27 Underrated Horror Movies From 1970-1999

The movie market is saturated with average and below average horror movies and for casual fans it can be hard to wade through all the crap. So here I am with 27 of my favorite movies that you may have never heard of. Hopefully, these movies inspire you to seek out more within the genre and venture outside of your comfort zone.

The Exorcist 3: Legion  (1990)

I absolutely adore this sequel, so it’s a real shame that the second movie exists between the original and this one. The Exorcist 3 is really only a sequel by name, the original premise coming from William Peter Blatty’s other book Legion. Because of studio tampering it became another addition to the franchise which ultimately lead to low box office numbers. All that aside though, I didn’t see this movie until I was 24 and it scared the shit out of me, far more than the original ever did. Fun fact: Rumor has it that E3 was serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s favorite movie and upon his arrest, officers said the tape was playing on his TV.

Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1973)

Alan Ormsby and Black Christmas director Bob Clark team up to bring you one of the weirdest zombie flicks you’ll ever see. Six friends meet at a secluded cemetery, dig up a corpse named Orville and perform satanic rituals. As it turns out, these kids are theater actors and their leader is only playing a joke on them. But, of course, the ritual works and more of the dead begin to rise. Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things is pretty campy and that’s half the fun, but there’s an abundance of frightening imagery, especially with the zombies themselves. This is a great film to represent what you can do with a small budget and creative minds.

Don’t Look Now (1973)

Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie star in this ’70s slow-burn horror flick. After the tragic death of their young daughter, the couple flies to Venice so Sutherland can work on a new architecture project and cope with the tragedy. However, things take a strange turn when Sutherland repeatedly sees a girl who he thinks is his dead daughter. I won’t spoil what happens; it has to be experienced fresh.

Creepshow 2 (1987)

When I was a kid I watched house of Tales from the Crypt, Are You Afraid of the Dark, and The Twilight Zone. Ever since then I’ve been a lover of the anthology horror flicks and television. Creepshow 2 follows the same format as the first but is slightly shorter, having only 3 stories. Aside from the first segment being pretty weak, the two that follow are absolutely stunning. The final story starring Lois Chiles as Annie Lansing, a philandering wife who is racing against the clock to beat her husband home. On the way, she accidently runs down a hitchhiker and is haunted by his ghost for the rest of her trip. The final scene always makes my skin crawl.

Brimstone & Treacle (1977)

Sting (yes, that Sting) walks out of a church following a gaggle of Altar boys, no that’s not the beginning of a joke, it’s the beginning of Brimstone & Treacle, in which Sting may or may not be the devil. This was a hard one to track down, but in the end, it was totally worth it. Essentially, Sting is a con artist who gets people to invite him back to their homes so he can rob them. He manages to convince a couple that he was the fiance of their now severely disabled daughter. What occurs after is something that could only be forged in dark sorcery. Originally it aired on BBC TV, but wasn’t released to home video until 1982, though finally received with delight.

Rats: Night of Terror (1984)

I freely admit this is not a well put together movie, the dubbing is terrible (it’s an Italian flick) and the acting is pretty laughable most of the time. Despite that though, Rats: Night of Terror is pretty entertaining all around. The idea is the world has been ravaged and overrun by rats. Most of mankind has been wiped out, except our cast of characters. The ending is the best part so I won’t spoil it for you if you promise to stick through it. Bruno Mattei is known for his “bad” movies, but I haven’t seen one I haven’t liked yet!

Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)

Another Italian horror film, but less overtly horror and a little more murder mystery. Giallo was a type of film popular throughout the ’60s and ’70s that often featured a leather gloved, razor-wielding killer of beautiful women. Admittedly, they were very formulaic, but this particular wacky-named gem delves deeper into a more traditional horror style. I recommend this as your introduction to the genre. [NOTE: The trailer below is slightly NSFW.]

Trilogy of Terror (1975)

This movie gets featured on this list because I think it’s primarily remembered as the killer doll movie- featured below – which is a trope I happen to love. But Trilogy of Terror gets a spot on my list because the other stories are forgotten. True, the Zuni Fetish doll is my favorite segment and probably the best it still should be noted that Karen Black stars in all 3 and gives fantastic performances without batting an eyelash.

Motel Hell (1980)

There was a time when I was fairly new to this genre and far less internet savvy. For the longest time I had an image of a man wearing a disturbing pig’s head as a mask and I never knew what it was from. Finally one night on Epix, Motel Hell was scheduled to air so I DVR’d it and there was the man wearing the pig head! Farmer Vincent and his wife are in the meat business, and business is good.

The Omen 3: The Final Conflict (1981)

The Omen trilogy is vastly overlooked when it comes to franchises.  Each addition (and I’m excluding the horrible fourth TV movie without Damien Thorn) to the trilogy teleports us through pivotal moments in Damien’s life. The Final Conflict stars Sam Neill as a grown up, successful political member. I love this one in particular because we now get Damien as a fully realized antichrist, no longer are adults trying to beat him as a child. Sam Neill totally engulfs himself in Damien Thorn and is a devilish treat to watch.

Dolls (1987)

Sorry, not sorry, I LOVE killer toy movies. I can already sense the eye rolls and the hurried cursors towards the “X” button. But I assure you, Stuart Gordon takes an admittedly goofy plot device and turns it into a modern fairy tale, right down to the evil stepmother. And boy is she! After a little girl named Judy, her father and stepmother, and several other people get stranded at an old house in the middle of the night, Judy realizes the dolls made by the kooky elderly couple living in the house might be alive. I’m not saying these dolls are angels, but you’ll be rooting for them in the end.

The Beast Within (1982)

I’m recommending this one because it surprised me after I thought I’d seen it all. I urge you not to go reading too much into this flick, at least not about the climax. It starts simple enough with a couple getting brutally attacked in the woods by a hulking beast. Flash forward 18 years and the couple has since had a baby who is now a teenager, suffering a strange sickness. The overall feel of Beast is sticky, taking place in a humid southern town. I beseech you not to read about the final moments and go in totally blind. You’ll be surprised.

From a Whisper To a Scream (aka The Offspring) (1987)

Vincent Price and an anthology movie? What more could I ask for? Quite honestly, I could have probably picked 27 anthology movies for this list but I realize not everyone loves them as much as I do. However, I couldn’t exclude this one from this list. Vincent Price is well past his prime here but that doesn’t stop him from laying on the campy charm just as he did years prior. The basic set up is Price’s niece has been executed for murder and a young woman comes in search for answers. Instead she gets a variety of short stories. Price would later confess to not being wholly supportive of the film and felt trapped in it. I can only assume his feelings were sparked but the downright brutal stories within it. For an anthology, the stories are all represented in a very serious way unlike Creepshow 2 which is significantly more campy and played for fun. I feel bad that Vincent Price didn’t like the outcome of it… but I did! [The trailer is ever-so slightly NSFW]

Out of the Dark (1988)

Sometimes you just have to make blind buys and hope they are worth it. One day while browsing the shelves of a local Buybacks I came across a very bland looking cover with a strange clown on it called Out of the Dark. Upon flipping it over to read I learned it was about a group of women working at a sex phone operation who are stalked by a masked killer. It all sounded pretty standard but it had two things going for it, Karen Black, and the fact that I had never heard of it. After the initial setup of meeting the girls and what not everything spirals out of control and becomes a bonkers nightmare.

Mark of the Devil (1970)

Who doesn’t love a good satanic witch burning movie? Udo Kier stars in this 70s exploitation flick that boasted, “Positively the most horrifying film ever made!” and “Rated V for Violence!”. Of course it wasn’t really rated “V” but Mark of the Devil does hold true to it’s claims of being incredibly violent. No, this isn’t Cannibal Holocaust levels of depravity, but it does deal in some pretty disturbing historical accuracies. Essentially Udo Kier is an apprentice witch hunter under a vile man by the name of Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom). Kier soon realizes the whole idea of witch hunting is purely a debauched scam implemented by men like Lord Cumberland to con their way into sleeping with supposed witches. When Mark of the Devil was released in the USA, theaters provided “sick bags” to moviegoers.

Brainscan (1994)

Edward Furlong stars as Michael in Brainscan, a tech savvy teen who wants to test the limits of virtual reality. Jaded and tired of standard gameplay, he orders an exclusive VR (virtual reality) game from a mysterious company. Once in the game however, Michael is thrust into a violent world in which he is the killer. When he comes out of the game he realizes that the murder has actually occurred. I’d say Brainscan is probably the last really decent movie Furlong did before fading completely out after American History X in ‘98. Watching this movie now may seem a little dated given that is centers around technology and we’ve come a long way in 11 years. But it’s still a great early cyber horror before they became overdone, and hey, award-winning Frank Langella’s in it too!

Shallow Grave (1994)

Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave was a big hit overseas but was met with a small indie following upon release in the States. Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston, and Kerry Fox star as 3 flatmates looking to rent out a spare room. They aren’t particularly the nicest people you’ve ever met, but that’s half the fun. After their new tenant dies of a drug overdose, he leaves behind an exorbitant amount of money. Up to that point there’s nothing horrific about this movie, except maybe the lead’s manners. Boyle lulls us into a false gangster/drug dealing cliched plot and expands on the horror of Eccleston’s battle with moral conscious.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

I didn’t truly appreciate the original TCM until my early 20s, so I had never really bothered with any of the sequels. In many ways, TCM2 is a drastic departure from the grittiness of the original but it never loses that sticky southern feel. This time the Sawyers have moved underground where they can carry out their cannibalism undisturbed by lost motorists. That is until one night a couple of joyridin’ college kids are murdered by the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface and his deranged brother Chop Top (Bill Moseley). Dennis Hopper also stars as the uncle of Franklin and Sally Hardesty from the first film. Joining the final girl hall of fame is Caroline Williams as Stretch, the late night radio DJ who hears the murder after the college kids call her radio station. TCM2 forgets the subtly of the first film and breaks right into the slasher sub-genre, but it works for a sequel.

Frankenhooker (1990)

As the title suggests this was a modern take on the tale of Frankenstein… but with a hooker. After his fiance is killed in a comical lawn mower accident, Jeffery decides to put his minimal medical school knowledge to use and bring her back, but he’ll need a new body. Frank Henenlotter, write/director, was no stranger to absurdity by 1990, with previous films such as Brain Damage and Basket Case. His films might not be everyone’s taste, but if you’re looking for a fun movie night with friends I’d highly suggest taking this one for a spin.

Tales From the Darkside: The Movie (1990)

Alright after this I promise there aren’t any more anthologies on the list. If I’m being totally honest I only put this one on here because of the last story. Not that the rest of the film doesn’t have merits, it’s got Debbi Harry as a witch trying to eat Matthew Lawrence after all! But the final story is one of my all time favorite short films of all time. The story in question, “Lover’s Vow,” stars James Remar as a struggling artist who is attacked by a winged creature who makes him promise never to tell. Of course, it’s worth mentioning that the other stories are pretty spectacular as well. “Lot 249” features incredibly young versions of Christian Slater, Steve Buscemi, and Julianne Moore. It also makes the mummy a scary monster again. This film was originally supposed to be the third installment of Creepshowbut because of a rights issue, they opted to put it under the title of the popular Tales From the Darkside TV show. Avoid the actual Creepshow 3 like the plague!

Popcorn (1991)

A group of teenagers attend an all-night horror movie marathon and are terrorized by a killer wearing masks made of his victim’s faces. If you’re at all familiar with the beginning of Scream 2, it’s pretty much the same rough concept but with a supernatural element thrown in. This movie is far from flawless, but it’s fun and has this kick ass tagline: “Popcorn… buy a bag… go home … in a box.”

Martin (1977)

George A. Romero is the godfather of the modern zombie movie. But let’s forget that for a second and talk about Martin. It’s slow burn film for sure, but something entirely different than zombies. Martin is a quiet boy with a secret, he’s a vampire… at least he thinks he is.  He embarks on a journey in Pennsylvania where he has romantic visions of torch toting mobs and damsels under his spell. Is he vampire or is he just insane? I should also note that Romero has gone on record saying Martin is his favorite of all if his films.

Deathdream (aka Dead of Night) (1974)

Richard Backus stars as Andy, a soldier who has returned from Vietnam. The problem? Andy died in Vietnam at the beginning of the movie. Deathdream is really an allegory of PTSD, especially for Vietnam vets who did not receive the kind of care they should have. Richard Backus’ is chilling in his portrayal of Andy who struggles between mundane daily life and horrible shifts in emotions and desires to kill. Is he dead? A zombie? You decide.

Wolfen (1981)

The only crime Wolfen committed was coming out the same year that An American Werewolf in London and The Howling did. It takes more of a crime story than the other two, which also could have hindered it in comparison if movie-goers were looking for something more supernatural. Albert Finney (Scrooge) stars as a former NYC cop who is brought in to investigate a string of grizzly murders. As you may have guessed hairs of a wolf are found on one of the bodies and this is how we get into the werewolf aspect of the film.  

The Sentinel (1977)

Apartment horror is a special kind of sub-genre when you live in one yourself. Christina Raines and Chris Sarandon star as Alison Parker and Michael Lerman, a couple spending some time apart while Alison works on her modeling career. Unfortunately, the charming building she has chosen to live in also houses a creepy cast of characters, including characters played by the legendary Ava Gardner and Christopher Walken, who may or may not be involved with the devil. Among them is character actor Burgess Meredith (Twilight Zone, Rocky) who has the best cat birthday party ever! Michael Winner is also known for the Death Wish trilogy.

The New York Ripper (1982)

A serial killer stalks and murders young girls while a jaded police officer, Lt. Fred Williams, does his best to track the killer down. Lucio Fucli packs a punch in this violent crime thriller and pulls off a pretty decent twist ending. Fulci’s style makes him one of my favorite directors. He blends the flare of the traditional Giallo Italian crime film with the grit that came from American crime movies of the 1970s. Also, the killer adds duck noises to his taunting, which adds wonderful absurdity. [Another NSFW trailer]

The Relic (1997)

As much as I love monster movies, I’m a little surprised that this would be the only one that I chose to include. Tom Sizemore stars as a cop who must team up with an anthropologist to defeat a lizard god who is eating the people of Chicago. I didn’t see The Relic until after I was an adult, but all the fun of a monster movie came rushing back to me throughout this 90s CGI strewn movie.

Urban Legend (1998)

Before Jared Leto became an Oscar darling, he starred in this ’90s slasher flick. Urban Legend gets a lot of undue hate because it’s lumped in with the slew of slasher knock offs of the ’90s. What actually unfolds is an interesting killer with a cool MO, likable characters and great kills. Of all the slasher cliche films from the ’90s, Urban Legend does the best in bringing back the tone of original slashers like Friday the 13th. Robert Englund (the Freddie Kruger) is an extra fun, purposeful addition to the cast.


Which films have you seen? Which ones did you add to your movie queue?

Additional Images: Brainscan, Sony Pictures



Jess Hicks
Jess Hicks
Jess lives in Ohio with her husband and 3 cats. She is a freelance writer, film critic, and overall horror hound. Her interests aren't solely movie related though and you can check out her work on Phactual, Bloody-Disgusting, Geek Legacy, and more.