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Seven DTV Horror Movies Way Better Than They Should Have Been

Castle Freak

It’s a pretty standard idea that straight to video is the bottom of the barrel for horror films. Of course, things are different now. In the VOD era, filmmakers would kill for a straight to video release, or even a straight-to-video budget. The truth is that the direct-to-video label doesn’t automatically make a movie bad. Even if the vast majority of them aren’t worthy of note.

During the late ‘80s and throughout the ‘90s, most horror was discovered on video. So many independent and foreign releases didn’t get  a theatrical release in the US. That was when the video market was at its peak. Naturally, it was also the heyday of the direct-to-video (DTV) era.

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There were so many DTV productions coming out during this time that it’s hard to keep track of them all. Many were forgettable. But there are always those surprises, those rare gems that make sifting through all the cheesiness worth it. Read on for seven titles that earned that distinction.

The Video Dead

The Video Dead plays to its DTV roots in that it is actually about a TV that spawns zombies. They rise not from the grave, but from the television. It makes for an interesting twist on the concept that is also aided by some impressive effects.

The Video Dead Howling V: The Rebirth

While most of the Howling sequels are rough to sit through, given that they all had nothing to do with Joe Dante’s original and were made for next to nothing, Howling V is actually the least rough of the bunch. It’s a fairly effective murder mystery that very sparingly shows its werewolf, in part because the filmmakers can’t afford to reveal all that much of the creature. Regardless, this creates impressive tension.

Howling V


One of the most overlooked vampire flicks of its time period, Subspecies is a great little video effort with an authentic feel that harkens back to the likes of Dark Shadows and the early Hammer movies. It has a great central villain in Radu and, more than anything else, stunning locations due to the fact that it was actually filmed in Transylvania.


Curse of Chucky

A more recent video entry, Curse of Chucky is one I don’t think anyone was expecting. It certainly took me by surprise. It is a reboot that got the franchise back on track and just happened to be a video release at the same time. Don Mancini was very conscious of the lower budget and instead of drawing attention to it, created a tight one-location thriller. The result is a shockingly effective chiller that works in spite of its straight-to-video classification.

Curse of Chucky - Don Mancini - Child's Play 7

Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge

While the first two Puppet Master features were surprise hits and effective little horrors in their own right, Puppet Master III is an unexpectedly heartfelt and character-driven movie. As an adult it still surprises me how good this one is. It is the best of the entire series, featuring an empathetic backstory that gives the whole franchise weight. But at the same time, the film still brings some of the campiness, creative kills, and overall charm of the early Full Moon era.

Blade in Puppet Master III

The Pit and the Pendulum (1991)

Stuart Gordon’s Pit and the Pendulum is one of the best adaptations of Poe’s story (although it actually adapts both “Pit” and “The Cask of Amontillado”) despite the fact that it did not have a theatrical release. Lance Henriksen is so good in the role of Grand Inquistor Torquemada. And the entire film is a very serious look at the very realistic horrors of religion.

Pit and the Pendulum

Castle Freak

Even Fangoria, who hated Full Moon by and large in those days, had to give Castle Freak the Chainsaw Award for best straight-to-video/limited release of 1995. It’s one of Stuart Gordon’s best, a serious, emotional story about a family that’s been torn apart by tragedy, trying to repair itself when the opportunity to do so has long since passed. And then, of course, there’s a freak in a castle. But the whole thing, zany and offbeat as it is, works really well.

Castle Freak 1995

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Written by Nat Brehmer
In addition to contributing to Wicked Horror, Nathaniel Brehmer has also written for Horror Bid, HorrorDomain, Dread Central, Bloody Disgusting, We Got This Covered, and more. He has also had fiction published in Sanitarium Magazine, Hello Horror, Bloodbond and more. He currently lives in Florida with his wife and his black cat, Poe.
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