Overrated/Underrated: Horror Movies

October 26, 2009 | Comments (1) | by Adam Blank

Here at the saloon, I'm known as the bartender most knowledgeable about horror movies. I'm sure this is unrelated to me being also known as: 1) the only bartender without a wife/girlfriend, 2) the bartender who has been unemployed the longest, and 3) the bartender with the most serious drinking problem. That being said, here are 10 Overrated/Underrated Horror movies to help you along with your Halloween horror movie viewing choices...


5) Night of the Demons: On the night of Halloween, 10 teens decide to go to a party at an abandoned funeral parlor. "Hull House", rumored to be built on an evil patch of land.
I'm always trying to pimp this movie. I won't lie, Night of the Demons isn't scary at all. But it's easily the most entertaining horror movie ever made. Sure the premise is has been done to death, but the outstanding direction makes the evil house feel like it really exists, the cartoonish internal logic stays consistent, the gore is used appropriately, and the pace is lightning-quick. Even though the characters are all stereotypes, every one of them is likeable in their own way. The special effects hold up much better that you'd expect for a 20+ year old low-budget horror movie. The dated dialogue is so absurd that it's quotable, and soundtrack is awesome even by today's standards. Most importantly, all the women show some skin! I'm not claiming that Night of the Demons broke the mold, but it deserves to have a larger fan base than it currently does.

4) Deranged: A rural farmer becomes a grave robber and murderer after the death of his possessive mother whom he keeps her corpse, among others, as his companions in his decaying farmhouse.
Based on the real-life Ed Gein story (like Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Silence of the Lambs, etc.) this is one of the most accurate portrayals of the Wisconsin murderer on film. As such, the story itself isn't as gripping as similar movies that took innumerable liberties with the plot. But there's just something about the simple way this exploitation movie was shot that gives it documentary-like realism and makes the antagonist nearly likeable. The superb acting by relatively unknown actors, the gritty film stock, and the plausibility of the story elevate this film into the realm of essential viewing. And because Jesus loves you, it's on a double-feature DVD with Motel Hell, which means you get two awesome movies really cheap.

3) The Changeling: A man staying at a secluded historical mansion, finds his life being haunted by the presence of a spectre.
Ok, The Changeling sounds like every other ghost story ever made. I promise you, this one is different. It's both smart and scary. The build-up is slow & subtle, but George C. Scott makes it watchable as John Russell, the exact opposite of Patton. Although the plot can be a little convoluted at times, the genuine scares and the ending are worth sticking it out through the slow parts. In all seriousness, George C. Scott should have been nominated for an Academy Award for this movie. This is easily the best haunted house movie ever made, and it's criminally underrated.

2) Spider Baby: A caretaker devotes himself to three demented adults after their father's death.
That synopsis tells nothing about the insanity that is Spider Baby. It's like a cross between The Addams Family and Lolita. Horror icons Lon Chaney Jr. & Sid Haig are both brilliant; Chaney as a chauffer thrust into the role of head of an insane household; Haig as a demented but good-natured mute slowly devolving before the camera. The real stars are the characters of Elizabeth & Virginia; two sexy, barely-legal homicidal maniacs who have the mentality of 7 year old schoolgirls. Black humor abounds and it's easy to tell from the beginning that you're supposed to root for the maniacs. Aside from being completely amazing, Spider Baby is significant as one of African-American film pioneer, Mantan Moreland's, last acting gigs. It's also directed by Jack Hill, who went on to shoot the blaxploitation classics Coffy & Foxy Brown despite being a crusty old white guy.

1) Martin: A young man, who believes himself to be a vampire, goes to live with his elderly and hostile cousin in a small Pennsylvania town where he tries to redeem his blood-craving urges.
George A. Romero's best movie may be his little known vampire flick. Gritty yet believable, the viewer can't ever be certain if Martin is really a vampire or just an extremely troubled teen. The contrast of Martin's apparent naïvety with his monstrous bloodlust make him a compelling character. The old man determined to destroy Martin is either heroic or selfish depending on how you choose to view this movie; but you'll find both him & Martin to be sympathetic characters. Martin works on lots of different sociological levels, but even taken at face value, it's a great movie; albeit a little slow at times.


5) Dracula: The ancient vampire Count Dracula arrives in England and begins to prey upon the virtuous young Mina.
Bela Lugosi is great as Dracula, and director Tod Browning does what he can with the material, but this much-loved Universal horror classic is just a bore. Even at 75 minutes, this movie is tedious. The protagonists are all uninteresting, the effects are awful, and Dracula dies a bland death off-screen. If you've never seen it, don't read that last sentence. And if you think I'm not cutting it enough slack because it was made in 1931, go watch Nosferatu from 1922; it's the same story, only: the vampire is scarier, the effects don't insult your intelligence, and the vampire dies on camera.

4) Hellraiser: An unfaithful wife encounters the zombie of her dead lover, who's being chased by demons after he escaped from their sado-masochistic Hell.
Hellraiser isn't a bad movie. It just isn't a very good movie and definitely undeserving of the "classic" stamp it so often receives. The effects are fine, the acting is decent, and the Cenobites look scary. Unfortunately, these multi-dimensional beings have the attention spans of gnats and are dissuaded from their goal of taking the rightful prisoner back to their hellish dimension by a 15 second speech so hackneyed that it might as well have been written by me. The editing is jarring (not in a good way) and the ending is unsatisfying. If Pinhead wasn't such a scary-looking motherfucker, this movie would have been forgotten long ago.

3) Dawn of the Dead: Following an ever-growing epidemic of zombies that have risen from the dead, a group of survivors seek refuge in a secluded shopping mall.
This movie has a lot to say about a variety of poignant subjects from good ol' human nature to American consumerism, but all that interesting subtext is hidden inside a really bland movie. The blue-faced zombies aren't convincing, the protagonists are all unlikable, and the scenes with the roving biker gang drag on forever. Let's all finally admit it: Dawn of the Dead earned it's reputation as a classic solely on the fact that we all really like the idea of hunkering down in a shopping mall while the world goes to shit around us.

2) Suspiria: A newcomer to a fancy ballet academy gradually comes to realize that the staff of the school are actually a coven of witches bent on chaos and destruction.
I might lose some friends over this one, but it must be said: Suspiria just isn't that great. I'm not saying it isn't enjoyable. Dario Argento helmed a fun movie with a couple brilliant visuals and an awesome soundtrack. However, the reverence that horror fans display toward this film is absurd and unwarranted. If Suspiria were made by an American director, we'd cite its use of colors, camera angles and weird dialogue as hallmarks of an outdated camp classic rather than a cinematic tour de force. Since it has a stylish European director's name attached to it, Suspiria now holds a special place in the hearts of cinematic hipsters everywhere.

1) John Carpenter's The Thing: Scientists in the Antarctic are confronted by a shape-shifting alien that assumes the appearance of the people that it kills.
Great effects and a frightening premise can't help this remake overcome it's greatest flaw; namely, that anyone at any time can be the Thing. Aside from Kurt Russell, the characters are fairly generic and unlikable, so when a character is revealed to be the monster, it doesn't matter because you never really give a damn about them. Also, there isn't any logical plotline to follow regarding the creature's agenda. Viewers don't know anything that the isolated crew doesn't know, and the crew doesn't know shit. Because the story advances mostly to showcase the special effects rather than to scare the viewer, characters are mostly killed and assimilated by the Thing off-screen so that we can see their transformation into the Thing onscreen when they're invariably discovered to be the current incarnation of the alien. Viewers learn early on that the entire cast is expendable, so there's never any real tension to be had when things go bad. The ending is often cited as being one of the best in horror history, but I find it unsatisfying and frustrating. Although terribly dated, the original is better in nearly every way.


Anonymous @ 7:11 PM, August 16, 2013

Wow, just wow. You have not been kicked in the head sometime within the last month, have you?