Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Consistency of Lameness

Just as good horror movies across time share certain traits, so do bad horror movies. Over and over, no matter how many years go by, the makers of bad horror films repeat the same mistakes. It doesn't matter if the film is a low-budget independent with a no-name cast or a better-budgeted studio film with Hollywood stars. The lameness remains the same.

To make this clear, I have chosen two bad movies, one the ultra-low-budgeted The Body Beneath (1970) and the other the modestly-budgeted Vacancy (2007). Vacancy had Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale as a married couple, David and Amy, who wander into trouble in a motel in the middle of nowhere. Body Beneath (1970) features a cast most people probably never heard of as a vampire clan seeking to renew their bloodlines. Of the two, Body Beneath is worse, but is slightly redeemed by camp. Vacancy has some good moments of suspense, but overall is mediocre, without even the virtue of camp.

Here are five key characteristics that make these movies lame:

1. Lack of originality. The tradition of rural motels containing sinister occupants has been around for a long time, most memorably in Psycho, so if you are going to do it again you had better do something to make it fresh. Vacancy has a twist involving snuff filmmakers, but that is not exactly fresh either. Likewise, the vampire subgenre was already antiquated by the time Body Beneath came along, and to try to freshen it up that film introduced the idea of renewing bloodlines, which might have been interesting if it had made any sense. Instead, the film is so convoluted in explaining how the bloodline renewal would work that it loses interest before it can ever reach coherence.

2. Unimpressive deformed destructive beings (DDBs). A horror film is only as good as its DDB, and these are not good DDBs. Body Beneath features a talky, weak-looking lead vampire in a minister outfit, (Gavin Reed as Rev. Ford), plus a trio of lady vampires with bad blue makeup and a deeply cliched hunchbacked assistant. Vacancy has a total of three serial killers who are largely inept at killing the two victims at their disposal. Two of the killers wear creepy masks, but this is hardly enough to turn them into genuine threats.

3. Boring normals. The normal characters in a horror movie should be somewhat sympathetic, so that the audience cares about the peril they face. In Body Beneath, the main normal couple seems to be mainly interested in having sex, and the other normals are unmemorable. In Vacancy, the married couple seems to have no interest in sex, being too busy sniping at each other, and there are almost no other normals around.

4. Tone deafness. Vacancy has nicely scored beginning and end credit sequences that are reminiscent of Hitchcock--just the thing to set the mood if this movie were anything like a Hitchcock film, which it is not. Body Beneath is loaded with references to Carfax Abbey, making you think of Dracula, most of the adaptations of which are much better than what you are seeing here. Overall, Body Beneath and Vacancy feel like they were pasted together from such references to better films, yet with deafness to what makes a film good on its own.

5. Incoherent endings. Body Beneath ends with the sex-crazed couple turned into vampires--is that it? I'm not sure. Vacancy ends with the husband alive but wounded, with help on the way--or is he dying, and will help never come? I don't know. Worse, I don't care. The movies so thoroughly lost me I didn't even bother pressing scene selection to go back and figure them out.

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films

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