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It's a great time to be a fan of the horror genre. This year alone has seen some fantastic and creepy films debut, but few have become quite as polarizing as Ari Aster's Hereditary. Despite strong word of mouth and our own rave review of the film, Hereditary has gone on to receive a D+ CinemaScore now that it has screened for the public.
That's not great for Hereditary, which is currently sitting with a far more impressive 91% Rotten Tomatoes score, but it has happened in the horror genre before. On that note, we have compiled a list of other horror films that similarly hit with critics when they debuted, but failed to generate the same level of enthusiasm among audiences. With so many different points to get to, let's get started with one of the most recent releases.
It Comes At Night
Of all the films that debuted on the big screen in 2017, few received responses quite as polarizing as It Comes at Night. Early buzz around the movie was incredibly intense, bolstered by some seriously insane trailers that promised one of the scariest movies in recent memory. However, the film landed with a thud when it debuted to mainstream audiences, garnering a 44% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes compared to its stellar 88% critic score. It's hard to pin down what went wrong, but smart money would be to place partial blame on It Comes at Night's marketing campaign, which promised something more in the vein of the zombie genre than the dark and methodically-paced film that it actually was.
Oh, Mother! Much like It Comes at Night, Darren Aronofsky's Jennifer Lawrence-fronted, heady pseudo-horror film debuted to an incredibly mixed reaction when it premiered last year, with some hailing it as a masterclass piece of filmmaking, and others classifying it as an overly ambitious and self-indulgent piece of cinema. Critically-speaking, Mother! faired well for itself, earning a commendable 69% in the face of its intense subject matter and wild turns. That said, the film died when it went to mainstream audiences, ultimately finding itself slapped with an F CinemaScore when it hit the silver screen for its wide release. The film is obviously not for everyone, and its reception very much shows that in clear detail.
Compared to other entries on this list, The Witch arguably has the most in common with Hereditary. Both are A24 films that debuted on the heels of strong word of mouth, both deal in themes of families disintegrating in the face of a threat posed by the occult, and both failed to make similar impressions on audiences when they opened wide. The Witch was hailed as a revelation when it debuted back in 2016 (serving as the springboard for Anya Taylor-Joy's career), but its incredibly impressive 91% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes was not reciprocated by the audience score, which as of now only stands at 57%. Of course, there's one thing that we can all agree on: Black Phillip is creepy as hell.
This particular entry is where things get a bit more obscure than on the rest of the list. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Lake Mungo, it is an Australian horror film that debuted back in 2008, almost directly coinciding with the boom of the found footage format made popular by films like Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield. However, the movie is far more of a slow-burn form of terror than some fans are used to (complete with a number of misdirects that can admittedly get frustrating at times), and the movie ultimately never made a massive impact on widespread audiences. In fact, while the film holds an incredibly impressive 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, its audience score dips to a much lower 62%.
When the man behind The Exorcist gets involved in a film, you know horror fans will raise their expectations to a sky-high level. William Friedkin's Bug has become widely regarded as a masterclass in acting ever since its 2006 debut (with Michael Shannon and Ashley Judd both delivering impeccable performances in the confines of a motel room), but this movie worked better on critics than it did on audiences. Though still one of the lower-ranked entries on this list in terms of its critical reaction, Bug did manage to attain Fresh status with a 61% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. However, its audience score isn't nearly as strong, with mainstream viewers cutting it down to a measly 34%.
Scream 2 is not looked back on quite as fondly as the late Wes Craven's original subversive slasher flick. Having said that, the insanely meta-horror romp received a surprisingly positive reception from critics when it debuted back in 1997, attaining "Certified Fresh" status with an 81% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That said, the audience score isn't nearly as impressive, with Scream 2 only earning a 56% rating from mainstream viewers. Audiences critiques vary from viewer to viewer, with some accusing Scream 2 of being a rehash of the original and others leveling criticisms that it's just not as smart as the movie that preceded it. Either way, it stands as yet another example of a horror film that critics and audiences just couldn't agree on.