Some badly reviewed classic horror movies including The Shinging, SAW, and The Thing.

Why Do Horror Movies Often Get Worse Reviews?

Anyone who spends a bit of time on Rotten Tomatoes knows that films can have a massive split between what the critics think and what the average audience member thinks. Perhaps no genre illustrates that divide more than horror.

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While horror is a very popular genre and has been going through a massive boom in the past few years, there is still a trend where horror movies are reviewed more harshly than the average film. Why is that so often the case?

Fans vs critics

the shining movie still
(Warner Bros.)

Fans of the horror genre tend to judge films differently from critics. It’s part of the reason that fans prefer to get reviews of horror films from sites like Bloody Disgusting rather than Rotten Tomatoes or other mainstream review sites.

This doesn’t just apply to pre-existing horror fandoms like Five Nights at Freddy’s either, but to the genre as a whole. The Shining was nominated for multiple Razzies, including Worst Director and Worst Leading Actress. The film is now considered one of Kubrick’s most influential films and one of the scariest films of all time, and Shelley Duvall’s performance has been reassessed now that many audiences have a better understanding of abusive dynamics.

This argument is a difficult balancing act; if a reviewer doesn’t understand the audience that the film is geared towards, are they the best person to be reviewing it? At the same time, movies should have broader appeal than to just their target audience, as all films should speak to broader experiences or themes.

“Elevated Horror”

A collage featuring some of the best modern horror movies (clockwise from top left): 'Get Out,' 'The Witch,' 'Hereditary,' '28 Days Later,' and 'A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night'
(Universal, A24, Fox Searchlight, Vice Films)

While elevated horror has given the genre some prestige, it has also led to this trend where people hold up modern horror films as being the pinnacle of the genre or use them to separate these types of horror films from the rest of the genre.

SAW X is far from elevated horror, but it is the film that takes the most time with its characters, literally, since it’s the longest SAW film at 2 hours. And apparently, that time spent paid off as SAW X is the first SAW film to be rated Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. SAW X is great, but to say it’s the only SAW film worthy of a Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes is wild. Even if you aren’t a fan of the franchise, the first SAW film kicked off the wave of gore and torture-heavy horror of the mid-2000s, and its influence is still felt today in tributes and parodies.

Personal Preference

A collage featuring some of the scariest horror movies of all time (clockwise from top left): 'Hereditary,' 'The Thing,' 'Kairo,' 'Alien,' and 'Audition'
(A24, Universal Pictures, Toho, 20th Century Fox, Omega Project)

Horror can also be a very personal experience, arguably more so than romance or comedy. What is terrifying to one person might be boring to another. As a result, it truly can be difficult to review horror as not everyone finds the same things scary.

Some people enjoy jumpscares, while others prefer slow-burn horror. There’s no one correct answer for how to make a good horror movie, just like how there’s no one correct answer about how to make a good action or romance film.

So how do we judge good horror? While this isn’t a surefire method, I find one thing that is most interesting about the genre is the staying power and/or re-emergence of truly good horror films.

Hundreds of horror films are made every year, which leads to some audiences being overwhelmed by options. Some horror movies may seem like solid films but are quickly forgotten, while other films have dedicated fans or enjoy greater popularity after some time has passed and people have a chance to revisit them. John Carpenter’s The Thing was initially a flop but is now considered by many to be even scarier than Halloween. Compare this to the many cash-grab horror remakes of the late 2000s/early 2010s, which included a prequel to The Thing that was ruined by bad CGI.

In short, definitely don’t ignore the words of critics. However, maybe take their word with a grain of salt.

(featured image: Warner Bros Pictures / Lionsgate Films / Universal Pictures)


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Author
Kimberly Terasaki
Kimberly Terasaki is a contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She has been writing articles for them since 2018, going on 5 years of working with this amazing team. Her interests include Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Horror, intersectional feminism, and fanfiction; some are interests she has held for decades, while others are more recent hobbies. She liked Ahsoka Tano before it was cool, will fight you about Rey being a “Mary Sue,” and is a Kamala Khan stan.