Film criticism is meant to help audiences navigate the ever-growing sea of new releases, but there’s an undeniable divide between many professional critics and the general public. The horror genre has an especially troubled history with conflicting opinions, with certain films only being considered “classics” decades after loyal fans insisted that negative reviews were mistaken. Unfortunately, some movies have the rotten luck of being buried forever underneath a mountain of undeserved bad press, leading to quite a few underappreciated gems.
This was excruciatingly common back in the 2000s, when the horror genre was heavily criticized by folks who didn’t realize that the quality of horror films hadn’t necessarily dropped, but expectations had suddenly changed. That’s why we’ve decided to compile this list of 6 critically panned horror movies from the 2000s that are still worth a watch, as it’s sometimes worth wading through the bargain bin in order to uncover an underappreciated gem or two.
While sorting through movie reviews isn’t an exact science, we’ll be using Rotten Tomatoes scores to judge whether or not a film is unfairly maligned. Of course, these aren’t the only good 2000s horror movies hiding behind negative reviews, so be sure to share your own spurned favorites with us in the comments below.
Now, onto the list…
6. Halloween II (2009) – Rotten Tomatoes Score: 21%
Even if you’re not a fan of Rob Zombie’s unapologetically gritty take on Carpenter’s iconic boogeyman, there’s no denying that the man is a rare example of a horror auteur. A Zombie movie always feels like a Zombie movie, and even if the end result is controversial, I’d rather watch a visionary director’s unique take on a familiar story rather than a safe rehash. That’s why I adore his strange approach to Halloween II.
Mercilessly bashed by critics back in 2009, The Shape’s return to Haddonfield understandably disappointed folks who were expecting a traditional Slasher sequel, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad film. If you can stomach the edgy dialogue and brooding tone, there’s a sincere exploration of survivor’s guilt and nature versus nurture to be found here, and the kills are more gruesome than ever. I only wish more critics had appreciated this refreshingly bleak vision of how life might continue after a Slasher flick.
5. Riding the Bullet (2004) – Rotten Tomatoes Score: 26%
From The Shining to The Mangler, not all Stephen King adaptations are created equal, and part of that is due to the difficulty of adapting King’s introspective character work to a visual medium. Based on the homonymous short story, Mick Garris’ Riding the Bullet was originally panned due to its lackluster scares and corny setup, but focusing on those elements kind of misses the point of this fun little character piece.
While the movie is admittedly a little cheesy, dealing with familiar themes of returning home and facing ghostly memories, it’s also a nostalgic throwback with a lot of heart and some memorable performances. David Arquette is particularly enjoyable as the undead George Staub, and it’s hard not to root for Jonathan Jackson as our hitchhiking protagonist. The flick’s groovy late 60s soundtrack is just further icing on the cake.
4. Cry Wolf (2005) – Rotten Tomatoes Score: 24%
The days of annoying e-mail chain letters are mostly behind us, but Jeff Wadlow’s 2005 feature Cry Wolf remains as a snapshot of a time when urban legends went digital. Following a group of prep school students as they face the deadly aftermath of a viral serial killer hoax, Cry Wolf may be dated in both dialogue and plot elements, but it’s also a surprisingly entertaining mystery.
A fake serial killer claiming real-life victims after becoming an online sensation makes for a really fun premise, and the whodunnit aspect keeps things interesting as these privileged students (including Supernatural‘s Jared Padelecki) start to turn on each other. The movie probably would have had a bigger impact as a more traditional R-rated Slasher, and the ending doesn’t quite tie up all of the story’s loose ends, but Cry Wolf is still a competently made thriller with some satisfying twists and turns.
3. Gothika (2003) – Rotten Tomatoes: 15%
Ghostly murder mysteries are rarely as stylish as Mathieu Kassovitz’s Gothika, a moody thriller about a psychiatrist (Halle Berry) that gets into a car accident and wakes up being accused of murder. While the film was trashed by most critics at the time, who accused it of being a pulpy mess, I believe that those pulpy elements are precisely what make it such a charming experience in the first place.
This isn’t Berry at her best (though her role as Dr. Miranda Grey netted her a Teen Choice Award for Choice Actress), but she’s still a compelling protagonist in a lovingly crafted thriller that isn’t afraid to get a little weird in both visuals and storytelling. The supernatural aspect might be a bit too silly for some viewers, but I find that the film is highly entertaining as long as you don’t take it too seriously.
2. Thirteen Ghosts (2002) – Rotten Tomatoes: 16%
The early-to-mid 2000s saw a curious trend of critically reviled remakes of 50s horror movies, but Thirteen?Ghosts stands out as one of the strangest. Featuring Tony Shalhoub and Matthew Lillard trapped in a glass mansion with a collection of murderous phantoms, I believe the wacky premise alone is enough to justify the price of admission.
Obviously, most critics didn’t see it that way, claiming that the plot and characters were much less interesting than the ghosts’ creative designs and backstories. While I agree that the implied mythology is better than the film’s actual story, this retro romp through a bizarre haunted house is still a fun time if you’re up for a no-frills midnight movie. Just be prepared for plenty of cheesy dialogue alongside the impressive ghost makeup.
1. Dead Silence (2007) – Rotten Tomatoes: 21%
While it’s hard to imagine nowadays, there was once a time when James Wan and Leigh Whannell had yet to be cemented as modern-day Masters of Horror. Back in 2007, the duo had a critical bomb on their hands with the supernatural thriller Dead Silence, a misunderstood gem featuring ghostly ventriloquists and creepy puppets.
Whannell admits to having some regrets about the screenplay, going so far as to claim that the studio brought in a script doctor to revise his original vision, but I’d argue that Dead Silence is almost as entertaining as Insidious, Whannel and Wan’s more popular collaboration. Things may get a little silly towards the end, but it’s still a fun ride and l think it’s a shame that Mary Shaw never returned for an even spookier sequel.