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Image: "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans"
Sony
Rhona Mitra steps into the third "Underworld" sequel. Was Kate Beckinsale busy?
By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 1/23/2009 3:34:20 PM ET 2009-01-23T20:34:20
COMMENTARY

Horror sequels are rotten. They’ve zoomed way past horror remakes on my scary movie hate-list.

In fact, thanks to stuff like the shocking and surprisingly awesome “Dawn of the Dead” remake and the new 3D version of “My Bloody Valentine” (a film with no agenda except to throw lots of blood and guts at your face, provided your glasses are on), I can’t even say I hate the concept of the remake on principle anymore. Those two, all by themselves, can help me forget that I paid money to see the reboots of “When a Stranger Calls,” “Black Christmas” and “Prom Night.”

But popular franchises that don’t know when to lay down the chainsaw — sequels that are energetic as strippers on the breakfast shift — are bilking horror fans of money that could be spent buying vintage “Mark of the Devil” barf bags on eBay. Here’s where they go wrong:

1. More of the same
I remember seeing “Jaws 2” when it hit theaters. I was still just a kid, but I walked out thinking, “Why did I just watch a less frightening version of that other shark movie?”

It set up justifiably low expectations for future “Halloween” sequels, “Friday The 13th” visits from Jason (except for “Jason X,” which was awesome), “Nightmare on Elm Street” dreamfests and outings with Chucky, Hellraiser, those children who lived in the corn fields, maniac cops and slumber parties that turned to massacres.

I already wrote a “Dear John” letter to the “Saw” movies for this site so I won’t rehash that animosity, but there’s nothing more hateful than studios, greedy for money and contemptuous of the people who buy the tickets, greenlighting sequels that often feature not one single new wrinkle in the fabric. If the original kept me up at night, the sequel, especially the one with “2” or “II” in its title, is 99.9 percent certain to put me to sleep.

2. Descending into cuteness and intentional camp
Remember how terrifying and grotesque that child-molester-turned-dream-stalker Freddy Krueger was in that first “Nightmare?” And remember how, after that, he became a wisecracking anti-hero whose murderous rampage seemed almost justified as the mean-spirited ’80s ground on and on and his victims became even more pastel-outfitted, hair-moussed and brattily repellent?

And where did we see him last? Making jokes as Jason carried his decapitated-yet-still-snarky head off-screen in “Freddy vs. Jason” (Don’t quote me on this but I swear I once heard him yell, “Who let the dogs out?” in one of those movies) and sentenced to a legacy of kitten-soft safety as the most ironic of little kids’ store-bought Halloween costumes.

Not that humor can’t co-exist with horror. The “Scream” franchise kept it going for a while, aiming for smarter audiences. But by the time Carrie Fisher showed up to riff on herself, the balance had tipped and smirky outweighed scary.

3. Pretending that needless complications are the same thing as serious filmmaking
I will see “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans.” I have to. It’s my job. But I’m pretty sure I won’t enjoy myself. Right, right, film critics are supposed to enter every new assignment with an open mind-blah-blah-objectivity. I’ve heard it. But did you see the first two “Underworld” movies? No? Then shut up. Because they suck.

And the series’ defenders probably love the ornately Goth atmosphere and Kate Beckinsale’s seemingly all-PVC costumes and Bill Nighy’s straight-faced performances and maybe even enjoy fantasies of Scott Speedman being their own personal werewolf-lover. And I get all that. But is it too much to ask that this franchise pull its head out of its own self-important, convoluted-mythology-packed butt and make even one moment of narrative sense?

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Because until I know a really good reason why I’m listening to yet another minor-yet-apparently-key-to-the-plot character blather on and on about the ongoing vampire/werewolf blood feud, a character who will probably disappear from the plot altogether for the next 40 minutes of blackness-cloaked cinematography and mumble-whispered dialogue, I don’t think I should have to care.

4. Skimping on murder to save on the make-up effects budget or to get a PG-13 rating
Horror fans are jaded people. We’ve been scared already by bigger goons than you dozens of times over. So if you’re not up to the task of freaking us out, even if the movie is otherwise terrible then you’re going to have to make the killings way more gnarly. (I confess to hating and laughing at “The Strangers” and then spending every night for a week double-checking dark closets and locks on the windows before going to sleep. So yeah, stupid movie, you won in the end.)

We want gore. We want point-of-impact murders. Throats slit and blood splattered. We want mayhem that feels real enough to be frightening all on its own, unadorned by cheap jolts, shrieking scores and crashing-noise sound edits.

You know what’s an awesome horror sequel on that count alone? “Hostel Part II.” Go ahead, laugh. I don’t care. I know what I like. I watched it again on cable the other night and found myself getting grossed-out all over again by its very disgusting (and, at least during Heather Matarazzo’s death scene, genuinely disturbing) murders. It was gorier than its predecessor and for that I’d send Eli Roth a Thanksgiving card.

5. Stop giving supporting characters and pet cats names like ‘Argento’
That’s all. Just knock that off. Even if you’re not making a sequel. Nothing takes me out of a movie faster.

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