It’s a brand new year, and Deep Cuts Rising is back to spotlight less talked about horror movies. The first installment of 2024 features selections reflecting the month of January.
Regardless of how they came to be here, or what they’re about, these past movies can generally be considered overlooked, forgotten or unknown.
This month’s offerings feature zombies, a killer New Year’s party and more.
Knife of Ice (1972)
Directed by Umberto Lenzi.
Giallo fans have designated both January and July as months for celebrating the genre. So it’s a great time to get acquainted with these stylish mysteries. Novices will naturally be drawn to the more popular and acclaimed filmmakers that gialli have to offer — Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci — but others like Umberto Lenzi shouldn’t be disregarded. Louis Paul, author of Italian Horror Film Directors, said Lenzi “never consistently excelled at any one genre.” Even so, Lenzi’s penchant for trend-following still amounted to a number of enjoyable titles over his long career.
Lenzi’s Knife of Ice (Il coltello di ghiaccio) wasn’t financially successful upon its release, and the lack of sex and graphic violence may have to do with that. Nevertheless, the story is intriguing, as is the bizarre ending.
Knife of Ice is currently streaming on SCREAMBOX.
Night Life (1989)
Directed by David Acomba.
Back then, Fangoria editor Tony Timpone called Night Life “the most original, off-beat and entertaining zombie film in years.” Today, it’s hard to come by. Similar to 1982’s One Dark Night, teenagers get mixed up with the undead, although the outcome is more comedic than scary. Critters star Scott Grimes, who is now recognized for voicing Steve in American Dad!, plays the unlucky adolescent whose school bullies are delivered to his uncle’s mortuary after a fatal car accident. It’s there that a sudden lightning storm reanimates the corpses and triggers a night of terror for the protagonist and his best friend.
Night Life (a.k.a. Grave Misdemeanors) could use some smoothing out in places, but overall it’s a delightful zom-com for the younger crowd. And while the humor indeed takes precedence for most of the movie, there are moments in the tail end that should keep horror fans happy.
Unless someone wants to fork over the bucks for a rare and expensive Laserdisc copy, curious viewers can track down a digitization online with little effort. Here’s to hoping Night Life finds its way to Blu-ray in the near future, though.
Soft For Digging (2001)
Directed by J. T. Petty.
As temperatures drop in many places, cravings for cold horror come up. The bigger hitters, such as The Shining and Black Christmas, chill people to the bone for good reason, but for something different and less heard of, seek out Soft for Digging. In this indie horror, an older recluse (Edmond Mercier) living near the woods witnesses the murder of a child (Sarah Ingerson). Despite his efforts to stay uninvolved, the protagonist only then becomes more entangled in the increasingly uncanny situation.
Soft for Digging is arthouse horror made with little money and no big-name actors. It has virtually no dialogue as well as slow pacing. However, it’s never easy figuring out where the movie is heading. That sort of uncertainty keeps viewers glued to the screen.
DVD copies of Soft for Digging are still available.
Steel Trap (2007)
Directed by Luis Cámara.
The success of Saw franchise naturally led to imitators in the 2000s, although more of these copycats preferred the format of the sequels than the original. Steel Trap is a German-made but English-language take on the familiar formula; characters are invited to a New Year’s Eve party as part of a mysterious host’s wicked plan.
Steel Trap survives on decent production values and violent set pieces more than its actual story and performances. And, frankly, that’s all you want sometimes.
Steel Trap is both available on DVD and streaming (Tubi and Freevee).
Directed by Michael Venus.
From nightmares to sleep paralysis, the horror genre has has a history of exploring the topic of dreams. Michael Venus’ aptly titled Sleep (Schlaf) doesn’t deliver the same thrills as past movies, but it does use stimulating imagery to demonstrate the relationship between dreams and trauma. Sandra Hüller (Anatomy of a Fall) plays a mother whose unknown past continues to haunt her each time she falls asleep. When the mother finally endures a breakdown, her daughter (Gro Swantje Kohlhof) visits the village that may hold the key to this surreal mystery.
Sleep is a tense mind-bender that requires patience and analysis. The journey to answers is never straightforward or even totally satisfying, but Venus tenders plenty food for thought.
Find Sleep now at most digital retailers as well as on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
No genre is as prolific as horror, so it’s understandable that movies fall through the cracks all the time. That is where this recurring column, Deep Cuts Rising, comes in. Each installment of this series will spotlight several unsung or obscure movies from the past — some from way back when, and others from not so long ago — that could use more attention.