2004 Summer Horror Preview

2004 Summer Horror Preview
What to see this summer.
Updated: 07-16-2004

When we think of summer movies, we conjure up images of buttered popcorn by the vat, dozens of eye-dazzling explosions on a giant screen, guys with huge guns yelling “Yippee ki-yay, motherf—er”, and, of course, bikini-clad blondes somewhere on a sandy beach sipping syrupy tropical drinks.

What we don’t usually associate with the sunny days of summer, fun in the sun, and August blockbuster bucks, are horror movies. But rest assured — they’re out there, hiding in plain sight. You just might have to get a little creative with what your definition of horror is, if you want to get the chills this summer.



Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Scary Setting: Dark Fantasy, Monsters, Adventure

Plot: Bespectacled teen wizard Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), and his friends, wimpy Ron (Rupert Grint) and sassy Hermione (Emma Watson), return for their third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where the trio are forced to face their darkest fears as they confront a dangerous escaped prisoner (Gary Oldman as Sirius Black), and the deadly dementors. (A dementor’s kiss will suck out a person’s soul… not unlike a faceless, less-endowed Anna Nicole Smith).

Prediction: While the first two Harry Potter movies were fun and sometimes spooky (but not particularly scary), Prisoner of Azkaban is based on one of the darkest books in the series and instead of Chris “Stepmom” Columbus, Alfonso Cuaron, an edgy Mexican director, is at the helm. Warner Brothers might be taking a chance in messing with success, but I think Cuaron is a really bold, interesting choice and I’m sure I’m not the only one eager to see what he’ll bring to the franchise.


Scary Setting: Mystery, Serial Murders, Creative Killings

Plot: On a remote island, the FBI has a training program for their psychological profiling division called the Mindhunters. These elite trainees are learning how to track down serial killers under the hard line tutelage of their commander, Jake Harris (Val Kilmer). The exercise goes horribly wrong when the group of seven young agents discover that one of them is an actual serial killer, and is dead set on slaying each of them using their greatest fears against them. (Luckily, not one of these potential carcasses has the #1 fear among most people: public speaking.)

Prediction: A strong cast (Jonny Lee Miller, Christian Slater, Eion Bailey, Clifton Collins Jr., Kathryn Morris) and a good schlock/shock director, Renny Harlin, keep the pace blistering as the bodies pile up, meeting their makers in some very ingenious ways. However, with the lack of success from Harlin’s and Kilmer’s last few films and the fact that it’s opening against Harry Potter, I’d be surprised if Mindhunters stays in the minds of moviegoers for very long.


The Chronicles of Riddick

Scary Setting: Science Fiction, Action, Alien Zombies

Plot: Four years after Pitch Black hit theaters and we got our first good look at Vin Diesel’s ripped bod, he’s back for another round in the sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick. While Pitch Black focused on ravenous monsters that thrived on the disorientation of darkness, Riddick focuses on, well, Riddick. The story picks up five years later, as the convict with the ability to see perfectly in the dark finds himself caught in the middle of a galactic war between two opposing forces. Riddick gets caught up in a battle over the future of all beings in the galaxy, both living and dead. (Space zombies? Nobody’s confirmed this possibility, but wouldn’t that be cool?).

Prediction: David Twohy did a great job with The Arrival and with Pitch Black when it came to shaking out the scares, but his latest foray into the horror genre, Below, was more than below par. Whether The Chronicles of Riddick spawns another sequel will depend on the almighty box office dollar.

The Stepford Wives

Scary Setting: Black Comedy, Camp, Science Fiction, a Beautiful Beheading (rumored)

Plot: A remake of the 1975 cult favorite (which was adapted from Ira Levin’s very popular novel), The Stepford Wives lets us into the seemingly idyllic lives of Joanna (Nicole Kidman) and her husband (Matthew Broderick). They’ve just moved to the beautiful upper-class suburb of Stepford, where nothing is as it seems. Joanna thinks the wives living in the neighboring houses seem to be too perfect with bland, insipid, overly agreeable personalities. Could they be as robotic as they seem? Could Joanna’s own husband have the same fate planned for her? (Sheesh, isn’t she already the perfect woman? Now, had they cast Rosanne Barr and then turned her into Nicole Kidman, they would have had something a little more believable.)

Prediction: While I think Kidman is even better cast as Samantha Stevens in the upcoming Bewitched, I think she’ll be wonderful in The Stepford Wives. With a supporting cast boasting the likes of Bette Midler and Christopher Walken, I don’t see how this one could possibly miss. However the director, Frank “Yoda” Oz, has admitted to doing some re-shoots to help tighten up the plot. That’s never a good sign.



Scary Setting: Mystery, Supernatural, Angry Ghosts

Plot: A teenage girl (Anna Paquin) moves into a remote countryside house with her family, only to discover that their gloomy new home has a horrifying past that threatens to destroy the family (Lena “Queen of the Damned” Olin plays the mom). Evil lurks, quite literally, in The Shadows. (I always knew that 50s doo-wop band was up to no good!)

Prediction: Darkness, a Spanish film shot in English, has been floating around the world film festival circuit for a year or so now and the buzz has been strong. However, since Darkness relies on slow psychological horror and has few or no special effects, it may not have enough bite to entice summer audiences away from boy-power spectacles like Harry Potter or Riddick.



I, Robot

Scary Setting: Science Fiction, Robots Run Amuck

Plot: This film is based upon elements from all nine of the stories in the “I, Robot” anthology by sci-fi royalty, Isaac Asimov (1920-1992). Set on Earth in the not-too-distant future, robots are commonplace as assistants and workers for their human owners. When “roboto-phobic” Chicago Police Detective, Del Spooner (Will Smith) has to investigate the murder of a U.S. Robotics employee, it turns out that a machine might be the culprit. But robots are docile and programmed never to harm us… or are they? (I don’t know; let’s get it straight from the horse’s mouth and ask Al Gore.)

Prediction: I, Robot, starring the family-friendly Smith, may have some crossover appeal for horror fans as its director is Alex Proyas, the master of gothic dark and dreary favorites like Dark City and The Crow.


The Village

Scary Setting: Suspense, Monsters, Thriller

Plot: Covington, PA., is a quiet 19th century town surrounded by a lush forest where strange but unseen creatures live. The people of Covington have always had agreement with these creatures: Do not to come to our village, we will not come to your woods. But impetuous Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix) doesn’t think it’s fair to be confined in such a way, so he goes where no townsman has gone before – and soon, the town finds itself invaded by the angry woods creatures. (Let’s hope these baddies are at least impervious to water and that no-one “goes to bat”.)

Prediction: Directed by M. Night Shyamalan and co-starring Sigourney Weaver, this looks to be a juicy, old fashioned horror tale about things that go bump in the night.



Open Water

Scary Setting: Hungry Sharks, Suspense, Thriller

Plot: Based on the true story of a vacationing couple scuba diving and then abandoned by their careless guide in the middle of the ocean, Open Water has been described as “Jaws meets The Blair Witch Project”. Unlike Jaws or Deep Blue Sea, the film brings the horror of hungry sharks to gaping life without any special effects or a mechanical “Bruce”. The actors were actually in the water with real sharks. Bloody chum was spread around the couple to attract the prehistoric killing machines. (Now we know why unknown actors were employed!)

Prediction: People love a good shark attack, and it’s been quite awhile now that we’ve felt safe to go into the water. It’s about time that was changed!


Alien Vs Predator

Scary Setting: Science Fiction, Action, Sparring Aliens

Plot: Set in the present day, Alien Vs Predator follows a team of drillers, scientists and archaeologists led by a rich industrialist (Lance Henriksen) who travel to Antarctica to investigate ancient ruins buried deep beneath the ice, which predate those in Egypt and Mexico. When they reach their destination, they find disturbing evidence of an alien race and before long, the murderous creatures wake up for the dinner bell. (“Time for Tender Viscera!”)

Prediction: Since this movie is set in the present day, Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley character of will not be included, so that’s a bit of a letdown. However, Paul W.S. Anderson, who did a bang-up job directing Resident Evil, is at the helm so we can expect plenty of blood, guts, and alien goo.


Scary Setting: Murder, Thriller, Action

Plot: Max (Jamie Foxx) is a failed comedy writer living in L.A. who makes ends meet working as a cab driver. It’s a very bad day for Max when he figures out that the fare (Tom Cruise) he’s been driving around all day is a contract killer, committing a series of hits as the meter ticks. Instead of kicking the guy to curb, Max decides that it’s up to him to somehow stop the killer from executing the last witness (um, that would be him). (If Foxx at any point says, “Are you talking to me?” and Cruise replies, “You had me at hello,” this movie’s gonna rock.)

Prediction: With a director (Michael Mann) who can deliver unflinching violence, and a good-guy star playing against type, Collateral could very well be the blockbuster of the month.


Exorcist: The Beginning

Scary Setting: Supernatural, Thriller, Satan’s Wrath

Plot: In case the subtitle didn’t tip you off, this movie is a prequel to 1973’s The Exorcist. The story follows Father Lankester Merrin (Stellan Skarsgård) back to his first encounter with the Devil in post-World War II Africa. (They do say that Africa is hotter than hell, so I guess it all makes sense; but I would have thought Old Scratch was pretty busy in Germany in those days.)

Prediction: This movie has been, er, bedeviled, from the very beginning. Author of the Exorcist books, William Peter Blatty, has been an outspoken critic against this project since it became a project. Original director John Frankenheimer died before he could shoot a single scene. New director Paul Schrader became the old director when the version he turned in was “too cerebral”. Next new director, Renny Harlin -- never accused of being “too cerebral” -- got things “just right” (quoth Goldilocks) and hence the movie is to be unleashed in August. Later on, it’s rumored, both Schrader’s and Harlin’s versions of the movie will be released simultaneously on DVD.


Scary Setting: Thriller, Suspense

Plot: Although the name “cellular” sounds more like a scientific, physiological thriller, it’s actually the story of a young man (Chris Evans) who receives a call on his cellular phone from a woman (Kim Basinger) who says she’s been kidnapped and believe she’s going to be killed soon. The problem? She doesn't know where she is and the Samaritan’s cheap cell phone battery is about to go dead. (What do you want to bet there won’t be any product placement and sponsor dollars from a cell battery-manufacturer?)

Prediction: With the director of Final Destination 2 and the screenwriter of Phone Booth, cellular may have enough juice to entertain selected audiences but will probably lose power before month’s end.


Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid

Scary Setting: Suspense, Action, Snakes Who Swallow Humans Whole

Plot: A powerful pharmaceutical company sends a scientific team out on an expedition to the jungles of Borneo to search for a rare black orchid that, legend has it, unlocks the secrets of youth and immortality. Unfortunately, the orchid has already been discovered by the local anacondas who derive their super strength, size and vivacity from the flowers. They aren’t willing to let those posies go without a fight. (Sounds like a great Mother’s Day tie-in: “Buy mom a bouquet: each one comes with a free deadly viper!”)

Prediction: None of the original players – Jon Voight, Ice Cube, Jennifer Lopez, Owen Wilson, Eric Stoltz, or Danny Trejo – are returning. The sequel features… well, pretty much no one you’ve ever heard of. Now, do the math.

by Staci Layne Wilson for Horror.com

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