Maverick director Mike Figgis must have had to make a car payment, or maybe stow some studio greenbacks away for his kids’ college fund. Far be it from me to criticize a solid indie filmmaker and Oscar darling who wants to make a horror movie with good actors, but Figgis’”Cold Creek Manor” is like a made-for-TV movie with a bigger budget and Juliette Lewis. Dennis Quaid (“Innerspace”), Sharon Stone (“Total Recall”) and Deacon Frost himself, Stephen Dorff star in this wanna-be gothic chiller that wouldn’t know scary if it started eating it’s skin. If Dennis had been replaced by his brother Randy, Meredith Baxter had taken the Stone role, and some goof from “Buffy” stood in for Dorff, this film would have gone straight to Blockbuster and be sitting next to “Subterano” and “Leprechaun Gets Old.”
The real bummer is that there was just so much promise, so much talent. Figgis has made some interesting films, though this is his first outing into mainstream horror. Had he kept the same go-for-broke spirit that brought about “Time Code” a few years back, he might have delivered something really interesting. Instead, we get the story of an “urban” family (Quaid, Stone, precocious kids) who just can’t take the hustle (nor, apparently the bustle) of living in the Big Apple. They break the first cardinal rule of rural home purchasing by buying a creepy dilapidated mansion with the morose moniker “Cold Creek Manor.” It may just as well have been called “You Gonna Die Place” in the middle of “Homicidal Redneck Junction,” as before long ex-con (and former owner) Dorff shows up chillin’ in Quaids den offering his services around the house.
Like any upwardly mobile father with two young children and a middle-aged-yet-still-kickin’ wife, Quaid hires Dorff to fix the pool and leave poisonous snakes lying around the house. Well, he doesn’t actually pay for the latter, but before you can say “Rebecca DeMorney,”Dorff begins to rock the family cradle. With his hand. Anyone who has ever seen a thriller where someone says “Stay the hell away from my family” will now exactly what will happen and when. The script doesn’t even attempt to surprise the audience. I hope Figgis is grossly underestimating the brain-size of the average horror fan in mainstream America, because if this passes for blood-curdling entertainment, Lucky McKee and Eli Roth had better get used to eating Ramen Noodles and beans out of a can.
Did I mention that it’s not scary? A snake is not scary. Stephen Dorff is not scary. Finding a tooth in your driveway can be scary, but it’s not here. The only thing scary it that “Cold Creek Manor” marks the 432 time the wonderful Juliette Lewis has been wasted as the “weird girlfriend” role. Which reminds me, why don’t you go rent “Kalifornia” instead of wasting your money and shattered hopes on what amounts to the emptiest horror film in this landmark year of creativity. I probably shouldn’t torture myself on the clear craft of the filmmaker, who uses interesting shots and includes a fun in-joke on the true power of the digital video camera (hint/spoiler: helps you find decomposed bodies). Or that the acting is highly above average across the board, even the kids. Aside from some inane dialogue, they are real kids and believable and charming in their sheer annoyingess (that’s not a word, but damn it, I was the one that had to sit through the movie!). Dorff is the weakest link, but is still passable in his Jack Nicholson circa 1972 role as a rouge redneck rife with retribution. It’s sad to think of the talent, especially in the films best scene, a bar altercation between Quaid and Dorff, because it just draws your attention back to the unbridled silliness of the rest of the boring mess Note to the director: Please, Mr. Figgis, make another horror movie, but respect us, those of us that find horror interesting and inventive. You could make Nick Cage into an Oscar winner, you certainly could employ your great talent and produce a genre film that wasn’t so full of loathing for those willing to pay their hard-earned money to see