Thursday, January 21, 2016

Scares! In Space!

There's no truer sign that a horror film franchise has jumped the shark than when it goes to space. Of course, that's not to say horror and sci-fi don't mix. When done right, sci-fi is amazing for building an atmosphere of dread and alienation. Case in point: Alien. Some of my favorite scary short stories ever—The Jaunt, The Things, The Hinterlands—take place a sci-fi setting. But sadly, science fiction is also a common ground for some of the laziest writing in the horror genre. 

Jason X
If you thought Manhattan was the farthest Jason Voorhees has gone from home, you'd be wrong. I mean, he even goes to hell at some point, but Jason X is so bad, you could say it's merely a different kind of hell. In this installment, Jason is cryogenically frozen, and when he's defrosted centuries later, wrecks havoc on the spaceship and its crew. 

Really, this was set up less like a Friday the 13th sequel and more like an Andromeda mini-reunion—oh hai, Lisa Ryder and Lexa Doig! I like to think they gravitate to crappy sci-fi productions out of habit and just showed up on set. You know who I didn't expect to be here, though? David Cronenberg. Holy shit. How many liters of the blood of the innocent did the producers have to sacrifice to Satan to get Cronenberg, one of the masters of horror, to make a cameo? Maybe he was there to stand in solidarity with the largely-Canadian cast, I dunno. He even rewrote most of his one scene, which should tell how highly he must have regarded the script.

Towards the end, the filmmakers do throw in a room-sized hologram of Camp Crystal Lake—complete with scantily-clad teenagers—partly as a ploy by the tech-savvy crew to distract Jason, but mostly as a half-assed nod to the origins of the franchise. It's like they were aware of how far removed this film is from any semblance to the rest of the series, and this was their weirdly condescending way of throwing the audience a bone. 

Hellraiser IV: Bloodlines
Of all the franchises on this list, you would think Hellraiser was the worst offender of this trope, but it's really not. In fact, Bloodlines was not only a great improvement over its trainwreck predecessor, Hell On Earth, but it actually does a decent job of tying together a long, linear history of how one family invented and improved upon the design of Lament Configuration. 

It's by no means better, or even at par, with the first two Hellraiser films, but if you've seen the sequels that followed, you'd know that Pinhead in space isn't even the trippiest shit that happens in this franchise. That award goes to drug-induced hallucinations of Pinhead.

The film is bookended with Dr. Paul Merchant, a scientist being questioned by the Space Police, who explains how his family tree is entwined with that of the Cenobites: The story retraces its steps back to French toymaker Philippe Lemarchand, who cursed his bloodline by inventing the Lament Configuration, and later John Merchant, a present-day architect whose latest building hides the box within it. Yeah, they're both fucked, but by the time the 22th century rolls around, Paul decides he's shutting that shit down. Knowing the Cenobites will be after him, he creates the Elysium Configuration, in the shape of a fucking badass space station, to reverse the effects of the Lament Configuration and defeat the Cenobites for good. Come on, that's cool. And it makes as much sense as the Lament Configuration created by a toymaker like some kind of misguided Geppetto.

Leprechaun 4: In Space
Clearly, this is the point at which the Leprechaun film series just gave up. You can tell by the title alone. The next two sequels following Leprechaun 4 take place "in the hood", so it was all downhill from here. But at least one of those let Warwick Davies share screen time and humiliation with Ice-T. This entry in the franchise doesn't even take place on Earth! The film opens up on a random planet, the name of which I don't care, where the Leprechaun courts an alien princess. It's like a terrible perversion of John Carter of Mars, before it takes a 180-degree turn and decides it wants to be a shoddy rip-off of Aliens instead. 

Strangely, the story involves a lot of the same elements as Jason X. I guess that only proves that unimaginative minds think alike. The Leprechaun isn't even after his gold! Isn't that what brought about his wrath to begin with? Instead we have to sit through Space Marines, cyborgs, and spider mutations that chillingly foreshadow the Lost In Space remake.

But at least the Leprechaun franchise has an excuse to be shitty, sort of. It was always shelved away as a horror-comedy—and one of the worst of the sub-genre, at that—so I can forgive the bad puns and cringeworthy innuendo. Unlike Friday the 13th, which originally offered legitimate scares, the first Leprechaun was never very good. I can't fathom how it could even merit a whole franchise, let alone one that spans over seven films. So, I guess, much in the same way Leprechaun 4 ends with a giant dismembered hand giving the protagonists the finger, this franchise is flipping us all off with its confounding longevity. 

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