Today on Killtoberfest 2, the last entries in two long-running horror franchises. For the last three years, I’ve worked into my horror marathons a complete watching of one particular series. The first year it was The Grudge; the second, I chose two, doing roughly half of each last year and then finishing both up this year. Here are my thoughts on the final franchise entries and each series as a whole.
First up, Scream 4 (2011).
This movie put me in the weird position of liking and enjoying it, even though the story and filmmaking is actually pretty bad. I’ve pointed out in the past that Scream is one of the few horror franchises that follows its protagonists rather than its villains, and I think that’s what’s at work here. The series has essentially become a TV show, with this newest entry acting more like a Christmas special than a real movie. The result is that I liked seeing my favorite characters back again, even if the actual “episode” was pretty underwhelming.
In some ways, Scream has outlived its own influence–nobody really makes those Ten Little Indians suburban murder mysteries anymore, the way they did in Scream‘s wake. In another way, the series ushered in a new era of self-aware, referential, meta horror movies that has yet to really end. So on the one hand, Scream is old hat; on the other, it has nowhere new to go. This uncertainty about the future of the franchise is very evident in the movie itself, which experiments with the idea of a reboot before ultimately discarding the possibility in favor of the tried and true.
There are four main elements to any Scream film on a narrative level. Sidney (Campbell) has to deal with being the constant target of masked, knife-wielding lunatics who are alternately angry at her mother or envious of her fame; Gale (Cox) and Dewey (Arquette) have to navigate a relationship over the rocky shoals of their careers and worldviews never matching up; and the movie itself has to comment on the state of its franchise and the horror genre as a whole. As somebody who always enjoys this series, the biggest disappointment with Scream 4 is that it furthers almost none of these. Sidney doesn’t really grow or change (actually, she seems pretty well-adjusted at this point), the conflict between Gale and Dewey is resolved almost as arbitrarily as it is arises, and although the movie tries to poke fun at remakes and namedrops Saw and the interwebs, it really doesn’t seem as relevant as the first two entries in the series. This is especially true because it isn’t a remake at all.
The best parts of any Scream film are the opening and the ending, generally. Here the opening is, hilariously, almost the exact same idea as a scene from Detention (which was released in the same year), with a movie within a movie within a movie as each gets progressively trashier. I might have loved this if I hadn’t seen Detention first; as it is, it’s clever but not actually scary. If anything, it comments on how hard it is at this juncture to surprise audiences, who have grown so jaded that “the person you least expect” is now the person you expect the most, so now horror movies have to go with the most likely candidate. To Scream 4‘s credit, they go with both the most likely and least likely candidates at the same time, which is pretty neat. I liked the ending quite a bit, actually, as characters wrestled for control of the narrative.
To be fair, there are some neat ideas here, from several scenes where a camera picks up the killer approaching a victim from behind, to the way the town seems to revel in its claim to fame murder spree, to the clever reimagining of the original Scream‘s opening trivia game. But there’s also a lot to dislike here: everything to do with Gale, the movie utterly wasting Allison Brie as Sidney’s bitchy tour manager, the entire StabFest sequence, the pointless character of Sidney’s aunt (who is only there to get fridged), etc. It’s just not written very well overall, even if the concepts are decent and individual moments are fun. Overall, it’s better than the third one–at least it’s trying, unlike that entry–but isn’t even as good as the second. Or maybe these ideas were just fresher back then.
Scream as a series is predicated more than anything else on the trick of ironically distancing itself from other horror movies while still achieving real suspense and scares. I think the franchise has reached the point where it’s no longer able to accomplish that. If I may be allowed to mix some metaphors, you can lead this one-trick pony to water, but sooner or later it’ll run out of gas, because a stabbing knife gathers no moss, but a gun in time saves us all a lot of grief. In conclusion, I really hope this is the last Scream they ever make… but call me, creepy voice and all, when they get around to a true reboot.
Best of series: the original, obviously.
Worst of series: the third one.
Worth watching after the first one? Eh, not really.
Next up, the atrociously painful (and not in a “pain is pleasure” kind of way) Hellraiser IX: Revelations.
This series has not gone as planned. Or rather, there was no plan. Hellraiser has been misinterpreted, misadapted, miscarried, or just plain missed opportunities almost since the very start. Truth be told, the original isn’t that great, and none of its sequels have even lived up to thatdubious standard. Other than a man with pins in his head, the series seems to have no idea what it’s about, or what even connects this nine movies beyond their titles. I’m not sure what I was expecting going into this project–gaudier failures?–but I shouldn’t be surprised. Movie series don’t get to 9 by doing everything right, unless you’re James Bond. 9 isn’t even success; it’s prostitution, a word that applies especially to a series that’s been DTV/VOD for more than half its life. Even then, Hellraiser is usually trying to give you some kind of bang for your buck. Well, that all ends with Revelations, which may be the laziest franchise entry I’ve ever seen.
Revelations (which offers nothing of the sort, by the way) is a really bad movie. Bad acting, bad filmmaking, bad ideas, unintentional sexism and racism, and zero understanding of how even the series’ shitty DTV entries have operated in terms of narrative. It’s not a psychological horror film; it’s barely a movie at all, although it is briefly the worst period found footage movie period ever period. It features no characters worth the name, no logic, no structure, and no point. I’ve seen some bad movies this month but this one takes the cake: “Worse than Jack Frost and Anthropophagus combined!” and they can put that right on the box. At 75 minutes it is honestly interminable. Finally, after 8 movies, the Hellraiser series has produced a movie that doubles as an actual torture device. Somebody mail this to Guantanamo.
The “story”, and I use the term very loosely, concerns two families hanging out together in one family’s big, remote house at night trying not to talk about how sad they are that their two teenage boys are missing. Meanwhile, we get glimpses (first on the shitty camcorder footage, then later in flashback) of the boys driving to Mexico to buy some Tijuana hookers. In the original Hellraiser, a man traveled the globe seeking pleasures beyond mortal ken before finding the puzzle box; in Hellraiser 9, a couple of whiny teens seek to lose their virginity with a Mexican prostitute. Then a creepy hobo gives them the puzzle box, and they open it, and blah blah blah skinless dude blah blah killing hookers for their blood blah blah blah. Eventually one of the kids comes back evil, makes out with his sister, and then starts shotgunning the families before Pinhead shows up.
Look, I don’t know anything about Doug Bradley, who has always played Pinhead, as a person; I just know he was willing to appear in 8 previous Hellraisers, no matter how dire they got, no matter how low the budgets or how shoehorned in his character was. The fact that he declined to appear in Revelations speaks volumes.
I can’t possibly undersell this movie. I’ve been reviewing it from the perspective of somebody who’s seen the series, but I can only imagine somebody who hasn’t watched a single Hellraiser coming across this and trying to enjoy it. “What’s up with this box? Why is that dude’s skin off? Why do all these characters suck? When is this going to be over?” I believe that there are probably aliens, and if there are, they’re probably more advanced than we are technologically, morally, and when we ascend to the stars to meet them, we’re going to have to apologize for a few of our creations in the course of our existence. Hellraiser IX will be one of them, and what will we say? What can we say? It happened. All we can do now is try to make up for it. And work to ensure that it never happens again. If there is a God, He’ll make Revelations the very last Hellraiser.
Son of a bitch.
Best of series: the original has the highest quality, but Hellraiser IV is in SPAAAACE, so it’s the most fun.
Worst of series: Revelations, by far, and that’s saying something.
Worth watching after the first one? If you’re looking to do a Hellraiser marathon, I would do 1, 2, 4, and then 8.
Movie ranking from best to worst? 1 and 4 tied, 2, 8, 7, the last 15 minutes of 6, 5, the rest of 6, 3, 9.
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