I had the evening off last night and took the opportunity to watch a trio of new horror releases. None of them really held much promise, but I do like to keep abreast of new horror films when I can, to help fulfill the position I seem to have earned at the video store I work at as the horror expert. I wouldn't say that's true, but if you grade me only against the people who I normally work alongside, I am an expert on just about every genre of film.The films yesterday were two direct-to-video monster flicks; The Barrens and Werewolf; The Beast Among Us, and The Raven, with John Cusack doing his best to fill Nicolas Cage's shoes. None of them were any good.
First up was 'Werewolf, which was apparently meant as a spin-off of the Benicio Del Toro-starring Wolfman from a couple years ago. That film's failure to perform well with critics and audiences meant that this film had all references to The Wolfman scrubbed, and was dumped into the DTV market. There is literally nothing in this film to justify watching it, whether you want a good movie, or an enjoyably bad one. The actors make the film feel like you're watching the porn version of a werewolf film, but without any sex. It's either wooden and stilted, or embarrassingly hammy, without ever reaching the enjoyably ridiculous heights of, say The Room. The story is fairly obvious by the time all the major characters have been introduced(the team of werewolf hunters using curiously anachronistic weapons; the young man who yearns to join their ranks; the aristocratic girl he lusts after; the village doctor), and holds no surprises for anyone who might notice how odd it is that the one recognizable actor(Stephen Rea) simply hangs out in the background looking drunk and disgusted for the first hour or so of the movie. The effects would look bad in an amateur youtube video, with the size of
the completely digital werewolf visibly changing if the filmmakers need the monster to enter a door that's too small.
Really, the entirety of 'Werewolf...' doesn't even seem like an attempt to wring money out of the dead-end Wolfman franchise. It feels like someone got this ball rolling, and then everyone just lost interest and shrugged, saying 'oh well, I guess I'm not really doing anything else this weekend.' For proof of this, you need only look at the film's imdb page, in which no one could even be bothered to fill out character names for many of the most important cast members.
The Barrens benefited greatly from following such a collossall waste of time, in that it could only look good in comparison. Really, it's no great movie itself, but it at least has teeth to it, and a desire to scare the audience. The story is about a family on a camping trip in the Jersey Pine Barrens(in reality, Canada) to scatter the ashes of head-of-household Stephen Moyer's dad, who used to take him camping there often. At the same time, Moyer seems to be losing his grip on reality(minor spoiler alert: it turns out he probably has rabies), and he begins to believe the family is being stalked by the Jersey Devil. The film actually gains a good head of steam after awhile, but it takes a long time to get there, and the film tries to force a lot of foreboding out of some pretty mundane shit in the early going. The main problem with the film, though, is that it tries to keep the audience guessing about whether the Devil is real, or just a product of Moyer's rabies delirium, and yet it repeatedly answers definitively which one of those options is correct. There's no real tension in this struggle, which makes up a big bulk of the dramatic focus in this movie. Still, the film is attempting to create atmosphere, and actually succeeds fitfully.
The final film of the night was The Raven, starring John Cusack(giving it his all, but badly miscast) as Edgar Allan Poe. The film purports to explain the mystery of Poe's last days; he was missing for 3 days, and when found he was babbling incoherently. In reality, Poe was probably off on an epic bender(he was often drunk or stoned), but the movie purports that it was all in the aftermath of Poe's help in capturing a diabolical serial killer using methods derived from his tales. It's a pretty standard modern serial killer setup; the killer seems to be working as a performance artist, to impress one person and lead them along to a predetermined end. It's a pretty mediocre example of that style, too, but could have been improved if they had removed the Poe angle altogether, or just done a bit of research(any research) into Poe's life or his writings.
The killer's second victim in this film is on Rufus W. Griswold, a literary critic and rival of Edgar Allan Poe's. Now, this Griswold was a real person, and the rivalry between he and Poe was a real thing. The barbs they traded in competing newspapers was quite a big story in it's time. It's part of how Poe made his name. The problem is that in reality Griswold outlived Poe by 8 years, and even wrote a pretty slanderous memoir of Poe with the sole intention of dragging his name through the mud. This may seem a minor quibble in a fictional film already taking liberties with the laws of reality, but it isn't the only instance of this. Later in the film Poe is working with the police trying to figure out the killer's clues. One seems to be the mysterious involvement of a sailor, and since every other clue has been related to one of Poe's tales or poems, the detective asks Poe if he's ever written a tale about a sailor, to which Poe replies no, he never has.
Really? What about Descent into the Maelstrom? MS. Found in a Bottle? The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantuckett? The Thousand-and-second Tale of Scheherazade(about Sinbad, a sailor)? Not to mention the sailors that just show up as supporting characters in other tales, like the one in Murders in the Rue Morgue? Keep in mind, Poe has written all of these before the movie is supposed to take place. It's no spoiler to say that he dies after this film(the opening title and scene tell you this), and so by the time this film starts, Poe has written everything he ever would write. That's it. No more. Why bother making your film about the last couple weeks in the life of Edgar Allan Poe if you aren't going to do even the most cursory research into his life or his written works?