Feb 3, 2017

13 Bad Movies from Good Books

Article By: Tony Timpone

“Books and movies are like apples and oranges. They both are fruit, but taste completely different,” so said Stephen King in discussing the films picked from his best-selling novels and short stories. In the case of King, a lot of rotten apples and sour oranges resulted from Hollywood’s obsession with adapting his literary canon to the big screen. Same goes for other top terror scribes such as Dean L. Koontz and Clive Barker, as well as their forefathers (and foremothers) like Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley. Today Chiller’s (web)page-flipping edition of The Friday 13 uncovers a baker’s dozen’s worth of Bad Horror Movies Made from Good Books. (Titles arranged according to year of release.)

1. The Swarm (1978)

Before Michael Crichton unleashed his dinosaurs, science fiction/true-crime author Arthur Herzog told similar stories of nature out of control and heroic scientists trying to save mankind. His 1974 novel, The Swarm, exploited the then-current national fear of hordes of Brazilian killer bees illegally crossing the border and invading U.S. cities (where’s Donald Trump when you need him?). The sting-less 1978 movie version, directed by disaster specialist Irwin (Towering Inferno) Allen, arrived as one of Tinseltown’s most notorious flops and bears scant resemblance to its riveting source material. A huge cast of movie all-stars (Michael Caine, Katharine Ross, Henry Fonda, et al) unconvincingly flail in slow motion at buzzing clouds of black dots, the only concern on their faces being whether their checks will clear.

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2. Prophecy (1979)

Author/screenwriter David (The Omen) Seltzer cribs from the 1950s B-movie sci-fi horror playbook with Prophecy, which details the environmental nightmare spawned by a mercury-polluting paper mill on the nearby forest. Before long, a giant mutated bear begins running amok through the woods, taking out lumberjacks, campers and Native Americans. In the summer of Alien and Dawn of the Dead, the scare-free Prophecy movie, helmed by an admittedly-inebriated John Frankenheimer (a long way from his classic ’60s thrillers The Manchurian Candidate and Seconds), got laughed off the screen due to its inept direction and cheesy man-in-a-suit creature FX. Before the film’s still-born arrival, Seltzer’s exciting novelization provided interesting backstory on Prophecy’s characters and grim Native American forewarnings of the consequences of the White Man disrespecting nature. All went missing in the Paramount Pictures release. 

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3. The Keep (1983)

The premise of F. Paul Wilson’s 1981 novel The Keep—about Nazi soldiers battling a deadly ancient presence at a Romanian castle—inspired another five books and a graphic novel, all eagerly devoured by readers. Michael Mann’s much-maligned movie version, meanwhile, grossed a paltry $4 million in theaters and met with universal derision. What went wrong? Hot off his TV hit Miami Vice and his critically-lauded debut film Thief, Mann seemed like an ideal choice to bring the creeps of The Keep to life. But studio interference, the death of the film’s key visual FX artist during post and an initial director’s cut of 210 minutes (!) doomed the film, not to mention the pathetic realization of The Keep’s fearsome entity Molasar (resembling a gray-skinned/red-eyed steroid-addicted gym rat in the movie). Despite a hypnotic score by Tangerine Dream and the appearance of a pre-Lord of the Rings/X-Men Ian McKellen as a knowledgeable professor, The Keep’s not a keeper!

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4. Rawhead Rex (1986)

Clive Barker’s ferocious 1984 Books of Blood short story of the same name (about a 9-foot-tall centuries-old beast awoken from his tomb that goes on a gory rampage) could have played out as the ultimate monster movie. Yes, could have. Instead we would up with this dull, lifelessly directed UK production that Barker himself disowns, though he penned the screenplay himself. American actor David Dukes (who, famously, tried to rape Edith Bunker on All in the Family) sleepwalks through his role, but then again, who’d blame him?

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5. Needful Things (1993)

We could easily fill this Friday 13 with stinky movies drawn from Stephen King’s back catalog (from 1984’s Children of the Corn to 2014’s A Good Marriage). None, however, proved as colossally disappointing as this adaptation of the Maine author’s 1991 epic, which he subtitled “The Last Castle Rock Story.” The Devil (in the guise of an elderly shop keeper) comes to town and coerces the locals into infernal deals, in the end pitting bloodthirsty neighbor against bloodthirsty neighbor. The generally reliable W.D. Richter (the ’70s’ Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Dracula) scripted, but distilling King’s nearly 700 page novel into a two-hour movie proved too difficult a task (a miniseries would’ve been better). Max von Sydow’s wonderful as the film’s Satan stand-in Leland Gaunt, but whoever hired horror novice Fraser Heston (Chuck’s son) to direct should go to hell with Gaunt.

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6. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994)

This shoulda been a contender. Hot off his blockbuster Bram Stoker’s Dracula, director Francis Coppola decided to produce another Victorian-era horror story. He engaged major stars and top shelf production people to bring this monster to life. And he enlisted Frank Darabont (years before he did justice to The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile for Stephen King) to faithfully adapt Shelley’s classic text. And then Coppola made the fatal mistake of handing the directing chores to his star, Kenneth Branagh, who spun this potential winner into a shameless vanity project (witness the bare-chested actor as Dr. Frankenstein prancing around the lab during his creature’s overwrought creation scene). Next there’s a miscast Robert De Niro, totally removed from his usual urban comfort zone as the talkative monster. Even though he mostly grunted, Boris Karloff never sounded as if he resided in da Bronx!

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7. The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)

This movie, based on the 1896 anti-vivisectionist screed by H.G. Welles that inspired two previous pictures, emerged as such an unmitigated disaster that a documentary came out last year about its “unmaking” called Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau. This cinematic debacle remains the stuff of legend: how original writer/director Richard Stanley got the boot (replaced by Prophecy’s John Frankenheimer!), watching star Marlon Brando act with an ice bucket on his head and tales of angry crew people urinating in loutish actor Val Kilmer’s water bottle. Not even Stan Winston’s superb creature contributions could save this train wreck of a movie.

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8. Mary Reilly (1998)

This soporific film, directed by the usually reliable art-house specialist Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, The Queen) manages to trample over two great books: Robert Louis Stevenson’s original 1886 novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and, more specifically, Valerie Martin’s “parallel” 1990 Nebula-nominated novel, Mary Reilly. The latter tells the oft-filmed Jekyll & Hyde story from the point of view of the doctor’s shy Irish housemaid. The movie casts shaky-accented Julia Roberts as the story’s lead, with John Malkovich in the infamous dual roles. Critics roasted the two stars for their stilted performances in this static chamber drama, and the two reportedly hated making the film—and each other. A colossal box-office dud, Mary Reilly’s tedious direction and uninteresting screenplay will have you hating it too.

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9. Phantoms (1998)

After producers bungled the films derived from his novels Watchers and Hideaway, Dean L. Koontz wouldn’t let anyone touch his terrific 1983 sci-fi horror page-turner Phantoms, unless he adapted it himself. The result, 1998’s movie of the same title, turned out just as unsatisfying as previous stabs at Koontz’s bestsellers. The author came up with a killer premise: predating man, an “Ancient Enemy” from deep beneath the earth’s crust surfaces periodically through history to absorb whole populations, from the Mayan civilization to the Roanoke, Virginia colonists. When the shape-shifting, amoebic-like entity returns for another human harvesting in a scenic Colorado mountain town, it’s up to (in the movie) baby-faced sheriff Ben Affleck (!) and a monster-chasing professor (a slumming Peter O’Toole) to save the day. Sadly, threadbare production values, an abbreviated running time, an awful surprise ending and sloppy direction by Joe Chappelle (the terrible sixth Halloween movie marked his previous credit) sunk Phantoms into the primordial ooze.

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10. The Haunting (1999)

The literati lauded Shirley Jackson’s award-winning 1959 The Haunting of Hill House as one of the greatest ghost stories ever committed to print. Likewise, The Haunting, Robert Wise’s 1963 movie adaptation, still rates as one of cinema’s best and scariest horror films. The godawful 1998 remake, executive produced by an uncredited Steven Spielberg, is the total antithesis of what established Wise’s film as so perfect. With his dreary update, new director Jan de Bont abandons subtlety and suggestion (and much of Jackson’s book) for a ponderous CGI assault, as a group of strangers (among them, an out of place Owen Wilson!) gather at a legendary spookhouse alongside duplicitous psychologist Liam Neeson. The performances stink, the editing’s clumsy, the screenplay generates no thrills… nothing works in this slog of a movie. No surprise that Neeson has “taken” The Haunting off his resume and has trashed the film in subsequent interviews.

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11. Queen of the Damned (2002)

Regardless of initial protestations from author Anne Rice and Lestat loyalists over the casting of Tom Cruise as their beloved antihero in 1994’s Interview with the Vampire, the film grossed over $223 million worldwide. The sequel, Queen of the Damned, fizzled with only $45 million in the global till. Produced on a fraction of Interview’s lush budget, Queen of the Damned unwisely combines two Rice novels, The Vampire Lestat and Queen…, into one movie, resulting in a rushed and disjointed storyline. The fanged follow-up also sorely lacks the previous film’s star power (no Cruise, no Brad Pitt), and while Stuart Townsend excels as a sexier Lestat, he’s short Cruise’s presence and dark charms. Moreover, the majority of the Queen’s bloodsuckers trade menace for camp. Damned, indeed.

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12. The Ruins (2008)

No less than Stephen King called Scott (A Simple Plan) Smith’s 2006 novel The Ruins a “long scream of horror.” Viewers who got a peek at The Ruins movie two years later screamed too—this time out of frustration at another missed cinematic opportunity. The story follows four young Americans on a tragic trip to some Mayan ruins in Mexico, where they encounter a species of intelligent, man-eating vines. Smith scripted the film himself, but significantly condensing the novel’s characters and incidents robs The Ruins of its suspense and fear factor. Unconvincing FX and a shoe-horned happy ending that jettisons the book’s grim conclusion further sabotages what could have been a truly frightening fright flick. Someone ruined The Ruins.

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13. Dracula 3D (2012)

Italian horror maestro Dario (Suspiria) Argento lost his movie mojo years ago, and not even his glossy 3D take on the vampire perennial could restore his former glory. For inspiration, Argento looked to the old Bram Stoker text, cherry-picking elements like the Count’s ability to transform into other animals besides bats. So now we witness Dracula morphing into an owl (!) and, most ridiculously, an enormous CGI praying mantis (!!) that bounds up a flight of stairs before decapitating a victim! An annoyed-looking Rutger Hauer plays Van Helsing, while German actor Thomas Kretschmann is, well, too German to play Dracula! As vampire slut Lucy, Argento’s own daughter, Asia, delivers one of the film’s worst performances. All in all, this Dracula sucks.

Perhaps the lesson learned from the aforementioned entries is that library-raiding filmmakers shouldn’t forget what made some of these books so great in the first place! Agree? Give us something good to read over at our Facebook page or Twitter using #Friday13.

Filmmaker John Borowski interviewed Tony Timpone for his new documentary Bloodlines: The Art and Life of Vincent Castiglia, about the famed NYC blood artist.

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