There may be more to life than things that go bump in the night, but few of them are as entertaining as a story that just simply scares the chic out of you.
The list of films that truly are scary is short and all too often revisited.
So, in honor of Kenneth Branagh’s film “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” (see capsule review below), let’s look at a few that were meant to be scary but, for one reason or another, fail miserably to be much more than annoying.
Anything starring Vincent Price
From “House of Wax” (1953) to those horrible Dr. Phibes films, Price made one clunky horror feature after another. Once a legitimate actor, Price happened into the horror genre, which ensured him a long and prosperous career. And some of his films - “The Fly” (1958), “Edward Scissorhands” (1990) - actually were quite entertaining. But scary? Hardly.
Most Wes Craven films
OK, so the original “Nightmare on Elm Street” elicited a gasp or two from even hard-core horror viewers. But Craven’s had a lot of failures, too, from such trash as “The Last House on the Left” (1972) to such half-baked near-comedies as “The People Under the Stairs” (1991).
Most slasher flicks
“Psycho” (1960) aside, there’s nothing particularly scary as the latest “teens in trouble” extravaganza that features new and unique ways to dismember youthful limbs from gyrating torsos. Among the worst: Every “Friday the 13th” film ever imagined.
Most Stephen King films
Just consider: “Firestarter” (1984), “Children of the Corn” (1984), “Maximum Overdrive” (1986), “The Running Man” (1987), “The Lawnmower Man” (1992), etc. You “Carrie” (1976) fans will note the unique status of that genuine thriller.
Most animal stories
Yeah, yeah, “Jaws” (1975) is a notable exception. But think of “Ben” (1972, killer rats), “Ghoulies” (1985, killer gremlins), “Piranha” (1978, killer fish), “The Swarm” (1978, killer bees) and “Swamp Thing” (1982, killer vegetables).
Most things Frankenstein
Even since Mary Shelley wrote her 1818 novel, the tale of a man-made creation that comes back to haunt its creator has shown up in everything from comic books to feature films. Few are very scary, with the possible exception of some scenes from James Whales’ 1931 classic. Most of the others are simply pathetic. Don’t believe it? Try viewing Japan’s “Frankenstein Conquers the World” (1966), if you can find a copy, or “Frankenstein General Hospital” (1988), which Leonard Maltin describes as “the worst Frankenstein movie ever made in English.” But, as he adds, “At least that’s a distinction.”
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
This version of Mary Shelley’s tale of horror, written when she was but 19 years old, was originally supposed to have been directed by Francis Ford Coppola. As it is, Coppola produced for Kenneth Branagh. And that’s no big surprise, as it is every bit the overblown production that Coppola’s own “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” was. It looks good, and Branagh - no slouch as a filmmaker, which his Shakesperean adaptations demonstrate - directs things smoothly enough. But the seams show, from Aidan Quinn’s accent (“the” pronounced as a New Yorker’s “da”) to Branagh’s vanity scenes that feature his buffed-out body doing gymnastics in birth slime with Robert De Niro’s creature. Everyone else, from the alluring Helena Bonham Carter to the comic Tom Hulce, gets lost. As does Shelley’s story. Rated R.
The war ** - Up until the moment his film drowns in metaphor, Jon Avnet (“Fried Green Tomatoes”) capably tells the story of a wounded Vietnam veteran (Kevin Costner) and his family’s struggle to adapt to both his mental problems and crushing poverty. But when the cast of kids, led by the talented Elijah Wood, fight their own little war, the whole project falls into that hard-tostomach arena of Grand Statement. Rated PG-13.
xxxx What’s new to view Available this weekend: “The War” (MCA/Universal), “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” (Columbia TriStar). Available on Tuesday: “Bullets Over Broadway” (Miramax), “Highlander: The Final Confrontation” (Touchstone), “The Jungle Book” (Disney), “Pontiac Moon” (Paramount), “The Professional” (Columbia TriStar), “Speechless” (MGM/Universal).
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