Six seasons have come and passed, but now this Sunday, May 23rd, ‘Lost’ finally comes to an end… and if this season has been any indication it’s probably going to be pretty disappointing. So, Julia Rhodes and I (William Bibbiani!) present to you our list of The Worst Endings Ever Ever, just to get into the spirit.
Just to be clear: An ending can only qualify as “bad” if the story that preceded it was actually pretty good. For example, the ending of Transformers 2 was pretty rotten, but it was consistent with the rest of the movie. That’s not a case of a bad ending, it’s a case of a bad film. In contrast, well… Here’s what we have for you:
The “Sacrilege” of The Magnificent Ambersons (dir. Orson Welles, 1942)
It’s easy to forget now that Citizen Kane is (pretty justifiably) considered “The Greatest Movie Ever Made” that despite a some love from the Oscars it was not considered a success by any means upon its release. When Orson Welles’ follow-up, an adaptation of Boothe Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons, was set to be released the studio was already pretty jumpy. Unfortunately, test audiences didn’t know what to think of Welles’ original, 132 minute cut of this tale of an old-fashioned family losing their money and their minds at the turn of the last century. It was too dark, too long, and just too… too.
RKO freaked out completely and, while Orson Welles was out of the country shooting his next project, they recut the film down to 88 minutes, with most of the footage cut from the ending. The impact is obvious. For extended sequences The Magnificent Ambersons plays at an assured, skillful pace and then BAM! It’s time to end this sucker. Oh yes! An unfortunate accident brings everyone together again for a happy ending. Only Murnau’s The Last Laugh manages to pull a bigger 180 on its audience, although Murnau was at least snarky enough to play it off effectively.
The real marvel here is that the rest of the film is so ridiculously good that even the egregious edits can’t destroy Welles’ original vision altogether. (The film is still considered one of the finest dramas ever produced.) Unfortunately, RKO was fully capable of destroying the missing footage, as was the custom at the time. So we may never know.
The “What Are They, Stupid?” Climax of Poltergeist (dir. Tobe Hooper, 1982)
I love Poltergeist. I mean, I love love LOVE Poltergeist. Tobe Hooper (and probably Steven Spielberg, if the rumors are to be believed) directed this exceptional story that brought haunted houses out of musty old cobwebbed mansions and into suburbia, and everything about the film clicked: Exceptional writing brought to life a believable, funny, loving and flawed family and exceptional direction spooked the living hell out of them with some of the best scares ever captured on celluloid.
Poltergeist was also clever enough to come up with a solution to the biggest flaw in the whole “Haunted House” genre. Namely, “Why don’t you just get out of the f***ing house?” By having the family’s youngest child kidnapped into purgatory by the eponymous poltergeists, the protagonists were forced to stay in a threatening geographic location for pretty much the entire movie. The problem is that once lovable Carole Anne (Heather O’Rourke) was rescued and the ghosts supposedly exorcised, everyone in the family decides to spend one more night just for the hell of it. Naturally, that’s when things get really bad. It’s an astoundingly clever film that ends on an astoundingly dumb note.
Still a great movie though.
The “Screw the Premise” Conclusion of Opera (dir. Dario Argento, 1987)
If it weren’t for the ending, Opera would be my very favorite Dario Argento movie. The famed Italian filmmaker hasn’t produced a great movie in a while now, but back in the 1970’s and 1980’s he was a hit machine, producing operatic horror masterpieces like The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red, Suspiria and the underrated Inferno like it was easy. Opera, as you can imagine, benefits a lot from his melodramatic cinematic style, so much so that it may qualify as his last great film… except for that ending, of course.
Betty (Cristina Marsillach) is an aspiring opera singer with a secret admirer. Since this is a Dario Argento movie, that secret admirer has a tendency to tie her up, tape needles on her eyelids to keep them open, and then make Betty watch as he (or she) murders Betty’s closest friends, lovers and co-workers. It’s a disturbing concept, and Argento is at the top of his game as he dishes out death by bloody death as the audience watches Betty, who in turn is forced to watch in horror what we paid good money to see. (Ah, irony.) The identity of the killer is revealed in one of the most bravura finales ever filmed: a little ridiculous, perhaps, but so dramatically satisfying that you don’t care. Then the killer does some horrible things and gets their comeuppance. The end, right?
Wrong. Argento then thought it was necessary to have his movie about “Terror at the Opera” end in the Swiss Alps. Why? I can’t think of a single damned reason. Neither could Orion, the original rights owners in America who refused to release the film theatrically unless Argento cut the superfluous epilogue. (Argento refused.) I suppose there’s a character beat in the finale that he was attached to, but there was no need to ignore the central conceit of the movie and drastically change locations to get there. Maybe he just wanted to go skiing?
The “Solution to All of Her Problems” in 10 Things I Hate About You (dir. Gil Junger, 1999)
Perhaps the only film to survive the post-She’s All That teen comedy boom of the late 1990s, 10 Things I Hate About You had pretty much everything going for it. A perfect cast comprised of such teen heartthrobs as Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a hilarious supporting cast full of fine actors like Larry Miller and Allison Janney, and a sparkling screenplay filled with personality and wit. It’s till funny, still sweet, and quite possibly one of the best comedies of the 1990’s. So why does the ending suck so hard?
It’s the end of a romantic comedy, so of course all of the lies have been revealed and now threaten to destroy everyone’s chance at happiness. (As a courtesy, we’ll ignore the fact that these characters are in high school and probably just going to break up in a few months matter what.) Patrick Verona (Ledger) was hired to seduce Kat (Stiles), making their entire relationship – which managed to pull the jaded female lead out of her angry cynicism – a lie. Kat’s at an all time low point, and her romantic lead put her there. So what does he do? How does he get this powerful feminist to trust not just men again, but the man who just broke her heart a couple of days ago?
He buys her that guitar she wanted. Oh sure, he used the money Joseph Gordon-Levitt paid him, but still. He tries to buy her love, and I swear it’s like the movie just suddenly gets tired of keeping these two attractive people apart because she just accepts the guitar and they get back together again, instead of bitching him out like any self-respecting person would. Sad.
The “Twist” in High Tension (dir. Alexandre Aja, 2003)
As disappointingly bad as the last few endings were, none were able to completely derail the film that preceded them. Sure, the movies didn’t exactly end on a strong note, but all of them are still considered fine films if not outright classics. In contrast, the twist ending of Alexandre Aja’s High Tension doesn’t just ruin the finale… it retroactively ruins everything that came before it.
High Tension is about two college girls visiting the country on holiday. Marie (Cecile De France) is in love with Alexa (Maiwenn Le Besco), whose family they are staying with. But they’re scarcely there a few hours when a homicidal maniac murders Alexa’s entire family, in a shocking and genuinely horrifying fashion. Then he kidnaps Alexa and runs off, never realizing that the grizzly series of events was witnessed by Marie, who now finds herself in a mad chase to save the woman she loves while trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible. At the end (obligatory SPOILER WARNING), she kills the maniac in a thrilling finale before freeing Alexa. Everything’s going to be okay… or not. It turns out that Marie was the killer all along.
WHICH DOESN’T MAKE ANY GOD DAMNED SENSE. It might only sound “iffy” if you haven’t actually seen the film, but the sequence of events that preceded this ending completely falls apart if you try to piece together the way it really happened. The real tragedy here is that before the absurd climax, High Tension could have been one of the finest horror films of the decade. Hell, had someone thought to simply stop the movie cold right before the “twist” was revealed it still would have made the upper echelon of that list. As it stands, the ending alone makes High Tension one of the most disappointing horror movies ever made. If this list were ranked, High Tension would be #1 with a stick with barbed wire wrapped around it.
The Forty-five Minute Ending of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (dir. Peter Jackson, 2003)
Don’t get me wrong. I love the Lord of the Rings movies. Return of the King is probably the best of them. I waited for two hours in line to see it at 12:01a.m., though, and by the end (at 3:40a.m.) I was drifting off. Each time it seemed the movie was going to end, nope! Here’s another ten-minute scene! And even in theaters, while enjoying the utter spectacle of the movie (which is quite incredible) and feeling a vague disappointment that the series was over, I could not for the life of me help laughing out loud when the hobbits all jumped into bed together, giggling like schoolgirls. Talk about ridiculous.
The Series Finale of “Roseanne”
I wrote recently that “Roseanne” is one of the only sitcoms I can tolerate</a>. Unfortunately, it ended in a totally intolerable way. The whole series turns out to be Roseanne’s memoirs, and she changed a few choice details—like with whom her daughters end up, her sister Jackie’s homosexuality, and husband Dan’s death of a heart attack. Sure, it’s a message that everyone wants to change their world and make it better for those around them, but come on, now. It’s just downright tacky to take a series that lasted nine seasons and basically say, “Oh, it was all a dream.” The writers disgraced what was a somewhat groundbreaking show about the people who might’ve lived next door.
The Final Scene of “Stephen King’s IT” (dir. Tommy Lee Wallace, 1990)
A few weeks ago I also wrote that Pennywise the Dancing Clown is one of horror’s most terrifying villains, and I stand by that. Clowns are scary, man. Pennywise, unfortunately, is the most comprehensible and easiest form for the entity called “It” to take. The human brain can’t grasp what “It” actually is—an ancient, destructive, nearly demonic force that feeds on human fear.
Stephen King likes to make the human mind a physical place, and IT is no exception: there’s an elaborate ceremony involving The Turtle, a benevolent, godlike force that reappears throughout King’s world; “It;” the human protagonists of the story; biting of each others’ tongues; and sex. Needless to say, the scene would be very nearly impossible to translate to film (which is why I’m suspicious of the rumors that “It” will be remade in 2011). The makers of “It,” which was an ABC miniseries confined by low budget and B-acting, used a giant, animatronic spider to represent the creature. With its underside glowing with bad special effects, its thick, hairy legs scrabbling around the characters, and its “anguished” scream, the spider scene was totally laughable even when I was nine. “Come on guys!” yells Richie, and then “ooh, shiny!” happens and he gets sucked into the “deadlights.”
This is not to say “It” is a particularly great movie, but the buildup was pretty fantastic. Pennywise is terrifying. The mummy, werewolf, and zombie little brother incarnations are ingenious—and the creature itself is perfection, a thing that can manifest your every fear. Unfortunately, the spider-thing is downright dumb, and ruins what could’ve ended in a spectacularly spooky fashion.
Both endings of I Am Legend (dir. Francis Lawrence, 2007)
When a DVD contains multiple “alternate endings” it’s probably a flawed movie. I Am Legend, while completely different from Richard Matheson’s brilliant source story, is not a downright awful movie. Will Smith’s acting is admirable, the creatures are well-done (though not sentient vampires like they should have been), and the scene with Sam the dog reduces me to tears every single time. However, the meaning of the title, “I am legend,” is completely distorted in the movie. COMPLETELY. In Matheson’s story, protagonist Robert Neville is the last real man on earth as far as he can tell, and though the vampires are beginning a new society around him, he remains their infamous, treacherous enemy. He’s legendary to them, a biological terrorist who represents the decline of the society they strive to reconstruct. His obsession with his own preconceptions of humanity, his close-mindedness, makes him a villain of sorts.
The latest film version has two endings, neither of which has at all the same meaning as the Matheson story, and the first of which goes the route of a preachy, “and divine forces intervened” tome. In the first, Neville equips fellow survivor Anna (Alice Braga) with the cure for the virus, then kills himself to ensure her safety. In the second, which is slightly more similar to Matheson’s point, Neville lives, but the indication is that he’s going to rebuild human society. Not the point, guys, not the point.
The End of The Village (dir. M. Night Shyamalan, 2004)
Here’s my deal with movies: I don’t want to know the ending, so I suspend disbelief and let myself get wrapped up in the story. Cinematographically, M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village is a beautiful movie to watch. Color composition, creepy blocking, and a haunting violin score combine to create a film that’s pretty, if little else. Ignore Sigourney Weaver and William Hurt’s stilted acting and pay attention to Adrien Brody and Bryce Dallas Howard—it improves the film. I don’t hate Shyamalan, though after having laughed my way through The Happening (it was plants!), I’m inching closer to the knowledge that he’s a one-trick pony. I was surprised at The Sixth Sense and thought the ending of Signs was so-so (the scene with Joaquin Phoenix and Rory Culkin wearing tinfoil hats is enough to nearly make the movie for me, but the end is a little too “divine intervention”).
Unfortunately, as I was leaving to see The Village, a friend said, “Okay, you have to tell me if this is the twist: are they living in present day?” Because I’m someone who doesn’t want to know the ending, I frowned and grumbled as the movie inched closer to that conclusion, hoping he was wrong. Nope! Not wrong. The village’s parents had relatives who were brutally murdered in the big city, so they decided to start a commune of sorts in a nature preserve and lie to their kids about it. Also, mentally challenged Brody is the monster the whole time. Dammit, Shyamalama-ding-dong, why must you disappoint me so?