Anyone who has shot two negatives - one exposed for the foreground and the other exposed for the sky - and then printed them sequentially on the same paper has used a film based form of HDR.
I have seen two types of digital HDR that I appreciated:
1) HDR used so subtly that I wouldn't have known it was used without being told; and
2) HDR used to bring together two parts of the scene that could not normally be practically shown in the same photo.
An example of the latter was a series of shots taken by an architect/photographer to illustrate both the interior and exterior of some of his glass walled designs for resort properties. The result was unworldly, but in an interesting way.