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Plot: martial artists from all over the world compete in tournament on remote island

The “most controversial game of 1993” as Electronic Gaming Monthly called it was created by Ed Boon and John Tobias for Midway (now NetherRealm Studios). Whereas Street Fighter II: the World Warrior went for a very Japanese and anime style, Mortal Kombat became infamous for its photorealistic models and blood-splattering violence. Early in its ten-month development Mortal Kombat was to star Belgian martial artist Jean-Claude Van Damme. Van Damme was in negotations with another company for a video game that eventually never materialized. Boon and Tobias parodied Van Damme with Johnny Cage, who does a split-groin punch as Van Damme famously did in Bloodsport (1988). Likewise had fellow action star Steven Seagal his own Genesis and SNES video game in production in 1993 with The Final Option. It was to be developed by Riedel Software Productions, Inc. and publisher TecMagik for an intended 1994 release before being inevitably pushed back to 1995 and subsequently cancelled. As these things tend to go Mortal Kombat was a smash hit in the arcades and led to a lucrative and enduring franchise popular to this day. The game’s over-the-top violence and the ensuing controversy and protests from parent groups led to the conception of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) and its now-familiar rating system.

Mortal Kombat wasn’t the first video game to be adapted for the big-screen. Super Mario Bros. (1993), Double Dragon (1994), and Street Fighter (1994) all tanked at the box office for various reasons but more importantly because they fundamentally misunderstood their source material. In fact Jean-Claude Van Damme was offered the role of Johnny Cage but he declined it to star in Street Fighter (1994). Mortal Kombat was only the second feature for British director Paul W.S. Anderson. Anderson would later helm the science-fiction/horror romp Event Horizon (1997) as well as being the creative force behind the Resident Evil franchise (2002–2016) starring his wife Milla Jovovich. He also was responsible for Death Race (2008), a remake/prequel to Paul Bartel’s subversive Roger Corman produced shlock classic Death Race 2000 (1975) with David Carradine and a young Sylvester Stallone. Mortal Kombat spent three weeks at number one at the U.S. box office, netting $70 million domestically and over $122 million worldwide. Not bad for a silly fantasy retelling of the Bruce Lee martial arts classic Enter the Dragon (1973) on a modest $18 million budget. Anderson would do the same thing again, this time as producer, 11 years later (and only to a fraction of the success) with the lovably zany DOA: Dead Or Alive (2006) and Tekken (2009) following with even less fanfare and star power a few years down the line. Rare/Midway’s completely over-the-top Killer Instinct from 1994 remains curiously unadaptated.

Three martial artists from different walks of life are summoned to a tournament on a mysterious island somewhere in Asia. Liu Kang (Robin Shou) is a Shaolin monk on self-imposed exile in America. He's currently in the midst of a massive crisis of faith as he puts no stock in the long-held prophecy the temple elders insist he's irrevocably entwined with and the destiny he's bound to fulfill. Instead Kang is concerned more with avenging the slaying of his younger brother Chan (Steven Ho). Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) is an egocentric action movie star whose detractors in the tabloid press write him off as a phony and he looks for any and every opportunity to prove them wrong. Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, as Bridgette Wilson) is a headstrong military officer in pursuit of fugitive Black Dragon cartel crimelord Kano (Trevor Goddard) who’s responsible for killing her partner. The three have been selected by the god of thunder Lord Raiden (Christopher Lambert) to defend Earthrealm in Mortal Kombat, the outcome of which will decide the fate of their own world. To ensure victory in Mortal Kombat shapeshifting sorcerer Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) has bend the wills of fallen Lin Kuei warrior Sub-Zero (François Petit), the wraith/revenant Scorpion (Chris Casamassa), and Reptile (Keith Cooke, as Keith H. Cooke) as well as current tournament Grand Champion, the four-armed Shokan warlord Goro (Kevin Michael Richardson, as Kevin Richardson). The trio find an unlikely ally in leatherclad member of nobility Kitana (Talisa Soto), the enslaved princess of Outworld.

Instead of a renowned high-profile action director as Yuen Woo-ping, Ching Siu-tung, or Corey Yuen Mortal Kombat has to content itself with Pat E. Johnson and Robin Shou. Granted, Shou worked his way up from the dregs of Hong Kong cinema through a number of action - and martial arts movies, most notably In the Line of Duty III (1988) with Cynthia Khan and Michiko Nishiwaki and Princess Madam (1989) from Godfrey Ho. Shou cut his teeth under directors as Phillip Ko Fei and Jing Wong and Mortal Kombat was his debut in the English-speaking world. That is discounting the Warin Hussein made-for-TV drama Forbidden Nights (1990) for a moment. Although superior to his Western counterparts Shou by and large showcases the exact same moves as when he started out in the late eighties. In its defense the action choreography (thankfully) gravitates more towards HK cinema than it does the other way around. Which doesn’t change the fact that the Pat E. Johnson routines tend to be clunky, slow-moving and rely heavily on quick cuts and rapid editing. The two duels choreographed by Shou (Johnny Cage-Scorpion and Liu Kang-Reptile) are much more graceful, balletic and fluent in comparison. These two fights alone evince that Shou’s time sharing the screen with Cynthia Khan, Moon Lee, and Yukari Oshima did indeed pay off. The “fight” between Liu Kang and Kitana (if it can be called that) isn’t so much a fight as it is foreplay. Sonya Blade fighting Kano early on is more of a brawl than anything else. The fights and action choreography have their own problems depending on who's directing. Initial screenings were found unsatisfactory by test audiences and more duels were demanded. As a result we, thankfully, were given the Liu Kang-Reptile duel.

Kevin Droney’s screenplay is often (and unjustly as far as we’re concerned) lambasted for its overt simplicity. We’ll concur that the three-act screenplay is economic in exposition and uses the rather formulaic backgrounds of the human kombatants for easily relatable stereotypical Hollywood character motivation. It acknowledges that the entire affair is preposterous and it sells those aspects wonderfully well through a barrage of snarky witticism and comedic one-liners from Christopher Lambert (visibly enjoying the sheer silliness of it all) and Linden Ashby. Some of the best lines come from the constant sparring between self-absorbed Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade. That this Mortal Kombat isn't going to feature any of the game's infamous bloody Fatalities becomes clear enough when Lord Raiden intones that "Mortal Kombat isn't about death, but life." One of the greatest strengths of Mortal Kombat is that it takes itself just seriously enough to sell the ridiculousness of the game’s premise. As a product of Western fantasy Droney manages to at least pay lipservice to Asian values as honor, tradition, filial piety, ancestor veneration, and the perennial quest for spiritual enlightenment. Mortal Kombat takes its sweet time setting up the premise and central characters too. It isn’t until 45 minutes in that Mortal Kombat moves into the actual titular matches. From that point onward the plot never gets in the way of the multitude of fights. A point of contention is Sonya’s complete change of character around the halfway mark, but it is at least excuseable as Blade recognizes Shang Tsung’s superiority – and what better motivation for a character than a captive love interest?

To say that the romantic subplot between Liu Kang and Kitana is far-fetched and unnecessary is one thing. Kitana as a character gets all but two lines of character outline and then disappears to the background as a muse or sage-like figure. That Soto has few lines isn’t without reason as Vampirella (1996) would amply evince. Character development and plot are fairly minimal and only serve to progress the characters from one fighting scene to the next. Shang Tsung is an intelligent villain who schemes to delay his inevitable confrontation with Liu Kang. It is not until his resources are depleted, and his enforcer destroyed, that he engages Kang in battle. Lambert is visibly having fun in the role of Raiden and he spouts his lines with a grin. Linden Ashby possesses the right amount of underplayed arrogance, and his cynical witticisms greatly sell Johnny Cage as a believeable character. Liu Kang (who everybody simply calls “Lou”) experiences the greatest character arc, probably to compensate for Kitana’s arc being something of an informed attribute at the best of times. It’s anybody’s guess why Kitana is allowed so much freedom of movement when she’s vital to Shang Tsung’s scheme succeeding. Had Tsung kept Kitana out of bounds Kang would’ve never emerged victorious and Earthrealm would’ve merged with Outworld without drawing the ire of the Elder Gods. Obviously in a video game adaptation there’s bound to be bigger and smaller plotholes. As beautiful of a woman as Talisa Soto is an actress she most definitely is not.

If there’s anything that Mortal Kombat benefits from it’s the location shooting in Thailand and production design that faithfully recreates many of the game’s most beloved locations and fighting arenas. Among the featured landmarks are the Wat Phra Si Sanphet temple where Shang Tsung kills Chan during the opening, the Wat Ratchaburana temple where Liu Kang first meets Lord Raiden and Wat Chaiwatthanaram that stands in for the Temple Of Light. Then there’s Phra Nang beach where the “fight” between Liu Kang and Kitana takes place. Railay Beach is used as entrance to Shang Tsung’s Island. Sub-Zero, Scorpion and Reptile are true to their videogame counterparts as far as costumes is concerned. Sonya Blade won’t be seen wearing her revealing military outfit and Kitana’s black leather bustier/dominatrix corset, husky voice and bedroom eyes should provide more than enough fetish/fantasy fuel for any redblooded male even if her attire isn’t her signature blue. Likewise won’t Kitana’s metallic double-fans be making an appearance until the sequel two years later. The production design is positively lavish including recreations of the Courtyard, The Hall of Statues, The Tower, and seen in passing are both The Pit and the Portal. Most of the visual effects and CGI are good for the budget, except maybe that Reptile’s CGI form clearly shows its age, a thing that wouldn’t improve with the sequel. With an 18 million (one million exclusively for the Goro animatronic) budget the arenas, production - and character designs, and costumes are faithful to the games from whence they came.

Mortal Kombat is probably a lot better than it has any reason to be. It’s self-aware enough to realize that it is no match for the likes of Fist Of Legend (1994) or Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000) and it aspires to be nothing more than 90 minutes of vapid, chopsocky fun. As an Enter the Dragon (1973) variation you could do far worse. Keith Cooke headlined the turgid Albert Pyun martial arts feature Heatseeker (1995) and the sequel Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997) helmed by cinematographer John R. Leonetti pretty much killed the franchise until Mortal Kombat: Rebirth (2010). With a soundtrack boasting everybody from Type O Negative, Fear Factory, and Napalm Death, to The Immortals, Traci Lords and Juno Reactor the Mortal Kombat soundtrack is a time-capsule for the nineties very much like Brainscan (1994) was. There's a peculiar aesthetic disconnect between the most controversial and violent fighting game of the day becoming a virtually bloodless affair through adaptation and Disneyfication. Mortal Kombat the movie is everything that Mortal Kombat the game wasn’t. Despite, or rather in spite of, that it somehow works. Mortal Kombat the movie understood the essence of Mortal Kombat the game. Nobody was coming into this expecting some kind of profound statement on the human condition. Nobody was aiming for some kind of cinematic high art. Mortal Kombat is fun, if you are prepared to meet it halfway. “Nothing in this world has prepared you for this.” For once the tagline was spot on.

Plot: teen is targeted by a deranged serial murderer

Some movies just defy description. Others never deliver on their promises. The most fascinating are those that are so defiantly weird that they become their own category. I Know Who Killed Me is bad. Showgirls (1995) bad. The Room (2003) bad. 12 million dollars, 4 months of production, a former Disney child star in her first grown up role and a host of embarrassed television actors can’t possibly salvage what by all accounts was shaping up to be one hell of a trainwreck. I Know Who Killed Me is an affront to anyone’s sensibilities; cinematic and otherwise.

How is it possible that a movie trying so hard to be slick and sexy can be so unbelievably unerotic at the same time? I Know Who Killed Me wants, at any cost, to be sleazy. It yearns, no, desperately craves, to be trashy – but somehow manages to be more prudish than the average syndicated TV show. The thrills are never thrilling, the sexy scenes are so terminally dull, badly staged and unerotic that peeling your own eyes out becomes a tantalizing prospect, and the screenplay is so nonsensical and convoluted that they might as well have started filming without one. A rookie director, a first-time writer and a name-star well past her due date. Was there any way this could have ended well for anybody? I Know Who Killed Me was a failure of such collosal, epic proportions that it killed Lindsay Lohan’s career.

That I Know Who Killed Me was even greenlit for production is largely thanks to the then-still relative bankability of freckled redhead Lindsay Lohan. Lohan first broke to the big time with her dual role in the 1998 remake of Disney’s The Parent Trap (1961). That streak continued with another remake of a classic Disney staple in the form of the 2003 reimagining of Freaky Friday (1976), a role that earned her the award for Breakthrough Performance at the 2004 MTV Movie Awards. Lohan’s star truly rose with Disney’s Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (2004) and the sleeper hit Mean Girls (2004). From that point forward Lohan’s off-set shenanigans started to catch up with her as she was involved in a series of car accidents in 2004, 2005 and 2006. Her last Disney project Herbie: Fully Loaded (2005), the fifth (and, so far, last) installment of the Herbie franchise, was a production fraught with problems from Lohan’s side. Her on-set diva behavior and hard partying ways had become the stuff of legend and she had to be hospitalized with a kidney infection. Disney on their side spent a good fortune on visual effects artificially reducing Lohan’s famous bosoms because they apparently would distract too much from a talking car. Just My Luck (2006) put a dent in her career, overtaken almost completely by tabloid press and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and not even the Robert Altman comedy A Prairie Home Companion (2006) and the Emilio Estevez drama Bobby (2006) were able to pull LiLo from the path to self-destruction she had embarked on.

In 2007 production on I Know Who Killed Me, Lindsay’s much-publicized first grown up role, was halted as she had to undergo appendix surgery. Around the same time LiLo admitted herself to the Wonderland Center rehabilitation facility in Los Angeles for a month-long treatment. Her legal, personal, and substance abuse problems became so grave that during production she either showed up very late, or failed to show up at all. For the climax director Chris Sivertson was forced to use a body double to complete the project. Sivertson’s only prior credit of note was co-directing the 2004 remake of The Toolbox Murders (1978) and this remains Jeff Hammond’s first (and, likely, only) screenwriting credit. I Know Who Killed Me was nominated for a grand total of nine Razzies, or Golden Raspberry Awards, eight (Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, Worst Excuse for a Horror Movie, and Worst Rip-off, among them) of which it ended up winning. It was not screened in advance for critics for a very good reason. I Know Who Killed Me is terrible.

Sivertson knows his classics and desperately wants to mimic the style of Brian DePalma, Dario Argento, and David Lynch and fails spectacularly. I Know Who Killed Me is simply so uniformly and universally terrible on all fronts that you’d wish Jess Franco had directed it. Suffice to say I Know Who Killed Me all but killed Lohan’s once promising career. It heralded LiLo’s spectacular and very public fall from grace and her subsequent spiral into irrelevance. Almost immediately the ill-repute from I Know Who Killed Me spread like wildfire in the bad cinema blogosphere. It wasn’t until 2010 when LiLo hit absolute rock bottom as she alternated between time in jail and in rehab. In 2012 the inevitable spread in Playboy followed. In the decade-plus since I Know Who Killed Me, LiLo’s career, or what little that’s left of it at any rate, has shown no signs of improving. Chris Sivertson, inexplicably, remains active as a screenwriter and director.

In the idyllic upper middle class town of New Salem (Massachusetts? North Dakota? Illinois? New York? Pennsylvania? Does it really matter?) a young woman called Aubrey Fleming (Lindsay Lohan) - an aspiring young writer, naturally gifted pianist and grade-A student - has gone missing, causing great consternation to her parents Daniel (Neal McDonough) and Susan (Julia Ormond). Jennifer Toland (Stacy Lynn Gabel), an earlier abductee, was found horribly mutilated, tortured and very much dead. Fleming’s disappearance prompts an investigation by an FBI taskforce led by agents Phil Lazarus (Spencer Garrett) and Julie Bascome (Garcelle Beauvais, as Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon). One night a bloodied, mutilated girl named Dakota Moss (Lindsay Lohan) is found in the middle of nowhere. The agents, Aubrey’s parents and a psychiatrist question and later try to jog Dakota’s memory believing her to be a fabrication on Aubrey’s part as a defense mechanism to deal with her obvious trauma. As Dakota gathers the clues revealing a long-hidden sordid family secret Moss is able to ascertain who is the perpetrator behind the terrible slaying that continues to haunt New Salem, allowing her to at long last meaningfully mumble: "I Know Who Killed Me." No, it wasn't the butler, cos that is the only cliché that I Know Who Killed Me avoids.

To see beloved television actors as Gregory Itzin, Neal McDonough, Michael Adler, Brian McNamara, and Paula Marshall slumming it up waiting for the paycheck to clear, trying to maintain a straight face while sputtering their way through some of the most hackneyed Ed Wood-ian, near Tommy Wiseau-ian dialog imagineable is heartbreaking to say the least. Itzin, McDonough, Adler, McNamara and Marshall one and all are reliable television actors well above and beyond this kind of cinematic crapshoot. The other name star in I Know Who Killed Me is British expat Julia Ormond, who is under the mistaken impression that this is a serious movie. To see her cringe her way through the “mister Gervais” scene in the hospital is actively pain-inducing. Ormond, the poor thing, was in Legends Of the Fall (1994), Sabrina (1995), and First Knight (1995) in just the decade prior. Thankfully she redeemed herself with David Fincher’s multiple Academy Award nominated The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (2008) with Brad Pitt the following year.

Apparent YouTube sensation of the day Jessica Rose, “lonelygirl15” to the demographic this was no doubt marketed towards, plays a bit part as one of Aubrey’s friends. The rest of the no-name cast are either wooden or sleepwalking their respective roles. The screenplay is an epic display of undiluted incompetence. Jeff Hammond obviously looked at Planet Terror (2007), Captivity (2007) and Saw (2004) (on to its second sequel by 2007) for inspiration as I Know Who Killed Me features a pole-dancing lead character, loses itself in endless (and, frankly, tedious) montages of torture-porn and has a serial murderer antagonist with a predilection towards punishing his victims through elaborate revenge schemes and contraptions. Characters and plotpoints, big and small, disappear or are not followed up upon with alarming frequency and the symbolism is as subtle as a bull in a china shop. Rank desperation, that’s what it is. Chris Sivertson is a competent director, there’s no contesting. Not even he can save this hot mess of a screenplay.

I Know Who Killed Me desperately wishes it was an Italian giallo murder mystery. It has the sadistic killer in gloves targeting nubile women, it's more transgressive in its portrayal of sexuality than is usually the norm for Hollywood, one of Aubrey’s closest relatives and her family harbors a dark secret, and the red-blue lighting obviously takes after the best works of both Mario Bava and Dario Argento. To even things out there’s also a premature burial and the killer gets really creative upon his captive victims. It opens with a strip routine that looks like it was recreated wholesale from Jess Franco’s The Devil Came From Akasava (1971) and Vampyros Lesbos (1971) and then continues with more elegiac static strip routines that seem to take more after Diana Lorys in Nightmares Come at Night (1972) in the sense that they go nowhere and show nothing. Where old Jess had a chronic problem getting women into their clothes, I Know Who Killed Me found itself saddled with a diva who through contractual stipulations refused to get out of hers. It's exactly the sort of problem you'd never have with starlets like Misty Mundae.

La Lohan duly researched her all-important grown up role, taking up pole-dancing lessons in preparation and gloriously shot herself in the foot and into the hearts of sex workers everywhere with such eloquent, sensible and carefully worded declarations as, They're all whores, they're all whores . . . xcept for some obviously!", “strippers dude, I tell you, I really respect the cunts now. . . I'm not gonna lie to ya and letting candid bits of wisdom as rehab was a sobering experience escape her mouth. Even The French Sex Murders (1972) was more sleazy and, relatively speaking, there were far more sleazier gialli that decade. At least it had Barbara Bouchet. Lohan’s amputated extremities are probably the worst in a moderate budget Hollywood production in living memory. Her severed arm in particular is, somehow, less convincing (despite the obvious and expensive green-screen composit shots that it took to produce the effect) than Pier Luigi Conti’s not-really-a-stump in Jess Franco’s Eurociné jungle epic White Cannibal Queen (1980). The line “people get cut. That’s life” is on par with Everybody got AIDS and shit! from Showgirls (1995) and Tommy Wiseau’s “I did not hit her!” non sequitur from The Room (2003).

Who casts Lindsay Lohan and has her not take her clothes off? LiLo plays a stripper who wears far too many layers of clothes and whose routines seem to take ages. Lohan is given a shower scene and we’re not even treated to a lingering ass shot or a glance of sideboob? The average Andy Sidaris movie was spicier, Tinto Brass (who is a master technician) is sleazier through his innate artistry. Not to mention that the late Jess Franco had Romina Power, Susan Hemingway, and Katja Bienert suffering all sorts of unspeakable indignities and humiliations before they were even old enough to drink! Marie Liljedahl was barely 18 when she bared all in Joseph W. Sarno's Inga (1968). Mary and Madeleine Collinson had been flaunting their twins for a good two years before they landed the titular part in Twins Of Evil (1971) and they were barely 19. Renato Polselli and Luigi Batzella made entire features during the wicked and wild 1970s wherein Rita Calderoni barely wore any clothes. It’s depressing on how many levels that I Know Who Killed Me fails in the most obvious of ways. It’s certainly an achievement when the works of Jess Franco and the Eurociné repertoire become a viable alternative. I Know Who Killed Me is such an awesome concentration of pure wretchedness that, somehow, some way, the alternate ending is even worse than the theatrical one. I Know Who Killed Me is a Lovecraftian monstrosity of such staggering proportions that if you gaze into it long enough, a glassy, empty-eyed Lindsay Lohan will stare right back at you…