In 1973, director Robin Hardy teamed up with writer Anthony Shaffer to create one of the genuinely creepiest horror movies of all time. (Cinefantastique called it ‘the Citizen Kane of horror movies.’) In 2006, director Neil LaBute and actor Nicolas Cage decided to pee all over one of the masterpieces of 1970’s British filmmaking. (Good job, Nic.)
The original movie starred Edward Woodward, (best known as 1980’s TV icon, ‘The Equalizer,’) as Sergeant Neil Howie. After an anonymous letter reporting the disappearance of a girl from the remote island of Summerisle, Howie is dispatched to find out what happened. What he encounters is a cult believing in re-incarnation, worshipping the sun, fertility rituals and dancing naked in your bedroom to invoke spirits to do your bidding. (That last one only applies if your name is Britt Ekland.) The more investigating Howie does, the more he comes to believe that perhaps the girl was sacrificed. Covertly taking part in the May Day festivities, Howie comes to realize what has truly happened and how he was the fool all along. (He also is forced to suffer Christopher Lee laughing and pointing at him, which can’t be fun.)
The remake has a few changes. First off, the movie is set off the coast of Washington state. Nicolas Cage is a cop that people like. (Howie wasn’t the cool guy on the force.) And Ellen Burystn played the Lee role. Oh and it isn’t scary like the original, it’s just kind of boring.
Maybe you’re more of a visual kind of person. Okay, I’ll play along. One of these images is scary and creepy:
Can you guess which one? Take your time, I’ll wait.
The remake has a few changes. Nicholas Cage plays the police officer investigating the girl’s disappearance. His name is Edward Malus. He’s got guilt for not trying to save a different girl at a car accident and he feels just awful about it and blah, blah, blah. The usually excellent Ellen Burystn plays the leader of the cult, the role played by Christopher Lee in the original. And it’s kind of boring. Leelee Sobieski, Frances Conroy and Kate Beahan all co-star.
The main problem with the movie is that it’s not scary. The original, was a masterpiece of growing tension and suspense. The cult that Howie discovered was creepy and disturbing. Here, it’s a bunch of chicks out in the woods and even though there are old blind sisters, and all the kids have the same haircut, it’s not scary. It’s annoying.
Nicholas Cage doesn’t play confused or scared very well. In fact, his only solution to this acting quandary is to yell a lot. By the end, even if you haven’t seen the original, you’re waiting for the Wicker Man to show up and kind of hoping that somehow you’ll be taken along. (You might be dead, but hey, you won’t be watching the movie anymore. See? There’s always a bright side.)
It’s a shame. Neil LaBute is an excellent writer. I loved ‘In the Company of Men.’ ‘Your Friends and Neighbors,’ and ‘The Shape of Things,’ are brilliant and underrated. However, when LaBute is given a lot of money and a vast canvas to work with, he continually drops the ball. I didn’t get ‘Nurse Betty.’ LaBute seems to work best when he’s confined. His stage plays are amazing. However, yet again, LaBute overreaches his step. I mean, one of the great horror films of all time? Why, Neil, why? -Sam