Collins’ Crypt: Dimension Has Made Some Good Movies Too

Brian takes a look at the alarmingly brief list of good Dimension horror films.

For the past seventeen years or so, Dimension Films has been known among movie fans for two things. First, they're admirably a primary source of genre releases, with only a few exceptions (mostly Robert Rodriguez's stuff) to an otherwise exclusive output of horror or sci-fi films. Since most studios limit their genre output to one or two films a year, it's sort of comforting to know that as long as Dimension is around, horror fans won't be starved.

The other thing that they're known for is somehow fucking up every single one of those movies.

You might think that they would have been fine at first but eventually let greed and other factors get in the way after a string of successes, but no - they've pretty much been screwing with their movies from the start. 1995's Halloween: The Curse Of Michael Myers was one of their first big releases, and it was plagued by the same sort of hasty re-shoots and re-edits that would botch Scream 4 in 2011. One anecdote from that Hallloween sequel (the first under Dimension) involved rewriting a key scene involving Donald Pleasence's character of Dr. Loomis to accommodate the new plot points, with the writer having to deal with an unusual crutch: Pleasence had since died and thus could not shoot new dialogue. So the other actor in the scene (Mitch Ryan) had to deliver all new lines that would still (sort of) make sense to the responses Pleasence had shot months before under a completely different context. Unsurprisingly, it didn't quite work.

And now they've gone and messed up again, commissioning a sequel to one of their few successes in recent years (Piranha 3D) with the dream team of the trio behind the insane/disgusting/awesome Feast movies, and using actual 3D cameras (the first was a post-convert, and not a very good one) for Piranha 3DD. However, it was made on roughly a quarter of the budget of the first, and then they further damned it by dumping it on 80 screens with hardly any advertising whatsoever. That it actually managed to make $180,000 or so over its opening weekend is somewhat of a surprise - they made it so hard to find the damn thing (only one theater in Los Angeles is playing it) that it's a wonder it avoided breaking Zyzzyx Rd's record for low box office.

But they HAVE gotten a few things right over the years, believe it or not. Nowadays they're more likely to greenlight another DTV Hellraiser or Children of the Corn sequel than an original movie, but there was a time where that was not the case. And since I like to be nice whenever I can, I've compiled a few (not all) of their genre highlights, where they seemed to either be smart enough to leave the productions alone or simply were too busy fucking up other movies at the time.

The Prophecy (1995)

One thing that is common among most Dimension films is the lack of any big ideas or strong characters. "Fun" seems to be what they're going for more often than not, eschewing wacky things like "character development" or "a coherent plot" in order to get to the next kill scene, but The Prophecy is a wonderful exception. Telling the tale of opposing angels seeking a particular soul on Earth than can help turn the tide of a war brewing in heaven, it's low on action but big on dialogue, and has a terrific cast: Elias Koteas, Virginia Madsen, Viggo Mortensen and of course Christopher Walken, in one of his all time best roles as the vengeful angel Gabriel, who would return in two lesser (but not without merit) sequels. Fans of the "angels" storyline that began in Supernatural's fourth season should definitely seek it out - I suspect the film was a huge influence.

From Dusk Til Dawn (1996)

Kicking off a nearly exclusive partnership with Robert Rodriguez, this action/horror epic hasn't aged a day. I recently hosted a revival screening at the New Beverly and it remains every bit as fun and impressive as it did in January of 1996, where it was released to decent box office (enough for two mostly terrible DTV sequels, at least) and even better reviews. Most of that interest was probably courtesy of Quentin Tarantino's script, as it was his first full work (let's all forget Four Rooms, shall we?) since Pulp Fiction and thus folks were eager to see how his style would apply to a horror film. With an impressive cast that mixed the acclaimed (Harvey Keitel, George Clooney) with the adored (B-movie legends like Fred Williamson and John Saxon), it's a love letter to the genre and its fans, all the more impressive considering it's from a studio that would increasingly show a total lack of respect to both. Rodriguez has made almost every film he's done since for the studio (partnered with his own Troublemaker Studios), and creative/box office highs and lows notwithstanding, he seems to be the only major filmmaker to continually have a good relationship with them, allowing for fan-pleasing efforts like Grindhouse and Sin City that otherwise would have been mangled by the Weinsteins.

Scream (1996)

Well that's a no-brainer. The film didn't open too well (lower than "duds" like Halloween 6, in fact), but word of mouth turned this into a sleeper hit we rarely see anymore, becoming the first slasher (or Wes Craven) film to ever break the $100 million barrier at the box office. And as a bonus: it was good! Some of the humor has dated, but Kevin Williamson's clever and suspenseful script has held up quite well, and none of the imitators that followed presented as good of a whodunit mystery; Williamson himself couldn't even come close with I Know What You Did Last Summer, in fact. The sequels were plagued with various problems (though Scream 2 turned out mostly okay, perhaps because there wasn't much time for Bob Weinstein to second guess his vastly more creative director and writer given the mad rush to make it into theaters a year after the original), but in a way that just helps further demonstrate what a great film this is, and how sadly rare you can say that about anything in the Dimension canon.

1408 (2007)

Expectations could not be lower for this one: a PG-13 Dimension adaptation of a Stephen King short story? I had figured that if it was even watchable it would be a miracle, but it turned out to be a pretty solid haunted house thriller. John Cusack admirably carried what was essentially a one man show (Samuel L. Jackson's role was a glorified cameo, despite his equal prominence in the marketing), and even though it mostly takes place in a single hotel room, director Mikael Håfström kept things visually exciting throughout its 100 minute runtime. And audiences seemed to agree; to date it remains not only one of the company's biggest grossers (impressive considering it was released in a crowded summer market), but the highest grossing Stephen King horror movie (not factoring inflation, though it still places high even with that).

The Mist (2007)

Two great Stephen King adaptations from Dimension in the same year! While not nearly as successful at the box office as 1408, Frank Darabont improved greatly on King's original "short" story (it's 130 pages long), dropping the idiotic sex scene between David and Amanda and adding a shocking, bittersweet ending that hammered home (a bit too thickly, according to some) the story's themes. Nearly five years later, I'm still amazed that a movie with such a grim finale was able to get a wide release (during the holidays no less), particularly from a studio that shapes and molds films based on popular trends and what can make them the most money. Darabont sadly hasn't made a feature since, but if he never leaves the TV world again, at least he went out on a high note.

Now, again, this is not all of their high marks, and when pressed I can even defend a few of their missteps, such as the enjoyably mean-spirited Black Christmas remake. They've also acquired a few foreign flicks for distribution such as Wolf Creek and Inside, which is admirable (more so than Darkness, another acquisition which they hacked to pieces and dumped to theaters on Christmas Day). Then there's The Others, a big hit and well regarded horror film that was a Spanish co-production (and thus probably not as prone to Weinstein-ian meddling). And there are some great movies they made and then dumped, like Below.

But the above are pretty much it if we're only considering films that were seemingly left alone during production, and were met with above average critical and/or audience acclaim. However, it's troubling to think of how many of their mangled movies could have been on this list if not for their wacky demands and meddling - could Guillermo Del Toro's Mimic been as highly regarded as his later films like Devil's Backbone? Could Cursed have been the next Scream? We'll never know. All we do know is this - their current financial troubles, mixed with their focus on reboots and sequels to their existing properties, does not bode well for any future film bearing their logo. I suspect that if I were to first write this article a few years from now that I'd be singling out the same movies. Hopefully I am proven wrong.

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