Death, taxes and bad horror movies are a few of the only things you can depend on in life. Every year there are dozens of films by talented, committed people that just don’t quite see the central folly of their endeavor.
Special effects just aren’t up to the task of creating believable monsters to chase the humans around. The villain or subject just isn’t frightening enough to support a movie. The horrible behavior of the protagonists somehow justifies a movie that ends with them on the receiving end of grevious bodily harm. The third act wasn’t written. The list of potential reasons for a misfire on this order are endless. This list is not, thankfully, as one year couldn’t handle much more bad horror.
Here are the 12 Worst Horror Movies of 2012.
13 Monsters: Dark Continent
Gareth Edwards’ (lately the man behind Godzilla and Star Wars: Rogue One) debut Monsters was more of an ambling, road movie romance than a modern-day kaiju epic. The home-made CGI aliens were equally beautiful and terrible, and the film benefited from their minimal presence in a production that suggested their presence through top notch production design and a host of great performances.
Tom Green’s sequel (not that Tom Green), tries to get away without the monsters of the title ever fitting into the film’s narrative at all. It’s a dirge-like slog about a bunch of he-man marines in a Middle Eastern country tearing up between attacks from the locals, suggesting some sort of commentary on the west's military presence in that part of the world. The monsters (admittedly still beautiful in design) are glimpsed from the sideline of the action and never meaningfully interact with the interchangeable leads.
Monsters was a film about falling in love despite or because of nightmarish circumstances. Monsters: Dark Continent is in love with the sound of its own voice. There’s a small but crucial difference between the two.
12 Knock Knock
The movie gods had a nice long laugh when they decided to gift us with two Eli Roth movies in one year. Some poor young film fan with no knowledge of the trollish gremlin of horror cinema may have tired quickly of Green Inferno while cycling through VOD titles, turned it off ten minutes in when the colossally stupid stereotypes began flying, and switched over to Knock Knock, a mirthless Men’s Rights diatribe about a man who falls prey to two gorgeous young women (Ana de Armas, Lorenza Izzo) hellbent on punishing him for finding their rapacious sexual advances somewhat hard to parry.
Any and all goodwill Roth had intended to build up by showing that, yes, shockingly, men are often more interested in sex than integrity, is lost when he decides to show his leads frolicking naked in the shower. As repugnant as it arrogant, Knock Knock is a lose lose.
11 Green Inferno
And speaking of Eli Roth, here’s his corner-cutting cannibal farce. Taking an unearned shot at young people who want to make a difference, he pits a group of "social justice warriors" against a cannibal tribe and mostly just has a fun time smirking while they’re eaten one by one. For Roth there is no greater sin than caring about anything beyond your own small world, so naturally he takes great pleasure in punishing these poor saps whose only crime was believing they could make a difference in the world.
Cheaply made, obnoxiously written and not even half as extreme as it thinks it is, Green Inferno is an insult to the cannibal films of the '70s it pays tribute to. At least those had the courage to commit to their repulsive idiocy.
David Hackl is a genuinely great visual director and has a knack for getting good world-weary performances from his casts. The problem is that he proved his bonafides by directing the fifth Saw movie (the phrase “thankless job” springs to mind) and Grizzly, a film that underwent three title changes (Red Machine was a way better title, for the record) thanks to an incompetent distributor that held onto it for what felt like a full calendar year before throwing it guiltily at viewers like a late rental in the return slot.
Grizzly smells of post-production tampering. The bear of the title is a mess of bad CGI effects and behaves conspicuously more like Jason Voorhees rather than a wild animal. It chases people for miles as if driven by a vendetta. It doesn’t just attack people, it tears them limb from limb. It even causes an explosion. This feels very much like a producer’s meddling, but we may never know. The performances from Thomas Jane, Billy Bob Thornton and James Marsden are all decent and the film is nicely stylized. But eventually, it comes out that this is a very silly film about a bear with superhuman intelligence and an insatiable bloodlust.
And while we’re on the subject of killer bears, here’s a low-key indie effort that attempted to do the mumblecore romance thing for the wilderness survival genre. A couple of bland people with Land’s End-catalogue good looks goes for a weekend retreat to a wilderness trail that’s been closed for the season. That doesn’t stop them or a killer black bear from roaming around anyway. After a pointless run-in with a testosterone crazed and woefully accented Eric Balfour, the kids get lost and it takes the bear entirely too long to show up and start chewing on hamstrings.
There’s something to be said for showing a realistic bear attack (and the one in this is pretty good work) as it would occur in the lives of the victims, but did those lives have to be quite so annoying and generic? Backcountry wears out its welcome ages before anyone gets mauled.
8 Shark Lake
When it was announced that Dolph Lundgren would be fighting a shark, fans of the Swedish renaissance man and his singularly odd charisma were over the moon. Shark Lake, however, is beneath the Scandinavian bavian’s usual standards. With the budget of a company picnic, Shark Lake tells the tale of an illegal animal smuggler and awful dad (Dolph) whose last action before being thrown in jail is accidentally releasing a shark into a midwestern town’s lake.
It’s pretty much Jaws from there on out, but with no professional actors, terrible special effects, a sixteenth of the budget and lots of hilariously awful dialogue. “Earth is a bad neighborhood” says a cautious environmentalist. It sure is. Shark Lake will make you laugh an awful lot, but scaring you or making you think are just a little outside of its skill set.
If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. No one needed another Poltergeist, but that didn’t stop Gil Kenan and Sam Raimi, who decided what a beloved classic needed was drone cameras, horrifyingly bright and artless photography, and wasted performances. The cast (Jared Harris, Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie Dewitt and Jane Adams) are some of the greatest actors we have, and they’re all at the height of their power, but this film gives them nothing.
The monsters have a sort of evocative menace to them in their ten seconds of screen time, but when they’re represented by 3D screw bits and vomit fantasies, they’re a touch less formidable, kind of like this new Poltergeist in comparison to the old one.
6 Burying The Ex
Joe Dante gave American movies the freedom to be as cartoony as the best Looney Tunes had to offer. He re-gifted post-modernism and snarkiness to an era increasingly in thrall to earnestness. He combined the two, thrillingly, in films like Inner Space, Gremlins and The Burbs. So it’s disappointing that his latest film forgets that a little bit of earnestness goes a long way.
Selfish nostalgia troll Anton Yelchin can’t see staying with his girlfriend Ashley Greene. Her crimes include recycling, veganism and expressing her feelings for him. But just before he can break up with her, she’s killed in a vehicular collision. Naturally it’s only a little while before she comes back from the dead, because crazy ex-girlfriends are like that, and won’t stop her clingy behavior or rapid decomposition. Crazy sexist and smug, Burying The Ex is unquestionably Dante’s worst film, but the good news is that it’s his only bad one. That’s still a pretty great batting average.
5 Lazarus Effect
Some enterprising genius decided that what the world needed was a horror film that millennials would flock to. So they cast Olivia Wilde, Donald Glover, Mark Duplass, Sara Bolger and Evan Peters, all popular from one zeitgeist-courting TV show or film, hoping that the cast alone would bring in people whose entire social philosophy is based around avoiding popular culture.
Shockingly, they couldn't sell this Flatliners update, replete with killer closets, sad dogs and other equally terrifying elements. And how could they? Their melancholy blankness is more thought out than the derivative script. There isn’t a scare in the whole film and it loses steam right around the time it starts offing cast members, the film’s equivalent of shrugging its shoulders when it runs out of ideas.
When will American filmmakers stop asking Arnold Schwarzenegger to play the all American hero? In the dreary, grey and ickily damp zombie weepie Maggie, he plays Wade, a farmer. That’s problem number 1. Problem 2? Where to start. The joyless, airlessness of the entire endeavor, which, from the evidence of the tone and setting is to make a kind of John Steinbeck-inspired zombie film? Asking America’s first name in mindless action to mourn his slowly dying daughter? Asking Abigail Breslin, who America fell in love with as the enthusiastic tyke in Little Miss Sunshine, to get sick and die in front of us?
The filmmakers never quite figured out when this experience starts benefiting anyone crazy enough to watch a low-budget Schwarzenegger film. Take away his explosions and he’s lost without a map.
3 Harbinger Down
Harbinger Down was marketed as a return to the practical effects monster movies of the VHS era and its central beastie is a marvelous creation, a Lovecraftian tentacled menace that just about melts every human it comes in contact with. Lance Henriksen, himself a relic of the 80s, shows up to do some champion glowering but neither he, nor the mutant work of art whittling away the rest of the cast, can save this sub-SyFy channel from irrelevance.
Maybe what fans of Stan Winston and Rob Bottin’s gorgeous effects miss most are screenplays worthy of the big scary critters who used to give us nightmares. Harbinger Down could have used a few rewrites, a better cast, and a sense of purpose beyond its creepy crawly.
2 The Pack
Nick Robertson’s The Pack certainly had good intentions. A kind of indie homage to Robert Clouse’s killer dog film of the same name, this new Pack has appealing and atmospheric locations, a nicely grim design and nicely lived-in performances. There’s only one problem: it’s doggy villains. The ones that the family at the heart of the film are meant to be terrified of? They’re adorable.
The hapless Wilson family fight valiantly to convince us that they’re afraid for their lives because of the world’s most terrible canines and fail equally valiantly. These dogs are just too cuddly and never look like they want anything more than belly rubs and behind-the-ear scratches. A couple of vicious attacks that looked like the genuine article may have helped. Or possibly not. Dogs are great. The Pack is not.
What did we miss this year? What failed to scare or even entertain you? What will you be watching for a good laugh a few years down the line? Let us know in the comments.