Whenever the calendar rolls over to a certain 31 October, fright fans break out their bountiful opinions and wax poetic and prosaic about the best and worst horror films ever made. While it may seem like nothing more than a rabid fanboy pastime, that fact is it’s not that easy a task. Like comedy, terror is in the heart of the beholder, too personal to be easily agreed upon. What some find frightening gives others a case of the uncontrollable giggles and its rare when fear can be universally applied. It’s just too individualized. As a result, making any list of yeas and nays allows for lots of second guessing and subjective stipulations – especially in the arena of b-a-d. Many can’t get past the numerous nonsensical sequels that endlessly pour out of the studio system, pointing to franchises gone god-awful as their primary examples of tepid terror. For others, it’s the offerings of the past, the low budget efforts of dollar driven distributors that did little except waste 80 minutes of the drive-in owners or matinee movie audience’s running time.
As a result, SE&L is taking a slightly different approach toward prioritizing the legacy of fear. This will not be your typical ‘worst of’ horror movie list. SE&L did not consider the lengthy, and rather lamentable, legacy of ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s. Roger Corman and his many mediocre monster mash-ups will find no careful consideration here, nor will any effort involving giant insects, radioactive non/humans or other examples of backwater b-moviemaking. Nor did we delve into the plethora of pathetic product that arrived in video stores once the VCR became the principal source of home entertainment. Picking through the sludge put out during that age of analog abominations would be similar to shooting undead fish in a broad-based barrel. No, the approach taken here is far more mainstream. By avoided the usual spastic spook subjects (Ed Wood, Manos: The Hands of Fate, anything featuring Arch Hall, Jr.) SE&L circumvented the whole ‘crap vs. kitsch’ debate. Instead, the focus now will be on those real films that actually thought they’d end up as some manner of frightmare myths.
The main element here is that each entry on this list THOUGHT it was going to be some kind of horror classic. They positioned themselves as remaking, reimagining or revisiting ideas that had been very successful in the past. Certainly a couple could be called out and out cash grabs, chances to bilk the box office out a few more dollars before pushing straight to cable. But it’s clear that, for the most part, these were serious, straight motion pictures designed to play as accomplished companion pieces to the rest of the genre. Naturally, they failed so miserably that their collapse becomes celebrated and over time, cemented their position as one of the cinema’s outstanding stumbles. After much deep thought and soured soul searching, these are the efforts that SE&L feels best exemplifie the worst that post-modern horror has to offer. Without further ado, here are the Top 10 Worst Horror Films of All Time, beginning with the biggest bumble of them all:
1. Exorcist II: The Heretic
Buried somewhere inside this absolutely pointless sequel to horror’s preeminent fright fest is a decent idea. Following up Regan’s irregular path into adolescence while the church investigates Father Merrin’s death is a parallel scenario that has a wealth of worthwhile possibilities. Sadly, director John Boorman decided to concentrate on the more psychobabble claptrap concepts inherent in the screenplay. Throw in some random locusts, a lot of Studio 54 style strobe lights and you’ve got cinema’s most stupefyingly bad scary movie.
2. Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2
As irritatingly incomprehensible as the first film was (too much cursing combined with nausea-inducing POV camerawork) this scripted follow up was much, much worse. Though famed documentary director Joe Berlinger (Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
) would argue that excessive studio interference would ruin his original vision, it is hard to imagine how any initial ideas could make this movie work. It seems purposely lost inside it own insular devices. On the plus side, this completely crappy follow-up more of less killed the Witch franchise for good. Thank heaven for small miracles.
3. House of Wax (2005)
A group of grating plot contrivances discovers a ghost town made mostly out of dumb ideas…oh yeah, and paraffin. Lots of bad movie clichés ensue. While this incredibly amateur movie has its fans, most macabre mavens simply sniffed the aroma of Paris Hilton’s stunt casting and realized the awaiting repugnance. Granted the original material was no great spook shakes, but even Charles Bronson’s wooden acting in the 1953 feature was miles ahead of a certain spoiled socialite’s braindeath as bravado turn. Even the meltdown finale couldn’t save this stool-scented slop.
4. House of the Dead
Based on a popular video game, featuring those familiar scarefest sacrificial lambs (the zombie) and helmed by that talentless Teutonic hack, Dr. Uwe Boll, what could have been a semi-competent cult effort turned out to be one of the genre’s most mindless missteps. With sequences that seem stolen from a hyperactive TRL
‘s monster music video and poorly conceived creatures that look like Cirque du Soleil artists gone gamy, Boll manages to set the entire undead film back decades with his poisonous pacing, directorial dumbness and overall lack of thrills.
5. Maximum Overdrive
We all know how misbegotten the original idea was (Stephen King as fright writer ≠ Stephen King, filmmaker) but few have really remembered just how horrendous this mess of a movie really was. It’s not that the Master of Horror is utterly and hopelessly incompetent behind the camera – in fact, his opening montage of machines going gonzo is pretty well realized. No, it’s everything after technology starts attacking that begins to fester and, ultimately, fail. A wailing Yeardley Smith provides the final nail in the klutzy King adaptation coffin.
Legend has it that Clive Barker conceived his second feature film, based on his intriguing novella Cabal
, as “the Star Wars
of horror movies”. What it ended up being was an unqualified disaster, with substantial studio meddling and massive budget problems contributing to the world’s first eerie ipecac. Unable to decide if it’s a monster movie, an ambitious piece of beast-based mythos, or simply a slice and dice serial killer film, Barker braves all three. The ridiculous results, including the horrendous performances by all involved, speak for themselves.
7. The Fly 2
David Cronenberg’s first Fly
was such a memorable masterpiece, a perfect marriage of material and maker that only a Hollywood halfwit could think that a sequel would succeed. Even worse, they decided to junk everything that made the original so special – concepts like script, emotion, intelligence and characterization – and replaced them with Eric Stoltz and a mutant puppy dog. Right. Only a Chevy-sized can of DDT (or a second sex scene with Daphne Zuniga) could have killed the creature feature franchise more expertly than this deadly drone.
8. Amityville 3-D
Sometime between 1982 and 1983, the geniuses behind Tinsel Town’s beans decided that that old warhorse from the ‘50s – 3-D – was ready for its motion picture comeback. As one of the several multidimensional efforts to make use of the tired cinematic turd, this third look at the Lutz house got even stupider and more incomprehensible. Nothing more than a lot of camera pranks perpetrated on an already blasé audience, the lack of any authentic connection to the so-called “real” events that occurred in the notorious locale made the film all the more laughable.
9. Van Helsing
How do you undermine the legacy of all the classic Universal monsters? Why, you give unlikely blockbuster director Stephen Summers a Mummy
‘s worth of money and enough CGI to choke a ghoul. Then you let him raid your catalog of timeless terror icons and retrofit them into some stupid adventure yarn starring everyone’s favorite Downunder dude Hugh Jackman. While many consider this confused combination of the Gothic and the groan-inducing as merely a faux horror film, the dread one experiences while watching this carton creature creation is real enough.
10. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning
Otherwise known as how Sheriff Hoyt got his perverted groove on. You know you’re in trouble when a prequel (Strike 1), setting out to reshape and redefine one of horror’s premiere figures (Strike 2), instead spends all its time presenting the tale of how some ancillary character became a gun-toting goon. (Strike 3). When Marcus Nispel took on the daunting task of remaking the Tobe Hooper original, he brought as much artistic and narrative invention to the mix as possible. All this dreadful retread offers is pathetic, predictable pointlessness passing itself off as dread.