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January 16, 2011

FMWL's "Right Title, Wrong Horror Movie" Double Feature

An ancient Chinese proverb says that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.  I like to think that's kinda crazy, because I don't think the Chinese like lemonade, but that's beside the point.  What is actually the point, however, is that sometimes you get crap when you don't want crap...and you just gotta make the best out of it.

Such has recently been the case for The Mike.  In the past few months, a favorite DVD retailer of mine (who shall remain unnamed because I'm still in love with them despite their flaws) has not once but TWICE sent me the wrong movie with the same title as the horror movie I loved and ordered.  Said retailer is kind enough to refund my money and let me keep the incorrect film in these situations, which means that I've had two horror movies I wasn't really interested in dropped in my lap.  Since I had nothing better to do today, I figured it'd be an interesting double feature.  Let's make some lemonade.

Movie One

What I Ordered:  The Believers (1987, Dir. by John Schlesinger.)

One of my favorite underrated horror films of the fabulous '80s, John Schlesinger's The Believers puts Martin Sheen and his young son in the path of a New York City voodoo cult run by veteran character actor Harris Yulin.  Though the film misses some opportunities and gets a little silly at times (the dramatic event that starts the film is unintentionally laughable), there's some really creepy and atmospheric moments in the film, and a dynamite cameo by a young Jimmy Smits sells the mystery well.  Oh, and Robert Loggia's in it.  Which means it's a win.

What I Received: Believers (2007, Dir. by Daniel Myrick.)

Oh, what a difference a The makes.

Now, I actually had some hope for Believers, a completely unrelated cult film from Myrick, co-director of The Blair Witch Project.  Reviews were middling, but the promise of a Heaven's Gate style cult on film sounded relatively interesting to me.

Believers opens with a pair of paramedics heading off to a disturbance call on a country road.  Upon arrival they find an unconscious woman with a strange formula tattooed on her chest, and are promptly confronted and kidnapped by a bunch of old men in white with shotguns.  Anyone who remembers real life cults like this know what's going on immediately, but just in case the film mixes in a talking head character who spells things out for us and a little girl who seems to know more about what's going on than anyone else.  This cult, known as the Quanta Group, seems to think that they can stop the end of the world by killing a lot of people.  Oh, and the formula written on this lady's boobs means something.

The idea behind the film could certainly be an interesting one, but the film misses the mark.  Instead of focusing on why these people, led from behind the scenes by a man known only as The Teacher, are doing what they're doing, or what the complex equation written on the young woman's convex bosom has to do with mass suicide, the film spends far too much time letting the "reasonable" paramedics - one a christian, one an atheist - moan about how crazy the Quantas are.

Johnny Messner, who was briefly a rising commodity while costarring in films like Spartan, Hostage, and Running Scared in the middle of the decade, gets most of the screentime as the paramedic who believes in no God.  He's a decent actor for more musclebound roles (like his lead role in the B-Sequel Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid), but his limited dramatic capabilities don't help the film become any deeper than its hallow script.  Daniel Benzali, known previously as "The Bald Guy From Murder One", is effective as The Teacher, and their are some moments near the end that definitely keep the viewer on edge, but they're just too few and far between.  And then there's a totally ridiculous final twist that isn't near as deep as the film thinks it is.

Considering it was a free movie, I'm not too broken up by the fact that Believers underwhelmed me, but there's a good movie inside this one that I still want to see someday.  And since this movie will only remind me it isn't that movie, I don't see The Mike revisiting it in the future.

Movie Two

What I Ordered: The Silent Scream (1980, Dir. by Denny Harris.)

The Silent Scream (There's that The again!) will never be mistaken for a horror classic (but it may be mistaken for a documentary about abortion of the same name), but it's one of the more unique horror films of its era.  Featuring a supporting performance by a mute and haggard Barbara Steele, the not-quite-slasher flick has a tone that reminds of William Castle's original House on Haunted Hill and other old dark house films of eras gone by.  It's another film that doesn't quite hit all the right notes - it's terribly dated and the lack of onscreen violence might turn off slasher fans - but it's quirky and fun and I kind of love it.

What I Received: Silent Scream (2005, Dir. by Matt Cantu & Lance Kawas.)

Oh boy.  Again, THE matters.  Why do you think I'm The Mike?  Because Mike sucks, that's why.

2005's Silent Scream, overpopulated with actors and directors (it took two people to put this movie together?) who would fight to ever work in film again, is a perfect example of how modern independent horror can go terribly, terribly wrong.  It's one of those movies that you know sucks as soon as the film starts, thanks to poor camera work, bad acting, awful sound effects (there's a "tell-tale" heartbeat whenever our hooded killer shows up) and an overuse of gore to cover up other deficiencies.  I mentioned that 1980's Silent Scream lacks gore, but I'll take that film's practical restraint over something like this any day.

The plot is a cheapie slasher standard, as a bunch of college classmates are given the chance to go to a cabin in the snowy woods of Northern Michigan for the weekend.  After immediately starting to party and sex each other up - including a random threesome between a dude and two topless lasses in the first 10 minutes - they begin to die at the hands of a man in a big jacket with a furry hood.  Almost all of them die in the film's first twenty minutes, and I was hopeful that maybe the film would just end quick, but then more characters show up and the killing and sexing and partying begins again.  For another hour.  And then there's a totally ridiculous final twist that isn't near as deep as the film thinks it is.  (Whoa, deja vu.)

Silent Scream is about as standard as a no-budget slasher can be, but there's nothing enjoyable about what it offers.  There are a couple of surprisingly good moments of gore, I guess, but by the time they come around the viewer has been insulted enough by the film's inability to do anything original or impressive.  The acting is bad, the film is full of continuity errors, and I spent most of the time just wishing it would end.  The laughable twist at least made me take notice of the movie again during the final act, but only because I was noticing how it actually COULD get worse.

Look, I don't like to be mean to a movie...I love my horror movies like a mama lion loves her cubs.  But this is one of those horror films that give the genre a bad name.  Free or not, I still feel like I lost by seeing this Silent Scream.  (And by the way, how bad is that DVD cover??? Yuck.)

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So, what did we learn from this double feature?  Well, we are reminded that THE is a very important word.  Perhaps we're also reminded that irony does exist, because two packages that disappointed me when I opened them also ended with disappointing surprise endings.  Perhaps...well, perhaps we just learned that bad lemons make bad lemonade.

5 comments:

Jinx said...

Funny. A 'The' in the right place is very important. I accidently watched Believers too, it made me unhappy.

Emily said...

I watched The Believers about two years ago cause I love me some suicide cults, and yes....meh. The idea of a cult based in mathematics is fascinating. The movie is dull. Boo.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

After reading this post, I am inspired to change my blog's name to "The Shredded Cheddar".

PS--And now I'm wondering whether there is a movie called A Silent Scream, too!

R.D. Penning said...

Crap, now I too need to consider changing my name to The Russ... Damn it!!!

The Mike said...

Glad everyone understands the importance of THE!

And glad to see others had similar experiences with Believers. I wanted to like it, but it didn't win me over!

AND glad to see no one has been subjected to Silent Scream! I got my copy of the REAL The Silent Scream (which omits the The from the packaging, strangely) in the mail today, and did a dance of joy.