Just recently, Scream Factory gave us Swamp Thing on Blu-ray and seeing it made me go back and watch the ‘82 horror comic movie.
The Len Wein creation, helmed by Wes Craven, is full of nostalgia and some fun kitschy moments, but it ends up falling flat. We have definitely seen the rise of comic book movies in the last decade and amongst them we have received a handful of horror/hero flicks.
With that, Shock decided to treat you all to a little retrospective on the amalgamation of two of the most important and successful sub genres of all time.
First, let’s just take a second to realize that all of these movies aren’t necessarily based on comic books. A large number of films, especially in recent years, are original ideas that take a lot of inspiration from the funny books and lend their title characters a more “superhero” film and it’s important to see that comic book characters aren’t the only heroes out there.
Swamp Thing is definitely one of the earliest incarnations of a comic movie with horror overtones. Hell, they got Wes Craven to direct it. Ultimately, it ended up letting down fans on either side of the genre but it did wind up becoming a bit of a cult classic because of its awesome (for the time) make-up and leading female star. It did lead to a moderately successful debut, but it would be years before we saw another true horror-filled superhero movie.
While we did get fringe horror in Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns - laced with terrifying circus performers, lethal poison, stark black and whites, and the first frightening appearance of The Joker – 1994 gave us a true mix of “horror and comics” with the gothic cult classic The Crow. Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, plays the reincarnated vigilante and mixes martial arts and horror as well as creating a generational icon with a powerful impact.
In 1997, at the height of his popularity, Spawn was brought to the big screen. Toned down slightly from the comic, the film still held onto its origins and was full of Hell, demons and the maniac clown Violator that many fans had grown to love to hate. It performed well, despite largely negative reviews, and Ebert even praised the film for being visually unforgettable. Then just a year later, in the midst of chapter 11, Marvel released Blade and the world got its first full-throttle ride into a hero with horrific origins.
Wesley Snipes and Stephen Dorff played the roles of slayer and vampire well, but David Goyer and Stephen Norrington must get full credit for balancing action and terror as well as they did. The vampires were scary, the blood was abundant and the movie had instances of true tension. It spawned two sequels: Blade II really playing into horror fans with Guillermo del Toro behind the camera and an even stronger emphasis on that side of the genre.
Del Toro would continue contributing to the underused genre when he finally brought the critically acclaimed Dark Horse hero Hellboy to the big screen. The movie mixed fantasy, comedy, action and horror and was well revered by the fans. I mean, who can say no to Nazi occultism? Hellboy II: The Golden Army graced the screen a few years later but Del Toro traded in “horror” for more fairy tale overtones and the movie was much more lighthearted than its predecessor.
Most recently, we have seen original concepts like Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter take established characters and portraying them with superhero-like abilities. While not exactly critically acclaimed, both movies were both fun for what they were and presented interesting takes on the horror creatures they were portraying.
Now we have to remember that for every good movie out, there are probably three or five bad ones to go along with it. While we did get The Crow in ‘94, just two years later we were subject to the first of its many terrible sequels.
The 2000’s ushered in the worst of the bunch. In just 2004-2005 alone we were subject to Constantine, Van Helsing, Man-Thing and Blade Trinity. Three out of four of these movies had so much potential. (Man-Thing didn’t really stand much of a chance.) Each of the films had a little bit going for them: Van Helsing somehow managed to muck up the access to the entire Universal monsters roster and create a stale action adventure with a boring hero and a fruity Dracula. Constantine was soaked in the lore of the comic and featured neat visuals and fun angel/demon cross play but decided to throw Keanu Reeves into a role very ill-suited for him. And Blade Trinity decided to turn itself into an action-comedy, completely disregarding its horror backgrounds and instead pimping out ipods and vampire dildoes.
Then, just two years later, Ghost Rider hit the screen. It had everything going for it: An A-list actor, a big budget, a public that accepted superhero films with open arms – what an awful film. I don’t know who decided to make Blackheart the emo kid from American Beauty but it is some of the worst casting in Hollywood. And let’s not forget Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, which is essentially an hour and half long music video with no music and Nic Cage acting more insane than his roles in Wicker Man and Kick-Ass combined.
2010 welcomed Jonah Hex, another movie that had a lot of potential, but squandered it all, flip-flopping genres and an entirely uninteresting plot and villain bogged down a movie chock full of talent. Most recently Dylan Dog (2011) and R.I.P.D. (2013) hit the big screen and despite huge cult followings neither managed to do much at the box office due to weak plots, tired jokes, and action sequences without any gusto.
Even on the immediate horizon, some films are coming to us that are soaked in horror and comic backgrounds. I, Frankenstein, starring the talented Aaron Eckhart (pictured) hits in January of 2014 and the Doctor Strange and Spawn reboot rumors are circulating throughout the web.
The source material for hero horror is endless. Doctor Fate, Hellstorm, Morbius, Haunt…the list is never ending.
Imagine an ultra action gore fest with a symbiotic suit for Haunt. A creepy blood drenched thriller akin to 30 Days of Night for Morbius. A psychedelic phantasmagoria laced in occult ritual and fanboy cameos for Doctor Strange. The potential is out there. Even a Constantine reboot would be nice considering the original different give the lead character his roguish charm and badass snarky ways.
In a world where horror and comic movies are on the rise more and more every year, it also lends itself to more possibilities and it’s only a matter of time before we get another hero who can scare the hell out of us.