With Scary Movie 5 currently tainting our multiplexes, Starburst explores the infuriatingly unstoppable trend in genre parodies…
April 12th saw the release of the fifth Scary Movie, a series more indomitable than the very movies it parodies. Scary Movie has now outlived the Saw and Scream franchises. It shows no sign of stopping either, even as lead actress Anna Faris calls it a day. “Hang on - five Scary Movies?” you say, incredulously. “Surely you can't be serious”. Deadly serious. And don't call us Shirley. Airplane! has a lot to answer for. And not just for those people making that tired gag every time someone starts a sentence with the word “surely.”
To be fair though, the first Scary Movie (2000) is actually mildly amusing, in its own bawdy, unsophisticated kind of way. It spoofs the plot of the early Scream movies, with Anna Faris in the Sidney Prescott role and the Wayans Brothers making cock and weed jokes from the sidelines. They have their own little industry going on there, as one does the knob gags, the other fielding the drugs talk. The Blair Witch Project (1999) and I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) are also in the firing line, alongside Budweiser commercials and a cruel impression of David Arquette. Many comedy fans will balk at the constant barrage of penile jokes and waves of bodily fluids, but there is a good time to be found there if you like that sort of thing. Faris throws herself into it with admirable enthusiasm, and even the Wayans brothers aren't too bad. This is their comedy work at its most tolerable. Rather this than Little Man, any day.
2001’s sequel offered more of the same, although the formula was already beginning to wear thin. Tim Curry slums it in a spoof of The Haunting (1999) while a man with a deformed hand is the butt of most of the jokes. James Woods also turns up in a sketch inspired by The Exorcist – one of the few times a Scary Movie has bothered to look further than the past ten years for a movie reference. There's also a Charlie's Angels (2000) fight scene, because writer Keenen Ivory Wayans must have run out of scary movies to put in his Scary Movie. This would only get worse over time.
By the third film in 2003, the creators of Scary Movie realised that the only people who would want to see a Scary Movie 3 were either twelve year old or worryingly immature. The movie's milder 12A rating in the UK reflects this, allowing an audience too young to have seen the first film to hop on board. Scary Movie 3 does score a coup though, in its casting of genuine spoof stars Leslie Nielsen and Charlie Sheen (Hot Shots). It's a spoof of movies such as 2002’s The Ring and Signs, although the series' habit of sneaking in non-horror references begins to become more apparent. Most notably, an 8 Mile sequence starring Simon Cowell. Well, Cowell's television work is pretty scary if you care at all about the music industry and artistic integrity and things like that. Scary Movie 3 most definitely does not care about artistic integrity. It's even more depressing in that it was directed by David Zucker, who brought us Airplane! and the Naked Gun films. How the mighty have fallen. See also: Leslie Nielsen.
With its depressing success, another sequel was inevitable. Scary Movie 4 (2006) spoofs Saw, The War of the Worlds, The Village. Its non-horror references include Brokeback Mountain (a scary movie only if you're a homophobe) and Deuce Bigalow (scary if you like comedy) with the indefatigable Anna Faris and Charlie Sheen returning.
Sheen returns again for Scary Movie 5, but Faris has opted to sit this one out. For her sake, we hope that she never comes back. She deserves so much better. The plot of Scary Movie 5 promises to spoof such topical targets as the Paranormal Activity franchise (now five years old) and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Expect plenty of references to non-horror movies, racial stereotypes, Lindsay Lohan and a joke they stole from 2006’s Idiocracy (actually, the target audience for Scary Movie 5). At least Charlie Sheen appears to be having a good time. If this is what “winning” looks like, then we’re quite happy being losers.
By itself, the Scary Movie franchises offers a lot of reasons to be depressed at the state of modern comedy. But that's not nearly it. In addition to Scary Movie 5, we also have the bafflingly named 30 Nights of Paranormal Activity with the Devil Inside the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Marlon Wayans' own A Haunted House to look forward to this year. We find it hard to believe that this is the same Marlon Wayans who starred in Requiem for a Dream. How does a man go from that to White Chicks in a matter of years? Requiem for a Dream makes for pretty odd viewing if you're only familiar with Wayans from his 'comedy' work. Both movies look awful, replacing jokes and plots with references and faux-offensive humour. Well, the approach has worked well so far for Family Guy, actually one of the worst things on television - but no one seems to have noticed because “hey, remember that one time, when I was Lindsay Lohan's left boob?” Its trilogy of Star Wars spoofs is just as bad as any Movie Movie (worse, if you happen to hate Seth MacFarlane's smug voice as much as this writer).
With the popularity of Twilight, it was inevitable that a spoof couldn't be far behind. Not one but two followed, in Vampires Suck (2010) and, even worse, Breaking Wind (2011). Vampires may suck, but this first spoof sucked even more – mostly because it's like watching Twilight all over again, only with the occasional dumb joke thrown in there every now and then. It takes a special kind of toothlessness to attack a sitting duck like the Twilight franchise and not draw blood. Maybe the filmmakers realised that they could make more money if their film wasn't too offensive to fans of the series. Breaking Wind is more adult and a little more willing to upset the fanbase, but still manages to be worse.
The very worst of this new breed of post-Scary Movie spoofs is the 300 inspired Meet the Spartans (2008). In fact, it’s widely regarded as one of the worst movies of all time, period. Meet the Spartans doesn't stop at parodying 300, but manages to take in everything else that was popular at the time too – from Ghost Rider to Rocky Balboa through to the Transformers and Shrek the Third. Its title of worst parody movie ever shouldn't distract from Date Movie (2006), Epic Movie (2007), Disaster Movie (2008) or Superhero Movie (2008) though, which are only marginally less awful. The latter stars Leslie Nielsen in a spoof of Spider-Man, but without any passion for the genre, it feels as soulless as the rest. The only laughs come from Nielsen, although it's a shame to see him waste his considerable talents on such a soulless bore. The Wolverine lookalike on the poster is admittedly quite good though.
Parodies can be good of course, which is what makes the cheap and lazy cash-ins hurt even more. Airplane! is the classic of the genre, offering an eminently quotable script and a masterful performance from the then serious actor Leslie Nielsen. The movies which followed weren't too bad either – Neilsen's Naked Gun movies are tremendously entertaining. His 1995 film Dracula: Dead and Loving It (a spoof of the Francis Ford Coppola adaptation) is less successful, although it does have a great cast in Nielsen, Steven Weber and Peter MacNicol. Director Mel Brooks is a lot of fun as Van Helsing. He made much better spoof movies in Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs, Men in Tights, High Anxiety and Young Frankenstein, but Dead and Loving It (his weakest) is still far better than any Scary Movie. He realises that a reference in itself is not a punchline. That's why Blazing Saddles is one of the funniest movies of all time, and Scary Movie is a side-note, at best.
Charlie Brooker proved that there's life in the old dog yet, with his TV police procedural spoof A Touch of Cloth. The Simpsons have given us some of the finest parodies ever in their Treehouse of Horror episodes. It's the films and television series that actually seem to care about the things they're spoofing which work best. Scary Movie, Superhero Movie and their ilk can't even be bothered to look past the latest YouTube viral for inspiration, whereas a movie like Shaun of the Dead is so steeped in passion and reverence that it barely classifies as a spoof. Sure, if you throw enough jokes at the wall, some of them are bound to stick – but you have to try with at least some of them.
At this point, the Scary Movie series is a spoof of itself.
SCARY MOVIE 5 is in cinemas now. Don’t even f***ing think about going to see it - they’ll only make more.
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