Critically Panned Horror Movies That Are Worth A Watch

People like horror movies for a variety of reasons. Many people like to be scared, but what that means varies from person to person. Some people are frightened when horror movies make them jump in their seats. Others prefer a feeling of dread and suspense. There are horror fans who love gore, but there are others who think buckets of blood are cheap, and they prefer atmospheric horror films instead.

People dislike horror movies for many reasons, too. Horror is full of remakes and sequels, and audiences may approach a film from the perspective that sequels and remakes are inherently less worthwhile than original stories. Some people think that a remake or a sequel needs to be as good or better than the original to be worth watching. That's certainly a valid way to approach moviegoing, though it's one that often leads to disappointment.

In our minds, a movie doesn't have to be "better" to be worthwhile, interesting, or thought-provoking. After all, it's never more apparent than in the horror genre that "good" means something different to every viewer. With that all in mind, these are 12 horror movies that critics didn't particularly like. Here's why they're worth watching anyway.

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)

The eighth installment in a horror franchise that was never particularly well-loved by critics was always going to fight an uphill battle for respectability. That being said, people really, really disliked "Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan." It has the unfortunate distinction of being the second-lowest-rated "Friday the 13th" entry on Rotten Tomatoes, scoring a paltry 11% fresh rating. Although the film promises the hockey-masked slasher stalking the streets of the Big Apple, the majority of the film takes place on a ship headed to New York. It's more like "Jason Takes a Boat to Manhattan."

That's a valid complaint, but it's been over than 30 years. Now that we know most of the film doesn't take place in Manhattan, it's time to admit that the film is incredibly fun! Kane Hodder makes a great Jason. He's hulking and wet, looking swollen and grotesque from his years underwater. From a neon-lit disco chase scene to a grimy, goofy number with a rocker chick ending up on the wrong end of her guitar, the kills that take place on the boat are awesome.

Once Jason does get to Manhattan, the movie's vision of New York is an ultra-'80s delight. Punks roam the streets. Graffiti covers the subways. Barrels of toxic waste fill the alleys. Jason punches someone's head clean off their body. You know ... classic New York.

The Ruins (2008)

Horror got mean in the 2000s, with torture porn films like the "Saw" franchise pushing the limits of cinematic gore. Many critics weren't on board with the boom. Critic Roger Ebert published a letter from a reader who wrote that torture porn films "don't seem to stimulate the artistic part of the brain." In the years since, some critics have re-evaluated the subgenre, situating it in a post-9/11 culture curious about what torture looked like. After all, we were embroiled in a national conversation about the morality of "enhanced interrogation techniques." What if someone did to us what we were doing to others?

One film that deserves a reappraisal is Carter Smith's 2008 shocker "The Ruins." The film sits at only 49% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, but to many fans, it's the best of the bunch. Yes, the gore is over-the-top, but to call it "gratuitous" suggests that it's without purpose. Instead, the gore — and the discomfort it inspires — is the point.

The film involves a group of ignorant Americans (an excellent ensemble including Jena Malone and Jonathan Tucker) who visit ruins they were warned away from. They find themselves trapped by an eerie, sentient species of vine that mimics sound — and crawls inside them while they sleep. Their only recourse is to operate on one another, slicing the vine from beneath their skin. Equal parts gross and deeply unsettling, it's a perfect metaphor for an America tearing itself apart to root out terrorism.

Black Christmas (2006)

Bob Clark's classic slasher "Black Christmas" predated "Halloween" by several years, and it may have even directly inspired the latter film. It's about a killer named Billy who terrorizes a group of girls stuck at a sorority house over the holidays. The movie received mixed reviews when it was first released, but by the time it was remade in 2006, during the '00s remake boom, its influence on the genre was widely accepted.

Critics tend to look down on remakes, and "Black Christmas" only managed to scrounge up a paltry 16% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Sure, it's not the original, which is atmospheric and weird. Once we get past that, though, 2006's "Black Christmas" is worth a watch for anyone willing to accept that a remake in a gritty 2000s style should be allowed to do its own thing. A veritable who's-who of promising aughts actors, the cast is excellent. Michelle Trachtenberg, Lacey Chabert, Katie Cassidy, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead star alongside Andrea Martin, who was also in the original. They all know what kind of movie they're in, and they dig in with relish.

The remake is also grimy in a way that works. Cinematographer Robert McLachlan manages to shoot Christmas lights in such a way that they look as sleazy as the neon lights of a Times Square porno shop. The effect makes "Black Christmas" a deliciously dirty slice of holiday horror.

Hell Fest (2018)

The slasher film seems to be making a comeback thanks to recent hits like "Freaky" and "X," not to mention new installments of classic franchises like "Halloween," "Hellraiser," and "Scream," to name a few. Just a few years ago, however, the idea of a new, original R-rated slasher felt like an oddity. Released in 2018, "Hell Fest" seems like a movie from a different time when studios pumped out dozens of these things a year. Audiences didn't particularly care. It barely cracked $5 million in its opening weekend, and it sits at 39% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Many critics pointed out that "Hell Fest" doesn't offer anything new to the slasher genre, which at that time felt played out and outdated. However, that's not necessarily a bad thing! For a certain audience, a competently executed slasher is satisfying. In fact, after decades of self-aware, self-referential slashers like "Scream," it's downright refreshing to see a movie like "Hell Fest" that's content to simply deliver the kills and the scares.

The story takes place in an amusement park on Halloween. Real-world theme park "horror nights" like this require a suspension of disbelief, a willingness to wonder what it'd be like if that's not a park employee with a chainsaw but an actual killer intent on slicing and dicing his way through the masses. "Hell Fest" leans into that fear. It's nothing sophisticated or groundbreaking, but it's a fun movie.

Don't Hang Up (2016)

The 2016 horror film "Don't Hang Up" wasn't necessarily critically panned so much as it was critically ignored. Out of the 17 reviews of the low-budget thriller that are on Rotten Tomatoes, only 29% are positive. Most seem to agree that the characters are unlikable and that the film's killer seems to have unexplained powers over the situation. Those are both true, but it strikes me that the unlikability of the main characters is what makes the movie so effective.

"Don't Hang Up" is about two friends, Sam (Gregg Sulkin) and Brady (Garrett Clayton), who do pranks for their YouTube channel. By "pranks," we mean "cruel practical jokes." They call people on the phone and give them horrific news, like pretending that someone's wife has died in a terrible car accident. As the person on the other end of the line understandably has a meltdown, they film the conversation, cackling over their anguish. One person, however, warns them, "Don't hang up." He calls himself "Mr. Lee" (Parker Sawyers), and he has kidnapped their families. And if they don't do what he says, their families will die.

The movie is full of simmering, homoerotic tension between the two lead characters, playing into the way straight men can act out violently as a way to release other urges. Yeah, they're awful people, which makes it supremely satisfying to watch justice be served — even if it's in the form of a psychopathic killer terrorizing them in their home. 

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)

Released in the wake of the Vietnam War, the Manson Family murders, and the Kent State Massacre, Tobe Hooper's "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" reflects an America headed down a dark path. Serving as a direct follow-up to the original, Netflix's legacy sequel ditches the franchise's convoluted continuity. In this one, we've reached the end of the road. I mean that quite literally. "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" takes place on a dead-end street that serves as the only main road in a dusty, forgotten ghost town. This is Americana reduced to a shell of itself. Sally Hardesty and her brother once walked through a vibrant field of sunflowers, but now they're all wilted, scorched under a Southern sky that's only going to keep getting warmer.

As many critics noted, some attempts at modernizing the franchise land with a thud. A bit where someone threatens to "cancel" Leatherface is particularly embarrassing. Still, this film is in conversation with who we are now as opposed to who we were then. Our young people aren't necessarily being sent to die in a war on the other side of the world. Instead, the main character (Elsie Fisher) is a school shooting survivor. Who is Leatherface in a world like this?

Plus, some of the kills are incredible! Directly following that line about "cancellation" is one of the goriest, over-the-top scenes of chainsaw mayhem in the entire franchise. As messy as it is, it's hard not to respect "Texas Chainsaw Massacre."

Cold Skin (2017)

"Cold Skin" seems to have no idea what kind of movie it wants to be, and it's all the better for it. Simultaneously a horror movie, an action thriller, and a weird interspecies romance (think "The Shape of Water"), "Cold Skin" offers a bit of something for everyone, and in doing so, wound up polarizing critics. The movie is about two men on an island in the Antarctic Circle, stuck in a lighthouse where they are besieged nightly by creatures from the sea. Blue humanoid monsters swarm the building in the darkness and must be beaten back, and the fight might just be driving the men insane. One day, one of the men (David Oakes) learns that his fellow lighthouse caretaker (Ray Stevenson) has befriended one of the creatures. She's oddly beautiful. Her bright shining eyes and lithe body are utterly captivating to the men. Soon enough, they begin to compete for her attention.

Many critics felt that the film didn't necessarily have a point of view or anything interesting to say about its subject matter. That's okay, though. It feels at times like a hangout movie, just an excuse to spend some time in a gorgeous yet frightening location with some intriguing personalities. It's a creature feature as a tone poem and a chilly, eerie meditation on place and time and beauty rather than a film focused merely on plot. Go in expecting that, and you may find yourself swept away.

Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000)

The self-referential 1998 slasher "Urban Legend" boasted a cast full of '90s icons like Tara Reid, Joshua Jackson, and Jared Leto. The plot involved a killer acting out classic urban legends, but in a post-"Scream" world, critics weren't feeling it. The film has a 24% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is pretty bad. Still, it managed to spawn two sequels. "Urban Legends: Final Cut" fared even worse. That one currently sits at only 9% fresh.

Nevertheless, with the right mindset, "Urban Legends: Final Cut" can be a worthwhile watch. The movie isn't "good," exactly, but it's certainly interesting. This time around, the action takes place at a film school, and the killer isn't recreating urban legends as much as he is restaging murders from classic horror scenes. After all, as the film quite didactically lays out, horror movies are our modern urban legends. Have you heard the one about the woman at the motel who was killed in the shower? "Urban Legends: Final Cut" has, and it apes the classic "Psycho" scene in one of its most memorable sequences. Sure, the imitation is unquestionably worse, but it's interesting to see a familiar scene filtered through the aesthetics of late-'90s teen horror, if only because sometimes a bad thing can make its good counterpart look even better. Leaning into bad horror sequels is part of the fun of being a fan of the genre, and at least "Urban Legends: Final Cut" tries something new.

The Hitcher (2007)

Criticism of remakes tends to fall into similar patterns. "It's not as good as the original," everyone says. "It's unnecessary when the original exists." That's pretty much how people felt about the 2007 update of "The Hitcher," starring Sean Bean as an evil hitchhiker first played by Rutger Hauer. Those observations aren't wrong, exactly. The 1986 original still holds up, and it's probably better.

On its own, though, the "Hitcher" remake is a solid, nasty little thriller still worth your time. The movie is about a couple (Zachary Knighton and Sophia Bush, who have more believable chemistry than the original's C. Thomas Howell and Jennifer Jason Leigh) on a road trip across the West. One night they nearly hit a man (Bean) standing in the middle of the road, and instead of stopping to make sure he's okay, they continue on. They later stop at a gas station and are approached by the man, who asks for a ride. He attacks them, and they escape by kicking the door open while flying down the highway. For the rest of the film, they are pursued by the vengeful hitchhiker.

Hauer's hitcher seemed like an evil guy. That was scary enough. Bean offers a different take on the character, making him frighteningly blank. The movie is tense and action-packed in that gritty, mid-aughts Platinum Dunes way. If we're going to look back and reclaim that aesthetic, let's start here.

House of Wax (2005)

If we're reclaiming 2000s remakes, let's start with Jaume Collet-Serra's version of "House of Wax." The movie shares its title with the 1953 Vincent Price film, but other than the basics of an evil wax museum where people get trapped inside wax figures, the two have little to do with one another. Instead, this one is about a group of teens headed to a football game who wind up trapped in a small town that features the titular house of wax. By '00s standards, the cast is stellar. In addition to stars like Chad Michael Murray, Elisha Cuthbert, and Jared Padalecki, Paris Hilton appeared in it at the height of her tabloid fame, and her presence provided the film with an unforgettable marketing campaign: "See Paris Die."

Many critics at the time faulted the film for being cruel and vicious. However, if we come at "House of Wax" from the basic premise that those are good qualities in a horror film, the movie easily succeeds. The kills are deranged, the performances are as solid as you could want from a teen slasher like this, and the whole thing is stylishly directed by Collet-Serra, who would go on to helm modern horror classics like "Orphan" and "The Shallows." See Paris die, but stick around for everything else, too.

The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018)

Bryan Bertino's 2008 chiller, "The Strangers," is a movie concerned mostly with atmosphere. It tells the story of a couple at home alone who realize that there are people in masks outside their house, watching them. It's a supremely spooky endeavor that generated its thrills not necessarily from shocking violence but from the creepiness of noticing a shadow down a hallway.

"The Strangers: Prey At Night" arrived a full decade later, and it has little interest in trying to recapture the tone of the original. Unsurprisingly, many critics were disappointed by that. The movie stands at 39% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, with many complaining the series traded atmosphere for action. That's true, and if you're looking for the experience of watching "The Strangers" again, you're welcome to watch "The Strangers" again. "The Strangers: Prey at Night," though, is a ton of fun anyway.

This time, the masked strangers stalk a family at an RV campground. The movie goes for pure '80s slasher thrills, and it more than delivers. One sequence at a public pool ringed with neon palm trees is the best scene in both movies. Director Johannes Roberts, who helmed "47 Meters Down" and its sequel, knows how cool blood looks against too-blue water, and the whole chase is set to Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart." If this is what the sequel wants to be, I'm more than happy to let it.

Blair Witch (2016)

One of the first "found footage" movies, "The Blair Witch Project" burst into theaters in 1999. Ingeniously, the filmmakers were part of the story, as the movie billed itself as the recovered footage from a documentary crew who were attempting to make a film about a local legend. Its handheld cameras created an immediacy between the viewers and the creepy action on screen. Consequently, many people weren't sure whether what they were seeing was real or not.

By the time the legacy sequel "Blair Witch" hit theaters in 2016, audiences were more savvy. The found-footage genre boom had come and gone. The "Paranormal Activity" franchise went dormant the year before. Consequently, many critics weren't willing to engage with the film, as they considered found footage passé. However, there might just be more going on here than a lot of people were willing to give it credit for. "Blair Witch" was directed by Adam Wingard, who had just helmed "You're Next" and "The Guest." As in those films, the director uses the familiar tropes of the genre to subvert and surprise audience expectations.

This time around, a group of YouTubers is attempting to retrace the footsteps of the cast of the original film. By the third act, the film twists in on itself, and time and space become blurred. It's a wacky ride well worth taking — once you allow that found footage can be worthwhile.