After taking a look at the best films that I screened during this year’s 31 Days of Halloween, it’s time to end the festivities with the opposite end of the spectrum: the worst of the bunch. I’ve also included what I consider to be the most disappointing films of the season: in some cases, these films weren’t terrible, per se, but also fell so far short of my expectations as to earn them a place on this humble list.
– – –
The Worst Films of the 31 Days of Halloween (2015 Edition)
(in no particular order)
Monsters: Dark Continent — While I didn’t love the first Monsters, I still respect Gareth Edwards “little film that could” and certainly wasn’t averse to a return to its particular cinematic universe. Writer/director Tom Green’s sequel isn’t that so much as it is a deadly dull, stereotypical Iraq war film shoehorned into roughly the same geographic coordinates. Overlong, tedious, obvious and, most criminally, a chore to sit through, Dark Continent seems to want to be the Aliens to Monsters’ Alien. Instead, it feels like a bad war film with a gimmicky premise which, to be honest, it is.
Some Kind of Hate — I have a feeling that this will end up on several other “Best of” lists, so let me be the sole voice in the wilderness to shout “Bullshit” at maximum volume, while politely reminding everyone that good intentions don’t guarantee satisfactory outcomes. Loud, dumb, obvious and chock-a-block with shitty, obnoxious and unbelievable characters, Adam Egypt Mortimer’s anti-bullying slasher has its heart in the right place and a pretty killer central concept (the avenging figure, who was driven to suicide, injures her prey by inflicting injuries on her own body) but the positives pretty much end there. While I still feel that an anti-bullying horror film is a great idea in this modern world, the cause deserves something a whole lot more substantial and thoughtful than this.
Cam2Cam — Essentially two films cobbled together, Cam2Cam begins with an extended pre-credits sequence that’s actually a self-contained short before continuing with the rest of the film, which serves as a continuation of the first piece. The first piece, an effective (if repugnant) little bit of cyber stalk-n-slash is tense, concise and vicious, certainly not everyone’s cup of tea but no worse than a legion of others. The rest of the film, however, is a confusing, tone-deaf, tedious and outrageously far-fetched bit of “Americans abroad get tortured” sleaze that works itself up into a righteous lather over, ultimately, nothing at all. The cinematic equivalent of staring at a flickering neon light until your eyes melt.
Omen IV: The Awakening — While the original Omen trilogy wasn’t exactly a bunch of home-runs (the third, in particular, is aggressively stupid), this made-for-TV follow-up makes them seem like cinematic royalty. Cheap, poorly acted, over-the-top and dumb, this manages to undo the proper (if overly silly) finale of the third film in favor of an open-ending that promised more sequels that, thankfully, have yet to surface. Satan may be evil but even he’s got his limits!
Djinn — Good thing that I gave up on Tobe Hooper a long time ago, otherwise this exceptionally shabby hack job would have made me break down and cry. Djinn gets points for its unique setting (the United Arab Emirates) but loses points for its failings (everything else). Nothing here surprises, there’s only one setpiece in the entire film that actually works (a clever bit involving security guards seeing an empty building while someone shouts for help right in front of them) and an overriding sense of ennui permeates everything, especially Hooper’s thoroughly anonymous direction. Very rarely does a film manage to meet my low expectations as handily as Djinn did: if nothing else, that’s gotta be worth something.
Sam: The Final Chapter — I’ll be frankly honest: watching this final installment in the Saw franchise was the equivalent of a hate-fuck for me. While I still genuinely enjoy the first film and can find merits in the third, everything else in the series was a progressively faster slide down a garbage chute greased with pig guts, obnoxious music video editing and pointlessly complex plotting that, ultimately, made as much sense as a random number generator. Caustically loud, visually ugly, unpleasantly violent (even by the series’ notoriously splattery legacy) and, above all, dumb as a box of rocks, The Final Chapter in the Saw franchise would have, easily, been one of the worst films of the year it was released: waiting five years only made it one of the worst films of this year.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (remake) — I inherently dislike remakes and love Wes Craven’s original Nightmare on Elm Street, so the 2010 remake was always going to be a hard sell for me. To be frank, I actually figured this would be one of those films that I just never got around to. Well, I got around to it this October and guess what? I really hated it. It’s not like modern horror remakes can’t have value (I thoroughly enjoy Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, for example): it’s just that the NOES reboot is a complete and total piece of crap. There wasn’t a single thing that worked for me here, be it Haley’s take on Freddy, the effects work or the performances from the youthful cannon fodder. Lazy, unimaginative and strictly by-the-book, the NOES remake is the dictionary definition of an ill-advised cash grab.
Dead of Night — I’m a huge fan of horror anthologies but everything about Dead of Night is dead on arrival. Dull, silly and with a production sense that could generously be described as “Poverty Row,” these three stories are strictly dollar-bin fare. Of value only for idiots like me who really must see everything horror film ever made.
Da Sweet Blood of Jesus — It gives me no pleasure to kick Spike Lee, so I’ll just cut right to the chase: his remake of the cult classic Ganja and Hess is a real mess. Way too long, overly stage-bound, over-the-top, silly and full of some genuinely amateurish acting, this was nothing but missed potential. While I’d still love to see Spike tackle a horror film some day, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus was an almost complete wash for me. Biggest surprise? How depressingly artless the whole thing felt.
Beneath — Remember when I said this list was in no particular order? Yeah? Well, I lied. Larry Fessenden’s Beneath was the worst film I screened in October for a very simple reason: it was one I was looking forward to the most, yet ended up liking the least. The problems are legion but the killing blow ends up being the thoroughly hateful cast: with no one to root for, as it were, I had no investment in any of the action. As far as I was concerned, the monstrous, man-eating fish was the only likable creature in the entire film. As someone who practically worships the ground Fessenden walks on, Beneath was a painful reminder that my heroes are, after all, only human.
– – –
With that out of the way, let’s finish up with a list of the most disappointing films of this year’s 31 Days of Halloween. These were movies that weren’t terrible (in fact, some of them were quite good), yet managed to drop the ball in some pretty major ways. Whether it was an unnecessary last-minute twist, an unfortunate switch in tone, a general degradation of quality or some painfully awkward plot mechanics and performances, each of the following did something to shift themselves from the “Good” side of my personal ledger into that more uncertain territory that’s closer to “Bad.”
The Most Disappointing Films of the 31 Days of Halloween (2015 Edition)
(in no particular order)
The Blood Lands (White Settlers) — After starting out exceptionally tight and tense, this glorified home invasion thriller devolved into complete and utter pablum by the end. With an increasing series of unbelievable twists and a conclusion that demands more suspension of disbelief than it earns, this went downhill pretty fast. Even the normally amazing Pollyanna Mcintosh was thoroughly wasted here.
Hellions — I absolutely loved writer/director Bruce McDonald’s ingenious Pontypool, so my expectations for his follow-up, Hellions, were through the roof. This psychedelic tale of a pregnant teen trapped in her house on Halloween night by demonic trick or treaters is the complete antithesis of Pontypool, however: a flashy, nonsensical exercise in style over substance than relies more on unsettling visuals than anything approaching genuine dread or existential terror, Hellions is frustratingly obtuse and unformed. The film is too gorgeously shot to be completely disposable but it falls well short of McDonald’s previous work.
Turbo Kid — I really wanted to love this homage to ’80s drive-in fare but ended up feeling mildly amused, at best. Chalk it up to a case of trying too hard or just an inability on my part to completely embrace the film’s kitchy aesthetic. Regardless of the reason, I found myself glancing at my watch much more often than I should have and never felt the emotional intensity of something like Hobo With a Shotgun, despite Turbo Kid’s amusingly splatterific gore effects. For my money, Manborg did this basic story much better and more concisely.
The Stranger — This confusing Chilean-made, pseudo-vampire film (produced by Eli Roth) feels like part of a larger whole, even though it’s actually self-contained. Often feeling more like an attempt to recreate a mean-spirited ’80s revenge flick than a vampire film, this certainly has its moments but managed to hold me at arm’s length for pretty much its whole run-time. With a tighter vision, this might have been an effective little sleeper.
Hidden — For a time, this claustrophobic tale of a family living in a fallout shelter while the world above them has been devastated is an incredibly effective, tense and well-made exercise in minimalism. Once the rest of the story reveals itself, however, Hidden becomes exponentially more conventional and proportionately less interesting. By the time it wraps up, Hidden has actually become rather dumb, which is a complete 360 from where it started. In other words: the poster child for a disappointing film.
Tremors 5: Bloodlines — I expected a cheesy, fun and energetic continuation of the frothy Tremors franchise: what I ended up with is a cheap, repetitive and surprisingly mean-spirited film that seems to delight in constantly humiliating Michael Gross’ Bert Gummer character for no good reason. While the whole film delights in heaping abuse on Gross, the piece de resistance has to be the scene where he’s confined to a cage, in the middle of the desert, while wearing only tighty whities and covered in his own urine. As a lion approaches and proceeds to spray piss all over the poor, trapped adventurer, I thought: this may be for someone but it sure as hell ain’t for me.
Soulmate — This was actually a suitably atmospheric, moody haunted house film until it turned into a silly romance between the lead and a thoroughly charmless former suicide. Once that particular plot development is unveiled, Soulmate takes the express train right to irrelevance, ending in a mess of plot threads and contrivances that strains both credulity and patience. Filmmaker Carolyn would go on to much better things with her Tales of Halloween anthology.
Alleluia — Fabrice du Welz’ newest film is not a bad film: far from it. It is, however, a completely predictable and rather repetitive film which handily earns it a place on this list. Prior to this, I knew du Welz as an uncompromising visionary capable of some genuinely disturbing art. Alleluia recasts him as a more refined, conventional filmmaker, similar to the way in which Cronenberg’s more recent output has realigned the body horror wunderkind into something a bit more “presentable.” Perhaps the biggest failing here, though, is the extremely repetitive nature of the narrative: once you’ve seen one violent exchange, you’ve pretty much seen them all, which significantly lessens the film’s impact.
Felt — Writer/director Jason Banks’ Toad Road is, in my humble opinion, one of the single most impressive, disturbing and powerful independent films of the best several decades. Ergo, I really expected the follow-up, a searing indictment of rape culture and toxic patriarchy, to be just as intense, uncompromising and amazing. In actuality, Felt is a frustrating exercise from start to finish, a gauzy, formless film that meanders far more than it should and never finds a firm center, perhaps thanks to the thoroughly unpleasant performance by lead/co-writer Amy Everson. I didn’t hate Felt, by any stretch: held next to Toad Road, however, Felt feels like the infinitely lesser film, which is definitely a bummer considering its important themes and focus. A disappointment because I wanted to love it and, in the end, only thought it was okay.
Lost River — Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut is obviously indebted to the filmography of Nicholas Winding Refn with one major distinction: Gosling just doesn’t have the chops (yet, at least) to pull it off. Lost River is a complete and total mess, a mish-mash of fantasy tropes and elements that feels stitched together from a thousand different sources. None of this prevents the film from being endlessly fascinating, however, which is testament to Gosling’s inherent (if under-developed) skill behind the camera. I’m willing to wager future endeavors might be quite exceptional: at this point, however, it’s more of a curiosity than anything else.
Let Us Prey — This started out strong (if familiar) before devolving into loud, brash and overtly silly nonsense by the conclusion. Despite the heavy-handed approach, however, there’s still lots to like in this tale of a demonic force invading an isolated Scottish police station in the dead of night, particularly the exceptional performances of Liam Cunningham (as the demon) and Pollyanna McIntosh (as a tough-as-nails rookie). This ended up on my list because it promised much, yet delivered surprisingly little.
Nailbiter — Like Let Us Prey, Nailbiter took a strong, simple central concept (in this case, a mother and her daughters take refuge in a storm cellar during a tornado only to find it occupied by a monstrous presence) and managed to hobble it with unnecessarily complex plot machinations and some less than convincing performances. When the film keeps it simple, it’s suitably tense and hews fairly close to the prophetic title. When it tries to expand its scope, however, Nailbiter ends up getting stretched to the point of thinness. Sometimes, simpler really is better.
Contracted: Phase 2 — While I didn’t love the original, this direct continuation of Contracted manages to be a solid step down. By introducing an unnecessary conspiracy angle, Phase 2 muddies the already murky waters of the first film, turning the proceedings into a sort of action film, ala Run Lola Run, rather than the body horror that suits it better. If nothing else, though, Phase 2 stands tall in my mind as having some of the most outrageously nauseating effects I’ve ever seen, effects which make Cronenberg’s Fly remake look like a kid flick.