Terror Tuesday: Did You Know Sylvester Stallone Made A Slasher Movie?
Wait, what? Didn’t that movie come out in 1997, right around the time Stallone was reigniting his acting career in the well received Copland? It sure did. And yet (not counting doing voice-over work in Antz), Sly’s next project was D-Tox (renamed Eye See You for video), directed by Summer’s Jim Gillespie, which for all intents and purposes is a whodunit slasher movie, complete with red herrings, a throat slashing or two, and an isolated locale where the protagonists are unable to call for help. The only thing it’s missing is some gratuitous nudity.
Now, those who know about the movie (it played on 78 screens in the US, averaging 400 dollars or so per screen on its opening weekend) probably remember that it came out in 2002, after Get Carter and Driven had nailed Sly’s career coffin shut for a while. But the movie was shot and scheduled to be released in 1999, by Universal Studios no less (DEJ ultimately distributed the film). Oddly, this was the same year that Sly’s Planet Hollywood buddies also tried their hand in rare genre roles. Bruce Willis of course had the most success, playing (spoiler) a ghost in The Sixth Sense, which shot past Armageddon to become his highest grossing film of all time. Schwarzenegger, on the other hand, was met with mixed results on End Of Days, which saw the big guy fighting the Devil, both in the form of Gabriel Byrne and in a big CGI demon thing that looked like the cover of Bat Out Of Hell come to life. Some of the film feels like a traditional Arnold vehicle, such as when he takes on a team of mercenary priests (!), but it’s still an anomaly in his career, much darker than anything else he had done (both literally and figuratively, thanks to Peter Hyams’ traditionally underexposed photography and a script by Se7en’s Andrew Kevin Walker, respectively).
But whereas Arnold had dealt with Fangoria material in the past (Terminator and Predator are considered horror movies by some - they are wrong, but there it is), and Willis had always jumped around in different genres, Sly had never even come close to this sort of material since making it big in his Death Race 2000 days were seemingly behind him. The closest one might consider to be a horror film* is probably Cobra, since the film’s villains were satanic cult members, but apart from the hospital scene, nothing ever really felt scary and you don’t see car chases and shootouts that seemingly engulf entire towns in too many horror movies. But in D-Tox, apart from some quick shootouts with the killer (something Scream sort of made acceptable in horror movies), there’s nothing really “action-movie” about it. It’s a grim blend of serial killer and slasher movie through and through.
Much like Arnold in End Of Days, Sly’s character is suicidal, drinks heavily, and generally looks like shit for a good chunk of the movie. But the movie begins with him in a much healthier and jovial mood, in fact he’s just about to propose to his girlfriend. She is the only good thing in his life, which is currently consumed with finding a serial killer who targets cops. When he gets too close, the killer responds by killing said girlfriend, which sends him into the aforementioned unhealthy state. So his partner, Charles S. Dutton (Charles S. Dutton), convinces him to get help, and drives him to a detox facility for cops (run by ex-cop Kris Kristofferson), which is conveniently located in the middle of nowhere during the winter.
So we meet the fellow junkie/alcoholic/suicidal/etc cops and small staff of the facility, nearly all of whom are played by character actors you love like Robert Patrick, Tom Berenger, Robert Prosky (!), Stephen Lang, etc. And then folks start turning up dead, so Sly (rightly) assumes that the killer has shown up, and he has to figure out who it is before he wipes out everyone who isn’t him. This is part of what ingrains the film into slasher-ville; the killer has a beef with Stallone, but for some reason kills everyone BUT him, just like, say, Urban Legend or Happy Birthday To Me. Unfortunately the mystery is quite botched; there are too many goddamn characters in the movie (I think there are 15 people at the facility), which means a lot of them don’t have enough screentime to become viable suspects (Lang literally has one closeup in the entire movie), and others try too hard to be memorable. Robert Patrick, for example, is such an unflinching asshole right from the start, you know he can’t be the killer; he’s too “open”.
But hey; it’s a slasher movie with Stallone! He goes through a lot of the motions (finding dead friends, listening to the killer explain everything, rifling through records, etc) and even gives the killer a slasher death, tossing him on a tractor/thresher of some sort, not entirely unlike the one that impales Jason/Roy at the end of Friday the 13th 5. And the others all play along; Prosky has a good ol’ fashioned “Hello? Who’s there?” scene, and there’s a lot of peering around dark corners, seeing things out of the corner of their eye, etc.
It’s also very much a post-Se7en serial killer movie, in that the villain is super intelligent, amuses himself by taunting the police, and spouts a bunch of pretentious babble about the evils of the world and how he’s the sane one, generally making me long for the days when killers kept their mouths shut. And Gillespie follows suit, shooting the entire movie in dark, muted colors, and propping up nearly every corpse to be found by a horrified friend later (often wrapped in chains or hanging from the ceiling, and with their eyes gouged out or something equally unpleasant). The only difference is that it snows all the time instead of raining.
Well, obviously the film didn’t set the box office on fire. Universal sat on it for years, as Stallone’s box office clout further dwindled, and finally dumped it on DEG (whose logo remains on-screen for an exceptionally long time at the top of the film, more than likely just covering Universal’s without having to re-edit the soundtrack), who unceremoniously dumped it to DVD a short time after. Thus, it’s probably not much of a surprise that Sly hasn’t become the next Jamie Lee Curtis. Or even Bruce Willis, who followed Sixth Sense with a romantic comedy, a mob farce, a kid’s fantasy, and a superhero drama. Sly, on the other hand, retreated back to familiar territory (and later, familiar characters with Rocky Balboa and Rambo); apart from Spy Kids 3D (....) nothing has been a surprise. And that’s a shame; I would love to be in a world where a new Stallone film doesn’t necessarily mean an action movie or another Rocky. Not that D-Tox is a particularly great movie (it’s watchable and looks terrific, I’ll give it that), but perhaps if the film had been given a chance it would have inspired him to explore other genres again, instead of falling back on safe territory.
I also would have loved to see other action heroes doing horror movies. Seagal fought vampires in one of his direct to video pieces of shit (Against The Dark), but he’s barely in it and his scenes just seem like leftover action bits from any of his other films (the end of the movie even involves a ticking bomb/race against the clock scenario). And Dolph did a sort-of serial killer thriller called Jill The Ripper, but again, it was more like a traditional Dolph Lundgren action movie with some random serial killer shit tossed into it. However you feel about D-Tox, you have to admit that they catered more to a slasher/serial killer fanbase than Stallone’s, which is probably why no one had any faith in it. But had the film been a hit? Maybe Ben Affleck would have forgotten about Phantoms and pursued the male lead in Valentine. Or Jason Statham would find himself in the woods with nothing but his fists and a pack of cannibal mutants, instead of making twelve thousand movies in which his character has uncanny skills with a moving vehicle. Vin Diesel and The Rock occasionally do something different (Find Me Guilty and Southland Tales, respectively), but neither have really explored the horror genre for a while - Diesel’s first big starting role was Pitch Black, but in the sequel the horror elements were completely abandoned, and the less said about Doom, the better.
Then again, even if they were all smash hits, you can probably see why they’d be reluctant to do too many other horror films. These guys built their careers on playing tough guys, but horror; particularly slasher movies like this - usually requires a lot of vulnerability on the part of the hero; they need to be scared or it doesn’t work. Let’s face it; there are two types of male characters in 99% of horror movies; the masked killer, or the doomed boyfriend of the heroine. Neither of which are exactly enticing roles for a guy used to being the big showy star (indeed, look at Judge Dredd; Sly takes a role of a guy whose face you never see, and then makes it so he wears the helmet for about 9 seconds in the movie). But that’s more the fault of the genre than the actors; they don’t make enough movies that would require the badassery that a guy like Sly or his Tango & Cash buddy Kurt Russell brings to the table.
However, there are still male hero-heavy horror films like The Wolfman, not to mention “Men on a mission” type films that deal with the supernatural such as Season Of The Witch. Maybe if Season‘s team was all familiar guys like Nic Cage and Ron Perlman, it would have been a bigger hit; as Expendables proved, folks like to see a bunch of their heroes in one place. All we need is for another guy on Sly’s level to take another chance on a big genre project (hopefully one the studio has some faith in this time), and his peers will likely follow suit. And thus, we may once again see our beloved badasses appearing in the pages of Fangoria in something besides retrospectives or “Skeletons In The Closet” style pieces.
*Don’t make any fucking “What about Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot?” jokes. You’re all better than that.
Brian Collins watches a horror movie every single day of the week, and he writes about each and every one of them at Horror Movie A Day.