Here’s an interesting phenomenon: Some of the horror movies universally considered the genre’s best actually received scathing, blistering reviews at the times of their release. It’s only after years give some perspective that a film’s true place in cinematic history can truly be assessed. It’s something that all aspiring filmmakers keep in mind—no matter which genre you favor.
Check out ten examples below; while no one classifies The Exorcist, Night of the Living Dead, The Thing, or The Shining as duds, these and more modern classics were all promptly eviscerated by critics. Thankfully, horror fans have always been able to see through the pretentious veneer of cynical media analysts. And, in some case, a scathing review of a horror movie can be a good thing! What disgusts mainstream moviegoers could be just up a horror fan’s alley!
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Have a read and let us know what you think in the Comments section. Which of these films are you most shocked to see got negative reviews? Can you think of other great genre offerings that critics blasted? Let’s discuss!
The Exorcist (1973, Directed by William Friedkin)
“[The Exorcist is] a chunk of elegant occultist claptrap … a practically impossible film to sit through … It establishes a new low for grotesque special effects …” Vincent Canby, The New York Times
“Friedkin’s biggest weakness is his inability to provide enough visual information about his characters … whole passages of the movie’s exposition were one long buzz of small talk and name droppings … The Exorcist succeeds on one level as an effectively excruciating entertainment, but on another, deeper level it is a thoroughly evil film.” Andrew Sarris, The Village Voice
“[The Exorcist is] nothing more than a religious porn film, the gaudiest piece of shlock this side of Cecil B. DeMille (minus that gentleman’s wit and ability to tell a story).” Jon Landau, Rolling Stone
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Night of the Living Dead (1968, Directed by George A. Romero)
“Until the Supreme Court establishes clear-cut guidelines for the pornography of violence, Night of the Living Dead will serve nicely as an outer-limit definition by example. In [a] mere 90 minutes this horror film (pun intended) casts serious aspersions on the integrity and social responsibility of its Pittsburgh-based makers, distributor Walter Reade, the film industry as a whole and [exhibitors] who book [the picture], as well as raising doubts about the future of the regional cinema movement and about the moral health of filmgoers who cheerfully opt for this unrelieved orgy of sadism…” Variety
“[Night of the Living Dead is a] junk movie…spare, uncluttered, but really silly.” Vincent Canby, The New York Times
The Thing (1982, Directed by John Carpenter)
“The Thing is basically, then, just a geek show, a gross-out movie in which teenagers can dare one another to watch the screen. There’s nothing wrong with that; I like being scared and I was scared by many scenes in The Thing. But it seems clear that Carpenter made his choice early on to concentrate on the special effects and the technology and to allow the story and people to become secondary. Because this material has been done before, and better, especially in the original The Thing and in Alien, there’s no need to see this version unless you are interested in what the Thing might look like while starting from anonymous greasy organs extruding giant crab legs and transmuting itself into a dog. Amazingly, I’ll bet that thousands, if not millions, of moviegoers are interested in seeing just that.” Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times
“[The Thing is] a foolish, depressing, overproduced movie that mixes horror with science fiction to make something that is fun as neither one thing or the other. Sometimes it looks as if it aspired to be the quintessential moron movie of the 80s.” Vincent Canby, The New York Times
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Jaws (1975, Directed by Steven Spielberg)
“It’s a measure of how the film operates that not once do we feel particular sympathy for any of the shark’s victims. … In the best films, characters are revealed in terms of the action. In movies like Jaws, characters are simply functions of the action … like stagehands who move props around and deliver information when it’s necessary.” Vincent Canby, The New York Times
“Jaws is too gruesome for children and likely to turn the stomach of the impressionable at any age. … It is a coarse-grained and exploitative work which depends on excess for its impact. Ashore it is a bore, awkwardly staged and lumpily written.” Charles Champlin, Los Angeles Times
Related Article: The Untold Truth of “Jaws”
An American Werewolf in London (1981, Directed by John Landis)
“An American Werewolf in London seems curiously unfinished, as if director John Landis spent all his energy on spectacular set pieces and then didn’t want to bother with things like transitions, character development or an ending.” Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times
Pet Sematary (1989, Directed by Mary Lambert)
“Pet Sematary delivers] an ugly payoff to an inept setup. Lambert, who did death much better in the obtuse Siesta and whose filmmaking skills are much more evident in her controversial video for Madonna’s Like a Prayer, shows precious little control here. The acting is wretched as well. When King films attract good directors and actors, as in Carrie, The Shining, and Stand by Me, they always rise to his occasion — otherwise, they sink.” Richard Harrington, The Washington Post
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Se7en (1995, Directed by David Fincher)
“So chic, studied and murky it resembles a cross between a Nike commercial and a bad Polish art film.” David Ansen, Newsweek
Alien (1979, Directed by Ridley Scott)
“[An] empty bag of tricks whose production values and expensive trickery cannot disguise imaginative poverty.” Time Out
“An overblown B-movie… technically impressive but awfully portentous and as difficult to sit through as a Black Mass sung in Latin … Alien, like Dawn of the Dead, only scares you away from the movies.” Michael Sragow, L.A. Herald Examiner
The Blair Witch Project (1999, Directed by Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick)
“Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s The Blair Witch Project represents the ultimate triumph of the Sundance scam: Make a heartless home movie, get enough critics to blurb in near unison ‘scary,’ and watch the suckers flock to be fleeced. This fictional documentary within a pseudo-documentary form may be the most overrated, under-financed piece of film to come down the pike in a long time.” Andrew Sarris, The New York Observer