The worst Halloween movies ever
13 of the most painfully awful horror movies ever made
Spooky season is officially in full swing. That means it’s the perfect time to build a fire, start up the Roku and cuddle on the couch with your sweetie to watch a scary movie. But which movie? You could opt for an old-school ’80s slasher flick, like “Friday the 13th,” “Halloween” or “A Nightmare on Elm Street” or fall back on film-buff favorites such as “The Shining,” “The Exorcist” or a vintage Boris Karloff picture.
Which Halloween movies best represent their genre is a matter of hot debate. Horror films are essentially unmatched in their tendency to take a split-second detour from “bad” to “so bad it’s actually good” — or at least “so bad that it requires the commentary of an orbiting janitor and his snarky robot sidekicks to make it palatable.” And then there are the truly terrible movies, the turkeys, the ones that make you regret having wasted two whole hours of your life watching them.
There’s no accounting for taste, of course, but the following 13 flicks are right up there — or should we say down there? — among the worst Halloween, horror and scary movies ever to (dis)grace the silver screen.
1. “The Haunting of Sharon Tate”
It’s been 50 years since a diminutive, enigmatic charmer-cum-psychopath called Charlie commanded a handful of hippies to do his bidding by committing murder, but the Manson family and the Tate-LaBianca homicides continue to inspire writers and filmmakers. Master storyteller Quentin Tarantino took on the subject in this summer’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” reimagining the events of August 9, 1969, so that the lives of Sharon Tate and her companions are spared.
Similarly, “The Haunting of Sharon Tate” presents an alternate version of the killings at Cielo Drive. But that’s where the similarities end. Everything about this movie adds tacky, derivative insult to injury: hackneyed action, tired slasher-film stereotypes, wretched CGI and ham-fisted, hit-’em-over-the-head dialogue.
In essence, it’s everything you’d expect from a Manson movie produced by Lizzie McGuire — er, Hilary Duff.
2. “Plan 9 From Outer Space”
Have you ever wondered which creepy cohort would win in an epic showdown — zombies or aliens? Well, keep wondering, because this 1959 movie doesn’t answer the question. It does feature extraterrestrial entities, only they’re disinterring the undead in order to weaponize them. The aliens’ motive in unleashing the zombies is nothing less than preventing humans from destroying the entire universe with a “sunlight molecule”-spewing doomsday machine they’ll discover in the future. Failing that, the E.T.s will simply destroy the “stupid, stupid” humans with the (rotting, putrid) hands of the undead.
TL;DR: Aliens land on earth and resurrect the dead, including Bela Lugosi. Lugosi caused director/producer Ed Wood a modicum of agita by inconveniently dying IRL; he was then replaced by somebody's chiropractor, who looked nothing like him.
3. “House of The Dead”
Wikipedia describes this 2003 Uwe Boll-directed pic as a “German-American-Canadian action horror film,” which serves as something of a red flag right there. After all, there’s a reason the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences does not give out little gold statuettes for the Best German-American-Canadian Action Horror Motion Picture.
Not scared off yet? How about the fact that Boll, responding to critics, stated, “It's based on a video game in which you shoot zombies. What were you expecting? ‘Schindler's List’?”
Still with us? Alrighty then. A few more warning shots: “House of the Dead” features “the rave of the century” held on an island off the coast of Seattle. That island is called Isla del Morte. The protagonists are unsuspecting teens, because — well, because horror movie. There’s a character named Karma. There’s another character named Liberty. (Both die, in a shameful waste of potential symbolism.) Footage lifted wholesale from the eponymous Sega video game. Endless bullet-time "Matrix"-style pans for each character. Dialogue that should be renamed “Duh-alogue.” (Formerly Unsuspecting Teen Turned Zombie Hunter: “You did all this to become immortal! WHY?” Zombie: “To live forever!”)
Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Nearly a decade before there were mother-bleepin’ snakes on a plane, there were snakes on a boat. Well, there was only one snake, but oh, what a snake. The titular anaconda picks off its prey one by one, variously snapping victims’ necks, swallowing them whole, crushing them and squeezing them to death.
Despite decent special effects, some stunning scenery — much of it was filmed on the Rio Negro, near Manaus, Brazil — and a current of dry, tongue-in-cheek humor, this production failed to win over critics. Some of the descriptors used in reviews include silly, absurd, hokey, forgettable and boring; it ended up on the Golden Raspberry Awards list of 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made. So there’s that.
“Anaconda,” released in 1987, features a bunch of actors who should have known better than to sign on with this clunker: Jennifer Lopez, Jon Voigt, Ice Cube, Eric Stoltz and Owen Wilson. Unsurprisingly, each of these artists declined to appear in any of the four (count ’em, four) sequels, three of which were direct-to-video and one of which (“Lake Placid vs. Anaconda”) is possibly the most iconic crossover since “Scooby-Doo Meets the Harlem Globetrotters.”
5. “The Toxic Avenger”
Who doesn’t love an underdog? In this 1984 flick, bullied teenager Melvin (clad in a darling pink tutu) dives headfirst through a window only to land in a drum full of glowing, green nuclear waste. Transmogrified into a hideous monster, Melvin, aka Toxic Avenger (or Toxie for short), spends the duration of the story gratuitously slaughtering evildoers — “the fat and corrupt hate him,” intones the trailer, begging the question of how the slender, corrupt townspeople feel about him — and, in classic revenge-movie fashion, taking down the so-called cool kids who tormented him.
“The Toxic Avenger” is perhaps one of the most prolific horror movie franchises and definitely the most diverse. It spawned not only three cinematic sequels, but also a video game, a comic-book series, a musical, a “musikill” and a children’s animated television program. At one point, New Line Cinema even made plans for a live-action version of the cartoon, but that movie deal mercifully failed to materialize.
6. “The Blair Witch Project”
You knew it was coming, didn’t you? Premiered at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, this sleeper indie flick is credited with revitalizing the “found-footage subgenre,” thereby paving the way for “Cloverfield,” “Paranormal Activity” and your Aunt Kimberly’s iPhone vid of your cousin Brayden’s piano recital rendition of “Clair de Lune.”
Operating on the premise that the truth is scarier than fiction, directors set out to blur the lines between cinema verite, mockumentary and traditional horror while pissing people off. OK, that last part might not have been intentional, but it certainly was the result.
Although critics largely praised the movie, audiences found fault with the nauseating camera work, plodding plotline and gimmicky, if effective, marketing technique of coy subterfuge about the adventure’s authenticity — did these events really occur? Does the Blair Witch exist? Could the student filmmakers truly be dead, as they were listed on IMDB?
Like patchouli, Disney and pineapple on pizza, “Blair Witch” is one of those divisive, love-it-or-hate-it topics. But no one among even its most impassioned detractors can argue that it wasn’t hugely influential.
7. “Manos: The Hands of Fate”
“Manos: The Hands of Fate” is what happens when a former fertilizer salesman and sometime amateur actor decides to make a movie on a bet.
Calling “Manos” a movie is something of a stretch, however. Let us count the ways in which it differs from a traditional cinematic enterprise:
- They forgot to include the opening credits (“Whoops. Oh well, it’s too late now. No one will even notice.” — the filmmaker, probably).
- In one scene, a clapperboard is briefly visible.
- Most of the production equipment was rented.
- The actors were unpaid.
- The whole shebang was filmed on a hand-wound 16-mm Bell & Howell camera that was only capable of capturing 32 seconds of footage before needing to be wound again.
This is the pic that put Mystery Science Theater 3000 on the map, and the reverse is also true — although released in 1966, “Manos” wallowed in obscurity for the next quarter-century before MST3K brought it to the attention of American camp-culture aficionados.
Think that Nickelback represents the nadir of Canadian entertainment? Give 1993’s “Things” a watch and “No Fixed Address” will look like a tour de force in comparison. One of this movie’s many overwrought lines — “This is ghastly, brutal, horrible” — is a strikingly metonymous summation of the entire endeavor.
The opening credits to “Things” are like the illegitimate spawn of “Manos: The Hands of Fate” and “The Blair Witch Project,” and that’s the nicest thing that can be said about this trainwreck.
9. “Howling: New Moon Rising”
There were six sequels to the generally well-received 1981 flick “The Howling,” of which “Howling: New Moon Rising” is the penultimate offering. TV Guide called it “a new low for the franchise,” which is saying something, and it has the dubious honor of holding the lowest Rotten Tomatoes rating out of all seven pictures.
Released in 1995, “Howling: New Moon Rising” is set in Pioneertown, a real town, and much of the action takes place in the charmingly named Harriet and Pappy’s Pioneertown Palace, a real honky-tonk and bar-slash-barbecue-restaurant (which, according to Google, serves drinks in mason jars, which is proof that rustic Pinterest-inspired wedding trends have jumped the proverbial shark). The cast is made up of real people playing themselves (and by “playing themselves,” we mean “getting wasted and laughing uproariously at a series of inside jokes”) as well as a werewolf — who is presumably not real, but at this point in the “Howling” franchise, pretty much anything is possible.
10. “Troll 2”
If this title brings to mind ugly little dolls with technicolor hair, thank your lucky stars, because that means you’ve never been subjected to the hot mess of a movie that is “Troll 2.”
Two tidbits of trivia will tell you everything you need to know about this 1990 release. One is that it contains no trolls. The other telling factoid is that store owner Sandy Mahar was played by an actual patient from a nearby residential psychiatric facility. Don Packard auditioned, and then later acted, while out on a day pass.
Oh, there is one more interesting aspect to “Troll 2.” Its child star, Michael Stephenson, transcended his initial embarrassment about having been involved with such a contemptible vehicle — thanks to interacting with many of its fans on MySpace — and went on to make a documentary about the cult favorite. “Best Worst Movie” has been far more favorably received than its subject matter and has won several awards. Legit awards, we should hasten to mention.
11. “The Mangler”
You would think that a movie based on a Stephen King story, directed by Tobe Hooper (the guy behind Poltergeist) and starring the actors who played Freddie Krueger and Buffalo Bill (Robert Englund and Ted Levine, respectively) has the potential to be halfway decent. You would think, but you would be wrong.
1995’s “The Mangler” chronicles the possession and subsequent exorcism of an evil industrial laundry press. There is also a haunted icebox (for those of you born after 1980, an icebox is an old-timey refrigerator) and a character with the improbable name of J.J.J. Pictureman.
Does this film follow in the fictional footsteps of other evil inanimate protagonists, like Christine the car or the vending machine of “Maximum Overdrive,” King’s first foray into directing? Yes. Does it do this with any self-referential sense of humor or camp value? Not so much. Is it a cult favorite? Also no. Does it have any redeeming qualities whatsoever? That depends on your definition of “redeeming.” Is it worthy of five rhetorical questions? Negatory.
12. “Jaws: The Revenge”
“Jaws” is considered one of the best movies ever made. It established the now time-honored tradition of the summer blockbuster. And although it wasn’t Steven Spielberg’s directorial debut, it did make him the household name he remains today. In short, it’s pretty darn epic — quite unlike any of its underwhelming sequels.
The worst of that motley bunch, “Jaws: The Revenge,” came out in 1987. It strained beyond repair the audience’s ability or desire to willingly suspend their disbelief. Take, for example, one particular sound effect. Pretty sure it went down something like this:
INTERIOR: A conference room outfitted with blond-wood furniture and a plate glass window through which the Hollywood sign can be seen
(pushes the sleeves of his pink sports jacket above his elbows) How do we make the shark seem scarier? Audiences are jaded by now. We need to boost the fright factor.
HOLLYWOOD EXECUTIVE #2
(takes swig from bottle of Evian): We could ...make it growl. Or, no, not like a growl, more of a ...roar. Yeah, the shark should roar.
HOLLYWOOD EXECUTIVE #1
Perfect, let’s give it a growling roar sort of noise every time it breaches the water’s surface — no, even when it’s underwater, too.
(The two of them repair to Spago for a three-martini lunch.)
Add in some colossally obvious continuity goofs, give the shark not only a vendetta against the entire Brody family but also a telepathic link with Ellen Brody, and you’ve got yourself a camptastic classic of a B movie.
13. “Jason X”
Today, someone called Uber Jason would be texting you as he pulls up to your apartment building in his Toyota Camry, but in 2001’s conception of the years 2010 and 2455, Uber Jason is a cryogenically frozen version of supervillain Jason Voorhees, whom we first met on Friday the — well, actually, the 9th of May, 1980.
Filmmakers can be forgiven for churning out sequel after sequel, hoping to capitalize on the box office success of original films. But as budgets dwindle and screenplays become increasingly slapdash, the credulity of these films is challenged only by low-budget FX and poor production values.
By the time you get into the double digits, as is the case with this 10th installment of the “Friday the 13th” franchise (of which there are a mind-boggling dozen different feature films) — well, let’s just say that the bloom is off the rose.
One thing that “Jason X” does have going for it? At least it’s not the retcon-rich sequel-that-nobody-literally-nobody-asked-for, “Freddy vs. Jason.”