Having just watched the new Conan the Barbarian movie, the Wagnerian influence on Conan is… blatant.
So, how many graphic novels get their own four-minute animated trailer? About the same number that are based on Wagnerian folklore. Expanded info is also on the video’s page, but some guy named Alex Alice came up with the idea to turn Wagner’s epic into a three-volume graphic novel, and pulled it off with some pretty stunning visuals. And a neat trailer.
Production was geared up towards a full-length feature film, with the above as a proof-of-concept, which is rumored to be moving back into development once the graphic volumes are out of the way. And that trailer indicates it could be pretty epic, provided it retains the awesome grandeur and doesn’t get bogged down by any of the obvious mires—for example, Disneyfication of the property for mass media marketing.
(Yeah, I’ll have real content to post eventually.)
Okay, I’ve been pretty skeptical about this one, dating back to when I first heard they were remaking it. I mean, the Schwarzenegger one wasn’t brilliant, but it managed to keep Philip K. Dick’s paranoia and questioning of reality intact inside an entertaining ’80s trashy action movie. Probably one of the top three PKD book-to-movie adaptations… behind Blade Runner, of course, and I’m growing to like Spielberg’s Minority Report more than the original story.
And Hollywood has a tendency to make… well, really shitty “sci-fi” movies out of hot-shit science fiction properties (anyone else remember Surrogates? Cowboys and Aliens? Predators? Green Lantern? Need I go on?). For every District 9 or Inception, we get a good number of science fiction films that are forgettable, or best left forgotten. Just look at all the failed attempts to turn Dick’s novels into films—don’t get me started on Paycheck or Next. (I’ve realized that the irony of The Adjustment Bureau is that they didn’t develop the concepts far enough; probably why Rango, which went far enough and then some, beat it down at the box office.)
So, yeah, after seeing the trailer, I’ll eat some crow and say the new Total Recall looks pretty damn good. As in, see it opening day damn good. The visuals are astounding, for one, and the plot seems as Dickian as Dick’s original story. Also, the cast is pretty stellar. Colin Farrell stars, with support from Jessica Biel and Bryan Freaking Cranston as antagonists, and Ethan Hawk, Bill Nighy, and Kate Beckinsale in support.
The whole Mars subplot has been dropped, but honestly, what made the story interesting was Dick’s surrealist paranoid mindfuckery. The Mars angle was great flavor, but the meat of the story wasn’t the Martian rebellion, it was Dick’s eternal attempts to define reality and humanity, the sense that you never knew what was the true world and which was the implant. Something the poster hypes up:
Well, you know how to market a Philip K. Dick-based film and stay true to Philip K. Dick’s overarching vision; you have my interest.
So, here’s hoping that screenwriters and directors have figured out the proper way to adapt PKD to film, rather than skimming the surface-value concepts into another formulaic, chase-scene-rific shitty action film. (I really hated Paycheck and Next, okay?)
I think it’s interesting how conceptions on pop-culture phenomena change over a given time; positive and negative connotations switch places, and even the meaning of the name isn’t stable.
Take comic books, for example: for most of the 20th Century they were looked down upon as just-for-kids, childish funnies that grown adults had no reason to touch or come close to.
It took a generation growing up on comics to come up with the artistic visionaries who’d redefine comics as mature, adult, with deep themes and strong content: obvious names like Alan Moore and Frank Miller, for example. Gone were the days of four-color superheroes saving Hostess Pies from third-tier villains; suddenly in the late ’70s and ’80s, they had severe personal problems, battling drug and alcohol addictions, putting drug dealers and child abusers behind bars.
And it took a generation of readers growing up on the work of those luminaries to get to the point today, with many readers, bookstores, critics, etc. making off with the term “graphic novel” and applying it to “comic books” in order to construct a mature image, getting away from the kiddie comics of ages past. There’s a niggling remnant of the old stigma, but society as a whole doesn’t care so much anymore since the content has matured. And while not every one is Persepolis or Watchmen, the actual tone of most comics has moved on to straddle the line between child and adult.
On the other hand, we have pulps, the seedy dime-quarter-dollar magazines that entertained a generation. Back in the days before paperbacks even existed, in the age of war-rationing and the dominance of the fiction magazine, the pulps carried on the fine heritage of dime novels and penny-dreadfuls and other Victorian-age serials. Their name comes from the cheap wood-pulp used to make the paper, but has become latched on to the style and tone of their content: seedy, low-brow entertainment, the kind of “boobies and ‘splosions” media for non-literary-minded young guys.
Not that it was always thus, as many famous literary authors had their start in the oddest pulp places. But since lurid covers began to dominate during the pulps’ heyday—the late ’30s to the mid-’50s—and many involved “adult” themes (violence, sex, etc.), they gained the image of low-brow schlock, and there they remain. Pulps are seeing another resurgence, thanks to the power of the internet, lapsing copyrights and eager reprint houses, but they still have a negative connotation outside their niche interest base.
How about spaghetti westerns? The name itself is a negative connotation: what’s a bowl of spaghetti look like? A mess. An apt definition for Italian directors hiring American actors to film westerns in Spain. A good spaghetti western has a grittier, sometimes bleak outlook, with protagonists surviving massacres or attempted hangings (despite their innocence), dark anti-heroes riding lean horses in pursuit of their prey: gold, vengeance, death. It’s infusing more of the gritty noir anti-hero into a genre that’s already fueled by rough living, bleak landscapes, and casual death.
So the name itself was originally a deliberate criticism, but it was subverted by fans to become an accepted nom-de-plum. And while the genre had a brief life-span, roughly 1964 to the end of the 1970s, it’s had its impact on the western as a whole, breathing life back into the flagging genre. Interestingly, though spaghetti westerns have passed on, they’ve been replaced by another group of foreigners who’ve latched on to reinvent the mythos of the American Old West: see the ramen western subgenre. (Yes, this is really a thing.)
If you haven’t guessed from a few nerdy, deep-cut hints, this is Ridley Scott’s return to SF, a film long rumored to be a loosely-connected prequel of sorts set in the same universe as Alien. That may or may not include xenomorphs. But does involve a ship similar to the one found at the beginning of the first film; you know, the one with the alien eggs and the space jockey, which is one of the hints keen-eyed viewers might have spotted in the video above.
I’m interested to see how it pans out, because a return to the world of Alien—and a dark, mysterious, high-quality return like Prometheus seems to be—would be hella. We don’t see enough good SF/horror hybrid films. Scratch that, we don’t see that many good SF films in general.
Though if it is a prequel, it suffers from the same prequel problem that made the Star Wars prequels such a terrible idea. (No, not wooden acting, or bad ’90s green-screen effects.) The technology and spaceship look loving amazing, but it’s way more advanced than anything in the Alien universe so far. Hell, the ship’s actually got sub-orbital flight capabilities; all the other Alien films involved people using shuttles or dropships to get down. How could it be a prequel to the first film, when the Colonial Marines sixty-plus years after the first film didn’t have tech half this advanced?
This also depends on it being a prequel, which Scott has been tight-lipped about, so maybe he’s just using similar aesthetics to fuck with us. Or maybe it’s actually a loosely-connected sequel (gasp). And I’d buy the excuse that the Nostromo was an old-school industrial-grade klunker, and not a high-tech scientific research vessel. But still, between our advancements in (and expectations for) day-to-day technology and the high quality of movie SFX today, prequels for ’70s SF movies will never look like prequels.
Regardless, it looks awesome; whatever its connection (or lack thereof) to Alien, it looks to be a tense thriller in its own right. Since it opens in June, I’ll have something to watch once Avengers is through.
All told, this should be made of win. It’s Pixar’s first live-action movie. It’s bankrolled by the Disney Vault. It’s directed by Andrew Stanton, the mastermind behind Finding Nemo and Wall-E, who also happens to be a big damn dork and Barsoom fan. It’s one of the oldest and long-lasting works in the science fiction genre, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars, the third—and first successful—attempt to bring the novel to the big screen, a hundred years from its magazine serialization. And it’s following in the footsteps of Avatar, itself a Burroughs clone (from Cameron’s own mouth), which proved that Star Wars-style space opera isn’t dead but, in fact, technologically elite. Plus, it’s got a rockin’ orchestral version of Kashmir, and the visuals are beautiful.
And outside of science fiction nerddom—proclaimed SF geeks, turn in your piece and shield if you don’t recognize the term Barsoom—nobody’s paying attention to John Carter. Which bodes very poorly for what should be a guaranteed cash-cow. Even the extended superbowl trailer didn’t fix any of the branding problems; the lack of hype and branding is still there.
If you look at the YouTube comments section for any of the trailers, about ninety-five percent of the comments are from people wondering why Disney’s ripping off Avatar and the gladiatorial scenes from Attack of the Clones. (This echoes other news sources.) The other five percent are a handful of dedicated fanboys trying, futilely, to point out that the movie is based on a venerable cycle of pulp adventures, and that in reality John Carter‘s trying to take back the tropes it devised a century ago. Though, to be fair, having established the tropes in-print means little when the main grounds for visual comparison are films both new and similar.
I’ll admit, when I first saw “John Carter” in a list of upcoming movies, I breezed past it. About thirty seconds later the little lightbulb popped on, and digging around on IMDB I discovered, yes, it was that John Carter. Losing the Of Mars in his title, despite the reference “John Carter of Earth” in the Superbowl trailer, doesn’t help; it’s a lame, uninspired name that tells you jack shit about the movie. (What were they thinking; irking core fanboys just so little Timmy doesn’t believe Mars is populated by insect-men, red chicks, and monsters? The idea that a guy wouldn’t see that movie, with a trailer full of action and violence, just because it has “Princess” in the name is laughable.)
Even the nod to “Mister Burroughs” in the first trailer was nice, but weak; most people aren’t going to make the connection to the writer. Especially when you’re dealing with a hundred-year-old pulp hero. And given its placement in time, you can see the executive reasoning behind it: we need another science fantasy hot on the heels of Avatar, and here’s a ready-made property that has all the same awesome stuff built into it. (Not that it stopped them from adding Avatar-esque flying fight scenes in TRON:Legacy, but y’know.)
At this point, it’s getting too late to turn the ship around; I can’t imagine they’ll pump out another trailer this month which will manage to explain both the point of the movie and that it originates a large number of the genre conventions the trailers showcase. Given the film’s affluent budget, estimated in the $400-500Mn range, it’s got to set fires under critics and woo non-fanboys in order to make bank. Otherwise, it could easily become this generation’s Waterworld; given that Waterworld was actually an entertaining Mad Max-on-jetskis action romp, and was mostly despised because it cost so much, took so long, and was nothing more than Mad Max on jetskis, I think the comparison (and fear) is grounded. (Waterworld : Mad Max :: John Carter : Avatar?)
Besides, we’ll never get to Warlord of Mars if the first movie tanks it.
Yep, I’m finally at the last day, with the fifteenth and final horror movie on my list. Keep in mind that the basis for this was a Facebook meme where you list the first fifteen horror movies that pop into your head, and since then, I’ve been second-guessing myself and remembering all sorts of fantastic horror films.
I think Cloverfield was the last horror movie I saw in theaters, so that’s probably the reason I picked it as number 15. (What, I don’t watch a lot of films in the theater.) It also caters to my childhood love of kaiju movies and disaster flicks. Giant monster attacks a major city (New York), causes havoc; the military has futile attempts to kill it (this time sans Toho’s giant rockets and mecha); a small batch of protagonists attempt to escape the area.
It’s another capable entry in the “found footage”/shakycam genre started by the Blair Witch Project, which would have most certainly been on this list if I hadn’t paid so much attention to the hype then found out the actors were still alive before going out to see it. Even then, I think Cloverfield was much more effective and believable in its shakycam roots. I’d want to snag as much visual data as possible if there was a giant monster running around; I’d probably save my batteries if I was one of three morons stuck out in the woods. Blair Witch is spooky because of the weird occurrences; we know damn well there’s a giant monster running amok in New York, and that tangible threat was more convincing to me.
I think the kaiju angle needs to be properly emphasized. Cloverfield is to post-9/11 New York as Gojira was to postwar Japan. The strange culture of fear is paralleled, if a bit exaggerated, in the monster’s attack. The average citizen is helpless; the armed forces cannot defend them; there was little to no prior warning before the Statue of Liberty’s head rolled down the street. (It’s sad when that CGI head is the fake-looking part in a series of shots bloated with CGI: the graphics in this film are almost always top-notch.)
Why is it scary?
There’s a scene in the film where the characters are walking around in the abandoned subway tunnels, and one of the characters (the cameraman) announces, “Remember how there was some guy down in here years ago setting fire to bums?” (Sadly Rich had just left for the restroom, since that defines about half of his RPG characters.) That scene was priceless; a few moments later, the characters are attacked by the poisonous water-fleas the big giant monster has accumulated, which cause horrific and fatal death to anyone they bite.
Aside from the subway scenes scaring the crap out of me, I think Cloverfield uses its found footage setup quite effectively in conveying terror. We don’t see the monster, but we see a lot of devastation; we feel for these characters who we already know something about, and want them to escape before the inevitable nukes come out.
Again, this is not a particularly scary movie. It doesn’t have the same psychological horror as Mouth of Madness, or the paranoia of The Thing, or the jump-out-and-scream thrills of a good slasher film.
I do have some complaints about it, too; I haven’t seen it in a while but I don’t remember the shakycam footage annoying me as much as the fact we get a damn good view of the monster right before the end. Giant monsters work fine in one of two ways: show it to us from the beginning (more or less), ala King Kong or Gojira, or keep it hidden for as long as possible and don’t allow us to watch it just stand there and stare at us. It’s like J.J. Abrams wanted us to know exactly what the monster looked like… and it looked like some overgrown mutant bat. I liked the random concept art where it was Whalethulhu better, and giving away all the monster’s detail was a bad move.
Let’s see. I’ve done an alien movie, a pair of b-movie, a couple of horror-comedies, some monster movies, and a bunch of thrillers which mostly have serial killers. But I haven’t listed the slasher movie, because there’s always at least one.
I’ve seen dozens of these stupid things, mainly because of their habitual long-running franchises: Texas Chainsaw Massacres, Nightmares on Elm Street, Friday the Thirteenths, Halloweens, all three Child’s Plays (yes, all three, because those were bad enough), Final Destinations, I Know What You Did Last Summers, and Screams.
There are a lot of great slasher movies out there, and I think they’re worth noting. Nightmare on Elm Street is a fantastic entry, a fine Wes Craven film that launched a series. Unlike most other slashers, it’s got a lot going on under the hood: the amazing dream/reality setup, the underlying sexual tension and loss of innocence themes… heck, the movie can be read as an analogue for adolescent trauma. Friday the 13th was one of the first slashers, and it did well to define the genre, though it wasn’t until Friday the 13th Part III that all the pieces showed up: the hockey mask, the stereotypical victims (the jokester, the person who thinks the killer is the practical jokester, drugs and sex leading to quick deaths), the killer popping up for one final strike after their apparent death. But I have to go with Halloween here. (I’m really not a John Carpenter fanboy, I swear.)
Best moment: when the dad pulls Micheal’s mask off and you see he’s just a child. Raise your hand if that blew your mind, either for the trailer or watching the film.
I consider Halloween the best slasher for a number of reasons. Most of those are reasons why it’s scary: the pacing, the atmosphere, the sense of dread that it builds. Halloween fell on the dividing line, being in part a homage to the Hitchcockian psychological horror and proto-slasher serial killer scares of Psycho, and partly the influence for the entire slasher genre. The parts that the genre took were just the basics—more were lifted from Friday the 13th—meaning it existed outside of the formulas and tropes that have since defined the genre.
Why is it scary?
Most slashers follow a rigid formula of cliches and stereotypes, relying on jump scares, loud noises, and plenty of slasher victim stereotypes to lounge around smoking pot and screwing. Halloween, though, exists outside the tropes and formulas, instead relying on tension and suspense. There are a number of deaths, and creepy occurrences, and some “stuff happens when you don’t expect it” jump scares, but what I love about it is the pacing and atmosphere (plus, again, Carpenter’s score). With a serial killer on the loose, the expectation of impending death is more frightening than the actual killer.
Speaking of said killer, he started a trend in slasher films of hiding the slasher’s face behind a mask. The mask Michael Myers wears is frightening because of how much a blank slate it makes him: emotionless and unknown. We don’t know what’s under there, and it makes him scary; without Myers’ mask, or Jason’s hockey mask, it’d just be some dude, which could have been laughable if the actor wasn’t perfectly chosen. We can assign things to a person’s face: we can create a backstory or guess at his character by how somebody looks and acts, their facial expressions and mannerisms. Masks, by their nature, are impersonal, and shrouds the slasher with the unknown.
Also, I think the “killer PoV” camera shots were pretty slick. It’s something that I’ve seen occur more in earlier films than subsequent ones, and I think it’s a shame: it’s a unique twist that is really cool when it’s done right.
You could say the ambient darkness was just reflecting Carpenter’s nonexistent budget and indie filmmaker style, but I think it adds a lot of atmosphere to the film. Seeing glimpses of … something, and a masked something at that, from the ambient moonlight just adds to the creepy factor.
All that said, I think Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th have the better franchises. In an ironic twist, I don’t think the first film in those series’ was necessarily the best compared with later entries, though with Halloween, each subsequent film was half as good as its predecessor (at best). Good Halloween films follow the rule of good Highlander films: there can be only one.
I think most of the horror movies I’ve seen were a part of those long, televised movie marathons Sci-Fi and USA and TNT used to air on major holidays. I know it was on USA, and I’m pretty sure it was Labor Day, when I first saw this fine film.
Tremors shows what happens when two fed-up handymen, Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward, decide to leave the isolated Nevada town of Perfection one day too late. They become trapped in the desert valley by huge subterranean worms that have snake-tentacles in their mouths. These two heroes, along with a college-student seismologist and a cast of oddball city residents—the annoying kid, the single mother, the survivalist gun-nut couple, the Mexican dude, the Asian grocery store owner—have to figure out first how to survive, then how to escape.
The only way I can think to categorize Tremors is as a b-movie creature feature. It has all the parts—monsters, survivors, the heroes, the girl, escape plans, climactic “kill the evil thing” ending. It’s something of a homage to the monster movies of yore, one that manages to keep a straight face while keeping its tongue firmly planted in cheek. Its heroes are handymen; the girl is introduced as pretty homely; the monsters (like all proper b-movie monsters) are both terrifying and somewhat inane; that’s not even including Michael Gross’ survivalist gun-nut character.
This is an enjoyable movie, for its camp, its humor, its slick effects and tight pacing.When a film names its monsters “graboids…” you know it’s not meant to be taken seriously. The fact that it takes itself somewhat seriously—but not too seriously—just adds to the charm. It’s a modern day b-movie, only it rises above the genre to be a solid film.
Why is it scary?
Again, the humor cuts the scariness down a few notches, the film does follow all the basics of a creature feature:
- Isolated location: it’s a tiny town, blocked off from the rest of the world by mountains. There’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and no contact with the outside world.
- Finding the monster’s aftermath: we don’t see the creature for most of the film, just the bloody ruin in the wake of the graboids, including a dessicated corpse in a telephone pole, a decapitated farmer, piles of dead sheep, and a submerged station wagon. We’re shown these things are dangerous before we get a first glimpse of them.
- Don’t Show the Monster: Even when we do see the monster, it’s just one of the snake-like tentacle heads, which is rather small and harmless compared to the real thing. Living under the ground helps: we see the attacks, but not the monster.
- A menace you can’t get to: the graboids are under the ground. Not only are they hard to kill, rarely surfacing to be shot at, but they’re also impossible to see. They strike without warning, grab something, and drag it down under the ground. It’s like Jaws in the desert.
- A smart monster: the graboids get pretty damn smart, proving they can learn later on, which makes the escape attempts come to a screeching halt with the need to devise a new plan.
- Death by other means: there are several instances where the characters are stuck somewhere, in the desert heat, without food or water or shade. They’re put in situations where, if they don’t act, either they’ll die of thirst, or the monsters will get them.
Not the scariest movie out there, but it has plenty of tricks it uses to its advantage.
Since I managed to get ahead of myself on the 15 Days of Horror thing, time to do something different. Since I just read Fritz Leiber’s novel Conjure Wife, I thought I’d do a tie-in between blogs and popped on Netflix to see which of the three movies based on the book were on streaming. The answer would be 1962′s Burn, Witch, Burn!, released as Night of the Eagle in its native land of England.
A quick rundown if you’re too lazy to read a review of the novel: Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde) is a psychology professor at a small England college who lectures on beliefs and the supernatural right before he discovers his wife Tansy (Janet Blair) is a practicing witch. Being a man fueled by logic and reason, he has her burn all of her charms and occult paraphernalia. Wrong move; it turns out she was practicing white witchcraft to aid her husband’s career, and now the disbelieving Norman finds his once easy life is now fraught with peril (and large stone eagles).
There are a number of changes between the book and film, but most of them are marginal. Hempnell College was in New England in the book; because of its location the film dropped replaced the “New” with “Jolly Old.” Tansy no longer has her own dressing room to store her witch stuff in; instead, she keeps them in the drawer above where Norman keeps his pyjamas (British spelling, wot wot!). The stone dragon was replaced with a stone eagle, hence the schlocky original title, and comes complete with a transformation and Hilarious Superimposed Normal Hawk Footage (you can see the strings!). That’s pretty much it; the film is very accurate to its source material.
The biggest changes were with the characters. In the book, Norman was kind of a dick to his colleagues, considering himself better than them, but a loving husband devoted to Tansy; in the film, he’s a dick to everyone. In the book, you get a strong sense that Tansy is calm, collected, and working her butt off to save Norman even though she’s renounced witchcraft (see: the storm scene with the dragon); in the same scene in the film, along with most of her scenes, Tansy is an overemotional neurotic who spends a lot of time screaming. There’s also a bad run of trite dialogue early in the film, but other than that (and the screaming), the acting was fine.
I think the book was much better for handling suspense and tension, though the movie still gave its all. The film is pure budget British (or, British budget) from the early ’60s, so don’t expect a lot, even though Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont were the screenwriters. I think it’s a passable film, not a great movie or lost classic, but it covered the plot of the book without compromising.
As for whether it was scary or not… I’m not the best judge of that, having went into the movie knowing what was going to happen. The film follows the same pattern of strange events to build tension, but it does have some twists that made things interesting—most of them occurring near the end. I thought it was solid, if not outstanding.
The entire thriller genre is something of a bastard child of horror, having adopted its ability to handle suspense, tension, and excitement to play on the viewers’ emotions. Many thrillers have more than a token amount of horror. And that’s not just my justification for another horror-thriller, one that also caters to my love of crime and neo-noir.
Se7en does contain a serial killer, which is the driving force of its plot: said killer has set out to murder seven people, each corresponding to the seven deadly sins. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman are the two detectives assigned to the case; Pitt’s the hot-headed new blood in the department, with a expectant young wife (Gwyneth Paltrow), while Freeman is playing the “older black cop closing on retirement” role that paid Danny Glover’s bills in the ’80s.
There’s a theme with serial killers to put eloquent actors in the role, to make the villain all the more surreal. It worked damn well for Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs, and it works even better for Kevin Spacey here: he’s just not the kind of guy you’d expect to see as a raving psycho. And, like Hopkins, his performance is one blending twisted perversions with high intellect. Not that Pitt or Freeman did a bad job, either; this is a film where the star power was correctly chosen and utilized to its full potential. Plenty of character development and a lot of added depth.
Also, this film has one of the best endings in the history of thriller films. I don’t want to spoil anything, because it is just that damn good.
Why is it scary?
The urban blight of this unidentified neo-noir city works in the thriller’s best interest: the grime and decay adds another degree to the suspense. This setting oozes tension; now, add in Freeman and Pitt investigating grisly murders in it. Add in a few more tense scenes as the investigation expands into Serialkillerville with its mysterious serial killer, and round it off with a shocking climax, and you have a fantastic movie. It wouldn’t be a proper thriller if it didn’t chill you to your bones.