Monday, October 27, 2008

The cost of love (Terrible horror films my wife has made me sit though)

Anyone can celebrate Halloween by making a list of the ten best horror films of all time. And most of those lists will have some combination of Jaws, Psycho, Halloween, The Exorcist, Evil Dead 1 or 2, and Alien, along with a couple others that are more to the writer's individual taste. So instead, I'd like to celebrate something foul and odious. It's no secret that A) my wife likes horror films and B) my wife has hideous taste in films. These two components combine to create a toxic viewing experience from which I will eventually have to shield my daughter. If it's not too late...

But, here are five of the very worst horror films my wife has forced me to watch.

Deadly Friend (1986) - I can think of no filmmaker today who is less consistent than Wes Craven. Can it possibly be true that the same man who made Wes Craven's New Nightmare also made Vampire In Brooklyn? Can the same man be responsible for Scream and Shocker in seven short years? It appears so. While there may be no pattern for this uncommonly cerebral horror filmmaker (I've rented many a bad Craven movie just to listen to the commentary), no way to tell if you're getting a Red Eye or a Cursed, there is one hard and fast rule - Wes Craven should never, ever make films about robots.

That's right, Deadly Friend is about the previously unknown peril of putting your dead friend's brain into the robot that you created. So, ladies and gents, if you ever happen to create a robot, please don't put your friend's brain in said robot... even if she was kinda cute, sorta liked you, and died violently. Aside from the absurd premise, the film is poorly acted, looks ugly and cheap, and is one of the most boring films Craven has ever made. To be fair, it does have one interesting use for a basketball, but you can probably find that on You Tube. Oh wait... I just saved you 90 minutes.

Sssssss (1973) - No, I didn't just fall asleep at the keyboard, nor did Allison attempt to write another column. This little-seen flick tries to be the snake-version of The Fly (the 1958 original, since the superior remake wouldn't exist for another 13 years). Basically an unwitting young man is turned into a snake by his mad scientist employer; which displeases both our hero and the scientist's daughter, who fancies the soon-to-be-slithery lad. It's not a terrible idea, it's just a complete lack of follow-through. It's a dreadfully boring film without much pay off till the very end. It's not laughably bad, it's just deadly dull. As my wife said 'Ssssssucks'.

Demonic Toys vs. Puppet Master (2004) - This winner was recommended by my sister-in-law, proving that she should never, ever be allowed to babysit. I vaguely remember Puppet Master and/or Demonic Toys movies, a couple or so each, running at 3:00am in the morning on Cinemax West 2 or what not. Of course, those straight-to-video horror franchises and Die-Hard rip-off action films flamed out in the late 1990s, replaced by kids with HD camcorders making horror films in their backyard. So this could almost count as nostalgic. Not so much. Starring a 33-year-old Corey Feldman as the great-nephew of the fabled original Puppet Master, this down-on-his luck toymaker somehow has a 17 year-old daughter. So either the toymaker is supposed to be older or his kid is supposed to be younger, but they fail on both counts. Thus their interaction has a distinctly Hubert Humphrey vibe throughout.

Aside from that, the film basically attempts to copy the plot of Halloween 3: Season Of The Witch, with a dash of Small Soldiers tossed in for good measure. Oh, and it's PG-13, so any of the gory violence that you might want from a battle between a crazed toy battle is not to be found here. It's dull, it's terribly acted, and the previously 'demonic toys' are now supposed to be quasi-heroic. Not since Jason saved the day in Freddy Vs. Jason (only after committing nearly every onscreen murder) has a moral defection made less sense. Do yourself a favor and just rent Child's Play.

The Gingerdead Man (2005) - Gary Busy, meet 'rock bottom'. Gary Busey (in person) plays a spree killer who is executed, only to magically come back to life in the form of a giant, wise-cracking gingerbread cookie (voice only). From there, he spends the entire movie on a single set, slowly exacting vengeance on the family who sent him to the chair. If this seems like a Z-grade good time, it's not. The production values are non-existent, the characters never leave the bake shop, and the fabled gingerbread man barely shows up on camera. This is the kind of film that might have worked with an actual budget, but as a no-budget slasher film, it's just foul-tasting.

The Worst Witch (1986) - This TV movie isn't technically a horror film, but I was recently forced to endure it as part of the Halloween spirit. For the record, the second film of the night, The Strangers, was much much better. This adaptation of a childrens' book stars Tim Curry, Diana Rigg, and Fairuza Balk. Bulk, it seems, hit her attractiveness peak at twelve - poor thing (Tim Curry apparently agrees). Basically this movie concerns a school for child witches, as they learn how to master the art of witchcraft.

Imagine a remake of Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone - directed by you, filmed in your house and your back yard. That's about the production level of this one. The special effects would have been bad for a music video of that era, the songs are terrible, and even a singing Tim Curry fails to elicit anything other than unintentional guffaws. Feast your eyes on the above musical number. Not only is it not Rocky Horror Picture Show, it's not even Muppet Treasure Island.

Untraceable (2008) - I thought I would like this one because I like the director. Wow, was I mistaken. This may go down as the worst, most repulsive movie of 2008. It is incredibly ironic that while teen-skewing horror films like Saw and Hostel get decried as 'torture porn' and are blamed for the downfall of civilization, this adult-targeting 'grown-up' thriller is far more gruesome, far more perverse and, due to its blatant hypocrisy, ten-times more infuriating than any bad slasher film of late. Directed by the usually great Gregory Hoblit (Primal Fear, Frequency, Fallen), this sordid little number casts Diane Lane as an FBI agent who must track down a serial killer who is slowly torturing his victims to death on the internet. The gimmick is, the more people log on, the quicker the victim dies.

Of course, considering the sickeningly painful and drawn out scenarios set up, the mass log-ons may in fact qualify as mercy. People are cut to ribbons, then placed pinned to a chair so they can slowly bleed to death from their wounds. Victims are tied to a chair with giant heat lamps pointed at them so they can slowly burn to death. And then there's the bit involving battery acid. The issue is not that these traps are ghoulish, but that they are drawn out and the viewer is forced to watch unbearable agony and suffering for minutes at a time, and then we are lectured about today's voyeuristic society. This movie is the only one I have seen of late that truly qualifies as torture porn. Aside from the bland acting, cliched screenplay, and lack of an ending, this is the rare movie that I would classify as immoral, in that it revels in pain and then lectures us for not turning away.

To be fair, there are many cheesy horror films that were passable and even fun. The above Mega-Snake is one of the better direct-to-DVD horror films of late, in that you actually see the giant snake, frequently and in detail, as well as the carnage it inflicts. And although it was my choice, I heartily recommend the self-referential satire Murder Party. But I do not recommend any of the movies above. They are all so bad, they're scary.

Scott Mendelson


Actionman said...


When I was a youngin', I used to LOVE the worst witch. My sister and I used to watch and re-watch that VHS tape to no end. I haven't seen it in probably 20 years but that film was a staple of my movie-watching youth. I need to check it out it available on dvd?


Scott Mendelson said...

I rented it from Blockbuster online. Good luck, I suppose.

Actionman said...

Netflix has it...short wait status...I'll get to it at some point...but this time I will be intoxicated while I watch it!

James Pilant said...

That has got to be the most precious little girl I have ever seen. Congratulations! However, the collision of your wife's and your film tastes as well as heredity may produce a very original future movie reviewer. jp

Scott Mendelson said...

I rented it from Blockbuster online. Good luck, I suppose.

James Pilant said...

That has got to be the most precious little girl I have ever seen. Congratulations! However, the collision of your wife's and your film tastes as well as heredity may produce a very original future movie reviewer. jp

Greer_hart said...



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