Welcome to Beat the Algorithm, a recurring column providing relevant and diverse streaming recommendations based on your favorite movies. This time, we’re recommending movies like the Argentine zombie horror movie When Evil Lurks.
Argentine brothers Pedro (Ezequiel Rodriguez) and Jaime (Demián Salomon) awaken to the sound of gunshots. And these days, that can only mean one thing. Sure enough, when the duo investigate, they find a man (okay, half of a man) in the woods. The dead man was a “Cleaner,” a trained specialist armed with the sacred knowledge to safely dispatch those who become possessed. The appearance of a so-called “Rotten” must be dealt with by professionals. If it isn’t professionally killed, possessions start infecting the surrounding area. And if enough time passes for the demon to be born, well … hopefully, it won’t come to that.
After further investigation, the brothers find one such Rotten in a nearby shack and decide to make the putrid creature someone else’s problem by dumping it in a distant field. Done and dusted, right? Right? RIGHT?
Originally premiering in TIFF’s Midnight Madness block (where it promptly blew our socks off), Demián Rugna‘s incredibly bleak horror film pulls no punches and delivers the goopy goods. Tonally assured and unafraid to break taboos, When Evil Lurks is easily a horror highlight of 2023. Naturally, you may be clamoring for more of the same after catching it on Shudder (or in select theaters — thanks, IFC Films!). That’s where we come in. We might not be highly trained demonic exterminators. But we’ve seen enough uncompromising undead genre flics to know what will pair well with this glorious gorefest. So press on, and enjoy this list of twelve movies you should watch if you liked When Evil Lurks.
Zombi 2 (1979)
In another, better timeline, When Evil Lurks debuted in Italy as the latest entry in the Zombi franchise, a series of horror films loosely connected by rotting skin, excessive gore, and a keen appreciation for bummer endings. Demián Rugna’s dread-filled take on a zombie apocalypse certainly has the “setpiece first, plot never” attitude that distinguished Lucio Fulci’s undead original. And fans of When Evil Lurks owe it to themselves to go straight to the source. Then again, why is Fulci’s 1979 film called Zombi 2 if it’s the beginning of the franchise? Unfortunately, dear reader, you’re already asking too many questions. This film was released under ten different names — this is what we’re dealing with! Just accept the fact that nothing makes any sense and enjoy the papier mâché-faced undead hordes.
The Gates of Hell Trilogy (1980-1981)
Before its premiere, When Evil Lurks was pitched to critics as “Fulciesque.” Big, if true, we thought. Then again, what kind of Fulciesque are we talking about here? Are there lots of eye-impalements? A reckless amount of on-screen maggots? Did Fabio Frizzi provide the score?
Delightfully, Demián Rugna’s latest takes after the Italian horror master’s unrelenting appreciation for doom and gloom apocalyptic endings. And nowhere is Fulci’s “the world’s fucked, roll credits” more palpable than in his Gates of Hell trilogy. Comprised of City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981), and The House by the Cemetery (1981), Fulci’s doom-and-gloom trilogy has style (and aforementioned eye-impalements) to spare.
Burial Ground (1981)
Is Burial Ground a good movie? Emphatically no. But I do think folks who enjoyed When Evil Lurks owe it to themselves to watch this buck-wild grindhouse gem. Directed by under-seen and certifiably insane Roman genre filmmaker Andrea Bianchi, Burial Ground was one of the many films released under the alternative title of Zombie 3. All rivers run back to Lucio Fulci, I swear. Indeed, while many boring, stinky people dismiss Burial Ground as a cheap clone of Fulci’s 1979 classic, Bianchi brings some decidedly depraved twists (and occasionally improvements) to the table that make this much more than a disposable carbon copy. After all, how can a film with an incestuous zombie breastfeeding scene be boring? As strange and nasty as any of its more famous euro-trash competitors, Burial Ground is a testament to the fact that plot and context are optional as far as moody zombie films are concerned.
The Evil Dead (1981)
Like many horror movies, When Evil Lurks rides and dies on the snap-decisions of a couple of idiots. Then again, who among us wouldn’t try to game the system when faced with a rotting time bomb? “No backsies” is an inherently human impulse, your honor.
No one embraces horror movie stupidity with more resolve or gusto than Ash Williams, the hero of The Evil Dead franchise, famously played by Bruce Campbell. In his debut showing, Ash sees a tape recorder and hits play without a single thought. One demonic recitation later, and before you can say “Klaatu barada nikto,” an inanimate evil is shrieking its way through the woods in search of a warm body. Bodies levitate, lesions form, and the dead speak, manipulating the living with glee and ease. The laws governing this spreading corruption are impossible to pin down. But maybe that’s the point. More raw and rough around the edges than its more jovial successors, Sam Raimi’s original still feels like something you shouldn’t be watching. Which is precisely why you should watch it.
Two tickets to the Metropol, please! Lamberto Bava‘s Demons is a movie for party people. Which is to say, people who accept the end of days with a resounding “hell yeah.” Plot, shmot. All you need to know is that a mere scratch was enough to incite a mass demonic outbreak, sending slobbering possessed moviegoers screaming down the aisles. That snarling silver mask in the theater’s lobby had something to do with it. Was this chaos part of some larger plan? An attempt to kick-start the apocalypse? If so, great work. Now, are you wondering how any of this can end happily? This is an Italian supernatural horror movie. Keep wondering.
Prince of Darkness (1987)
The middle entry in John Carpenter‘s well-titled Apocalypse Trilogy, Prince of Darkness sees a Catholic priest teaming up with a gaggle of quantum physicists to investigate a mysterious cylinder in the basement of a Los Angeles monastery. When the team learns that the contents of the cylinder are (1) sentient and (2) the corporeal embodiment of Satan, it’s already too late.
Being inspired by Dario Aregento’s Inferno is a massive green flag. And don’t listen to those idiots who dismiss the film as “a bunch of people chasing each other up and down a hallway.” They clearly underestimate how scary hallways can be! If the hopeless, bleak vibes of When Evil Lurks turned your crank, make time for JC’s genuinely unsettling take on a possession horror movie.
The Church (1989)
As any Michele Soavi fan worth their salt will tell you, the cold open of The Church is the cinematic equivalent of a guitar solo. Sure, when the plot gets plotting, cause and effect are out the window. But from the cold open, we learn the basics: to certain religious zealots, evil is a contagion, spreading like a disease or a plague of locusts without rhyme or reason. Trying to contain it is like holding water in the palm of your hand. Eventually, it’ll spill out.
Admittedly, building a cathedral atop a mass grave was bound to invite disaster, whether or not the slaughtered in question were, in fact, demonic. After all, the devil thrives on contradictions. And few ironies are as delicious as turning the house of god into a Hieronymus Bosch painting. Protective wards and sacred scripts be damned. It was only a matter of time before some treasure-hunting dummy came along to open the gates of hell.
Cabin Fever (2002)
Horror movies are chockablock with morons. It’s one of the genre’s many charms. If any of these dummies had brain cells, they wouldn’t yes-and their way into death and destruction, now would they? When Evil Lurks gallantly takes up this tradition, with Pedro and Jimi desperately attempting to find loopholes in apocalyptic prophecy. Meanwhile, the characters in Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever are arguably the dumbest anyone has ever been in a horror movie. The wheels are turning, but the hamsters are dead. Or rather, the flesh-eating bacteria-infected hamsters are dead. And knowing these characters, they’re blending those hamsters up to make protein shakes. God bless their hearts. If watching dummies prat-fall their way into disaster turns your crank, tune into this aggressively early 2000s infection tale that will make you swear off still-water skinny dips.
It is impossible – and possibly a crime – to talk about viral possession horror without paying due respects to [REC], the modern pinnacle of the subgenre and one of the scariest films ever made. With palpable masochism, Paco Plaza and Jaume Balagueró took a then-unconventional approach to the on-screen zombie outbreak, giving their audience no reprieve with real-time chaos presented in a found footage format.
We can’t look away as the world ends around us, unspooling within the confines of a dingy Spanish apartment complex. Something fetid and contagious is ripping its way through the building. Our heroes (or what remains of them) don’t know it yet, but something evil is emanating from the penthouse suite: a long-repressed vestige of religious trauma turned infectious through incubation and neglect. And unfortunately for our heroes, when you’re backed up against a wall, sometimes the only way out … is up.
The Wailing (2016)
If Demons is a movie for party people, The Wailing is for folks who like to cry on their way to their 9-5. If you know, you know. Often touted as one of the most disturbing slow burns of the 21st Century, Na Hong-jin’s chilling possession tale marries Korean folklore and viral possession with truly stomach-churning results. If you like clenching your asshole for 156 minutes, this is the movie for you.
The Wailing follows schlubby family man Jong-goo (Kwak Do-won), a bewildered cop in a small Korean mountain town who is responsible for investigating a growing infection that turns sick villagers into rabid maniacs. The locals blame the mysterious Japanese man who just moved to town. But Jong-goo is too busy tripping over his own shoelaces to get to the bottom of things. Then, when the situation hits too close to home, the devoted dad springs into action to save the life of his only daughter … no matter the price. If you’re looking to program a double bill of horror movies where father figures fuck up royally, The Wailing and When Evil Lurks are a match made in hell.
When Evil Lurks marks writer-director Demián Rugna’s sixth movie, which means that there are plenty of options when it comes to digging into the Argentine director’s back catalog, but if you’re going to prioritize something, make it Terrified. Stuffed to the gills with unforgettably creepy setpieces, the film follows a series of supernatural shenanigans befalling a suburban neighborhood in Buenos Aires. Good thing this town is lousy with paranormal investigators! The film waltzed away with the best horror feature award at Fantastic Fest, and given that Rugna is supposedly working on a script for a sequel, it’s probably not such a bad idea to do your homework. Dropping us into the deep end with nary a care towards “explaining why any of this is happening,” Terrified is a creepy gauntlet throw from a director clearly intent on leaving his mark on the modern horror scene.
Murder Me, Monster (2018)
If When Evil Lurks made you hungry for more Argentine horror movies, the intriguingly titled Murder Me, Monster is a good place to start. Written and directed by Alejandro Fadel, the film follows a police officer tasked with solving the murder of a headless woman. The prime suspect is institutionalized when he starts blaming the crime on a horrible creature. But when the clues start to point more and more toward the supernatural, the cop has no choice but to see where the madness leads. Featuring one of the most inventively graphic creature designs of the 21st century, this slow-burn is an oddity well worth seeking out if you can get your hands on it.