This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Soumadri Banerjee. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

5 Underrated Horror Films To Watch If You’re Tired Of Jump-Scares And Gorefests

More from Soumadri Banerjee

M.R. James, one of the great masters of the ghost story, narrated his supernatural tales to his King’s College audience on Christmas Eve, under the solitary light of a single candle. Explaining the efficacy of such storytelling, James elaborated, “If any of them succeed in causing their readers to feel pleasantly uncomfortable when walking along a solitary road at nightfall, or sitting over a dying fire in the small hours, my purpose in writing them will have been attained.”

Such stories eschew overt depictions of violence and gore and instead rely on the subtle and understated technique of leaving a permanent imprint on your psyche. An effectively told ghost story may not frighten you out of your wits but with the same intricacy as a spider weaving its web for its prey, it defamiliarises the world around you. And suddenly, you can no longer look in the same way at your reflection in the mirror.

Today, horror films are teeming with cheap shocks, grotesque makeup, and gallons of fake blood. In the tradition of the holiday season supernatural fable then, here are five films that will unsettle you enough to second-guess the tree-like shadow on the wall of your bedroom at 2 in the morning.

1. Carnival Of Souls (1962)

This film typifies the sense of uneasiness and dread that we’ve been talking about. The film’s core plot is deceptively simple. A woman is drawn to a strange and mysterious carnival after surviving an accident. But it’s Herk Harvey’s deft execution that makes this film a standout. Made on a tight shoe-string budget, the entire film plays out like an extended episode of the Twilight Zone. The budgetary constraint acts in the film’s favour as the grainy photography, along with the eerie organ score and haunting locations, all add to the pervading sense of nightmarish dread.

There are no big-name stars in this film but it doesn’t need any. While the performances may sometimes seem awkward, they mesh in perfectly with the topsy-turvy world created by the film. The film doesn’t have any big shocking moments but the existential dread it inspires will stick with you for a while.

2. Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971)

This film from 1971 is about the eponymous Jessica (played to perfection by Zohra Lampert), who’s just been released from a New York City mental institution. To improve her health, her husband decides that they, along with a male friend of theirs, should move to the rural countryside. Needless to say, once they move to the countryside, strange things start to happen. They find a mysterious wayward woman squatting in their farmhouse, Jessica keeps seeing the apparition of a mute woman dressed in white and the locales are often hostile and cold towards the whole lot.

As the film progresses, things only get stranger, reaching a crescendo in the sinister finale. Jessica’s character follows in the long lineage of unreliable narrators as we’re never really sure of her version of the events. But while most heroines in such stories are portrayed as entirely helpless damsels-in-distress, Jessica importantly retains her agency. The film has also drawn a comparison with Sheridan Le Fanu’s 19th Century lesbian vampire tale “Carmilla” — and while the film’s overall plot is a far cry from Le Fanu’s gothic romp, it does carry the same queer, unsettling, and dream-like undertones of the story.

3. The Cat People (1942)

Producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Torneur would go on to work together on three films but perhaps none hold up quite as well as their very first collaboration. “The Cat People” was Lewton’s first project for RKO Pictures, which had hired him to ape the success of Universal’s monster horror films like Dracula and Frankenstein. Instead of relying on monsters, however, Lewton focused on the script, intricately stroking our imagination through the fear of the unknown and in the process, crafting a shadowy double of our world infused with voodoo and ancient legends.

Shot on a tight budget of just $150,000, the film tells the story of Irena, a Serbian fashion designer, and her newly-wed husband Oliver Reed. Fearing an old feline legend from her village, Irena is afraid of giving in to her physical desires and consummating their marriage. While the plot may sound hokey on paper, Lewton and Torneur’s nuanced characterisation and real-world anchoring transform it into a masterpiece of suggestive psychological horror with deeply disturbing implications.

4. Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975)

One of Peter Weir’s early films, “Picnic At Hanging Rock” is not – at least on the surface — a horror film in any traditional sense. And yet, every single aspect of the film, from its haunting locales to its understated score, comes together to create one of the most unique and unnerving experiences put to screen. Set in the year 1900, the film sees a group of girls from an Australian boarding school go for a picnic at Hanging Rock where three of the students and a teacher vanish into thin air.

We are left to deal with the aftermath. While the premise on its own is intriguing enough, what sets the film apart from the average potboiler thriller is that it’s not really about the plot but the experience itself. Deftly interwoven through all this are subtle commentaries about Victorian sexual mores and the relationship between settlers and the mysteries of the ancient land they have chosen to make their own.

5. I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House (2016)

This arthouse Netflix-original begins with these chilling words: “My name is Lily Saylor. I am a hospice nurse. Three days ago I turned 28 years old. I will never be 29 years old.” Right from the start through to the very end, the film draws you into its vice-like grip of intense atmospheric foreboding and dread with the morbidly beautiful lure of a gothic poem. Lily Saylor, a hospice nurse, is assigned to take care of ageing horror author Iris Blum.

Old Ms Blum has dementia and keeps referring to Lily as Polly. Polly was also a character in Blum’s novel The Lady In The Walls. And who exactly is the “pretty thing” referred to in the film’s title? The film can be read as a ghost-story-within-a-ghost-story, but also a story about memories and perceptions and the intertwining of the past with the present. The narrative rewards multiple rewatches. It’s also sheer gothic poetry in visual form and scary in a way that will stay with you long after.


You must be to comment.

More from Soumadri Banerjee

Similar Posts

By Utkarsh Chaturvedi

By Rishabh Kumar Mishra

By Rafia khan

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below