Daniel Stamm is a twisted dude, and I mean that in the most complimentary way.
When I asked the director of the horror films “13 Sins” and “The Last Exorcism” whether he’d be interested in doing a Five Most list for my website for Halloween, not only did he say yes immediately, he also immediately had a topic in mind: his favorite unhappy endings. So it’s all tricks and no treats here.
Usually I like to limit the lists to five selections, because making the tough choices is what makes the game fun. But Stamm picked seven, which I’m OK with because they’re all so varied and inspired. So enjoy, with my thanks to Stamm for taking the time — but be warned, there be spoilers ahead.
“Se7en” (1995): “What’s in the boooox?!” I read somewhere that the studio didn’t want to shoot the draft with the box, and David Fincher didn’t want to shoot anything but. It took Brad Pitt to threaten to quit unless Fincher would get his box, and so he did. On the DVD commentary, they are talking about an alternative ending that I always liked: When Morgan Freeman’s character realizes that he can’t keep Pitt from shooting John Doe, he pulls out his gun and does it himself, sparing the younger cop decades in prison and sacrificing himself. You know you have a dark movie when this is the ending that “wasn’t enough of a sucker punch” to make it into the film.
“The Mist” (2007): Like “Se7en,” this also is a movie where the director and the studio battled over the ending. Frank Darabont allegedly agreed to having his budget cut in half in exchange for the studio not to mess with it. He should have a sticker on the back of his car that says MY FILM’S ENDING COULD KICK YOUR FILM’S ENDING’S ASS. And it could. I don’t think I have ever seen a more uncompromising one.
“Layer Cake” (2004): This one is deep: Daniel Craig’s character is a bad-ass who doesn’t only beat the mob, he becomes top dog, only to walk out and give it all the finger. He’s invincible. He is in the middle of a heroic voiceover that wraps it all up when he gets shot by some nobody we hardly remember whose girlfriend he screwed along the way. The camera pulls up as he bleeds out on the stairs. All hail the little guy’s bite.
“The Cabin in the Woods.” (2012): If the ending of “Layer Cake” is about the little things that fuck you up, “The Cabin in the Woods” is about the big ones. It’s a rollercoaster of bigger bigger bigger. There was really only one place to go with the ending, and that was into epic megalomania – which they did gloriously. I love Lionsgate for protecting this movie’s secrets instead of giving them away in the trailer, even though they probably paid a steep price for it at the box office.
“Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” (2003): This ending always stuck with me because it is so odd. Some mentor figure sends young John Connor out to prevent the rise of the machines. It takes him the entire film to get where he was told to go. It turns out he’s been tricked: The catastrophe cannot be prevented, and instead he’s been led to a nuclear bunker to survive it. The whole thing was a bluff so he wouldn’t insist on fighting and dying. It’s a cool idea. But it also means that you could cut the entire movie out of the franchise entirely and nobody would notice it was ever there, as far as the overall story and mythology are concerned. Hmm.
“Videodrome” (1983): Speakking of deceptive mentor figures, here’s a far more vicious one. I remember being a teenager and sitting in a house in Belfast during a stormy night, being utterly confused when the movie is suddenly over after James Woods was just about to go to battle. I must have been staring at the credits rolling in front of me for a good minute before it finally hit me what had happened. Goosebumps.
“The Blair Witch Project” (1999): It’s so masterfully done: They (dismissively) talk about a gruesome piece of mythology early on, give you enough time to forget about it, then have you remember it when you slowly recognize the visual of the kid in the corner. It’s straight out of a nightmare. Eduardo Sanchez, one of the two directors, told me they didn’t have an ending until someone came up with it on the day. Thank God someone did.