5 Criminally Underrated Movies to Watch This Summer

by Dani Buckley 11 days ago in movie

Free time is becoming more available to us these days. Why not fill yours with these awesome movies you've probably never heard of.

5 Criminally Underrated Movies to Watch This Summer
Al Pacino and Gene Hackman in 'Scarecrow' (1973) dir. Jerry Schatzberg

With the current situation going on in the world, it's easy to find yourself wallowing in a seemingly bottomless pit of boredom. For me, one of the best ways to quell it is by immersing myself in a movie for an hour or two. Sure, puzzles are great, but once you've done them once it's never quite the same. If you consider yourself a bit of a movie connoisseur then you probably feel like you've seen everything celluloid has to offer, but there are a whole myriad of movies that have been long-lost to mainstream just waiting for you. Not only that, but the further you go back, the larger the variety cinema has in store.

Not to agree totally with cinematic titan Martin Scorsese, because I do consider myself something of a Marvel fan, but the big-budget superhero movies being churned out as of late do have a tendency to eat up the attention of headlines and cinema-goers these days. It's always nice to explore a bit of variance in the endless genres of film, and even the most hidden gems can surprise you with how beautiful they can be. Sadly, some films have been buried into the noise and debris of mainstream film release, but shouldn't be forgotten. So don't listen to the critics every time (IMDB scores aren't always right, you know), branch out and explore some of the unknown with five films that are criminally underrated, a little strange, but undeniably enjoyable.

1. Kalifornia (1993) - dir. Dominic Sena

Perhaps one of Brad Pitt's best performances, despite being early on in his long-standing career, 'Kalifornia' explores the terrifying and unpredictable world of Early Grace (Pitt), a murderous hillbilly, through the eyes of two journalists hungry for a serial-killer themed scoop.

People who know for Pitt for his measured good-guy performances in the Oceans franchise and 'Se7en' and his portrayal of the protagonist in 'Interview with the Vampire', 'Legends of the Fall' and , may be shocked at how unnerving and unhinged he appears in this movie. If you ever questioned whether Pitt was a good actor or merely a pretty face, this movie should convince you of the former.

Of course, this film is certainly not without its faults, but the uneasy dichotomy between Pitt and Duchovny's characters more than make up for them. Not only that, but Juliette Lewis is brilliant as Grace's long-suffering girlfriend, drawing you in and eliciting sympathy to make you even more invested in the ensuing wild ride.

This movie is certainly not for the faint of heart, but it will be sure to leave you engrossed and (probably) even a little repulsed.

2. Scarecrow (1973) - dir. Jerry Schatzberg

This unconventional buddy road-trip movie is something akin to the male 1970s precursor to 'Thelma and Louise', with similar threads of comedy and drama running throughout. Director Jerry Schatzberg pairs together an unlikely duo in the form of two powerhouses of talent - Al Pacino and Gene Hackman.

Pacino, fresh from his defining role as Michael Corleone in the Godfather, adopts the character of Lionel 'Lion' Delbuchi, a sailor who is eager to cross the country in order to give his young son a birthday present. On his way he encounters ex-con Max (Hackman) who is on his way to create a business and new life for himself in Pittsburgh. It's not smooth-sailing though and the two's journey is fraught with setbacks and escapades. You wouldn't immediately think of putting these two actors together, but for some reason it works to a pitch-perfect degree. Pacino is erratic and goofy, while Hackman plays it sarcastic, cool and even a little melancholic at times. They balance each other out and create a dynamic for the audience to get invested in, willing these characters on to their final destination. Why this isn't revered as a classic, I'll never know, but it's well worth a watch.

3. The Blood on Satan's Claw (1971) - dir. Piers Haggard

One for budding horror fans, the Blood on Satan's Claw is part of the explosion of folk horror movies that were in full bloom during the early '70s. Swallowed up by the success of films like 'The Wicker Man' and 'Don't Look Now', this film is worthy of standing among them, despite falling prey to the effects of time.

The intriguingly-titled 'The Blood on Satan's Claw' (if the title doesn't draw you in immediately, then perhaps the plot will) is set in the late 1600s in England, at which time a congregation of youths begin acting strangely and worshipping a demonic entity when a strange set of bones is uncovered during a farmer's typical raking of the land. While its lack of modernism and low budget is apparent in its special effects, it is not any less creepy for it.

There is something about films set in early modern times - see Robert Eggers' smash hit 'The VVitch' for example - which make them uncanny in their ability to unsettle me. Perhaps it's the religious symbolism of the times, maybe it's the chaotic blindness of the period - the fear, the unknowing, the paranoia. Nevertheless it works well for this movie, allowing a demonic seed to fester in a quiet town until, quite literally, all hell breaks loose. It's a folk horror you won't be able to forget any time soon.

4. Peacock (2010) - dir. Michael Lander

Something of a modern take on 'Psycho', this tragic character study stars Cillian Murphy as John Skillpa, a reserved bank clerk in a small town with a pretty huge secret. Set in the 1940s, John vies to keep his increasingly strained private life from the prying eyes of his fellow townsfolk. And, after it is revealed that John suffered an abusive past, we watch as he struggles to come to terms with his identity.

This film, admittedly, is nothing without Murphy giving one of his career-best performances in the central role. He really makes the film, and is worth watching simply for him. He tells Skillpa's story with such nuances and feeling that you find yourself glued, itching to know more about his enigmatic character. Not only that, but Murphy's layered performance evokes oodles of sympathy from the viewer and he becomes totally lost in the role. This is helped by the fact that those infamous icy-blue eyes are switched to a dull brown with the help of some contact lenses.

Moving, melancholic and strangely beautiful, this movie and Skillpa's story will certainly stick with you after watching.

5. The Hour of the Wolf (1968) - dir. Ingmar Bergman

Walking on walls, parties at eerie castles, secret diaries... this trippy Bergman flick has it all. Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann helm the piece in their own masterful ways as they tell the tale of a Swedish married couple which have recently moved to a secluded island. However, while peaceful, the husband's mental health begins to descend a steep decline, to the point where the audience is left wondering what is real or just a figment of his troubled mind.

Filled to the brim with beautiful and nightmarish - in equal measures - shots by Bergman, this movie is nothing short of a work of art, and is quite difficult to define. Neither horror nor drama, Bergman sticks to no genre prescription with this bizarre little film. Undertones of the supernatural slither throughout the film, but at its core it represents one man's struggle with insomnia and himself as he tries to make a living as a painter. While Sydow's performance is near silent and brooding, Ullmann steals the show as his bemused wife, telling the tale of her husband's spiraling demise.

Many talk endlessly nowadays about Bergman's cinematic masterpiece 'Persona' (1966), and while it is no doubt a seminal piece and a defining moment in cinema's history, it is time for 'Hour of the Wolf' to have its moment in the spotlight.

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Dani Buckley
Dani Buckley
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Dani Buckley

My life revolves around horror and film.

See all posts by Dani Buckley