fodder. The film is controversial for its inclusion of physically deformed people to portray the ‘souls of the damned’, a choice by director Michael Winner which does seem exploitative even as it is effectively off-putting.

The creepy cast of 1977’s “The Sentinel.”

3. Hong Kong director Fruit Chan serves up a dubious feast in Dumplings (2004). Originally released in a reduced, 37-minute long form on the pan-Asian horror omnibus “Three… Extremes” DVD, Chan’s film has been reissued in its original, 91-minute length with additional subplot and alternate ending. In Dumplings, the aging actress Mrs. Li seeks out the dumplings of “Auntie Mei” that allegedly contain a secret ingredient which offers eternal youth. The nature of this “ingredient” is revealed early in the narrative, a fact which makes the desperate vanity of Mrs. Li all the more grisly. Darkly comedic in parts, Chan offers a tongue-in-cheek commentary on Chinese culinary culture and the socio-economic class divide still present in modern-day Hong Kong-Kowloon.

Mrs. Li (Miriam Yeung) consumes the titular “Dumplings” in Fruit Chan’s gruesome film.

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