Thursday, February 4, 2016

What Were They Thinking? When Sequels Go Bad…




I’m not an anti-sequel or anti-remake kind of guy. Despite the kneejerk reactions some have to those words, I’ll freely admit that, yeah, there exists in the pantheon of films both sequels and remakes (and reboots for that matter) that are as good as the original films or even better than the original films. The idea that either of those two words automatically dooms a film to the fate of being a wretched piece of celluloid hell is based less on fact and more on cynicism parading around as “cool” in film geek circles. The ultimate reality of the situation is that any film has the ability to be as good or as bad as any other film whether it’s an original, a remake, a reboot, or a sequel.

But, yeah, on the other side of that discussion there are indeed some films out there where a single viewing makes you question not just the creative ability but the actual sanity of the people involved with the project. There exist in the history of film some sequels so misguided and poorly conceived they almost make you question whether the original was as good as you remembered it being. There are even sequels so utterly divorced from the concepts of their source film you can’t begin to work out how they’re even supposed to be connected to the original film or a part of the same overall story.

These are some of those sequels. Some I suggest seeing over large quantities of your favorite recreational substance of choice for a “so bad they’re good” movie night. Maybe you could even have friends over and end up doing a DIY MST3K night out of some them. Others on the list you may want to avoid like the plague. I’ll leave those decisions up to you.
 
Honorable Mentions

Any Terminator sequel past #2
Star Trek into Darkness
Matrix 2&3
Porky’s Revenge
Smokey and the Bandit 3
The Phantom Menace
Any Blind Dead film after #2

King Long Lives (1986)

If you didn’t know this sequel existed, count yourself among the lucky ones. If you knew of its existence but have never seen it, count yourself among the truly blessed. However, if you, like me, are one of the truly damned souls in the world, you paid out your own money to see this thing in the theater on its opening weekend.

Produced by Dino De Laurentiis, this film came along ten years after the Dino De Laurentiis produced King Kong from 1976. I had seen the 1976 King Kong in theaters with my dad and it more than almost anything else made me a huge fan of all things Kong. I’d later see and love the original King Kong and the original Son of Kong, and even managed to find huge love in my heart for King Kong vs. Godzilla and King Kong Escapes. And, really, if you can deeply love King Kong Escapes

Where to begin? Okay, so it’s now ten years later and Kong is not dead. He’s been in a decade long coma while hooked up to machines that are keeping his blood pumping. Strangely, having been shot full of tiny holes and fallen over 1,300 feet to his death on hard concrete, all he needs to live is a blood transfusion and a mechanical heart. Apparently a blood transfusion and a mechanical heart fix the shattered bones, ruptured organs, and brain damage that such a fall would cause. This medical miracle of science would later be used on Jason Statham for Crank: High Voltage having passed the clinical monkey trials on Kong.

The fly in the ointment for Operation Monkey Ticker is the discovery that no species of primate has a compatible blood type for Kong. He is unique and there is no way to create a blood substitute for use in the operation. Kong is going to soon die in his sleep.

But wait! Kong isn’t all that unique after all. Just in time to save Kong, a dashing explorer finds another such giant ape in Borneo. We, the viewers, are tipped off to the fact that not only is this ape somehow a perfect blood type match for Kong, but this ape is a female. How do they do this? Well, outside of the explorer remarking that she’s a damned good looking female, the costume designers… uhm… enhanced… basic ape anatomy. Short version- they gave her the type of boobage that most strippers would pay good money for. 

Lady Kong is promptly rounded up and flown back to where Kong is being kept in Atlanta. With the help of a small river of Lady Kong blood, a mechanical heart the size of a Volkswagen Bug is put into Kong. Normally an operation like this would involve some recovery time, but not so much here. We, after all, have to start the action portion of the film kicked off by the arrival of a crazed Army Lieutenant Colonel with ape hatred issues.

Kong wakes up just in time to smash walls, break military hardware, rescue the girl ape, and carry her away with him. Then we’re treated to ape romance scenes. Lots and lots of ape romance scenes. It may be an apocryphal story, but I’m willing to believe that this film was the start of the modern Furry Fetish movement. Our moony eyed lovebirds… well… loveapes… even head off to hide in the woods around Honeymoon Ridge. I’m totally serious about that location. The pan across the sign to drive it home.

The film rushes through much bad comedy and one fake-out death for Kong before reaching its climax. Kong is once again filled with military supplied ammunition and dies, but not before killing Lieutenant Nevitt. Oh, and he also knocks up Lady Kong. We’ve brought Kong back to life only to kill him off again in rather short order, but we can send everyone home happy by ending the film with our scientists waving at Lady Kong and son once again free in the jungles of Borneo. Well, happy at least until they remember they all paid good money to see this.

Probably the greatest offense the film committed, a film filled with military hardware, two giant monsters, and a lot of available real estate to smash and climb, was often being boring as hell. Even many of the actors involved turned in performances in various scenes where they looked like they were bored and just notup to anything that day beyond phoning in it. 

King Kong Lives star Linda Hamilton once reflected on the film, discussing how she went from thinking it was such a “hoot” to work on to becoming horrified once seeing it because of how stupid it was. We share your pain, Linda, we really do.

Speed 2: Cruise Control

Okay, here’s the deal. You’ve got a surprise(ish) hit on your hands, Sure, people snickered when they first heard about the plot being centered around a city bus that couldn’t slow down or else it would go boom, but pre-release snickering turned into post-release eating of crow as people plunked down wads of cash to see Keanu and Sandra have a love connection while destroying fleets of cars and making one of the most improbably vehicle jumps in film history. It was really just a popcorn flick with an interesting and unique hook, but it was enough to make the studio bean counters happier than hell.

Now you have to follow up on that. Well, you don’t have to, but Hollywood SOP is to squeeze every last possible cent out of damned near anything that makes it big at the box office. But you can’t quite copy the the gimmick from Speed for the sequel too exactly. It’s one thing to wash, rinse, and repeat with the concept of a good guy running into an insane bad guy every outing for three or four films, but having another bus high-jacked and rigged to not slow down without exploding would strain any audience’s credibility threshold. So what should you do? Well, if you’re a brain damaged studio guy, you decide a cruise ship is as good a vehicle as any to work in the sequel.

Keanu Reeves reportedly read the script and suddenly found a pressing need to tour with his band Dogstar, taking a pass on appearing in the film. This probably didn’t help the already doomed project in the eyes of audiences. Sandra Bullock would now have a new lead/romantic interest in the form of Jason Patric who, while not an unknown, wasn’t exactly a big box office draw. Willem Dafoe plays our baddie who takes control of the ship’s computer systems, disables the radios, kills the Captain, and sends the ship hurtling at not even slightly incredible speeds towards an oil tanker.

For all the work the guy did, a speedboat filled with explosives and hooked up to a remote control would have been a simpler, more effective choice of evil plans. Audiences thrilled (not really) to the many, many attempts they had loads of time to engage in to stop the cruise ship from slowly ramming into the oil tanker before the edge of your seat ending where the cruise ship rubs hulls with the tanker before running aground on an island.

As a basic plot it may have been a doable film under any other name. It might have needed a bit more work on the script than they gave it, but it still could have worked as, say, Collision Cruise. (Yeah, I know, that sucks as a title, but I’m not putting any more work into thinking up a title than they put into the plot and script.) But the film was a sequel to and carried the name Speed. When you think vacation cruise liners, speed is not typically the first thing that comes to mind. For that matter, speed is not one of the first twenty or so things that come to mind. Most people actually tend to connect the word “leisurely” with such vessels. There’s a pretty good reason for this.

I don’t know, maybe Air Force One coming out made them nix the idea of using an airliner, but an altitude based explosive device on a plane may have at least felt more Speed than this film. It may not have helped the horrible plotting and scripting much, but it would at least have felt like it could be called Speed. But, hey, Sandra Bullock got a really nice payday out of it to tide her over to her next actual hit, so there’s that at least.

Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)

It was the 1970s. Cocaine was a hell of a drug.

Not only considered a bad movie sequel, Exorcist II: The Heretic is considered by some horror fans to be one of the worst movies of all time. Coming just four years after one of the most terrifying movie experiences of a generation, the original Exorcist, this film had a lot to live up to. It spectacularly failed on every level.

This film plot-wise was way beyond being just a mess. It tried to mix pseudo-science with the paranormal and loosely tie the original possession in with a demonic entity which had attacked a child in Africa decades earlier. It mixed a mystery storyline, working to unlock Regan’s memories, with less than stellar results. The FX works was low budget bad even for the era it came from, and the FX scenes were poorly conceived. This film could have been one of the great so bad it’s good films, but it fails miserably at the “good” part of that equation. While the original Exorcist reportedly had people fainting in fear and afraid to turn the lights off at home for weeks after a viewing, initial news reports of the opening weekend screenings of this hot mess mentioned audiences laughing with derision during the key, dramatic scenes.

This film is so bad I can’t even properly make fun of it. I only mention it on this list because it’s largely responsible for one of the great crimes in cinema history. Its reputation as an abysmally bad film so thoroughly poisoned the well for sequels to the Exorcist that thirteen years later many people passed up on what may well be one of the best sequels in horror history, Exorcist III. I could do an entire article about how amazing Exorcist III is- and I probably should -and it’s a film you owe it to yourself to track down and watch.

Highlander 2: The Quickening (1991)

Highlander was, for me and many others, a damned near perfect little cult favorite film. Christopher Lambert may not have been the world’s greatest actor, but his performance and odd accent worked well for the character, Clancy Brown gave us a nightmarishly good villain to root against, and Sean Connery gave us everyone’s favorite immortal Japanese Egyptian who hailed from Spain while speaking just like Sean Connery. All of this was wrapped up in a great little story by Gregory Widen filled with some cool FX, some nice sword fights, and directed with great visual style by Russell Mulcahy.

The thing is, it was very clearly a one and done deal. By the time you reach the end of the story, the tale has been told. You reach a very clear and definitive finale from which very few roads spring up for sequels to travel down. So, of course, as the cult popularity and buzz grew after the film left theaters and began to truly find its audience, we got a sequel anyhow. That’s when it got really weird.

I’m not sure what sort of drugs were being passed around in the pitch meeting for this film that ultimately allowed some executive to decide that, yeah, this film concept made sense and should be given the greenlight, but they must have been some powerful stuff.

Highlander gave us a complete story that included complete backstories. We were told where Connor was born and we saw him die and be reborn as an immortal. His “death” actually comes about at the hands of Kurgan, and Connor has no idea who or what Kurgan is or why he’s suddenly feeling these odd sensations as Kurgan draws closer. We’re given Kurgan’s backstory, including where he was born, later in the film. We see Connor meet Ramirez for the first time, not knowing who or what Ramirez is, and we see Ramirez training Connor and educating him in what the immortals are and what their ultimate goal is. There’s even a line spoken by Ramirez about how no one knows where their immortality came from. By the end, well, there is only one, Connor, and he has taken the prize, gotten the girl, and been set up to do the happily ever after thing.

Then we get The Quickening.

Connor, now an old man, has lived his life using the Prize to build a better world for humanity. It hasn’t worked out all that well though. Somehow the world has gone to hell and Connor is basically creating a shield around the world that will keep humanity somewhat safe and miserably alive. But things take a sudden an unexpected turn as two alien hunters come to Earth, sent by the alien overlord from Connor’s original home planet who banished Connor and crew to Earth thousands of years earlier, on a mission to kill… Wait… WTF?!?

That last bit was pretty much the polite version of the reaction of everyone in the theater on the opening weekend of the film. Connor Macleod, born in Scotland, raised in the highlands, is now an alien refugee who had been banished to Earth. We get treated to a full flashback backstory showing both Connor and Ramirez, who didn’t know each other when first meeting in the first film but are now friends fighting the evil overlord before being banished to a planet the overlord (General Katana) somehow knew would cause in them and the others the Immortal Effect. Oh, and now meeting and killing other immortals makes you young again and wishing to the Immortal Effect for your dead buddy to return could now bring Ramirez back to life. Who knew?

Not only did it in no way follow anything laid down in the original film’s story, but it made no sense with regards to its own internal logic. Katana wants to banish the rebels fighting him, so he picks a world they’ll flourish on. There’s now no logical reason for these people banished by Katana to start killing each other off once on Earth. The mystical taboos of not fighting on holy ground and not fighting anything other than a one on one fight, and the supposedly terrifying consequences of breaking those taboos, have no reason to exist or work with aliens from another planet. Additionally, Katana apparently wants Connor dead more than anything else, so he first banishes him to another world and then later sends two hitmen to kill an elderly, close to death Connor and thus ensures Connor’s returned youth and immortal status.

Probably the most terrifying bit of information about the mindset of the people behind this film was the fact that they thought not only that this film would be a roaring success, but they were already setting up to capitalize on that success. The originally planned third film, Highlander 3: The Reckoning, was going to take Connor back to his home world of Zeist to become a guerrilla leader training new soldiers to fight the war to free Zeist from its evil rulers. The less than glorious box office mercifully killed that plan off rather quickly.

Highlander 2: The Quickening went beyond just being a bad sequel film. Other than the character names, it was so far divorced from anything to do with Highlander that you almost thought it should have been a “sequel” in name only in the way some of the films from then heyday of the exploitation cinema era were. It used to be an exploitation theater con game where films totally unrelated to a successful film would show up renamed and passed off as sequels (Zombie 3, Zombie 4, Zombie 5) despite having nothing to do in any way with the original film or even being from the same company. The fact that this film felt like less of a sequel film than some of those types of rip-offs says a lot about how far into bad sequel territory this thing went.

Later Highlander films may have been bad, one may actually have been worse, but Highlander 2: The Quickening became the only film in the franchise to earn “Never F’n Happened” status with both fans and the studio alike. All subsequent Highlander projects have ignored everything Highlander 2: The Quickening tried to create for the Highlander mythos. So horrid a sequel was it, it has become a film almost entirely disowned by its own fan base and franchise. There are really not many other film sequels that didn’t in fact end a franchise that can claim such a distinction.

Highlander: Endgame (2000)

Yeah, admitting you went to see this film in theaters is somewhat akin to admitting you kept sticking your tongue into the electrical outlet, but I’ll admit I went to see it on its opening weekend. But I had (I thought) a good excuse. Yeah, while the previous two sequels ranged from the Ninth Circle of Hell bad to merely almost okay, the franchise itself had been largely redeemed by the Highlander TV series. After a shaky first couple of seasons the series became an incredibly solid and entertaining part of the Highlander mythos with some amazingly strong episodes in its final two seasons. This was going to be following the series, and on that fact alone there was a level of faith restored in the belief of the possibility of a quality film.    

To swipe from Thorin Oakenshield, I have never been so wrong in all my life.

There were so many things on so many levels that made this film one of the worst sequel experiences of all time. One of those things was giving in to false hope and allowing optimistic anticipation.

The TV series had gotten so damned good that you knew a new film franchise following in its footsteps had to be a winner. Then there was the news of both Highlanders starring in the film. You’d seen them together on the small screen, but this was a chance to see a big budget, rollicking adventure with both Highlanders fighting side by side. Those two things combined meant it had to be great. Then of course reality hit everyone in the theater about 15 minutes into the film. This was followed by the weeping tears of the damned souls who paid good money for tickets.

Not only was the story convoluted and needlessly dull, but it slammed fans in the face with a pitfall of a plot choice the TV show had wisely avoided. Highlander had ended with Connor as the last immortal left, the winner of the Prize. 14 years later the future of the franchise was in the hands of Adrian Paul’s Duncan MacLeod, and, thanks to the show, he was probably the better known Highlander for many people. But the old school Highlander fans still loved Connor something fierce. The smart thing to do, meaning the opposite of what powers that be with these films did, would have been ignoring this little eventual continuity problem.

They were looking at the idea of multiple films following Duncan. As with the TV series, there was no need to reach the final battle between the last two immortals by the end of Endgame. They could have quietly ignored the ending of Highlander for several films with no issue whatsoever. They could have even eventually just had a film with Duncan winning the Prize without ever addressing the original film on screen. So, of course, they decided they had to screw things up and piss off the fans from moment one.

It was bad enough they wrote Connor as a broken man who snapped and fled the contest so he could hide for decades/centuries in some weird immortal storage basement. They then compounded this by telling us why he did it. They went back and retroactively rewrote aspects of the original film. They made it clear from moment one that Connor never fought Kurgan for the prize, Rachel, the girl he saved as a child who had then stayed with him for decades, was killed when his shop was blown up, and he had apparently never met Brenda Wyatt. It was not only a bad idea as it really torqued fans of the first film, but it made the timeline needlessly confusing since Connor would have been a broken shell in hiding during the same time period he appeared on the TV series alongside Duncan while seeming fine and dandy.

Taking it even further into the realm of Cheesing Off Your Fanbase 101, they eliminate the issue of Connor winning the prize in the original film with a horribly plotted and contrived scene that eliminates (See- Beheads) Connor in what could best be described as sacrificial suicide. So, rather than smartly letting longtime fans for a time happily enjoy the illusion of there being two Highlanders out there in this new franchise’s universe, even if we would only ever again see one of them after Endgame, they decided the real money was in totally pissing their audience off in every way possible. Seriously, I’d love to build a time machine and a cloaking device just so I can go back to the office where this was thought up and see what the hell conversation they had where they all agreed that this was a winning idea.

Not only did this turn fans off before the movie was close to over, but it killed a selling point from the ads for the film’s climax. This was going to be Connor and Duncan joining forces to face off against the most powerful immortal who ever walked the Earth and his army of immortal minions. That was a central selling point for the plot from the ad campaign (and we’ll talk more about that ad campaign in a minute) that they basically flushed down the toilet for no good reason.

Not that this meant Duncan was now facing an army (more of a small biker gang actually) of immortals and their insanely powerful leader all on his own. No, despite using his army to cheat in fights over the years, while strangely facing none of the mystical consequences established in the Highlander mythology, our big bad guy decides to fight his most dangerous opponent ever all on his own. This gives us a scene where, rather than heading off and trying to win the prize another day for themselves, his army sacrifices their heads to him over a nice dinner and drinks. So now it’s just Kell vs Duncan and the ghost of Connor doing a bad Obi-Wan Kenobi impersonation during the fight via some horrid special effects.

On top of this being just plain bad, this was not the story we were sold in the ad campaign.

Look, we’ve all seen bad ad campaigns before. We’ve all seen movies that were let down by ad campaigns that didn’t truly convey what the film actually was as well as they could. We’ve even seen ad campaigns where we had no clue whatsoever about what the film was actually about. But I have never seen in my adult life a major theatrical release with an ad campaign as intentionally dishonest as the one created for Highlander: Endgame. This damned thing made some of the ad campaigns for films in the old exploitation theaters look like shining examples of integrity. Here’s a link  to the theatrical trailer for the film. Give it a watch and come back.

Okay, seen it? If you’ve never seen the film itself, let me explain something to you that a lot of us only got to discover to our great horror sitting in the theaters after paying our hard earned cash on this film. Nothing you see in that trailer involving anything remotely mystical or cool actually happens anywhere in the film. As a matter of fact, Kell is about as ordinary and unmystical an opponent in Highlander canon as you’ll find to the point of not even seeming to be worth all the bother over.  What we got in the film was such an ordinary immortal he didn’t even seem as big a threat as some of the big bads Duncan faced in the TV series.

So where did that stuff with the sword being stopped in midair, Kell splitting in two, Connor and Duncan leaping through some sort of mystical wormhole, Kell sending forth magical energy bursts, the mystical crystal ball with a seemingly trapped Connor in it, etc. all come from? From their backside’s basically. They actually shot extra footage for the ad campaign and made FX scenes exclusively for the trailer and TV spots that they never intended to have in the film in order to sell a storyline they never had any intention to ever have in the film. That stuff wasn’t even in the script or in the early drafts of the final script. 

So, to summarize-

* Pointlessly pissing off longtime fans

* Wasting valuable screen time on rewriting aspects of the original film to pointlessly piss off longtime fans

* Pissing off longtime fans by making the original Highlander a broken basket case shell of his former character and having him then sulk around like a suicidal wuss

* Creating a story filled with the most nonsensical plot points and twists they could think of

* Giving fans one of the lamest “threats” as a villain in Highlander canon

* Suckering fans into theaters with an ad campaign deliberately designed to make the film look like something they never intended to deliver

And, unbelievably, as an even greater sin than that last one…

* Making it as dull and boring as they possibly could for just shy of 90 minutes

If you’re sitting at home and thinking to yourself that any or all of these things are things you should probably avoid doing when creating a film meant to be the launch of a new film franchise; you are probably a more brilliant filmmaker and studio executive that any of the people connected to this film’s creation. If they ever write a ‘How to Kill You Franchise on Opening Weekend for Dummies’ textbook for the Dummies series, this film sequel will be the cover photo, and everyone involved behind the scenes in the production will each have a chapter devoted exclusively to them.

The thing that is terrifyingly mind boggling about all of these films, especially the two Highlander films, is the people behind them actually thought they were creating box office winners. They looked at these things they were creating, things that most sane people might have declared write-offs, killed the productions of, and then shelved (or burned) what had been filmed, and truly believed these films were going to make their intended fanbases enthusiastically clamor for more of the same.

Way up top I mentioned these films might a great DIY MST3K night with friends providing you’re all thoroughly hammered first. They might also serve one additional use. If you’re ever feeling down on yourself, feeling like you’re just not all that good at what you do, watch some of these films and realize that compared to the people behind these films you are a towering genius, you have more intelligence in your creative instincts, and you will never fail in any endeavor as spectacularly as those people did with these (and some other) films.

Jerry Chandler is a serious horror geek with a lifelong love of trying to find books and movies that can scare the spit out of him. When not watching and reading horror, he can sometimes be found helping to make horror with his filmmaking family in NC, Adrenalin Productions. He loves Halloween slightly more than Christmas, and almost as much as Dragon Con. When not writing here, he can be found at his other homes on the web by looking at his own blog, his Twitter, and his Facebook.

3 comments:

  1. "Any Blind Dead film after #2?" No, say it isn't so! I LOVE those movies!

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    1. I like #3, but it started to stray a bit from being Blind Dead. It also suffered from the fad of the time of doing paranormal movies where they tried to explain it with pseudo-science. Night of the Seagulls... I typically pass on that one.

      I own them all though. I love the Blind Dead enough that I bought the DVD set in the coffin case when it first hit the market.

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  2. While it wasn't the film that was promised, I will say that the Directors cut of Endgame addressed a lot a sins and I can not for the life of me understand why they didn't release this version instead. IMO it is the ending to the TV Franchise as the fifth movie was on par with the Quickining.

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