Then and Now: Giving Movies I Hated at First Watch Another Chance.
As is usually the case as October wears on, I find myself digging deeper and deeper into the movie vaults here in the Crypt, a task made more enjoyable this year by my once again having a working VCR, courtesy of one of my oldest and dearest friends. Once more, I had access to material in the Collection that has been unviewed for several years, material I haven’t yet upgraded to DVD, much less Blu-ray disc. For some of those titles, they’ve yet to see a release to more modern formats. For others, they’re scarce, overpriced, and generally hard to find. For the vast majority of these movies however, there is a very simple reason why I haven’t yet upgraded them to disc—I just don’t like them very much. In fact, it wouldn’t be too strong to say that I hate some of these orphans of the Collection.
However, as I have discussed previously in my writings, time has a way of changing some opinions. Not all opinions, of course. Disco still sucks, I still prefer Mary Ann to Ginger, and it’s still Coke over Pepsi (though Mountain Dew beats both of them). But it occurred to me that it might be interesting to give some movies that upon my initial viewing left me rather cold, a second chance. I decided to incorporate three such movies into my October Couch Potato Film Festival viewing, and see if my opinions still hold firm five, ten, fifteen, or more years on.
The Devil’s Rain (1975)—this is a movie that I first saw at the Drive-In when I was eleven or twelve, and even at that age I was unimpressed by it. To be honest, the main reason this was on my must-see list in the first place was the presence of William “Captain Kirk” Shatner, in a somewhat minor role. At that age nothing was more important to me than my love of Star Trek—not comic books; not horror films; not even my new-found interest in the opposite sex, could shake my love of all things Trek. So my expectations going into it were, I must say, pretty low.
Sad to say, even my lowered expectations were not met. Shatner was wasted in a throwaway role and Tom Skeritt does passably well as the main lead, with an assist from Eddie Albert, but Ernest Borgnine, barely tolerable in the early minutes of the film, becomes laughable once in devil’s makeup. Then, I blamed the movie’s failure to deliver the scares that I wanted on its underutilization of Shatner’s acting talents. Now of course I realize that his talents were likely being utilized to their fullest.
Needless to say, I’ve felt no pressing need to upgrade this one to disc, but since it’s been at least twenty years since I last watched it, I thought it deserved another try. I dusted off the rather crusty old tape cassette, popped it in the player, and after a few minutes playing with the tracking controls, found myself watching a second generation copy of this forty-five year-old movie.
I wish I could say that time has been kind to this movie; unfortunately, that would be a bald-faced lie. Even my tolerance for bad movies, built up over decades of watching such films on a daily basis, failed to find anything in The Devil’s Rain that can be considered worthwhile. Is it as bad as I remembered it? Possibly not—but it’s bad enough.
Wolfman (1979)—Werewolf movies, as least as far as the Unimonster is concerned, are extremely difficult to pull off correctly. It requires of the filmmaker the ability to build suspense, to convey the essence of the creature without revealing too much of the creature, a’la Spielberg’s “Jaws Paradox.” The producers of Jaws spent a fortune on a mechanical shark that they could not get to function reliably, forcing Director Steven Spielberg to use innovative camera work and excellent performances from his cast to impart the growing sense of horror to the audience. The result was far superior to anything that would have been achieved with ‘Bruce’ the mechanical shark.
In my opinion, there have been three truly great Werewolf movies—The Wolf-Man (1941), An American Werewolf in London (1981), and Dog Soldiers (2002), and several good ones. However, there have been many that failed to meet that standard, including Worth Keeter’s 1979 ultra-low budget Wolfman. The story of a young man who returns to his ancestral home in the American Southeast upon the death of his father, only to discover that he’s heir to the same lycanthropic curse that plagued his father and grandfather, it was a tired, overused plot long before Keeter, who also wrote the script, shot the first foot of film on this production. I first encountered this movie in the late 1980s, on one of my frequent prowls through the local Blockbusters. The VHS box art was none too inspiring—an oddly chromatic picture of the titular lycanthrope, looking more dyspeptic than diabolical. Unfortunately, I had thoroughly disposed of most of the horror section by this point, and took a chance on it. I was not lucky on that night.
In better hands, it might have worked. But those hands did not belong to Worth Keeter and his cast of unknowns. To say that I was disappointed would imply that I had some level of expectation for it, which was certainly not the case. It’s best to say that I expected little, and that’s what I received. The movie was promptly relegated to the dark recesses of my memory, never to be thought of again. Never, that is, until 2004. I had started the collection few years before, and I spent a decent percentage of my income on building it. One day, I saw it in a dollar-a-tape rack at my favorite Mom-and-Pop, and completist that I am, quickly added it to the stack of tapes on the counter. I’m not even sure that I watched the tape then, or at any point in the intervening sixteen years.
When I first conceived this article, I knew that this would be one of the movies that I would examine. Aside from the fact that it certainly met the criteria of being a movie that I disliked on my first viewing, it is also one of the few remaining Pre-Recorded VHS tapes in my collection, most of the others having long ago been upgraded to disc. As mentioned previously, the movie did little to lodge itself in my memory, and I wondered if it could be as bad as I vaguely recalled it being. In short—yes, it could, and was.
Hollow Man (2000)—the one big budget film on this list was perhaps the most disappointing to me; not because I had high expectations for it, but because the investment in talent and resources should have delivered a much greater return. Granted I’ve never considered The Invisible Man or any of its offshoots particularly horrific—interesting Sci-Fi, when done well, as was the case in the 1933 James Whale production for Universal; but not Horror. Still, with Paul Verhoeven directing and a cast led by Kevin Bacon, Elisabeth Shue, and Josh Brolin, and with a $95 million budget to play with, I thought that it should at least have an original story to accompany the admittedly spectacular visual effects.
Instead, we got the same tired retread of the scientist who experiments on himself, goes mad as a result, and starts killing people. It was barely passable in 1933, and just a cliché seven decades later. I didn’t hate the movie; my reaction was, to me, even worse—I was bored by it. But I thought that, of the three movies in my little experiment, this one stood the best chance of improving its standing in my eyes. After all, all the movie had to do was bore me less than the first time I watched it, and at that, it was successful.
This time around, I had a greater appreciation for the job the actors did with a very mediocre script by Andrew W. Marlowe. It didn’t make the movie any better, but I was able to wring a little more enjoyment out of it. Instead of the three out of ten stars I would have given it twenty years ago, this October it earned 5 of 10—a little more respectable.
No matter how many movies one may have in their collections, it behooves all of us to revisit the long-neglected, disliked residents of our video shelves. Our opinions might not have changed—but then again, you can never be sure.
Creature Feature © D. Dyszel 2020
Dick Dyszel - Voice Actor