Thursday, 31 October 2019

Freddy vs Jason vs Michael vs Leatherface: The Ultimate Showdown!

We've just gotten through our countdown of the best to worst films in the A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchises, but we're not quite done yet! We may have gotten through the films based on their quality alone, but there are plenty of other things to take into account for these franchises. I've put together a number of categories and am going to compare how each franchise does in each and then I'll add up all the points to determine which slasher franchise wins the ultimate showdown. So, without further adieu, it's time to put our slasher icons head-to-head one last time to see who can come out on top!

Most Iconic Weapon
What is a slasher without an iconic murder weapon? Sure, some have more methods to kill than others, but there are certain slashers who are synonymous with their preferred method of murder. With that in mind, let's take a look at our competitors and see whose weapon of choice is most iconic.


4th place (1 point): Jason Voorhees' Machete
Of all the slashers out there, Jason is by far the most creative and versatile, killing with whatever he can find on hand, from spears, to bows, barrels of toxic waste, open vats of liquid nitrogen and even his own bare hands if needed. However, he is perhaps most synonymous with his machete (best demonstrated by the hilarious "Guys, he just wanted his machete back!" line from Jason X). However, it's not a particularly creative murder weapon and it's not even used by Jason all that much, so it brings up the rear in this competition.


3rd place (2 points): Michael Myers' Chef Knife
Props to Michael Myers for always sticking with such a mundane murder weapon and making it work so well. Plus, he's frequently able to stab people with them so hard that they get pinned to the wall, impressive! A kitchen knife is a little more distinct than a machete too much helps make it stand out as being distinctly "Michael Myers", giving him the edge over Jason in this category.


2nd place (3 points): Leatherface's Chainsaw
One of the originators of the "household tools as murder weapons" trope, Leatherface's chainsaw is so iconic that it's even in the title of his franchise. It's a brutal, unsubtle weapon, but it suits its wielder well. What makes it even more iconic is that Leatherface doesn't even tend to get that many kills with his chainsaw, so it's not like there are particular scenes that people are even associating it with - it's just that associated with Leatherface that they just assume he gets way more chainsaw kills than he actually does.


Winner (4 points): Freddy Krueger's Razor Gloves
It really had to go to Freddy Krueger here, especially since his weapon is the only one that was home-made and therefore not used by anyone else. What's even more impressive is that Freddy kills in all sorts of creative ways due to his dream powers, but the razor glove is still totally iconic as his murder weapon.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Freddy vs Jason vs Michael vs Leatherface: The Ultimate Countdown! (#10-01)

We're finally here! We've whittled down the Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchises to the ten best films. Which one will come out on top? Read on to find out...


10) Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
After so many awful sequels, it's refreshing that we finally got a worthy successor to the original Halloween. While the other sequels tried to come up with ever more convoluted means to continue the storyline and Michael's killing sprees, H20 takes things back to the most logical jumping-off point and deals with how Laurie's life was impacted by the events of that Halloween night twenty years ago (acting as a sequel to only the first two Halloween films and ignoring the rest). In that time Laurie has faked her own death, moved across the country to California, had a son and is now a teacher at a private school, but she hasn't been able to confront the trauma of what happened 20 years ago. The premise alone puts H20 well ahead of other sequels in this franchise because it actually has some things to say about fear and trauma and how it can ruin not only your life but the lives of those around you if you don't confront it. Luckily for Laurie, Michael Myers manages to figure out where she's living and pencils in an exposure therapy session for that Halloween evening...

H20 has been compared to Scream many times, although I feel like the comparisons make you expect a far more referential film than what we got (it very much lacks the meta elements which basically defined the Scream franchise... although it does have some unexpected meta elements like Janet Leigh acting as Laurie Strode's maternal proxy). I mean, sure, the film very clearly exists in the post-Scream landscape with characters who aren't complete idiots. Just compare H20 to Halloween 6, which had come out only three years earlier - that film felt like a late 80s slasher, with its bloated mythology, idiotic teen cast and over the top gore, reeking of a tired genre content to just coast off of the lowest common denominator. In contrast, H20 is written in a fairly clever and fun manner, ditching a reliance on lazy tropes and with no one being truly stupid. It actually takes its time to establish the characters and setting before setting loose. After a trio of early kills, Michael takes almost an hour to really get into his murder spree, similar to the original film, which gives us time to get to know the victims on the chopping block. That said, this is very much Jamie Lee Curtis' movie, as Laurie Strode is by far the most compelling character (good try though, Josh Hartnett). Seeing her confront her fears and then beat the tar out of Michael Myers is quite entertaining and a satisfying arc for the film.

However, I can't be entirely positive about this film. For one thing, the movie is very heavily relying on your previous knowledge of Michael Myers for his character to be in any way compelling. It's not like the original Halloween where we get to meet Laurie and see Michael stalking her menacingly the entire time, here Laurie gets most of the focus and then Michael just kind of shows up momentarily on occasion. Hell, even when he does show up, he doesn't even kill anyone, despite having two different occasions to do so. I kind of like the restraint, but again if you didn't come in knowing Michael would probably usually kill these people then it just makes him look like less of a threat. I think that they just could have done more to re-establish him in this film, especially considering that it wiped several sequels off the slate. However, the issues with Michael are nothing compared to the ending. Like, I'd knock a whole point off this movie's score for the crappy ending. There's a certain satisfaction to having Laurie kill off Michael Myers definitively, but even if you didn't know about the pre-planned retcon this ending was preparing for the next film in the franchise, it's still insane. So Laurie kidnaps Michael in an ambulance at gun point, drives like a maniac, runs him over, rolls down a cliff side (and gets herself ejected from the ambulance in the process, unscathed), pins Michael to a tree and then chops his head off! Like... just let her kill him in the school! Dammit, LL Cool J! Ugh, I just hated how ridiculous that ending got, it felt like an escalation that went way too far, and knowing that it was to bake in a potential sequel in incredibly convoluted fashion just makes it worse.

Those gripes aside though, H20 was really enjoyable... and thank God because the Halloween franchise was a real slog to get through for this count-down. It's really no wonder that they went back to H20's ideas for another go-around in 2018. Oh, speaking of which...

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Freddy vs Jason vs Michael vs Leatherface: The Ultimate Countdown! (#20-11)

We're getting close now! After whittling our way through a bunch of truly crappy slasher films, we're finally into the top 20, where I actually start enjoying some of these films! What a nice change of pace! With that said, let's get back to the countdown, starting with #20...


20) A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
In a lot of ways, The Dream Master is like a rehash of Dream Warriors, but to a much lesser effect. It makes the questionable decision of killing off all of the surviving dream warriors in the first act, replacing them all with a new protagonist, Alice, who inherits Kris' powers... somehow. Somehow's probably a good description for The Dream Master, because the film just doesn't bother to make any sense. Freddy's powers expand to whatever's most convenient for the writers at the time, such as how he gets around being buried and consecrated by being resurrected... in a dream. Shouldn't he have not even been able to affect dreams if he was gone anyway? Who cares! And don't even get me started on the ridiculous way that Freddy is defeated, I'm not sure I could even explain what the hell that was all about if you held a gun to my head. Freddy himself is starting to turn into more and more of a toothless cartoon here, with the particular lowlight of having him use his razor glove as a shark fin and then putting on a pair of sunglasses on the beach. However, The Dream Master is a pretty fun film overall with some of the best kills in the franchise. Debbie's kill in particular is incredible and shows off this film's fantastic special effects as she's turned into a bug. It's certainly a huge step down for the Elm Street franchise after so many good films, but at least The Dream Master is entertaining enough that it's watchable.

Friday, 25 October 2019

Freddy vs Jason vs Michael vs Leatherface: The Ultimate Countdown! (#30-21)

Welcome back to the big slasher franchise countdown! After whittling our way through some of the worst films I've ever seen... well, we're still working our way through a bunch of crappy films today. They're just not as crappy as Freddy's Dead, which is something to celebrate, I guess! So with that in mind, let's look at the next batch of movies, starting with #30...


30) Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
After killing off Jason in Part IV, the producers wanted to carry on the franchise without him. If they had decided to do something other than replace him with a Jason knock-off this could have maybe worked, but since they didn't, A New Beginning just feels like a filler entry in the franchise, not only because Jason would be back in the next film, but also because they clearly wanted to set-up Tommy Jarvis as the new killer going forward. On the one hand, it is really nice to see Tommy Jarvis return and lend some continuity to the film, but the way he is handled is very poor. He basically spends the whole movie on the verge of freaking out, in a medically-induced haze, snapping at people who act like a dick to him, or just entirely missing for large chunks of the runtime. Some of this comes down to the filmmakers trying to set up a mystery about who the killer is, similar to the first film, and Tommy Jarvis is one of the main red herrings. This mystery is actually better handled in some ways than it was in the original, since there are several potential killers, including a mysterious drifter, a guy who legitimately axe murders someone early in the film and even a potentially resurrected Jason Voorhees himself. However, the execution of this mystery is significantly worse than in the original film and is easily one of the main reasons why A New Beginning is so derided. This is a movie whose entire premise hinges on a kid named Joey who is so stupid and annoying (he literally has melted chocolate running down his lips) that a guy with rage issues axes him to death, causing Joey's deadbeat dad to freak out and go on a murder spree. Why did he take it all out on his whole community instead of going after the guy who actually killed his son? Good question, who knows! We don't even find out until the ending that the killer was a random paramedic named Roy Burns who had shown up momentarily at two earlier points in the film, at which point they just exposition dump his motives. However, the way that the film highlights the seemingly-pointless Roy Burns during these sequences pretty much gives away the twist if you're only paying attention to the language of film, rather than a coherent narrative. I don't think this twist was ever going to be satisfying, but it could have worked better if Roy Burns got unmasked just a little earlier and went on a rage-fuelled tangent about how he's getting revenge for his son.

Even without the poor twist though, A New Beginning is just a really bad Friday the 13th movie. The characters are all nobodies. Several characters are introduced in the same scene where they are killed off with the audience having no reason to give a shit about them. The bulk of the characters only get two or three scenes, but absolutely no development beyond an outline of a character trait. Even final girl Pam doesn't have much character to speak of and Tommy Jarvis himself gets no real development in the film. The only character who is at least fun to watch is the little black kid Reggie, who adds a bit of diversity to a franchise which had been overwhelmingly white until now. Oh, and then there are the fucking rednecks. Holy shit I loathe these cartoon bumpkins. They get more screentime than most of the other characters and every second of it makes me want to murder them myself. The dull characters combine with mediocre kills and the film's unavoidable filler status to make A New Beginning a truly forgettable Friday the 13th film. I have to give them a bit of credit for trying to take the franchise in a different direction, but boy did it not work.


29) A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
On the surface, the Elm Street remake seems to have some good things going for it, most obviously the casting of Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger. It's also obvious that the screenwriters did some research before writing the film because they inject new ideas into the story based on the science of sleep deprivation and the history of the Satanic Panic (which was still unfolding during the time of the original Elm Street).

Unfortunately, the Elm Street remake ultimately feels like a needless disappointment. Many of the film's beats are just copies of the original, but done to much lesser effect (eg, CGI Freddy coming out of the wall looks so much worse than the sheet effect in the original). As for the new ideas, while the sleep deprevation ideas come across more as a half-baked means of narrative convenience, it's the Satanic Panic elements which really screw over this film. You could boil this movie's story down to "What if Satanic Panic, but real?" The Elm Street remake teases the idea that Freddy was innocent of any wrongdoing and is getting revenge on the children for lying to their parents, which is exactly what happened in the real life events that this film is clearly inspired by. The main characters also have to uncover their "repressed memories" of the events, which is another key element of the Satanic Panic which was later proven false. However, in this film it turns out that Freddy Krueger was actually a pedophile, so it's good that the parents all burned him alive without any real evidence and repressed memories are totally real, y'all! Considering that they were obviously cribbing from a real-life event which ruined several peoples' lives despite them all being completely innocent and then turn the narrative around to them actually being guilty, it's disappointing. That's not even getting to the fact that turning Freddy into a straight-up pedophile and abuser completely sucks any sort of fun you might get out of the character. It makes him too real and too disgusting to enjoy. Why would any of us want to see Freddy continue to abuse victims whose lives he's been ruining for their whole lives? I'm not sure where the line of no return is between this unacceptable Freddy and Freddy torturing teenagers by turning them into bugs and then squashing them, but the Elm Street remake is just joyless and it's no wonder there wasn't a sequel.

A unlikeable Freddy is not the end of the remake's issues though either. The film features a pre-breakout Rooney Mara as Nancy, which would lead one to expect a strong performance from her. However, her performance is practically lifeless and the character is written as a boring, passive protagonist. This effectively torpedoes audience engagement on its own, even if Freddy was more likeable in his own right. It's strange too because one of the elements of the film I do like is that the first half hour frames Kris as the protagonist - she figures out that the killer is in their nightmares, starts looking into the characters' pasts and gets the most development. As a result, it's actually pretty shocking when she's the one who gets killed in the first act, in easily the most impactful death of the film. This could have actually been a great idea if Nancy had been set up better to pick up the torch from her, kind of like how Alice becomes the protagonist in The Dream Master. Ultimately, the film is also just not very fun or scary. Perhaps they were going for a more grounded take on Freddy, but he doesn't really do anything creative with his victims' dreams. He just shows them scenes from the past, and then when he's stalking them the most elaborate thing he'll do is teleport around. Add everything up and you have a remake which they just shouldn't have bothered with, because there is basically nothing to recommend.


28) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)
As much as I detest this film, I have to give it one thing - it's main goal is to be a brutal film and in this regard it succeeds in spades. With torture porn coming in vogue at the time, the producers at Platinum Dunes decided that they really had to up the ante compared to the Chainsaw remake, and you can't deny that they created a very nasty film. If that's all you're looking for then you will probably enjoy The Beginning much more than I did, but if not then you're in for a miserable time. For my own tastes, The Beginning is so bleak in its pointless torture of the characters that there's nothing to enjoy about it. Even then, the film is a piss-poor excuse for a prequel, skimming over questions that no one really asked about the Chainsaw remake. Furthermore, the narrative also stumbles with a Vietnam war draft dodging subplot which goes nowhere and a final girl who keeps rolling nat 20s on her stealth checks until it becomes narratively convenient for her to finally get caught. Even R. Lee Ermey's Sherrif Hoyt is much less fun to watch. Again, your feelings on this film will probably come down to taste, but for my own part, I don't like it at all.


27) Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)
Texas Chainsaw 3D has to be one of the stupidest horror sequels in the past decade, even if you ignore the fact that the characters are about 20 years too young based on the film's timeline (this is because the film was supposed to be set in the 1990s, but was changed to present day at the last minute). Some of this probably comes down to the fact that this film was co-written by Adam Marcus, the guy who brought us Jason Goes to Hell. Here he once again tries to expand a franchise's mythology, this time by bringing us a feud between two clans, the Sawyers and the Hartmans. The most baffling aspect of this is that the Sawyers, and Leatherface, get repositioned as freaking misunderstood heroes... who, y'know, we'll just conveniently pretend don't regularly engage in murder, torture and cannibalism. It's especially ridiculous when their foes, the Hartmans, are essentially just guilty of police brutality, which is bad but nothing compared to the inhuman acts of the Sawyers. The 3D is also pretty bad, although very restrained compared to the likes of Friday the 13th: Part III and Freddy's Dead. All that said, Texas Chainsaw 3D is at least never boring, which helps keep it out of the bottom tiers of this list, but good God does it ever insult your intelligence.


26) Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
Halloween 4 is about as bog-standard as a Halloween sequel could be. Michael Myers escapes from the sanitarium on Halloween... again. He's trying to kill his last remaining relative... again. Dr. Loomis and the sherrif are trying to hunt him down before he can kill... again. I mean, there are a few differences between this as the original Halloween, namely the introduction of child actress Danielle Harris' new character, Jamie Lloyd, daughter of a now-deceased Laurie Strode. Having a child as one of the main characters provides a more vulnerable victim for Michael to hunt down, but she ultimately is little more than a burden for the other characters to protect. Speaking of other characters, the other female lead, Rachel, is pretty boring. She is constantly losing Jamie and the only other thing we get for her is that her boyfriend cheats on her because she has to babysit Jamie on Halloween... wow, she's really good at picking them isn't she? We also get Dr. Loomis back, but he's much more restrained than he was in previous Halloween films. He's still easily the most entertaining character, but compared to the first two films he's definitely mellowed out.

Halloween 4 makes some weird and unfortunate decisions. For one thing, the tension that was so key to the first film is gone. Michael rarely stalks his victims now, he just shows up and kills them almost immediately. He also teleports around town whenever it's narratively convenient, killing whole police stations and power plants in the process while somehow managing to keep track of where Jamie is at all times. Oh and Michael's mask is so strange looking in this film - it's almost pure white, the eyes are pure black and the texture is so smooth looking that the lighting can't give it any sort of depth. It just looks strange, especially compared to all the other masks in this franchise. I know that the producers felt like they had to course-correct after the much-maligned Season of the Witch, but Halloween 4 ultimately is just a boring film which tries way too hard to recapture the original film's spirit, while missing out on basically everything that made that film work.


25) Halloween II (1981)
Hoo boy, of all the franchises on this list the Halloween franchise saw the biggest dip in quality between its first and second films, in my opinion. This is probably a surprising placement for most, because it seems like a lot of people think Halloween II is pretty decent, and I kind of get the urge to defend it (especially considering the films that came after). However, I was actually really disappointed by Halloween II. You'd think that only a couple years removed from the original they'd be able to retain a spark of what made the first film work so well, but this film feels more akin to the Halloween slasher ripoffs than it does the original. There are scattered moments of brilliance, such as Michael Myers coming out of the shadows behind an unsuspecting victim and a couple solid kills, but most of this movie is incredibly unsatisfying. Part of the issue is that Jamie Lee Curtis' Laurie Strode is wasted in a comatose state for the first hour, and instead we have to watch a bunch of unlikeable and/or personality-less characters get picked off one-by-one with no real clear direction of what anyone is doing. When Laurie finally does start getting stalked by Michael, the tension and enjoyment does ratchet up considerably, but by then two thirds of the movie have passed. Donald Pleasance's Dr. Loomis is also already going batshit crazy by this film, ranting like a madman, shooting out car windows and dragging people into danger, which makes for some fun distractions at least. Unfortunately, other than those little flashes of brilliance and a decent last act, most of Halloween II is really underwhelming and lacking in momentum.


24) A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)
At its core, The Dream Child has a surprisingly compelling premise - protagonist Alice is pregnant and her unborn child has become connected to Freddy and is leeching off Alice's dream powers. As a result, Freddy is able to use the unborn child to attack victims in the real world at any time, since the fetus is almost always dreaming. This means that Alice has to grapple with the idea of aborting her own child in order to stop Freddy from killing people, which is a fantastic set-up for some tense drama. Unfortunately, the execution of this premise is not great, since Alice immediately takes abortion off the table, so from there it just becomes a Nightmare film with increasingly-unclear rules. This is the entry in the Nightmare franchise where Freddy finally became a total cartoon character, quipping off cringy one-liners before, during and after every kill, and sometimes you'd just wish he'd shut up. The film also brings back the subplot about Freddy's mother, which was already one of the worst parts about the previous Nightmare films, and is just as crappy here, only now with a hokey dream child thrown in for good measure. By this film, Alice has grown on me a fair bit, but the new characters are little more than walking victims, whose character traits only exist to give Freddy something to kill them with. Speaking of which, this movie has a surprisingly low number of kills and they're a real mixed bag. The force-feeding death has some really terrible looking effects and the Freddy-cycle kill is okay but Freddy's constant one-liners make it annoying, but the "Take on Me" inspired rotoscope kill is a true classic which shows off just how cool and creative Nightmare films can be... too bad this film is just a convoluted, nonsensical mess.


23) Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
The New Blood has a very strange premise which practically screams "franchise fatigue", as the film suddenly throws a character with psychic powers into the mix. Maybe they figured "well, Jason's a zombie now so any sort of magic is on the table"? It basically makes The New Blood into Carrie vs Jason and the last act when the two are finally allowed to go head-to-head has some of the most amazing sequences in any Friday the 13th movie. This is helped by the introduction of everyone's favourite Jason Vorhees, Kane Hodder, who gets the absolute crap kicked out of him as final girl Tina throws Jason around, flings things, lights him on fire and even drops a house on him, complete with some of the best special effects in the whole franchise (and probably the best-looking Jason for that matter). However, the film comes with some MAJOR caveats. For one thing, the MPAA was cracking down hard on slasher films at this time and so most of the kills were censored heavily (although we did get the classic "sleeping bag kill", which gets around needing to have any gore with how creatively brutal it is). I'd also argue that, if we're just judging on the first hour of the film, this could have been the worst film in the entire Friday the 13th franchise. Other than Tina, the characters are forgettable or infuriatingly unlikeable (especially Dr. Crews), and it's hard to care as Jason tears through a bunch of nobodies for the millionth time. Still, at least the last act is fun enough that it at somewhat makes up for the rest of the mess.


22) Friday the 13th (2009)
As far as horror remakes go, Friday the 13th is actually pretty decent. It's faithful to the source material without being overly-reverential and essentially feels like an updated, more explicit entry in the franchise. And man, do I ever mean more explicit - not only is Jason just brutal in this film, but the nudity and sex scenes have been cranked up to borderline-porno levels. Jason himself has also gotten an interesting makeover, coming across here as an unstoppable survivalist who uses the environment against his victims and actually sets traps for them. He's certainly a more cunning, fast and lethal foe than ever, making him easily the most intense and arguably the scariest Jason ever. However, the film commits the cardinal sin of most slashers, featuring unlikeable and uninteresting characters who exist for no reason but to get killed in various brutal ways. Chief among these is Trent, a cartoonish, irredeemable asshole who is apparently supposed to be Megan Fox's ex-boyfriend from the start of Transformers (a bit of trivia I learned while researching my ranking of cinematic universes). The other characters are all just bog-standard at best, which keeps the film from being good in its own right, but by Friday standards, it's solid.


21) Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)
Leatherface isn't a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but I have to give it some credit for introducing some interesting new ideas to the Chainsaw franchise which have never really been capitalized upon. Foremost amongst these is the idea of making the Sawyers into active hunters, rather than having them scavenge and kill people who just happen to wander onto their property. It gives the film more of a The Hills Have Eyes vibe, which feels appropriate. As the film's title suggests, Leatherface has also been beefed up, becoming a meaner, more sadistic killer who wields a massive, golden chainsaw at the end. The villainous characters are also quite colourful, from the creative Tink, to the charming Tex, to the disgusting pervert, Alfredo. The main couple, Ryan and Michelle, are unfortunately pretty underwhelming protagonists, but at least we get Ken Foree as Benny, a badass survivalist who goes toe-to-toe with the Sawyers and is an absolute joy to watch. Despite all these cool elements, the film is unable to execute on any of them to the fullest, which is in part due to studio interference and the MPAA mercilessly cutting down on all of the brutal deaths.

...and that's all for this entry in the rankings. We're getting closer to the top though! Be sure to tune in again soon though, as we go through #20-11!

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Freddy vs Jason vs Michael vs Leatherface: The Ultimate Countdown! (#39-31)

Happy Halloween everyone! This new series has been a long time coming. Since at least the Texas Chainsaw Massacre retrospective I've been considering ranking all of the films from the big four slasher franchises, Friday the 13th, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Obviously, this is a mammoth undertaking - we're talking 39 films here, about half of which I hadn't seen before. I'll be counting down 10 films in each post (well, 9 in this one post), releasing a new post every second day, until we reach Halloween, at which point I'll have a special comparison of the best parts of each franchise. So, without further adieu, let's get into the bottom of the barrel - there are some notoriously awful films in these franchises, so which ones are going to fight for the title of the worst? Read on to find out...


39) Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)
I didn't think that any slasher movie could be worse than Texs Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, but then along comes Freddy's Dead to prove me wrong. It's a super close contest between the two, since they're awful for different reasons, but I came to the decision that the problems with Freddy's Dead put it on top of the shit pile. The plot is contrived and derivative, the characters suck, the acting is mostly trash, the special effects are amateur-level and the film ignores all of the rules that the series had established and just hopes that no one will notice. Worst of all, they've turned Freddy Krueger into such a cartoon that he is just annoying. Like, on more than one occasion I wished that he'd just shut up. It feels like New Line Cinema had turned Freddy into such an icon that they defanged him to try to get mass appeal. However, like most corporate mascots in the 90s, the result is a movie which is staggeringly uncool. This all culiminates in the most embarrassing slasher movie moment ever, when Freddy kills a victim in a video game with some of the stupidest dialogue, visuals and sound effects imaginable. Seriously, it has to be seen to be believed. Oh and lest we forget, the last act of the film is in gimmicky 3D, featuring the tadpole-like "Dream Demons" which just float around and laugh a lot.

I will give it some credit though - Carlos' death scene is very solid. There's some actual tension and horror in the scene. Hell, even cartoon Freddy strikes a perfect, dark comedic tone here, giving us at least one kill that's entertaining. Too bad the rest of the film is total nonsensical garbage. What really puts it at the bottom of the pile though is that this film had an $11 million budget! Considering what we got on screen, that is totally insane. This film's quality is even worse when you also consider that this was still a major franchise for New Line Cinema, although it also calls to mind such 90s misfires as Batman & Robin. Freddy's Dead is truly the bottom of the barrel for slasher films, which is really saying something.


38) Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)
Like I said under Freddy's Dead, going into this ranking I fully expected The Next Generation to take the bottom slot on this list. This film is a dreadfully dull, incomprehensible mess which has the audacity to think that it can make a meta-commentary about bad slasher sequels, despite being one of the absolute worst itself. It's also pretty insulting to series fans as Leatherface (or "Leather" as they're called here) is a complete joke who spends every second of screentime shrieking incessantly. The only real saving grace which kept The Next Generation from taking the bottom of this list is Matthew McConaughey's deranged performance as Vilmer. The character himself is nonsense but McConaughey goes so far beyond hamming up that it's at least entertaining. I wrote a whole Retrospectives review on this film, so if you want a more detailed commentary you can read it here.


37) Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
Imagine being a Halloween fan who had waited 6 years for the unresolved plot threads from Halloween 5 to be resolved, only to have this film shit into existence. Halloween 6 is an ignoble ending for the original continuity of Halloween sequels and an embarrassing capstone to Donald Pleasence's career. The poor guy just looks tired in this film and can't even muster up the deranged energy that had made him so entertaining to watch. He's not the only one who gets done dirty by this film though - Danielle Harris didn't even get invited back to play Jamie Lloyd one last time, and instead the character is recast and then unceremoniously killed off in the first twenty minutes, continuing the Halloween franchise's shitty obsession with killing off all its main characters for no good reason. And then we also have a young Paul Rudd, who gets this weirdly creepy role as Tommy Doyle, the boy Laurie was babysitting in the first film. Regardless, all of the characters are half-baked with no real reason to care about any of them.

The film also has a terrible, mid-90s horror aesthetic to it. It often throws ambient screams into the soundtrack to try to make things feel scarier and will suddenly intercut split-second shots of knives or other "scary" images and loud scare sounds into a scene to try to get a cheap jump scare (sometimes even using these as transitions to other scenes). And, oh God, they also will just throw hard rock into the soundtrack when Michael's showing up to show us that he's not fucking around, this Michael has 'tude. I mean, it's not as embarrassing as the slide-whistle cops in Halloween 5, but it's still pretty bad.

The main issue with Halloween 6 though is that it makes absolutely no sense. The whole conspiracy angle ends up being a dead-end with no explanation for what's going on. Michael's motivations are explicitly laid out that he's still trying to wipe out his last living relative (this time Jamie's newborn son), but then he spends most of the film going after the Strodes who have moved into his old house and have nothing to do with the baby. It's also kind of implied that the man in black has some sort of control over him, but then Michael just wipes out the whole cult when they leave him loose in their sanitarium...? I just... what? The narrative also just doesn't flow. At one point Dr. Loomis yells "Where is the baby?" and that caused me to stop and say "Yeah, that's a very good question. Where IS the baby? Hell, where is anybody in this film? What the hell is happening!?" The last twenty minutes in particular just don't make any sense (at least, in the theatrical version I watched - the ending was heavily reshot and there's a producer's cut which apparently is better, but I didn't see it).

I will give this movie a bit of credit though. It mercifully moves pretty quickly - the first fourty minutes went by before I knew it, despite very little of substance actually happening in that time. The film also at least looks professional, with a nice production design and some decent shots. I also think that, considering what they had to work with, the curse of Thorn which is fuelling Michael Myers actually kind of makes sense. I mean, look at what they had to explain: why Michael Myers is invincible and inhuman evil, kills on Halloween, and goes after his family members. The explanation that druids would possess one person to kill their family in order to spare the demon, Thorn, from killing all of the tribe is actually kind of sensible when you look at it that way. I mean, it's still bullshit in the end and not the sort of explanation we ever needed, but it's not as bad as it might have seemed at first glance. That said, considering the conspiracy just gets tossed aside in the last thirty minutes, it ultimately becomes pretty pointless.

Halloween 6 is just an absolute mess from start to finish. It's no wonder that the franchise was rebooted after this point because there was nowhere further to go from this point. The only regrettable part about it was that they didn't pull the plug earlier. Apparently the producer's cut was better, but since I can only go off the version I saw, they should have done better the first time.


36) Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
The Halloween franchise was given a gift with H20. After several years of horrible sequels, the public was finally excited about the prospect of another outing. So what did they do with this golden opportunity? Well, they shit out Halloween: Resurrection, which might be one of the stupidest films I've ever seen. After the refreshingly clever H20, Resurrection goes right back to lazy tropes and dumb characters, even managing to make Laurie Strode into an idiot before killing her off again in the first fifteen minutes. Bloody hell, Halloween get some class!

Anyway, with Laurie dead, the film then cuts to a group of dumb, horny teenagers who are cast on an Internet reality TV show, set in the Myers house. As you can imagine from the set-up, this film was trying to be very contemporary for the early 2000s, but it is painfully dated now, with ridiculous celebrity cameos from a kung-fu fighting Busta Rymes and a completely pointless Tyra Banks. The film is also ripping off its contemporaries in terrible fashion. The Blair Witch Project is popular? We'll have low-resolution cameras mounted on everyone which they will constantly forget about! People still like Scream? We'll make this film meta, that's the part about Scream that was good, right? The characters also are all shitty and one-dimensional. Like, there's a character who is introduced as a chef. Next time we see him, he's explaining that he believes that Michael Myers became evil because he had a bad diet... um, okay... Then the next time we see him, he says that he bets that the Myers house has a big kitchen, which he promptly wanders off to find. We get it movie, he likes cooking. The rest of the cast are no better - you have your insecure final girl who doesn't develop or learn anything, a fame obsessed girl, an academic girl who apparently doesn't know how to be a human being, a horndog, a creepy guy music guy, etc. They all suck.

The entire set-up of this film is so bad. Invalidating the ending of H20 is just insulting to the audience's intelligence and screws over Laurie Strode's ending to get the Weinsteins a bit more money in the bank. There's basically no reason for Michael to be killing people in this film, other than that they just happened to wander into his house. The movie also has very little to say about anything. You'd think that, considering the premise, maybe they'd have some commentary on reality TV, but it literally boils down to "reality TV is not real". Wow, that's some revelatory insight there, Resurrection. Literally, the only thing that I actually thought was clever in this movie was having the show's audience message the final girl to let her know where Michael is and give her tips to evade him. That was a pretty cool idea, but it's the only moment of brilliance inside of this giant turd of a film.


35) Halloween II (2009)
Holy shit... say what you will about Rob Zombie's Halloween remake, but the sequel is utter dogshit. Like, I had to think long and hard about whether I hated it more than Halloween: Resurrection. I'll give Rob a little bit of credit for running with his own artistic vision for a Halloween sequel, but good God were the results awful. Where do I even begin describing this movie... actually, now that I ask it, there's really only one starting point, and it's two words: Ghost. Mom. Rob Zombie obviously really wanted to work his wife back into the sequel so we get "treated" to numerous scenes of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode seeing visions of a white-clad Sheri Moon Zombie telling them that they need to be a family again. It's freaking stupid and just one of several missteps. Let's get to the narrative - Laurie has PTSD and is trying to cope with the fact that her life is crumbling around her, Dr. Loomis is on a book tour and Michael Myers is slowly walking back to Haddonfield to reunite with her. That's basically all this movie is for the vast majority of its runtime. Seriously, this is a two hour movie and it takes about an hour and a half for Michael to even find Laurie, meaning that there is just a ton of wheel spinning in the meantime. There are also plenty of kill scenes, but they don't really make any sense - why does Michael go after the strip club where his mom used to work and kill everyone there? I guess because Ghost Mom told him to...? That's the only possible explanation, but then why does he go to a party and kill one of Laurie's friends and her hookup for that night? Especially considering that he then just heads to Laurie's house to try to ambush her there? Uhhhh... because this is a Halloween movie? Seriously, it makes absolutely no sense other than to just tick off the boxes of what people expect from this series. Oh, and speaking of which, that must be the entire motive behind Michael stalking Laurie in a hospital during the first twenty-five minutes of the film... which culminates with it all being revealed to be part of a fucking dream sequence!!!

It also doesn't help that nearly everyone in Halloween II is an asshole. Dr. Loomis has gone from being sympathetic to just a fame-obsessed prick and even Laurie has become really unbearable. Like, I get that she's suffering from PTSD and can sympathize with that, but she lashes out at fellow victim, Annie, when she tries to help and even admits that she wants to kill her. Laurie also has a couple of new friends, but they're basically nobodies who only exist to fill out the bodycount. The only characters I liked at all were Sheriff Brackett (played excellently by Brad Dourif) and Annie, because at least they were trying to make the best of the situation. Halloween II is just a senseless, nasty mess from start to finish, there really isn't much more you can say about it.


34) Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
When I started this list, I expected Jason Goes to Hell to be ranked much lower. However, in a franchise as formulaic as Friday the 13th, Jason Goes to Hell gets at least some points for trying to shake up the formula... but holy shit, did they ever fail spectacularly. Deciding that the ninth film in a franchise is the perfect time to suddenly begin filling in the mythology of Jason was a major misstep which goes against the pure simplicity which gave this series the longevity it enjoys. Honestly, Jason Goes to Hell is pretty decent in most ways (especially by Friday standards) - the acting's fine, the characters are interesting (Creighton Duke is fun and Steven is a one of the best protagonists in the series), the directing is slicker than usual, there are some funny moments (such as the opening, where the FBI ambushes Jason) and the kills are just brutal. However, the story is so batshit insane that it brings down everything else. So Jason can now suddenly possess people temporarily when he dies and needs to be reborn from a secret sibling of his that we never knew existed until now? What the actual hell? This, of course, also means that Jason barely even factors into the film and instead we get to see such "interesting" killers as a coroner and an asshole reporter... great, just what the franchise needed... It makes Jason Goes to Hell at least entertaining in its ridiculousness, but there's no way to ignore that this film is a massive failure. The fact that this film got a theatrical release is just insane to me. Oh and to make matters worse, the redesigned Jason is just butt-ugly, which makes it inadvertently good that he barely shows up in the film.


33) Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
Halloween 5 has to be the point where the franchise really went off the rails. What started as an incredibly simple tale about the embodiment of evil deciding that he wants to stalk and kill a group of fleshed-out teens turns into a saga about family bloodlines, ill-defined psychic links, the curse of thorn and a shady conspiracy surrounding a man in black. Holy shit, what happened to this franchise? Halloween 5 somehow manages to find ways to not only get stupider but more boring as it goes on. Most of the film is just a very dull rehash of very well-trodden slasher territory as Michael kills teens that we've barely met.

There are just so many dumb things in this film. Jamie is suddenly mute and has some sort of psychic connection with Michael, but neither really has any purpose. There's a shady man in black who has some sort of connection to Michael, but it was literally added without bothering to have it make sense, because the filmmakers figured they'd be able to answer it later. And why does Dr. Loomis suddenly believe that Michael Myers is fuelled by rage? He's the one who said that he was pure evil, attributing his violence to malice goes against the entire point of the character.

Another issue is that the previous film's co-lead, Rachel, is uncermoniously killed. She wasn't a particularly fleshed-out character, but she was miles better than her replacement, Tina, a ditzy girl who just wants to have some fun. Don't get me wrong, a final girl doesn't always need to be the strong, independent type, but Tina is just straight-up dumb. Michael ends up stalking her and her friends for basically no reason - apparently Tina plans on visiting Jamie at some point that evening, but why wouldn't Michael just go straight to Jamie then instead? It doesn't make much sense, but then again, not much does in Halloween 5. There can't have been a script when this film was shot, or at the very least, they can't have followed it because there's no way someone could put this film's narrative down on paper and say "yeah, this sounds good!" (EDIT: I looked it up afterwards and this film did indeed begin shooting without a completed script and there were moments, such as the man in black, which were just added on the fly to fill in plot holes!) I'll give the film some credit for clearly trying to recapture some of the suspense that had been lost in the previous film though, such as a scene where Tina stupidly gets into a car with Michael, thinking that he's her boyfriend, and you're left wondering if/when he's going to kill her. For the most part though, Halloween 5 is just trying to squeeze blood out of a stone for a franchise that went in the wrong direction ages ago.


32) Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
Perhaps due to the formulaic nature of the franchise, Friday the 13th films generally maintained a pretty consistent level of mediocrity during the 80s. However, it wasn't until Jason Takes Manhattan that we suddenly saw that sticking to the formula could still manage to disappoint everyone - even fans who had eaten up all the previous entries. Jason Takes Manhattan is a derivative and subpar Friday film on its own, with Jason somehow managing to secretly kill sexy teenagers on a boat which is impossibly labrynthine. However, its hints at shaking up the formula are what truly make it disappointing. How cool could a film about Jason stalking people on the streets of New York have been? But no, he shows up and then just continues stalking only the people he was already chasing after. The film also has many of the most irritating and dull victims in the entire franchise, a terrible final girl with a contrived connection to Jason and an embarrassingly bad-looking unmasked Jason. Seriously, the makeup they used in this film when he loses his hockey mask looks WORSE than a Halloween mask. The only real saving grace is that a couple of the kills are decent, particularly the boxing scene where Jason takes dozens of punches to tire out his opponent and then one-punches his head off.


31) Friday the 13th Part III (1982)
It didn't take long for Friday the 13th to begin scraping the bottom of the barrel, but they sure as hell succeeded in Part III. Some people have a fondness for Part III because it's the entry where Jason gets his iconic hockey mask, but don't be fooled - this film suuuuucks. What's so bad about it? For the most part, it's just another rehash of the first two films, but stupider and more dull. By this point, the filmmakers have realized that they like to string the audience along with fake-outs until something really scary happens, but in Part III they forgot that the characters still need to actually have something to do. Instead, we get multiple scenes where characters will wander into a dangerous place for no reason and just forget that they know what the layout of their own home is like, or just play with random things in the environment despite the fact that they're supposed to be actually doing something. It's obvious what the filmmakers are doing and it just feels lazy and wastes the audience's time.

Another big issue is that the first two films in the franchise went to a lot of effort to make you at least get to know the characters before they would give picked off, but in Part III we get to meet a bunch of annoying assholes. Prime amongst these is Shelly, an irritating prankster with a self-esteem issues. However, lest you feel sorry for him, the little bastard lashes out at other people to try to compensate for his own insecurity, which just turns him into a dick. We also get a group of cartoonish, brain-dead gang members whose idea of revenge is to try to burn down a barn as unstealthily as possible. The film also opens with a pair of irritating rednecks who you just immediately want to be killed off. Other than them, nearly everyone else in the cast are your usual Friday the 13th cannon fodder, with no real personalities to speak of (especially the two stoners, who barely get any screen time before they get offed). The only exceptions are final girl Chris and her handsome hunk boyfriend, Rick, who are both at least sympathetic enough that I wouldn't want anything bad to happen to them. The acting is also pretty bad, even by Friday standards. I wouldn't say that any of the characters put in particularly strong performances and even characters like Chris and Rick have some line deliveries which are unconvincing.

Oh and I would be remiss to mention the 3D gimmick. Not only does it make the film always slightly blurry to watch in 2D now, but it also means that we get lots of shitty, blurry shots where something gets stuck into the foreground for no real reason. I hope you like blurry shots of yo-yos, eye balls, popcorn, rakes and a blunt getting shoved in your face and taking you out of the experience! It also highlights the pathetic special effects - since they have to get so many things thrown at the camera, they use lots of wires to get the shot right, meaning that you can clearly see these wires since they're in the foreground of the shot! This happens on two very obvious occasions with a rattle snake and when a fake eyeball goes flying out of a very rubber-looking head.

On the plus side though, there are a couple fun kills as usual and, when she gets promoted to the final girl, Chris turns into a no-nonsense badass. Like, the moment she sees Jason, she's right on the offensive, dropping a book case on him and then taking a knife out of her friend's back and using it to stab him in the hand and leg. She actually causes Jason to back away from her, she's so intimidating! She absolutely kicks his ass and makes smart decisions on the fly more often than not in the process. She's easily one of the best final girls in the franchise, but she's easily the only thing about this movie that makes it worthwhile.

...and that's it for the worst of the worst. Be sure to tune in again soon as we go through #30-21!

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Best Reese's Products (2019 Update)

A year and a half ago, I took a trip off the usual content that shows up on this blog and made a list of the best Reese's products. Since that was published, I have come across quite a few new Reese's products which have been making me want to do an update. Now that we're a fair ways out from that initial list, I'd say it's finally time to add in all the new products I've tried in the past year and a half. I'll probably update the list again in future, depending on how many new products I try and how long has passed since the last list.

As before, I'm not exclusively going over official Reese's products, but any exceptions are done at my discretion. I've also once again excluded the original Peanut Butter Cups from the list, because they're just timeless and the default (and therefore would just end up on the lower half of the list for being less interesting).

Anyway, without further ado, let's get started!

29) Reese Mix - These things got a dishonourable mention in the original list because they're way too expensive for what you get so I could never bring myself to buy them. However, my fiance knows I like to try new Reese products and hadn't seen one of these before so she bought it for me. Turns out that these are kind of worse than I expected. I mean, it's just the sum of its parts - peanuts, pretzel, Pieces and Minis, but the pretzel bits are really salty. On the one hand, this just makes you want to eat the Minis more to counter-act the salty taste, but it's a pretty bad look when your snack food is actively making me want to ignore parts of it to get to the bits I like. Plus, the saltiness passes over to everything else in the package anyway. All-in-all, it's not the ideal way of eating any of the ingredients and I'm 100% certain you could make your own Reese Mix that would not only taste better but be cheaper overall. These things are just all-round failures as far as I'm concerned.

28) Puffs - Reese Puffs are the KFC Double Down of the breakfast cereal world: breakfast cereals are already towing a fine line trying to justify themselves as something other than sugary junk food, but Puffs just shit all over that line and head into something that's just disgusting. I mean, the tag line when I was a kid was that they're "Reese, for breakfast!" Yeah, uh, no thanks. I mean, I like Coca-Cola, but I don't want one before noon at the earliest. Fruit Loops and Lucky Charms at least pretended like they weren't sugar in a bowl, but Reese Puffs don't even put up a pretense about what this product is. I had these maybe once as a kid, and even then I was not taken in. Of all the things on this list, if I had to sacrifice one Reese product for the good of humanity, this is the one I'd cast into the fire.


27) Whipps - I swear that I tried one of these things when I was a kid, but I can't remember it at all, it didn't leave any sort of impression on me. I don't recall it being bad, but there's basically nothing else on this list that I wouldn't rather have instead (y'know, aside from Reese Puffs and Miniatures). I'd probably buy one just for the memories if I saw one, but it isn't a particularly interesting choice.


26) Reese Bar - I've had these things a few times, but I've never been particularly impressed. Maybe it's just me, but these things are just too big and push over the limit where you're getting "too much" sweetness. Plus they don't hold together very well. I always find that if you try to break pieces off of the bar it caves in on itself and the peanut butter filling is very soft. They're certainly edible, but I never buy them as anything more than a curiosity.

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Death Note is Kind of Trash

I wasn't really into anime when I was growing up. I watched localized successes like Sailor MoonPokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! and checked out an issue of Shonen Jump once, but in general I was turned off of anime and manga by obsessive weebs. However, in the last few years I've been trying to get more cultured and have been checking out some of the big names in anime. One of these big names that I was sure I would like is Death Note. I mean, the whole premise it's right up my alley: a notebook which kills anyone whose name is written in it? A cat and mouse game between the holder of the book and the detective hunting him down? A creepy demon monster following the protagonist around? Sign me the hell up. Hell, I was so certain that I was going to enjoy Death Note that I picked up the Blu-Ray set so I could enjoy it all at my leisure. I don't tend to buy Blu-Rays blindly, but when I do it tends to work out splendidly for me (see: John Wick, The Raid, The Conjuring, etc). It has probably been two years since then and over the course of a few days I finally decided to sit down and watch Death Note in its entirety.


...and it kind of sucks. Like, I kind of want to just give away my Blu-Ray copy now, I disliked it that much.

It's actually was surprising for me. I've heard a lot of good things about Death Note, some people going so far as to say that it's one of the absolute best animes, so figured it would be a slam-dunk for me. Don't get me wrong - the first 10ish episodes are quite enthralling as Light learns how to use the Death Note, L tries to discover Kira's identity, and Light tries (poorly) to cover his tracks. However, it quickly starts to go down hill with only occasional moments of excitement. Hell, my disappointment was so surprising to me that I had to look up other reactions to the series to see if I was totally alone in my assessment. From what I've seen, most fans of Death Note will admit that the series drops in quality around episode 25 (some even agreed with me, that around episodes 10-15, the series' quality definitely begins to decline). Considering that Death Note is a 37 episode-long anime, even if you think it's good overall it seems like the popular opinion is that ~1/3 of the series is not great. And, if you agree with me that the series drops off quickly, it's closer to 2/3 of the episodes being pretty shitty. Again, considering this has a good reputation, I feel like I need to explain exactly why I disliked it so much. And, in case it isn't obvious, spoilers incoming.


Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Retrospective: Atlas Shrugged Part III - Who Is John Galt? (2014)

Welcome back to the Atlas Shrugged retrospective! Today we'll be looking at the third and (mercifully) final entry in the franchise, Atlas Shrugged Part III - Who Is John Galt? After the dumpster fires that were the first two films in this series, Aglialoro and company were back with another entirely new cast and a smaller budget than ever! Could they see this series out on a high note? Read on to find out...

Oh, and as with the last 2 entries, be sure to check out my friend Matt's review at his blog, The M, as we both chose to suffer through this series together!



...I'm not sure if they could have gone with a more boring, non-descript and unrelated poster for this film. After several looks at the poster it appears to be a railroad, which is fair enough, but it would actually fit the first film better as there are barely any scenes on the tracks in this one. I also love how Hank gets to cameo in it in the little airplane in the corner, which unintentionally fits well into his purpose in this film.

PRODUCTION

After Aglialoro and his production team poured even more money and effort into marketing Part II, only to be met with resounding financial and critical failure, it looked questionable whether the final chapter of Atlas Shrugged would ever get off the ground. However, the filmmakers were true believers and were not going to be dissuaded. Aglialoro, along with fellow franchise producer Harmon Kaslow, set about seeing this project through and by late March 2013 it was announced that filming would begin in the fall. They were looking for a director, cast and crew at the time and Aglialoro said that "I don't care if I've got to fire five directors — that's fine. We're going to get it right." So, after a declaration like that, who did they ultimately hire? The answer is James Manera, who literally had one directing credit to his name on IMDb at the time, a single episode of Nash Bridges almost 20 years earlier (although he also had directed a couple small documentaries which don't appear there). Truly Aglialoro and company had to sort through the cream of the crop to see this film series through! Duncan Scott (who had co-written the screenplay for Part II) and Brian O'Toole (who had also written the screenplays for both previous films) were tapped to return to write the screenplay for Part III. While it was announced that both would be returning to write Part III, neither are credited in the final film. Instead, writing credits go to producers John Aglialoro and Harmon Kaslow, along with director James Manera. I wasn't able to find an answer regarding if Scott and O'Toole's original screenplay was heavily rewritten by the producers, or if the producers just wrote their own from scratch for (presumably) budgetary reasons, but the fact that they're the only ones who are credited in the finished product is rather interesting. Also, a fun tidbit - back before Part I was released, Aglialoro had toyed with the idea of having Part III suddenly be a musical, but this idea never got anywhere near the final product. It's just funny to see that Aglialoro had ideas that could have made this franchise's continuity even more baffling.

As for the obligatory recasting, the role of Dagny was filled by Laura Regan, probably best known for a short stint on Mad Men, some minor horror movie roles and a number of guest TV appearances. The esteemed role of John Galt went to Kristoffer Polaha, who was similarly best known for a short stint on Mad Men and a number of guest TV appearances (my first thoughts on seeing him in this film were that he looked like a Hallmark channel love interest and, lo and behold, he's been in 6 Hallmark channel movies since this film came out). Hank Rearden was played in this film by Rob Morrow, who had earned Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for his roles in Northern Exposure and then had a successful run leading Numb3rs, making him probably the biggest name in the cast. The next biggest name in the cast was veteran character actor Joaquim de Almeida, known for big roles in Clear and Present Danger, Desperado and Fast Five among many, many others. De Almeida was cast to play Francisco D'Anconia. James Taggart was played by Greg Germann, who was probably best known for Ally McBeal, but seems to have been confined to minor roles ever since. Rounding out the notable recast characters was Peter Mackenzie as Head of State Thompson, who was a pretty decent character actor in his own right, but was never going to live up to Ray Wise's portrayal from the last film. Finally, Part III also introduces us to Ragnar Danneskj√∂ld, played by Eric Allan Kramer, who had some big roles in Robin Hood: Men in Tights and True Romance early in his career but had been confined to character roles and guest appearances ever since. Oh and it's also worth noting that, like Part II, Part III also features conservative celebrity cameos from the likes of Presidential candidate Ron Paul, along with Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, all providing the "voice of reason" in the film.




While filming was intended to start in the fall of 2013, it did not actually begin until mid-January 2014. This was likely because the producers' fundraising came up shorter than they had expected (around $10 million split evenly between the filming and marketing budgets) and so they launched a month-long Kickstarter campaign on September 23, 2013! This Kickstarter makes for a very interesting relic to pour over for a retrospective. $446,907 was raised during the campaign by 3,554 backers... but if you look closer at how the numbers break down, at least $100,000 of this was raised by the 10 highest-donating backers! Another 12 contributed a further $65,000+ and then 65 more contributed another $65,000+, meaning that more than half of the funds were supplied by 87 people - a measly 2% of the total backers! Clearly there were lots of rich people who had nothing better to do with their money than to throw it at this film... and, funnily enough, we actually know who some of these people are because 16 people who donated a staggering $7,500 or more had their names very crudely carved into a piece of wood and appear prominently on screen (it's jarring and funny to see in the finished film though because these rough carvings are flanking carvings which were clearly done with some professional tools beforehand, so their names just look like they were done by angsty teens).


Of course, this Kickstarter ended up generating a number of justifiably snarky comments about how the filmmakers sure were relying on altruism from their libertarian audience to bring about this film after it failed so spectacularly on the free market. Anticipating this response, the Kickstarter featured not one, but two FAQs about how it was not against Ayn Rand's philosophy to ask people for money, even going so far as to dedicate a whole other article on this topic on The Atlas Society as well. Having learned more about Objectivism from this retrospectives series, I actually do understand their argument, which is summed up pretty well by the FAQ response:

"Kickstarter is not charity and we do not seek charity. We are offering a voluntary value-for-value exchange. If you see no value in any of the reward levels, you should not back the project. Regarding the idea of charity however, Ayn Rand had no problem with someone giving money to a cause they care about. If someone deems a cause worthy and wants to donate money, they should be free to do it. What Ayn Rand had a problem with is altruism for the sake of altruism as a moral duty, or being compelled, or forced, to 'give.'"
While I do understand their argument, it comes across as a fairly arbitrary distinction to me - whenever they ask for a handout, they're exonerated because they will say that it's a value exchange (although charging $7,500 to get your name crudely carved onto a piece of wood sounds closer to a "scam" to me, especially when the film had already been financed and was going to happen regardless). However, whenever anyone else asks for a handout, they'll characterize them as moochers and looters. Add in the fact that they ignore that even when they're "forced" to give, there's still value being created in having a society that functions properly, which would be even more valuable if they weren't such crusty bastards who hate the idea of other people living at a reasonable standard. So, yeah, I can see how they can justify this Kickstarter within their own philosophy, but it just feels like another convenience to allow Objectivists to do what they want while looking down on people with less means for doing the same.

Interestingly, Rand devotees and fans of the movie franchise were invited to an event at the Atlas Summit in order to help determine the final edit of the film. I wasn't able to determine how exactly this event went, how involved it was or how it might have affected the final film, but it's a really interesting detail which shows how the filmmakers were attempting to get directly involved with the public on this particular film. The film was released on September 12, 2014 to a much smaller opening of 242 screens, grossing a measly $851,690 against its $10 million filming and marketing budget. This means that, if you add together the marketing and production budgets of all three films (including the ~$15 million which was spent on Part I before it went into full production), the Atlas Shrugged franchise lost almost $45 million dollars!!! HOLY SHIT!!! Even if you just factor in the costs which went directly into these three films, that's still a huge, $30 million dollar loss that could have been prevented if the filmmakers weren't so proud or dogmatic that they insisted on pushing on, ballooning their losses with each misstep.



Start the video at 16:06, it conveys how this news makes me feel more clearly than my own words could.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Retrospective: Atlas Shrugged - Part II (2012)

Welcome back to part two of the Atlas Shrugged retrospective! In today's post we're going to be looking at the second entry in this "series", Atlas Shrugged: Part II. After a dull, cheap and morally-objectionable first chapter, could the producers finally get the quality adaptation of Ayn Rand's novel that they so desperately wanted? Read on to find out...

Oh, and like the last entry, if you're looking to read a review of the film from someone who has read the book, check out Matt's review at The M as well!

Certainly a more interesting poster than the first film, conveys a more epic and grandiose scale than the cute little clip art graphic the first one had.

PRODUCTION
After Atlas Shrugged: Part I's release, the producers went about planning Part II. However, the free market rejected the first Atlas Shrugged film and it failed to turn a profit, the producers were forced to find other avenues in order to finance a sequel. Funding took until the start of February of 2012, when a private debt sale was conducted which raised $16 million dollars for the film (presumably this was debt owned by John Aglialoro himself and perhaps other members of the production team). With financing complete, pre-production could wrap up and the film would begin shooting in April of 2012.

While the producers handwaved much of the criticism of the first film as being ideologically-motivated, they did acknowledge that the first film was not as good as they would have liked and proceeded to do a clean sweep of the cast and crew. Given the rushed production schedule of the first film, none of the cast had been negotiated to return for Part II anyway... which was probably the biggest break for Taylor Schilling ever, as she instead landed major roles in The Lucky One and freaking Argo, before going on to take the lead role in Orange is the New Black! Suffice to say, she dodged a bullet by not shackling herself to Atlas Shrugged sequels.

For the principal cast, veteran actress Samantha Mathis was cast as Dagny, former Scientologist Jason Beghe was cast as Hank Rearden, Timothy Olyphant look-alike Esai Morales was cast as Francisco d'Antonia and Patrick Fabian was cast as James Taggart (not a DOA vertan? Boooo!!!). Also worth noting is that Retrospectives veteran Ray Wise makes a cameo appearance as the freaking President of the United States! Once again, he's probably the best actor in the whole damn film, but considering that he's in this and God's Not Dead 2, it makes me seriously wonder what the man's political affiliations are. Unfortunately, The Atlas Society founder David Kelley admitted up-front that the producers were planning on once again recasting everyone in the film for Part III. This was an absolutely bone-headed idea in my opinion, since they had more time and money to negotiate with the actors this time around to prevent this from happening again. Kelley tried to play it off, saying that "in the end, the central character of the films is the world Rand created. In notes she made while writing the novel, she made the arresting assertion that the focus was to be about the world, not about the characters as individuals", which is just baffling when put in the context of the importance of individualism in Objectivist philosophy. The producers decided to gamble on the idea that the story of Atlas Shrugged would hold up even if the cast changed every time, and that the change of actors each time might even put more focus on the world.


The film was shot over the course of 31 days, slightly more than Part I. A number of activists in libertarian and right-wing bubbles made cameos in the film, including Sean Hannity. The production started taking on a evangelistic atmosphere, with the entire cast and crew being incentivized through a reward points system to read Rand's works, as if to turn them into disciples of Objectivism rather than just employees. The producers aimed to release the film in October of 2012, giving them up to five months of post-production and marketing. Their hope was that the film's release would have an effect on the 2012 presidential election between Obama and Mitt Romney, which was already being coloured by discussions of wealth disparity due to Occupy Wall Street and with the Great Recession still fresh in everyone's minds. These events felt very relevant to Aglialoro, who stated that "We've got generations of people on welfare. That's not because there weren't job opportunities, or education, or anything like that. We've got a problem of greed on the level of the entitlement class. Not the producers and the entrepreneurs that are creating the tax revenue. They're the 53 percent. If we get to the tipping point, 57, 58 percent, then you're going to see people saying: How do I go on strike?" ...yeah, Aglialoro believed that 47% of Americans were just unwilling to work. It shouldn't be too surprising considering that the man had spent almost 20 years trying to get this book onto screen, but Aglialoro clearly considers himself a Randian hero and shares their awful philosophies - he's the CEO of Cybex (a fitness equipment company), mayor of a tiny golf-course community in Tavistock, New Jersey, and now a wannabe screenwriter and movie producer who clearly isn't hurting as he was able to scrounge up a good deal of the $16 million which financed this movie himself. Poor John Aglialoro, he must be practically destitute from all the leechers who have robbed him of his fortunes...

Anyway, in hopes of not repeating the first film's box office failure, the marketing budget for Part II was significantly increased to $10 million. Approximately $1 million of this was raised by The Atlas Society as part of "The Atlas Campaign", which would promote the film trilogy and Objectivism in general through movie premieres and student outreach programs (blehhhhh), among other things. This was quite laughable as Rand famously hated altruism. Considering that the first film had failed to support itself, by the very philosophy they were promoting, they should have realized that they were being self-defeating by having to rely on donations to promote the film. Not that this has stopped the two major Objectivist organizations, The Atlas Society or The Ayn Rand Institute, both of which rely on donations in order to operate. The absolute best part is that The Atlas Campaign incentivized bigger donations with arbitrary "donation levels", so you could feel secure in your $5000 donation knowing that you were now officially "John Galt", hero of donations.

No, we're laughing with you. Also, there will be no refunds.

Part II was not screened for critics, as John Aglialoro questioned "the integrity of the critics" presumably because they didn't give it a fair shake and must have conspired to bring down Part I and bring about its failure. Part II was instead screened for conservative and libertarian groups before its wide release. The film opened on more than 1,000 screens, more than twice as many as the first film did. However, despite having a much wider release and more money put into marketing, the film only made $1.7 million on its opening weekend, barely surpassing Part I and earning it the distinction of having one of the worst wide-openings in recent memory. Its numbers then dropped precipitously, bringing in less than $3.5 million by the end of its theatrical run, even less than the first film did and on a larger budget too.