No one likes conformity, except in secret. While most Americans accept Ralph Waldo Emerson’s idea that we should all be individualistic, we also tend to browbeat those who don’t share our opinion. And yet, whether we admit it or not, we all inevitably have moments of dissent. As acolytes of the horror genre, let’s take a page or two to highlight about films that critics and/or the public adored that weren’t truly up to snuff.
10. It Comes at Night
What comes at night? Having seen the film, I have no idea. The basic plot of this film is as follows: sometimes after a never explained apocalyptic event, a family of three lives in isolation to protect themselves from a never explained disease. Then another family arrives at their home imploring for help. The film is quiet and slow and its characters are dull.
After a certain point, the only incentive to keep watching it is to see if the film will ever explain what is going on, and it never does. The most bizarre aspect of the film was that it was made and sold by art house filmmakers but indulges in certain Hollywood trope more than most Hollywood films do. If you take a freshman screenwriting class, your teacher will tell you to never end a scary scene with the revelation that it was all a dream.
The move is beyond cliché and only diffuses tensions in later scenes of the film. Why should an audience get invested in a moment if they have reason to believe that it will have no effect on the story? The film’s ending strives to be boldly nihilistic but merely leaves the audience questioning why they watched the film in the first place.
Popular horror author Clive Barker wrote and directed Hellraiser, an adaptation of his novelette The Hellbound Heart, and he has a novelists’ eye for cinema, which is to say, none at all. Hellraiser is a surprisingly dull concoction given the outrageously strange nature of Barker’s H. P. Lovecraft-style fiction. The film is two tension free hours of people walking through a house and occasionally having kinky sex or bumping into an extra in grotesque demon makeup.
To make things better, no one in the film is remotely likeable. They’re either scumbags or cardboard cut-out damsels in distress. Doug Bradley’s makeup as the head demon Pinhead is the only great thing about the film which is why Pinhead is an iconic horror character whose visage people are familiar with even if they can’t name him, a la Michael Myers or Chucky the doll. If only someone had constructed a better film around it.
Gory with being subversive or clever, Saw was never a critical darling, nor was it trying to be. However, in the years since it was released, Saw has gained a reputation as something of a genre classic. Why? The same way that zero-degree weather seems warm in Antarctica, Saw looks good compared to its legion of sequels and imitators – but that doesn’t mean it’s worthwhile.
Massive plot contrivances combine with some sub-par acting for a less than stellar experience. How could an actor as bad as Leigh Whannell have gotten a major role in this film? Surely, it had nothing to do with the fact that he wrote the script. The most horrific aspect of Saw isn’t its potent violence, it’s the film’s sickly gray and green color palette which succeeds at being an eyesore without actually being scary.
The film’s greatest legacy wasn’t the (brief) popularization of torture as a horror motif, it was its ugly, flat aesthetic that every by the numbers horror film copied over the next decade. So why did such an unappealing film connect with so many? Horror often contains reactionary sentiments, so the film probably succeeded simply by depicting torture as entertainment, which worked as a formula for profit in a post-Abu Ghraib world. And that, my friends, is more disturbing than a thousand clown faced puppets.
The bar for Steven King adaptations is lower than the deepest pit of hell. For every classic like Carrie, there are five or six embarrassments like Quicksilver Highway, Bag of Bones or The Tommyknockers. King adaptations are usually so unimpressive that a competent film, like It looks like a diamond in the rough, despite being more like cubic zirconium.
The film bets so much on the hope that every member of the audience will think that clowns are terrifying that the filmmakers never bother to find creative ways to make Pennywise the Clown scary.
The one filmmaking trick they have up their sleeve is to accompany his movements with loud noises but the film’s one trick pony gets old fast. We find that Pennywise is an ancient force of evil who eats children and manifests in clown form (?) but the film never explains why he often disappears when he has the chance to catch his prey. Perhaps he is as uninterested in the film as we are.
And because it is set in the 1980’s, the film has to revel in shameless nostalgia, referencing everything from Tim Burton’s Batman to the New Kids on the Block to A Nightmare on Elm Street 5, as it’s worried that it can’t be entertaining on its own merits. It’s sad to see a film with so little confidence in itself.
Southbound is almost an anthology film. Anthology films usually feature a group of segments that do not connect to each other besides sharing the same genre. Southbound is composed of five segments that almost connect.
The twist ending, the film’s raison d’etre, is that the film exists in a casual loop wherein the end of the film is also the beginning of the film. This Mobius strip idea adds nothing to the story and fails to make sense, as characters die and are later seen unscathed with no explanation.
A lack of explanation is the life blood of the film. What are those monsters? Are those voices ghosts or schizophrenia? What’s up with that cult” Why should I care? And while that terrible ending bears at least a semblance of originality (David Lynch pulled if off better in Lost Highway), it’s combined with some of the most formulaic horror narratives ever, with the low point being a home invasion segment which could conceivably be remade shot for shot by editing together bits and pieces of other better home invasion flicks. Horror indeed.