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The 2008 Autopsy Report: DVD Sequelitis

Rotten surveys a growing trend

The 2008 Autopsy Report is a month-long look at the year in horror. An unflinching and frank examination of the genre’s accomplishments, lapses, trends and random (or, rampant) stupidity in the big screen, television and direct-to-DVD world. This weekly series will sift through the detritus of the last twelve months and see what worked and what didn’t, why and why not. Ultimately, the Autopsy Report will culminate in our year-end best and worst of 2008 list.

An unsettling statistic was presented in 2008. Studio home video divisions proved to be more fertile than Spears daughters Britney and Jamie Lynn and the number of direct-to-DVD horror sequels grew exponentially. Not the type of vacuous inbreeding that occurs when a direct-to-DVD movie gives sloppy birth to a follow-up. I’m talking about the mewing whelps derived from theatrical films mostly released in the last ten years, and in one instance over two decades ago. A rough count of these hellspawn from 2007 yielded four. One was, arguably, worthwhile (Wrong Turn 2). But in the last twelve months Hollywood has heaped upon us eleven follow-ups. And surprise, surprise…none of them were worth clucking over.

Familiarity works in this biz, as the remake trend continues to prove. And now more than ever the studios are using the immensely rewarding DVD and Blu-Ray market to cash in on titles that normally wouldn’t find any repeat draw at the box office but would look as appealing as a Victoria’s Secret storefront display to any horror fan wandering the aisle of his, or her, local Blockbuster. It’s not like the ’80s and ’90s when a sequel would take the plunge in the theatrical market and either sink or swim. Today, studios are seemingly taking a cue from the business models of guys like Charles Band at Full Moon to fully exploit their library.

Fledgling screenwriters are found to work cheap and easy. Or, existing spec scripts are re-tooled to match whatever potential franchise might be waiting in the wings. Budgets are kept within humble means. And productions are jettisoned to the Great White North or overseas like Romania. Then, depending on the distribution deal, the picture is cut, packaged and marketed wide for, in some cases, its Sci-Fi Channel debut or DVD premiere. Just make sure the cover art is eye-catching and that there’s a rated edition for Wal-Mart.

It took some time for studios to recognize the new frontier of horror on DVD, but now that the land has been tested and the soil proven fruitful, producers are going to till it for all its worth. That’s not to say this isn’t anything new for the home entertainment medium. Comedy and action film titles have been sequelized on DVD for some time now (see the American Pie installments and, most recently, Ace Ventura). Horror is just catching up. But what could be ideal platforms for creative, young filmmakers to cut their teeth in features are proving to be waste products further tarnishing the already looked down upon direct-to-DVD world.

You see, I actually believe something good could come of direct-to-DVD sequels if some thought and care went into them. Recalling the aforementioned example of Wrong Turn 2, here is a flawed but nonetheless energetic effort on director Joe Lynch’s behalf. It knew it was going to spend its life on the DVD rack, it didn’t pull many punches and it furthered, if you can say that, the franchise. And at the end of the day, it was a perfect calling card for Lynch who, until the film’s release last year, was untested. Save for, perhaps, Feast 2: Sloppy Seconds – which I’m aware will not be everyone’s bag – there wasn’t a single direct-to-DVD follow-up that bucked the immediate “we’re here for a cash-in” attitude that instantly surrounded them when they’re announced.

Let’s survey the damage.

Boogeyman 2. Not the most peculiar sequel Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert’s Ghost House Pictures ushered into production (the first entry made some dough in its ’05 run). Certainly an unwanted one. At least this entry makes a bit of narrative sense, still, it’s a lame duck. And if that wasn’t enough for your Boogey fix, a Boogeyman 3 is coming next month! Meanwhile, and this is the one that’s got me scratching my head, Ghost House is putting the finishing touches on the prequel Messengers 2: The Scarecrow, just in case there was someone out there so enamored with the first film they desired to see more farmland frights. Honestly. Another Messengers?

Over at Dimension Films, or should I say Dimension EXTREME, the Weinstein Co. continues to enjoy its output deal with Neo Art & Logic exploring sequels in the Feast and Pulse universes now that the Mimic and Dracula 2000 franchises were taken from them during the Disney/Miramax divorce. Again, the four combined chapters – two for Feast, two for Pulse – were shot on the cheap in Louisiana. The latter’s sequels were predominantly shot against a green screen and, based on Pulse 2: Afterlife, maintain its predecessor’s abysmal, soulless qualities. (Pulse 3 closes out the year on DVD December 30th.) Feast 2 and Feast 3, as this writer has heard, had a combined budget that equaled the first film. Director John Gulager had less bread to spend, but seemingly more creative freedom. Whether that’s a good thing is up to the viewer.

White Noise 2 landed with a thud. Starring Nathan Fillion, this sequel to the Michael Keaton flick continued to explore life after death. Universal decided its best bet was to eschew a theater run in the U.S., after being released on the big screen overseas, and drop it on DVD. Good call.

Sony capped off its Starship Troopers series with a film subtitled Marauder. And while you could actually sit through it and be somewhat amused by its satirical edge – unlike the deplorable Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation – it was mired in Playstation-level visual effects, terrible performances and a heavy-handed religious angle that contradicted much of the picture. But hey, Johnny Rico came back. Maybe Sony can convince Neil Patrick Harris back to reprise his role as Carl Jenkins for a fourth adventure? Apparently, the producers there have some weight if they can ask David Hasselhoff (snicker) for one of two Anaconda sequels finished earlier this year. Under the direction of Jeepers Creepers cinematographer Don FauntLeroy, Anaconda 3: Offspring, sadly, did not slither its way into my mailbox from Sony’s publicity staff, so, I never saw it. I can only imagine it had every right to debut on the Sci-Fi Channel like it did before hitting DVD in October.

More nature-run-amok action could be felt over at Fox where giant crocs ransacked a small Maine town in Lake Placid 2 which arrived with one of the tackiest covers (what’s up with that stubby-fingered hand?) seen all year. No David E. Kelly. No foul-mouthed Betty White. No snarky Oliver Platt. This was one sequel shot in Bulgaria that went bottoms-up on the Sci-Fi Channel (again). Fox had grander ambition for Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead, a heavily promoted sequel about a group of assholes tormented by the mad trucker Rusty Nail. This was actually the first film that officially declared “torture porn” as a sleep-inducer for me as I nodded off three times during the film’s forced torture sequence.

Which brings us to Lost Boys: The Tribe, quite possibly the biggest offenders of the year. It’s a mind-numbingly retarded affair any fan of the original worth his salt would reject. The fact that Warner Bros. would allow such nonsense to squeak through the production pipeline tells me to approach with caution any future Warner Premiere title from the same producers. (I’m also hearing through the grapevine that Warner Bros. and Warner Premiere no longer want to be in the business of releasing uncut films. We’ll see if that holds when The Hills Run Red, a reported nasty bloodbath, and Friday the 13th make their eventual way onto DVD.)

The direct-to-DVD legacy doesn’t end there. Aside from the aforementioned upcoming titles, Sony releases Vacancy 2: The First Cut next month. The Cell 2, already in the can, is awaiting a debut from New Line/Warner Bros. Ghost House has The Grudge 3 and Fox is in post-production on Wrong Turn 3. In development: Stigmata 2, Tremors 5 and The Amityville Horror 2, a sequel to the Ryan Reynolds-starring remake.

Will this trend get any better or any worse? Hard to tell, from what I’m hearing about the scripts for next year’s forecast, the cynic in me is leaning towards believing the latter. I don’t think direct-to-DVD sequels are ever going to go away now. But the studios need to assess first what’s worth sequelizing or prequelizing. There’s the first problem. You’re dead in the water if you set out to expand a property that was never solid to begin with. I should think that’s common knowledge (someone needs to tell the gang behind Messengers 2, though). Second, as always, the scripts have to be inventive and, well, good. But, as I’ve already said, familiarity sells. So when The Cell 2 ultimately hits the street, you damn well know someone’s going to see it on the shelf and rent, or hell, buy it because it’s “a sequel to that movie with J. Lo.” And that makes my stomach churn.

Read The 2008 Autopsy Report: Fear Itself here!



Source: Ryan Rotten, Managing Editor