Movies & TV / Columns

A Bloody Good Time: 10 Worst Blumhouse Films

April 6, 2018 | Posted by Joseph Lee
Ouija Blumhouse

Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)

These next two weeks will see the releases of two films that are likely to cover both ends of the horror spectrum. In one corner, opening this Friday, you have A Quiet Place. It reminds me a lot of Pontypool and pretty much all reviews have hailed it as a new classic. Whether or not it will be remains to be seen, but it certainly looks like it could be great.

On the other end of the spectrum, next Friday sees the release of Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare. If you’ve seen the trailer with the stupid smiles and general concept of a haunted truth or dare game, you know how ridiculous it looks. It looks really bad, but I’m also really excited for it. I’m not a masochist or anything, I just think it looks like the special kind of bad that will have me laughing in the theater. Either that or I’ll see the teenagers jumping at nothing and get depressed.

But Blumhouse is not a company that routinely puts out garbage movies. Why they put their considerable Hollywood clout behind this title is puzzling, but they have in the past put out great horror films. All you have to do is look at Get Out, which won Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars. But like any other production company, they’re going to put out some stinkers every so often. The problem in particular with Blumhouse is that they seem to be willing to attach their names to anything in the genre, particularly low-budget, and that doesn’t always equal quality.

So this week, to “celebrate” the release of what I’m 100% positive will be this decade’s The Happening, I’m going to look at the worst films released by Blumhouse. Next week I’ll look at the best.

#10: Jessabelle

With the director of the worst of the Saw series and a writer known primarily for comedy, how can you go wrong with a moody, Louisana horror film about evil spirits? I will say this in favor of Jessabelle. It tries very hard, like The Skeleton Key before it, to capitalize on its setting for a different kind of supernatural horror. Of course, it’s more or less the same movie as The Skeleton Key, which does it no favors. Both films plod along, have a somewhat formulaic plot and a downer ending just for the sake of it.

The only positive here to me is the performance of Sarah Snook, who has been in several movies where I really enjoyed her performance (check out Predistination if you haven’t). The same holds true here, as she does try to elevate the material but it’s just a story that doesn’t draw any interest. It’s been done many times before, particularly in the previously mentioned Louisana-set horror film from nearly a decade before. I appreciate the attempts at Southern Gothic horror, but it hasn’t really hit for me.

#9: Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (2015)

If there’s one thing Paramount and Blumhouse are guilty of, it’s running Paranormal Activity into the ground until it was a nonsensical, convoluted and plodding mess. The more the series expanded, the less interesting it got. What used to be a movie about an evil spirit became a series that involved time travel, teleportion, alternate dimensions, witches and cults. The Ghost Dimension is not the worst of its series, but it’s by far the most dull to get through.

The biggest problem with the last film is that outside of a gimmick that kills the suspense, it’s the same movie you’ve seen five times before. The fact that you can “see the activity” now ruins it, as watching a CGI blob move from room to room is not terrifying. You know what is? A woman getting dragged out of bed while screaming for her life after she’d previously been sleeping. That’s what this movie is, a pale imitation of what the series used to be.

#8: Amityville: The Awakening (2017)

Hoo-boy. I didn’t get a chance to talk about this during my 2017 retrospective) because it was eventually overshadowed by the soulless Rings and the laughable Bye Bye Man. With the Amityville name being public domain, everyone and their brother has made their own movie, meaning the series is up to eighteen entries by now. It sure outdates my 2012 column where I ranked the series. Blumhouse got in on the action too, producing a film that was so bad Dimension released it for free in order to get rid of it.

Is it as bad as the free release and multiple delays suggest? Not really. But it’s not a good film either. The biggest problem is the movie gets in its own way a lot of the time. It’s like director Franck Khalfoun (who did the excellent Maniac remake) wanted to make this slow, atmospheric horror film and then studio executies took it away from him and added pointless demon-face jump scares. Like there’s some really good tense moments here and there and boom, jump scare to ruin it. And not even effective jump scares. Really dumb stuff. Little girl hears a mysterious voice whispering at her to enter the closet? Creepy. Black eyed demon immediately growls after? dumb. The whole movie is like that and it’s infuriating.

#7: The Darkness (2016)

The Darkness is another movie that is lazy, stupid and boring. It makes it hard to write up a column when so many of these movies are guilty of that. In this case you have a technically competently made, if dull and lifeless horror film. As I said when it made my worst of 2016 list: The Darkness is an example of a movie that takes every single horror cliche you can think of and throws them into one mixture without the slightest bit of irony or effort to make it stand out.

It’s sad that a good performance from Kevin Bacon is wasted in this dreck. But that’s what happens, as we have several jump scares, a shoddy story and an honestly pretty bad performance from Gotham‘s David Mazouz to ruin things. On top of that, the ending is cliched all to hell and is something you’ve seen a million times before, along with every variation of it. The movie was dumped to make a quick buck with seemingly no regard for quality or enjoyment.

#6: The Gallows (2015)

What do you say about a film like The Gallows, which was given an R-rating for terror but doesn’t have a single scary moment? It’s the same as other movies on this list. It feels lazy, it feels uninspired and it’s one of the reasons that people tend to hate anything found footage. I’ve railed on films that feel like “products” and not movies before, and this is it. They even had promotional material hailing “Charlie” as the next great horror villain like Jason or Freddy. How did that go for you?

Ultimately, the reason that The Gallows doesn’t rank higher is that it’s ultimately forgettable. It’s bad and it’s dull, but it’s not something that will stick with you until you’re reminded of it later. At that point, you’re likely to laugh and say, “oh yeah, that pile of crap.” It’s that kind of movie. At least you can say it doesn’t overstay its welcome but that feels like damning with faint praise to me.

#5: The Lazarus Effect (2015)

Before we got the horrible Flatliners remake, we got this wannabe Flatliners remake. And, maybe it’s just me, but Flatliners isn’t all that great anyway. I know I’m in the minority in that one, and I accept that. This is the kind of movie that has a PG-13 rating and so it censors blood by turning it black through a digital filter. So a great kill is completely ruined because the people behind this were scared of releasing an R-rated film. I’m not saying horror has to be R-rated, but if you have to censor your own work because you need those teenagers, then yeah, maybe that’s a bad thing.

But the censorship is only a blip on the radar. The real problems involving The Lazarus Effect revolve around poor performances, even from people I typically enjoy. If you told me I’d hate a movie with Mark Duplass and Donald Glover in it, I wouldn’t believe you. Duplass specifically will show up twice next week, so he’s great at his job. I just don’t think he’s given anything to work with, the same as everyone else. It’s a waste of your time and that’s why I voted it my worst of 2015 when it came out.

#4: Mercy (2014)

Before I watched this, I was confused as to why this never got a theatrical release. It’s from Universal and Blumhouse, it’s based on a story by Stephen King and it stars someone from The Walking Dead. If the budget was low you’d think they could clean up in opening weekend. I think the reason they didn’t give this a wide release is because of its quality. Mercy is so bland and derivative you wonder why they even bothered. If you’re not trying to squeeze money out of Stephen King and The Walking Dead, then you’re just making yet another horror movie that no one will watch.

Not that this bears any resemblance to King’s short story “Gramma”. The gist is there, Grandma’s a witch, she’s ill and a boy has to take care of her, but it also adds in all this dumb stuff and twists the original story so much that it’s barely recognizable. I’m not one of those people that gets really upset when movies don’t adapt 100% of their source material, but this is ridiculous. As an adaptation it may be one of the worst Stephen King movies ever.

#3: Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)

Deciding between my top three here was really difficult, because all three are just..not enjoyable. I guess that’s putting it lightly. Anyway, here’s the worst movie in the Paranormal Activity franchise, which killed my interest in the series in one fell swoop. Keep in mind, until this, I was ready to defend the movies from even its most vocal haters, but after going to see this I had no choice but to throw my hands up and say, “You win.”

The problem is that not only is it not scary anymore, but it tries to take shortcuts to achieve the same things that the previous three films did with good old-fashioned suspense. Instead of building up to the scares, instead it relies on editing tricks to startle the audience. I’ve expalined multiple times over the years, startling is not the same as scaring. And this is extremely guilty of being a “startle” film. You may jump during it, but only in the same way a loud noise would make you jump. That doesn’t mean you’re scared. This is the bottom of the barrell for the series due to a unlikable and poorly-acted lead, zero scares, lazy writing and the continued dilution of the overall story.

#2: Unfriended (2014)

To my surprise, this film actually has an audience. So there’s a possibility I get someone defending it, and that’s okay. You like what you like. But I will say that we have two very different tastes when it comes to what horror should be. In the defense of Unfriended, it’s a clever idea to make it take place over an extended Skype session. Does that make it good? No, but at least it’s a new way of telling a story. But once you get past the concept, it’s just another lifeless horror film with a preachy cyber-bullying message and a total lack of scares or fun.

It doesn’t help that there’s not a single likable character among the cast. Now that may be the point of the film, as they’re all supposed to be people you root against, but…why would I want to watch them? What interest would I have in following these people when they’re awful teenagers who caused someone to kill themselves? I’m not rooting for them to die, I just don’t care in the story. You have to have something to invest in and this doesn’t. Why would I be scared if I don’t care about the characters? Even in Friday the 13th films they’ll usually cast people who have some charisma or charm. The cast here has neither, and the script doesn’t back them up with any kind of positive development. They’re awful people meeting awful ends. Who cares?

#1: Ouija (2014)

In theory, I wasn’t against Ouija when it came out. After all, as board game-based films go, it’s pretty easy to craft one around an ouija board. It played a role in The Exorcist and there was a series of films in the 80s that centered around it. So as a concept, making a movie about a ouija board that sets spirits loose on innocent people should be fine. It should be something that can easily be made into something at least entertaining.

Instead we get Ouija, perhaps the most product-kind of horror film I’ve seen in recent memory. Everything here was planned out in a marketing room and written later, at least that’s how it seems from watching it. It’s formulaic, unoriginal, dull and poorly acted. The screenwriting is so paint-by-numbers, it’s a wonder you can’t see the stage directions show up on screen. The only thing this movie has going for it is a brief appearance from Lin Shaye, and sadly a couple of minutes with her are not enough to salvage the eighty that just sap your will to live. This is the best example I can think of for a film that’s merely designed to steal your money more than an attempt to entertain you. Say what you will about something like Troll 2, but at least there was effort in that. I’d rather watch a hundred awful movies where the filmmakers try and fail than something that was churned out of a Hollywood machine.

Long story short, when Blumhouse embraces independent talent and gives them a bigger platform, they’re great. When they are too focused on money, you get stuff like this. And Truth or Dare, which at least still looks entertaining.

Ending Notes:

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