Itís almost become a clichť at this point, but if you poke around just about any actorís resume, youíre bound to find a horror flick buried in there somewhere, either as an early-career outing thatís been forgotten or as a later-career detour. Youíll find this and everything in between with most of the Expendables crew, which is perhaps a little unexpected given most of these guysí action roots. With the latest film in that franchise set to hit theaters soon, I thought itíd be interesting to evaluate their contributions to the horror genre: the good, the bad, the one where Dolph Lundgren tangles with aliens that shoot killer CDs.
A note: Since The Expendables 3 has a more robust cast than an Irwin Allen disaster flick, Iím only confining this to the main cast of Expendables from the first two movies, save for one that I stumbled upon and couldnít resist highlighting. All of the other new guys might have their day at some point, but for now, itís not necessary. Thereís a better word to describe this, but I forget it.
The Possessed (1977)
Weeks before he appeared in a galaxy far, far away, Harrison Ford popped up as a biology teacher in this made-for-TV bit of devilry. Unlike many of the stars on this list, heís actually expendable in this role, which has him seducing one of the students (itís never clear if this is a high school or a college, but, either way, pretty scandalous) and carrying on with a fellow teacher. But thatís just a subplot: the actual story revolves around a defrocked priest (James Farentino) who is literally pushed back from the edge of death to kick ass for the lord. His travels carry him to a Salem girls school haunted by a malevolent spirit with a penchant for starting fires, and, while The Possessed suffers from the typically dry, stuffy made-for-TV aesthetic, it manages to be a bit unsettling. Thereís something particularly vicious about a demon thatíll just light you on fire without warning. Less inventive is the entityís decision to resort to possession (hence the title) and go through the same vomitus Exorcist motions (well, as vomitus as possible for prime-time 70s TV).
Hailing from the twilight of Chuck Norrisís Golden Mop era (1977-1982), Silent Rage is a mad-scientist/slasher/action flick and maybe the dullest such hybrid imaginable at that. Essentially Halloween but with Norris serving in the Brackett role, it centers around a psychotic axe-murderer whoís resurrected by ambitious scientists who in turn transform him into an indestructible killing machine. It should be a damn crime to waste such a premise like this film does. Perhaps in an effort to mimic Carpenterís deliberate approach, the already boring, white-bread psycho spends over a half hour resting on a slab following his opening massacre. In the interim, youíre stuck with Norris romancing bedding Toni Kalem with the smoothest middle-aged mustachioed moves this side of Tom Atkins, palling around with his dopey deputy, and busting up a biker gang in a bar fight. When the killer finally reasserts himself, Silent Rage briefly finds its footing as a horror movie (a spooky synth score accentuates some tame murder sequences), but itís still kind of a drag. ďChuck Norris once made a shitty horror movieĒ is the one fact the internet never told you.
Not only has Mickey Rourke supplied the single best moment in any Expendables film (his legendary Bosnia monologue), but heís also starred in the best film on this list. Steeped in voodoo, nightmares, and bourbon, Angel Heart is a Bayou noir centered on a private detectiveís (Rourke) pursuit of a missing crooner at the behest of an enigmatic client (a positively Luciferian Robert De Niro). His journey takes him from Harlem to New Orleans, with savagery and religion haunting his every step. Helmed by the ever versatile Alan Parker (whose oeuvre ranges from Bugsy Malone to The Life of David Gale, with just about everything in between), the film reworks the Faustian myth into a sweltering mystery tale with angels and demons dancing in step without while remaining oblivious of each other.
If forced to pick one of the films on this list to watch at any given moment, chances are, Iím going with this one. Dark Angel is practically a checklist for the type of movie engineered specifically for ten-year-olds: a badass, one-liner-spitting hero, car chases, insane stunt work, outrageous explosions that could even make Renny Harlin gawk in awe, and aliens. Itís a film that feels like it shouldnít exist, yet itís not all that surprising that the late 80s spawned something so gloriously meat-headed. Dolph Lundgren is perfectly suited for the material, his trademark machismo slightly underpinned by a wry awareness of the dumb movie heís found himself in. Two decades later, this is actually what makes him the MVP of the two Expendables films: heís one of the few who absolutely gets it. Is it too late to turn part three into a stealth sequel to Dark Angel? Iíll probably have to settle for Dolph telling a bunch of spacemen to fuck off once The Expendables inevitably blast off into space, I guess.
Schwarzenegger and Satan duke it out in the midst of pre-millennial hysteria in a film that supposes that maybe we shouldnít have been afraid of Y2K so much as the Dark Oneís being DTF. Heís specifically eyed a twenty-year-old woman (Robin Tunney) whoís fated to sire his child before the stroke of midnight on New Yearís Eve 1999, and only a burned-out, suicidal ex-cop can stop him. It seemed like Satan was popping up on-screen at will as the millennium drew to a close, and End of Days basically hearkens back to the occult preoccupations of the 60s and 70sóitís The Devil Rides Out as only Schwarzenegger can do it: with dumb one-liners, explosions, and giant, CGI demons that also manifest as flaming skulls. Taking an obvious cue from Fincherís grime-and-rain-soaked take on Seven, Peter Hyams tries his best to ground the proceedings in a police procedural, but it gets away from him in a hurry. Films centered on a Schwarzenegger/Satan bout will do that to you.
A brief aside: the filmís soundtrack featured Axl Roseís re-emergence after a five-year-hiatus, after which he went into semi-seclusion for nine more. By the time Chinese Democracy bowed in 2008, Schwarzenegger was in his second term as governor of California. It felt like Satan might have won after all.
Out of all the movies here, I was most terrified to revisit The Sixth Sense, mostly because I have hazy but pleasant millennial memories of this one, and I didnít want to shatter the illusion that there was once a time when M. Night Shyamalan directed great films. My perceptions remain mostly intact: Shyamalan sometimes approaches that fine line of bullshit thatís overwhelmed his most recent films (stilted dialogue, showy photography, overwrought manipulation) but stops short enough for you to realize something that gets lost in the shadow of its famous climactic twist: this is actually a great horror movie, one thatís exquisitely paced (the ďI see dead peopleĒ revelation doesnít come until about halfway through) and genuinely spooky at times. Most importantly, the horror resonates through the characters and performances, particularly Bruce Willis (remember when he was always fully-invested?), whose weary, detached turn perfectly captures the lonely, existential terror of a dead man walkingóeven if heís not aware of it.
Jason Statham plays like fourth fiddle in this, the last John Carpenter film to receive a wide theatrical release in over a decade (shouldnít there be legislation in Congress forbidding this?). His macho shtick is particularly intriguing within this context, as itís subverted at nearly every turn by Carpenterís conception of a matriarchal society; heís practically reduced to a pathetic poon-hound here desperately chasing after a woman sporting bigger balls than he does. Because Ghosts of Mars reeks of Carpenter playing his Greatest Hits (itís Assault on Precinct meets The Thing meets Prince of Darkness on fuckiní Mars), the film feels easily dismissible but to do so overlooks its few wrinkles, such as its clever structure (itís predicated on mounds upon mounds of flashbacks) and the fact that Carpenter makes a badass duo out of Natasha Henstridge and Ice Cube. When is Sly going to call up those two?
Speaking of Stallone, he found himself mired in a half-decade slump starting with this effort, a somewhat unexpected turn of events since he was coming off career-best work in Cop Land two years earlier. Its going into production in 1999 but not seeing actual release in the US until 2002 portends doom, but Eye See You (aka D-Tox) isnít aggressively horrible so much as itís formulaic and a little dull despite its star power. Joining Stallone is an impressive roster boasting the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Charles Dutton, Tom Berenger, Robert Patrick, Sean Patrick Flannery, Dina Meyer, and Courtney Vance, most of whom get locked up in a detox clinic for traumatized cops. Sly lands himself there after losing his wife to a serial cop-killer, only to see history repeat when his fellow patients are knocked off one-by-one. In keeping with its dreary, icy atmosphere (itís set in the dead of a Midwest winter), Eye See You is a frigid and distant whodunit that degenerates into a tedious stalk-and-slash. With such a solid concept and a great cast, it still leaves you wishing for moreókind of like The Expendables.
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