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Love that little horror films that everyone else seems to hate? Then this show’s for you! We take a look at STREET TRASH and FINAL DESTINATION 5, to THE HITCHER remake and OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES and much more.
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Special Effects are truly something special. The makeup work from the amazing Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, or London After Midnight had audiences reeling as he set a high bar for makeup. But look at what movies like Nosferatu and Faust did for special visual effects, and especially the science fiction Metropolis. These films may have been made in the silent era, but they’re amazing to watch simply because of what they accomplished with but a handful of people and practical effects versus today’s studios and their mega-million dollar effects budgets.
The problem: Money does not equal quality.
If you watch John Carpenter’s The Thing, the practical effects work of Rob Bottin still proves mindblowing over thirty years later. Today, would a major Hollywood studio actually spend time and money on practical effects, or just go with CGI? In the end, CGI is not always cheaper than practical effects, but in the United States, we live in an era where one incident can lead to major lawsuits. Therefore, with insurance contracts and a bevy of lawyers, CGI may be the cheaper deal for Hollywood because there is less risk taking with cast of crew.
Even so, most independent horror filmmakers have no choice but to go the practical route because you do get what you pay for. Absentia is a decent film with great characters and a solid story, but watch for that CGI in the tunnel and you’ll probably guffaw at its cheesiness – a level of pungent Limburger to rival a SyFy production. Writer/director Mike Flanagan should have shelled out more money to a qualified digital artist to fix that mess, or he should have come up with a more practical solution.
Many horror fans know the work of Rick Bottin, Rick Baker, Tom Savini (who often draws upon his experiences in Vietnam to create accurate looking carnage), Ray Harryhausen, John Dykstra, and Stan Winston, but few know CGI effects masters, unless you mention District 9’s Neill Blomkamp. But that will change in time.
During the interim, however, independent horror filmmakers are certainly taking chances with CGI, but like Flanagan, they have to be careful. Within the first five minutes of The Howling Reborn, a computer generated explosion had me laughing – and pressing the fast forward button. Later, two characters jump out a window, and the shattering glass is clearly digital – painfully so. Even the wonderful Japanese horror, Phenomenon got this one wrong with a broken windshield. Yes, this detracted from the movie, but only for a moment. Still, one moment can be enough.
Special effects are not the movie (hear that Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich?), but should help tell the story. We don’t need awful distractions such as fake blood spatter, which is laughable in its own right. The sad part is that more and more low budget films seem to be going the CGI blood route – I guess it beats the muss and fuss of all that fake blood.
Fake blood was used in my short horror Too Many Predators, and it was a nightmare. The “blood” could stain anything permanently and it was hard to control. My script had called for a blood spattered room, but with the product, we could only afford one little spot of blood. Sigh.
Regardless, whether practical or digital, special effects need to work to keep audiences focused on the story. If the effects falter, then the audience is pulled out of the world the filmmakers worked so hard to create. For instance, the CGI work in The Devil’s Advocate is fairly solid. I’m not just talking about the demonic changes in some of the characters: the water outside Milton’s office on top of the building is digital. Yet, as for Blade, once I saw this on cable, I balked because much of the blades, blood, and impalements during a fight scene were clearly “painted on” and that was embarrassing.
What are your favorite special effects laden horror films? Whether practical or digital, let me know what’s impressed you – and what left you cringing.
(Photo for The Thing from All Latest Moviez.)
As for horror, there are iconic films placed on pedestals constructed from bone and sinew that rise up into the bitter darkness of a thunderhead that spews Tesla inspired lightning. However, just because horror fans and/or critics love the hell out of them, doesn’t mean they need to be worshipped by every horror aficionado. After all, in our experienced backgrounds, certain movies, no matter how much appreciated, just don’t work at all for a variety of reasons. In essence, however, “most over-rated” can easily be “movies that irk me.”
What follows is obviously my opinion, like everything else on this site, and nothing more. If you love the movies I don’t particularly care for, then I’m happy for you. Believe me, I sometimes wish I could enjoy these films as much as everyone else, but they simply don’t resonate, and I give my reasons as to why. And no, I’m not trying to change minds, though I hope lovers of these movies can see how others might perceive such works differently.
Enjoy my top thirteen. I set up the list so the very last horror is the number one most over-rated.
Ringu (Japan, 1998) – ½ star
Hideo Nakata’s film is highly acclaimed by horror movie buffs. However, if you’re like me, the film is perfect for boring you into a strong and solid slumber. Yes, the Japanese-American co-production remake is phenomenal compared to the original snooze-fest. Nakata’s version, has a gentle hold on a more profound story, and the scares are sorely lacking. The remake’s mystery, atmosphere, and tension, with its exceptional special effects makeup, cinematography, and tone, is far more compelling. My favorite Nakata film: KAIDAN (Japan, 2007).
You’re Next (2011) – ½ star
What the hell was all the hype about? We’ve seen this home invasion horror far too many times. Idiocy abounds from those who penetrate a home, and from those who reside there. However, if not for Sharni Vinson and her intelligent “fight or bust” character, this lame attempt at horror wouldn’t even be worthy of a ½ star. Scenes like these really made me roll my eyes: Mom’s been murdered but no one checks for a killer, or I’m going to slam a blender on your head and somehow it will burrow into your brain and kill you, or a moron runs out of the house and gets her neck slashed by a cord though the attackers didn’t know how high to hang the wire. Dumb, comical, and ludicrous. My favorite Wingard film: I’m still waiting…
Aliens (USA/UK, 1986) – 1 star
This movie is so loaded with James Cameron’s poor attempts at original storytelling, I almost threw up in the theatre. Decades in the future a ragtag group of Colonial Marines sound like they came right out of Vietnam, slang and all, with an untested lieutenant to boot. And Hudson makes an illegal alien joke? How trite. Ripley’s more like a smarmy Rambo (we called her Rambette at the time) instead of the strong and engaging woman audience’s fell in love with in the phenomenal ALIEN (USA/UK, 1979). Worst still, Newt’s so annoying I couldn’t wait for an alien to rip her to shreds. Surprisingly, even the aliens can figure out how to work an elevator – and even go to the right floor. And poor Lance Henriksen has to hop out of his hole to grasp Newt to the point where we see the lower half of his body. Oh, and I love how strong Ripley is because she can climb up a ladder instead of being thrust into the vacuum of space. And that big reactor explosion that went off like a nuclear detonation? Yes, I could go on and on… My favorite Cameron film: THE TERMINATOR (UK/USA, 1984).
Cabin Fever (2002) – 1 star
Why Eli Roth received so many accolades for this one is beyond me. I had such an unpleasant experience, I can’t even remember the damn thing too well, but I remember longing for the credits to roll. There were too many tropes that just got under my skin – like a virus: young people alone in the woods in a remote cabin, some of them are smart, others need to become victims. The best part was seeing the wonderful Jordan Ladd and Rider Strong. (I’ll take the crazy sequel any day.) My favorite Roth film: I’m still waiting…
The Last House On the Left (1972) – 1 star
Wes Craven blew it with this one. He had the audience by the throat – but kept allowing them to breathe by cutting to the two bumbling deputies for comic relief. I never saw a filmmaker undermine suspense so often, making this one of the biggest mistakes in all of cinema. This is why I prefer Dennis Iliadis’s version, but only by one more star (both films are ultimately lackluster). Otherwise, it’s the same old sickos on the prowl cliché with some questionable music. My favorite Craven film: SCREAM (1996).
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) – 1 star
By the time I saw this Tobe Hooper mainstay, I had seen so much horror that I was bored to tears and completely unimpressed. Sometimes tedious and sometimes silly when it shouldn’t be, only Edwin Neal’s Hitchhiker really impressed me out of the entire picture. Watching characters get caught up in lunacy and not reacting as swiftly as they should have to save themselves unnerves the hell out of me. My favorite Hooper film: LIFEFORCE (UK/USA, 1985).
Halloween (1978) – 1.5 stars
I love John Carpenter, but this film didn’t cut it. As always, I enjoyed Dean Cundey’s cinematography and the great contrasts of color and shadow, but the musical cues detracted from every scare. Although I hate to know what’s coming, the music worked in JAWS (1975) because the shark could come from any angle. Myers was limited by gravity. I even laughed when he pinned a victim to a wall with a knife to the belly – because the guy never fell forward. And the whole “Is the evil bastard really dead?” crap was already old and tired by then. At least I got to see PJ Soles. My favorite Carpenter film: THE THING (1982).
Suspiria (Italy, 1977) – 1.5 stars
The bad dubbing and the characters’ over-the-top reactions to stimuli always leave me laughing. The sound effects also have much to be desired. Even so, the story is slow and tedious at times, and the production is completely scare free. However, I do love the lighting and cinematography. Why Dario Argento’s considered a horror master is still a mystery to me. My favorite Argento film: INFERNO (Italy, 1980).
Carnival of Souls(1962) – 2 stars
I know people who despise horror movies but love this film with a strange intensity. Regardless, Herk Harvey’s film is long-winded with some questionable acting and lackluster transitions. Worst still, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out in short order how this precursor to the FINAL DESTINATION franchise will end. Regardless, there are some beautiful moments here, especially with Maurice Prather’s camera work, and those netherworld entities roaming about as if patiently waiting for Romero to get his zombie franchise up and running. My favorite Harvey film: This is his only feature.
Dawn of the Dead (1978) – 2 stars
Yeah, yeah, blasphemy on my part, I know. Granted, this film has its moments beyond George A. Romero’s thematic commentary regarding consumerism, such as character development and interaction, as well as Tom Savini’s quality special effects makeup. But the film falls back too far into comedy to make it work for me, including one of the silliest caricatures of a motorcycle gang I’ve ever seen. I’ll take Zack Snyder’s serious remake. Regardless, I enjoy Romero’s films, but this one is near the bottom of the list for me. My favorite Romero film: THE CRAZIES (1973).
Nosferatu (Germany, 1922) – 2 stars
For many a horror fan, this is gold. But I think some just worship FW Murnau’s film because they feel they have to. Yes, it has its moments and brings the creepiness, but every time I watch this thing, I fall asleep – and I’ve seen many a silent film. This is also the movie that tainted the entire vampire mythology forever. According to the old folktales, a vampire could go out in the sunshine, though they weren’t as powerful. Oh, well. At least Max Schreck is fabulous. My favorite Murnau film: FAUST (1926).
The Conjuring (2013) – 2.5 stars
When James Wan’s film came out, people went nuts proclaiming this ho-hum horror as genius as if they’d never seen a horror movie before. Yes, the film had a couple of scares and amazing acting, and Wan proved he can direct kids like George Lucas never could, but the redundant story and anti-climactic end did little to ultimately thrill the soul. Plus, the overdone trailers gave away too much, thus preventing more jolts from the audience. And even though this is a low budget horror, with the stellar cast of Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor, and Patrick Wilson, this definitely had a mainstream feel. And mainstream means: no kids will be harmed in this horror. Sigh. This truly could have been a stellar film but Wan played it safe. And what’s with the title when nothing was ever conjured? My favorite Wan film: DEAD SILENCE (2007).
The Exorcist (1973) – 2.5 stars
Yes, this classic is my number one most over-rated film, even though, for many, this Friedkin flick is “the scariest movie of all time.” Yet, from the first moment I saw the movie I just laughed like a crazy person. I even watched it again last week and couldn’t hold back the chortling. After all, the sound editing is weak, the demonic voiceover is off and damned funny, and poor Regan’s antics are a gut splitting riot (though I’m sure Linda Blair wouldn’t think so). The worst of it all is Norman Gay and Evan A. Lottman’s harsh “hack and slice” editing that did little to create a cohesive and seamless story. Overall, their editing was far more jarring than any “fright” in the film. However, I give the re-edited version with the spider crawl scene three stars. My favorite Friedkin film: KILLER JOE (2011).
I know some on the list may have you blowing a gasket, but it’s just my perspective, and I’m not attacking anyone for loving these movies. I can certainly see why people would enjoy most if not all of them, but that doesn’t mean I have to play along.
Please leave me a list of the horrors you feel are over-rated in the comments because I’d love to know.
(ALIENS photo from Bloody Disgusting.)
Find out why Neil Marshall’s (THE DESCENT and DOOMSDAY) DOG SOLDIERS is one of the very best werewolf movies of all time. DOG SOLDIERS has bite, and will keep every horror fan happy. Hell, it may make you wish you were British.
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Here are other fantastic tales sorely overlooked by the horror loving masses. Each film has merit, and should be seen at least once by the discerning viewer who is either looking for something different, or at least a great twist on an old theme.
Baba Yaga (Italy, 1973) – 4 stars
A cool witch film with rockin’ hipsters of the era without the arrogance.
Dolls (1973) – 4 stars
An often overlooked story from RE-ANIMATOR’s Stuart Gordon.
Whispering Corridors (South Korea, 1998) – 4 stars
Another ghost revenge film from Asia, but this one is layered and intriguing.
Fausto 5.0 (Spain, 2001) – 4 stars
A former patient promises a doctor the moon and stars, and reality falls apart.
Maléfique (France, 2002) – 4 stars
Four prisoners find an ancient tome of Black Magic and try to escape jail.
Dead End (France/USA, 2003) – 4 stars
Take a “Twilight Zone” road trip with Ray Wise and his family.
The Dark Hours (Canada, 2005) – 4 stars
A psychiatrist and her family endures a twisted attack from a sex offender and his protégé.
Reincarnation (Japan, 2005) – 4 stars
An actress loses herself when filming a horror about a genuine murder spree.
Mad Cowgirl (2006) – 4 stars
A dying woman, played by the great Sarah Lassez, goes through a mind-blowing, surreal trip.
Blood Car (2007) – 4 stars
This quirky, over-the-top horror should become the next big cult film.
Borderland (2007) – 4 stars
Loaded with foreboding, a cult in Mexico attacks American travelers.
The Broken (France/UK, 2008) – 4 stars
A dark tale of one’s reflection starring Lena Headey in the best of the After Dark series.
The Ruins (USA/Germany/Australia, 2008) – 4 stars
An interesting premise far removed from traveling college kid triteness.
Carriers (2009) – 4 stars
Escaping an infection that’s annihilating humanity is no easy task.
Lo (2009) – 4 stars
Sarah Lassez returns in a dramatic tale where her boyfriend takes on demonic forces.
The Caller (UK/Puerto Rico, 2011) – 4 stars
Strange phone calls plague a woman, and the uncanny is unleashed in bizarre fashion.
Little Deaths (UK, 2011) – 4 stars
A twisted anthology held together by sex, gore, and cinematography.
Midnight Son (2011) – 4 stars
An artist with a strange skin condition needs human blood to sustain him.
Wake Wood (Ireland/UK, 2011) – 4 stars
A pagan ritual, with strict rules, brings a daughter back from the dead – for now.
Mortal Remains (2012) – 4 stars
The dark story of filmmaker Karl Atticus, who supposedly used real corpses in his films.
Dark Skies (2013) – 4 stars
A strong presence from above brings hell to a family.
Frankenstein’s Army (Netherlands/USA/Czech Republic, 2013) – 4 stars
This is not a campy farce, but a rocking fantasy action horror of demented proportions.
Jug Face (2013) – 4 stars
The unique premise, great acting, and stellar music, makes this a future cult fan favorite.
Leave a comment about your favorites that seem to be under-appreciated. After all, I haven’t seen every horror film and I’d love to find some great work that may have slipped by me.
(Photo from Movieiwatch77.)
Billy and Jonny look at a hodgepodge of horror once again, including CHEAP THRILLS, Romero’s EFFECTS, GIRLY, THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF ROSALIND LEE, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES, and more. Learn why you should rent them now – or run away.
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Putting together a most under-rated horrors list is not an easy task, especially when one needs to define the parameters. Instead of focusing on a critical or a popular lack of appeal, I chose to do a culmination of both for this list. In addition, I did not include the many films that may be hard to get, such as POSSESSION (UK, 1980), yet have a strong, and well deserved, cult following. Moreover, TRICK ‘R TREAT (2008) may not have appeared in theatres, but it had one of the most successful direct to video launches of all time, and has been well received by critics and horror fans. Cult favorites and inspiring direct to video horrors are two future lists.
For whatever reason, due to poor distribution, a lack of international exposure, or simply because the film was lost in a sea of other horrors, the following amazing movies may not have received the attention they deserved. Maybe this is why 75% of the list comes from the 2000s. As time marches on, I have no doubt that many of the films from the 2000s will find larger and more appreciative audiences. Then again, some movies may have been under-respected, yet are worthy of another look.
The list begins with the best of the best, and includes some brief comments. For those four star movies, a “one-liner” will hopefully whet your appetite. Either way, all of this films should be given a whirl:
The Last Wave (Australia, 1977) – 4.5 stars
Peter Weir’s dramatic tale follows lawyer David Burton (Richard Chamberlain) as he defends five Aboriginal men in a case of murder. What he uncovers, however, is a prophesy that may lead to an Apocalypse.
Habit (1995) – 4.5 stars
Writer, director, and star, Larry Fessenden brings us the story of a New York City man whose new girlfriend may be a vampire. The dramatic tension and realism, makes the supernatural probability all the more potent and unsettling.
Office Killer (1997) – 4.5 stars
With Carol Kane, Molly Ringwald, and Jeanne Tripplehorn, it’s amazing how Cindy Sherman’s witty and comedic thriller ended up almost lost and forgotten. The tale is dark, and sometimes disturbing, but shines with excellent characters and dialogue.
Blood: The Last Vampire (Japan, 2000) – 5 stars
Many seemed to write this one off because it’s anime. But it’s one of the most visually stunning anime features you will ever sink your teeth into as you follow vampire hunter Saya on a US military base. Director Hiroyuki Kitakubo was the key animator for AKIRA (Japan, 1988).
Love Object (2004) – 5 stars
Desmond Harrington’s office worker can’t meet women, so he buys the best life-size doll money can buy. Then, of course, he meets a beautiful woman in Melissa Sagemiller. Now what the hell does he do? Rip Torn and Udo Kier round out the cast in this stellar and strange tale.
Shutter (Thailand, 2000) – 4.5 stars
Forget the mind-numbingly stupid US version. Directors Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom bring one great story with a car crash full of scares after a photographer sees strange images in his pictures after an accident.
The Uninvited Guest (Spain, 2004) – 4.5 stars
Claustrophobic and unsettling, Felix (Andoni Gracia) let’s a stranger into his home to use the phone – and the guy vanishes. If you hate the feeling that someone’s behind you, Guillem Morales’s film will do this to you from start to finish.
Premonition (Japan, 2004) – 4.5 stars
It’s a newspaper of death that will get you, but not with the silly punch sometimes associated with haunted items. Instead, a father does his best to find out what happened to his daughter, and how he can change her fate.
Isolation (Ireland, 2005) – 4.5 stars
Writer/director Billy O’Brien delivers a science fiction/horror that gets under one’s skin. And it all happens on one isolated farm where Dan (John Lynch) fights to keep a horror at bay that may destroy his farm – and all those around him.
Head Trauma (2006) – 4.5 stars
Lance Weiler, of THE LAST BROADCAST (1998) fame, does it again with an even more riveting film. Here, George (Vince Mola), returns home after a twenty year absence, only to suffer paranoid inducing nightmares after a head injury.
Red Victoria (2007) – 4.5 stars
Anthony Brownrigg wrote, directed, edited, shot, produced, and starred in this feature with a micro-budget. Sure, that’s a bunch of red flags, but he delivers a solid and witty tale with Arianne Margot leading him astray.
Sublime (2007) – 4.5 stars
Tom Cavanagh (George) will amaze as a man in a hospital who experiences terror in a bizarre alter reality. This horror fantasy will keep you guessing as well as freaked out, as George brings his fears to reality.
Grace (2009) – 5 stars
This masterpiece from Paul Solet is a clinic in character development and storytelling. Definitely one of the genre’s most underappreciated. Jordan Ladd stars as a mother with a major baby problem after the child miraculously comes to life after being stillborn.
The Skeptic (2009)
Starring Tim Daly, Tom Arnold, and Edward Herrmann, one would think this would be a comedy fest. Instead, the drama unfolds along with trepidation and paranoia in the face of the supernatural. Zoe Saldana also stars.
Antiviral (Canada, 2012)
Sure, it’s directed by David Cronenberg’s son Brandon, but it’s clear the young man earned the privilege due to his own skills and vision. The phenomenal Caleb Landry Jones stars as a man who will deliver your favorite celebrities ailments so you can feel close to them.
Excision (2012) – 4.5 stars
Richard Bate’s tale of a dysfunctional family with an even more dysfunctional daughter, will overwhelm you with wit, style, and theme. And even though the cast is wonderful, AnnaLynne McCord steals the show along with Itay Gross’s remarkable cinematography.
Resolution (2012) – 4.5 stars
If you’ve been looking for a horror that has one unique premise that leads to a mind-blowing end, this one’s for you. The acting’s solid, and the story unfolds in such a way, you will never know what’s coming around the corner.
Part II next week. In the meantime, I’d love to know what horror films you consider to be under-appreciated.
(Photo from Day of Woman.)
We take a look at both Meir Zarchi’s original I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, as well as Steven R. Monroe’s 2010 remake. The notions of misogyny and female vengeance are explored, and we look at what makes both movies stand on their own. Better still, we also look at other fair, such as THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, THE ACCUSED, and how Roger Ebert’s comments about both films don’t hold much pond water.
Learn about Jonathan Chance’s upcoming film, THE RECTORY. You’ll find out why everyone should know the name of Harry Price, and why the actual rectory is considered to be England’s most haunted place. The history of the rectory will entice, and the premise of the movie will tantalize…
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