This feature blog is going to look at a collection of films that for better (or worse) ruined a whole genre of films for me for being either too good, too clever or simply are the pinnacle of their genre with very little competition in the subsequent years to make them anything other than the indefinable king of “that-type-of-movie”. The list unsurprisingly features many unique satires that ended up poking fun at the genre/movies that came before but also gave a fresh perspective on how we view them with a whole new take on the ideas and images we’ve grown to expect.
Well, my first example is also the best example. In 1996 after a few years in the horror wilderness, Wes Craven came back to the director’s chair with the hit movie Scream, written by Kevin Williamson, a spot on riff that deconstructed (and destroyed) the slasher genre. With Neve Campbell’s teenage Sidney Prescott and pals taunted by the serial killer Ghostface, the film’s opening telephone call scene even references a glut of horror classics and characters talk about movies, music, television and even famous catchphrases (“I’ll be right back”) related to the genre and these horror tropes were a great way of engaging a cynical 90s audience. The problem? Well, any teen/slasher film has to do something very new now in order to avoid all of the situations the film takes apart and the subsequent sequels and Scary movie pastiches (and their sequels!) meant there was very little left in this once popular genre to cover.
Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Along similar lines, by being both scary, funny and tackling concepts from an established field of movies, the Joss Whedon co-penned story went even further with its stereotypes (Jock, stoner, nerd, virgin and cheerleader) from past films and took them to a “meta”-level of interaction with the set up being part of a cleverly constructed plot line. Later the same year I watched the remake of Evil Dead (2012) and could not for the life of me get into the film such was its reminiscent imagery from the former film. Genres are genres for a reason (repeated motifs, images, situations, stock characters etc) but when a film has nailed them so well, as Cabin did, then many a subsequent film have since lost their bite.
This is Spinal Tap (1984)
It’s not just horror films (although their many sequels provide a huge problem for genre overkill) but this “mockumentary” of a 80s hair-rock band from Britain cuts to the core and resonates with any musician who has tried to play in a band and take it on the road. From the stage mishaps and faulty equipment to dreadful gigs and drummers’ songs (“Jazz Odyssey”) the spoof so brilliantly sends up the machismo and ego of singers and guitarists that subsequent REAL documentaries are now forever tainted with the Tap-esque label. Case in point is the (unintentionally) hilarious Some Kind of Monster featuring US-metallers Metallica, the awesome underdog focused Story of Anvil or even the true-life inspired but dramatic tale of Almost Famous, all of whom has Tap-related plot points from rotating members, terrible gig venues and guitarists (“with mystique”) who leave. Heavy! Duty! Heavy duty...rock n roll!
Hot Shots! Part Deux (1993)
A great sequel with Charlie Sheen reprising his role as Topper Harley who moves from the Top Gun-inspired first film into a Rambo-action fest of over-the-top violence, shoot outs and terrorist fighting with this movie poking fun at the big-screen outings of Sly/Arnie/Bruce during the decade of excess. Along with the Naked Gun style comedy and silly slapstick the film also referenced its stars’ previous films (“I loved you in Wall Street” exchanges Charlie with his dad Martin as their boats cross), the film is a terrific bout of harebrained nonsense and done with heart and knowledge of the film(s) it parodies. So what’s the point of a film like The Expendables I ask? The first was an inconsequential piece of action fluff reuniting some of the old stars for one final outing but a second (and now a third) film is embarrassing as it parodies the same genre without the budget for great action and without the wit of great comedy. No amount of (lame) Chuck Norris gags could win me over when a better film with more intriguing characters (and better acting I’d argue) already exists. Sorry folks, but the 80s happened, it was parodied, and you are too late to the party.
The Sixth Sense (1999)
We return to horror in this infamous tale of a psychiatrist who helps a lonely child come to terms with his ability to “see dead people” so what’s the problem with this one? Well, the film, which I think is a very good one (although repeated viewings are difficult to stomach once you know its twist ending) began the annoying trend in the 00s to make a film which just had to have a twist ending. So many films were then subsequently made on the back of its success, each with an increasingly ludicrous and unbelievable plot twist to manipulate an ever aware audience – but an audience who soon became sick of the “you thought it was this – but actually it is this” style of misdirection. It became a big “f*** you” by the time these films slowly started disappearing and not until Scorsese’s Shutter Island (to be fair, based on a best-selling book) did the whole argument come to a head once again. There’s nothing wrong with it but enough time needs to pass so that the unreliable narrator truly becomes a shock again. One upside however is that not only did it set the standard for the genre to destroy itself, it effectively destroyed Shyamalan’s career too - whose over-reliance on the technique became his calling card and subsequent downfall! 2 for one!
Ridley Scott’s Oscar winning epic tale of a commander who’s forced into slavery before rising once again as a hero of the Coliseum and defender of Rome, came out of nowhere for the first sword and sandals classic in a generation with impressive story-telling, direction, CGI and characters that amazed and impressed audiences the world over. And what have we had since? Well, Alexander (ew), Troy (OMG), Prince of Persia (good lord!), Clash of the Titans (so bad), Kingdom of Heaven (pah!) and Immortals (I give up!). Frank Miller’s 300 was a great comic book translation from the “visionary” director Zack Snyder with all the hallmarks of Gladiator itself (muscley bearded man takes rag tag band of underdogs up against evil empire) but aside from that one film which I enjoyed as a blockbusting spectacle, the genre is one mess after another. Even the spin-off of the not bad “The Mummy” had nowhere to go and The Scorpion King is known mainly for its atrocious (and notoriously unfinished) CGI finale. Are you not entertained? No, not really, Russ.
Animal House/American Pie (1999)
Simply put, the college s*x comedy has two standout films which are similar in many ways but appeal directly to their respective generation. Maybe we’re due one now but every time we get a new “teen comedy” it caters for the lowest common denominator, contains a glut of gross out gags and has been replaced with the” twi-harder-games” style teen movie set in distant worlds or with horror-undertones. Jim and the gang were loveable heart warmers rather than idiotic scumbags and subsequent attempts have mainly fallen flat for their lack of wit and soul (only Superbad has come close in recent memory) and so every time a trailer rears its ugly head (soundtracked authentically by some guff like Florence and the Machine) a bit of my heart dies knowing that this era of teens won’t have that quintessential relatable tale of getting your rocks off. The Inbetweeners was good (although taking them on holiday was an idea as old as the hills) but I am still waiting for the definitive movie of the college/uni experience in the UK. Come on Midlands movie-makers – there’s a gap right there!
Midlands Movies Mike