There are myriad reasons why some horror films don’t make a connection with moviegoers, and in turn fail to live up to the expectations set by the studios that financed them. Sometimes it’s because a movie simply isn’t any good, but often a film’s lack of box office success can be attributed to circumstances beyond the filmmakers’ control: factors like lack of appropriate promotion, bad marketing, poorly-timed release dates and unduly harsh critical reception can work against an otherwise decent film's success. There are countless well-made movies that get a bad rap for one reason or another, and we think it’s a damn shame that moviegoers often miss out.
Because we love an underdog story, we're showing our appreciation for these under-appreciated horror titles by highlighting five of our favorites...
I cannot say enough good things about Slither. It cleverly blends comedy with horror, and plays out somewhat like a modernized version of Night of the Creeps. Writer/director James Gunn is a creative genius and an all-around nice guy who has contributed to multiple aspects of the genre arena. His script for 2004's Dawn of the Dead translated to one of the few horror remakes that wasn’t universally blasted by fans of the original; Lollipop Chainsaw, a video game he scripted, is over-the-top, nonsensical fun. Most importantly, he never forgets his roots as a young director given a shot by Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman. Slither bombed at the box office, which sealed its fate in regards to a sequel, and also meant a lot of horror fans missed out on a genre gem. (It has since found a cult following on DVD.) It's certified "fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes, so the lack of success can't be attributed to poor critical reception; I suspect the failure had a lot to do with inaccurate marketing efforts that really didn’t do the film justice.
When I was much younger, I made the mistake of dismissing Psycho II out of hand and opting not to watch it, because I was certain it was nothing more than a feeble attempt to capitalize on Alfred Hitchcock's legendary 1960 classic. I think a lot of people shared that sentiment, which is why Psycho II remains a drastically unappreciated film to this day. I'm the first to admit when I'm wrong, and I was very wrong about this film; it's a respectable sequel, and worth seeking out. Anthony Perkins is excellent in his reprisal of the Norman Bates role; Tom Holland’s (Fright Night) script, which catches up with Norman after his release from an institution, is inventive and filled with enough twists to keep viewers on their toes. The film was released to mixed reviews (with Roger Ebert being a key detractor), but some of the picture’s initial critics have since come to appreciate it.
House (a.k.a. Hausu, 1977)
This bizarre Japanese horror-musical-comedy is mainly underrated due to its being virtually unknown outside of Japan for decades. Upon its initial release, it played Asian theaters as part of a double-bill, but didn’t receive a US release until Criterion gave it the DVD and Blu-ray treatment in 2010. Even so, the film is still unknown to many horror fans, which is a gross injustice. House is a psychedelic thrill ride that blends ultra-violence with comedic undertones (and a demonic cat) in the guise of a 1970s grindhouse flick. The performances are over-the-top (probably intentionally so), the sheer outrageousness and creativity of writer/director Nobuhiko Obayashi is unmatched by anything I’ve seen before or since, and the premise itself is also absolutely bonkers. But it's the film’s refusal to conform to basic standards of sanity that is ninety percent of what makes it so magical.
Though viewed as a box office disappointment, Bill Paxton's Frailty is an expertly crafted horror-thriller that is rarely given due credit. The film features intense performances from all of its leads – particularly from the always-versatile genre favorite Paxton (in his impressive directing debut) as the father who believes he can see demons in their human form. Frailty is also certified "fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes, so it's difficult to speculate exactly why the theatrical numbers were so soft; perhaps the film was under-marketed, or pitched to the wrong audience upon its 2001 release. At any rate, Frailty is not to be missed.
Here's yet another example of a film generally praised by critics which nevertheless turned very soft box-office results: Dredd does justice to the classic comic on which it's based, has plenty of violence to satisfy the most discerning of gore-hounds, and features unbelievably cool effects... but for some reason, it didn’t find its audience until home video, at which point it began to develop a cult following. It could be the remake stigma among genre fans, or the waning appeal of 3D films upon its release, that sealed Dredd's fate; regardless, it remains among my favorite films released in 2012. It’s disappointing that it performed so poorly, because there are infinite possibilities that could have been explored in a sequel, and Dredd has franchise potential written all over it.