History was made in 1896 when a 3 minute long film entitled 'The Haunted Castle' aka 'The House of the Devil' was released - a film which would come to be known as the first ever horror movie. Since then, the world of cinema has afforded us increasingly terrifying thrills to satisfy our growing tolerance of the morbid. 'Nosferatu', 'Psycho', 'The Shining', 'The Thing', 'Alien' and recently the sinister 'Midsommar'; there's no end to the list of acclaimed horror movies accredited with keeping millions of people up at night. However, the list of films attempting to unnerve but making us facepalm instead is, well, considerably longer.
Why has horror been one of those genres so difficult to nail on the big screen? Perhaps because our appetite grows as we consume more terror, and suddenly the unsettling pace of 'The Omen' doesn't come close to feeling as disturbing as 'Hereditary'. Horror movies keep getting more extreme as the public learns to consume more of it. Secondly, there's the problem of horror movies simply not dating well, and thereby overshadowing any horror with what we know consider cheesiness.
An excellent horror often plays on the subconscious, stretches suspension of disbelief, and plays into fears and phobias of the imagination. The idea of an acid-dripping extra-terrestrial running around a spaceship trying to murder the crew could easily have become ridiculous in execution, but Ridley Scott's Alien struck the perfect balance between otherworldly horror and realism. Yet finding the limits of what the audience will watch and accept as terrifying before simply laughing off the exaggerated terror as ridiculous, is a challenge that sometimes even the most talented director fails to overcome.
I admit I have a soft spot for these 'failures'. There's something comforting about enjoying a movie you know is going to amuse you with pure cheese rather than startle you with nail-biting terror. Don't judge me, therefore, when I say I've seen a fair deal of awful horror films. While 'bad' horror movies will to some extent be subjective (I know somebody who seriously claims the original Halloween sucks, while I've been under fire for suggesting Videodrome fails to deliver) the following movies are - without a shadow of a doubt - truly, utterly awful.
Don't Be Scared
This terrible horror flick is bizarrely the work of Percy Miller, also known as the rapper Master P. His astonishing career has seen him taking the part of musician, business man, actor and professional basketball player. However, the horror film 'Don't Be Scared', (written by, directed by, and starring Master P himself) can hardly be counted as one of his greatest accomplishments...unless the goal was to make something intentionally ludicrous. In which case, congratulations Master P. So here's the plot...or lack of it; a group of friends kill a man at a party and bring him back from the other side, inexplicably together with Michael Jackson. Said revived man then proceeds to kill people in increasingly ridiculous ways.
Seen as a horror film, Don't Be Scared is obviously bad. The script, cinematography, acting, plot and pretty much everything else are all so dreadful that the film leaves you in genuine shock. Even the sound is awful, which is especially weird considering Master P garnered huge success managing record labels. There's so much cringe in this film that it's too bad even for cult status, and I can't help but wonder whether Master P was ever under any delusion it would actually be a success. Considering he invested only $10,000 in its production - I guess not.
Birdemic: Shock and Terror
While Don't be Scared probably won't even make you laugh at its trash factor while suffering through the cringe of watching it, 'Birdemic: Shock and Terror' will have you in stitches. The line between bad acting that just makes you sad, and acting that is so appalling that it actually becomes entertaining to watch (think 'The Room') is so far crossed it is a mere dot in the distance. Again, the sound is all over the place, the plot makes no sense whatsoever and the writing is atrocious. However, Birdemic will make you laugh out loud at the CGI (in the broadest possible sense of the word) and the desperately poor attempts at philosophical reflection towards the end. Yes - the namesake and horror premise birds are rendered in dreadful quality, totally destroying any unlikely hope the film might have had of actually being scary. Just like Don't Be Scared, Birdemic very obviously was made on a shoestring budget, perhaps explaining why the movie features almost an hour of nothing important happening in the first half. Yet if you can make yourself comfortable and sit through this, you'll be treated to a deliciously cringy second half full of entirely nonsensical plot developments and character decisions. Not exactly Hitchcock's' 'The Birds', but then if it was - it would be far away from this list.
You're unlikely to recognize any of the actors in the two movies above, but the 1993 horror film 'Leprechaun' amazingly stars Jennifer Aniston and Warwick Davis - two actors who are now household names. This really is quite remarkable for a horror movie this...terrible. However, it is the presence of the stars that helps give the film a cult status. Here's the problem with this atrocious movie; while leprechauns may feasibly be cast as the monster in a horror movie, they are not scary simply by virtue of dressing in green and looking for gold - something the writers of this film seem to have assumed. If you're a native of the United Kingdom or pretty much anywhere else in Europe for that matter, you will no doubt look upon leprechauns as friendly creatures who grace pub décor, stand at the end of rainbows clutching their pots of gold and feature in a variety of casino games; the famous Rainbow Riches in particular which you can check out at LabSlots. They're certainly not regarded as creatures running any risk of murdering your family.
Well, nobody told the writers, and the end result is an experience that is certainly not frightening but instead a rich offering of cringe. Maybe the greatest source of this cringe is watching Warwick Davis, a phenomenal actor, try his best to work with an offensive casting decision, weak plot and silly writing. Watching Jennifer Aniston, today one of Hollywood's brightest shining stars, flounder her way through this mess also conveys a kind of vicarious cringe on her behalf, especially considering her expressed regret for taking the role. Here's the biggest cause for a facepalm yet - Leprechaun has a sequel, titled simply 'Leprechaun 2', and it's every bit as awful.
The Wicker Man
Leprechaun was made with a budget just shy of one million dollars, which makes its inadvertent cheesiness all the more egregious. The Wicker Man, featuring meme-favourite Nicolas Cage, cost a whopping 40 million dollars to produce and is only a cult favourite for entirely the wrong reasons. A remake of the 1973 classic, this 2006 version fell very, very short of the suspense and horror that the original boasts. The premise of the film involves a policeman investigating pagans living on a relatively isolated island, but really it's only worth watching to gorge in the cringe that is Nicolas Cage's enormously over-the-top and exaggerated acting, even by horror film standards.
The Gingerbread Man
With a rating 3,5 on IMDB but 60% on Rotten Tomatoes, the quality of this film seems to be regarded as lying somewhere between awful and 'passable as a joke'. A grieving witch mother revives her dead son (from a combination of his ashes, blood, and a delicious spice mix - of course) whereby he seeks revenge on the woman who had him executed while terrorizing the town bakery. 'The Gingerbread Man' features Gary Busey as the titular character; an actor we'd like to remind you was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. Clearly not for his performance in The Gingerbread Man, however. Watching the film you might have assumed the whole thing can be partially forgiven for being a product of the sometimes questionable artistic direction of the 80s. But no, The Gingerbread Man was released in 2005 which the whole thing all the more...excruciating. All things said; this is a doughy, sticky mess of a movie.
Once again, horror movie writers seem to think that a Christmas theme adds some extra shock factor through mere juxtaposition. We get it - placing the theme of cosy and innocent holiday season in a murderous and gory holiday is scary! Except it's not that easy. There's no denying that the immortal 'haunted house' formula for horror films works so well because of how especially unsettling threats are when perceived to be in one's own home; a place where we're supposed to feel safe. But if the execution is poor - the concept doesn't carry itself, and such is the case in 'Santa's Slay'. Despite the filmmakers' best attempts to make a charitable-turned-demonic Santa Claus terrifying, the satisfaction you'll feel from watching this movie is not from real frights and thrills but from all the scenes that'll make you snort. Firebombs being thrown from Santa's sleigh in the form of presents, evil reindeers and incredibly cheesing scripting.
You may have noticed I've left some famous 'intentionally bad' movies off the list. Titles like 'Sharknado' and 'Killer Klowns from Outer Space' are certainly causes for cringe, but their horror-comedy hybrid was established from the start, and they are therefore somewhat less cringey than the movies above. Is it fair to say that the horror genre has played host to creations of lesser critic renown, considerably more often than seen in other cinematic genres? It's hard to deny that horror does seem to attract low-budget, low-imagination or otherwise subpar talent - with a buffet of cheesiness as a result.
Yet, with that said - I would be no real movie fan if I didn't clarify one thing. A low budget is not a necessary predictor of poor results. Immortal gems like 'Halloween' and 'The Evil Dead' were both produced for a little over $300,000 (a miniscule amount in the business) and the ground-breaking 'The Blair Witch Project' cost a mere $60,000 to make. Sometimes, it seems, talent can overcome a lack of budget. Unfortunately, that's not what we see in the movies of this list.
So if you're looking for some cheesy horror films for your next movie night, give one of these a shot - or challenge your friends to see who can best digest the industrial-level cringe they invariably provoke. Or, even better, save yourself from unnecessary mental pain and stay far away from all the aforementioned movies.
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