As any fan knows, in the age of the comic book movie there are as many misses as there are hits. Some of them are great and some of them are not-so-great. Of course, comics and horror have always been intertwined. Some of the earliest comic book adaptations were horror films. Movies like Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror were great early adaptations that captured the feel of that era. Even Swamp Thing, as campy as it is, still manages to be a fun and effective monster movie. The movies we’ll be looking at, for whatever reason, didn’t work on even that level. Some of them might be fun to watch as mindless entertainment, most of them don’t even go that far.
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Unlike a traditional superhero comic book movie, features based on horror comics have varying budgets and shooting schedules. You don’t typically see the biggest names from the Marvel and DC universes going straight to DVD but you do see that with franchises like The Crow and 30 Days of Night. This leads to an unpredictable outcome in terms of quality as well as production problems of all sorts. Some movies take their huge budget for granted and throw in everything plus the kitchen sink while some movies have to cut out essentially the whole story to accommodate the small budget. Whatever their reasons for failing, here are our picks for comic-based horror movies that just didn’t work.
Man-Thing is an anomaly. There’s no clear reason as to why it was made or who thought it was a good idea to make it. It’s not like Marvel had never made a straight-to-video or made-for-TV movie before, in fact it was quite the opposite. Marvel had done numerous movies, including Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD and Generation X but this was a period in which they simply couldn’t seem to get a feature film made. Man-Thing was produced during the height of Marvel’s success. They had Spider-Man and the X-Men sequels going on and were beginning to put other teams like The Fantastic Four on the screen. They were making a lot of money at the box-office, so their decision to make a movie like Man-Thing as a telefilm for the SyFy Channel is just baffling. The core concept is of a swamp monster whose touch burns those who know fear. The movie couldn’t even grasp that and turned the whole story into something more familiar to a SyFy movie to accommodate their comfort zone. Essentially, the movie plays out with people investigating a strange beast and turns the Man-Thing into a vegetable version of Bigfoot.
Blade was a big unexpected success and really, really helped to put Marvel’s film work on the map. The sequel established director Guillermo del Toro as a prominent filmmaker in the mainstream. Blade Trinity had nothing going for it that the other two films did and was a mess from virtually the very beginning. In terms of the overall story, it made a valiant effort to loop back around to the comic book that introduced Blade to begin with: Tomb of Dracula. But then it made so many radical changes to the story that it was really hard to see the point. Introducing Dracula into a Blade film makes a degree of sense. Blade is a serious vampire hunter and Dracula is the ultimate prey. And Dracula is a part of the Marvel Universe in the comics. But the movie adds a brand-new backstory revealing that Dracula is only one name this entity has been known by throughout history and he is commonly known as Drake. His true form is also a rubber-suited monster that looks more like a lobster than a vampire. There were numerous production problems including director David Goyer (who had written the first two Blade films) being completely intolerable to work with. To add insult to injury, Blade himself is only in the film for about fifteen minutes.
Here’s a baffling one. A comic book becomes an extremely successful movie, so that movie spawns more comic books, which in turn spawn action figures, a TV series and even novels. Movie tie-in books are a pretty common thing. As far as I know, however, The Crow: Wicked Prayer is the only official adaptation of a movie tie-in. It is based on the novel of the same name by Norman Patridge. People are fond of saying that every sequel after The Crow sucked and it’s impossible to pick the worst. Well, I advise those people to watch Wicked Prayer after viewing the other Crow sequels and they will begin to look like high art. Talent like Edward Furlong and David Boreanaz are wasted on a ham-fisted, budget-less effort. Tara Reid also stars. City of Angels at least has a strong visual style and Iggy Pop. Salvation has a strong story despite its noticeable lack of budget. Wicked Prayer leaves you with nothing but a bad taste in your mouth.
I know this one has its fans and I respect that, for sure. Constantine is an entertaining movie, I’ll admit that. But as a comic book adaptation it fails completely. It has nothing in common with the Hellblazer series on which it is based. A large part of that comes down to casting. John Constantine, the comic book character, was based visually on Sting. He’s a Cockney con man with a strong attitude and a dark sense of humor. He’s incredibly charming and charismatic, those are crucial character traits. Naturally, they cast Keanu Reeves. He takes the tortured aspect of Constantine’s character and turns it into the only aspect of his character. I’m not saying that’s all he knows how to play as an actor, but it’s certainly within his comfort zone. He may not look anything like the character he’s playing, but that doesn’t matter nearly as much as keeping the core of the character intact, which the whole film fails to do. The visual style of the movie is spectacular but really unnecessary for a comic that was about small, supernatural stories that could easily have been done on the budget of The Conjuring.
Spawn is such an interesting movie to look at in terms of the impact a box office failure can have. Spawn was a character created for the 1990s that quickly became the most popular comic book of the decade. People went nuts for this comic. Spawn mania swept the nation. It was a horror comic but it had action and suspense and a gritty antihero. It was the hottest comic book property in the world and kids and adults alike were eating up anything associated with it. Until the movie came out, that is. As soon as the comics and toys started selling like hotcakes, a Spawn movie became inevitable. But even though people loved it, there was a general consensus going into making the movie that it was not accessible enough for a wide audience and a lot would have to be changed. There are a lot of movies you hear about that never got made, titles like Tim Burton’s Superman Lives or James Cameron’s Spider-Man and you naturally think that there’s no way those movies would ever happen and that somebody would actually give the OK on all those horrible decisions. Spawn is the movie that exists as an example to prove that Hollywood is not above making the most misguided decisions without ever realizing it. It’s action, it’s comedy, it’s light and a romp for almost all ages. In short, it’s everything the comic isn’t. It was actually very successful when it first opened, but every week there would be less and less interest. Hopefully, the long-gestured remake will give fans the film they’ve been waiting for.