Fright on Film Hall of SHAME
LUCAN'S "HALL OF SHAME"
Let me first start off by saying that no where in this particular segment will you see me mention the name Ed Wood Jr., the titles of any of his films or the titles of any other films that have been given the moniker "Worst Of All Time", "Baddest Of The Bad", etc.,etc. That's because I think Ed Wood, and those like him, have gotten an exceedingly bad rap from a handful of extremely pretentious film critics. These filmmakers loved their work and the movies in general, and weren't going to allow the fact that they weren't particularly talented as directors, had confusing scripts or budgets that wouldn't have covered the cost of lunch for the cast of "Three's Company", to keep them from fufilling their ambition to make films. These men and women had HEART, and for that, I salute them!
No, the ones that I'm sharpening my claws for are those multi-million dollar budget films, with big-time directors (?), overpaid "talent" (and I'm using this term VERY loosely) and more special effects than your average Orlando theme-park, that leave you feeling like someone owes you a $6.99 refund back from your $7 theatre ticket price. Overblown, over-hyped films directed by people who wouldn't know "suspense" if it fell out of the sky and smacked them upside the head. So without further ado, we present this "do-do":
"THE HAUNTING" ('99)
Directed ("desecrated" is more like it,) by Jan De Bont and starring (?) Liam Neeson, Lili Taylor, Owen Wilson & Catherine Zeta-Jones. The original 1963 film, directed by Robert Wise and starring Julie Harris, Claire Bloom and Russ Tamblyn was a subtle, suspenseful film, about a group investigating a alleged haunting in a 90 year-old mansion. Through the skillful use of camera angles and mood lighting, Wise tells the story in such a way that we find ourselves wondering if the house truly IS haunted, or if what we're seeing are merely delusions in the fragile mind of Harris's character.
Ah, a "subtle", "suspenseful" film. So who better to direct the remake than a director who's biggest hits thus far have involved an out-of-control bus loaded with explosives and a series of rampaging tornadoes?? Whether by accident or design, EVERYTHING in this film is big, LOUD and overdone. The haunted mansion in question looks like a Disney ride on steroids, with gargoyles, a huge staircase, misty hallways and an ominous fireplace big enough to roast a moose in. (And that's just on the FIRST floor!!) All the place was missing was a neon sign saying "HAUNTED HOUSE - BOO!" above the front door.
And in the midst of all this, we get a cast that is literally swallowed up by their surroundings. Liam Neeson shuffles through the film, looking like he'd rather be back on a Lucasfilm soundstage getting skewered by Darth Maul again, while Lili Taylor walks around biting her lower lip a lot and having the facial expression of a cocker spaniel who's watching television. Owen Wilson plays a grating character that you can't WAIT to see bite the big one and as far as Catherine Zeta-Jones is concerned, I guess she just felt like taking a paid vacation in England.
This is one of those films where the director and writer (writers?) apparently felt that they didn't have diddly to work with script-wise, so they buried the whole mess under a truckload of special effects and CGI work. The last 30 minutes of the film is a barrage of living statues, special effects spooks and the big fireplace showering the cast with ashes and the charred bones of murdered children. And the "Ascent Into Heaven" finale is something SO hokey that it must've been pilfered from Steven Spielberg's "reject" pile. But don't just take my word for it, rent the original 1963 version and see for yourself just how AWFUL this film is. (You'll need to rent the remake, for comparison purposes of course, but do it on "Dollar Day", so you won't be ripped-off TOO badly.)
Our next victim...errr,ummm, INDUCTEE, is (drumroll please,):
TEXAS CHIANSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT
It's hard to say which is worse, a horror film that attempts to be a "black comedy" and fails, a horror film that attempts to be a sequel to an earlier (and MUCH better) film and fails, or a film like THIS which attempts to be BOTH and fails. The plot (such as it is,) involves a foursome of dense teenagers out on prom night (when else?) who take a wrong turn off the highway and end up in seriously deep trouble. The only cast members worth mentioning (I figure the others have suffered enough,) are Renee Zellwegger and Matthew McConnaughey. Zellwegger plays a wall-flowery high schooler who ends up going womano-a-mano with the bunch of backwoods psychos, headed by McConnaughey, who chews up the scenery worse than Leatherface's chainsaw. This film totally abandons ANY of the previous films' cannibalistic story references (one of the psycho family members stops by to pick up two PIZZAS on her way home!) and throws in the rather confusing element that McConnaughey's character is "employed" by some shadowy "conspiracy group"! (A British guy named "Rothman" shows up in two scenes to add to this confusion and he's sporting some "Hellraiser"-ish looking chest modifications and piercings, so it's questionable as to whether HE'S playing with a full deck!) The character of "Leatherface" is reduced to almost a walk-on part (I guess the film's producers couldn't afford gas for the chainsaw), and the few moments he's onscreen, are spent trying to LITERALLY copy some of Gunnar Hansen's scenes from the first "Massacre" film.
But the best commentary about this mess occurs in the film itself, when the character of "Grandpa" gets up from the table and walks out, NEVER to be seen again. (Which is what I'm sure the majority of this clunker's audience probably did during it's mercifully brief theatrical run.)
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Till Next Time.
~ Lucan ~
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