A trailer for Blair Witch, the secret direct sequel to the Blair Witch franchise, premiered at this year’s San Diego Comic Con and it’s been catching a lot of positive buzz. Originally thought to be a film called The Woods, the panel shocked everyone when its true identity was revealed. The original film, 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, was a critical and financial smash, earning nearly $250 million on a micro-budget of $60,000 and scoring 86% on Rotten Tomatoes. While critical sentiment was fairly unanimous, general audiences weren’t as enthused, suggested by Rotten Tomatoes’ 55% audience score for the film.
Because it relies on the emotions it attempts to evoke from audience members more heavily than other genres, horror is inherently hit or miss. Sometimes you find a movie that has you on the fence, but in most cases, you either liked it, or you didn’t; it scared or disturbed you, or it didn’t. These 16 features offer no unanimous sentiment either way, but definitely got people talking.
15 Evil Dead (2013)
Audience Score: 63%
Whichever side of the line you fall on, you have to admit the advertising strategies for Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead remake were nothing short of bold. Between a red band teaser drenched in blood and a one sheet proclaiming it “The Most Terrifying Film You Will Ever Experience,” lofty expectations were set, and naturally, the film couldn’t please everyone.
There was really only one key talking point, and it resulted in a fairly firm divide. As the aforementioned teaser suggests, Evil Dead is an almost obnoxiously bloody splatter-fest, and it made certain to weed out those who weren’t down with the gore. No one could deny the impressive quality of the practical effects, but their overall purpose was long debated over. While some lamented its use in place of genuine frights, others praised its harkening back to old-school horror, where the gore should be met with glee. As far as Hollywood horror, or perhaps even horror remakes are concerned, Evil Dead is one of the better received, but don’t tell that to everyone.
14 Tusk (2014)
Audience Score: 36%
Kevin Smith is an interesting, if also brash personality. While being primarily known for his Silent Bob persona from Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and the two Clerks movies, he’s already proved his directorial acumen as far as comedies are concerned. His branching out into horror has been admirable, with Red State being particularly socially conscious, if nothing else, and with his most recent, the self-aware Tusk. Both ventures into the genre have resulted in a mixed bag, but for now, let’s focus on Tusk and save the former for later.
Tusk is almost a deliberate parody, or perhaps even shaming, of The Human Centipede, but not everyone found the joke funny. Many critics cited tonal confusion as a key problem, and though it is meant to be a horror-comedy, a few key moments bordered far more on the side of darkly grotesque than they should have. And yet, the intensions remain visible, as Smith bares his lunacy for all to see, and deep down, there’s something enviable about that sort of revelry.
13 Jennifer’s Body (2009)
Audience Score: 34%
Divisive films often have such similar figures attached to them – Jennifer’s Body happened to have two. Back when her acting career was seemingly on the rise, dismissed Megan Fox as an unintelligible bimbo only worthy of comparisons to Angeline Jolie in appearance. She never helped herself by making particular comments, like one comparison between Michael Bay and Adolf Hitler, but the male-dominant media did just as much, if not more, to cultivate such a negative image.
So expectedly, there were those criticizing Fox’s performance as the titular Jennifer, but there were others lauding her commitment to the material and on-screen presence. And speaking of material, Jennifer’s Body screenwriter Diablo Cody is our second divisive figure. Clearly, the dialogue that helped earn her Oscar gold with the Juno script just a couple of years prior couldn’t earn the same praise here. While some were perfectly content and found its humor entertaining, the ‘Codyspeak’ gimmick had worn away for others
12 Hobo with a Shotgun (2011)
Audience Score: 57%
Jason Eisener’s Hobo with a Shotgun ran into problems similar to the Evil Dead remake. From the title alone, one can tell that the film is mean to be an homage to grindhouse cinema of the 1970s, and even the 1980s to a lesser extent. The violence is explosive, but most of all it is gruesome, often recalling elements from both the cinematic movement mentioned previously and the filmography of Takashi Miike, with a visual vibrancy and harshness not too dissimilar from Ichi the Killer.
Much like Evil Dead, viewers either found the blood and guts to be p ure fun or a laborious exercise in mayhem. Unlike most of the violence found in Alvarez’s film, most, if not all, of the violence in Hobo with a Shotgun suggest a mean-spirited tone that often distracts from the fun rather than enhances it. It is an admirable attempt to win over late-night viewers, no doubt, but unfortunately, many people haven’t been able to get on board.
11 Diary of the Dead (2007)
Audience Score: 41%
Throughout his career, George A. Romero has had a penchant for mixing horror and social allegory with aplomb. For the most part, he’s used the zombie subgenre for these purposes, starting with Night of the Living Dead in 1968, but after Day of the Dead in 1985, it seemed he was done with the undead for good. Thankfully, or unfortunately-- depending on who you talk to, he returned in 2005 with Land of the Dead and was quickly back at it with Diary of the Dead.
Interestingly, many observations about Diary of the Dead’s quality weren’t necessarily fixed on the film, but rather Romero himself. Having been away from zombies for so long, some questioned whether or not the Godfather of the Dead still had the same magic in him, and quite a few simply weren’t impressed by his criticisms of the YouTube generation. On the other hand, some felt that the satire kept the film’s momentum going. One thing’s for sure; the Godfather still had a noticeable knack for blood and guts.
10 Scream 4 (2011)
Audience Score: 55%
And speaking of reviving franchises, Wes Craven– and though perhaps more importantly, screenwriter Kevin Williamson – returned to Woodsboro for Scream 4 with a healthy mixture of new and familiar faces. After taking a break from the franchise’s trademark pastiche in Scream 3, Craven and co. returned to slashing teens, lampooning remakes, and same self-aware horror winks.
For 15 years, critics and general audiences remained in on Craven’s joke and continued to be entertained by its sharpness, but though a rehash of the same punchline was enough to satisfy some, others thought the edge had gone dull. The humor is quite poignant in an opening scene that parodies those that came before, and the final act becomes more delightfully ludicrous as it goes along, but in the middle, it all comes down to whether or not you felt the joke had become stale. Plus, Ehren Kruger’s, the screenwriter for Scream 3, rewrites were painfully noticeable.
9 Quarantine (2008)
Audience Score: 44%
As far as horror remakes are concerned, the only thing we Americans love doing more than rebooting classics is Americanizing more recent foreign hits. Our ego is too fragile to accept that films from other countries may be better than most of what we produce, so we have to assert our dominance in the marketplace and provide our own mostly watered-down versions. Though every now and then, we don’t do so badly.
Enter Quarantine, a remake of the Spanish film [REC] that cashes in on the then-booming cinema verité trend started by Cloverfield earlier in the year – rather, it tried to. One would think that those previously familiar with the original might mostly fall on the side of ‘dislike’ – something not helped by Quarantine’s being nearly identical to [REC] in both plot and camerawork – but the reception was, surprisingly, more evenly split. Those who enjoyed it praised its kinetic energy above all else, something thoroughly evident thanks to Ken Seng’s cinematography. But, as with most remakes, many others criticized its close resemblance to the original, and viewers noted the film’s familiarity with other films in the "found footage" subgenre.
8 Red State (2011)
Audience Score: 55%
Surely anyone with a pulse remembers the vile doings of the Westboro Baptist Church and its followers. Naturally, Kevin Smith had a bone to pick with them and when Red State first premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, the church took notice. Members of the church protested the screening, while rational viewers, including Smith himself, performed their own tongue-in-cheek counter-protest. These antics provided Red State good press – not that it needed any considering its premise – but like Tusk, not everyone was fan.
No one could deny that Smith’s film was a bold statement considering the climate of the time, and that singular quality was point of praise for many. But, Red State is intent on showcasing its purebred horror pedigree on numerous occasions, and those who couldn’t show any love cited a general lack of scares that would provide a more competent and potent story. Nonetheless, Red State was a timely film five years ago, and quite honestly, remains timely now.
7 The Purge: Anarchy & The Purge: Election Year (2014 and 2016)
Tomatometers: 56% and 54%
Audience Scores: 56% and 57%
Few people would consider divisive successors in a film franchise a step up from the original film, but both The Purge: Anarchy and this year’s The Purge: Election Year have this rare privilege. The consensus about the original film was fairly unanimous from critics and audiences everywhere: while The Purge starts out with noble ambitions, it devolves into the same tired home-invasion clichés we’ve been subjected to before. Anarchy and Election Year both play like they have points to make, but this time their pleasures are simpler and perhaps more self-aware.
James DeMonanco, the writer-director of all three films, takes us outside the confines of privileged, well-adjusted closed gate communities and into the city streets in the two sequels. There, he has free reign to up the ante on violence that's reminiscent of grindhouse ugliness. It was a simple formula some couldn’t buy into, though they would admit that it stands superior to the original film. In spite of its social commentary, the Purge trilogy doesn’t ask for much except to come along for the ride, which is equally disappointing and commendable.
6 Horns (2014)
Audience Score: 49%
Though perhaps he isn’t an audacious personality like many of his contemporaries, including some who are listed here, French director Alexandre Aja’s career has been such that anyone would be forgiven for mistaking him as a divisive figure. Both his High Tension and the The Hills Have Eyes remake have their rabid fans within the genre, the Mirrors remake was deemed a failure, and Piranha 3D was gloriously gory and gut-busting, but somehow, Horns finds itself directly in the middle.
Given its premise, Horns plays like it wants to be a fairly subversive horror-comedy, and there are plenty of scenes during its opening half when it flirts with success. There are other moments, however, when the script indicates going in an entirely different, more depressing direction that all too often shadows the fun it wants to provide, and so detractors criticize its conflicting tones. The film is somewhat saved, if only, by game performances from Daniel Radcliffe and the rest of the supporting cast.
5 The Last House on the Left (2009)
Audience Score: 52%
The year of 2009 featured three remakes of horror classics in its first three months. January featured a remake of the underrated slasher My Bloody Valentine, shot in 3-D rather than converted to it in post-production, for some bloody popcorn thrills. February had the much-maligned Friday the 13th reboot coming out Valentine’s Day weekend, and March offered a remake of Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left. Handfuls of a new generation were able to catch a modernized look at an exploitation classic, but not everyone was impressed.
Much of the purpose of mainstream horror, especially in the last decade, has been to find new ways of inflicting pain on innocent people and assailants, but revenge thrillers are more explicit in their intentions than most, making their violence somewhat appropriate. Nonetheless, many found the violence too much and too celebratory, despite knowing full well the original was equally shocking for its time. Most viewers can’t agree on much with this remake, but all concur the final scene is borderline ludicrous.
4 Devil (2010)
Audience Score: 43%
M. Night Shyamalan has to be one of the most notorious names in Hollywood directing. After breaking out with hits like Signs and The Sixth Sense, his career went on a steady downward spiral that may – and that couldn’t be stressed more highly – have been slowed by last year’s The Visit. Before getting back on track with his directorial career, he unleashed Devil, for which he was screenwriter and producer, but John Erick and Drew Dowdle of Quarantine were tapped to direct.
While many might have found the premise intriguing, a sizeable portion of critics and viewers found the overall proceedings ho-hum. Admittedly, it does stick to a murder mystery style formula, with a promising set-up wrapped around it. Plenty of others found its simplicity charming, finding its economical presentation appropriately paired with its brisk pacing and Tak Fujimoto’s interesting camerawork. Much like being divisive was a considerable improvement for the Purge franchise, it signaled an uptick for Shyamalan’s rocky career.
3 The Strangers (2008)
Audience Score: 47%
One thing more frustrating than a film that is a complete failure is one that gives its viewers infrequent tastes of promise, only to never live up to the potential it could have achieved. For the most part, 2008 was a disappointing year for mainstream horror. Sure Cloverfield was a surprise success, and Let the Right One In was easily one of the best, if not the best, genre pictures of the decade, but most of everything else was a dud, and The Strangers was arguably the most frustrating.
Perhaps the only thing that could be agreed upon about The Strangers is the incredibly creepy impact of the masks worn by the film's villains. Otherwise, the debate over the legitimacy of its scares rolled on. In fact, while some found its thrills enough to recommend it, quite a few argued that its violence verging on sadistic. The home invaders are slow and methodical, as is the script’s pacing, which probably didn’t help the film’s case in the eyes of its detractors.
2 Jeepers Creepers (2001)
Audience Score: 48%
This list has seen plenty of films that showcase promise in the concept stage, only to become a muddled mess from its first shots, but what’s even more frustrating is one that begins well, only to turn sour midway through. Such was the main criticism for Victor Salva’s Jeepers Creepers, a horror flick about two siblings being terrorized by an ancient creature known as "The Creeper."
The film opens rather mysteriously, as the two siblings Darry (Justin Long) and Trish (Gina Philips) spot unseemly activity at the hands of a shrouded figure that nearly runs them off the road on two occasions. From there, as many have pointed out, the plotting becomes particularly by-the-numbers, and lacks enough scares as a result. On the other hand, the depiction of the Creeper is handled fairly well, keeping him in mostly low-key lighting that outlines him rather than completely illuminates him, adding to the mythic quality that’s supposed to make him more terrifying.
1 30 Days of Night (2007)
Audience Score: 56%
A major theme from this list is films that getting in their own way. The flickers of inspiration are sporadic enough to suggest hope, but are usually quashed by structural or aesthetic flaws. 30 Days of Night, a graphic novel adaptation where the lights are quite literally shut off, is arguably one of the biggest examples of this.
Many viewers brought up the intensity of the vampires here, stripped from their classical origins and converted into cold, calculating beasts that travel in packs rather than work alone. In fact, many critics offered comparisons to 28 Days Later in this regard, noting that it provided a desperately needed modern update on a monster that was so over-exposed in Hollywood. Their violence is bloody and unrelenting, their brutality is uncompromising, and many of the more human characters are no better. But, as the plot progresses, a noticeable pattern arises. The brunt of the mayhem is dulled by slower moments of human struggle that lack character development and intersperse themselves between moments of carnage.
What did you think of the movies listed? Are there any we missed? Let us know in the comments!