This one is almost too easy. For as many horror movies succeed and transcend the negative stereotypes of the genre, there are 10 more that don’t manage. Sure, some can be campy fun, but some are just flat-out bad. Here are two examples: one new school and one old:
My Bloody Valentine 3-D (2009, dir. Patrick Lussier) – Here’s my new school example: horror remake My Bloody Valentine. Now, I haven’t seen the 1981 original, but I’m assuming it wasn’t this god-awful. The new bad horror movie is all about rehashing the past. It seems to be rare that we get a scary offering that hasn’t already been done before, and typically sometime in the 1980s. This is no different, except for the fact that it used a now tired gimmick to lure in helpless audience members into what was a truly terrible horror movie. The plot was infuriatingly thin, the acting was atrocious and the 3-D effects were relegated to predictable gags such as eyeballs and nudity flying out at you. I remember it being not so much frightening as annoying. For all the trouble to obtain the rights to the original and to film in 3-D and to get all those graphic nudity contracts signed, you’d think they could’ve put together something a little less disgustingly stinky.
Hellraiser (1987, dir. Clive Barker) – I know it’s an ’80s classic to some, and Clive Barker and his band of ferocious fans will probably have my head for this, but all I could think about while watching Hellraiser was how it made absolutely no sense to me. I get that Barker was trying to craft this alternative horrific universe where a group of supernatural beings lure in unwitting participants into being tortured for all eternity or some-such, but there were no scares present for me. I was left to wonder how a casting agent managed to yet again avoid finding anyone with a smidgen of talent to play in the movie and how the plot was so vague and confusing that it was impossible to be on the edge of one’s seat. I’m sure it’s probably some elaborate work of genius that I just flat-out don’t understand, but I’m not about to give it a second look anytime soon. Maybe I could give its inexplicable NINE sequels a visit? Strangely enough, rumor has it My Bloody Valentine director Patrick Lussier is attached to direct the upcoming remake.
Oh, what a genre. Horror is a tricky one, to be sure. It can so easily be hit or miss, and much of it ends up hanging on what new and exciting twists the director and writer can pull off that hasn’t been done before. They certainly get a much worse rep than they should, I think, because some of them can truly achieve varying degrees of brilliance.
Psycho (1960, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) – Was there really any question here? There is one quintessential horror film, and it’s Psycho. Now, just to clarify, I’m a huge fan of both Jurassic Park and Rear Window, but for the record, I consider them an adventure and a thriller, respectively. The true horror champ is the story of Norman Bates and his deadly obsessive nature. And poor Janet Leigh and her unsuspecting (if deeply flawed) anti-heroine is there for the killing. What sets this flick apart from the bevy of other copycats is its incredible showmanship (That cinematography! Those daring costume choices! That legendary score!), the gut-wrenching performances from Anthony Perkins and Leigh, and the fact that despite its age, it still packs quite a terrifying wallop. From the explosive shower scene, to the impeccable tete a tete that Leigh and Perkins find themselves exchanging, Psycho is both incredibly eerie and a beautiful showcase of what movie magic truly is.
Mull over this dilemma: have you ever watched a movie and felt underwhelmed, cementing that sentiment in your psyche for many years, only to find on second viewing years later that it wasn’t nearly as dismal as you had once thought?
Moonstruck (1987, dir. Norman Jewison) – One of the only dangers of becoming a young movie obsessive is treating a grade-schooler to awards-bait movies at a far too young age. I mean, I didn’t understand the hoopla over Streetcar Named Desire for many years; then again, I first watched it at about age 8, so rest assured my opinion on the enduring classic has done a 180. Here is a recent example, though. As a youngster obsessed with all things Oscar, I watched Moonstruck once in my quest to become more well-versed in the movies. At the time, I thought it was a below-average flick with nothing particularly memorable in the performances or the plot. And then going into my current Oscar project, it was on my list for the 1987 lineup. A part of me wanted to maintain my earlier sentiment and continue it through the pitstop in the 1980s. But on a hunch I took another look at it and found it charming, funny, and brilliantly performed, particularly by the film’s Oscar-winning star. Has your youth or your mood ever soured a movie for you, only to find out later you were horribly wrong about it?
Moving on to sadder topics – those sequels that were so atrocious they marred the fun and often greatness of the original films. Now, I know there are a host of trash heaps that fit this category, but I’ll list one that I find particularly horrendous.
Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, & Blonde (2003, dir. Charles Herman-Wurmfeld) – After the first Legally Blonde outing introduced us to Reese Witherspoon in her first true star vehicle and beat the odds, crafting a funny dumb-blonde movie without the dumb blonde and filled with entertaining side characters, this one fell incredibly flat. It took everything that made the first movie fun and exploded it by 100 – resulting in a garishly plotted, senselessly written mess. Not even bit parts from Regina King, Sally Field, and Dana Ivey could save this sinking ship. Witherspoon does her best to elevate the material, but the laughable premise (Elle Woods going to Washington for animal rights, namely her apparently gay chihuahua) left me puzzled. This idea should’ve definitely been left on the cutting room floor. After being convinced to see it by my Legally Blonde #1-loving family, this movie was the reason my grandmother stopped going to the movies for a solid seven years. Let that ride on the consciences of the studio execs who let this one go to theaters.
In the current culture of sequelizing everything for the sake of an extra buck, it’s rare that you’d find a sentiment of a second outing actually being necessary. In fact, most of the time these incessant sequels tarnish the goodwill of the first film. But in certain cases, we were unfortunately left hanging. Here a couple…
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004, dir. Brad Silberling) – Sure, the first outing, in this case, wasn’t perfect by any means, but it certainly improves on multiple viewings. And, the truth is, Lemony Snicket is some incredible source material. The 13-part series of books is so smartly and humorously written, there’s no reason it wouldn’t serve as a wonderful series of films. Though I thought it was shortsighted to condense the first three books into one film (it was a little rushed along for someone who read the books first), it’s truly a shame that we never got to see the next three at the very least put to film. I mean, the fourth book is where all the brilliant subplots start to form! With such an able cast of adults and children alike ready to keep the momentum going, it’s a real shame they didn’t jump on the opportunity to continue the Series. Now that the young actors have aged, seven years later, it feels like a missed opportunity. The vision the producers and creators put together is stunning.
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005, dir. Nick Park and Peter Lord) – Suffering likely from what the first film I mentioned did (lackluster box office), these two movies may not have been successes on the degree of Shrek or Harry Potter, but the quality of the movie should’ve given them a second shot at financial greatness. Or perhaps American audiences just couldn’t get behind such a quirky and subtly hilarious duo as Wallace and Gromit? There horror-themed outing was a genius work of animation, and it was so witty when it absolutely didn’t need to be, considering the visual spectacle on display. Unfortunately, an Oscar win for Best Animated Feature and a multitude of critical support wasn’t enough for Aardman to continue with another W&G picture. Let’s hope they’ve got something in the works in the near future. What movies left you disappointed with studio heads for missing a chance to sequelize?
This one’s a toughie. I scoured my memory for a legal drama that I really disliked, but I can’t think of any. Sure, plenty of them come across stale and old hat, but I can’t think of any that were truly despicable. So I ask for your help: What are the worst of the worst of the legal drama genre? Any of them truly irk you?
The legal drama subgenre can typically go one of two ways – it can come off dry and been-there, done-that, or it can revive the group with a refreshing perspective on the courtroom-based big-screeners.
Dead Man Walking (1995, dir. Tim Robbins) – Now, it doesn’t spend the bulk of the movie in the courtroom, but it has a great deal to do with the legal system. Dead Man Walking is an insanely good character study for its two leads. Sean Penn has never been better than as the convicted brutal murderer title character – it’s a hugely difficult role to portray, but Penn embodies the character fully. And Sarandon is at the top of her peak as Sister Helen Prejean, the nun who’s going through a huge crisis of conscience as the vicious killer’s spiritual counsel. There’s nothing dry or has-been about Dead Man Walking. It’s performances are impeccable, the screenwriting is inspired, and Robbins’ direction is careful and thoughtful. On top of all this, unlike many legal dramas, the movie ages incredibly well.