It’s no secret that I’m a fan of movies that are so bad they’re actually good, having already written two prior lists on the subject! But ‘tis the height of spooky season and so today I’m focusing completely on good/bad horror movies. There are movies that cross over into the horror genre on the previous two lists—with Wishmaster and Jason X being particularly good choices for Halloween viewing, in my opinion—but here are six more scary movies that bring the frights and the gore, in the best/worst way!
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
It’s absolutely hilarious to me that the Friday the 13th franchise decided to have Jason Voorhees follow in the hallowed footsteps of the Muppets to take Manhattan. In rankings of all the Friday the 13th movies, Part VIII tends to do pretty poorly, which may be accurate, but I can’t help but find joy in its badness.
The film starts with the anchor of a houseboat damaging a cable at the bottom of Crystal Lake and shocking a submerged Jason back to life, like Frankenstein’s monster. Back in action once more, Jason sneaks aboard a ship that’s about to set sail for New York City (because even supernatural slashers deserve a vacation). How exactly does the boat sail from a rural lake all the way to NYC? Who knows?!
It is a shame that budget issues led to so much of the movie taking place on the ship, but once we reach Manhattan the film really comes into its own. Jason gazing upon Times Square looks undeniably cool…him then kicking the boombox out of his way (10/10 for Kane Hodder’s stuntwork/acting here) and scaring off the punk teens by lifting his mask never fails to make me laugh. And there is one positive thing about the budget cuts: the boxing match between Jason and Julius (V. C. Dupree) was originally meant to take place in Madison Square Garden—which, while an impressive location, would have deprived us of the glorious sight of Julius’ head being punched clean off and flying into a dumpster.
Sleepwalkers, written by Stephen King and directed by Mick Garris, is a weird and schlocky slice of ’90s horror. Mary and Charles Brady are a mother and son who have just moved to a small town and happen to be shape-shifting werecat-type creatures that feed on the life force of humans. Oh, and they’re also lovers!
The acting is actually decent, with particularly good performances from Mädchen Amick (best-known as Shelley Johnson in Twin Peaks), who plays teenage heroine Tanya, and Alice Krige, the werecat mother and Star Trek’s Borg Queen. There are also a surprising number of fun cameos to look out for—to name just a few to entice you, there’s appearances from Mark Hamill, Clive Barker, and Joe Dante. The blood and gore is also delightfully bloody and gory.
But with such an absurd (and weirdly incest-heavy) plot, Sleepwalkers was always destined for the so-bad-it’s-good category. Further anchoring it there are the film’s many silly one-liners, the entertainingly bad blend of CGI and practical effects for shape-shifting scenes, and the bizarre (and oddly slimy) final forms of Mary and Charles. It’s got everything you could ever want in a bad movie!
Leprechaun 4: In Space (1997)
The first Leprechaun (1993) movie isn’t exactly a masterpiece, but by the time the fourth installment rolled around, things had descended to the level of a sweaty fever dream. The movie jarringly opens in 2096 on an alien planet, with absolutely zero information about how the leprechaun (Warwick Davis)—last seen scampering around Las Vegas—got there. The incoherent plot (which I honestly can’t describe in just a couple of sentences) sees our gold-loving leprechaun getting tangled up with a team of space marines, a sparkly space princess with regenerative DNA, and a Davros-esque cyborg scientist called Dr. Mittenhand.
It feels like the filmmakers just threw everything at the wall (or, rather, the camera) to see what would stick. It’s also super low-budget, and what money there was seems to have been spent on Dr. Mittenhand’s actually pretty impressive final act transformation into Mittenspider, which is a shameless rip-off of David Cronenberg’s Brundlefly. To say that this film is chaotic is an understatement, but if you just surrender yourself to the poorly-made mayhem, it’s great fun. And you can always count on the leprechaun to utter his signature cringe-inducing rhymes, no matter the time or place!
The question of whether James Wan’s Malignant is good or bad sharply divided audiences upon its release, but really there’s a very simple solution: it’s both! I initially wasn’t even going to watch Malignant, as I’m not really a fan of Wan’s brand of jump-scare horror that’s on offer in The Conjuring and Insidious movies. But the mixed reviews intrigued me, and I’m so glad I gave it a chance.
We follow a woman called Madison (Annabelle Wallis) who begins to have visions of grisly murders, and soon realizes that this bloodshed is happening in real life. Admittedly, for the first half or so of the movie, I wasn’t sold, but I urge anyone wanting to turn it off at this point to persevere because once the twist happens, things takes a sharp turn into unhinged silliness.
It’s revealed that the killer is actually Madison’s parasitic twin, Gabriel, who is fused to the back of her head. Every so often he takes control of their shared body, dons a leather coat that looks like a leftover costume from The Matrix, and carries out the murders that Madison has been seeing. He operates their body backwards and for some inexplicable reason knows how to do parkour (…seriously, where and when did he learn these skills?!) which leads to some hilariously goofy action scenes. I flip back and forth on whether I think Malignant was shooting for serious and failed, or whether it’s self-consciously ridiculous. Regardless, it isn’t good, but it sure isn’t bad either.
Critters 2: The Main Course (1988)
The Critters franchise is usually written off as a Gremlins knock-off, but screenwriter Dominic Muir actually wrote the script two years before Gizmo stole everyone’s hearts in 1984. Plus, Critters does have its own unique sci-fi flavor. The small town of Grover’s Bend is invaded by Krites, small, furry aliens which are ravenously hungry. Hot on their tail are two shape-shifting bounty hunters who have been tasked with eliminating the pests.
I do like the original 1986 Critters film, but I think the second installment is the franchises’ crowning jewel. It’s the directorial debut of Mick Garris—who went on to direct Sleepwalkers, which I’ve already touted above—and follows the same basic plot as the first film, but on a bigger scale. And while Critters 2 is technically set at Easter, to me that’s just an excuse to watch it at both Halloween and Easter.
The biggest selling point of the movie is the Krites themselves, which are fantastic puppets created by the Chiodo Brothers. They’re just as mischievous and full of personality as in the first film, but Critters 2 has even more fun with them. Take for instance, the Krite that is inflated after biting a tire, or the one that falls into a deep fryer. This all takes place within the restrictions of a B-movie, but the bounty hunters also provide some hilariously cheesy goodness, and because of their shape-shifting, they’re also surprisingly progressive in terms of gender identity. One of them has chosen a Bon Jovi-style rock star as their form, but the other flits between faces and spends a good chunk of the movie as a Playboy pin-up.
House of Wax (2005)
When the House of Wax remake was first released it was absolutely savaged, in large part because it features Paris Hilton among its main cast. While I’m not saying that her acting is Oscar-worthy, it’s not that far behind the performances given by her co-stars, some of whom are still beloved by fans to this day (specifically Chad Michael Murray and Jared Padalecki). As a group, the characters are definitely irritating, but in the kind of way that makes them fun to laugh at.
The film really picks up once they get to the titular House of Wax, once they’re conveniently stranded in an eerie town in the middle of nowhere. Wax figures can be very creepy under any circumstances, having that uncanny valley quality to them, and the slightly decrepit examples in the movie take that feeling to the extreme. I won’t spoil the film’s finale because it’s a truly impressive spectacle, but just know that it’s very waxy and almost all of it was done with practical effects. At this point it even manages to cross over from a so-bad-it’s-good movie to just a plain good one. Also, My Chemical Romance’s “Helena” being used as the end credits song still makes my once-emo heart very happy.
So that’s my list of horror movies that are campy, cheesy, and (some may say) crappy. I’m always on the hunt for good/bad films, so please leave your own favorites in the comments below, and happy Halloween!
Lorna Wallace has a PhD in English Literature and is a lover of all things science fiction and horror. She lives in Scotland with her rescue greyhound, Misty.