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20 Scariest Horror Movies You’ve Never Seen

From French slasher flicks to Spanish ghost stories, here are a handful of horror flicks that make for perfect alt-Halloween viewing.

Every Halloween, people reach for a small, select group of horror films to satisfy their scary-movie craving. Maybe it's one of the canonized classics, like the original versions of Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or Dawn of the Dead. Perhaps its something from the many slasher-icon franchises that sprung up in the 1980s, when you had a choice of Jasons, Freddys or Chuckys. Or maybe you head straight for the boundary-testers of the 2000s, when the Saw and Hostel movies shoved the genre into torture-porn territory.

Regardless of whether viewers prefer original recipe or extra-crispy, however, folks tend to go for a number of no-brainer titles — the kind of films that even a non-horror fanatic knew about. (Ask the average moviegoer who Jigsaw is and you're likely to get a blank stare; ask them if they know about the Saw series and watch them shudder in recognition.) But what if you're looking for something besides the usual scary-movie suspects? Nothing too extreme, too underground or too obscure…just a few choices that might be outside the norm or under the radar, yet would still bring the fear in a big way?

In the spirit of helping you achieve the maximum clammy-palmed, dry-mouthed, soiled-undergarment Halloween chills, we've come up with some alt-viewing options. Here are 20 horror movies that you probably haven't seen and will scare the beejesus out of you in a big way. (We're talking from 1968 to the present, since that was the year George A. Romero helped kickstart the modern wave of horror with Night of the Living Dead.)  Some are from the arthouse, some are from today's equivalent of the grindhouse, some might not even seem like a horror movie at first glance. Maybe you've even heard of a few of these titles. But chances are good that, unless you're a diehard scary-movie aficionado, you may not have seen all of these genre treasures — and trust us, you need to.

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‘Audition’ (1999)

For its first 80 minutes or so, this muted J-horror classic plays like a sweet little love story between Shigeharu, a gentle widower, and Asami, a fragile ex-ballerina — two wounded souls who've miraculously found each other and may just live happily ever after. Then a lumpy sack mysteriously moves and that last half hour happens…and holy hell, does it happen. Prodigious genre maestro Takashi Miike effectively locates the pressure points and most sensitive parts of our unconscious and then proceeds to gleefully pierce into them "deeper and deeper," as Asami whispers. Even with the wire-administered amputations and decidedly non-therapeutic acupuncture, the sadism of Audition feels almost self-administered — an extreme manifestation of the power play between men and women. Brace yourself. EH

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‘Deathdream’ (1972)

Meet the Brooks, an all-American family who've just been told that the eldest son, Andy (Richard Backus), has died in Vietnam. The news is shocking — almost as shocking, in fact, as the clearly contradictory sight of Andy showing up at the front door not long after. But there's something seems…different about the young man. Andy snaps, acts strangely and begins to show the rot beneath the happy exterior of his not-quite resurrection. Also, why have a lot of dead bodies started showing up mysteriously around town? A Monkey's Paw for the Nixon era, this haunting horror movie from Canadian director Bob Clark (yes, the same man who gave us Porky's) makes the most of its topical premise and rage over a generation being used as cannon fodder. JR

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‘The Descent’ (2005)

Pretty much the worst marketing campaign for spelunking ever, Neil Marshall's relentless British horror flick turns a harmless caving expedition among girlfriends into a tour of your absolute worst fears. A year after losing her husband and child in a grisly car accident, Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) gets lost with five fellow adventurers in the bat-infested depths of Appalachia, where they're forced to reckon with claustrophobia, darkness, entombment, heights, and buckets of blood. Oh, and did we mention the zombie-like wall-crawling hyena humanoids? There are no damsels in distress among the exclusively female cast — just variations on badass heroines, which makes it that much harder to accept their mortality. "The worst thing that'll ever happen to you has already happened," one tells the still-grieving Sarah after an early trial. It's not true by a long shot. EH

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‘Excision’ (2012)

Horror cinema loves its misfit teens, but few are as twisted, funny, and challengingly unsympathetic as Excision’s Pauline. The young sociopath has surgical aspirations and necrophilic fantasies, and when her grotesque dream life bleeds over into reality, her family is torn apart — literally. 90210’s AnnaLynne McCord devours the role, but first-time director Richard Bates is the real star here. He deftly uses black humor to underscore his script’s brutality, and his visual flair — Pauline’s gory yet gorgeous dream sequences are part Matthew Barney, part Dario Argento — turns this dark coming-of-age story into a genuine nightmare. BG

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‘Funny Games’ (1997)

Michael Haneke's 1997 psychological thriller about two men who randomly terrorize a middle-class family has been praised as the pinnacle of Nineties feel-bad cinema, European division — but it gets short shrift as a first-class horror film, which it most certainly is. It doesn't just contain the most polite psychopaths in movie history not named Lecter; the story's Brechtian, fourth wall-breaking approach to typical scary-movie removes the mental disconnect between moviegoer and the murderers. We become complicit in the duo's dog-killing, shotgun-toting torture games, with one home invader "rewinding" a scene that doesn't go his way and justifying not killing the family immediately because "we'd all be deprived of our pleasure." Then he looks right into the camera — and the chills go right up our spines. JN

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‘God Told Me To’ (1976)

Easily the best 1970s New York noir-horror-alien-abduction-Catholic-guilt-love-triangle thriller ever made, this unfairly forgotten gem from Larry Cohen (It's Alive) turns a concise justification tactic — "because God told me to" — into a street-smart prophesy of the perverse moral clarity behind 21st century extremism. Ace character actor Tony Lo Bianco plays a veteran detective whose hunt for a yellow-haired messiah urging people to arbitrarily murder fellow New Yorkers leads him to question his own faith and, surprisingly, a supernatural past. Yes, the narrative starts to get progressively nuttier (virgin births! alien vaginas!), but there's a things-fall-apart vibe in the film's scenes of random violence that's genuinely unsettling — a fear of being snuffed out simply because you're there. EH

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‘The House of the Devil’ (2009)

Never mind the cool, era-appropriate opening-credits font of director Ti West’s Eighties horror-movie throwback fool you; this is no breezy pop-culture pastiche. Most of this almost inexplicably tense film — in which a pretty, poor college student (Jocelin Donahue) takes on an unorthodox babysitting job at a remote Victorian house  — is an eerie slow-burn, biding its time until a big, bloody reveal. Few films have made waiting more unbearably, pleasurably frightening, and few horror directors today know more about the importance of the gradual build and the gory release than West. Meet the new boss. MK

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‘I Saw the Devil’ (2010)

Oldboy may be South Korea's most ballyhooed example of stylish ultra-violence, but that thriller's baroque bloodletting seems like child's play compared this Grand Guignol tale of a secret service agent going up against a brutal serial killer. Their cat-and-mouse battle of wills leaves many (and we do mean many) gruesome kills in its wake, while Oldboy star Choi Min-sik's feral intensity as a psychopath makes Devil's two-and-a-half hours of relentless nastiness hard to watch and even harder to turn off. BG

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‘Inside’ (2007)

A bloody shriek of a French splatter flick, Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury's sickening midnight movie starts with a very pregnant young widow (Alysson Paradis) resting at home on Christmas Eve. Then a woman's voice on the other side of her locked door demands to be let in — so she can kill Sarah and take the baby. (As we soon find out, the title does indeed have a double meaning.) The rivers of gore and wickedly sharp sense of suspense during the ensuing siege make Inside both crimson and clever. And kudos to Béatrice Dalle (Betty Blue), who's riveting as a would-be baby-napper with sharp scissors in her fist and the will to kill in her heart. JR

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‘Kill List’ (2011)

British director Ben Wheatley's gut-wrenching, genre-defying film starts out as a domestic drama between a man and his wife; winds its way to hit-man crime thriller, as the gentleman and his fellow mercenary friend take on a very, very bad last job; make a left turn into occult creepshow territory; and ends up in the realm of a surreal, soul-rattling nightmare. In the tale of a devoted family man/ex-Iraq War vet who finds himself in over his head, Wheatley taps a vein of contemporary social anguish and then lets the darkest blood spurt out. The impossible-to-shake final scene is as pitch-black as contemporary horror gets. MK

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‘Martyrs’ (2008)

America wasn't the only country that went a little bit batshit with its fright flicks in the Bush era — the onslaught of French horror (see High Tension, Inside) during the mid-Aughts frequently made America's "torture porn" highlights like look like the haunted hayride at your county fair. That wave arguably crested with Martyrs, a film that has at least as much in common with the art-house nihilism of Gaspar Noé's Irreversible as it does with more standard horror fare. Nominally driven by the kind of victim-seeks-revenge plot that has fueled some of the genre's most unpleasant entries ever since The Last House on the Left, it becomes a deeply disquieting meditation on suffering itself, as brutal philosophically as it is physically. If you can finish it, you won't forget it. STC

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‘May’ (2002)

"I'm weird," says the title character of this modern cult classic to a prospective suitor. "I like weird," he responds. But weird a relative term, as director Lucky McKee's debut feature demonstrates, following a lonely, awkward veterinary technician as she tries to connect with the outside world. The experiment is less than successful; once she discovers that she simply does not fit in, a search for the personal "perfect" friend begins. With shades of Carrie and Frankenstein, the movie builds to a macabre denouement (hint: it involves body parts) that's equally parts sad and totally sickening. BG

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‘The Orphanage’ (2007)

When a woman returns with her husband and son to reopen the orphanage that raised her, she quickly discovers the creepy secret behind her son's new friends. Producer Guillermo del Toro may have been the bold-faced name attached to this 2007 Spanish supernatural horror, but director Juan Antonio Bayona gets the credit for his ability to extract more from less. Like fellow countryman Alejandro Amenábar's The Others, Bayona eschews an overreliance on CGI in favor of more gothic elements and traditional ghost story signifiers — bring on the dark basements and eerie lighthouses — leading to a slow-burn horror film that rewards patience over cheap shocks. JN

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‘Paperhouse’ (1988)

Before he gifted American moviegoers with the slasher-flick classic Candyman, British director Bernard Rose burst out of the gate with a different kind of horror movie. A sullen adolescent girl works out her unconscious psychosexual neuroses and parental issues by entering nightly into a dream world modeled after a drawing of a house she absentmindedly doodled in school. If she alters the picture during the day, it directly affects her imagination’s nighttime rambles — hence the worry when she crosses out the eyes on a drawing of her absent father and sketches a hammer into his hand. Paperhouse reminds you, in the most genuinely unsettling way, that there's nothing scarier than your own imagination run wild. MK

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‘Possession’ (1981)

If there's any justice in the world, this furious hurricane of a movie will belatedly ascend to its rightful place among Rosemary's Baby, Psycho, and the rest of the scary-movie canon. Sam "I Played the Older Damien Thorn" Neill is a spy who returns home to West Berlin to find that his wife (Isabelle Adjani) is halfway out the door. He eventually forgives her taking on a German lover and abandoning their young son to squalor — and oh, right, shacking up with a gooey, tentacle-equipped demonic entity. From beginning to end, everything about Andrzej Zulawski's horror film is overheated, but attention must be paid to Adjani's hyperventilating performance as a woman possessed, which reaches a pinnacle with a milk-and-goo-pouring-from-every-orifice miscarriage in a subway tunnel. If nothing else, this neglected horror gem will make you think twice about adding that electric carving knife to your wedding registry. EH

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‘Ravenous’ (1999)

Don't let the snakebit production (two directors came and went before Antonia Bird was brought aboard) or the jarring score put you off. Ravenous is a roaringly good cannibal-horror movie, and one of the finest film examples of the "Weird West" subgenre, which situates supernatural evil amid 19th-century America's wild frontier. Trainspotting's Robert Carlyle chews more than just the scenery as the lone survivor of a Donner Party-style expedition, while Guy Pearce, Jeffrey Jones, and Jeremy Davies are among the motley crew of a remote Army outpost who try to find his lost companions — and fall into his trap. Spectacular gore, genuinely funny black comedy, and a surprisingly powerful exploration of cowardice in the face of violence make this one worth sinking your teeth into. STC

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‘Severance’ (2006)

For many a poor white-collar grunt, the idea of a company team-building getaway is enough to elicit chills down one's spine. But trust falls are the least of the problems for the employees of Palisade Defense military arms corporation, as they head off on the bonding trip gone to hell in this British splatter-satire. Roundly compared to "The Office meets slasher-movie-of-choice" around its release, the film takes the BBC series' queasy humor to another level by juxtaposing it with uncomfortably straight-faced and grisly death scenes, including one that allegedly inspired a real 2009 murder. BG

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‘The Signal’ (2007)

When every TV, radio and phone in the city starts broadcasting a signal that drive people to madness and murder, star-crossed lovers Justin Welborn and Anessa Ramsey have to try and survive long enough to save each other amidst the mass attacks. Don't think of this unbearably tense techno-zombie movie, made of individual segments from directors Jacob Gentry, Dan Bush and David Bruckner (the latter who'd go on to contribute to 2012's indie-horror all-star collection V/H/S) as an "anthology film." Rather, imagine this trilogy-of-terror as a tasting menu that offers sub-strains of scariness with each bite, whether delivering chaos in the streets, blood-soaked bleak comedy, love in the time of the apocalypse or social-commentary chills. JR

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‘Thesis’ (1996)

While working on a thesis about violence in cinema, a grad student discovers a movie in which a fellow student who disappeared three years earlier is tortured and killed. After enlisting a friend obsessed with grindhouse flicks to help investigate the murder, the duo link the girl's murder to an ex-boyfriend at the school…or do they? Snuff films have been explored before in everything from Cannibal Holocaust to David Cronenberg's Videodrome, but director Alejandro Amenábar (Open Your Eyes, The Others) balances actual, terrifying visuals with Hitchcockian red herrings for one of the best debut films in years. The technology might be quaint, but the fear remains resonant. JN

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‘Trouble Every Day’ (2001)

Acclaimed French art-house director Claire Denis doesn’t often show up on lists of scary-movie masters, but she proved herself a true genius of body horror with this gorgeous, shocking riff on the bloodsucker genre. Vincent Gallo and Béatrice Dalle are the subjects of a scientific experiment that has left them thirsty for the sweet red stuff; yet rather than interpret their lust as either romantic or tragic, Denis treats these monsters as base, carnal, and terribly single-minded. The film's gory centerpiece is a depiction of extreme erotic hunger as unwatchably gruesome as it is strangely sexy: Eat your heart out, all other vampire movies. MK

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