March 2000 saw the theatrical debut of a major franchise-starter, the hugely popular Final Destination, directed by X-Files alum James Wong. Speaking of franchises, two aging ones got new direct-to-DVD sequels, with the release of both The Prophecy 3: The Ascent and Leprechaun in the Hood. And bad-girl Shannen Doherty took a break from her less-than-Charmed stint on that WB show to star in TV movie Satan’s School for Girls. In other news, horror got something of a boost at the Academy Awards (depending on who you talked to), a Rocky Horror actor met his timely end, and the “eBook” waters were tested by a master of horror.
A presentation of MySpace Horror and Bloody-Disgusting
Period song to take you back:
“Revolution is My Name” by Pantera
Album/Release Date: Reinventing the Steel/March 14, 2000
Film: Final Destination
Release Date: March 17, 2000
Distributor: New Line Cinema
Box-office gross (Worldwide): $112.9 million
The Plot: When a prophetic vision leads to a high schooler and several of his classmates surviving a fateful airplane explosion, their luck begins to turn when they start dying off, one-by-one, in a series of freak accidents.
Production & Reception: Originally written by Jeffrey Reddick as a spec script for The X-Files, the juicy concept (Death stalks those who cheated it) was re-conceived as a feature-length film by X-Files writer/director James Wong. Wong, along with co-scripters Reddick and Glen Morgan, piggybacked on the self-aware horror trend popular at the time (the film contains numerous pop-cultural references) while taking advantage of a nifty premise that stood out from the standard slasher fare. After a tame $10 million opening weekend, the film proved to have considerable legs and ended with a $53 million domestic haul off a $23 million budget. The critically-panned film also translated well overseas, pushing the gross well over the $100 million mark internationally and thereby ensuring a sequel. Not to mention, it kick-started Wong’s spotty future career as a feature-film director.
Legacy: Perhaps one of the best examples of a critic-proof movie, Final Destination was successful despite its meager 29% rating over at Rotten Tomatoes. Its success has carried over into a hugely profitable franchise, with three top-grossing sequels under New Line’s belt and a fourth one reportedly on the way. Coming at the tail end of the Scream-influenced era of tongue-in-cheek teen slashers, the first film is viewed by fans as a minor classic of the genre, and the series itself has gone on to prove its viability well past the expiration dates of the other horror franchises of the late `90s/early `00s.
Film: The Prophecy 3: The Ascent (Straight-to-DVD)
Release Date: March 14, 2000
Distributor: Buena Vista Home Video
Box-office Gross: N/A
The Plot: When the Angel of Genocide Pyriel begins his rise to power, Gabriel (now human) informs half-human/half-angel Danyael that he is fated to stop Pyriel in his quest to wipe mankind off the face of the Earth.
Production & Reception: In this direct-to-DVD third installment of the popular Prophecy franchise, Christopher Walken reprised his role as Gabriel, and frequent Wes Craven editor Patrick Lussier made his directing debut. This entry also served as the finale of the “original” Prophecy storyline, before Walken left the series and it went off in a different direction. Certainly not a mainstream or critical success, the Christian-themed horror sequel nevertheless proved successful enough with a limited audience to justify two more entries.
Legacy: Director Patrick Lussier, unknown at the time, has gone on to become a successful genre director, breaking through with last year’s commercially successful My Bloody Valentine 3-D and now rumored to be in talks to direct the third Halloween. Otherwise, the prolific but minor series is perhaps best known for being anchored (at least in the first three films) by the venerable Walken.
Film: Leprechaun in the Hood (Straight-to-DVD)
Release Date: March 28, 2000
Distributor: Trimark Pictures
Box-office Gross: N/A
The Plot: Trapped in the form of a statue, the Leprechaun goes on to wreak murderous havoc in Compton after three rappers steal the magical medallion that imprisons him from around his neck.
Production & Reception: The fifth installment in the inexplicably popular series, Leprechaun in the Hood continued to inspire more laughter than scares as the title character this time found himself in an L.A. ghetto to continue his reign of terror. Starring rappers-turned-actors Coolio and Ice-T, it clearly proved popular with its target audience, as the series would go Back 2 tha Hood three years later.
Legacy: Not much of one, although the series itself apparently proved worthy of an appearance in this year’s Oscar horror tribute. Also notable for utilizing the lame “high-concept location” strategy typical of slasher franchises running out of steam.
Program: Satan’s School for Girls (TV Movie)
Premiere: March 13, 2000
Plot: A girl investigates her sister’s mysterious suicide by enrolling in the all-girls college she was attending, and subsequently falls in with a group of witches who are looking to make her a member of their Satanic cult.
Production & Reception: A remake of the 1973 TV film starring Kate Jackson (who plays the role of Dean in this one), Satan’s School for Girls was producer Aaron Spelling’s attempt to capitalize on the newly-revitalized appeal of Shannen Doherty, who was currently starring in his similarly-themed hit WB series Charmed. Did it work? Mmmm…kinda – the movie garnered the 38th spot in that week’s Nielsen ratings.
Legacy: Notable mostly for starring “bad girl” Doherty, the film also featured Saw V actress Julie Benz and future Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson.
Full Original 1973 Film:
Book: Riding the Bullet (Short Story)
Release Date: March 14, 2000 (Internet only)
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
The Plot: When a college student receives word that his mother is dying of cancer in a Maine hospital, he hitches a ride with a mysterious man who ends up forcing him to make a horrible life-or-death choice.
Publication & Reception: Offered only as an eBook on its release, Stephen King’s Riding the Bullet was an experiment by the celebrated author to see just how successful an Internet-only release could be in the cyberspace age. Teaming up with tech company Softlock, publisher Simon & Schuster offered the download-only novella for the price of $2.50. Within 24 hours, 400,000 copies of the novella had been downloaded on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites, jamming SoftLock’s server and leaving eager readers to wait hours for their downloads to complete. Due to these problems (not to mention the fact that the download didn’t even work for people using Mac computers), the two online retailers ended up giving away around 90% of the downloaded copies for free, making the experiment an overall unsuccessful one. In those pre-Kindle days, it was concluded that the general public just wasn’t yet ready to accept an online publishing model.
Legacy: While the download-only release of Riding the Bullet proved something of a disaster, the popularity of the Kindle and the buzz surrounding the upcoming iPad bodes well for the future of electronic publishing. While we still have a long way to go before people read books almost exclusively on electronic devices (and who really wants that?), the 2000 release of King’s novella stands as a curious early experiment in the arena. As for the novella itself, it’s considered one of King’s better efforts; two years later it was included in the bestselling King collection Everything’s Eventual, and it was also adapted into a poorly-received 2004 Mick Garris-directed feature starring Jonathan Jackson and David Arquette.
The 72nd Academy Awards: While it wasn’t a full-fledged horror film, The Sixth Sense was the closest we’d gotten since 1991′s The Silence of the Lambs to a horror-adjacent movie being nominated in so many of the major categories, including Best Picture. Unlike Lambs, none of the film’s six nominations led to a win, but the M. Night Shyamalan-directed film nevertheless made an impressive awards-season showing and kicked off the young director’s career. In more traditionally genre-friendly categories, Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow managed to win an award for Best Art/Set Direction for frequent Burton collaborators Rick Heinrichs (production designer) and Peter Young (set decorator).
Charles Gray, Actor
Date of Death: March 7, 2000 (age 71)
Cause of Death: Cancer
Legacy: The English thesp, recognized for his distinctive voice and upper-crust screen persona, was perhaps best known to genre fans for playing “The Criminologist” (aka “No Neck”) in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. He also appeared as the villainous Mocata opposite Christopher Lee in Hammer Films’ The Devil Rides Out, as Arthur Bennington in the Amicus werewolf mystery The Beast Must Die, and as Judge Oliver Wright in Rocky Horror sequel Shock Treatment.