It’s a struggle to get mainstream critics to see horror films for what they are: an escape from reality and a source of entertainment. While some genre film offerings are more profound than others, lack of subtext isn’t a valid reason to write a film off as insignificant. If a picture is smartly paced, entertaining, and does what it has set out to do, there’s no discernible reason the feature should be brutally attacked by critics.
All too often, horror titles are treated like substandard entertainment by the mainstream media. It seems as though some critics go into a horror film with the predisposition that what they’re about to watch is somehow a lesser form of entertainment. If that mindset is of the majority of most mainstream critics, it would explain why the Rotten Tomatoes score for so many quality horror films is so low.
Not every horror picture can be Psycho or The Shining, but that doesn’t mean that each title shouldn’t be evaluated on its own merits. Every horror film deserves the same thoughtful and unbiased analysis that any other feature would receive. In defense of some of our favorite horror titles that have been unduly lambasted by mainstream critics, we are bringing you 13 great horror titles that received rotten reviews.
Every day this month we're bringing you a different Top 13 list from the world of horror. You can find them all here.
Halloween II (29% on Rotten Tomatoes)
The 1981 follow up to the John Carpenter classic is a worthwhile sequel and sees Rick Rosenthal taking over the franchise fairly seamlessly. Critics took issue with the film because it’s not of the same caliber as John Carpenter’s original but the first Halloween film is in a league of its own and anyone using that as a benchmark is almost certain to be disappointed. Halloween II is suspenseful, frightening, and features a solid performance from the always likable Jamie Lee Curtis. Though Halloween II doesn’t match or outdo the original but it is a very enjoyable follow up effort.
The House on Sorority Row (33% on Rotten Tomatoes)
Mark Rosman’s The House on Sorority Row is a clever, wry, and brutal slasher effort. The dialogue is witty and makes the awful things the characters do seem slightly less horrible. One critique went so far as to call the film downright awful. I have to wonder if some critics just didn’t get what the film was going for. Rosman set out to make a horror film with dark comedic overtones and he succeeded in doing that. The House on Sorority Row is quite entertaining and it has a great twist ending. It may not be perfect but it’s far from awful.
Event Horizon (24% on Rotten Tomatoes)
I was shocked to learn that Event Horizon has such a low rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s a perfectly frightful film. The performances are great. The screenplay is inventive. The alternate dimensions angle is fascinating. Event Horizon is also noteworthy for featuring an impressive cast comprised of established performers and a variety of up and comers. The film received criticism for its similarities to the works of Stanley Kubrick, Ridley Scott, and other prominent directors, but in spite of surface similarities to other pictures, Event Horizon stands on its own and is a legitimately scary flick!
Happy Birthday to Me (33% on Rotten Tomatoes)
J. Lee Thompson has combined conventional horror elements with giallo conventions to create a slasher film with a high level of suspense, an unpredictable ending, and kills that are as inventive as they are gruesome. Several critics saw the film as banal and lacking innovation but really, it’s just the opposite. The ending is one of the most unusual and imaginative finales I’ve seen in a slasher film and the kills are well timed so as to keep the viewer engaged.
Maniac (43% on Rotten Tomatoes)
William Lustig’s Maniac is a genre film masterpiece. It is gritty, violent, and highly very original. Joe Spinell is exceptional as Frank Zito. He is so believable in the role that you forget where Frank Zito ends and Spinell begins. Critics called the picture distasteful and incoherent. However, this is a flick that tells the story of an extremely disturbed man and chronicles his violent exploits. If William Lustig had attempted to be more tasteful in his portrayal of Frank Zito, the film would have lost its edge and would have been forgotten in no time. As it stands, Maniac is a grindhouse classic and is still gaining new fans, even after nearly 35 years. As far as coherence goes, I’m not entirely sure where that’s coming from but didn’t see Maniac as lacking cohesion.
The Amityville Horror (24% on Rotten Tomatoes)
The original Amityville Horror film has spawned a barrage of sequels and a remake. It has a loyal fan following and is recognized by many as a classic haunted house film. Critics called the film clumsy and unremarkable. It’s true that the film is not perfect. It definitely has its flaws. But for many horror fans, The Amityville Horror is neither clunky nor unremarkable. Josh Brolin and Margot Kidder turn in solid performances, much of the film is atmospheric and spooky, and the scene with the flies is completely mortifying.
Martyrs (55% on Rotten Tomatoes)
Martyrs is Pascal Laugier at his best. The film is visceral and bold. When making the film, Laugier never held back and the finished product is better for it. Martyrs has been accused of falling apart in the third act and not being worth your time. In truth, the film is visually striking and boasts exceptional performances from its leads. A lot of critiques wrote the film off as ‘torture porn’ but that’s not accurate. This isn’t violence for the sake of violence. Martyrs tells a story that demands to be depicted violently. To censor the carnage would be to the extreme detriment of the film. ‘Torture porn’ is descriptive of a film that shovels on layer upon layer of unnecessary and gratuitous violence for the sake of shock value. That’s not what’s going on here.
Wolf Creek (53% on Rotten Tomatoes)
Wolf Creek is noteworthy for introducing us to Mick Taylor, who is a highly memorable antagonist. He is brutal, witty, and completely ruthless. Wolf Creek boasts above average performances from all of its leads, effective pacing, and a brilliant finale. A lot of mainstream critics faulted the film for being excessively violent but it is a product of the time in which it was made. The horror genre was steering in that direction in 2005 and Greg McLean probably let that trend influence the film’s aesthetic. However, the high level of carnage is not detrimental to the outcome and it does not detract from the picture. It simply reinforces just how sadistic Mick Taylor really is.
All The Boys Love Mandy Lane (43% on Rotten Tomatoes)
This film was well received among genre film journalists and horror fans alike; it’s anyone’s guess why it didn’t resonate with mainstream critics. It was condemned for not being scary enough and sometimes appearing to be tonally erratic. The film didn’t set out to be exceptionally frightening; it was more about portraying interesting characters, delivering brutal kill sequences, and offering up a clever twist ending. As far as tonality, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane has several different elements in play but all of them work together to make the picture’s tone dynamic as opposed to uneven.
The Gate (33% on Rotten Tomatoes)
Tibor Takacs’ The Gate is probably my favorite family friendly horror film of all time. It is so imaginative and it doesn’t hold anything back. The scares are legitimate and the effects are epic. In fact, they still look amazing today. A lot of critics called The Gate downright bad. But nearly any horror fan will tell you that this 1987 feature is a brilliant film with exceptional visuals and a plethora of well-executed scares. It’s a mystery to me why anyone would perceive The Gate to be downright bad. But I will gladly defend it as I think it’s an excellent flick.
Friday the 13th Part II (33% on Rotten Tomatoes)
I’ve often said that Friday the 13th Part 2 is the most underrated installment in the franchise, so it’s not entirely surprising to learn that it holds an undeservedly low score on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics accused this second installment in the Friday franchise of being a carbon copy sequel that features two-dimensional characters. I could not disagree more. The second Friday the 13th film has an extremely likable cast and the characters – particularly Ginny – are especially well developed for a 1980s slasher film. The picture sees Ginny using her psychology background to assess Jason’s mental state and that is considerably more intelligent than the rationale used to take Jason down in some of the other films. Though Part 2 does bear similarities to its predecessor, the second installment in the series does plenty to separate itself from the pack.
Resident Evil (33% on Rotten Tomatoes)
This video game adaptation is stylish, action packed, and features dynamic effects. Milla Jovavich is in her element as Alice; she is ferocious but still likable and easy for the viewer to identify with. The film was a big hit with moviegoers and has led to a series of sequels; however, it did not garner a particularly enthusiastic reaction from film critics. Resident Evil was accused of being derivative and not doing justice to the game on which it was based. And even if it’s not the most innovative film, Resident Evil does a fine job of keeping viewers on their toes for the entirety of the film’s run time.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II (50% on Rotten Tomatoes)
The first installment in the Hellraiser franchise is rated as ‘fresh’ on Rotten Tomatoes but somehow the second is scored as ‘rotten’. The second film is a very worthy sequel and marks the first entry in the series that really began to showcase Pinhead as its star. Some of the critiques suggested that this second entry in the Hellraiser franchise is too similar to the first film and others complained that it is too grotesque to be appreciated. I think Hellraiser II is a brilliant companion piece to the first picture and the carnage is not there simply for the glorification of violence, it’s an integral part of the film’s storyline and is therefore justified.