Another film that ranks among the great horror classics, could "The Blair Witch Project" (Amazon) be the most influential movie of the last 15 years? You can certainly make that case for Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez's micro-budget cult classic that, when it came out in 1999 on the heels of one of the great viral marketing campaigns, inaugurated a host of found footage horrors to come. A faux-doc about a trio of film students who head into the Maryland woods to debunk the so-called Blair Witch myth, only to unravel as their worst nightmares unfold in the wilderness, this film came like a bat from hell out of Sundance. And horror was never the same again. The film's final image is an ultimate movie moment you never forget. Heather Donahue's infamous panic-stricken, on-camera snotting (seen in the trailer) rivals that of even Viola Davis, patron saint of nasal drippage.
Directed by Panos Cosmatos, "Beyond the Black Rainbow" offers plenty of style-over-substance in the form of a midnight movie equal parts sci-fi and horror. This spare story of a heavily sedated girl's attempts to escape the elaborate futuristic prison of her perverse captor -- like H.H. Holmes' murder castle as designed by the "2001: A Space Odyssey" production team -- keeps your at your seat's edge even as it lulls you into confusion and even boredom with random strobe effects and a slowly unpeeling, sinister atmosphere. Panned as pretentious by critics, and to their credit understandably so, "Black Rainbow" broadens the definitions of both horror and sci-fi while also being unlike anything else you've seen. And like other films I mentioned, it just goes to show the indelible influence Mr. Kubrick has had on horror filmmakers of today.
Also finally available on Netflix is Ted Kotcheff's recently resurfaced Aussie outback horror film "Wake in Fright," which came out the same year as Sam Peckinpah's original "Straw Dogs" (1971) and works as a parallel piece about man's descent into madness among the wilderness. An especially unnerving, delicately lit scene involving a pack of swilling, backwards hunters and a kangaroo will haunt your dreams. But it's just one among the many centerpiece moments in this ultra-violent thriller starring Gary Bond and Donald Pleasence.
Finally, perhaps the most frightening film on this list, for my money, is Kiyoshi Kurosawa's 2001 Japanese Y2K-era nightmare "Pulse" (Netflix). Sadly, this provocative film got lost somewhere among all the shoddy J-horror remakes and revamps and it's a pity because "Pulse" could be the best of them all. EW critic Owen Gleiberman once called David Lynch's "Fire Walk with Me" "'A Nightmare on Elm Street' directed by Michelangelo Antonioni." That enticing description -- which he didn't intend as a compliment -- rings true for "Pulse," which imagines Tokyo as a desolate, lonely, industrial landscape that picks off its young folk by the numbers. In this intricately plotted film, a group of twenty-somethings is haunted by ghostly images and cryptic messages that appear from nowhere on their computer screens. Ghosts seem to be communicating with them through the internet -- or are they? -- and soon the already blurry line between reality and phantasma gets even murkier in this dark, twisted new classic that contains one of the most bone-chilling images I've ever seen in cinema.