Sunday, February 16, 2014

Stan Helsing (2009) and a Little Bit on Movie Expectations

Sometimes, all I ever hear about a movie is how bad it is.  That is, if I ever hear about the movie at all.  I hear how much people dislike the movie, how it fails at everything it attempts, how unfunny any of the jokes are, how the scares do anything but scare, how the drama is weightless, the acting poor, etc.  I basically hear about anything bad about the bad movies.  I’ll hear about how I should never see the movie.  I should never think about seeing the movie.  I should see something good instead.  But you know me.  I’ll watch a bad movie any day of the week, and many times I’ll enjoy it.

One of the movies that I’ve received this kind of description about is Stan Helsing.  That’s right, Stan Helsing.  I’m not writing about Van Helsing.  I’m writing about Stan Helsing.  It’s the 2009 Bo Zenga directed comedy about Stan (Steve Howey), a descendent of the famous Van Helsing.  One night, on the way to a party, he stops for a movie delivery and gets trapped in a town full of slasher movie villain knockoffs.  Along for the adventure with Stan are Nadine (Diora Baird), Teddy (Kenan Thompson), and Mia (Desi Lydic).

I try to go into every movie with an open mind, but Stan Helsing was a tough one to do that with.  All I had heard about the movie was negativity.  Usually that doesn’t affect me in any way whatsoever.  If I hear overly bad things about a movie, I still go in hoping to like a movie.  That doesn’t matter.  When I looked up the movie, my hopes started to go down.  It seemed to be a parody/spoof film focused upon the slasher films that were popular throughout the 80s and early 90s.  That made me a little bit worried because most of the movies in that subgenre have turned out badly in the past fifteen years or so.  I’ve only liked a handful of the numerous spoofs released since the first Scary Movie.  They don’t make me feel too confident in what I’m about to watch.

Watching Stan Helsing, I came to the realization that it’s not quite the parody that I thought it was going to be.  Yes, there are many references to pop culture, and it has the same sense of humour as many of the other spoofs that have been made in the past fifteen years.  I will say that much.  But when it came to the story, it didn’t feel like a beat-by-beat rip-off of another movie with comedy added in.  It seemed to be its own thing, making a comedic sendup to the horror villains of decades past.  I appreciated that much.

That didn’t help make the first half of Stan Helsing good, however.  The humour that the majority of recent spoofs and parodies share isn’t a kid of humour that makes me laugh.  They play upon the idea of what is popular in the moment.  The jokes come from recognition rather than actually being funny.  That’s a major problem when trying to create a comedy that will age well and be remembered in future generations.  It’s hard to make a memorable comedy when all of the jokes are based on the pop culture fads of when the movie is made.  The first half of Stan Helsing seems to be trying to play upon the same sort of ground that other spoofs and parodies play on.  It’s all the setup for the horror icons and the movies that they are from, though they couldn’t get the licensing and had to change the names to joke names.  It feels like they are forcing in all of the pop culture references in an attempt to get people to laugh out of recognition.  This half of the movie is exactly what I feared that the movie would be.  It’s an unfunny reference regurgitation machine.

Then I got to about halfway through the movie.  The number of references being thrown into the movie dropped exponentially.  It became more about the story and less about pop culture.  It was about four friends stuck in a scary situation.  It was about the four of them trying to get out of a little town safely.  It became a movie and not a series of unrelated half-jokes.  The movie tightened up in a way I wasn’t expecting and I ended up enjoying the back half.  I laughed, I didn’t cry, and I had an all-around good time.

The thing that most worked in the second half of the movie was the performances.  Whereas the first half got bogged down in the setting up of all of the references, the rest of the movie was able to let the actors shine in their roles.  From Steve Howey as the reluctant hero that had to go from being the slacker to showing his inner heroism, to Desi Lydic playing an airhead who has gotten herself into too many sexual dangers, each actor brought exactly the right ingredients to their role.

In the end, I’m not sure that I can agree or disagree about whether Stan Helsing is as bad as people say it is, or if it isn’t.  It has parts that are surely as dour as the impression that people tried to give me.  There were also parts of the movie that I truly liked and would say make the movie not the atrocity that people claimed.  I would watch it again.  I’ll say that much.  That has to mean something.

Movies are all up to the opinion of the person watching them.  The opinions of other people shouldn’t influence what you think of a movie.  The problem is that they do.  In a world where everyone can easily put their thoughts and feelings about anything out on the internet, or in text messages, or anywhere, it’s hard to avoid going into a movie without any impressions on what it will be like.  Try as hard as you can, it’s nearly impossible to prevent that influence.  Watching a movie can change these impressions.  That’s what I found in this case.
There are some notes to make before I’m done:

  • Ben Cotton plays one of the monsters in Stan Helsing.  He was also in The Marine 3: Homefront, which we covered in the 30th post of the Sunday “Bad” Movies.
  • John DeSantis plays a monster in Stan Helsing.  He was in Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever.
  • Other parody/spoof films I’ve covered for the Sunday “Bad” Movies include 30 Nights of… I don’t want to type it all and A Haunted House.
  • Stan Helsing was suggested by @TheTalkingCan.
  • If you have any suggestions for future Sunday “Bad” Movies, leave a comment.  I like comments.  Or you could tell me on Twitter.  I do look there too.

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