Animal, Area 51, Avenged, Bound to Vengeance, cinema, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, Ejecta, film reviews, films, horror, horror films, horror movies, Movies, personal opinions, Preservation, Some Kind of Hate, The Blood Lands, Treehouse, Tremors 5: Bloodlines, worst films of the year
Before we get to the lists of what I consider to be the very best horror films of 2015, let me take a word (or 1000) to talk about those films that fell on the polar opposite of said extreme. It’s time to talk about the worst horror films (according to your humble host) of this soon-to-be-over calendar year.
I’ll be honest: this was a ridiculously good year for horror, a fact which will be amply extolled in the next post. Since there was so much coming out this year that I’d been waiting for, I tended to steer clear of any obvious turkeys: in other words, I wasn’t actively seeking out any “so-bad-they’re-good” clunkers this time around. The ten films below (listed in alphabetical order) represent the horror screenings that just fundamentally failed for me, for one reason or a hundred. Some of these had potential: others were practically D.O.A. from the jump. There is one important thing to note, however: these represent the worst films of this particular year. In a much weaker year, it’s quite possible that at least a few of these would have passed into my “just fine” column. When stacked up against so much pure wheat, however, the chaff is still easy to spot.
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Animal — From the generic title to the generic performances to the generic creature representation, everything about Animal was as generic, obvious and dull as possible. I certainly wasn’t asking for outrageous innovation in a basic “strangers trapped by a monster in the woods” film but this managed to lack anything substantial. In fact, I’d be hard-pressed to remember much about any of the characters except that there was a heart-broken boyfriend (I think), a really aggressive, shouty dude (I’m positive) and some kind of character played by Joey Lauren Adams. Fade to beige.
Area 51 — I’m not sure if anyone expected Oren Peli’s Area 51 to be any good whatsoever: after all, this was supposed to be his follow-up to 2007’s Paranormal Activity and it only came out this year. Eight years to release a found-footage, micro-budget film about people poking around Area 51? With this kind of anticipation, one could be forgiven for suspecting that Peli was crafting the first-person-POV equivalent of Kubrick’s 2001.
Alas, he was actually crafting yet another identical found-footage film, with another identical, anonymous group of people exploring another, identical, anonymous location and pointing the camera into the background while we impatiently wait for yet another, identical creepy thing to pop up and make us drop our Twizzlers. While Paranormal Activity was far from a perfect film, it ends up looking like Citizen Kane when stacked next to this dull, event-less exercise in by-the-numbers filmmaking. At this rate, we’ll get the next film in 2025 and it will be a shot-for-shot remake of Ishtar.
Avenged — This was certainly a strange one. On the outside, Avenged’s concept seems like something that screamed right out of the ultra-nasty late-’70s, early-’80s exploitation market: a sweet-natured deaf woman takes a solo drive through the Southwest when she runs afoul of a bunch of rednecks murdering a couple of innocent Native Americans. The woman is captured, gang-raped, tortured, repeatedly stabbed and left for dead in a shallow grave: a kindly, old medicine man happens to be passing by and digs her up before performing a ceremony that ends up imbuing her mutilated, broken body with the spirit of a centuries dead Apache chief. Once the young woman has been resurrected, she cuts a bloody swath to the rednecks, leaving the path behind her littered with body parts and blood.
Had it stuck to its guns, Avenged might have ended up as a thoroughly slimy but ruthlessly effective rape-revenge flick. Once the filmmakers introduce the heroine’s concerned boyfriend, however, the film’s tone swings queasily from sick thrills to mawkish, stereotypical indie romance and never really recovers. To compound this split tone, the film goes on to introduce silly magical/fantastical elements straight out of something like Big Trouble in Little China. This is a film where the truly terrible main villain describes the main character’s rape in exacting, sickening detail one minute, while the ghostly, green Apache chief somersaults out of her body, pounds the ground and produces ghostly weapons for her upcoming battle in the next minute. It’s a film that’s in bad taste, to be sure, but it’s also a confused film that lacks the courage of its determinedly antisocial outlook.
Bound to Vengeance — Like Avenged, this was another film that started from a particularly disturbing place (a young woman is kidnapped and held captive in a dingy dungeon before fighting her way to freedom) but then tried to expand the concept past its obvious exploitation roots. Unlike Avenged, Bound to Vengeance has a much more consistent, gritty tone and feel, which suits the material much better.
The problem, as it turns out, is that Bound to Vengeance ends up being an incredibly dumb movie full of rather stupid people making the worst possible decisions at any given moment. Think of it like a slasher movie where the “final girl” trips and falls 35 times in a row and you have some idea of the frustration involved here. The film is actually full of some pretty solid performances, not the least of which is Tina Ivlev as the victim-turned-avenger. It’s a shame that the filmmakers waste her potential, however, by having her make an increasingly bad series of decisions, most likely in an effort to artificially increase the stakes. By the time the tired “twist” is revealed, I kind of felt like I’d been locked in a dungeon for 90 minutes. A solid concept and cast undone by a ludicrous script.
Da Sweet Blood of Jesus — Since I never saw Spike’s take on Oldboy, his remake of the older Ganja & Hess was my introduction to his take on the horror genre, a move which I’d pretty much been anticipating my whole life. See, I like Spike Lee. I don’t always love his films, mind you, but I genuinely think he’s an auteur with something to say, even if the message is sometimes more interesting than the film that surrounds it.
That being said, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is a pretty awful film. Incredibly slow (not measured, mind you: slow), way too long, ridiculously stagy (at times, it actually felt like a filmed play) and full of some truly off-putting amateur performances, nothing here really worked for me, aside from random visuals and some of the backstory. It’s not that I didn’t understand what Spike was trying to do: the lengthy dialogue scenes make that more than abundantly clear. It’s just that I thought he did it in the clunkiest, dullest and least cinematically appealing way possible, that’s all.
Ejecta — While I’ve seen several less than stellar alien visitation films lately, few have been quite so irritating or obnoxious as Ejecta. Despite a typically solid performance from Julian Richings (few actors do “inherently creepy” as good as this guy), this is the film equivalent of the “sound volume wars” in modern music. Everything here is pushed straight into the red: everyone shouts, the score pounds, the audio effects scream, the editing is as fidgety as a Red Bull addict on a bender…it’s just one, loud, sustained but absolutely empty rush of chaos. With so many truly good alien visitation films, there’s absolutely no reason, whatsoever, to deal with crap like Ejecta. The definition of the title is “material that is forced or thrown out”: sounds about right.
Preservation — I didn’t want to hate this film but I really wasn’t given much choice: within the first 20 minutes, we’re introduced to a trio of thoroughly repellent characters and given so much blatantly obvious foreshadowing that it was a foregone conclusion I’d sprain an eyeball with rigorous rolling. And that I did. Featuring Orange is the New Black’s Pornstache as a slightly less odious character is just about Preservation’s only ace in the hole: everything else is a strictly by-the-numbers “normal people must turn savage to fight the savages” flick…and not a particularly good one, at that. The fight scenes are poorly staged, the “twist” revelation is completely brain-dead (think about it for exactly one second and it totally collapses) and it feels like everyone involved just gives up and wings it during the chaotic third act. Man is the only animal that kills for fun…and makes terrible films about it, apparently.
Some Kind of Hate — For the life of me, I’ll never understand all of the massed appreciation and love for Adam Egypt Mortimer’s Some Kind of Hate. Not only did the flick get all kinds of great festival buzz, it actually ended up on several “Best of Year” lists and was frequently hailed as the “next evolution of horror.” In fact, the only film that seemed to have as much sustained genre buzz as SKoH, this year, was It Follows, which was also credited with “saving” and “revitalizing” horror.
Actually, I lie: I know exactly why the film has received (and continues to receive) so much praise. You see, Some Kind of Hate is a perfect example of a film that taps into the popular zeitgeist and just happens to be “in the right place at the right time.” With its theme of bullied teenagers fighting back against their oppressors, it’s hard to think of a horror film that’s more relevant in 2015. Add in a genuinely unique method of killing for the antagonist (whatever she does to her body happens to her intended victims) and this seems like an easy shoe-in for modern classic status.
Except the film is an absolute stinker. Message and method aside, there’s absolutely nothing of value here: the performances are uniformly broad and unpleasant, the “rules” are so fluid as to be non-existent and the whole thing is shot with that seizure-inducing “in your face” style that’s so de rigeur in modern horror. We can talk about Some Kind of Hate’s good intentions all we want (and there are plenty of good intentions to discuss) but if we actually want to discuss the film, itself, we can only deal with what’s up on screen, not whatever was intended. One of these days, there will be a really incisive, hard-hitting horror film that addresses bullying in an appropriately focused manner: this ain’t it.
Treehouse — Like Preservation, this one fell apart fairly quickly and never recovered. Part of the problem, to be honest, lies with the concept, itself: a pair of young brothers and a traumatized young woman must hide out from anonymous killers in a treehouse. It’s a simple concept that, unfortunately, runs out of gas way before the film does, leading to the addition of so many loose threads and additional storylines that any sense of simplicity is tossed out with the bathwater. This isn’t a poorly-made film, mind you: the treehouse ends up being a great location and there are a handful of well-executed scenes that wind up a reasonable amount of tension. This feels like a killer short that completely lost its shape when expanded out, similar to a distorted reflection in a fun house mirror.
Tremors 5: Bloodlines — I didn’t go in to this expecting anything more than a fun, silly and brisk little monster movie: after all, this is Tremors 5 we’re talking about here, not Lawrence of Arabia. As a fan of the rest of the series (to one degree or another), this seemed like a perfectly fine way to kill some time.
Instead of a snappy little creature feature, however, I actually got a loud, dumb and completely numb exercise in collecting a paycheck, all underlined by a completely baffling need to humiliate and tear down Michael Gross’ protagonist at every possible turn. The action scenes, character-building, etc are strictly lowest-common-denominator, which certainly befits a film that feels one half-step above the usual ScyFy fare. What to make of the scene, however, where Gross’ Burt Gummer is trapped in the middle of the desert, in a cage, wearing only his tighty-whities, when a big lion comes up and pisses all over his face? Is it supposed to be funny? Ironic? Arousing? For me, it was really only one thing: massively depressing.
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The Blood Lands (aka White Settlers) — The Blood Lands ends up as my “Dishonorable Mention” for this year because it’s actually only half of a terrible film. The half that isn’t terrible (pretty much the first half) is actually pretty goddamn terrifying: it doesn’t reinvent the “home invasion” subgenre but it certainly gives it a nice kick in the rear.
The problem comes in when the filmmakers drop the other shoe and clue us in to what’s actually going on. From that point on, The Blood Lands is actually one of the very worst films of the year, culminating in a finale that made me want to throw a bottle at my TV. Add in a simpering performance from the normally ferocious Pollyanna McIntosh (of all the current performers you could get to run around screaming and acting defenseless, McIntosh is absolutely the last one that comes to mind) and this is one film that actually pissed me off. Word to the wise: if you end up watching this, stop the film just when it feels like you figured it out and save yourself some grief. Trust me: you did figure it out and it just gets worse from there.