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2003: THE YEAR IN HORROR


2003 is over, meaning it’s time once again for my year-end horror movie wrap up.  As we all know, ‘03 was a banner year for horror, though not an entirely good one; indeed, it seems the makers of 2003’s horror movies were determined to prove Theodore Sturgeon’s famous dictum that “90 percent of everything is crap.” 

     Much of ‘03’s best films were victims of poor distribution, and so had to make do with extremely limited releases.  In other words it’s not MY fault if you missed them, and nor am I to blame for the fact that so many of this year’s big studio productions, like GOTHIKA and HULK, were total crap.  Not that the indies were exempt in that area, as turds like GACY and SUSPENDED ANIMATION proved. 

     Hype seemed to be a big factor in the quality of this year’s films...or, more specifically, overhype.  That describes the advance word on HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES, CABIN FEVER and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, films that proved underwhelming, to say the least.  Great flicks like BUBBA HO-TEP and MAY, on the other hand, really seemed to come out of nowhere, lacking the hype machine of a big or even small studio.  MAY’S distributor Lion’s Gate didn’t initially bother with a theatrical release for that film and only grudgingly offered one up—an extremely limited one, needless to say—in response to critics and fans desperate to see it.

     The fact that ‘03’s cumulative box-office intake was down from last year’s is an encouraging sign.  I’d like to believe this means the rest of the moviegoing public is as dissatisfied as I am with the inferior product Hollywood continues to churn out.  Unfortunately, I know better: crappy movies like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, FREDDY VS. JASON and UNDERWORLD all cleaned up at the box office, which will doubtless insure a steady flow of crap and crap 2’s and 3’s well into the foreseeable future.  

     Another observation: the R rating has returned with a vengeance after far too may years of PG-rated abstinence, and not just in the horror arena: mainstream fare like BAD BOYS 2, KILL BILL, THE LAST SAMURAI and COLD MOUNTAIN all enthusiastically pushed the violence envelope alongside HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES, CABIN FEVER and MAY.  It’d be nice if that made for better movies, but all this new explicitness seems to have provided is a dark glimpse into America’s post-9/11 psyche; this might prove interesting to future commentators, but not to those of us who paid to see ‘03’s awful movies. 

    I also wish my fellow moviegoers would make some effort to find a babysitter once in a while, because just as the chirping of cell phones has become an apparently integral component of modern-day moviegoing, so has the wail of young children.  I’d expect this in a screening of FINDING NEMO, but NOT the ultra-violent German film TATTOO.  Somehow I don’t think children would get much out of that film, although the guy who brought his noisy kids to the screening I had the misfortune to attend evidently thought otherwise.  Jerk.

    But onto my lists of the best and worst horror movies of 2003.  As always, the following includes ONLY those films that were legitimately distributed theatrically or on video/DVD in the US (bootlegs, festival screenings and films released outside the US don’t count).  I haven’t managed to catch every horror movie released in 2003, but I think you’ll agree that the following list is a fairly comprehensive one.
 

THE BEST HORROR MOVIES OF 2003:
 

1.  IN MY SKIN [DANS MA PEAU]
No, I’m not trying to be willfully obscure or perverse in choosing this profoundly disturbing French import as the best horror movie of 2003.  I’ll admit that the film’s detractors may have a point in condemning its surfeit of gruesome imagery—it might just as well be titled UNDER MY SKIN, as that was the effect it had on me.  But the fact is I haven’t been able to get this film’s gruesome images out of my head, which is one reason I rate it so highly.  It’s a deeply thought-provoking work, being the absolute last word on female objectification and self-mutilation.  The film is also defiantly original, brave and unflinching in its willingness to follow its ugly vision to its darkest extremes.  Writer/director/star Marina De Van makes a truly stunning feature debut with IN MY SKIN, proving herself a genuinely fresh and talented new voice--which these days is what the genre desperately needs more than ever.

2.  BUBBA HO-TEP
This weird and wonderful film got some serious sand kicked in its face by the major media: it took over a year to find a distributor, and when it was finally released (by Vitagraph Films, a company better known for putting out foreign films like AUDITION and THE CITY OF LOST SOULS) many major newspapers didn’t even bother to review it.  Viewers sought BUBBA HO-TEP out, however, and made it a minor indie hit--it played (in a limited capacity) in LA for nearly two months.  Based on a story by the inimitable Joe Lansdale, this film about two old fogies, one claiming to be Elvis and the other JFK (despite the fact that the latter is black!), who take on a centuries old Egyptian mummy terrorizing their rest home, is every bit as weird, outrageous and side-splittingly hilarious as you might expect.  It’s also unexpectedly touching, with a potent message about facing the inexorable passage of time with strength and dignity.  Furthermore, it proves Bruce Campbell is a bonafide good actor and that writer/director Don Coscarelli is capable of far more than lame PHANTASM sequels.

3.  IRREVERSIBLE
This vastly misunderstood film delivers old-fashioned grindhouse thrills wrapped in a contemporary art film veneer.  The result is a hard, nasty, unapologetically vile revenge drama told backwards, which allows director Gaspar Noe to begin the film with an onscreen head-bashing, continue with an excruciating nine-minute(!) rape and a scene of (then) real life couple Vincent Cassell and Monica Bellucci having actual sex, and conclude with an apparently idyllic happy ending...which of course is really the beginning.  IRREVERSIBLE is MEMENTO’S evil European counterpart, a stunningly made cinematic gut punch. 

4.  ELEPHANT
Gus Van Sant, director of DRUGSTORE COWBOY, GOOD WILL HUNTING and that abominable PSYCHO remake, delivers an impressionistic rumination on the Columbine High massacre.  It’s powerful and deeply unsettling, as it should be, with more insights into the event than many critics, at least those who wrote the film off as “empty” and “exploitive,” would care to admit.  Through a series of lengthy tracking shots through the halls, classrooms and surrounding grounds of an Oregon high school, Van Sant builds up a deeply ominous, foreboding ambiance that culminates in an apocalyptic bloodbath.  No “explanation” is offered, which has seriously annoyed the abovementioned critics and, I suspect, many viewers as well.  They can’t accept that Van Sant has illuminated the darkest of Columbine’s lessons: that the tragedy was far too vast and inexplicable to be pinned on any of the standard culprits people like to point to (violent movies/music/video games, the NRA, bullying, the separation of church and state) and that, in the end, there simply is no explanation.

5.  ALIEN: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT
It was a pleasure experiencing the original ALIEN on a big screen, in a new “director’s cut,” which it seems is the only way to exhibit classic films theatrically these days (think back to THE EXORCIST: THE VERSION YOU’VE NEVER SEEN and APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX).  Ridley Scott’s visuals remain awe-inspiring, achieved with a care and precision worthy of Stanley Kubrick, although the clichéd script doesn’t give him a whole lot to work with.  I continue to insist that James Cameron’s ALIENS is the superior film, but ALIEN still stands pretty high as an example of serious genre filmmaking by folks who really knew what they were doing.

6.  DEATH BED: THE BED THAT EATS
This wildly surreal mind bender was made back in the seventies, but released for the first time (on DVD) in November of ’03.  It may be a lost classic; as I just viewed it a few weeks ago, it’s far too early to make such a distinction.  What I can say for sure is that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this beyond-bizarre account of a carnivorous bed--the product of a wind-spirit residing in a nearby tree--presided over by the spirit of the Nineteenth Century painter Aubrey Beardsley.  A hypnotically compelling and totally original piece of work, DEATH BED is nearly the very definition of Dreamlike.

7.  MAY
Proof, contrary to what mainstream Hollywood would have us believe, that the American-made horror film is alive and well.  Like BUBBA HO-TEP, this indie had a number of distribution problems courtesy of its clueless distributor Lion’s Gate Films, who purchased and then apparently forgot about it.  I suggest you seek MAY out if you haven’t already (yes, it is available on DVD).  It’s the funny, gory, John Hughes-on-acid story of May (Angela Bettis), a disturbed young woman whose only friend is a creepy doll in a glass case.  May seems fairly harmless until her dream guy (Jeremy Sisto) rejects her, with deadly consequences.  The film loses some of its razor-sharp focus in the third act, when May snaps completely and commences killing off everyone in sight, but redeems itself in the wrenching final shot.  Writer-director Lucky McKee made an impressive debut with this unforgettably twisted little film that Angela Bettis carries with (seeming) ease and assurance, delivering one of the year’s all-around finest performances.

8.  CREMASTER 3
Yes, I know it’s considered unhip in horror circles to praise the CREMASTER series and their creator Matthew Barney, and not without some justification.  Barney, after all, is a darling of pretentious NYC art snobs, sells VHS copies of his films for a whopping $200 grand a pop(!) and always comes off as a pompous ass in interviews (I know several people who claim they wanted to view Barney’s films but changed their minds after seeing him profiled on PBS).  Okay, but the fact is the man really knows how to conjure unforgettably surreal imagery.  I’m sure any horror fan can dig the amazing sights of this non-linear epic, which include an emaciated body dug up and placed in the back seat of a vintage limo, which is then smashed into repeatedly by four cars until only a tiny piece of metal remains; rotting zombie horses pulling a cart down a racetrack; a man scaling NYC’s Chrysler building so he can romp with a satyr woman who resides in the upper levels.  Yep, it’s that kind of movie!  It’s also better made than any of the previous CREMASTER flicks (which started with part four and continued with parts one, five and two, with part three being the conclusion), though be forewarned that at a full three hours this is more Matthew Barney than most sane people could possibly take.

9.  DREAMCATCHER
It says volumes about this year’s big studio output that of all 2003’s mainstream horror movies, this is the one I liked the most!  A severely guilty pleasure, Lawrence Kasdan’s DREAMCATCHER, with its wildly mismatched collision of shopworn clichés in place of a story, seemingly aspires to do for horror what KILL BILL did for martial arts flicks.  The difference is that while Quentin Tarantino fashioned something interesting and exciting, all Kasdan emerges with is a severely misconceived mess...albeit an enjoyable one.  Check out Jason Lee trying desperately to keep a giant butt worm trapped in a toilet...or Damian Lewis talking to himself in a dopey voice...or Morgan Freeman hamming it up severely.  Based on a novel by Stephen King that was penned in the wake of his horrific 1999 car accident; he can be forgiven, in other words, for creating such a jumble (I’m sure he understandably had other things on his mind at the time).  Kasdan and co-screenwriter William Goldman, on the other hand, have no excuse.

10.  TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES
Although it lacks the artistry and ingenuity of James Cameron’s first two TERMINATOR flicks, the Jonathan Mostow directed T3 works well enough on its own terms, with a tight script and a number of thrilling action sequences.  Best of all, its ending clears up a big problem I had with T2: if the film’s protagonists manage to kill off their time traveling enemy and prevent the nuclear war that set the story in motion, how in the Hell can there even be a Terminator for them to fight?

11.  THE EYE [JIAN GUI]
Thai horror from the talented Pang Brothers (BANGKOK DANGEROUS) that’s very much in the mold of previous Asian genre excursions like RINGU and KAIRO.  I enjoyed those films and so couldn’t help but get a kick out of this one.  It has a compelling story about a blind woman getting a cornea transplant, causing her to see people who aren’t really there doing freaky things; she eventually discovers her corneas were taken from a crazy woman who committed suicide.  Extremely slick, highly atmospheric stuff, but the out-of-left-field apocalyptic climax, with its distractingly cheesy CGI effects, didn’t sit too well with me.

12.  SUICIDE CIRCLE/CLUB [JISATSU CIRCLE]
Like the above film, SUICIDE CIRCLE is a powerful Asian horror fest that loses its grip in the final third; in this case, with the arrival of a seriously goofy David Bowie wannabe who performs a campy musical number that effectively shatters the film’s carefully wrought atmosphere and sends it limping toward a poorly conceived, inconclusive finale.  That’s quite a shame, as the first hour is so damn good, particularly the jolting opening scene in which a gaggle of chattering schoolgirls join hands at the edge of a subway platform and collectively jump into the path of an oncoming train.  The film is worth seeing for that scene alone, though it’s far from perfect overall.

13.  MONSTER
The latest in the serial killer movie craze (following ED GEIN, DAHMER, TED BUNDY, GACY and SPECK), a biopic about Aileen Wuornos, a prostitute who murdered seven of her “Johns” and was executed in ’02.  Wuornos was the subject of two documentaries by Nick Broomfield, who portrayed her as a victim of circumstance—he claims the “cold-blooded” manner in which she was executed was “the most evil thing I have ever seen.”  Clearly Broomfield wasn’t around to witness the killings she committed.  MONSTER writer-director Patty Jenkins takes a similarly liberal-minded view of Wuornos’ life, her relationship with girlfriend Tyria Moore (renamed Selby Wall and played by Christina Ricci) and her murders.  Jenkins does a good job with the material, turning in a serious, classy, tough-minded film, but I don’t agree with her overall thrust.  Charlize Theron is good enough in the lead role that I was able to forget about her “uglied up” appearance after awhile, though I did get the impression she was trying a bit too hard (in contrast to, say, Jennifer Jason Leigh, who could have played this role in her sleep).

14.  28 DAYS LATER
Or: DAY OF THE TRAINSPOTTING CRAZIES.  TRAINSPOTTING director Danny Boyle rebounded nicely from the failures of A LIFE LESS ORDINARY and THE BEACH with this digitally shot zombie epic that borrows liberally from DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS and nearly the entire filmography of George Romero.  It’s unfortunate that Boyle doesn’t bring much new or interesting to the proceedings, though his direction is energetic and his visuals really succeed in giving London an eerie post-apocalyptic makeover.   

15.  PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL
The idea of mixing old-fashioned pirate movie thrills with creepy crawly stuff was a good one, resulting in fun, if overlong, popcorn fare.  Johnny Deep does his best work in years (he seems to have at last woken up from the stupor of his roles in THE NINTH GATE and FROM HELL) and Kiera Knightley makes for an extremely fetching love interest.  FYI, for an even better supernaturally endowed swashbuckler, POTC fans are strongly advised to read Tim Powers’ excellent 1988 novel ON STRANGER TIDES.

16.  FINAL DESTINATION 2
Another guilty pleasure.  I was never a fan of the original FINAL DESTINATION, about accident survivors picked off because they’ve upset Death’s plan...which seems pretty stupid when you think about it, as Death’s gonna get us all eventually no matter what.  This sequel uses the same dumb concept, but it’s directed with flair, features one of the hairiest highway smash ups I’ve ever seen and has a series of outrageous killings triggered by Rube Goldberg style chain reactions that boggle the mind.

17.  IN THE CUT
THE PIANO’S Jane Campion tries her hand at a feminist slasher movie with decidedly mixed results.  IN THE CUT is pretentious and overdone, certainly, but I found its unrelentingly sordid atmosphere quite compelling.  Plus it was an undeniable kick watching “America’s sweetheart” Meg Ryan descend into a depraved vortex of sex and sleaze.  The film in any event is a big improvement over Susanna Moore’s dreary 1995 novel, even if it adds a misconceived happy ending.

18.  THE FALL OF THE LOUSE OF USHER
God help me, I actually liked this astounding chunk of self-indulgence from Ken Russell, who, now in his upper seventies, is officially the oldest enfant terrible in the business.  He’s also probably the dirtiest old man in or out of the movies: nearly everything in this film pivots on sex, complete with a pasty-faced, miniskirt wearing nurse who’s always coming onto Ken himself, playing the mad “Dr. Calahari.”  This is essentially a shot-on-video home movie set in and around Ken’s English countryside home, with props that appear to have been filched from his garage.  There may be a plot in there somewhere, but all I noticed were a bunch of gratuitous Poe references and a rapid fire barrage of perverse, impudent yet undeniably inventive vignettes.  My favorites were the “Pit and the Pendulum” gag—a knife tied to a tire swung back and forth over a dude’s crotch—and a ludicrous romantic encounter in one of those blow-up castles you see at kid’s parties.

19.  TATTOO
I have some pretty severe reservations regarding this German serial killer thriller.  Although its story of a series of gruesome murders connected by a band of deranged tattoo collectors is interesting, the film is utterly derivative through and through, of SILENCE OF LAMBS, BASIC INSTINCT and, most of all, SE7EN, from the mismatched cop protagonists examining hideously mutilated bodies and commenting in hushed tones that they’ve “never seen anything like this” to the suspicious package that shows up near the end.  I also found the dark, rainy atmosphere hopelessly overdone, so much so that it often seems cartoony: every scene is bathed in sickly gray tones bolstered by ominous synthesizer muzak (I kept wondering why none of the characters ever thought to turn on a light once in a while).  For all that, however, it’s extremely difficult not to get drawn into this film, particularly in the latter scenes, when the mystery is finally unraveled.

20.  HOTEL
I think I’m among about eight people (worldwide) who paid to see this movie...and, of those eight, one of three who actually sat through the whole thing.  It’s a heavily experimental, largely improvised ramble by Mike Figgis (following up his equally audience unfriendly opus TIMECODE) set in and around a luxurious Venetian hotel.  A group of actors whose likes include Selma Hayek, Lucy Liu, John Malkovich, Burt Reynolds, Julian Sands and David Schwimmer are making a film of John Webster’s DUTCHESS OF MALFI, while murderous cannibals lure unsuspecting folks into the basement.  Wildly uneven and often agonizing to watch (Figgis frequently seems more interested in his distorted lenses and filters than in the story and characters), but it does contain some mind blowing lesbian erotica and the scary business is accomplished with great flair.  Made me wonder why Figgis didn’t dispense with the pretension and make a straightforward horror movie...but then again, maybe that’s not such a good idea (see my thoughts on Figgis’ COLD CREEK MANOR below).

21.  WILLARD
I still say redoing 1971’s killer rat extravaganza WILLARD is a bad idea, but writer-director Glen Morgan makes a conditional success of the job, thanks mostly to a great cast that includes FULL METAL JACKET’S indispensable R. Lee Ermy, MULHOLLAND DRIVE’S delectable Laura Elena Harring and of course the otherworldly Crispin Glover in the title role.  The rats also deserve credit, even if most of ‘em are CGI.  BTW: whatever happened to the deluxe DVD version of the original WILLARD that was supposed to be released concurrently with this film?

22.  SCARY MOVIE 3
What can I say?  I laughed!
 

Other Recommended Films from ’03 (not horror, but close): 

KILL BILL VOLUME 1
An awe-inspiring blast of unapologetically movie-mad filmmaking by Quentin Tarantino.  Like his previous films it’s comprised almost entirely of bits and pieces from other movies, forcing one to rethink his/her deeply held attitudes about cinematic plagiarism. 

CITY OF GOD (CIDADE DE DUES)
Directors Katia Lund and Fernando Meirelles do GOODFELLAS one better with this genuinely shocking, almost unbearably intense epic about under-aged gangsters in a Brazilian slum.  

CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS
An absolutely extraordinary, fly-on-the-wall documentary composed largely of video footage shot by a family whose lives were destroyed by allegations of child molestation back in the eighties, giving us a disarmingly intimate look at the events as they unfolded.

MYSTIC RIVER
While not the end-all masterpiece so many critics dubbed it, this Clint Eastwood directed film is a powerful, brilliantly acted drama of Shakespearian dimensions.

GERRY
At last a film captures the ominous beauty of the American desert; it’s just too bad that film had to be this one.  GERRY, the second Gus Van Sant movie to be released in ’03, is a visual stunner...but it’s also one of slowest and least eventful movies of all time.

SWIMMING POOL
A fascinating psychological thriller by France’s Francois Ozon (UNDER THE SAND), featuring an excellent performance by Charlotte Rampling as a writer staying in a secluded country house.  The very sexy Ludivine Sagnier plays the flirty young woman who moves in and turns Rampling’s life upside down.

21 GRAMS
An epic of death and redemption from AMORES PERROS director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, with GREAT performances by Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro and Naomi Watts and a loopy chronology which freely alternates past and future (the significance of which I frankly don’t get). 

BAD SANTA
No other film this year made me laugh as hard as this profane comedy starring B.B. Thornton as a scumbag who works as a department store Santa so he can rob the place.  The fact that BS was so vigorously denounced by a number of right wing shitheads makes it required viewing, IMO.

BAD BOYS 2
Yet another guilty pleasure: a foul, nasty, gleefully amoral nightmare of depravity with much gratuitous carnage and language so foul it got the film banned from several theaters down South.  Needless to say, I enjoyed it immensely.

BIG FISH
A loveable, heartfelt fantasy by Tim Burton, who crafts a maniacally inventive, Terry Gilliam-esque celebration of the power of imagination.  

NORTHFORK
A dreamy and surreal (if overly self-conscious) period piece featuring a bevy of C-list stars (James Woods, Daryl Hannah, Anthony Edwards) playing residents of a soon-to-be-flooded town.  Also on hand are a band of angels who make an unscheduled visit.

HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG
Easily the best of the end-of-the-year Oscar grabbers, a deeply complex, provocative and uncompromising drama that (for once) doesn’t sell out the integrity of its characters or the intelligence of its audience.  A five-course meal of a movie in a sea of cinematic fast food.

 

The Worst Horror Movies of 2003:

1.  THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE
Being a huge fan of the original CHAINSAW, I’ll admit my opinion is a biased one, but this is a plain lousy movie, remake or not.  A bunch of minimally talented TV stars getting chased around an old house does not a good movie make, and neither do director Marcus Nispil’s Hallmark ad visuals (he particularly seems to like shafts of light, even in nighttime settings).  Not even the presence of R. Lee Ermy can save this bloated turd.  I once thought any movie featuring Ermy couldn’t possibly be all bad; clearly I was wrong 

2.  FREDDY VS. JASON
Proof that, even with the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy on their release slate, New Line Cinema will always be the same exploitation outfit it started out as (this was the studio that released the acclaimed Brazilian film MACUNAIMA under the title JUNGLE FREAKS).  Finding that its Freddy and Jason franchises had run out of steam, New Line simply combined ‘em.  Far more effort clearly went into the backroom wheeling and dealing than the film itself, which suffers from a severe case of the same-old-shit syndrome.  As usual, a bunch of teenybopper morons get killed off in various “creative” ways by F&J and, as usual, the door is left wide open for a sequel, meaning there’s no clear winner in the Freddy-Jason mano-a-mano

3.  GOTHIKA
Big studio nonsense with Halle Barry as a shrink who finds herself implicated in a murder.  Filled with awful, clichéd dialogue that proves how little these Hollywood folks know about how people actually talk, and obnoxiously bombastic visuals courtesy of helmer Matthieu Kassovitz, who also made the similarly overblown CRIMSON RIVERS. 

4.  CABIN FEVER
To me the most interesting thing about this film was how everyone and their grandmother vastly overhyped it when it premiered on the festival circuit, proclaiming it the greatest thing since the invention of fire, only to temper their opinions once it was commercially released (read Harry Knowles’ early comments about the film on ain’t-it-cool-news.com together with his eventual review and you’ll see what I mean).  The thing that seemed to impress festival audiences was that the film mixed horror with humor--Hmmmm...I guess that’s never been done before.  The real problem with CABIN FEVER is, simply, that the funny parts aren’t funny, the scary stuff (apart from the infamous leg-shaving bit) isn’t scary and the whole thing seems aimed at a twelve-year-old mentality.

5.  HULK [or is it THE HULK?]
Universal made an interesting choice selecting CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON’S Ang Lee as director of whatever they’re calling this film at the moment, but he failed them—and us—big time.  The idea of investing this material with a thematic and psychological depth not usually present in summer movies is certainly one I can get behind, but the film is dullsville through and through.  For all his highbrow ambitions, Lee seems to have fallen into the same trap that besets most Hollywood hacks: an over-concentration on visual design and special effects at the expense of the story and characters.  Worse, the central performances by Eric Bana and Jennifer Connolly are shockingly bland, making SPIDERMAN’S dweeby duo of Toby Maguire and Kirsten Dunst look like Tracy and Hepburn.

6.  UNDERWORLD
Watch any ten minutes of this movie and you’ll think you’re viewing a masterpiece.  The vampires-versus-werewolves concept is a promising one and the gorgeously desaturated photography is impressive, as is the image of a skin-tight black leather clad Kate Beckinsale brandishing a pistol...the first half dozen times she does it, at least.  After that the sight, like the entire movie, gets a tad repetitive.  I lost count of how many times we see Kate don her Dirty Harry pose amidst locations that all look the same.  Even more agonizing: Beckinsale entering and exiting a set of mansion gates again and again and again and again in her car; no wonder there was audible applause when she crashed the damn thing, which turned to groans when she was seen exiting once again in a different automobile...and doing so again...and yet again...

7.  SUSPENDED ANIMATION
In 1971 director John Hancock made LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH, one of the greatest horror movies of all time.  SUSPENDED ANIMATION, his long-awaited second genre foray, represents a BIG step down, being a dull, meandering and plain silly film.  All the good stuff occurs in the beginning, when a dude gets taken hostage by a pair of cannibalistic psycho bitches...but then the film degenerates into an endless yak fest punctuated by clumsy attempts at suspense.

8.  BLOOD FEAST 2: ALL U CAN EAT
Herschell Gordon Lewis’ first directorial effort since 1972’s THE GORE GORE GIRLS is, sadly, pretty much a flatline.  The extremely copious gore, presented in loving, fetishistic close-up in the classic Lewis manner, is the only saving grace (if you must view this, you’re advised to catch the unrated version, needless to say).  Otherwise the film is total shit: a stilted affair littered with LAME jokes and none of the low rent charm of Lewis’ early work.  If anything, BF2 reminded me of one of those mind numbing amateur horror fests I’ve suffered through at indie and student film festivals.

9. VIDEO X
Speaking of amateur horror fests, here’s a tacky BLAIR WITCH wannabe of note solely because distributor Vanguard Cinema claims it’s composed of real video footage taken during an actual killing spree.  I’ll confess I fell for it, although I figured out the truth about ten seconds into the thing.  Vanguard previously put out a bogus documentary called MURDER IN THE HEARTLAND: THE SEARCH FOR VIDEO X that they claimed was about a quest “to find this unimaginable tape called VIDEO X...what is on this VIDEO X that’s so bad it must be kept out of the public eye?”  Not much, really, just lots of poor acting, stereotypical characters and unconvincing violence (complete with visibly breathing “corpses”).  I’d recommend viewing AMERICA’S DEADLIEST HOME VIDEO (1993) instead; it had a similar conceit, but didn’t have to stoop to deceptive Kroger Babb-like theatrics to entice viewers.

10.  HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES
Another vastly overhyped clunker: a derivative, self indulgent, incoherent mess written and directed by Rob Zombie, who really should have known better.  Having recently read Rob Zombie’s script for a never-made CROW sequel, which has to be some kind of over-the-top masterpiece, I think I can see the type of film he was aiming for...which makes it all the more frustrating that he failed to pull it off.

11.  GACY
If you’ve ever felt an urge to see PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURES’ Francis (actor Mark Holton) play a gay mass murderer, than this film’s for you!  It’s yet another entry in the serial killer movie craze, profiling John Wayne Gacy, the “Killer Clown” who during the seventies murdered over thirty young boys.  Certain scenes, like those showing Gacy trying to find ways to mask the smell of the cadavers in his basement, suggest an intriguing HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER-like examination of normality and madness, but the film is far too routine to do the concept justice.  Followed by SPECK, yet another mediocre straight-to-video serial killer extravaganza.

12.  HE LOVES ME...HE LOVES ME NOT [A LA FOLIE...PAS DE TOUT]
But for the chance to see AMELIE’S Audrey Toutou play a delusional stalker, this is uninspiring stuff that received positive attention from critics because a). It’s a foreign film, and b). It tells the story from both victim and victimizer’s points of view.  That doesn’t change the fact that this shoddy looking film fails to bring much to the table that wasn’t already covered in FATAL ATTRACTION and the hundred or so other stalker movies I’ve seen.

13.  COLD CREEK MANOR
Arty auteur Mike Figgis (see my above comments on his other ’03 release HOTEL) sells out with a big budget Disney thriller.  I have no problem with arthouse filmmakers going to work for Hollywood, particularly when their outputs are as erratic as Figgis’ (who’s made good films like INTERNAL AFFAIRS and LEAVING LAS VEGAS, but also dreadful ones like ONE NIGHT STAND and THE LOSS OF SEXUAL INNOCENCE)...but couldn’t he have chosen a better script?  Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone are city dwellers who move into an old country manor and hire the house’s spooky former owner to fix things up...and then have the nerve to act surprised when the inevitable scary business starts up.  Filled with cheap shocks, implausible situations and a hokey rooftop climax.  The performances are solid, I’ll give it that much.

14.  IDENTITY
Like most Hollywood horror movies in the wake of THE SIXTH SENSE, this one relies almost entirely on a third act twist for its effectiveness.  Said twist, when it comes, is actually a pretty intriguing one, explaining—if not quite forgiving—the thundering obviousness of the rest of the film, which consists of a buncha people trapped in a hotel during a rainstorm with a killer on the loose. 

 

Horror Movies I Missed:
 

WRONG TURN
Having sat through HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES and CABIN FEVER, I think I’ve had my fill of lame wannabe seventies movies. 

JEEPERS CREEPERS II
Still haven’t seen JC1.

HOUSE OF THE DEAD
Looks REEEEEEEEEEEALLY stupid!

THE ORDER
Likewise.

CAMERA OBSCURA
Came and went too fast.

DEMONLOVER
Likewise.

BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR
I didn’t like BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR and so don’t think I’d get much out of this new RE-ANIMATOR cash-in.

THE HITCHER II: I’VE BEEN WAITING
The comment “it’s a Kari Wuhrer thriller masquerading as a HITCHER sequel” really put me off—I’ve suffered through far too many Kari Wuhrer movies as it is!

THE HAUNTED MANSION
In lieu of seeing this family-friendly Eddie Murphy vehicle, I decided to view DELIRIOUS again.

 

--1/30/04


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