In the mood for a cult movie but already seen all the go-to classics? Building on our previous list, here are five offbeat picks streaming on Amazon Prime that will bring you tales of werewolves, Satanists, witches, and two different (but also sorta kinda similar) underground monsters.
If you write off this sci-fi horror from director Douglas Cheek because you assume it’s purely ridiculous—the cheeky name of movie’s boogeymen, the “Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers,” has a hand in giving that impression—you’ll be denying yourself the joy that comes from watching it. Beneath the streets of Lower Manhattan, a race of creatures spawned from toxic waste have been gobbling up all of the unhoused people who’re living underground; when that supply dries up, they start preying on anyone unlucky enough to walk past a manhole.
The race to first figure out what’s going on, then to convince anyone in authority to act, consumes the first half of the movie, in which we meet characters like a reluctant fashion photographer whose real passion is documenting and advocating for NYC’s homeless, and an NYPD captain who would really, really, really rather not believe in sewer monsters (but soon realizes he has no choice). Once they discover a government cover-up is to blame, and the mutants (lizard-like, glowing eyes, huge maws of pointy teeth) start really running wild, things get even nuttier; the movie’s script plays it pretty straight throughout but never forgets what genre it’s actually dwelling in. And, in addition to boasting one of the best acronym movie titles ever, C.H.U.D. also has a cast that features future Home Alone co-stars John Heard and Daniel Stern in prominent roles, as well as John Goodman as a waitress-ogling character simply named “cop in diner.”
Here’s an excellent double-feature if C.H.U.D. leaves you hungering for more subterranean shenanigans. Rutger Hauer’s scenery-devouring performance as Stone—a violence-prone London police detective hunting the serial killer who murdered his partner—is the main reason to seek out Split Second. The film is set in a near-future version of London that’s been ravaged by constant flooding and near-apocalyptic pollution caused by climate change and Stone is a different sort of force of nature. He’s the kind of cop everyone agrees is “the best” despite his unorthodox methods (lots of attitude, gun-brandishing, and lapel-grabbing) and the fact that “he lives on anxiety, chocolate, and coffee.”
As Split Second progresses we come to learn that Stone and the killer—who’s described by the movie’s consistently ridiculous dialogue as “a psychotic with a psychopathic personality”—have a psychic connection...and realize the movie’s many heavy-handed teases about London’s aggressive rat population are building toward something monstrous. Split Second—directed by The Burning’s Tony Maylam with an assist from Ian Sharp—shouldn’t be as much fun as it is (the killer’s MO is ripping the hearts out of his victims; at one point, he cheekily sends one to Stone on ice at the police precinct). But somehow it exists as proof that you can toss wannabe hard-boiled noir, Blade Runner-ish dystopia, an absolute howler of a script, a snarling creature, and one very committed lead performance into a blender and create trashy B-movie magic.
Stephen King adapted his own novella into the screenplay for this werewolf tale, starring a pre-Lost Boys Corey Haim as a mischievous, wheelchair-using teen who gets caught up in some genuinely scary goings-on in Tarker’s Mill, Maine. Silver Bullet has its share of gore, but the werewolf’s deliberately understated appearance—created by King and multiple Oscar winner Carlo Rambaldi (E.T. The Extraterrestrial, Alien)—famously caused tension behind the scenes, inspiring producer Dino de Laurentiis to replace directors midway (swapping in Dan Attias for Phantasm’s Don Coscarelli), though the controversial wolf costume did end up in the final film.
At any rate, the main thrust of the story isn’t even the monster; it’s the family dynamic between Haim’s character, his older sister (Anne of Green Gables-era Megan Follows), and their fun-drunk uncle (Gary Busey, who’s fantastic), especially as they all pull together to take on the deadly creature before Tarker’s Mill descends into total chaos. Silver Bullet will get you a Stephen King bingo before you even get out of act one—small town in Maine with a sinister secret! Narration by an older version of one of the main characters! An unlikely kid hero!—but isn’t that why we keep coming back to his stories?
An outrageously stacked cast (William Shatner, Ernest Borgnine, Tom Skerritt, Keenan Wynn, Eddie Albert, Ida Lupino, and a young John Travolta) and an even more outrageous gimmick (involving gruesomely melting faces) have rightfully propelled The Devil’s Rain into cult infamy. The plot is also deliciously outrageous; after an opening-credits sequence that not-so-subtly uses Hieronymus Bosch paintings as a backdrop, we’re plunged into the generations-long battle of wills between a ruthless Satanic cult leader (Borgnine, having a blast) and the Preston family, who’ve been keeping a magical book from his evil clutches. When Mark Preston (Shatner) and his parents go missing, brother Tom (Skerritt) heads to the cult’s desert lair with plenty of ammo—including his psychic wife (Joan Prather) and a psychic expert (Albert)—to try and rescue them.
Director Robert Fuest’s previous credits included horror-comedies The Abominable Dr. Phibes and its sequel, but despite its campiness, The Devil’s Rain somehow also retains an air of trying to take itself seriously. And in all honesty, that only makes the movie a million times better—right up until the hysterically gloopy big finish.
Sometimes titled Stranger in Our House (but based on the novel Summer of Fear by YA horror legend Lois Duncan), this made-for-TV movie, which premiered on Halloween in 1978, was directed by Wes Craven a year post-The Hills Have Eyes and several years before his mainstream breakout with A Nightmare on Elm Street. It stars an Exorcist II-era Linda Blair as Rachel, a horse-loving California teen who’s excited when her slightly older cousin, Julia (Lee Purcell), moves in after being suddenly orphaned by a car crash. But those “instant sister” vibes evaporate quickly when strange, menacing things start happening—and what first feels like a coincidental streak of bad luck begins to feel awfully witchy.
There are strong TV movie vibes in Summer of Fear’s production values, and the plot definitely veers into predictable, Orphan territory at a certain point. But Craven knows how to build suspense, and that’s not flattened out here. Blair—ever the master of balancing “wholesome kid” with “occult terror”—makes an endearing focal point as she finds herself the only person (at first) who suspects Julia’s up to no good, and turns into a supernatural investigator with guidance from her kindly neighbor, a folklore professor played by Macdonald Carey. Meanwhile, Purcell—who morphs from awkward misfit to slinky seductress to supernatural menace as the story progresses—makes for a memorable villain. The inevitable Rachel-Julia catfight, complete with hair-pulling, is probably the movie’s high point.
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