5 Classic Movies That Spawned Terrible Hollywood Trends
The problem with Hollywood isn't that every hit spawns a swarm of copycats -- it's that the bandwagon-jumpers seem to have no clue what made the original great. Time and time again, they borrow the trappings of the movie they're aping and nothing else. They wind up lifeless copies, like if somebody switched out your dog for a stuffed one and hoped you wouldn't notice. Just look at all the stuffed dogs these great films produced ...
Halloween Is A Masterpiece That Created A Wave Of Mindless Slasher Films
Insufferable people love to have arguments about what film started the slasher movie boom. Usually the choices come down to Psycho or Halloween, and the problem with the first choice is that while Psycho is very much a movie about slashing living people into charcuterie, Halloween created the template that would show up again and again for decades.
The problem is that John Carpenter made it seem a little too effortless. Everything about Halloween comes together simply and beautifully -- the unforgettable score, the graceful cinematography, the way the virgin character becomes a ninja with sharp household objects by the end. But from that blueprint would come everything from Friday The 13th to The Burning to Prom Night to Terror Train to My Bloody Valentine to Death Comes Back -- each taking bits and pieces, as if assembling their own movie from a kit.
Also, I made that last movie up, but most people wouldn't know that. If you put a spooky word next to any combination of other words, you'll probably find an actual movie that Halloween has influenced. If you grew up in the video store era, you remember row after row of these VHS tapes.
Remember that opening POV shot of Halloween, in which young Michael Myers goes to kill his sister? The opening murder in Friday The 13th is mostly done from the killer's POV, and The Funhouse starts with the POV of a little kid scaring his sister. The Halloween plot about someone returning to kill after being away for a while? You'll find that also in Friday The 13th, The Burning, My Bloody Valentine, and a ton of others. The ending wherein the killer survives something like gunshots or stabbing or a watermelon to the head in order to obviously return in the sequel? I would start listing movies that copied that, but I'm sure that we'd all like to wrap this column up before Christmas.
It's all of the beats to remind you of the original, along with upping the gore and nudity (as if that's what it was missing), but with none of the atmosphere or slow building dread. And even the magic of the original is diminished, because any kid who stumbles across it just sees a bunch of cliches they've seen a million times, only on a lower budget. This movie made those cliches mainstream, you little bastard!
And while we're on the subject of copycat horror ...
The Blair Witch Project Was A Groundbreaking Experiment That Spawned The "Found Footage" Plague
The Blair Witch Project probably has it the worst in terms of movies that are almost impossible to enjoy today due to the wave of garbage that swept in afterward. Nowadays, the horror categories on streaming offer a near limitless selection of people swinging cameras around haphazardly and asking their friends "Did you hear that noise?" It's a classic case of an entire industry looking at a huge hit and having no idea what people liked about it. "Ah, so the kids these days like it when you scream and shake the camera. Got it."
Long before the Paranormal Activity clones would set Hollywood records for the most profit on the least amount of effort possible, and even longer before movies like M. Night Shayamalan's The Visit would tack on a "found footage" gimmick for no reason whatsoever, The Blair Witch Project existed as one of the weirdest, most brazen ideas in modern Hollywood history.
The directors spent five years developing the project. There would be no script, no effects, no known actors. The cast would be thrown into the woods for over a week with their own cameras and told to shoot their experience, with no idea whatsoever of what was coming. They would be cold, exhausted, hungry and miserable ... and then in the middle of the night, the crew would scare the fuck out of them.
It was the last somewhat convincing "found footage" movie ever made, purely because the reactions were genuine. The stars didn't stroll out of a warm trailer after having rehearsed how to act like they'd been stretched to the breaking point -- that's just where they were at mentally. The result was performances so authentic that it's genuinely alarming.
The story structure is weird and draggy, it ends abruptly -- all things that make sense in that context. All of that is why the "found footage" gimmick worked, right up to successfully marketing the movie with "Missing" posters for the film's leads. It's a little surprising they didn't go ahead and just have them murdered in order to really sell it.
The movie cost $60,000 to make and grossed $248 million worldwide. And from then on, seemingly 75 percent of all horror movies were pretty actors on Hollywood sets pretending to be scared before a jiggling "video camera" while a CG monster loomed over their shoulder.
Sure, not all of the copycats were garbage. The first Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield, and The Last Exorcism are fine movies, but ultimately they're structured and acted like traditional, predictable horror films. The Blair Witch Project, on the other hand, is exactly what you'd expect if three film students set out to make a boring documentary, only to have it go horribly wrong. Well, aside from the fact that it doesn't feature heated discussions about Stanley Kubrick that are borderline friendship-ending, or at least one awkward hookup that no one ever mentions again.
Pulp Fiction Triggered An Avalanche Of Glib, Gory Crime Movies
When Pulp Fiction came out in 1994, Quentin Tarantino was the coolest director in the world. The wave of American "auteurs" had seemingly stopped in the '70s, after audiences ruined studios trying to make artsy four-hour cowboy movies. But here comes Tarantino, making films his own way, with his own taste in violence and music. He also rendered John Travolta cool again, and if you think Travolta isn't cool now, I can't stress how goddamn lame he was in 1993, when he was fresh off of a trilogy of talking baby movies and Shout, wherein he teaches teens about how neat rock n' roll is. You think John Travolta is a joke now? Ha. You have no fucking idea.
Pulp Fiction's characters are quirky, but they can afford to be, because they're being played by top-notch actors and they're imbued with real depth. Tarantino's music choices may make him sound like a college kid trying to impress his little brother, but they always improve the atmosphere that he's trying to create. And the violence, no matter how gratuitous or fun, serves a purpose. Pulp Fiction is actually about something, a series of intertwined tales of redemption, played out of order, but in the exact order in which we need to see them.
What movies like Suicide Kings, Boondock Saints, Go, and Very Bad Things took from all that was: 1) Characters don't need personalities, as long as they are glib and quirky, 2) A soundtrack is good as long as it works both ironically and unironically, 3) Over-the-top gore is automatically funny, and 4) "Plot" is simply a fancy word for the self-indulgent dialogue sections between the violent parts.
Let me put it this way: It's a weird state of affairs when, out of the many directors who have tried to copy the Tarantino "formula" of joke-making criminals committing horrendous acts to hip music, the only one who can nail it down is a guy whose legal name is Rob Zombie. Let that sink in.
We're Still Paying For The Dark Knight's Influence On Superheroes
Why is The Dark Knight good, when so much of it had been done before? It's Batman stopping the forces of evil again, it deals with the duality of being a bat-shaped vigilante again, and it ends with the Joker dangling from somewhere high up again, because apparently the Joker can't be stopped if you're on the first floor. I say it's because The Dark Knight asks the question "What if this whole superhero thing isn't the coolest thing ever?" Also it's got great themes, killer cinematography, a transcendent performance by Heath Ledger, and a lighthearted anecdote from Alfred about the time he burned down an entire forest.
The Dark Knight then started a wave of superhero films that all seemed to say the same thing: Superheroism is dark and ugly, and a superhero's only strong emotion is brooding angst. We all know about the DCEU, which seems to be undertaking the Sisyphean task of trying to create a good Superman movie, only for that goal to roll back and crush itself three times in a row. But you can find touches of The Dark Knight in everything from The Amazing Spider-Man series to the terrible, humorless Fantastic Four reboot. All of them are dark, but none really follow through with the central idea.
Because at the end of these movies about how, on a desirability scale, superheroism is somewhere between gonorrhea and that face that babies make before they start crying, they all end up portraying it as pretty awesome by the time the credits roll. The Dark Knight, though, ends with Batman tackling one of the four friends that he has in the whole world and then saying, "You know what? I'll take the blame for my shitty friend's murders, and then NO ONE will like me OR my sweet bike, because no one is supposed to like me, and that's just how it goes for me always." Just like with Pulp Fiction, the distinctive style turns out to actually be in service of something more.
Meanwhile, Amazing Spider-Man ends with someone telling Spider-Man to not get too close to people because they'll get hurt, but Spider-Man brushes it off and swings back into Emma Stone's heart. Even Batman v. Superman, where Batman is so dark that he brands people with his logo on the off chance that it might get them brutally killed in prison, ends with Batman suddenly wanting to be the boy scout leader of the Justice League.
Only The Dark Knight leaves you thinking, "Ya know, I'd rather be Alfred."
The Matrix Inspired A Lot Of "Wire Fu" And Bad CG Stunts
The Matrix is great example of what action sci-fi can look like when the creative team behind it actually cares. The Wachowskis threw in all of their favorite influences -- including action staples from Hong Kong cinema -- and then made the entire cast do four months of martial arts training with the fight choreographer.
Some of these scenes would use "wire fu" -- a staple of Hong Kong action films using harnesses (later digitally painted out) to hold up actors so that they can spit in Isaac Newton's face and deliver gravity-defying face-bootings. Sorry to burst your bubble, people who think Keanu Reeves is magic.
But you more likely recognize wire fu from its use in countless 2000s action films like the Charlie's Angels series. It's a great way to get big dramatic kicks while ignoring the fact that Cameron Diaz is not an Olympic long jumper. But it also looks remarkably goofy most of the time (like if, for instance, the cast doesn't spend months actually learning to fight), and doesn't do much to ramp up the tension of a fight scene between three nonprofessional martial artists and George McFly, all set to The Prodigy's "Smack My Bitch Up."
The Matrix also augmented its stunts with some (now extremely dated and rubbery) CGI techniques, because the actual human body isn't rad enough to fight Hugo Weaving effectively. The side effect of this practice is that it brings a certain sense of weightlessness, which can backfire on filmmakers who kind of need their characters to seem badass and, you know, real. For example, Blade II is full of awesome combat, including Wesley Snipes giving a delayed suplex to a guy just because he can. However, it also awkwardly switches to Matrix-esque CGI, and the results aren't exactly seamless.
It's a problem that has spilled into every Spider-Man film, too. No matter how good the special effects are, we've never been able to properly make CG Spider-Man match up to live-action Spider-Man. They seem like two different people -- which, now that I consider it, is probably what Spider-Man WANTS us to think. The early Raimi films are especially bad with this, and it's only when there's good action choreography (like the train fight sequence) that we can ignore it.
That said, the train fight and Spider-Man 2 are perfect, so it's unfair to compare anything to them. Sorry, every other movie.
Daniel Dockery's Twitter is a wonderland of Pokemon references and 3 AM drunk thoughts about Batman Returns. It's a good time.
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For more, check out 5 Movie Adaptations That Completely Missed The Point and 6 Movie Remakes That Missed The Point.
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