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THE TEN MOST OVERRATED HORROR MOVIES

The horror movie genre, like any other, contains more than its share of overpraised clunkers. I’ve already sounded off about the likes of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES and CABIN FEVER, all films that I consider hopelessly overrated.

     It turns out those movies are merely the tip of the iceberg. What follows are some real clunkers--not necessarily the worst horror movies of all time, just (in my view) the most overrated. These ten films may be considered classics in some (okay, many) quarters, but not here!
 

10. THE OMEN
I’m not sure if people still take this ridiculous movie, a massive hit back in 1976, seriously or not. What is certain is that its makers, as revealed on Fox’s Special Edition DVD, seem to feel it's on par with CITIZEN KANE. Puh-lease! The storyline, about a twerp who's the antichrist--as proven, apparently, by the fact that his presence inspires a bunch of gory killings--is flat-out stupid as shit (and clearly indebted to THE EXORCIST). The only saving graces are the many creative deaths, my favorite being David Warner’s ludicrously implausible but fun decapitation by a pane of glass. Director Richard Donner and editor Stuart Baird talk at length on the DVD about how they “cleverly” edited the scene to confound audience expectations--translation: they draw it out for fuckin’ ever, which pretty much sums up the film's overall effect. And no, the 2006 remake isn't any better!

9. DAY OF THE DEAD
Back in 1985 viewers seemed able to accept this third entry in George Romero's DEAD saga for the so-so effort it is. In the ensuing years, however, a cult has formed around DAY OF THE DEAD proclaiming it a genre masterpiece; I wonder what those cultists make of the bad acting, uneventful narrative and severely limited scope (scaled down considerably from Romero's far more expansive conception). DAY isn't a terrible movie by any means, just a disappointing and uninspiring one. Romero's follow-ups LAND OF THE DEAD and DIARY OF THE DEAD aren't without some pretty grievous flaws of their own, but bring back the energy and innovation that characterized NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and DAWN OF THE DEAD yet are solely missing from DAY.

8. THE HOST [GWOEMUL]
This 2006 Korean sea creature chiller has been dubbed one of the greatest monster movies ever. Critics have fallen all over themselves singing its praises, but in this case it seems paying audiences knew better: in the screening I attended most everybody left before the end! To be fair, I agree with the critics that THE HOST has a seriously cool CGI monster, and the scenes of it loose among hoards of screaming extras are great...but the rest of the film? Inconsistently paced and overall quite a dull viewing experience. Most of the time (to borrow a much overused phrase) I was rooting for the monster.

7. THE THING (FROM ANOTHER WORLD)
Everyone and their grandmother, it seems, dubs this 1951 Howard Hawks production a classic of the genre, and the 1982 John Carpenter remake pointless and unnecessary. I hold the opposite view, and can only assume the affection for Hawks' film is based on childhood nostalgia. Since I wasn’t yet born when most of this film’s admirers first experienced it, I’ve no choice but to judge it on its own merits...which these days are pretty slim. Throwing out most of the John W. Campbell story that inspired it, THE THING tells the rather routine tale of a bunch of dudes getting chased around by a guy in a cheesy monster suit. I will concede that the eerie meowing sounds made by the Thing are an inspired touch, but otherwise...

6. THE HOWLING
Is this really the greatest werewolf movie ever made? Quite a few horror fans and critics seem to think so, and I’ve rewatched this clunker several times over the years in an attempt to discern what all the shouting’s about. To be sure, THE HOWLING boasts some amazing talent: director Joe Dante, screenwriter John Sayles and special effects technician Rob Bottin. Of the three, only Bottin really does the job you’d expect, with some amazing transformation FX whose impact has unfortunately been blunted with time. Far more grievous is Sayles’ script, which jettisons nearly the entire Gary Brander novel upon which the film was based; that’s okay I guess, but Sayles’ replacement story, about a yuppie retreat infested with werewolves, isn’t much of an improvement. The heroine (Dee Wallace) doesn’t have enough screen time to register much sympathy, and the majority of the surrounding characters exist only to dole out plot points and/or get killed. Yes, the news lady-turning-into-a-werewolf finale is a good one, but it isn’t enough to salvage a cluttered and extremely dated film.

5. FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH
In the years since this film’s initial release it’s acquired a certain mystique. Many folks seem to think that, amidst the thousand or so sequels and wholly misconceived remake, the original FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH must be good. If you’re among those folks then I’d suggest viewing it again, as you might be surprised…unpleasantly so! FRIDAY may well be the very definition of derivative--see TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE, BLACK CHRISTMAS or HALLOWEEN if you don’t believe me, all body count films that predated this one, and all infinitely superior!

4. THE RING
In the already overcrowded arena of unnecessary remakes, this Hollywoodization of Japan’s 1998 RINGU is definitely among the most pointless. By the time of this 2002 production RINGU had already been remade as the Korean RING VIRUS, while the “original” film we know and love was itself a remake of a 1996 Japanese TV movie adapted from Koji Suzuki's bestselling novel. This Gore Verbinski directed version may have made a shitload of money, but it errs in trying to embellish and over-explain the original story to the point of tedium (and beyond!). Admittedly, my feelings about this movie might be different had I never seen its forebears, but I have and so can't help but feel deeply underwhelmed.

3. BASIC INSTINCT
I know many of you were deeply shocked by this 1992 blockbuster, and, judging by its huge success, just as many were pleased and/or titillated by it. My question in either case is, simply, why?? Being a fan of director Paul Verhoeven, I guess I should like this film, but its virtues continue to allude me. As with quite a few of the titles on this list, I've tried several times over the years to "get" BASIC INSTINCT, even listening to the DVD audio commentary by cultural pundit Camille Paglia (who calls it "one of my favorite works of art"), but all that's ever registered is a laughably overwrought attempt at thriller moviemaking. The whole thing is so ludicrously overdone it's impossible to take any of it seriously, with sex scenes that look more like wrestling matches and a narrative that's essentially a patchwork of clichés from many of screenwriter Joe Eszterhas' previous efforts (JAGGED EDGE, MUSIC BOX, etc). I find it odd that Verhoeven and Eszterhas' subsequent project SHOWGIRLS is so universally reviled, as it's actually several times better than this mess!

2. TWILIGHT
If there's one thing I really, truly hate, it's how for many viewers this nothing movie has come to define the genre. Much like the abovementioned FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH, people who initially saw 2008's TWILIGHT for what it is have, in the wake of its sequel NEW MOON, decided it's some kind of classic. In truth TWILIGHT is just what it always was: a shallow and pedestrian teenybopper romance dressed up as a horror flick. The fact that its stars were selected to introduce a horror montage at the 2010 Academy Awards was misleading and downright insulting.

1. SCREAM
What could possibly be more annoying than TWILIGHT? Try SCREAM. Not only is this 1996 film smarmy and self-satisfied to a fault, but it also encapsulates nearly everything that was annoying about the 1990s. In the manner of far too much of that decade's pop culture, SCREAM has a relentlessly trendy and ironic veneer that seduced critics and audiences alike into thinking it was far more than the lightweight cliché-fest it was. The fact that its characters recognize they’re caught up in a sea of scary movie conventions ultimately doesn’t mean much, as the majority of the cast get killed off anyway. Kevin Williamson’s relentlessly jokey, self-satisfied dialogue is an annoyance throughout, sounding like nothing so much as bad Tarantino-speak. SCREAM started a number of obnoxious trends--for years afterward nearly every horror movie had a cast composed of pubescent TV stars--and, worst of all, seems to have permanently derailed the career of its once-great director Wes Craven. You know a movie sucks when the film parodying it, in this case SCARY MOVIE (2000), is superior in every respect!

 

--3/31/10 

     

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