Honestly, it can be very hard to beat a great horror movie. If you’re a fan of the genre, it’s all you can hope for and when it delivers, there’s no experience quite like it. However, with that in mind, there’s also nothing quite like an absolutely terrible horror movie.–the kind of film that is unintentionally hilarious, creepy for the wrong reasons, or just wildly exploitative. However, there’s a third option that we’re focusing on today and that’s those that sit into the „it’s so bad, it’s good” bucket of scary movies.
Obviously, what’s considered bad or good is subjective. One person’s Critters might be another person’s Gremlins and so on. Sometimes it’s easy to see why a horror film might not be universally liked even when we think it should be–that campy zombie flick entertains despite being badly edited with poor special effects and stilted dialogue. Other times, not so much. That said, one could always make an argument for any given film’s merits. Which is exactly what we’ve done, several times over, for our best of the bad horror list below.
10. Return of the Killer Tomatoes (1988)
The Killer Tomatoes franchise has always been eccentric at best and downright terrible at its worst. This varying degree of quality didn’t mar its popularity though, considering it spawned several films, a cartoon series, and even a few video games. None of the properties were more kooky than Return of the Killer Tomatoes.
As a sequel to the silly Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, Return was as nonsensical as ever. The plot centered on Professor Mortimer Gangreen’s desire to take over the world using tomatoes. Only this time, instead of creating a giant vegetable/fruit army, he’s created a way to transform ordinary tomatoes into people. This is done by placing the food inside a special machine and then adding in music, the result of which changes based on the tunes; rock music is used to create beefy, muscle bound soldiers.
Return’s premise is silly, yet fun. It’s the overabundance of jokes and bad special effects that really makes the film terribly good. The cast frequently break the fourth wall using ad placements. The visuals are all over the place, with tomatoes going from ok-ish to knockoff Jim Henson. It’s impossible to take it seriously but easy to laugh at. Which is probably what the director John De Bello wanted; everyone involved with the film knows what they’re doing/seem to be having fun. That includes a young George Clooney.
9. Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)
Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a comedic horror film in every sense of the phrase. It has creepy clowns, imaginative kills, and a decent amount of silly gags. What’s not to love?
That’s not to say that the film wasn’t goofy. The premise, in which a group of space clowns descend on a town in hopes of capturing and eating humans, alone raises an eyebrow. It still proves to be a good watch though. For one, the clowns look scary; their playfulness is juxtaposed to a decidedly creepy prosthetic and make-up combo. The jokes are comical at times. The kills and associated special effects are great–one of our favorite scenes is of a clown shrinking a group of people using a shadow puppet dinosaur. Wild right? And that’s before learning that captured humans are placed into cotton candy cocoons to be liquified, their essence eventually sucked out using giant bendy straws. Good times!
8. Maximum Overdrive (1986)
Maximum Overdrive is the only film that Stephen King directed. It wasn’t very good. And by that, I mean it was so bad that it’s actually good. That is if you enjoy seeing a truck sporting the Green Goblin’s face mow down people as much as we do.
Like most of the films on this list, Overdrive’s premise is a little out there. A comet flying by the Earth gives sentience to inanimate objects. Hair dryers, blenders, a fleet of trucks all rise up to take down their human oppressors in comical ways. This eventually leads to a stand-off where the film’s protagonists are held up in a gas station. A truce is called to allow them to pump gas into the murderous trucks and then…look, there’s rockets, death by a soda machine, and a young Emilio Estevez. What more do you need to know?
7. Shocker (1989)
Shocker is what Freddy would be if he wasn’t a great villain. You know, as seen in the earlier Nightmare on Elm street films. That being a serial killer that dies, only to return to stalk those that did him in. Wes Craven apparently enjoyed creating supernatural slashers.
There’s a dream element in Shocker. The film’s hero, Jonathan Parker, is able to use his dreams to pinpoint where the killer will be/has been. Shock doesn’t stalk his victims that way though. Thanks to „dying” in the electric chair (and a deal with the devil), he’s able to turn into pure electricity. He can jump from machines to people and back again.
Shocker is unintentionally funny, with iffy special effects and a killer that desperately wants to be Freddy. That doesn’t mean the film isn’t entertaining of course. It’s able to provide a jump scare or two and the cast does a decent job playing everything straight. The film is basically a bad, yet entertaining late night popcorn experience with friends.
6. Class of Nuke 'Em High (1989)
It would be an understatement to say that Class of Nuke 'Em High is an acquired taste. Actually, that applies to most of Troma Entertainment’s catalog. Over-the-top, gory, and sometimes downright disgusting–Nuke 'Em High is a cult classic for all the right reasons.
An accident at a nuclear power plant causes students from a nearby high school to turn into deprived versions of themselves. Called the Cretins, this gang of former honor students smoke weed exposed to radioactive elements. This causes all sorts of wild and sometimes deadly happenings. That’s before a radioactive monster is released upon the school.
Class of Nuke’ 'Em High is like a juvenile spoof on Reefer Madness, the 1936 propaganda film about drugs. It doesn’t have much to say on the subject though. Just sex, drugs, and the violent removal of limbs. The film is humorous at times. But most of the fun comes from the campy acting and wild onscreen shenanigans.
5. Jason X (2001)
Jason X isn’t a good horror movie. It’s not even a good Friday the 13th film. And yet, it’s one of the best late night experiences you can have as a horror fan. Why? Because it’s 100% nonsensical.
Since no one was able to kill Jason Voorhees, the US government decided to freeze him. That doesn’t go as planned as a group of scientists seeking to learn more about Jason’s regenerative abilities, accidentally release him before he could be placed in a cryogenic chamber. One of them was able to lure him into the chamber but is frozen alongside the famous killer. Fast forward 400 something years and Jason is now in space.
Look, the what, why, and how don’t really matter. This is basically Jason Takes Manhattan but sillier. What fans get are some great slasher moments, a cool futuristic version of Jason and one of the best kills found in a horror film. Namely, the sleeping bag slamming into a tree scene. While it isn’t a real death considering who the victim was, it still proves to be a hilarious watercooler moment.
4. Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge (1991)
The Puppet Master series has always been on the lower end of the horror scale. Loved by fans of course, but never really producing a noteworthy film; they were the direct to VHS movies you rented for cheap scares and cool looking stop motion effects.
Puppet Master III was one of the better films. As a prequel, it explains where the puppets came from (including the infamous Leech Woman), turning them from villainous killers to anti-heroes. Or rather, at least showcase how they’ve always been such, just with a clearer picture; instead of murdering innocent people, they stalk and kill a group of Nazis.
Puppet Master III looks more like a play or soap opera than a film. It has some pacing issues. And some of the deaths are implausible. All of this adds to its overall low-budget charm though. Where else can you see a puppet named Six Shooter fire real bullets, leaving large impractical wounds in a Nazi from his tiny guns? There’s also plenty of lore for long time fans to soak up before checking out the other 13 Puppet Master films.
3. Deadly Friend (1986)
Another Wes Craven „classic,” Deadly Friend is darker than one might expect. It isn’t comical (not purposefully) and there isn’t much in terms of levity. It also proves to be really violent despite being trimmed to forgo an X rating. With a truly out-there ending, one would be excused for thinking that Deadly Friend wasn’t very good. The thing is, a lot of these aspects make the film extremely watchable.
The premise is weird but intriguing. Teen prodigy, Paul Conway, looks to save both his brain dead neighbor Samantha and robot pal by implanting the AI’s microchip into Samantha’s brain. This of course turns her into a cold hearted killing machine with superhuman strength. What follows is a bit of teen drama and a ton of violent deaths; the exploding head by way of flying basketball has to be a fan favorite.
Tonally, Deadly Friend is all over the place, the pacing is off, and it’s cheesy. That said, it can be scary. Though the ending is wild, conceptually, the final scenes are nightmare inducing. We’d recommend checking this film out with subdued expectations. You might enjoy it.
2. Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
Freddy vs. Jason is amazing when it isn’t taken seriously. Featuring two horror icons in a story that mostly works, the film is only held back by cheesy acting, jerky characters (who are thankfully killed off), and some bad pun-based humor. Which is funny considering how comical this film can be, intentional or otherwise.
Seeing Freddy and Jason go at it is entertaining enough. That said, there are plenty of classic slasher moments as well; seeing Jason fold up a guy in a bed or Freddy stalk someone in a dream sequence is the sort of thing that fans of either franchise should enjoy. There’s also this carefree vibe that reflects the purpose of the film–which we’d assume is „have fun with these two legends.” That’s something made more apparent by the canceled sequel that would’ve featured Evil Dead’s Ash.
1. Critters 2: The Main Course (1988)
Critters is such a cheesy, yet fun franchise. It’s hard not to love these flesh eating, gremlin-like aliens. Their associated films are another story. Unless of course we’re talking about Critters 2: The Main Course.
Critters 2 has it all. Alien bounty hunters (who look like back up singers for a hair metal band), cheesy dialogue, a campy plot, and a ton of animatronic mischief. It’s the entirety of the ’80s rolled up into a goofy film. Just like the Critters–who would normally just roll into their prey before eating them alive–when they joined with one another to create a giant ball of death. Essentially, the combined might of the film’s varying elements formed an unforgettable experience.
Critters 2, like the other films on this list, are so bad that they’re good. Easy entertaining when held in the right light. We’d recommend ordering some pizza, grabbing a few soft drinks, and watching a few with friends and family on a random Friday night.