The term “family horror film” is enough to send any hardened genre fan running in the opposite direction, but over the last few decades a slew of family horror classics like “Gremlins”, “The Witches”, “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, and “Ghost Busters” have proven to be as enjoyable for adults as they have for children. Recent worthy additions to the sub-genre have presented themselves most often in the form of animated features, with “Coraline”, “The Corpse Bride” and “Monster House” being three of the most notable.
Of course, for every successful family horror film there are twice as many clunkers, many of which make the fatal mistake of erring too far on the side of “kid friendly” – forgetting that the greatest family films, horror or otherwise, almost always have a current of darkness running through them. Following are a few of the worst.
The first two “Addams Family” films were good fun, but the darker second installment failed to connect with audiences on the level of its predecessor, thereby dooming the franchise to direct-to-video purgatory. What followed five years later was “Addams Family Reunion”, an inferior-in-every-way follow-up that replaced the incomparable Anjelica Huston and Raul Julia (whose unexpected death in 1994 would’ve kept him from returning in any case) with the substantially weaker pairing of Daryl Hannah and Tim Curry.
Casting changes aside, “Reunion” retained none of the gloomy charm of the previous two entries (not to mention the TV show), with all the delicious black humor swapped out for a series of lame slapstick gags. A Fox Family TV series entitled “The New Addams Family” briefly followed, though without the majority of “Reunion”‘s cast; it lasted only one season.
In a bid to start a new kid-friendly fantasy/horror franchise in the vein of “Harry Potter” and “Twilight”, this adaptation of the Darren Shan book series suffered from mostly poor reviews and a meager $13m domestic box office take when it was released in October 2009. It’s not hard to see why; though it sports a solid adult cast (John C. Reilly, Salma Hayek, Willem Dafoe, Ken Watanabe), the film is essentially Tim Burton-lite (a sensibility that seems to have extended to Tim Burton himself lately), with a few cool visuals but a tone desperately lacking in consistency and a shortage of genuine thrills.
Interestingly, director Paul Weitz’s brother Chris helmed the similar and god-awful “Twilight: New Moon” the same year. Maybe time for the sibs to consider a return to the “American Pie” franchise?
Having hit a wall in his film career in the late 1970s, Elliott Gould was relegated to a starring role in this wan Disney effort as a selfish landlord who strikes a deal with the Devil’s aide (Bill Cosby) after dying in a car accident and ending up in Hell. He’s then sent back to Earth to get three young people to sell their souls to the Dark One, and, you know, hi-jinks ensue.
Though it’s sometimes hard to look at retro stuff like “Max Devlin” objectively – there’s something about any ’80s film that makes me automatically soften a bit – the film is quite frankly bad; a painfully unfunny, overly sentimental “comedy-lite” that’s sadly indicative of Cosby’s mostly-poor cinematic output. Gould would thankfully go on to make good movies again as a character actor, but Cosby largely stayed away from films in the ’80s (save for random junk like “Leonard Part 6”) after his “Cosby Show” became a monster hit. That is, until…
Speaking of Bill Cosby, just when, exactly, did he cross the line from “mildly annoying” to “totally insufferable”? I loved his show as much as anyone in its first few seasons, but have you tried actually listening to him lately? The dude can’t complete a sentence.
While it’s ultimately more comedy/fantasy than horror, “Ghost Dad” (directed by Sidney Poitier!) represents the comedian at his muggy worst, as a widowed businessman and father who comes back as a wandering spirit after an insane taxi driver plummets the cab he’s riding in over a bridge. Cosby’s future as a cinematic leading man and Poitier’s career as a director similarly crashed and burned after this disaster, and with good reason.
Helmed by makeup effects maestro Gary J. Tunnicliffe, this lackluster re-telling of the Grimm fairy tale stars Jacob Smith and “Gossip Girl” Taylor Momsen as the titular characters, who wander around a bunch of painfully fake-looking indoor sets after their evil stepmother leads them into the forest and…well, you know the story.
The film has at least one asset in the late Lynn Redgrave, clearly slumming here as the Wicked Witch who lures the innocent brother and sister into her gingerbread home with the intention of having them for dinner, but her contribution to the project is essentially negated by the casting of washed-up performers like Delta Burke, Howie Mandel (speaking in a gay lisp for absolutely no reason), and Sinbad to round out the supporting cast. Dakota Fanning, perhaps sensing the serious career that awaited her, appeared only briefly in the framing story, in which the father of two young children reads them the famous fairytale to put them to sleep – something the film will likely do to anyone watching it.
I’ve been on the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland several times, but never once during any of those five-minute-long excursions did I find myself thinking, “You know, this would make a great family comedy starring Eddie Murphy”. Clearly someone else did.
Boasting top-notch production values and a bargain-basement story, the resulting film is way less entertaining than the ride and a whole lot longer. It also represents yet another notch in Eddie Murphy’s “go fuck yourselves, America” belt of shamelessness. From quality studio comedies like “48 Hrs.” and “Beverly Hills Cop” in the ’80s to kid-friendly atrocities like “Daddy Day Care” and “Meet Dave” in the ’00s, it’s been a spectacular (and very profitable) fall for the once-edgy comedian.
In yet another post-“Jerry Maguire” attempt at prolonging his title as The Cutest Child Actor in America, towheaded Jonathan Lipnicki took top-billing in Gothic kid-flick “The Little Vampire” (aww!!), an adaptation of the children’s book series by Angela Sommer-Bodenburg.
Starring as a bullied grade-schooler who befriends a kid vampire after relocating to Scotland with his upper-crust parents, it’s clear that Lipnicki, four years on from his film debut, had since fallen into that well-worn trap of the child actor: painful self-awareness of his own adorableness, and more than happy to mug the hell out of every moment on screen.
Full disclosure: I paid to see the first “Scooby-Doo” in theaters (though I swear I was dragged). It was terrible. Nevertheless, thanks to millions of Americans who just like me plunked down their hard-earned money for a ticket to this tripe, the film was a financial hit, not only paving the way for an even lamer sequel two years later but also prolonging Freddie Prinze Jr.’s dreadful film career.
Interestingly, the first film was originally conceived as a more adult-oriented comedy (think “The Brady Bunch Movie”) before having the jokes toned down by the studio, who wanted it to appeal to families. What resulted was a fart joke-heavy atrocity bogged down by a horrendous CGI Scooby and a tone that only served to alienate the original series’ Gen-X fan base.
The first “Teen Wolf” isn’t exactly a cinema classic, but it sure as hell looks like one compared to this embarrassingly awful follow-up, with Michael J. Fox being swapped out for the rather less-effective Jason Bateman (the real-life brother of Fox’s “Family Ties” sis Justine and son of “Too” producer Kent Bateman) in the lead role.
Here Bateman plays Scott’s geeky cousin Todd, who’s attending the fictional Hamilton University on a suspicious (given his unathleticism) full-ride sports scholarship. Turns out that the coach of the school’s boxing team coached Fox’s high school basketball team as well (imagine that!), and he’s counting on Todd to be carrying the same lycanthropic DNA as his cousin so he can lead Hamilton’s struggling boxing team to a championship victory. Cue werewolf transformations that take place almost entirely off-screen, crappy effects when you do see them, one incredibly cheesy musical number and some dreadfully-shot boxing scenes, and you’ve got yourself one of the shittiest werewolf sequels this side of the “Howling” series.
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