Monday, February 15, 2010

Medicinal properties of the sarsaparilla

If you have feathers, prepare to possibly have them ruffled today. Because I may be mentioning some of your personal faves when I run down my own own subjective list of the top 10 horror flicks that come to mind when I think of movies that get far more credit than I believe they deserve. Some of these I find to be just plain bad, while others are decent movies that have gotten raised to a level far higher than they should eve have been. Your own list might be drastically different, or perhaps you'll agree with cantankerous crabbiness. Whatever the case, strap yourself in, and let's get started, shall we?
10. Army of Darkness (1992)
Starting off with a bang, wouldn't you say? Look, I get it. This is a fun movie that offers a lot of laughs. Yet I can't properly put into words the disappointment and embarrassment I felt back in '92 when I dragged a bunch of non-horror geek college buddies to the theater to see a movie I expected to be a balls-to-the-wall horror movie like its two predecessors (or at least a tongue-in-cheek splatter comedy like the second one). What I got was the Hollywood-ized Sam Raimi making his debut. I know this movie is beloved by millions, and I enjoy it. But as an Evil Dead fan, I can never shake that initial disappointment.
9. The Butterfly Effect (2004)
Self-absorbed 20-somethings on parade, led by their patron saint, Ashton Kutcher-Moore. Blech. And yet this pretentious sci-fi thriller has somehow been acclaimed by a certain segment of moviegoers, who are presumably drawn in by the notion of special-effects-enhanced navel-gazing. When it comes to time travelers, I'll take Rod Taylor or Michael J. Fox any day of the week over the guy from Dude, Where's My Car.
8. War of the Worlds (2005)
When people try to argue that this flick should be right up there with the likes of The Fly, The Blob or The Thing amongst superior remakes of 1950s genre classics, it makes me want to infect them with whatever bacteria killed off the Martian invaders. Steven "Father Issues" Spielberg takes H.G. Wells' grand epic about the struggle for humanity's survival and turns it into Tom Cruise's effort to be a better daddy to Dakota Fanning. Clearly, this is a director who does a much better job handling friendly aliens than dangerous ones.
7. Donnie Darko (2001)
Don't get me wrong, this is a good movie--part Douglas Adams, part Terry Gilliam, part Harvey, I can't deny it's inventiveness. But one of IMDb's top 250 (currently 124 in fact)? Not by a long shot. This is an amusing picture by a writer/ director who read Stephen Hawking and thought he understood it. Later works that sprung from the mind of Richard Kelly include the equally overrated and far worse Southland Tales, and the just plain abominable The Box. The kind of movie people like to say they love because it makes them sound really smart.
6. The Amityville Horror (1979)
As bad as the remake was, I never really came down on it all that hard, because I found the original to be just as bad, if not worse. In no way, shape, or form should this movie be mentioned in the same breath as movies like The Exorcist, The Omen, The Changeling, etc., yet I'll often see just that. Folks, I know sometimes it's hard to believe, but just because a horror film was made in the '70s, that doesn't instantly make it a classic. Even if it does have Superman's girlfriend and Barbra Streisand's husband.
5. Friday the 13th (1980)
My lack of patience for all things Jason is well-documented. And yet, I do enjoy this very Jason-less original. But even the screenwriter himself admitted to me it was basically a knock-off of Halloween designed to turn a quick buck, and not much more. It does a fine job of keeping the viewer in suspense, and Betsy Palmer is a joy in her brief time on screen, but its nowhere near the important classic many hail it as. And I'm not just saying that because of the inexcusable overabundance of denim cut-offs.
4. Hellraiser (1987)
I'm afraid this movie just plain old doesn't hold up well. I enjoyed it a great deal at the time, and I like the sequel even more, but recent re-viewings have only showed me that not all great horror flicks remain so over time. I can still watch many other horror faves from the '80s and not get the sense that they are dated and ineffectual, yet not this one. What once seemed like an edgy, psychological masterpiece now feels like a small-budget cheesefest that's just trying too hard. Doug Bradley as Pinhead, and the Cenobites in general, are still awesome. But nothing else remotely is.
3. Ringu (1998)
I don't care if it makes me sound like a horror Philistine--I will always maintain that I greatly prefer the 2002 American remake to this highly overrated affair. The remake is better made, better acted, and just plain scarier. This J-horror groundbreaker was, for me, a big letdown--I think I actually audibly uttered the words, "That was it?" as the credits were rolling. I'm all for understated supernatural horror--hell, the original Haunting is probably the best ghost movie ever made. But there just wasn't enough payoff here to impress me.
2. The Sixth Sense (1999)
Again, an effective movie, and a fine debut from M. Night Shyamalan--which he has yet to live up to, of course. But the first supernatural horror film to be nominated for Best Picture? An injustice of cosmic proportions. This is a feature-length Twilight Zone episode with fancy production values. And that's coming from someone who was dense enough to not see the final twist coming.
1. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
I can distinctly remember the general disappointment of the moviegoing public when this movie came out; the sense of having been duped by a clever, first-of-its-kind online marketing campaign. I recall the groans of disgust as the closing credits rolled in the theater. Yet fast-forward 10 years later, and everyone inexplicably hails this thing as one of the all-time greatest, scariest, horror movies of all time. I suspect it may be a generational thing, perhaps. I was 24 when this movie came out, and was already a died-in-the-wool horror freak for many years. I think a large portion of this movie's fan base may be made up of those who were very young when it came out, and so relate it in their minds with primal, childhood fears. Kind of like me with Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, a nearly forgotten 1970s TV movie that remains one of the scariest things I've ever seen. I'm not sure. What I do know, is that aside from an admittedly effective finale, I found this movie to be an over-hyped mess in 1999, and I still do today.

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