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Knock Off

5 Knock Off Horror Movies That Are Actually Good

Imitation is the best form of flattery apparently, but it’s clear this isn’t always the case. Knock off horror movies have been around for a while. Consider the B-level schlock turned out from Asylum, for example, who are always quick to turn around a movie that bears a passing resemblance to the latest Hollywood blockbuster. There has been a pattern throughout movie history, especially within the horror genre, for studios both large and small to knock off horror movies that have been successful. More often than not, of course, the finished results have been terrible.

The Devil Within Her was a reprehensible 70s ripoff of The Exorcist. Grizzly was basically Jaws but with a bear instead of a shark. And the woeful 1989 movie Offerings shared many of the plot points (and musical notes) from John Carpenter’s Halloween. These were all awful movies and we could have mentioned others. However, not every ripoff horror movie has been a travesty. There are exceptions, and these include the following.

Homicidal (1961)

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Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho was the obvious inspiration for this semi-successful knock off. Directed by infamous shock (and shlock) meister William Castle, Homicidal features many of the same plot points. The film begins with a blond woman (Emily) perpetrating a crime. There is a hotel setting. We have an unexpected knife murder. A climactic gender switch happens late in the film. And within the plot, there is even room for a woman in a wheelchair, cared for by the ‘not who she seems’ Emily. Unlike Mrs. Bates, however, the lady in this wheelchair is very much alive in the film. Well, at least until she loses her head during one shocking staircase moment; another nod, perhaps, to Hitchcock’s 1960 movie.

Despite the similarities to Psycho, the story is markedly different. It’s Emily and not the hotel staff who are mentally unhinged. However, Castle clearly owes a lot to the master of suspense, as even his marketing tagline – “Ladies and gentlemen, please do not reveal the ending of Homicidal to your friends, because if you do they will kill you. And if they don’t, I will” – owes a lot to the tagline that was used within the marketing of Psycho.

Abby (1974)

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William Friedkin’s The Exorcist spawned many movies in its wake, including Beyond The Door, Exorcismo, and The Possessor. Very few of them have been very good, and arguably, 1974’s Abby is no masterclass in horror cinema either. However, it’s not unwatchable, and it doesn’t deserve to be cast into the pits of hell with those other wretched efforts that capitalized on The Exorcist’s success.

Abby is a blaxploitation take on the Friedkin classic, in the same way that Blacula was a clear reinterpretation of Dracula. Warner Bros successfully sued the makers of the movie for ripping off their more esteemed property, but there is still room for both. After all, we don’t remember a sex demon speaking jive in the earlier movie, and we don’t remember Regan hanging out in nightclubs that bear a striking resemblance to hell, either. The movie is silly rather than scary, but as a consequence is a lot more fun to watch.

Jennifer (1978)

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A young girl with a very religious parent and psychokinetic powers. Scenes of bullying within the setting of a school. Do you know what movie we are referring to? Top marks if you mention Carrie, but you also get points if you mention this knock off horror movie that was released into cinemas a couple of years later.

There are no buckets of pigs blood or scenes of prom night carnage in this movie. Instead, we get a teenage girl who can summon snakes to do her bidding and a group of bullying kids who get their comeuppance from the girl they have mercilessly tormented. The movie looks dated now and the special effects aren’t that special. It also has a PG-rating which is why it’s surprisingly light on gore. Still, it’s arguably better than many of the other movies that were released in Carrie’s wake, including Ruby and The Initiation of Sarah, and there is always something cathartic about seeing the victim of bullying get their revenge.

Alligator (1980)

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Just when you thought it was safe to go down into the sewers! Yes, this is a blatant ripoff of Jaws, but with something scaly and reptilian instead of a man-eating shark. Directed by Lewis Teague (Cujo), this was one of the more entertaining follow-ons from Spielberg’s movie, with a witty script from John Sayles, some decent special effects, and a pretty good ensemble of actors.

The movie echoes Jaws in several ways. We have a cop trying to save the town from a sharp-toothed terror. We have authority figures who refuse to believe people’s lives are at stake. And we get first-person underwater viewpoints from the animal too! Unlike the shark in Spielberg’s film, the threat here has grown to gigantic proportions after chomping down on the corpses of animals that have been used in lab experiments. It’s preposterously silly but stands alongside Piranha as one of the better knock offs that emerged after the success of Jaws.

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

The year before The Blair Witch Project crawled out of the woods to scare the pants off cinema-goers everywhere, another micro-budgeted found footage movie was made. Its name was The Last Broadcast and it chronicled the expedition of four local access TV producers as they ventured into the Pine Barrens of New Jersey to search for the mythical Jersey Devil. It wasn’t the first found footage movie ever made. Cannibal Holocaust and serial killer flick August Underground are two other movies within the same genre. But when looking at The Blair Witch Project, it’s not hard to see the similarities.

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As you probably know by now (unless you have been hiding out in the woods yourself this last couple of decades), this 1999 movie tells the story of three student filmmakers who hike into the Black Hills near Burkittsville, Maryland to discover more about local legend, the Blair Witch. Needless to say, things do not end well, and the supposedly ‘real’ found footage depicts the creepy demise of our unlucky campers. The movie grossed over $250 million, creeped out many a moviegoer, and spawned a number of other copycat found footage movies, including The St Francisville Experiment a year later and the tedious 2006 ‘aliens in the woods’ movie, The Hunt.

Finally

Like it or not, movies will always get ripped off. For every Star Wars, there will be a Battle Beyond The Stars. For every Mad Max, there will be A Man Called Rage. There will still be the occasional gem to prove that not every knock off is a waste of studio money or your precious time.

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