The overrated horror movie checklist

The overrated horror movie checklist

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Every Halloween, film experts recommend scary movies to get us in the holiday spirit.

And their tips usually draw blood – cinematically speaking.

But some horror movie favorites get a little too much acclaim.

WWTW reached out to some fellow movie critics – and a professor steeped in horror movie lore – to see which films get too much attention this time of year – and which ones deserve a bit more love.

Even before New York Times film critic A.O. Scott mentioned it in the paper this week I was a fan of “Dead of Night,” which I saw as a teenager because my mom said it scared her out of a night’s sleep when she was a kid, and just saw again. I have a special affection for “The Craft” and “The Faculty,” both of which I think are better than their reputations. As for overrated, I’d say “Planet Terror.” Yes, there are parts I love, but it is way too into itself.

Overrated: “The Exorcist” (1973): Perhaps “overrated” is the wrong term here. But for the gargantuan hype surrounding the film’s level of terror, count me as underwhelmed. While William Friedkin’s legendarily grotesque film sits at the top of just about every “Scariest Movies” list, my own enjoyment of it came from the human drama involving its conflicted protagonists. Linda Blair’s possessed (and ghastly abused) Regan was certainly one of cinema’s eerier characters, but not one that haunted my nightmares.

Underrated: “Day of the Dead” (1985): Perhaps the least respected of George A. Romero’s zombie films, “Day of the Dead” is more methodically paced and contemplative than what audiences are used to seeing out of a zombie film. While certainly inferior to “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead,” it had been so maligned to me that when I finally watched it, I was shocked at how tense and gripping it was. There’s some of the expected action and gore, but Romero makes the atmosphere claustrophobic with the realization that the film’s heroes are merely waiting for the inevitable end, which to me is the most frightening state one can exist in

I’d say pretty much everything Rob Zombie has made qualifies as over-rated. He’s beloved by hardcore horror folks. I see him as an artless splatter artist who hasn’t figured out how to make all the gore and cretinism scary yet. People who laugh at his films are probably puppy torturers and should be watched.

Underrated is harder. I tend toward stuff that is realistic–leaves out the supernatural. The recent remake of “Last House on the Left” wasn’t a classic, but I thought was under-appreciated by critics and audiences. Sara Paxton’s performance gave the generic “victim” role humanity, pluck and gut-wrenching pathos. It’s been years since I’ve seen somebody commit that deeply to what is too often a thankless role in a horror movie

Overrated: “Saw” (2004) – Though nobody thinks the Saw franchise is quality filmmaking in general, many people seem to think the first one is quite good. However, when I first saw the film it seemed to me to be totally derivative (if not an outright knock-off) of David Fincher’s far more disturbing and well-made “Seven, “released almost 10 years prior. So if only to give credit where credit is due I feel the need to take the wind out of the Saw sails.

Underrated: “The Changeling” (1980) -Not to be confused with Clint Eastwood’s 2008 film, this creepy ghost film from 1980 stars George C. Scott as a bereaved widower (his wife and child having been killed in a car accident) who is confronted with a large and haunted mansion. It’s a classic ghost story that still can give me the chills, but with “The Amityville Horror” and “Poltergeist” dominating the ghost market in that era, it has been somewhat lost in the shuffle.


(Photo: “Last House on the Left” didn’t get enough credit from his fellow movie critics, says Orlando Sentinel movie reviewer Roger Moore.)

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

blackhawk12151No Gravatar October 29, 2009 at 5:40 pm

I actually do agree with James Frazier re: The Exorcist. It is one of my favorite films but not for the scares. Karas as the priest questioning his faith is what draws me to it. He is one of the most interesting and well-developed characters of all time. It has some creepy scenes but that is not its major appeal for me.

I have been wanting to see The Changeling for a while but it is one of those films I have never gotten around to.

JimmyCNo Gravatar October 29, 2009 at 6:41 pm

Not that you asked, but here are my choices:

Most overrated: Halloween. Maybe I just saw it after hearing too much hype, but it just didn’t scare me at all.

Most underrated: P2. One of the best horror movies I’ve seen in years, and it was criminally overlooked by both audiences and critics. Great scares and atmosphere, excellent lead performances by now-popular Rachael Nichols as the heroine and Wes Bentley as the psycho, and probably the best (and most unexpected) use of an Elvis song in any movie I’ve seen.

cftotoNo Gravatar October 29, 2009 at 7:44 pm

P2? I’ll have to catch up with that one … I remember the tepid reviews so I steered clear of it originally. Good tip.

James FrazierNo Gravatar October 30, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Thanks, blackhawk12151. I’m sort of a hard scare, and I never once felt seriously close to being afraid during the whole movie. Seems to really frighten just about everyone else I know, though.

I very nearly picked “Children of Men,” as my pick for underrated horror film, because I was genuinely scared during most of that; the extinction premise coupled with the brilliant camera work had me tied up in knots. But I wanted to pick an actual horror movie, so “Day of the Dead” it was.

bobNo Gravatar October 31, 2009 at 3:36 pm

When future wife and I saw “The Exorcist” at the theater, we actually laughed out loud at the “horror” sequences. Today, on DVD, the thing just creeps me out, but I’ll agree that the film’s best moments are human, a mother willing to do anything to save her daughter, and a priest sacrificing all for a stranger.

Over-rated “horror” films is the entire array of films that fall into the category of “torture porn.” Making you squirm in your seat from nausea is not the same as making you squirm in your seat wondering what lurks under the bed.

I don’t know if it’s underrated, but my horror touchstone, the one that pops to mind whenever I think of the genre, remains “Curse of the Demon” (alternately “Night of the Demon”; in many ways, “Drag Me to Hell” is a clever remake). Cut off the first five minutes or so and it’s near perfect in building suspense while slowly unwrapping Dana Andrews’ comfortable world of science. If you see it on DVD, just do a chapter skip to where you see Andrews trying to sleep on an airliner. That way, the ending is all the more enjoyable.

Ben BoychukNo Gravatar November 3, 2009 at 12:17 am

Glad to see the prof praised “The Changeling.” Very good ghost story. I know it’s a few days after the fact now, Christian, but here is the list of the movies we discussed on the podcast a few weeks ago: http://blog.infinitemonkeysblog.com/?q=node/6761

EricPNo Gravatar November 3, 2009 at 6:31 pm

Someone else appreciates The Craft. Late to this party, but definitely nice to see that l’il tidbit.

LesleyNo Gravatar September 24, 2010 at 11:24 pm

No love for the haters: Rob Zombie can take the twisted and mutilated and make me grin. And I happen to love kittens.

Best all time Horror Movie: The Descent. Neil Marshall is a genius.

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