Paranormal Activity heads to the screens for the fourth time this weekend, and while the jury’s still out on how it holds up to its three predecessors, the number in the title puts it in the dubious pantheon of franchise fourquels. By the time a film series reaches its fourth installment, there’s not a lot of room for a middling effort: Things tend to get very bad, very strange, or secretly amazing. We could have done a bracket on this, but a Final Destination/Halloween showdown would have inevitably led to several Grantland staffers refusing to speak to each other, so we decided to let ’em all into the Hall of Fame.
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
Bill Simmons: Halloween 4 came out when I was a freshman in college. As far as emotional returns from retired legends went, this Michael Myers comeback ranked closer to MJ’s electric 55-point game in MSG in 1995 than MJ’s putrid performance in the ’95 Magic series — even if we weren’t supposed to be skeptical that he came back from BURNING TO DEATH TO THE POINT THAT HIS MASK BUBBLED OVER at the end of Halloween 2. It’s a better movie that you remember, and if you don’t think I welled up at the sight of Dr. Loomis on the big screen in 1988, you obviously don’t know me well enough. Halloween 4 had the best attempted murder on a rooftop ever filmed. Fine, it’s in the top 10. Fine, it’s in the top 100. Just watch if only to see the best horror-movie villain mask that ever was.
The Final Destination
Amos Barshad: Three things you need to know about this movie:
1. The Final Destination powers that be tried really hard to make this one the last in the franchise. They figured, “Hey, look, we’ve squeezed all the juice we possibly could. Like so many nubile young ladies being speared in the head with misplaced construction rods before it, it’s time to let it die.” So they named it The Final Destination, and made it clear that this was it, the last final destination, there would be no more final destinations. And then it went and made almost $200 million worldwide, and then the powers that be had to go and make yet another Final Destination. THAT’S HOW GOOD THIS MOVIE IS.
2. After killing dozens of fresh-faced suburbanites in horrifyingly creative fashion over the years, the people behind The Final Destination were tasked with making an escalator scary. An escalator! A slightly more animated staircase! Somehow, they succeeded.
3. This clip is in Spanish, and that in no way takes away — and may in fact enhance — the enjoyment of what you’re about to see.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Bryan Curtis: One way to rehabilitate Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in your mind is to think of it purely as a killer-ant movie. No fridge. No Tarzan yell. Just ants. Guess what? It sorta works.
Until Indy IV, killer ants had been mostly neglected in fiction. We had H.G. Wells’s “Empire of the Ants,” a sci-fi called Phase IV (awesome poster), the immortal Kent Brockman, “Ants! Ants!” on “Sprockets,” and Choose Your Own Adventure No. 25. Indy’s ant scene had been kicking around since an unmade film called Indiana Jones and the Monkey King. For the first time, Spielberg took his evil-animal scene away from wranglers like Mike Culling and gave it to ILM. The ants aren’t as scary as the bugs in Temple of Doom. But — and here is upside of CGI — they can do more. They use each other as ladders. They carry the Ruskie badass into their lair. My favorite shot — the one that conveys the very suburban terror of a killer ant — is their first appearance. “Big damn ants,” Indy intones. Then the characters begin stomping the ground, like they were some nuisance you find out on the patio.
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
Alex Pappademas: The second Planet of the Apes movie, 1970’s Beneath the Planet of the Apes, ends with a dying Charlton Heston triggering an ancient but still-functional nuclear bomb in the ruins of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, wiping out all life on Earth and bringing the Apes saga to a bleak yet thematically satisfying conclusion — except Beneath made money, so three more Apes movies followed, in which the masks got progressively cheaper and gummier even as the allegorical content got more blatant and weird and provocative. 1971’s Escape From the Planet of the Apes is the best, oddest entry in the series — apes Cornelius and Zira are rocketed back in time to early-’70s Los Angeles, where they discover shopping and champagne and human treachery. But for sheer audacity, nothing matches 1972’s Conquest, the one in which Cornelius and Zira’s son Caesar (Roddy MacDowall) leads an army of slave-apes in an uprising against their human oppressors in police-state circa-1991 L.A.; screenwriter Paul Dehn modeled the battle-of-Los Angeles scenes (shot on the steps of the then-futuristic-looking Century City Mall) on the Watts riots of 1965. The movie was supposed to end with a victorious Caesar giving a burn-baby-burn speech about man’s downfall and his ape minions beating L.A.’s (white) human governor to death with rifle butts, signaling the dawn of ape rule on Earth; when the overt race-war parallels made test audiences uncomfortable, director J. Lee Thompson (taking advantage of the fact that the ape characters’ lips didn’t really move) went back and dubbed in a few lines in which Caesar shows mercy. Last year’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes is basically Conquest with a bigger effects budget and much smaller balls.
Jaws: The Revenge
Tess Lynch: Jaws: The Revenge is notoriously bad for a lot of reasons. First of all, the bloom is off the shark, whose paint is chipping and mechanical rails are showing, or who appears in some scenes as a disembodied fin. Then there’s the fact that Michael Caine — who skipped out on receiving an Academy Award for Hannah and Her Sisters because he was busy filming JTR — climbs out of the water at one point completely dry (a reason floating around IMDb is that this was because the blue dye used in the water turned the actors’ hair blue). There’s also the nebulous shark psychology on which this movie hinges — a shark, angry that it’s been killed in the three movies that preceded this one, stalks Scheider’s widow in a fit of great white rage. Unless it’s a friend of the first three deceased sharks and not the same old zombie shark, or “a next-door neighbor,” as Ebert proposes. Yeah, that makes much more sense. A vigilante pal of the other sharks who is now resentfully raising all of their shark babies in a one-bedroom apartment. Sometimes it seems as though fourquels exist just to anger critics, and I like critics the best when they’re just straight-up stinking mad. I don’t care about your review unless you want to physically vacate your seat in the preview audience and beat the crap out of the screen because it hurts your critic brain to try to piece together the logic of a movie that is essentially the film equivalent of this. When asked about his involvement in this movie, Caine answered, “I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.” Other things that are terrific: a shark’s body that has the consistency of a microwaved hot dog being impaled, and then, of course, exploding.
Brian Phillips: (1) There is a plot reason why the shark explodes. The shark has swallowed a bomb. (2) THE SHARK EXPLODES. (3) The shark emits a wheezing, hateful roar, like an enraged woolly mammoth. This was the second Michael Caine movie I ever saw in a theater. (4) Look at the shark’s skin at 0:14. The shark is made out of Nerf. (5) Nerf is not terrifying, but exploding Nerf is also not terrifying. (6) When this movie came out, the filmmakers pretended like Jaws 3D had never happened, to the point that they called this “the third film in the Jaws trilogy.” This was the movie they wanted to include in the legacy. (7) The first Michael Caine movie I ever saw in a theater was Sweet Liberty. It would be several more years before I “got” Michael Caine. (8) On set, the shark was called “Bruce”. (9) Bruce explodes.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Steven Hyden: I haven’t seen this movie in about 25 years, so my memory is a little hazy. But four words are burned in my brain: “Double dumbass on you.”
Mark Lisanti: The training montages in the Rocky films were kind of a “thing.” We all know that.
We also know that the training montage in Rocky IV is the Greatest Training Montage of All Time. The Platonic perfection of a form. The pinnacle of “doing stuff over a song that somehow didn’t seem totally ridiculous at the time, but now sounds as dated as scratchy phonograph jazz from Boardwalk Empire” scenes.
While Ivan Drago, the Soviet Union’s remorseless, flat-topped robopugilist, fine-tunes his killing machine in the world’s most sophisticated physical training facility, our seemingly overmatched hero, kicking it gulag-school in Siberia, is doing this:
- Jumping rope … on a dirt floor!
- Inverted sit-ups while hanging from a rafter
- Splitting logs
- Splitting more logs
- Using a pulley to lift some very heavy rocks
- Ducking and punching under an old rope
- Turning himself into a human ox via some targeted yoke-work
- Horse-cart-full-of-friends press
- Outrunning a diesel Mercedes in the snow
- Killing a tauntaun with his bare hands and eating its steaming entrails
- Cresting a mountain as if to say, “Fuck you, pussy steps back in Philadelphia.”
- Single-handedly ending the Cold War
They should just retired the Roman numeral IV, is what I’m saying.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
Sean Fennessey: The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise’s place in the horror pantheon is not secure — Freddy Krueger is a known quantity, but he’s increasingly irrelevant. Derivative. Cheap scares. Rubber effects over real terror. Never as iconic as Michael Myers, nor as all-consuming as Jason Voorhees, Freddy was always something of a joke. Unless you were one of two types: preteens or untested directors. The roots of the Elm Street directing tree are surprisingly deep, and Wes Craven’s twisted bogeyman tale about a burned, blade-fingered ghoul who haunts your dreams — the original was his first major hit — has gathered an impressive call sheet of more-than-competent Hollywood pros. None more than The Dream Master, a legitimately terrifying, beautifully shot (seriously!), and deeply convoluted fourquel. Renny Harlin, the enfant disaster maestro of the ’90s, directed it from a script co-written by Brian Helgeland. It was his first credit. In less than 10 years, Helgeland would have an Oscar for writing L.A. Confidential. Within five years, Harlin would direct Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger, win an Independent Spirit Award for producing the surprisingly moving drama Rambling Rose, and marry Geena Davis. Then Cutthroat Island happened. Harlin’s life is a living embodiment of pre-millennial Hollywood excess. (Lest we forget his end-of-century great-bad masterpiece, Deep Blue Sea.)
But before all that, there was The Dream Master, which is great. Don’t forget about Freddy this Halloween. He has ways of finding you.
Live Free or Die Hard
Mike Philbrick: You don’t really need to know the specifics of where the Die Hard franchise is in Part 4, just know that Detective John McClane finds himself in the always precarious position of being forced to stop bad dudes from doing bad things to good people. Anyway, this clip might not have everything you need to know about this movie, but it has everything you want to see — finishing up with the mandatory “Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker!” which is sort of like Springsteen playing “Born to Run” during an encore. Sorry, if you were hoping for the other Die Hard staples like a McClane family member being sassy, witty repartee between Detective McClane and evil genius bad dude, and something to the effect of McLane saying “I’m too old for this shit ” (© Sergeant Roger Murtaugh, LAPD, 1987) — you’re out of luck here. Don’t worry, you’ll get your chance again soon. A Good Day to Die Hard is coming out in February. Yes, I’m serious.
Dan Silver: It’s almost hard to believe, but Alien Resurrection was originally written by Joss Whedon (for clarification on that, check out my colleague Alex Pappademas’s incredible interview with the Whedon-ator) and directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Who’s Jean-Pierre Jeunet, you ask? Well, the French Uber-visualist who co-directed the brilliant Delicatessen and City of Lost Children, and solo-helmed Amelie and A Very Long Engagement. And by all accounts not only was the development and production for the film a nightmare, the film was a failure at the box office. How bad was it? Well, Jeunet has not made a film for a Hollywood studio since, and the film tanked so hard that Fox’s move to keep the Alien franchise a viable and lucrative commodity was to turn to Paul W.S. (HACK) Anderson and his laughable Alien vs. Predator. Never were our beloved Xenomorphs so slighted as when shot through the lens of the guy who brought us Mortal Kombat, Solider, and the cinematic cancer that is the Resident Evil franchise. I will say this about Alien Resurrection, it’s a beautiful film. Jeunet’s images are arresting; the underwater/ladder action sequence can be screened with the sound off it’s so well executed. But turn the sound on, and you’ve got Winona Ryder gagging out ridiculous sci-fi jargon. Thank the Engineers that Prometheus came along.
The Bourne Legacy
Chris Ryan: I feel morally indefensible and absolutely necessary.
Step Up: Revolution
Emily Yoshida: Since I’m not really a horror person, the Step Up series might be the one still-running franchise that I unquestioningly get myself out to within the first week of a new film’s release. Like many horror series, the goal of each new film is not to build on mythology so much as it is to show you more cool things that you will probably like if you liked the cool things in the last film. In this case, the cool things happen to be zipline-assisted choreography instead of sorority girl torture devices. Also, all Channing Tatums aside, the first Step Up is the weakest by a long shot, which frees the rest of the sequels from any serious expectations about living up to the original, so you can sit back, pop on your 3-D glasses, and enjoy SUR‘s improbably elaborate and awkwardly Occupy-themed flash mobs (and the corporate machinations of Sandy Cohen’s eyebrows) on their own terms.
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
Mike Philbrick: For starters, I wanted to use the trailer for this movie, only because it starts with that haunting “Shh
” Jason song/score or whatever it’s called that still scares the living shit out of me, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t because some idiot at Paramount Pictures totally dropped the ball and failed to include any scenes with the true star of this opus: Corey Feldman. Yes, they were kind enough to honor us with the death of
George McFly Crispin Glover, but that doesn’t make up for being Corey-free. Instead we decided to go with this gem, where you aren’t only treated to a quick rundown of the movie, but to, wait for it, an interview with Corey where he may or may not be asking for a job in another Jason movie. Oh, if you think I’m being too hard on Crispin, then you haven’t seen this part. Exactly.