Lost Souls (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

In the warning signs of a bad film, the strongest possible warning is that it sat finished and undistributed for years.

Oh, sure, it's a bad sign if they released it in mid-January, a worse sign if they try to sneak it into theaters without sending out screeners to critics, and a still worse sign if the director asked to have his name removed from the credits.

But the fact that the studio has millions invested in a film and won't even release it is the worst sign of all. You have to realize that the guys who work in these studios have no shame, and no sense of "good" and "bad" in any artistic or moral sense. They will release "Autumn in New York" or "Supernova" without any regret, if there is the slightest hope of recouping some of their investment. So if these cultural lepers think something stinks, it must be really obvious. It has to be something like:

  • the director issues a public apology for being on LSD when he shot and edited the film, and offers to pay back all the admissions out of his own pocket, or
  • Jesus and Buddha return together, and they only have two messages in their press conference - "love thy brethren as thou wouldst have them love thee, and by the way, we caught Lost Souls on the way over here, and it really stinketh, and Winona keepeth her clothes on"
The film also breaks one of the fundamental Scoopian unities. Comedies have to be funny, and horror films have to be scary. While this film is well photographed and more intelligent than the reviewers led you to believe, it ain't scary. Moviegoers hated it every bit as much as the critics.

End of story.


It starts out with two priests and Winona Ryder heading in to perform an exorcism. Winona is admitted because she has expert knowledge of the situation, having once hosted Satan, until she herself was exorcised. They and Satan begin in a very businesslike fashion, like lawyers gathered to hammer out a plea bargain, as they have many times before.

"Hey, Satan, well, I guess you know why we're here"

"Oh. Hi, Harry, Jimbo, sure I've been expecting you, looking forward to it. Hey, Harry, how's your sister's kids?"

"Not bad, what about those Lakers, eh?"

And they make a little small talk while the priests open up their briefcases and take out their books of Latin incantations, and holy-looking doilies (nothing terrifies Lucifer more than well-tatted lace), and Holy Water and stuff, and Satan tries to get a more comfortable foothold inside the possessed by hunkering down into a comfy chair.

Shortly thereafter, it seems that Winona took some encrypted messages out of the possessed man's room, and these messages, when decoded, reveal that Satan will take over the body of a famous writer on his 33rd birthday, which happens to be coming up real soon. Some thoughts:

  • Lucifer is supposed to have been the greatest of all the angels, of an intelligence and power that convinced him to challenge God himself. Given that, you'd think he could come up with a better encryption system than having the letters of the alphabet correspond to the numbers 1 through 26. You could, in fact, break this code with your Captain Midnight decoder ring.
  • In addition, why does Satan feel like he has to leave behind a road map of his future behavior? If he hadn't done the coded message, he would now be ruler of all the universe. In fact, he could have left it behind in a complex code, and would now be ruler of all the universe. But no - he has to leave behind a little message saying that he intends to possess John Grisham at 6:26 tomorrow afternoon, and turn him into the Antichrist. This guy has to have a severe self-destructive streak.
  • Satan can come within a hair's-breadth of defeating God himself, but has a harder time with Winona Ryder? This would play havoc with those computerized rankings. You know, if Kentucky beats Wake Forest by 24 on the road, and Duke beats Wake Forest by one in triple overtime at home, then Kentucky is rated higher than Duke. Based upon this logic, Winona is now favored to take God one-on-one.

And another thing - why does Satan, with his nearly-complete power, always have such bad background music. C'mon. It seems like the only musicians he ever managed to possess were some grade-b hacks, and some medieval monks. Oh, and maybe Air Supply, but that's a different discussion. So why didn't he possess Beethoven, or Duke Ellington, and at least get some good background music.

By the way, the film is beautifully photographed. The director of this film was the cinematograpgher for Spielberg on some of his best films. I didn't like the totally muted colors and deliberately hazy ambiance, but what he did was artistic and imaginative, and consistent with the tone he wanted to create. It may have a pretentious arthouse look, and you may or may not like it, but that look was constructed painstakingly.


I have to give a spoiler on this one, because

  • I've misled you with my cheap jokes.
  • Every review that I read misunderstood the ending.

The script is much more intelligent than any of the reviewers seemed to understand. There is a good reason why Satan deliberately left behind those simplistic clues and a complete roadmap of his future behavior for Winona.

Satan's plan was never to possess John Grisham. His plan was to trick Winona into thinking that was the plan. By doing so, he got her to shoot the author. Since the guy was really an innocent man, Satan tricked Winona into committing an act of ultimate evil - and she is then qualified to host his Satanic Majesty for all eternity. At least I'm pretty sure that's what the deal was. Actually, that HAD to be the deal. When Winona was trying to determine whether to shoot the author, the clock turned to 6:66, so she shot him, sensing a Satanic presence. Obviously, if Satan was in the body of the author, he wouldn't have been giving off a bunch of evil Satanic signs, because he wouldn't want the author dead. The 6:66 thing was calculated to make Winona shoot the guy, so Satan wanted that to happen. Only one possible explanation - since Satan wanted Winona to shoot the guy and would not have wanted that if his real plan was for that guy to be the antichrist, therefore, he needed Winona to give in to evil and shoot an innocent man. Ergo, his real plan was for Winona to be the antichrist.

Or maybe that would be "antichristine", if a woman.

Now, if you look back on the rest of the movie, this also explains why all the clues were so easy to follow. Satan wanted Winona to decode the clues and follow the trail. It was all part of his master plan to involve Winona. He needed her to believe that the author was evil, and he needed it to be false, so her murdering him would be an evil act.

I think pretty much every reviewer missed the point.

Of course, if you get the point, the movie still stinks, but at least it stinks in a much more intelligent way, and doesn't make Lucifer out to be a drooling simpleton.

Since Winona really lost to Satan, however, it does mean that God is still rated higher than Winona in the computer ratings.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1

  • Full-length director and crew commentary

  • 10 deleted or alternate scenes

  • The usual bios and trailers

  • My favorite quote from a review:

"The only moments of terror in this ostensible horror flick are brought about by the appearance of the words 'Producer: Meg Ryan,' giving you chills in a way that only those words can."-- Christopher Null, FILMCRITIC.COM

Very funny line, although I can think of three scarier words - "Starring Eric Roberts"

  • My second favorite:

"With each movie, Winona Ryder becomes less of a sex symbol and more a deer caught in the Hollywood headlights. Did anyone else see her on Jay Leno? The woman was so dysfunctional she made Farrah Fawcett look sane." -- Mr Cranky

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two stars. Ebert 2/4, Apollo 64/100, FilmCritic.com 1.5. Ebert gave it two because he admired the visual poetry of the images, and he was quite correct.

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. The closest ever to a perfect score - 3% positive overall, 0% from the top critics.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 4.8, Apollo users 34/100.
  • With their dollars ... shown on 2000 screens, it took in $16 million domestic on its $28 million production budget. I suppose the studio got back some of its investment by distributing it, because the domestic gross had to be more than the distribution and advertising costs. (And the production budget was already lost, whether they released it or not).
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C-. It's a dreary, boring, frightless, cliched movie, but with spectacular photography and real actors. Don't make an effort to watch it, I turn my thumb down, but it isn't as bad as everyone said.

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