by Vincent Fuentes

By definition, the term avant-garde revolves around sheer experimentation and innovation in comparison to the norm. Within the horror genre, these films and filmmakers pride themselves– regardless of contention–on their abnormalities, yet sometimes we tend to discard their unconvententiality and renounce them entirely. Perhaps some of these are a reach, but they fit my personal definition. The prioritization of the abstract, and not necessarily always relying on narrative or customary genre conventions. Rest assured, I’m here to bang the drum for some films that I feel are largely outside of the box, and provocation aside, make lasting impressions.

10. Midori
(Harada, 1992)

Midori (Harada, 1992)

Midori is an unrelenting paroxysm of frightening imagery. Harada crafts a horror film where the plot is trivial, and unadulterated visceral terror takes the forefront. Not necessarily an easy watch–it’s actually really disturbing–but one that’s worthwhile for those that are stirred by spine-chilling visual images.

9. House
(Obayashi, 1977)

House (Obayashi, 1977)

Perhaps the most unique film on this list. House isn’t terrifying at all. While still operating within the parameters of the horror genre, this is a film that prefers maximal absurdity and is formed with innate creativity. It’s not totally everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s an essential watch. An outright sensory overload.

8. Audition
(Miike, 1999)

Audition (Miike, 1999)

Audition is the slowest film on here in terms of having efficacious scares, but the impermanence of the conventionality is definitely felt in the first two acts. Once the film reveals itself, it’s unquestionably unnerving and actually pretty gnarly. Takashi Miike is no stranger to making outwardly weird films that ride the fine line of horror.

7. Splatter: Naked Blood (Satô, 1996)

Splatter: Naked Blood (Satô, 1996)

Similar to ‘Audition’, Splatter: Naked Blood is a film that’s centered on an unhinged level of disturbing imagery–it’s actually much worse in terms of its violence–with yet again a calculated build-up until it vertiginously alchemizes into an abnormal gorefest. Films like this prioritize cheapened aesthetics–almost VHS-like–for a more veritable effect that assuredly heightens the horror.

Splatter: NakedBlood (Satô, 1996)

6. Rabbits (Lynch, 2002)

Perhaps this is cheating–this is connected to another film you’ll see later on this list–but there is nothing quite as terrifyingly forbidding as Rabbits. There’s no clear narrative or thematic exertion, and yet it uses this as one of its many strengths. It’s almost unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and my experience watching it for the first time is one I won’t forget. At only 42 minutes long, Rabbits is unequivocally an unpredictable nightmare.

Rabbits (Lynch, 2002)

5. Eraserhead
(Lynch, 1977)

(Lynch, 1977)

Yet again, Lynch makes the list. Eraserhead is an assiduously crafted experimental horror film that’s shrouded in the mystic surreal. The film is overtly (and figuratively) about the horrors of newfound fatherhood, but it’s much more interested in the capabilities in its obscurity. Its oddities often begets a rather unnatural and stilted humor that just adds to how singular and special it is. One of the best horror films of the 70’s.

(Lynch, 1977)

4. The Wailing
(Hong-jin, 2016)

The Wailing
(Hong-jin, 2016)

A downright fatalistic and formally tumescent slow-burn South Korean horror film that’s enmeshed in its own misery. The Wailing contains some of my favorite “scares” of recent memory–although it feels profane to even classify them as such, they’re masterly–yet it feels as if it prefers its deliberate consternation to get under your skin, which is far more impressive. I feel as though it bursts through the classification of elevated horror. This is a film that doesn’t pull its punches. One of the best horror films of the 2010’s in general.

3. Begotten
(Merhige, 1989)

You might find this one on quite a few “Most Disturbing Films Ever” lists, and rightfully so. Begotten is a hallucinatory and bone-chilling experience. All of its grisly visceral terror is channelled visually, and oftentimes it’s unclear of what’s even going on, and that’s where the real eeriness lies. Honestly a hard one to find, but if you’re able to see it you surely should. Definitely the most obscure one on the list.

Begotten (Merhige, 1989)

Begotten (Merhige, 1989)

2. Halloween 2 (Zombie, 2009)

Halloween 2
(Zombie, 2009)

I know what you’re thinking, this is part of one of the most popular horror franchises in the world and sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the other films on this list. You’re right to feel that way, but hear me out. H2 isn’t interested in the mythos of the franchise–operating rather anachronistically–it instead thoroughly engages with the weighty thematic content broached in its predecessor, and is frankly just a total anomaly in the franchise. It’s a weird one, wholly ferocious even, but it’s one of my favorite horror films of all time.

Halloween 2
(Zombie, 2009)

1. Inland Empire  (Lynch, 2006)

Inland Empire 
(Lynch, 2006)

You may have predicted this one, but I feel as though the top spot is totally deserved. Inland Empire is frankly the scariest film I’ve ever seen, and for a number of reasons. What’s actually going on narratively is a bit unclear, it’s perplexing nature begets disorientation, and Lynch uses this to create a disarray of vexatious images. This one is much more distinctly a horror film when compared to Mulholland Drive–another masterpiece–and yet this rarely gets as much attention.  I’ve tried to watch this one past midnight and I simply can’t do it. A truly great film.


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