It’s been said before, but it really does bear repeating - making worst-of lists is a heck of a lot harder than making best-of determinations. The explanation for why may seem specious at first, but follow along anyway. You see, something good stands out for numerous reasons – brilliant direction, monumental acting, a quick and brainy script, an approach to a subject that is fresh and dynamic. Even when that story seems similar and the elements reek of the routine, energy and mood, tone and treatment can all aid in a film’s final aesthetic determination. But with the bad, the facets are sadly familiar – boring execution, non-existing cinematics, lame, ludicrous writing and performances that range from problematic to pathetic. These aggravating aspects never change, they never alter their underachieving patchiness. A crappy effort is a crappy effort, each one feeling similarly unworthy and unacceptable.
So when faced with the mountain of mediocrity a DVD critic is exposed to each year, finding a mere 10 that turn your stomach is an exercise in remembrance and repulsion. Looking back means identifying works that wasted your time, revisiting filmmakers whose arrogance blinded them to their true lack of artistic acumen, and generally re-experiencing the pain of time lost, sensibilities shaken, and interest waned. Again, the same rules apply here as with the Films You’ve Never Heard Of category. The movie itself can be from any year – the digital version, however, had to arrive on the medium in the past 12 months. For the most part, we are dealing with dull, lifeless movie macabre. But there is at least one example of company-based callousness - a fine film flummoxed by a significantly subpar presentation. And don’t forget: a Criterion Collection version of crap is still crap.
So grab hold of your aesthetic and wade in cautiously. SE&L‘s 10 Worst DVDs of 2008 have been known to drown even the most adventurous cinematic swimmer:
#10 - Sukiyaki Western Django
On one hand, it’s hard to include this DVD as part of the year’s worst. The film, a saucy spaghetti Western homage by Japanese cult legend Takashi Miike, is magnificent. It literally vibrates off the screen with visual flare and motion picture majesty. But when deciding to release the title on the home theater format, First Look Pictures cut nearly 35 minutes out of the movie, in essence, destroying Miike’s tone and narrative pitch. While the film was hard enough to follow originally (all the actors speak in awkward phonetic English), this edit makes it almost unfathomable. A true crime against cinema.
#9 - Dead and Gone
Oh here we go again - another wannabe thriller in which a proposed psychological twist in the last ten minutes is supposed to salvage the previous 80 minutes of homemade horror tedium. In this case, a young lothario carts his terminally ill meal ticket up to a mountain cabin to “relax”. Naturally, things take a fatal turn. The “who/what/where” of this Sci-Fi channel like chum is never more important than the “why”? Why did anyone think this script was something other than awful, and why did they let someone named Yossi Sasson direct it. Sadly, we will never really know.
#8 - Sharp as Marbles
In a clear case of being able to judge a lame indie comedy by the title company it keeps, this slacker Three Stooges knockoff makes Moe, Larry and Curly look like members of MENSA. There is nothing worse than a movie that thinks its banging on all satiric cylinders when, in actuality, it threw a humor rod several telegraphed jokes back. From the amateurish acting to the shorthanded style of characterization (gold chain = loverboy), writers Eric and Steve Vilio match the dunderheaded direction by former camera operator John Banovich blow for befuddling blow. Some may find this funny. Most will experience a different kind of ‘gagging’.
#7 - Diaries of the Living Dead: Dead Summer/ Deadhunter: Seville Zombies
The poor zombie. All it wants to do is wander around the countryside aimlessly and snack on the occasional human victim. Mess with this monster too much, however, and it will come back to metaphysically bite you in the butt. The two excuses for terror here try to bring a novel approach to the living dead archetype: Summer is Slacker with skin snacking, while Deadhunter is a Tarantino- esque Terminator rip-off. But neither are inventive or professional enough to resemble anything other than camcorder crap. If there was something similar to supernatural slander, the entire undead race should sue.
#6 - Nigel Tomm’s Hamlet
Tomm is one of those “artists” who mandate that said term be used very, very loosely. In the case of his DVD interpretations of classic works of literature (including The Catcher in the Rye and Waiting for Godot), this purveyor of post-modern meta-mung offers up nothing but blank screens. That’s right. Zip. Zilch. Nada. For this seminal Shakespeare work, we are treated to 63 minutes of white. White. No dialogue. No context. Just a $15.99 bunch of emptiness. Clearly this critic wasn’t sufficiently smart, or adequately hip, or schooled in the ways of avant-garde hucksterism to “get it”., Frankly, it’s hard to imagine who would be.
#5 - Primal
Primal is a great big batch of pickled turds. It’s a hackneyed excuse for terror that doesn’t understand the first thing about film. It is obvious that writer/director Steffan Schlachtenhaufen just doesn’t get horror. He believes that one note characters, thrown into a vague and unexplained situation, can be made macabre by simply adding some guy in a gorilla suit. While the credits proclaim the individuals in charge of the creature effects, it looks like something the local costume shop rejected as too ratty. Add in some Commodore 64 CGI effect and you’ve got the most trying direct to DVD experience since Disney stopped making their unnecessary animated sequels.
#4 - The Wailer II
The Wailer II should be subtitled The Waste of Time Too. It commits the biggest sin a scary movie can commandeer - it’s a horror film that forgets to be frightening. So busy building local Mexican color and unnecessary mythos that it constantly loses focus, director Paul Miller obviously believes that bloodshed, along with occasional stopovers at Sentimentality City, will carry his culturally correct dread. Clearly, he’s a few frijoles short of a chimichonga. Atmosphere and tone are one thing - spending inordinately large amounts of time establishing one characters’ love of dominos is another. Pure South of the Border bullspit.
#3 - Shutter (Unrated)
Shutter is more than merely derivative. If you looked in the dictionary under ‘subpar ethnic horror’, it would exist somewhere between some Lithuanian torture porn and Seytan, the Turkish Exorcist. For director Masayuki Ochiai, it’s a ‘can’t win’ situation. On the one hand, if he delivers a wonderful and ethereal fright flick, he must face the fading fortunes of the already DOA J-Horror category. If, on the other hand, he creates some stool - which this movie certainly is - he’s put yet another nail in the fad’s already over-spiked and mostly buried coffin. Time to call the coroner - Asian fright is official dead.
#2 - Chronicles of an Exorcism
There is nothing worse than an idea with a lot of potential being sideswiped by filmmakers who have absolutely no idea how to realize it. So when someone came up with the notion of taking the now overused first person POV, ‘you are there style’ of camera work to cover a supposed “actual” case of demonic possession, the frightmare possibilities appeared endless. Unfortunately, only the movie seemed to last forever. Aside from the dopey demonology and the grade school level performances, there is nothing remotely “real” here. Even the scenes that are proposed to shock are stale and uninteresting.
#1 - Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Welcome to George Lucas’ latest bad, bad decision. Star Wars: The Clone Wars, is easily classified as an “if you don’t mind” styled production. If you don’t mind unfocused battle sequences that seem to go on forever, if you don’t mind characterization clearly aimed at the under seven set, if you don’t mind overly cute merchandising bows and dialogue as ditzy as any Jar Jar monologue, you probably will enjoy yourself. But if the very thought of a drag queen Jabba the Hutt horrifies you, or if your fandom is killed by the concept that our future Darth Vader is referred to, lovingly and often, as “Skyguy”, Clone Wars will close the door on your love of this series forever. Sure, it’s merely the set up for an upcoming Cartoon Network/TNT series, but leave it to Lucas to drive a stake in his space opera’s vampiric heart once and for all.