6WH: Week 3 – Shelf Sitters

Movie releases can be delayed for any number of reasons. The obvious explanation for the delay is if the movie is terrible, but for a surprising number of films, that’s not the case at all. For instance, sometimes a movie gets made and everyone from studio execs to the audience loves it, but it still sits on a shelf for a year or two because the distributor or studio went out of business, or the rights were sold, or something along those lines. Other times, movies get shelved because clueless studio execs want a sure thing, so movies without big name stars that aren’t remakes or sequels or blatant ripoffs of existing success get dumped. This seems to be a particularly trenchant problem when it comes to the horror genre, so let’s take a look at some of the recent shelf sitters that have been (finally) making their way to audiences:

  • Thursday the 12th (Robot Chicken)
  • Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (trailer)
  • Halloween Rare Deleted Scene 1978 (short)
  • All the Boys Love Mandy Lane – You guys, this movie was ready in 2006. It’s been 7 years! What’s more, while the film has its detractors, it’s often cited as one of the better horror movies of the past decade. It’s the directorial debut of Jonathan Levine and it’s had a pretty tortured existence, enduring studio and distributor failures (it was owned by the Weinsteins at least twice) until someone finally managed to secure a short release this Halloween season. Having heard about this movie for so long, expectations were pretty high and one thing about shelved films like this is that you really, really want to root for them.

    Fortunately, it’s a pretty good movie. It’s not perfect, and the hype derived from the extreme delay is not really warranted, but it’s a solid flick and well worth your time. It’s your typical horror movie premise: a bunch of high-schoolers take a trip to a secluded ranch to party… and die! Invited along is Mandy Lane, a strange combination of shy and popular, she’s an outsider that everyone wants to know. Or something like that. So this is your typical slasher movie setup, but things don’t quite follow the formula exactly either. Indeed, the horror elements are barely hinted at for the first third of the movie, and the body count surprisingly low until we get to the last 20 minutes or so. For instance, the “killer” is revealed pretty quickly, and it’s not your typical masked costume sort of thing that people will dress up like for Halloween (perhaps another reason for the studio waffling). This might make for some slightly weird pacing issues, but it all comes together well in the end. It’s definitely a movie that is self-aware, but not in a winking, Scream-like way. There are a few big twists on the formula as well, and it’s the ending that ties it all together. I don’t want to ruin anything so I’ll just say that it’s a very good movie. If you’re a slasher fan, you might enjoy some of the twists, but it’s also something that would appeal to non-slasher fanatics. I don’t think the lenghty stay on the shelf does it any favors, but I’m glad it’s finally available! ***

  • Creepshow (trailer)
  • Jack Chop (short)
  • Season’s Greetings (short)
  • Trick ‘r Treat – This one was ready in 2007, but “only” sat on the shelf for 2 years, garnering a series of festival showings, culminating in a craptacular direct to DVD release in 2009. It has subsequently built up a pretty solid reputation, though I really think this would have made a great movie to see in the theater (supposedly director Michael Dougherty was hoping for this to be a series that would have one entry every year, utilizing different creative teams – alas, that was not to be). I actually reviewed it during the 2009 Six Weeks of Halloween, noting that I liked it a lot even if I wasn’t sure it lived up to the hype. After a few years and a few rewatchings, I have to say that it’s a film that’s really grown on me, to the point of becoming an annual tradition. And that is the greatest thing about this: it’s a celebration of the season. They didn’t just throw some pumpkins and dead leaves in the background, they made this movie about Halloween, and every segment of the movie uses the holiday as much more than just setting or window dressing.

    Carving pumpkins, amongst other things

    It hits those nostalgic notes too, reminding you of Halloweens gone by and making you want to dress up and go Trick ‘r Treating. Like all anthology films, there are some segments that work better than others, but the seamless connective tissue and general excellence on display here put it far above your typical horror anthologies. So yeah, this is a fantastic movie, perfect for the season. ***1/2

  • Grindhouse: Don’t (fake trailer)
  • The Cabin in the Woods (trailer)
  • The Strangers (trailer)
  • You’re Next – And here I cheat a little, as this movie is spiraling its way out of theaters as I type. This movie was actually playing at the 2011 Fantastic Fest when I attended. I had tentatively penciled it in for its second showing, but after it premiered, Lionsgate picked it up and immediately canceled that second showing. Those that did manage to see it raved about it, and if I remember correctly, it took home the audience award at the end of the fest. Why Lionsgate sat on it for so long only to unceremoniously dump it in August is beyond me, as this is a real crowd-pleaser of a film.

    One of the things I find really interesting about this movie was how much I didn’t like the opening. After a short, promising pre-credits sequence we settle into the film proper, following various family members as they arrive at the (remote) country home for an old-fashioned family get-together. Naturally, they’re a dysfunctional family, and while there are some laughs to be had at that (Ti West plays a pretentious documentary filmmaker that’s dating one of the daughters and is pure gold), it gets really grating really fast. Luckily, someone starts shooting arrows into the house and people start dying. At first, this leads to a lot of arguments and screaming and crying and annoying but at this point, the movie turned it all around for me as we see the initially mild-mannered Erin (played by Sharni Vinson) take charge and kick some major ass.

    Sharni Vinson, kicking ass

    I find that a lot of movies have a great hook, a great first 20 minutes, but then peter out at the end. This movie does the opposite. The first 20 minutes or so are a bit rough, but then it just keeps getting stronger. I don’t want to ruin anything, so I’ll leave it at that, but I really had a ton of fun with this movie and judging from the Box Office, you haven’t seen it, so give it a shot when it hits video (and give it a half hour to warm up). It puts the “Fun” back in Home Invasion movies! ***

Another successful week. Stay tuned for, heck, I’m not sure what’s happening next weekend. Perhaps a long-overdue Netflix queue cleaning? Maybe a no-discernable theme week? We shall see!