Friday, June 2, 2017


With it's Ellen Page starring sequel arriving on September 29th, 2017, and that I just re-watched it, I thought it would be a good time to talk about Joel Schumacher's 1990 haunted psychological thriller Flatliners. The premise was simple but effective; a group of medical students experiment with near death experiences to see if the stories of lights, and tunnels, and voices told by other near death survivors holds any water. What they discover are very personal experiences that bring secrets/demons of their pasts into their physical reality. It stars Kiefer Sutherland (Lost Boys), Kevin Bacon (Friday The 13th), Julia Roberts (Erin Brockavich), Oliver Platt (X-Men; First Class), and William Baldwin (Backdraft). This is my favorite film Schumacher ever made and his best looking one. He was backed up by cinematographer Jan De Bont, production designer Eugenio Zanetti, and set decorator Anne Kuljian and together they created a very cool, very alive, stylish film that had touches of gothic horror, crime noir, scenes straight out of a comic book, and washed in lighting that almost rivals some of DePalma's or Argento's work.

Flatliners was one of those films that I watched repeatedly on cable and also rented a fair number of Silence Of The Lambs had ridden in on the wave of slick adult horror *cough cough* THRILLERS, like Jacob's Ladder. Despite the genre label, Flatliners had a fair amount in common with Frankenstein and dealt with some very heavy spiritual issues. Regardless of what it was called, the important thing is that it's a smart, well made movie that offers a very satisfying experience. It has strong characters, some decent scares, high re-watchability, and ultimately a decent pay off. Schumacher had already proven to be an adept film maker with a good eye. Tonally his films were pleasing, even if they weren't always my thing. The last film of his I enjoyed was the every-man-at-the-end-of-his-rope hit Falling Down, starring Michael Douglas and Robert Duvall.
times. It came out after the 80s slasher boom had run out of steam and with the run away success of

Schumacher would betray me though. Stab me in the heart through my back even, when he made the shit-tastic Batman and Robin and Batman Forever. Yes, stellar set design, amazing lighting, yes, yes. But. There is not one other good thing to be said about these films. At all. From the casting on these films were utter mistakes, culturally tone deaf, and killed Batman in the cinema for years. Schumacher wanted to do a wild, campy, fun take on The Dark Knight that combined the feel of the two previous Burton films, with the colorful world of the 60s TV show. As far as I'm concerned, the Burton films were already a big step in the wrong direction and Schumacher just wheeled the whole franchise off a cliff. It wasn't because Batman had landed in the hands of a bad director, it was because a good director didn't respect the character enough-or perhaps have enough faith in the character to further his career in a notable way, so he decided to have fun and collect his check.

Returning to Flatliners after so many years really made me sad for what could have been. Take the
film and imagine Chicago as Gotham City (Nolan shot his DK trilogy there). Think about the themes and techniques Schumacher employed; there's touches of horror, science fiction, action, mystery, redemption, fear, heroism...If you change the plot to fit a Batman story, Joel Schumacher would have defined the character for a generation or more. It could have been a small, claustrophobic, mystery that took the character seriously, while embracing all the elements of the comic (the other-wordly, sci-fi, super human aspects) that Nolan flat out ignored. Ras Al Ghul could be hundreds of years old in that version, instead of just a man, you could imagine gods and monsters coming out of the wood work, and even an alien savior. Baldwin would have made a good Batman/Bruce Wayne. Sutherland could have pulled off a Joker to rival Ledger's performance, Roberts would have been a far more comic accurate Vicky Vale, Bacon would slay as Scarecrow, and Platt would have been a great Penguin.

I love Nolan's films, but while they are top notch Nolan films, they're only so-so Batman films, because he doesn't embrace the of the levels of the character. Which is where Burton and Schumacher fail as well. They only adapt Batman at a surface level and never dig into the depths of what makes the character so weird, and fun, and dark, and scary, and absurd. Did Snyder capture any or all of that in the new DC cinematic universe? I think we have to wait for Justice League to really judge. I have high hopes and really like Affleck as Bats. What's even more exciting is the fact that Matt Reeves will helm the solo Batman film and I base my excitement solely on Let Me In, which isn't just a great remake, but a great film in it's own right. He gets characters, atmosphere, and horror, in much the same way Schumacher did with Flatliners. 

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