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1974-1983... er... 2003 in review

Posted: Wed Dec 31, 2003 7:44 am
by Remo D
I may get more out of this round-up than I bargained for--I can't help but notice that my reactions have frequently gone right out the majority window... sticking up for widely-hated films, blasting some popular favorites--but my book will always be known as "Calling Them As I See Them."

No great revelation at this point that the theme of 2003 was an intense attempt at reviving the late 70s and early 80s in the departments of insanity and gore. So why do some such films strike me as mere "rehashes" and others score as "tributes?" Well, since I was fortunate enough to see most of the key films of this era on the big screen, nothing from there will ever hit me as completely "new" again. The elements of the era are like the elements of a song--and you can do a "cover" which startles me with unusual, unexpected notes (Blue Swede tackling "Hooked On A Feeling")... or you can be the Britney Spears version of Mick Jagger (to misquote Andrew Dice Clay, "the man is rolling over in his grave and he ain't even dead yet!").

So maybe I'm an old man, and maybe I'll make you cringe this year. And some titles are "technically" older, but 2003 is the year they got their big-screen exposure in these parts. Nevertheless... here we go!


Can't get off to a better start than FINAL DESTINATION 2. This was a wonderfully sick gore comedy with one of the most pronounced mean streaks I've ever seen in a "mainstream" release--and I liked it better than the first one.

SPIDER gave us all the intense drama and fine acting one expects from a David Cronenberg film--it's depressing and it doesn't invite frequent repeat viewings, but it needs to be seen straight through to the end for a patented sucker punch.

THE EYE had plenty of familiar story elements, but they way they were handled? Wow. One of the best scares of the year ("Why are you sitting in my chair?")

GOTHIKA scored with the Dark Castle atmosphere and general craziness even if the story didn't always hold together. To me, this was the film that FEARDOTCOM could and should have been. And yes, we're reaching back to the 60s here--it's not technically a William Castle remake, but the is-she-or-isn't-she-an-ax-murderess plot is appropriately nostalgic.

The best just kept getting better... the sprawling 28 DAYS LATER manages to be a Romero tribute without being a Romero ripoff, even if the "Z" word isn't entirely accurate. Nice to see it score a hit, too!

Not a horror movie? Hey, when the ghost-zombie pirates throw Kiera Knightley up on deck while revealing their true nature, what would YOU call PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN? Great fun, no matter how you slice it.

The one that almost walked away with everything for me was IDENTITY--another one they like to drop on the "mystery" shelf. But once you're there, you know it's a legitimate horror movie--and yeah, you know SOMETHING'S coming, but nobody could have completely guessed what it was. Before this one ends, you're compelled to take the supernatural seriously!

But I had no greater time at the movies this year than I did with CABIN FEVER. Talk about a "cover" that hits unexpected notes? Primed for an EVIL DEAD rehash (while avoiding as much hype as possible), I sure as hell wasn't expecting the LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT soundtrack to hit... and things just got crazier and crazier from there--invoking all the best horror films of the time without settling on a simple imitation of a single one--and managing to tell its story from beginning to end regardless. The non-horror equivalent, for me, would be KILL BILL V. 1 (hated by many, but constantly stunning as I saw it).


Here's where most of the 70s stuff hits--and I notice that the specific remakes were always a bit less effective than the tribute films...

DARKNESS FALLS started the year off with a generic "boogeyman" film toned-down to a PG-13. Nothing impressive, but nothing painful, either--some good gimmick bits and plenty of energy kept it from being the dead-end the similar THEY turned out to be.

DREAMCATCHER started off as a surprisingly effective adaptation of a difficult Stephen King book--and then flushed the whole thing down the crapper (reference intentional) with the most mind-blowingly awful ending conceivable. Was this Lawrence Kasdan's fault? William Goldman's? Well, it sure wasn't the ending KING came up with, and that's all I can say about that...

The long-delayed HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES tried too hard to be nostalgic and up-to-date at the same time with the annoying music-video stylization and the predictable, repetitious "jumps." On the other hand, Sid Haig's Captain Spaulding was my absolute favorite character of the year and he (along with other supporting elements) makes it worthy of attention.

WILLARD also had great characters played by Crispin Glover and R. Lee Ermey--this valiant effort was undone mainly by the fact that Willard himself was too wiggy to sympathize with--even from the very beginning. Great rat work, though...

JEEPERS CREEPERS 2 was one I expected to thoroughly hate, but it went back to "monster movie" basics and always had something to pay attention to--when the atmosphere ran out, there were some great gore effects, then some decent action, and, of course, Ray Wise with the post-puncher. Awful script, but it works visually, regardless.

COLD CREEK MANOR? Still the 70s, but only in a TV-movie of the week sense. Fine cast, one great snake scene. But it's nothing more significant than THE STRANGE AND DEADLY OCCURRENCE.

The controversial TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE remake scored with intense horror/gore... and, again, R. Lee Ermey. Too bad it went on too long and sacrificed the crucial identity/unity of the family. Still--it was better than it had any right to be.

Perhaps if BUBBA HO-TEP hadn't been rammed down my throat for nearly a year before I saw it? Terrific performances, once again, but it simply wasn't the jawdropper I was practically ordered to think it was.

And two bits of fluff... SCARY MOVIE 3 tried to revive the AIRPLANE! style as opposed to the first two installments, with middling results that still beat the hell out of SM2. And THE HAUNTED MANSION at least had one legitimately scary scene that didn't play down to the Disney audience... not a "patch" on PIRATES, but where the hell was Don Knotts in this thing?


Surprisingly few entries this time, and two that I'm willing to give another chance to, due to popular demand.

So many people loved WRONG TURN. To me, this was the "rehash" where CABIN FEVER was the "tribute." Bored me to utter tears for two-thirds of its running time before scoring a couple of good bits near the end. Am I TRULY missing something here?

FREDDY VS. JASON? Too much utter stupidity in the character/dialogue department, and Ronny Yu did better in the "franchise sequel" department with BRIDE OF CHUCKY. There was some good stuff in the final showdown, of course. Perhaps I'm asking too much of these characters, but I still maintain that Freddy used to be SCARY, and that, properly handled, he COULD have been scary again.

UNDERWORLD simply deadened me. If I want to watch werewolves and vampires at war, I don't want them using machine guns and posing in black leather, dammit!

The most pompous thud of the year was THE ORDER. What a chore made out of a legitimately intriguing idea. Again, if you want a sin-eater, go find that great NIGHT GALLERY episode.

And finally... do I even have to say it?

HOUSE OF THE DEAD qualifies as the very worst movie I have ever seen on the big screen in my entire life.

Okay--let's wrap up the odds and ends. Caught up with a few on video: MAY was extremely well-acted, but it was much more sad than scary--not my cup of tea at all. DAS EXPERIMENT may be "non-horror," but you HAVE to see this one for yourself. And yeah, there was another HELLRAISER sequel in there, with the promise of more to come. Another crash-and-burn franchise right up there with the CORN KIDS, now. And the bastards lied and never let me see ALIEN: THE DIRECTOR'S CUT on the big screen. Can't quite call PHONE BOOTH "horror," either--but it's a crackerjack suspenser all the way, even if it IS a Larry Cohen script from the 1970s!

In the rash of superhero epics, I'll take the weird, unconventional LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN and the truly insane HULK (one of my absolute favorites) over the more mainstream DAREDEVIL and X-2 any day.

Fantasy: BRUCE ALMIGHTY was funny when it was, well, funny. Then it got soppy. FINDING NEMO was the perfect family film everyone said it was--funny as heck, too. SINBAD: LEGEND OF THE SEVEN SEAS utterly blew it by refusing to be a Sinbad movie. THE MEDALLION was enjoyable Jackie Chan fantasy-fluff--it would make a perfect double-bill with the Bond spoof JOHNNY ENGLISH. And yep, RETURN OF THE KING blew 'em all away.

Where do I put LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION? I don't think of classic Warner Brothers cartoons as "fantasy" while I'm watching them, after all--they're a field unto themselves... but Joe Dante did a brilliant job with the format--and the live-action blend, as well. Criminal neglect on the part of U.S. audiences.

And sci-fi? Two MATRIX sequels too many, but the third was more fun to sit through than the second. SPY KIDS 3-D lost all of the clever writing, but it did have 3-D and some of Sylvester Stallone's funniest work in a while. T-3 was another "better than expected" comeback, even though it was less than utterly necessary. And speaking of time travel/seeing the future? Three more...

TIME CHANGER was the only entry in a disappointing "Christian sci-fi" year. None of the excesses of MEGIDDO--just a "fish out of water" story in which the guy you're supposed to identify with as he watches the moral decay of the future (since we don't acknowledge God anymore) acts like a donk throughout.

TIMELINE was a distressingly generic item based on a reportedly much more involving Michael Crichton book. Nothing more than a TV movie on the big screen again.

And PAYCHECK is still worth catching for some unassuming fun--this time, the concept outweighs the rather generic action.

Whew. Still the best year for the genre since 1999. New hope for the new century.

So what's next? THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT, I guess.

Have a great 2004!

Shane "Remo D." Dallmann

Posted: Wed Dec 31, 2003 9:56 am
by DylanDog
Great read as always Shane, thanks. Though I made it out to the theatre/drive-in more this year than in most other years, it still amazes me how much stuff I managed to miss, most notably FD2. I heard everyone rave about it and truly meant to go, but somehow it just didn't happen.

I guess the biggest surprise for me is that I not only went to the movies so much this year, but that there is still even more movies I WANT to see. In reading your reviews in previous years, I would think i didn't miss much at all. Not so this year. Is this a result of an improvement in the quality of films this year or of my failing synicsm? Here's a few more I saw this year:

Elf-saw this Xmas night and thought it was great. I love Will Ferrell to begin with, but this also had such an innocent charm to it, it was a perfect holiday film I thought.

Dracula: Pages From A Virgin's Diary- I'm not sure if this was actually made this year or not, but this was the year I cursed it to hell.

Lost in Transation: I posted a quick review of this overrated movie awhile back, but I'll just add, why the hell was Bill Murray up for an Oscar for being Bill Murray? I like the guy and all, but isn't that supposed to be an ACTING award?

Posted: Fri Jan 02, 2004 7:36 am
by Remo D
Okay--made a couple of edits to squeeze in a couple more odds and ends I left out earlier. Sorry for the inconvenience--but I didn't know at the time just where to put LOONEY TUNES or PHONE BOOTH... and I forgot to even mention BUBBA HO-TEP.

Again, happy 2004!


Posted: Sat Jan 03, 2004 2:58 am
by Griff [Mola]
Once again, I'm utterly ashamed at the lack of new horror films I sought out this year but I'd also like to delegate some of that shame to what was on offer and its inability to entice myself out to the local multiplex.

CABIN FEVER takes the gold with its winning personality, an almost perfect mix of horror and comedy. 'Pancakes' will be in every horror fan's vernacular for years to come.

UNDEAD is possibly the first Aussie horror flick to surface in the last ten or so years with the ability to amuse more than just those who made it. And hey, its got fucking zombies in it - even if they're not as prevelant as you'd expect.

28 DAYS LATER is the first zombie(esque - c'mon, they're our friends and families, now souless automatons, hellbent on our violent and bare-handed destruction) movie since the days of Romero to take itself seriously. And hey, its pretty fucking good too - even if it does have the visual aesthetic of a British sitcom.

HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES was fun, if wildly impatient and, at times, frustrating. THE EYE had its moments but was much too obvious at the end of the day, IDENTITY kept me entertained for its comfortable running time and SPIDER's tragic horror begs to be revisited in the near future...

FREDDY VS JASON finally made a movie out of another movie's laugh-out-loud joke ("Do you ever wonder if Jason has nightmares and if Freddy can invade those nightmares?" - NATIONAL LAMPOON'S SENIOR TRIP) but it strangely wasn't a parody - though it was laughable (and certainly worth seeing once).

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE just didn't work for me - even with its fine female form and the mischievous carry-ons of R. Lee Ermy on show. Every scene of potential horror was ruined by heavy-handed melodrama and cliche-lovin' embarassment. What's scarier than a homicidal maniac with a mask of human flesh and a blood-splattered chainsaw on your heels? Rats. On your heels. Oh, brother. Bring out the jumping cats for the inevitable followup to this masterpiece of modern horror.

Anyway, that's my take on 2003. Now to tell someone that gives a fuck...

Posted: Mon Jan 05, 2004 7:22 am
by Latte Thunder
Ah... sweet! Another wrap up.

FINAL DESTINATION 2 is a movie that I really should check out, but I have an aversion to the high gloss teen horror look that it seems to carry with it. So every time I'm at the video store, I pass it up for something else (that usually turns out to suck).

HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, like Bubba Ho Tep (which I also didn't see), had years of fan hype behind it and to me it just couldn't hold all that weight up. To put it simply, I hated it and I'm pretty sure everyone else did, too, but they were all too busy deluding themselves into believing that it was the horror masterpiece that they'd been waiting to see since 2001. No offense to those who liked it, of course.

FREDDY VS. JASON I liked. Quite a bit, actually. I think in my initial review of it here I kicked the crap out of it, but upon further reflection I realized that I have a soft spot for the hockey mask and as far as I'm concerned, Jason came out on top (ambiguous ending be damned!). And it had the guy who played Scott Farkus in the Christmas Story movie.

CABIN FEVER took the gold this year, though. Aside from the cabin element, I never really saw the Evil Dead comparisons that a lot of people were making. I loved every minute of it, though, it was a horror movie that looked like it was going to be a teen flick and turned out to be very gritty in the end. The comedy elements I thought were very inappropriate, but therein lies the charm. Weird jokes came out of nowhere and they were always funny, even when they'd throw something silly into the most tense moments of the movie. It was just weird.

PHONE. Is this one Korean or Japanese? I'm not entirely sure, but what I am sure of is that the Asian horror market really needs to get off this trend of copycatting The Ring with every chance they get. Not a good movie at all.

IDENTITY let me down in a big way. It seemed like there was a definite destination in mind when they made it, but in the end they wound up somewhere else. For me, the grand revelation at the end of the movie just didn't seem to fit with the rest of the story, as if the studio didn't like how the original script ended and decided to do something "more clever" in the same Hollywood sensibility that The Crow would have been a great musical movie starring Michael Jackson (I didn't just make that up, either). John Cusack is cool as hell, though.

28 DAYS LATER was pretty cool shit. It is definitely inspired by Day of the Dead, but it never put up a red flag that said Ripoff to me, which is a hard road to travel when you're making a zombie movie. I've been to London, and to see the streets empty like that had the same effect as seeing Times Square barren in Vanilla Sky. Eerie as hell. It's just not meant to be like that.

GOTHIKA I just plain didn't like. It made no sense to me and I felt like I'd seen all the gimmicky scares before. It had Drew Carey's crossdressing brother in it, though. That was sort of funny.

DREAMCATCHER was cool for a little while, but it left me wondering why it was made when King already adapted It for television. Donnie Wahlberg had a tendency to surprise me every time, though. He has a way of sneaking into movies as the wirey weirdo and I never know it's him.

That's about all I saw in the horror department good and bad. I don't make it out to the movies often anymore, but there's really not much to see anyway. In other movies:

Christopher Guest movies always make me laugh, so naturally I thought A MIGHTY WIND was pretty funny. Eugene Levy sits in the same pantheon as Will Ferrel in that awkward comedy way and Spinal Tap returns! Just not how you'd expect them.

OLD SCHOOL rules. Plain and simple.

PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN kicked ass start to finish. A surprising movie, too, as they kept the high flying hong kong inspired action that has ruined other modern made period actioners to a bare minimum. Johnny Depp, once again, my favorite actor of the year. Jack Sparrow really made the movie what it was.

LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN I trashed in my review thread, and I still hold to the opinion that it was absolute garbage. I'll keep my bias aside as I was a big fan of the comics when I say that it was a miserable failure in every way. It was ruined by a plot that made no sense (loosely based on the comic books), really stupid characters and extremely poor CGI.

X2, on the other hand, I thought was the best of the comic book flicks last year. I grew up reading X Men and it seems to pull most of it's inspiration from the era that I like the best (the Chris Claremont written 80's books).

DAREDEVIL practically put me to sleep while letting me down at the same time. The early fan hype said that the Mark Stephen Johnson script was gritty and violent and inspired by the Frank Miller DD books of the 80's. I got an Evanescence music video starring Ben Affleck instead. And Jennifer Garner still looks like a man, baby!

That's about all I can think of right now, and I should probably get to work. I can't really think of much on the horizon that I'm looking forward to other than HELLBOY and SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW, unless that new Batman movie is coming out later this year. From the sounds of things, it's looking like it'll redeem the entire franchise.

Posted: Sun Jan 11, 2004 4:29 pm
by Darth Tanner
Better late than ever, but here goes.....

I agree that 2003 was overall a very good year for horror. While I'll admit that I didn't make it out to see as much as Remo, I did like most of what I did see. I didn't make it out to see CABIN FEVER, but my pick for overall best would have to be IDENTITY with FINAL DESTINATION 2 coming close behind. As for the worst movie, I'd have to echo Remo's choice of HOUSE OF THE DEAD. Out of everything I saw this year, I don't think anything even came close to being as bad as this one (except maybe UNDERWORLD).

Some of my other (more mainstream) favorites were KILL BILL VOL. 1, RETURN OF THE KING, TERMINATOR 3, PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN, X-MEN 2, FREAKY FRIDAY, AMERICAN WEDDING and THE HULK. I'm sure there are a few others, but these are the ones that I enjoyed the most. I also have a soft spot for FREDDY VS. JASON and thought it was a lot of fun, stupid or not.

As for looking ahead to 2004, I'll definitely check out BUTTERFLY EFFECT, RESIDENT EVIL 2, KILL BILL VOL. 2 and some little film called DAWN OF THE DEAD;) But the one movie I'm anticipating the most is VAN HELSING. Hopefully that will turn out as good as it sounds.

Posted: Fri Apr 16, 2004 7:53 pm
by DylanDog
I finally watched Final Destination 2 the other night and honestly I'm not sure what all the hubbub was about??? I think I'd have been pretty disappointed had I run out to see it in the theatre. I didn't find it to be especially meanspirited or gory, at least not enough to compensate for the fact that it is basically the same movie as the first. I do think that Ali Larter is pretty hot though so at least they brought her back.

Rented Spider that other day but haven't watched it yet.

Posted: Sun May 23, 2004 1:07 pm
by DylanDog
"THE EYE had plenty of familiar story elements, but they way they were handled? Wow. One of the best scares of the year ("Why are you sitting in my chair?")"

Man, I just watched this last night and you couldn't be more right. I can't remember the last time a single moment scared me as much as that one did. (Maybe that "Kikia" flash.) There have been other movies that had a more subtle mounting sort of fright in it, but that was pretty intense. Was very glad to see the usual HK obtrusive humor was missing here as well. Biggest gripe with this one was that in one scene where you see the "Shadowy Many" turn around, I could have sworn I saw the color of flesh where the makeup had not been applied (like around the neck, under the ears). I could be wrong though....