We’ve said it over and over again – 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 critic is exposed to each year, finding a mere 10 that turn your stomach is a complicated 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 2009 have been known to drown even the most adventurous cinematic swimmer:
10. Nature’s Grave
Director: Jamie Blank
Flying under the radar – and right out the door, hopefully – was this dreadfully dull remake of one of Australia’s most important late ’70s thrillers. Even with original screenwriter Everett De Roche onboard for the update, this new take on the classic Long Weekend is weak-willed and even less appealing. The casting is a big part of the problem – Jesus Jim Caviezel is no John Hargreaves while Claudia Karvan isn’t even remotely close to Briony Behet. Add in Urban Legend director Jamie Blank who style matches his surname and you’ve got a recipe for disaster – and disinterest.
9. Psychos In Love
Director: Gorman Bechard
Listen up, DVD distributors. If you’re going to unearth a horror comedy cult ‘gem’ from three decades ago, something someone was obviously clamoring for (at least in your mind), make sure you’ve got something more to offer than a sloppy, N-th generation VHS dub of the movie you’re marketing, okay? While this so-called scary movie satire has nothing on far better examples of the subgenre type (Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2, for one), it does have its loyal supporters. So to deliver a mediocre transfer that drains all the potential fun out of said funny business is borderline criminal.
8. Donkey X
Director: Jose Pozo
Donkey X wants to be Shrek minus the ogre. It wants to take the literary world created by Cervantes (yes, this is a riff the Man of La Mancha himself, Don Quixote) and find a more family friend (read – cash heavy) means of making an impact. So who cares if the English translation of this Spanish storyline literarily makes no sense? Does it matter that the filmmakers lift character design from their Western betters, or force us to trudge through sudden plot shifts and personality incongruities? Again, this could all be the dubbing. It could also be the sad source itself (here’s betting on the latter).
7. Spaced Out
Director: Scott Grenke
Now this is truly bad, the cinematic equivalent of being stuck next to some putz who believes everything he says, feels, thinks, eats, drinks, farts, and fumes about is absolutely hilarious. The truth is, this anal probe obsessed alien ‘comedy’ is about as witty as a dog’s backside – and an animal hinder would be more comical than this turgid dung. Even the occasional cameos – Butch Patrick, Robert Z’Dar, Fred Williamson, Larry Thomas – can’t save things. Imagine a media commentary that couldn’t last two minutes stretched to almost 90. Star vehicle crafter James Vallo clearly thinks he’s a genius. Frankly the jokes on, and is, him.
6. Hell House: Book of Samiel
Director: Jason D. Morris
It’s the toughest of critical quandaries – the good idea (nay, GREAT concept) ruined by execution so amateurish and off the mark that it makes your grandma’s pan and scan home movies look like Avatar. In this case, a bunch of fright film wannabes try the old “house over the Gates of Hell” routine and screw it up royally. Nothing here makes sense, and the unhealthy amount of post-production tweaking and awkwardly inserted nudity means that someone realized this was a bomb, and thought they could work a little editorial magic on the mess. All they did was enhance the already palpable hackwork.
5. An American Affair
Director: William Olsson
In our growing need to sexualize everything, here’s a ripsnorter – a combination coming of age and look at the Kennedy Assassination. Indeed, nothing screams faux Summer of ’42 like taking one of the most tragic events in American history and linking it to a young boy discovering love in an older woman’s arms. Talk about mixing your Harlequin romancing metaphors with some Oliver Stoned conspiracy theorizing. If padded plot points were payola, this movie wouldn’t need a regular release. It would be so filthy rich it could give the certain Northeastern political dynasty a run for its rum running money. Not only bad, but misguided…and sad.
4. Ghosts of Goldfield
Director: Ed Winfield
It may seem surreal to say this, but former WWF superstar “Rowdy” Roddy Piper deserves better. This tepid attempt at tying the current trend in ghost hunting/adventuring to first person POV mock documentaries just doesn’t work: not as terror; not as a thriller; not as a vehicle for the once and well loved They Live star. If boredom were suspense, this would be the most dread inducing film since the Williams – Friedkin and Peter Blatty – plied us with pea soup. While the found location used is intriguing, the rest of this nonsense is like a field trip to a haunted meadow to watch grass grow.
3. Cell 2
Director: Tim Iacofano
Let’s answer a few possible questions right up front. Old Ms. J-Lo is not involved here. Neither is one named/hit wonder Tarseem. There is no genre busting use of splendid – if slickly sick – CG imagery, nor is the narrative set up to mirror the internal world of the killer with the external crime being investigated. So why, do you ask, is this called Cell 2? Well, someone owned the rights to the name, realized that few in the studio system were screaming for a revisit to the hot button 2000 effort, and decided to mine the direct-to-DVD market for some absentee/amnesia name recognition. Instead of cash, they got trash.
2. S. Darko
Director: Chris Fisher
Here’s another wholly unnecessary sequel so awful, so outside the creative boundaries that original Donnie director Richard Kelly managed that the only reason it exists is obvious. Someone clearly believes there’s a profit to be made in such direct-to-digital panhandling. This is a mangled attempt at recreating the original film’s vibe, but instead of originality and invention, they’ve decided to use clichés, stereotypes, and poorly written dialogue. The script, by reported scribe Nathan Atkins only manages to recreate from one thing from the original – an innate sense of disorientation…and that’s not a good thing.
Director: Scott Mansfield
Beware – or as Brundlefly’s babe would say, “Be Afraid…Be VERY afraid!” The title actually stands for The Immoral Minority Picture Show. Incredibly Mediocre Piece of Sh*t would be a far more apropos acronym. This unfunny, often unpleasant attempt at topical wit (made in the early ’80s, it was shelved until it hit DVD in 2009. Guess why?) is so bereft of anything remotely resembling a sense of humor that Republicans are thinking of running it for President in 2012. Sorry. As an example of what Scott Mansfield brings to the table as a filmmaker, this structure-less stool sample is about as appetizing as variety meats, and twice as gamey. Instead of being revived, it should have been put out of its misery.