Monday, October 29, 2012
Our Least Favorite Horror Movies
Erich: Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 - There are plenty of terrible scary movies, so instead of trying to find the worst overall, I'll go with the worst I've seen this month. The original Blair Witch Project was a cultural phenomenon that introduced found footage horror to mainstream audiences. I've never loved the movie, but I can't deny its importance in scary movie history. The only nice thing I can say about its 2000 follow-up is that it didn't try to replicate the original.
Instead of being a strict found footage movie, or a standalone story, Blair Witch 2 split the difference and ends up being the worst of both worlds. Book of Shadows (a movie with no such book in it) says it's the true story of bizarre events that occurred in the real Burkittsville, Maryland a year after the release of the original Blair Witch Project. The film is supposedly a dramatization, which would be fine if there was no found footage of these events. Except there IS footage. Lots of it.
In Blair Witch 2, the characters take footage of something creepy that happens to them overnight while on a Blair Witch tour. They lose the footage, find the footage, watch that footage — then more creepy stuff happens, so they take more footage. Then people start dying and talking backwards, there are lame twists, and in the end all the footage they take ends up in the hands of the local cops. All of which begs the question: if this really happened, and that "real" footage exists, why isn't this movie made up of THAT footage instead of this half-assed (and half-acted) dramatization? I have no idea, and neither does the movie, which is so confused by its own rules that we actually see characters watching footage of the videotape they are watching being hidden under the rock where they found it earlier. So dumb. The scariest thing about Blair Witch 2 is knowing that if the world HAD ended at the turn of the century, this might have been one of the last horror movies ever made.
Mike: Saw VII - I don't think I can pick a least favorite horror movie. There are so many bad ones, boring ones, ugly ones, that to pick my least favorite would be impossible. However, when I start to compile a list of horror movies that I find awful, one sticks out to me as the most disappointing, and that's Saw VII.
It's well documented on this website that I'm a fan of the Saw franchise. They're not great movies, but as a whole I found them fascinating and well worth my time. Saw VI represents the high water mark for the series. It gave us some social commentary mixed in with good old fashioned horror. Unlike some of the other Saw movies, people's choices actually made a difference whether people lived or died, and it established genuine tension. It showed us what the series is capable of and how far it had come, and, as a result, I was more than excited to see how they would put a bow on the franchise with the release of the next -- and final -- Saw film. Fuck, did it disappoint.
Instead of building off of the momentum the series had built, Saw VII was exactly what anti-Saw people said the series was all along: ugly, mean-spirited, and lacks any sort of creativity. It felt like it was made by someone that thought they knew what the Saw movies were like, but who had not actually watched any of the series. Funny thing is, Saw VII was written by Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan -- the two guys that wrote Saw IV, V and VI. It was also directed by Kevin Greutert, director of the great Saw VI. Sigh.
One of the things that I really responded to with the Saw movies was Jigsaw himself, played by Tobin Bell. There was a real effort on the part of the writers and Bell himself to give Jigsaw (aka John Kramer) some dimension. Of all the modern horror icons, from Freddy to Jason to Michael Myers, Jigsaw is by far the most interesting. It also helps that Tobin Bell gives very good performances, and never phones it in -- even when the film wasn't great (like Saw II), I could always count on Bell giving me a moment or two that elevates the film from trashy horror to something more, something real, something interesting. So...what does Saw VII do with the one consistently good thing about their movies? THEY GIVE HIM ONE FUCKING SCENE. That's it. And guess what? IT WAS THE BEST FUCKING SCENE IN THE ENTIRE SHITTY MOVIE.
Never before has a movie made me feel so duped. I made up my mind after seeing Saw and Saw II that I didn't like those movies. Then they won me back, giving me something interesting to grab onto with Saw III - VI. I was on a high. I told all of my friends that had bailed on the series to give it another chance. I told them to trust me. I told them that there's actually a lot going on in those movies, that part VI is the best, and it'll surely wrap up on a high note and history will recognize it as a fine run of horror films. Then I saw Saw VII.
How's that for torture porn?
Mark Ahn: Human Centipede: First Sequence - The director claims the original inspiration came from a joke about punishing a child molester by attaching his mouth to the anus of a fat truck driver. And thus are punchlines born. Seriously, for about an entire season of my life, “Human Centipede” was the closer for every sentence that I said.
HYPOTHETICAL COWORKER: “Got any weekend plans?”
ME: “Gonna watch a movie, maybe hang out with some friends, then watch the game with the Human Centipede.”
HYPOTHETICAL EMPLOYEE AT A STORE: “Can I help you?”
ME: “Yes, where can I get some heavy duty underwear and some mouthguards? I’m trying to make a Human Centipede.”
FANTASY FOOTBALL TEAM NAME: You get the idea.
Back to the film: Fascism? Yes. Creepy Nazi-ish bad guy? Check. Scatological psychological trauma? Oh crap. It’s actually not a terrible premise for a horror movie, but there wasn’t enough additional substance to the original idea to flesh it out, and it sort of ends abruptly. Wasn’t really sure why there needed to be a sequel, or even a three-quel, but whatever. What I’m saying is, if you want to watch something based on a silly idea but still a little crazy, then watch House (Hausu).
Patrick: Back during our first ever Scary Movie Month, JB and I did a podcast on some of the worst horror movies ever made. We named 10. There are hundreds. That makes it hard to pick a least favorite, so instead I'll talk about a subgenre that I still just don't get: Italian horror.
I recognize that I've only skimmed the surface of Italian horror, and there are horror fans who love it above all other kinds of horror movies. So I'm not putting it or its champions down, nor do I mean to suggest that all Italian horror is bad. But I've yet to see an Argento or a Fulci or a Bava (Mario or Lamberto) or an Umberto Lenzi that I can connect with in any way. I'm hoping I find that movie or that director that works for me, because it feels like I'm missing out on a subset of a genre that I love. Filmmakers I love and admire -- guys like Edgar Wright, Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth -- swear by it. And over and over, it just leaves me cold.
Just this weekend, I finally saw the movie that basically started the whole movement -- Mario Bava's Black Sunday -- for the first time. At least with that movie, I kind of get it. I didn't love it on a narrative level, but I can't deny that it was ahead of its time in a lot of ways (for 1960, the violence on display in that movie is crazy) and that it looks beautiful. A lot of Italian horror receives that same accolade -- Argento's movies in particular -- but that never quite matches up with I'm seeing. Part of the problem is that the images rarely mean anything, because they don't add up (this is particularly true of Fulci and Argento). Defenders of Italian horror will argue that it's because they employ "dream logic." That's probably true. To me, it just feels like sloppy narrative.
And then, of course, there is the gore. This is the big draw of a lot of Italian horror (this is less true of the giallo movies, which I find easier to wrap my head around, but graphic stabbings and throat slashings are still the order of the day even in those), but it's never been why I watch horror movies. I like a good zombie beheading as much as the next guy, but seeing a woman throw up all her internal organs IN REAL TIME is just putting a hat on a hat. There is a mean-spiritedness to the violence in so much of the Italian horror that I've seen that it makes it hard to even appreciate the work that went into the special effects, much less enjoy the moment in which a teenage boy has his head drilled, again IN REAL TIME.
I'm not ready to give up on Italian horror yet, but it's not making it easy on me. Hopefully I find that gateway movie that turns me around someday. And hopefully that movie doesn't feature a woman barfing up her insides. I'll save that for my romantic comedies.
Doug: While it's easy to point to a genuinely terrible horror film as being your least favorite (think 2005's House of Wax with Paris Hilton, Plan 9 from Outer Space [only not at all, because that movie is charming and kind of great, especially if you watch it and Ed Wood together] or Troll 2), that's a cop out, and we (some of us?) here at F This Movie! have no interest in the easy answer.
But horror being horror, there are SO many bad options to pick from. Why, just a few days ago, I saw several scary movies FIRST HAND that could easily make my (and the other Massacre attendees) least-favorite list. But, everyone picking Phantasm II would be boring, no? So I'll just go ahead and say M. Night Shyamalan's "thriller" from 2008, The Happening.
Guys, The Happening is SO bad. And it's trying SO hard not to be!
Remember when Shyamalan was, like, the BEST director in the world? Really, think about it -- after The Sixth Sense came out, every American pretty much got down on his or her knees and knobbed that guy so hard. And we felt GOOD about it, too!
In 2000, I entered a Good Morning America-sponsored "I See Scary Movies" narrative short film contest. The judges consisted of the morning crew's cast, critic Joel Siegel (RIP) and M. Night Shyamalan. HE was the EXPERT! And why? Because a year earlier he had a sleeper hit with The Sixth Sense. Guy was crowned king of suspense before he even had a chance to repeat (prove?) his success. Obviously, my EXCELLENT film was not the winner, and it's no wonder -- with Shyamalan and Siegel against you, who could be for you?
M. Night Shyamalan didn't help his case much after his initial triumph (yes, I'm aware he directed movies before The Sixth Sense, but I'm not counting those). While Unbreakable is not bad, it's a step down, and his next effort, Signs is SERIOUSLY flawed (but still not the worst). Then it's The Fking Village! I mean, we're already there -- he's already out of ideas! Because YEEESH The Village.
The Happening stars Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel -- two people I actually like -- running from their lives from a mysterious airborne illness that causes people to, apparently, take three steps backwards and kill themselves. SO SCARY YOU GUYS. To save you some time, here are all the death scenes:
I won't reveal the whole plot because, honestly, part of me wants you to see it! Unlike Dream House, which I happily ruined with éclat (because NO ONE needs to sit through that), I don't want to spoil The Happening (let's just saying it has um-thing-say to oo-day with ants-play). You need to experience it for yourself! Or not. You'd be fine NEVER watching this movie, because, at this point, I'm sure you've already heard that it's awful. The only thing it MIGHT have going for it is that there is no twist ending (Shyamalan's trademark) -- it's a straight [bad] horror story.
OK, so The Happening is actually a "genuinely terrible" movie (negating my first point, above), but it's also an interesting failure. Not really "ambitious," but definitely an abortion. It had a big budget ($60 million!), a big-name director and an A-list cast -- everyone involved thought they were making something of value. They weren't. And that's why it's interesting. Later, director Shyamalan would claim his intention was always to make a modern-day B movie, only it doesn't even succeed on that level. There's no suspense, the characters are either annoying or empty, and it's poorly made. It might be plausible as a short installment as part of a larger anthology, but, at 91 SERIOUS minutes, it's an insufferable bore. While so many scenes and lines of dialogue are funny, that's not the movie's intention!
Forget it, M. Night. It's Neurotoxintown.