Saturday, 8 March 2014

This Is Why Your Movie Sucks

Not too long ago I gave a short talk at Podcamp Toronto about crappy horror movies. I wasn't able to record the session, so here's my presentation script and slides. We had a great conversation afterward about terrible movies, which I'm unable to reproduce here. Trust me when I say you missed out on something fun ;P


I love horror movies. There's no other genre that's as expressive. Existing on the edge of legitimacy and acceptability, horror movies can push the envelope and explore themes and ideas that can be too riske for mainstream cinema. Or that's how it used to be, at any rate. But even if horror isn't the uniquely safe space it once was for edgy storytelling, it's still a place where people can explore and experience “negative” emotions, particularly fear.

There's this notion that horror is easy, and in a way it is. Slap some makeup on your buddy, film him chasing your friends and you've got a zombie movie. But in another way, horror is really very hard to do: you have to entertain and scare your audience, make them feel anxious, make them jump, make them care. And a lot of films, big budget and small, can't.



So you want to make a movie, but where do you begin? With story. Film is, for the most part, and especially for the no/low budget filmmaker, storytelling. So what's your story? If it's about a guy who kills people, I'm gonna stop you right there.  

That's not a story. It's an idea. And not much of one. Moreover, it puts the emphasis on the villain and when you do that, you immediately divest your film of tension and suspense. Slashers were never about the villain. Certainly Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers became the stars of their respective franchises, but they were never the main characters. The victims are the leads in horror because it's through them we experience fear. Noted film scholar Noel Carroll took pains to point out the audience takes its cues from the positive human characters in the movie they're watching; if the protagonist is afraid, so too is everyone in the theatre. But if the role of the victim is overshadowed by the role of the villain, then we the audience can't be afraid.

We can be startled by jump scares and grossed out by gore effects, but we'll never exeprience that rush of fear we get when Annie and Lori are being stalked and chased by their would-be killers.

But nobody seems to understand this anymore. Platinum Dunes' and Rob Zombie's remakes of beloved 70s and 80s horror franchises are proof that horror filmmaking, even at the mid-budget level, has no respect for its characters. We go to watch them die. We cheer for the bad guy as each kill is more elaborate and gorier than the last, and we know the victims' survival is meaningless because the killer will survive to kill again in the sequel.

Your movie sucks because these movies suck. You say you want to make a movie about a guy who kills people, and maybe you'll even attempt to explain why he does so. But again, you're misunderstanding something fundamental to the genre: it doesn't really matter why because this isn't his story.

Also, horror villains always kill for revenge OR because they're crazy. But mostly for revenge. So don't waste my time and yours fleshing out an elaborate backstory for your bad guy. What's more important is how he kills and is defeated. Because he has to die.


In mainstream horror, the movie ends without the bad guy being defeated outright, leaving it open for a sequel. It might make some kind of financial sense, but researchers in California found that movie audiences thought teaser endings were unrealistic and predictable. Audience members in the study preferred films with traditional endings in which the villain is killed, and if given the chance, would change teaser endings to more traditional ones.

When a villain dies at the end of a movie, he gets what he deserves. When he survives, audiences are less likely to enjoy the film and can find the whole movie-going experience to be rather dissatisfying. Again, mainstream horror doesn't seem to get it and neither do you, which is another reason why your movie sucks.

What all this is driving at is story. Your movie needs to tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end. If a bunch of people die horribly along the way, so much the better. But more important than body count and gore is logic. Does your story make sense?


Probably not because this is your first time doing this. That's fine. In fact, that's awesome. Just get someone else to read your script. Someone who'll be honest with you. I can't tell you how many movies I've seen with glaring plot holes and logic problems—no/low and studio productions alike.

Last October, Toronto After Dark screened Found, a no-budget movie made by a first-time director. This is the same festival that closed with Big Bad Wolves. It's kind of mind-blowing that a film like Found should be programmed together with We Are What We Are and Last Days on Mars but it also goes to show that a good story well told (with some fantastic gore effects thrown in) will resonate with audiences.  


Found is based on a book, which means that director Scott Shirmer already had a complete story—it just needed some adaptation. Shirmer also had access to makeup and effects artist who got her students involved in the production. Finally, Shirmer himself has taken some editing classes and has an education in film production. Found's a bit of a perfect storm, but it all stemmed from having a good story that was complete and free of plot holes.

So what about story? There's a multitude of books that will tell you how to write a story. Among them is Story by Robert McKee. In it, McKee addresses conflict. Recalling high school English, there are three types of conflict: man vs man, man vs nature, man vs self. McKee insists that conflict must exist in every scene in a movie script, which most writers interpret to mean man vs man.


This is wrong. I can't stress this enough. Not every scene needs conflict—story is not told through conflict alone—and ninety minutes of non-stop bickering is the worst kind of writing there is. There's no “right” way to write a movie but there is a wrong way and mistaking bitchiness for character conflict is very wrong.

Characters need to be likeable if we're to feel for them. Why invite a bunch of people you don't seem to like to your isolated cabin? Who goes on a road trip with enemies? No one. So why are you cramming your scenes full of bad people who do nothing but bitch at each other? Because you don't know any better. Because you've been led to believe this is the proper way to introduce conflict into your script. The conflict is the guy killing everyone, everything else takes a back seat to surviving the killer/zombie/force of evil that's running amok.

If the audience—and the movie itself—has no respect for the characters, then we're just waiting for them to die.

And die they will! In the grossest and most shocking ways possible. But what's unpleasant isn't necessarily scary and your movie sucks because you don't understand the difference between visceral reactions and true terror. Most no/low movies go for gore and jump scares because they're relatively easy to produce. Only found footage horror movies are capable of creating an atmosphere of suspense without really trying because of their narrow field of vision and immediacy. 909 Experiment and Area 407, which are among the worst found footage movies I've seen, still have their moments—they don't last very long but they're there. More traditional 3rd person-narrative movies have to work a little harder to build a tense atmosphere and most just go for gore.


Gore may be gross and hard to watch, the new Evil Dead was alarmingly gory, but it doesn't get the same emotional response as something that's truly scary. Scares derive from surprise and suspense. A good horror movie should provide both but most contemporary horror is heavy on jump scares and your movie probably sucks because you don't understand the different between what's temporarily shocking and what's truly frightening. But don't feel too badly about that. To quote Hitchcock, “There is a distinct difference between 'suspense' and 'surprise,' and yet many pictures continually confuse the two.”


He goes on to explain the effect of dramatic irony: if we know there's a bomb under the table but the diners don't we're held in suspense, waiting for the bang. But if we don't know there's a bomb, the bang is surprising. There's no build-up to a jump scare or startle effect, but there's a great deal of tension that's created when we know something bad's going to happen.

Suspense is emotionally demanding and can wear down an audience, making them susceptible to jump scares but just cramming your movie full of startle effects won't make it scary.


All of these things I've mentioned--bad characters, bad writing, reliance on jump scares--are common to no/low horror because they're present in mainstream genre movies. What I'm saying is sucky no/low movies are terrible because the films that serve as inspiration are terrible.

Garbage begets more garbage. There's nothing wrong with copying your favourite movies, Tarantino's built a career on that, but when you're duplicating bad movies you're guilty of making more bad movies, adding to a huge slush pile of rotten films of dubious merit.

So why are we even watching this crap? It exists because so long as people have had access to cameras they've been making movies. And that's great, but the Internet is the reason why we're now drowning under a tide of terrible no/low backyard horror movies. Before the Internet existed, you make your sucky film, you showed to your friends and that was the end of it. Today you have an opportunity to share your creation with the entire world.

Handycams gave more people greater opportunity to experiment with filmmaking; streaming and VOD gives more filmmakers greater opportunities to distribute their movies. Moreover, changes in the film distribution landscape mean filmmakers can be in charge of their own distribution without having to go through a middleman. And then there are companies like Echo Bridge, that welcome submissions and package a bunch of films together on DVD. They don't appear to be all that discerning, either.


Distributors can't be blamed for why your movie sucks, but ease of access to terrible films is part of the reason why you were able to see your film through to distribution—and why you're contemplating making another one (you left it open for a sequel).

To sum up, your movie sucks because the movies you watch are terrible. There are some truly fantastic horror movies out there but no one's watching and imitating them. People mimic what's trendy and popular, which goes a long way in explaining the critical mass of zombie and found footage movies. There's also a great deal of money to be made milking horror audience's nostalgia. Everyone's going to see a remake of Carrie—doesn't matter if it's any good.

Horror remakes exists because their titles have some recognition value, but remaking a beloved “classic” isn't the same as revisiting a theme. Scholar and author Kim Newman writes that remakes
[confirm] a movie's place in some pantheon while suggesting we really don't need to look at it anymore.”

As a no/low filmmaker, you can totally jump on the bandwagon, and riding popular sub-genres will net you viewers, but a good film needs more than just a cliched theme or style to give it legs. It needs a solid story, good characters, some atmosphere, and just a touch of originality. Right now you haven't got any of that, and this is why your movie sucks.







Friday, 21 February 2014

The Black Museum: Series Three (part one)

It's back! The Black Museum, Toronto's premiere horror lecture series is back for a third season of erudition. This year, lecturers and audience members will enjoy the comforts of the Royal cinema on College. New again is the lecture schedule, which has switched to a monthly event.

This year's series kicked off on in early Feb with a screening of Carnival of Souls, and will pick up with a lecture by Black Museum alumnus Alexandra West about French New Wave Gore.

March 12, 2014
Quelle Horreur! The Films of the New French Exremity
with Alexandra West


Alex takes apart New French Extremity, a movement in the Gallic cinema that makes torture porn look quaint. Films such as Martyrs, Them, High Tension, and Trouble Every Day stand in opposition to tourist-attracting confections like Amelie, poised instead to explore the troubled identity of a country that knew the Grand Guignol, the Theatre of Cruelty, and a cultural landscape torn by riots over thirty years of political strife and unrest.

April 9, 2014
Where Life is Cheap! Snuff Movies and the Evolution of Genre
with Yours Truly


Since 1976, the notion of filming murder for profit has outraged, disgusted, and fascinated audiences. Aided and abetted by sleazy marketing tricks, "snuff" film provided traction for feminist and anti-pornography movements, also inspiring that most steadfast and contentious of urban legends: the myth transmitted through media. I this lecture, I consider snuff's origins and aspirations, tracing its roots from early theatre to Slaughter, Hardcore, Tesis, 8MM, The Butcher, and beyond.

May 14, 2014
One of Us: The Transcendent Rise of Religious Cults in Horror 
with Alison Lang


From Satanists to Scientologists, Moonies to the Manson Family, a cinematic curiosity for cults endures. Broken Pencil's Alison Lang advises initiates that the cult trope allows reflection or commentary on wider sexual, spiritual and moral politics of an era. See: The Wicker Man and Ticket to Heaven. And sometimes the mirror held to society's scabbed visage stares hard at the truth, as in Helter Skelter and Race with the Devil--the latter purportedly starring actual Satanists as themselves.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

A Good Day to Die Hard


I love Die Hard. I love everything about it, from sets to music. I even love its sequels, although I've seen Die Harder far fewer times than Vengeance (I was a bit obsessed with that one for a while). I've done my very best to like Die Hard 4, even though it is, by all accounts, rather terrible. But Die Hard 5... I'll give it the action sequences. But that's all.

I mean, literally all. There's nothing to this movie save three big action scenes.

Since number four featured McClane's daughter, it's only right the fifth installment in this tired franchise should involved John's son, John. In a nod to its predecessor, Die Hard 5 includes a cameo for Lucy McClane which answers the question no one asked, "How's John's relationship with his daughter?"

It's good. His relationship with his son, not so much.

John Jr, otherwise known as Jack, has been arrested for murder. Worse still, he's in Moscow. So the elder John jumps a plane to Russia hoping to, I don't know, rescue his boy or something. What he doesn't know is that Jack's deep undercover and about to close a three-year op that involves liberating a political prisoner. McClane's "meddling" prevents Jack from making his extraction, and father, son, and hanger-on are all three of them trapped in Moscow.

The rest of the movie is less interesting but a great deal more convoluted than the beginning and involves a rather insulting re-telling of the Chernobyl disaster. At the heart of this mess lies a transparent MacGuffin and an alarming amount of back-stabbing. At least Live Free made an effort to stay on point with its preposterous heist, but A Good Day is convinced its double-cross will do Die Harder justice.

It doesn't. Or, there's simply not enough story to warrant ninety minutes of the Johns McClane running around blowing stuff up. So little happens in this film that I have a hard time believing I didn't miss something:

John McClane arrives in Moscow to save his son. Huge car chase ensues.
John, Jack, and Yuri go a to hotel to collect a key and Yuri's daughter. Action fight scene.
John and Jack go to Chernobyl to find Yuri. Explosions. Lots of them.

That's it. That's the whole movie. Don't get me wrong, the action scenes are amazing. The car chase in particular is astounding, but a movie needs some reason for its violence. And not even that much, Rambo 4--easily among the most violent action movies in recent years--was thin on story, but there was just enough of it to contextualize the violence on screen. Or take Taken. Guy's daughter is kidnapped, guy goes after her, punching and shooting his way to the grand finale.

A Good Day's problem is that what little story exists is too complex. It's overshadowed by the action. A great action movie is straightforward, either in terms of story or location. Die Hard the first was about thieves masquerading as terrorists, but all the action took place in one place. Die Hard 5 is about a guy who may or may not have orchestrated his own breakout and kidnapping and another guy who's trying to save the first guy, and a third guy who gets caught up in all this, and it takes place all over Moscow and then Chernobyl (which is in Ukrain, not Russia, and a long way from Moscow).

And there isn't even any down time. It's just one action sequence after another. Usually, downtime is reserved for story development, but because nothing else happens in the script, the action scenes are prolonged, drawn-out affairs.

Much like this review. Suffice it to say, A Good Day to Die Hard is bad. The action's spectacular but serves more as a test or demo reel for the stunt department. Bruce Willis looks good, though. So there's that.

And this:


Tuesday, 14 January 2014

At War With Themselves: Dueling Banjos and Hillbilly Stereotypes

Paddle faster. I hear banjo music.



Described by critic Arthur Knight as "perhaps the most extraordinary scene in American Film of recent years," this scene from Deliverance (1972) is perhaps the second-most memorable moment in the film. The first is Ned Beatty's rape scene in which his character, Bobby, is sodomized by a couple of mountain men. Over time these two scenes have coalesced to become one moment of terrible violence underscored by a banjo tune.

Long before it became synonymous with backwoods hillbilly horror, Dueling Banjos was a relatively famous piece of music. In its original incarnation, the song, written and recorded by Arthur Smith and Don Reno in 1955, was called Feuding Banjos. Feuding Banjos was played on two banjos, a five-string and a tenor. A couple of years later, in '57, a new arrangement was recorded, replacing the tenor banjo with a mandolin. This new recording was called Mocking Banjo.

Mocking Banjo was hugely popular and was copied a great deal throughout the late 1950s and early '60s. The song was so widespread and well-known that it seems to have eclipsed the original to the point where many people didn't know Mocking Banjo's source material.

Such was the case when, in 1963, The Dillards recorded a song called Duelin' Banjo that featured a showdown between a five-string banjo and a guitar. The Dillards copywrited Duelin' Banjo as an arrangement and adaptation of a public domain folk song, and it is this version that appears in Deliverance, retitled Dueling Banjos.

Deliverance wasn't the first movie to marry bluegrass music with images of the hill country and its people, but it was the most powerful and gave rise to a persistent stereotype: hillbillies are degenerates who are wary of outsiders.

In truth, bluegrass developed into a musical genre in college bars and music festivals, a far cry from the backwoods with which it's associated. In fact, bluegrass was first considered a type or subgenre of jazz. During the mid-century, a great deal of regional and historic musical styles, including blues, fell under the jazz umbrella. Still, even then the bluegrass sound was associated with hillbillies and often considered to be a lower cultural offering. Not until a favourable review of the album Foggy Mountain Banjo in 1954 did bluegrass music transition from backwoods folk music to art.

Bluegrass music's first non-diagetic use in film was likely in a 1961 movie called Football As It Is Played Today. The filmmaker, Joe Anderson, chose bluegrass for its tempo, being perfect for his experimental film that showcased an Ohio State University football game in fast-motion. The film was meant to be humorous and when Anderson paired his movie with Dallas Rag by the New Lost City Ramblers, everyone cracked up and he knew he had nailed it.

The film won a prize at the American Film Festival and got a fair bit of exposure. Not everyone was pleased, though, and the Ohio Sate football coach lobbied to have the soundtrack changed prior to television broadcast because he thought the music "made Ohio State look like a cow college." Still, enough people saw the original film for the pairing of fast motion and bluegrass to make a lasting impression and bluegrass found its way onto television as ad music.

In 1962, The Beverly Hillbillies premiered on CBS and bluegrass was solidified in the pop-cultural consciousness as hillbilly music. Even though bluegrass musicians were trying to distance themselves from the hick music stereotype, the sitcom's popularity overpowered the efforts of struggling artists. And then along came Deliverance ten years later with its own distinct impact on the musical (and cultural) stereotype.

Describe by one reviewer as "[p]erhaps the most extraordinary scene in American films of recent years," the Dueling Banjos scene in Deliverance is an incredible moment. For just a couple of minutes nothing of any great import happens. Two people engage in an kind of musical battle that manages to bridge a huge cultural gap and the moment is enjoyed by all, characters and audience members alike. It's diagetic music of the first order, a brilliant, unselfconcsious scene that doesn't move the story forward but leaves a lasting impression on the audience.

In much the same way as people were upset by the possible cultural connotations embedded in Football, southerners took umbrage with Deliverance, believing the film promoted demeaning images of the Appalachian people. The film could be read as an indictment of hillbillies (it isn't), but the fact of the matter is the hill folk were poorly regarded well before 1972; the hillbilly stereotype dates all the way back to the early 20th century.

Hillbilly as an identifier first appeared in the New York Journal in 1900. The author defined a "Hill-Billie" as "a free and untrammeled white citizen who lives in the hills, has no means to speak of, dresses as he can, talks as he pleases, drinks whiskey when he gets it, and fires off his revolver as the fancy takes him." The word was widespread after that and in the '20s was used by the mountain people themselves as joke or insult.

The wedding of "hillbilly" and a certain musical style came in 1925 when a mountain string band was asked for a band name when they arrived at New York recording studio. They self-mockingly identified themselves as "a bunch of hillbillies" and so a producer named them The Hill-Billies. The band was a hit and they played up their mountain heritage onstage, dressing up in overalls and straw hats.

Despite The Hill-Billies' success and the growing popularity of "hillbilly music" hillbilly itself was still a negative term, a kind of dirty word. And although bluegrass had grown popular as a jazz and folk music offshoot, it's mountain roots meant a built-in cultural stereotype was already present when Anderson chose bluegrass--not for its associations but for its math.

If Deliverance is guilty of anything, it's transforming a stereotype: from isolated, uneducated backwoods hill folk to murderous, isolated, uneducated backwoods hill folk. The music hasn't changed any--just our (poor) understanding of what it represents.

---------------------

References

Otto, John Solomon. (2002). Hillbilly Culture: The Appalachian Mountain Folk in History and Popular Culture. Appalachia Social Context Past and Present, 4.

Rosenberg, Neil V. (1983). Image and Stereotype: Bluegrass Sound Tracks. American Music, 1(3), 1-22.

Silver, Timothy. (2007). The "Deliverance" Factor. Environmental History, 12(2). 369-371.

Monday, 6 January 2014

The Purge


Or, How to Survive a Home Invasion on the One Night When Crime is Legal in 14 Easy Steps

Step 1: Lock down your enormous house using your state-of-the-art security system.

Step 2a: Explain to your son why The Annual Purge is important, be sure to moralize and rationalize as much as possible.
Step 2b: Don't have a separate disarm code so your son can open the door for a stranger.

Step 3: Get distracted by a side-plot about your daughter's older boyfriend who wants to chat with you man-to-man about their relationship on the one night when he can kill you and get away with it.

Step 4: Resolve side-plot by killing the boyfriend. Search house for stranger. Catch him.

Step 5a: Waste time deciding whether to hand over the stranger to the mob outside your house.
Step 5b: Listen to some bullshit about how the homeless exist to be killed during The Annual Purge.

Step 6a: Incapacitate stranger, tie him to chair, then decide to fight rather than hand him over.
Step 6b: Do not untie stranger. Do not ask him about his army days. In fact, just forget about him altogether.

Step 7: When the mob breaks through your too-easily penetrable security doors, split up and roam the house. Be sure your son knows to keep his flashlight on and to wave it around a lot even though he's supposed to be hiding in the basement.

Step 8: Shoot bad guys. Don't pick up their guns, though.

Step 9a: Repeat step 5b.
Step 9b: Get stabbed by the head bad guy. Die. Your wife takes over the narrative, as do your neighbours who kill the remaining bad guys.

Step 10: Get tied up by neighbours and listen as they explain how they're going to kill you and your children because they're jealous of your late husband's success.

Step 12: Get rescued by the stranger you forgot all about in Step 6b.

Step 13: Force everyone to sit out the rest of the night in quiet civility. You're trying to be the better person, but your neighbours are too resentful to understand your message.

Step 14: Send everyone home in the morning in a wholly unfulfilling and dissatisfying ending to a movie that could have been a mildly interesting film about a post-occupy America in which the underclass has been pacified but instead turned out to be a paint-by-numbers home invasion with some bad social commentary crammed in.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Book Report: The Resurrectionist


I first saw this book on a "Halloween reads" display table at Indigo. About a month later I returned to that same store, but the display was gone (obviously). Normally, when I find a book that interests me I take a photo, but I hadn't in this case. I asked a staff member.

"It's black," I said. I had to describe it because I forgot the title (obviously). "Hardcover. Half the book's the story of this guy's life and the other half is plates--illustrations, anatomical drawings of mythological creatures."

She had no idea what I was talking about, so she asked someone else and soon half the store was searching for this book. We never found it, but I was recommended Mrs. Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children which I bought.

Then came December and the usual end-of-year lists that mark the season. An email led me to the best horror books of 2013 and there it was: The Resurrectionist. A day later, the book was mine. Finally.

The book is short, but the story is intriguing, if a bit too vague at times. Dr. Spencer Black is a brilliant young surgeon who quickly rises to prominence as a specialist in mutation. Dr. Black and his colleagues perform revolutionary surgeries on people with bizarre genetic mutations.

Over time, Dr. Black's interests undergo their own mutation, and he becomes increasingly obsesses with finding the cause and cure for birth defects. He believes his patients' mutations are a form of genetic memory, that their abnormalities are in fact holdovers from a time before our species developed into what we are today. Namely, creatures of myth.

Dr. Black's biography reads much like any other, and the biographer's story is punctuated with letters and journal entries which help track the doctor's descent into madness. It's a brief but wonderful read. Too brief, I think. I would have loved for the biography to have included more primary sources: more letters from family and colleagues, newspaper clippings (only one appears in the book), and journal entries that could have helped unravel the mystery of Dr. Black's later works.

Frustratingly, the author wavers between being upfront with the gory details of Dr. Black's experiments and extremely vague about other horrific aspects of his life. Again, this could have been remedied with more details, delivered obliquely, so as to maintain the aura of intrigue that surrounds Dr. Black's madness.

It's just such a great story. I guess I'm annoyed because I wanted a little bit more.

Dr. Black's story takes up about one half of the book. The rest is a codex, a book he was in the process of publishing before he halted printing and disappeared. The codex is an illustrated reference guide "for all practitioners in science, medicine, and philosophy. In the most basic of terms, it's a picture book of mythical creatures, done with such amazing attention to detail that it's easy to believe they were drawn from actual specimens.


The codex is the culmination of Dr. Black's great work, and it helps round out the incredible story told in first half of the book. The anatomical plates are great reproductions of drawings made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries--the era in which Dr. Black lived.

Despite my misgivings about the completeness of the tale being told, The Resurrectionist is still a welcome addition to my library.

Monday, 30 December 2013

The Year That Almost Wasn't: 2013


Not counting all of the terrible movies I watched for the Loonie Movies segment on TheAvod, here are my best and worst for this past year. Bear in mind this list represents movies from 2013 and years previous; over the past twelve months, I've watched and remembered these titles for one reason or another.

Date night: The Loved Ones
Australian love story about a girl who kidnaps and tortures her crush.
Deal breaker: Silent Hill: Revelation
What kind of horror movie ends with the hero and the villain hugging it out?

Retro-pastiche: Manborg
In the future, when hell demons rule the earth, only one part-man and his friends, can save the world.
Contemporary-derivative: The Asylum Tapes (Greystone Park)
You'd expect the son of a talented filmmaker would himself be a talented filmmaker. Or would have the good sense to ask his dad to read over the "script."

He he. YeahFast & Furious 6
The F&F franchise finally hits its stride with number six.
Tch. Ugh:  Sharknado
The best thing about this movie was the fallout: a series of increasingly ridiculous movie posters that married sharks with natural disasters.

The. Science. Is. Sound.

I can't wait for the next oneThe American Scream
Documentary about home-made haunted houses. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you won't believe it was made by the kid from Troll 2.
I weep for the futureSmiley
Douchebags attempt to create and urban legend. They negate their own efforts and the movie makes a strong argument for magic.

Good bet: Safe
The opening five minutes should be mandatory study material for film students.
No bet: Alex Cross
The entire film is in object lesson in how not to make a movie.

Seconds please: Sushi Girl
Mark Hammil delivers a tour-de-force performance in this tense film about a dinner party-cum-interrogation session. Watch for Danny Trejo's cameo: Best. Line. Ever.
Don't hit that: Evil Bong
Far from being a morality play about the perils of drug use (BC bud saves the day), Evil Bong will still harsh your mellow.

Pun intended.

OMGPacific Rim
Mecha vs monster; it's no more and no less what you want from a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters.
WTFBryan Loves You
A man infiltrates a cult and spends half the movie in a mental hospital. And not the good half, either. The film is introduced by Tony Todd, for no reason.

PointedBig Bad Wolves
From the guys that brought us Rabies (Kalevet) comes this black comedy that's heavy on torture. Two men interrogate a suspected child-killer. The violence will leave you speechless. As will the ending.
Pointless: Evil Dead
Despite being a wall-to-wall gorefest, this remake misses out on everything that made the original such a hit. AND no one gets their hand chainsawed. Not even once. Even though that happens in the second one. Still, the movie created a perfect opportunity for chainsaw amputation and it didn't happen. Electric knife, sure. Chainsaw, nope. How do you screw that up?

Code BlackFrankenstein's Army
A Russian platoon stumbles upon a Nazi scientist's lab where he's building monsters. It's equal parts fun and amazing.
Code Blue: The Frankenstein Theory
A "scientific" expedition to northern Canada in search of Frankenstein's monster culminates in the discovery of Frankenstein's monster. It's equal parts stupid and disappointing.

Equal parts genius and ridiculous.

Honourable mentionEscape From Tomorrow
Praiseworthy only because it was filmed on the sly at Disney. What little story there is, is extremely difficult to understand.