So far, my underrated horror lists (see Part 1 and Part 2) have concentrated on lesser known works that, for some reason or another, flew under most people’s radars. And while I believe "underrated" does regard movies that just aren’t well known, this time I decided to focus on the true definition of the word. The following movies are in most people’s vocabularies, but at the time they came out they either quickly faded into obscurity or were outright dismissed by viewers and critics alike. These are the underdog horror movies: classic gems that, while they may have received wide release, didn’t get the credit they deserved for being really, really good films.
I realize this might prove to be much more controversial than simply listing mostly unknown movies that should be seen by more people, because these films already come with preconceived attitudes and opinions by the horror movie fan base. Whatever. These 5 movies, to me, are truly underrated because we all know them, we just don’t give them the proper respect.
Planet Terror (2007)
It could not have been an easy task to upstage Quentin Tarantino, but that’s exactly what Robert Rodriguez did with this offering for their Grindhouse collaboration. Tarantino is, rightly so, considered one of the best American filmmakers of the last 30 years, so his half of the Grindhouse experiment, Death Proof, got most of the attention when it hit theaters. But Planet Terror, to me, ruled the day. Unbelievably gory and just unbelievably fun (plus an unbelievably sexy Rose McGowan proving that having only one leg can become an asset), this underrated classic has everything a horror fan could possibly want.
The Ruins (2008)
I think the problem with The Ruins is it had the misfortune of coming out in the mid-to-late 2000s, during a glut of really bad horror movies (Turistas, House of the Dead, etc.), and so it was unfairly lumped in with the pack of forgettable fare. But The Ruins is the biggest, shiniest diamond in that very deep rough. Based on a novel by Scott Smith, The Ruins has a very cool concept: friends vacationing in Mexico decide to check out some Mayan ruins, but the locals know something they don’t: that once you touch those ruins you’re cursed, and they aren’t about to let these kids leave. Ever. As their fight for survival intensifies, a mounting sense of paranoia fuels this wonderfully shot and well-acted creep fest. Definitely a cut above the rest of the lackluster “young people on the vacation from Hell” subgenre.
April Fool’s Day (1986)
In my humble opinion, April Fool’s Day (the original, not the dreadful remake) is the most underrated slasher flick...ever. The makers of this classic clearly saw something that the other slasher auteurs of that time didn’t: that the subgenre was ripe for humor, and they played that out beautifully. By the mid ‘80’s, because so many studios were cashing in on the phenomenal success of Halloween and Friday the 13th, slasher flicks were everywhere, which also meant slasher cliches were everywhere, too. But April Fool’s Day isn’t a straight parody, it’s a horror movie. And a damn good one. A razor sharp script and excellent acting from the talented cast, this is the cream of the ‘80’s slasher flick crop. By far.
The Strangers (2008)
The Strangers shares the same fate as The Ruins: it came out at a time when the home invasion movie seemed to be having “a moment,” and this little gem got unfairly lumped in with the pack. Critics dismissed it as just another horror movie with little new to offer, but they were wrong. The Strangers has a very simple premise: a couple in an isolated house are terrorized by a small group of psychopaths. But how The Strangers sets itself apart is with its style. It unfolds slowly, and there’s very little soundtrack to tip the audience off to the scares. It’s a dark, tense ride from first time director Bryan Bertino, and he lets the tension build organically; and the characters act believably. I love how viewers and critics slam movies like this for all the seemingly “dumb” things the characters do. I’m just amazed, I had no idea they all had experienced this same situation in their own lives. Regardless, The Strangers is a small, creepy, atmospheric ride through Hell. And it’s terrific.
Lake Placid (1999)
Possibly the most underrated horror movie of all time. Seriously. A mild hit when released, Lake Placid, nonetheless, was pretty much trashed by critics. Which makes me question the intelligence of movie critics everywhere. To get a little hipster for a second: I think they just didn’t “get it.” Lake Placid is a B-movie. It’s a monster movie. It’s the best monster B-movie of all time. You heard me. I think the quality of the cast and the behind-the-camera pedigrees confused critics. So forget all the atrocious sequels, the original is an absurdly entertaining monster movie, with a great script from David E. Kelley, and a surprisingly A-list cast (featuring an Oscar worthy performance from Oliver Platt). Lake Placid has zero flaws. It’s a masterpiece. It’s a masterpiece.
So there you have it. These movies had the viewers, just not enough of the love and respect. But they’re all great. Let me know your thoughts!