Aside from comic book movies, no other film genre gets pegged for franchising more than horror. The move makes a ton of sense for studios, as most horror films are relatively cheap to make. A big-budget horror film might wind up with a cost that approximates the catering and makeup budget of your typical $200 million summer blockbuster. Horror is relatively critic proof. Most fans won’t give a hot damn about the heaps of withering scorn Roger Ebert lays on a slasher film. As we’ve seen with the slasher franchises of the ’80s and more recently the Saw and Paranormal Activity franchises, studios will bleed out a good idea until the only thing left to do is hold fans upside down and shake the cash out of their pockets before they stop making the movies.
So the announcement of sequels to Sinister and Insidious (yes I know the latter has been in the works for a while) was inevitable. Both were made for chump change, and brought in almost $200 million between them. Still, a huge problem with making a sequel to a horror film is it’s often conceived as a one off story, with no direction to take a new story. When Christopher Nolan wants to make a followup to Batman Begins, almost seventy five years of four colored stories to draw inspiration from. In the case of horror films you get John Carpenter downing a few six packs banging out the idea that Laurie is Michael’s sister-and Halloween II is regarded as one of the better examples of a sequel doing the first film justice.
Even some of the good sequels seem jarring and out of place when held up against the original film A Nightmare On Elm Street: Freddy’s Revenge contradicts much of the mythology that Wes Craven established (and that the franchise would return to with Dream Warriors) and feels more like an unused script that crammed Krueger into in in order to capitalize on Freddy’s unexpected success. Plus, the Reagan era was just not ready for a film as homoerotic as this one. despite its weirdness, it’s impossible to dismiss a film that featured the fantastic pool party sequence, Freddy ripping himself out of Jessie’s body and Mark Patton busting out these impressive dance moves. Meanwhile Tobe Hooper followed up on Texas Chainsaw Massacre with a dark comedy for those he felt missed the humor of the first. It’s a bizarre film that has next to nothing in common with the classic first film, but it gave the horror world Chop Top. Years later it feels like Hooper was delivering a sly commentary about the over-the-top excesses of the slasher film heyday. Joe Dante was given carte blanche to do whatever he wanted with Gremlins 2 so he created a movie he’d want to see if he were a fan, and gave the world a more murderous version of a Looney Tunes cartoon.
Inspired by the insipidness of The Last Exorcism 2 came up with a handful of films that missed the mark so badly they immediately killed off any hopes of continuing the franchise. A running theme is the persons most responsible for the success of the original film had the good sense to step away, allowing studio bean counters to try to steer their unsteady hands towards success.
The Blair Witch Project: Book Of Shadows This might be the most oft-cited example of a film putting a bullet into the head of any further films. Taking early advantage of the internet as a promotional tool and crafting a detailed back story that pitched the film as “real” years before the phrase “found footage” was ever used to describe a movie, The Blair Witch Project grossed $250 million worldwide on a budget that would barely cover a year’s tuition at a decent liberal arts college. Believing the had a license to print money, Artisan wanted to rush a sequel out right away, but co-directors Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick were wary of how successful a rush job would be considering the backlash and fatigue the first film. Audiences walked out suffering from motion sickness and wondering out loud what the fuss was about (these people are stupid. The first film is terrifying). Undeterred by common sense the studio brought in documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger to shoot a film that took a very meta response to the material and worked to create the ambiguous tone while scrapping the low budget, documentary angle for a more traditional, relatively big budget affair. Unhappy with the first cut, Artisan reshot many key scenes and recut the film to resemble something more like a standard horror film.
The result is a head scratching hot mess of a movie which proposes that yes The Blair Witch Project was a work of fiction but the Blair Witch herself is real. The theme that what you see on video can’t be trusted feels forced and heavy-handed, and no doubt suffers from the studio hatchet job. The early going is an interesting look at the phenomenon of the first film as it centers on hordes of people descending on the town, turning Burketsville into a horror themed tourist trap, complete with crap trinkets to sell on every roadside corner. It doesn’t help that the film is a dated time capsule of everything annoying about the nineties. The Doc Martin/flannel wearing characters were five years out of date when this film came out in 2000. Audiences met the film indifference (or in my case outright anger) and it sank like a stone upon release.
Despite its shortcomings I’ve developed a soft spot for the film over the years. It’s difficult to blame Berlinger for the studio butchering his vision, and to hear him discuss his original ideas, there’s the making of a solid effort. It’s nowhere near as good as the original (which is still the most scared I’ve ever been in a theater) but it still deserves a second look.
Ring 2 The first film was a rare example where a remake bests its inspiration. It catapulted Naomi Watts’ into leading lady territory and still makes for a great counter argument that PG-13 has to be gutless and watered down. The second film brought in Ringu and Ringu 2 director Hideo Nakata to replace Gore Verbinski, and he delivered an off the wall film that left logic and good storytelling out the door. I can tell you I don’t remember much about Ring 2 except that it was one of the toughest films to sit through upon its release. I’m 99% sure Watts punches a horse or other large four legged animal square in the face. Ring Two has sat on my DVR for a solid five weeks now and I can’t gather the will to hit “play” yet I don’t want to delete the film either. For reasons only he could explain Nakata goes the A Nightmare On Elm Street part two route by abandoning the cursed tape conceit and having Samara want to take Rachel’s son’s physical body for this go round. I remember thinking Watts looked like she wanted no part of the film and must have been under some sort of contractual obligation, but when a story is this convoluted and nonsensical, it’s hard to blame her for phoning a performance in.
The Grudge 2 Following in the wake of The Ring, The Grudge solidified the influence of J-Horror on American genre cinema at the turn of the century. For a time it seemed like you couldn’t find a horror movie that didn’t feature a ghostly girl with stringy, black hair out for vengeance. Coming off her iconic role as Buffy, Sarah Michelle Gellar played a very different, more vulnerable heroine here. The idea of a house so evil that the curse followed anyone who entered it home was chilling, as was the Kayako’s throaty death rattle and contorted movements. Though director Takashi Shimizu created the Ju-On films, he cleaned up some of the goofier elements for American audiences, crafting a more streamlined and terrifying film.
After raking in close to $200 million, a sequel was inevitable. Gellar was killed off early, handing the “final girl” role to Amber Tamblyn. While it’s not a terrible film (it’s a borderline entry here), a mere two years after first black-haired ghost girl fatigue had set in as a string of films rushed to theaters killed off any power of the image. Shimizu had run out of interesting visuals and set up-Gellar’s death scene in particular feels more like a black comedy that forgot to insert laughs-and the whole film just feels like a rote exercise. While it didn’t bomb at the theaters, it brought in less than half the first film’s revenue on twice the budget, relegating the little seen follow up to direct-to-DVD status.
The Last Exorcism Part 2 I think we covered this one pretty well in our review earlier in the week but it bears brief repeating: this manages to take everything that worked in the first film and replace it with as humdrum a movie as possible. It’s devoid of any creativity, interesting ideas or anything one could remotely call a real “scare”. Watching The Last Exorcism 2 is like trying to go on a diet that consists of the imaginary foods you make with your niece. There’s nothing of substance or sustenance and if you do it long enough it will kill you.
The Exorcist II: Heretic There will never be another Exorcist. Not that awards are the be-all-end-all barometer of the quality of a movie, but it’s a safe assumption that no other horror movie will garner ten Academy Award nominations (with two wins). While most directors view genre films as a proving ground before moving on to bigger things, William Friedkin made The Exorcist as his follow up to his Best Director win for The French Connection. Try wrapping your head around the idea of Ang Lee tossing his name into consideration for directing Paranormal Activity 5 for a moment. Also consider that in 1972 you have a country still mired in Vietnam, with brutal images broadcast on the six o’clock news depicting atrocities on both sides, while the assassinations three years prior of Martin Luther King Jr and Bobby Kennedy. You had a country moving past the simpler days of old, and one that was ready to tackle big questions of Faith for the first time. The Exorcist isn’t just a terrifying movie, it’s a film that was in a perfect position to terrify audiences of that specific moment in time.
Almost as if Someone from above was trying to send a warning to leave well enough alone, the film was disaster prone from the get-go. Friedkin and screenwriter William Peter Blatty wanted nothing to do with this film, nor did Ellen Burstyn. Linda Blair agreed to return because she was sixteen and didn’t know any better, but refused to don the iconic makeup. New director john Boorman contracted a viral fungal infection which shut down production for a month. The script underwent constant rewrites until it was unrecognizable from its roots. Twenty five hundred locusts were flown in for the climax, and they started dying off at a rate of a hundred a day. When the film finally hit theaters, it was met with hoots from the audience and scorn from the critics. Richard Burton drew on his personal experiences of Hell via his marriages to Elizabeth Taylor and delivered a performance worthy of the spiral ham I’ll enjoy for Easter brunch.
<iframe width=”250″ height=”141″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/G2S2g-lHJyY” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe> Perhaps the best thing about The Heretic is the music from the trailer, which sounds an awful lot like the theme from Batman.
Because the hour is late, here are some quick hits:
The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 It’s not that Wes Craven’s story about a bunch of nuclear infused hillbilly mutants is an artistic masterpiece of smash box office hit. It is a striking work, and probably his most violent, angry film after The Last House on the Left. The sequel tells chunks of the story from a dog’s point of view. I’d like to waste no more words on this one.
American Psycho 2 Not Christian Bale is killed in the opening moments by a twelve year old who grows up to be Mila Kunis. William Shatner stars as the budding serial killer’s college professor. The preceding sentence should never have been written. It would take Ms. Kunis finger blasting Natalie in the back of a cab to win her back to the public’s good graces.
Pet Sematary 2 The first film stands as one of the better adaptations of Stephen Kings body of work. Plus is gave the world Zelda, the gift keeps on making the world puke its collective mouth in terror whenever she’s on screen. The second film is so bad King wanted his name taken off it. Think about some of the films King has given his stamp off approval on (oh hai Silver Bullet), then think of just how bad this film must be for him to disown it.
At the risk of leaving some real dogs off the list, let’s cut it here. This list is nowhere near complete, and I’d love to hear what films you’d add.