Winner: Horror Movies
They don’t always garner a lot of respect but they’re cheap to make and almost always turn a profit, sometimes without the benefit of famous faces.
In January, Texas Chainsaw marked the unwelcome return of Leatherface, the silent misfit killer who wears a makeshift human face mask stitched together with other people’s skin like a baseball. If you’re keeping track, it’s the seventh Massacre movie in the franchise’s near 40-year history. And although most reviewers detested it (including me), it made almost 35 million, a respectable sum.
That same month, the Wayans Brothers offered A Haunted House, their latest offensively unfunny horror spoof. While the first two Scary Movies mostly focused on the Scream franchise, The Exorcist and Hannibal, this one took pitiful aim at the Paranormal Activity series and The Devil Inside. Critics may have justifiably carved it up but this awful mess also found a decent-sized audience, nearly 60 million dollars worth. The film’s budget: two and a half million. As a direct result, A Haunted House 2 is slated for a March 2014 release.
Also in January, Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain (already riding high on the massive blockbuster success of the deplorable Zero Dark Thirty) starred in Mama. Guillermo Del Toro executive produced this critically acclaimed hit that generated almost 150 million in worldwide box office returns.
In March, The Last Exorcism Part II dropped into theatres. Starring the very talented Ashley Bell, who was so good in the original, it was pulverized by critics but pulled in a respectable 15 million domestically. It was made for a mere 5 million.
In April, like Mama, Evil Dead managed to appeal to both fans and critics. The remake of the overrated 1981 Sam Raimi original not only convinced a good number of international moviegoers to go see it at their local cinema it also garnered mostly positive reviews. (I’m in the opposite camp. Like Texas Chainsaw, I found it overly graphic, not terribly smart or particularly scary. It’s not an improvement over The Evil Dead which I thought was average.)
To put its commercial success into perspective, Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy (The Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn, Army Of Darkness) collectively earned close to 20 million domestically. That’s right. This one remake alone made five times as much money in the theatre as all three of these previous films combined. (And yes, a sequel is being prepped.) Despite my lack of enthusiasm for it, I did enjoy the performance of Jane Levy. The sexy, normally redheaded Los Angeles native, best known for being on the TV series Suburgatory, has a real screen presence as the troubled brunette Mia. I want to see her in a better movie. There’s something there that hasn’t been fully tapped yet.
A Haunted House wasn’t the only financially successful horror spoof of 2013. Scary Movie 5, another April release, which starred the scandal-plagued Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan, ended up making close to 80 million smackers around the world despite being one of the worst reviewed films of the year.
Then came the summer releases. The Purge, which stars Ethan Hawke, was just as bad as Texas Chainsaw and Evil Dead, as most critics like me noted back in June, but tell that to the many film fans who rushed to see it during its opening weekend. Slightly more than half of its overall North American box office take was earned in its first three days in release. (It made almost 90 million globally. Not bad for a film with a three million production budget.) Plans for a sequel are already in the works for next year.
The Conjuring surfaced in July. Not only did it become the best reviewed horror film of 2013, it was the biggest non-zombie-related hit internationally as well. It’s not often that a movie like this generates more than 300 million in global box office receipts and wins over so many hardened reviewers. Futhermore, The Conjuring is the most popular film longtime indie staple Lili Taylor has ever appeared in.
Two months later, Insidious Chapter Two debuted. Like The Purge and The Conjuring, audiences were hungry for its arrival in early September. It made 40 million in its opening weekend. Once again, critics were mostly unimpressed but filmgoers made it the second biggest non-zombified horror film of the year.
Finally, in October, Chloe Grace Moretz became the new Carrie in a remake that divided reviewers but still managed to scare up almost 80 million in international ticket sales. Good news for the appealing 16-year-old star who didn’t have as much luck with the action comedy sequel, Kick-Ass 2, earlier this summer.
As the new year approaches, Hollywood is counting on these mostly low budget fright flicks to continue to be dependable money makers, particularly during slow periods. If 2013 is any future guide, they probably have nothing to worry about.
Loser: Lance Armstrong
The incredible fallout from last year continued right into 2013.
In January, after years of publicly heated denials and endless lawsuits, the American cyclist finally admitted to Oprah Winfrey and the entire world what had finally been proven in late 2012. He cheated to win all seven of his Tour De France titles, among other celebrated accomplishments, by using various means of doping and bullied whistleblowers who dared to reveal the truth. He also claimed that shortly after the USADA’s devastating report about him and his Postal Service teammates became public, he lost 75 million in corporate endorsements in a single day. (It’s not certain how accurate that figure is.) According to this Daily Mail report, he was worth 125 million as of October last year.
Unfortunately, Armstrong only admitted to the talk show legend the bare minimum of his wrongdoing and not much else in a two-part interview taped in advance for Oprah’s Next Chapter. After the initial shock of seeing him give simple “yes” answers to Winfrey’s direct questions about his chronic rulebreaking wore off, the less-than-adversarial host left him a lot of breathing room to avoid making a full accountability for his infuriating transgressions which made for tedious viewing. A desperate Armstrong was grateful to take advantage of the wiggle room. Quite frankly, he should’ve squirmed a lot more like the worm he actually is. Nonetheless, few who watched the program or read the transcript rallied to his side, no matter how many times he cried those crocodile tears. Reviews were not kind.
Meanwhile, Armstrong continued to pay the price for his decades of misdeeds. The same month OWN aired his limited confession, the Department of Justice announced they were strongly considering joining his disgraced former teammate Floyd Landis’ three-years-and-counting False Claims Act whistleblower lawsuit against him for defrauding the American federal government out of 40 million in financial support. In February, they officially made it happen. As of this writing, it is still pending.
During that same period, the International Olympic Committee publicly demanded that Armstrong return the Bronze medal he won in 2000 after admitting to Winfrey he wasn’t clean during that event. He finally sent it back to them in October, nine months later.
Around the same time the DOJ was officially getting involved in the Landis suit, SCA Promotions was hoping to recoup the 12 million dollars it awarded him in bonuses over the years. That suit has yet to be resolved. It will most likely be settled. Confidential negotiations have been ongoing.
In May, seven months after killing Armstrong’s endorsement deal, Nike ended their long association with his anti-cancer charity, LiveStrong, which he himself was forced out of in 2012. Over the past decades, they had produced hundreds of thousands of yellow LiveStrong bracelets to raise money for cancer research which they’ve since discontinued. Plus, Armstrong appeared in countless commercials for the sportswear company. No longer.
In July, Armstrong and his lawyers came up with a remarkable defense strategy in an attempt to get the Landis lawsuit dismissed. Aside from the typical move of wanting the case thrown out because they claim the Statute of Limitations has run out, Armstrong’s legal team is trying to convince a judge that the federal government doesn’t deserve their money back or any additional damages since they should’ve known he was a drug cheat! But because they were enamoured with his celebrity and all that entailed, they didn’t bother to fully investigate him or his team. In September, the DOJ countered by saying they learned the full extent of Armstrong’s heel tactics for the first time when the USADA issued their report. So far, both sides have been unable to reach a private settlement.
In August, Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney (Taxi To The Dark Side) premiered The Armstrong Lie at the Venice Film Festival. Released in November, the film has won mostly positive reviews. (Look for it on DVD and Blu-Ray in mid-February next year.) Originally entitled The Road Back and meant to focus on the cyclist’s 2009 comeback, it was revamped to cover the fallout from the doping scandal. Armstrong is among numerous talking heads interviewed in the film.
Also in August, he settled another lawsuit, this one with the Sunday Times in the UK. Originally, Armstrong sued them in 2004 for libel and won. After the revelations in the USADA report, the Times filed a lawsuit of their own to get their money back as well as seek additional damages. It’s not clear how much money The One-Ball Wonder had to fork over to the vindicated paper.
In November, the cyclist quietly settled yet another multi-million dollar lawsuit with another pissed off insurance company, Acceptance Insurance, the day before he was scheduled to testify under oath. He also personally met with former Postal Service masseuse Emma O’Reilly, one of the many whistleblowers Armstrong defamed when he was fiercely protecting his undeservedly strong reputation. Although O’Reilly was happy to have closure, she curiously noted, “he never actually used the word sorry.”
This month, he apologized to fellow rider Christophe Bassons for threatening him during a race and scaring him out of competing altogether after the Frenchman famously penned a late 90s op-ed denouncing cycling’s drug culture. In the midst of what has been called his “reconciliation tour”, there is growing suspicion that all of these personal meetings are nothing more than a not-so-subtle plan to appeal to the USADA to get his lifetime ban from the sport lifted.
Not bloody likely. With the man whining about his destroyed reputation and reduced riches (he thinks he’s been wrongly singled out when there were other cheats; how many of them doped their way to winning 7 yellow jackets in a row, though?), empty talk about wanting to testify honestly in front of an announced independent commission (despite trying to get out of it by using the Look Forward Not Backward canard Obama perfected about American torture four years ago) and yet another recent attempt to put the blame for his fall from grace on somebody else, he better get used to being a cultural pariah.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, December 21, 2013