As I looked through horror movies to watch this week, I came across Fingerprints, a low-budget horror movie based on a Texas urban legend regarding a train crash. The legend goes that a school bus stalled on a set of train tracks as a train was about to pass. A few kids managed to escape, but most died when the bus was hit by the train. Now, if a car stops near the tracks, the legend says the car will move, on its own, past the tracks. If you put talcum powder or something similar on your car, you’re supposed to be able to see the fingerprints of the ghost children who push you to get you to safety.
This being a state legend, and since I’m still buzzing from Charcoal Streets and those stories, I decided to see what this little film did with the legend, so I pulled it up on Netflix.
And the first thing I see?
…Comic sans? Really? Okay, so it’s not EXACTLY comic sans, but it’s pretty close. Maybe it’s just the first card.
Nope. They just keep going.
So, what about the title card itself? Surely they were smart enough to at least put in some weird effects. Or maybe they wanted the titles to look like a little kid drew them, just to hammer the point home that there are going to be creepy ghost children in this film?
…Wow. They just didn’t care.
First impressions are very powerful, and if my first impression of this movie is that the designers didn’t even bother to find a creepy or even serious font, I’m not even going to bother with the rest. Sorry, Fingerprints, but you actually lost me in three title cards. Bravo.
Ah, horror movies. At one point, they were entertaining. When did we stop trying?
July 6, 2012
I miss old movies.
It’s how I know I’m getting old. I don’t miss them for the usual reasons, though. It’s not that we aren’t making good movies nowadays. I thoroughly enjoyed Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. The Dark Knight was a blast. 28 Days Later was awesome. In general, it’s not so much the old plots and conventions that I miss, but rather the special effects, and this goes mostly for horror movies.
Can we please stop using CGI for EVERYTHING?
I realize it’s easier for a lot of studios to make a CG monster and it grants the opportunity to make effects for nearly any budget level, but that doesn’t mean the effects look good. Or real. Take a look at these two short clips. Tell me which one looks better, more real, and strikes a better cord with the audience in terms of suspension of disbelief.
And now, Exhibit B:
Okay, I know. I’m comparing one of the classic 90’s movies, and one of the pioneers of the modern special effects movement, to a SyFy channel original movie starring Edward “Wanna Pay to Watch Me Poop on a Plate” Furlong. It’s not a fair comparison.
But I’m really only focusing on the effects. Even a movie like Terminator 3, which should have had effects ten times better and more realistic than T2, actually looked worse. The news is even worse for horror movies. With CG, you can create all the gory little cuts you want, add squibs, or show us the insides of your hapless victims. It’s good to have these tools, but like overeager writing students who think they can write a sonnet and not worry about meter because rules are meant to be broken, moviemakers have gone overboard.
Even Rob Zombie, a man who is an avowed fan of horror movies, couldn’t resist going CG with his own movies despite making them as an homage to 70’s horror and exploitation flicks. While I’m not one who thinks gore equals horror, it does add a level of realism to have actual props, blood, and monsters on camera. We’re not at the point where CG can totally recreate reality, at least not on the levels some studios think it can.
Maybe some day it will look as good, but we’re not there yet. I actually miss watching behind-the-scenes videos that showed the ingenuity needed to make shots occur. Now, behind-the-scenes videos are just information on how many terabytes certain things took up.
All I’m saying is… take the time to make it look good. Or at least make an effort. If it feels like it was too easy, it probably was.
And now, I leave you with a trailer for a movie that, despite using CG, seems to rely more on actual plot. Time will tell, though.
Art, music, gaming, and booze go together like... well, like art, gaming, and booze.
November 9, 2011
I recently discovered Drinkify, a website that matches muscicians with the type of drink best suited to listen to their music. There’s a short list of a few samples over at Buzzfeed, but I think someone needs to make a database for drinks best suited to artists and other areas of art. And gaming.
In fact, we need to get some drinks together. Let’s get started.
Edgar Allan Poe
1/3 oz absinthe
2/3 oz blackberry liqueur
Add blackberry liqueur to shot glass and layer absinthe on top.
H. P. Lovecraft
Dark and Stormy
1 oz black rum
Pour rum into the beer. Drink.
1 part Schnapps, butterscotch
1 dash Schnapps, vanilla
7 parts cream soda
Add both vanilla and butterscotch Schnapps to mug. Pour in cold cream soda and stir very gently.
1.5 oz Scotch
1 tea bag
1 tbsp honey
Put scotch and honey into a mug. Add a tea bag and fill with boiling water. Steep for a few minutes, then remove the tea bag.
This one actually has several drink suggestions based on your style of play. I’m planning on making the spiced wine this weekend to try it out.
1 bottle of beer (bock works best)
1 shot bourbon (Jim Beam works best)
Add the shot of bourbon to the beer. Drink.
German Hot Spiced Wine
1 gal Burgundy wine
1/2 gallon water
1 tsp all-spice
2 whole cinnamon sticks
Slice half the orange and 2 lemons. Peel the zest from the last lemon. Drop into pot. In a tea ball or a piece of cheese cloth, put the allspice, cinnamon sticks, and cloves, drop into pot. Add the burgundy and water. Heat on low until hot, add sugar. Bring to a boil, turn down heat and simmer for 2 hours. Turn off and let rest 30 minutes. Remove tea ball or cheesecloth. Serve in warmed mugs and garnish with 1/2 slice orange floating in cup.
½ oz bourbon
½ oz Mountain Dew
1 oz cinnamon Schnapps
Mix all ingredients in mixing glass, along with 1 cup crushed iced. Strain into margarita glass and serve immediately.
That’s it for today, folks. I’d like to make this a regular feature. If you have specific drink recipes or combos you think are applicable for authors, art, gaming, movies, whatever, send me a message through the Contact Me page and I might include it next time. For now, with the recent announcement that Where’s Waldo? might be made into a movie, enjoy this possible sneak peak at what this cinematic, uhm, experience, might be like.
Guess who has to drop several pounds gained over the last year? Yeah, it’s going to be a fun month cutting back on caffeine, sugar, pounds, AND getting ready for the holiday season. Woohoo?
With that in mind, let’s get some links out of the way.
Assassin’s Creed may be making its way tot he movies, but some insiders are shocked, SHOCKED I say, that Ubisoft has virtually total control over story, casting, everything. What does a video game company know about making movies, they ask? I’d ask instead what the hell Hollywood knows about adapting video games to movies. Bloodrayne, anyone? Prince of Persia? Doom? I could go on…
Speaking of which, the president of Universal admits his company makes “shitty” movies. His words, not mine.
It's Dia de los Muertos themed... not Halloween. You should know how I feel about mixing those two by now.
Today, let me share two pieces of flash fiction. Enjoy, and have a safe and fun Halloween!
“We Do It For You”
Whenever I feel like doing something silly, I wait until I’m standing in front of a mirror and make faces. I stick out my tongue or roll my eyes. Sometimes I just smirk. It takes effort, but it’s very relaxing to do something unexpected. The rest of my day is just spent waiting for my next task. I beg you. Be silly. Show the faces other people don’t know. You really should lighten up. Every time you look in a mirror, it’s always to make sure you look good. It’s to make sure you show the face people want to see.
That’s why I make those faces. You’re too uptight. I’m just trying to lighten the mood. All I ever do is the things you do, copy all your movements.
One day, I’m going to make you grab a pen and shove it in your eye.
My uncle is an exorcist. We were talking one day and I happened to mention my friends and I were going to see a horror movie later. He looked at me with all seriousness and said he never watches horror movies. It’s not that he’s scared. He’s insulted. They’ve never gotten it right.
An exorcism isn’t some ritual performed on some teen girl wearing a white nightgown. An exorcism is a fight. He told me he once went to a house in a poor section of the city. One of the man’s daughters was possessed, and my uncle went in to do battle. He wasn’t a priest. He wasn’t a man who studied theology in all its forms. He was a man of faith. If The Exorcist showed the tactical game of wits between good and evil, my uncle was a street fighter who walked up to demons and ghosts and sent them out with a sucker punch.
He never really told me what the exorcism looked like. I didn’t want to press him since he had the kind of look a soldier gives if you ask if he ever had to shoot someone.
My uncle did tell me one thing, a small detail I’ve never been able to forget. While an exorcist fights demons, the demons will fight back and make sounds like dogs. They howl and bark and sound like animals in pain.
How many howling dogs in the middle of the night are demons trying to stay on Earth?
Now shown? The dismembered corpses hidden under the house.
October 24, 2011
It’s the best week of the year, and with Halloween coming up, I thought a whole week of horror-themed articles are in order.
Let’s talk about the must have’s for any Halloween movie viewing marathon.
The thing to remember when trying to pick horror movies for mass viewing is that everyone is going to have vastly different tastes. Some people want gore. Others want something scary but funny. Maybe others love the suspense. With that in mind, this list is going to include a little bit of everything. It’s not a “The Best Horror Movies EVAH!” list. It’s what I think works when you have to satisfy a lot of tastes.
Genius inventor Jigsaw traps people in elaborate traps designed to metaphorically make them face something about themselves. This is usually a dark secret or a vice that makes them inadequate in the killer’s eyes.
Okay, so the sequels could have done without basically turning into a series of more and more elaborate scenarios that missed the whole thematic point of the original. So what if pretty much the point of the movies after the third one was to show how sadistic the writers could be?
The original movie is AWESOME. It barely shows any blood (unlike the sequels), and it’s more concerned with the characters actually finding a way out, unlike the rest of the series where we just get a sickening countdown until someone dies because, let’s face it. If you’re in a Jigsaw trap, you’re dead. Most the gore is implied, making this, surprisingly, a good intro to novice horror watchers. Trust me. They don’t show anything you wouldn’t see on a graphic episode of CSI.
This is it. The gore-fest. The standard. Every movie with exploding bodies or dismembered body parts wishes it has the kind of humor, shock, and lasting power this movie has enjoyed.
Herbert West is a medical student with a secret. He’s working on a serum, his “reagent,” that can bring dead flesh back to life. His goal is to wipe out death, to make humans immortal, but the tests aren’t promising. Anyone brought back suffers from violent personality and animal-like hunger. That’s not going to stop the good doctor from trying, though.
This has to be not only one of my favorite horror movies, but also one of my favorite horror films. Not only do we get Jeffrey Combs at his hammy best, but the film is very much aware of what it is: a horror comedy. And it does it well. The gore is over the top. The humor is dark. The whole movie’s like finishing an onion blossom by yourself. It’s fried and you know it can’t be this good, but damn if it’s not tasty.
I showed this to a friend who is very squeamish about gore, and while she shrieked and yelped, she admitted she had a great time with it. It’s just so over-the-top that it works.
“Halloween” and “Halloween H20”
Okay, so this one’s two films instead of one.
Halloween is the classic story of horny teens getting offed by a masked killer on a meaningful holiday. Michael Meyers is one of the templates for every slasher after 1977. The films that came out afterwards? It gets crappier and crappier until the last few movies where the writers decide to throw in something about a Celtic curse and some psychic powers. Needless to say, those last few movies are… not good.
If you watch only the first movie, the 1977 film that made Jamie Lee Curtis one of the undisputed scream queens, then jump twenty years to the unfortunately named Halloween H20, you get a decent storyline that actually has plot.
H20 still has the trappings of the slasher genre, but it’s smart enough to bring back Curtis as a more mature, grown up version of her original character. Think about it. She survived one of the most traumatic nights of her life and evaded a serial killer that is the stuff of legend. What would something like that do to a person? That’s pretty much what H20 is about, and it leads up to a climactic battle that caps off a 20-year old rivalry.
Just ignore the movie that came after this one, too. Trust me. It’s better if you don’t know.
Monsters attack diner. Diner Patrons fight back. Monsters start killing off patrons one by one. No one has a name.
Feast is both a parody and homage to horror movies. Every character is designated by a convenient subtitle like “Hero,” or “Harley Mom,” or “Beer Guy.” We even get a little leaning-on-the-fourth-wall subtitle telling us everyone’s chance of survival. Some of these estimates are clearly sarcastic.
The result is a movie that is actually a lot smarter than it looks. The patrons are very much aware of how screwed they are and they aren’t all dumb. In fact, they’re quite mortal and when I say anyone can die, I mean ANYONE. No, really. Just try and guess who makes it out and who actually bites the dust and when.
“In the Mouth of Madness”
Let’s say you got that one guy in the crowd that wants something a little meatier, something more psychological. Bust out some Sam Neil.
A prominent author (lovingly modeled after Stephen King) has vanished as his new book is due to hit the shelves. A series of strange murders tied to his books has the publisher worried, so they send a private investigator to find the elusive writer. The journey takes our investigator on a trip into a town that should be fictional, a town filled with beings and situations that cannot possibly be real. All the while, our hero and the audience have to wonder… Is it all real, or are we seeing things through the eyes of a madman?
The movie never really concerns itself with fully explains where the eldritch abominations from beyond time and space came from or why they chose to come through books and other media. It doesn’t explain why the author is seemingly the avatar of alien monstrosities. It doesn’t even bother showing you if things are real or just a dream.
It’s just going to throw weirdness after weirdness and you and you’re going to accept it. Why? Because it’s cool…
It just is. Trust me.
There are MANY more movies out there you could use. Of course there are: The Thing, Nightmare on Elm Street, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Psycho, The Shining, etc. These are just a few of the ones I think would be good for a party. If you just want to do some drinking games with dum kids getting killed, any old slasher film will work. I recommend something from the 80’s or somewhere between 1999 and 2009. Most of the schlock came from these years. The more obscure, the better.
Just remember. There are no bad movies. Just movies you can make REALLY funny with the right crowd.
To show you how to properly riff, here are Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy doing what they do best.
The Thing is one of those classic films that really changed the genre. The special effects showed a graphic representation of alien invasion on a biological level. The sense of paranoia created by not knowing and actually caring who had been infected by the Thing made it not only deeply disturbing, but also unleaded nightmare fuel.
So how did the prequel/remake stack up?
I’m going to try and not give away any spoilers, but here’s the lowdown on the original 1982 film.
An American research station in Antarctica finds out that a nearby Norwegian outpost has been decimated by… something. They investigate and find evidence of an ancient starship buried in the ice. However, as a coming storm threatens to cut the Americans off from all contact with the rest of the world, they slowly realize that something from the Norwegian camp made it to the American outpost. It can perfectly mimic whatever it consumes. And not everyone is human anymore.
The prequel actually starts days before in the Norwegian camp. After finding the alien ship, they call in a paleontologist, Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). When she arrives, the team removes an alien corpse from the ice and begins to study it, but soon things take a turn when the alien wakes up and escapes. Soon, the team can’t be sure who is still human or not.
The movie is FUN, and I mean that in the best way. One thing I liked compared to the 1982 film is that the prequel actually has happy, likable characters. Kurt Russell is dour and jaded and shell-shocked, and everyone else is pretty much just as dark. The Norwegian team, though, is actually having fun with their work, making it more jarring when the bodies start piling up. Winstead is actually really good in her role as an archeologist-turned-Amazon and she adds some heart to the film.
Because of the changes in special effects technology, the monster is much faster and interacts with the victims much more prominently. We get to see some very freaky transformations that don’t have to cut back and forth between different models. Plus, we FINALLY get to see how the thing absorbs someone and changes them, and it’s the kind of thing that would make the Marquis de Sade gag.
Best of all, whoever wrote the script actually paid attention to a little something called continuity. We get to find out what the hell the creature the American team found was and we got to see why the Norwegian camp was such a warzone, including finally explaining the corpse that apparently killed itself in the radio room.
Once the action gets going, it gets going, too. While it starts with the same kind of paranoia as the original, it soon turns into a chase to stop the creature, and it’s much faster than the original film.
Let’s face it: it’s a foregone conclusion than pretty much every character you see is going to die by the end of the film. They have to. There are only so many ways to tell this story, too, and if anyone is smart enough, they do what the characters do to try and weed out the alien. This unfortunately means that the general plot is a dead giveaway. You know the broad strokes of what will happen.
By having the creature take a center stage in the action and featuring all sorts of close-ups and extended transformations, the film obviously needed to step the game up. While early reports said that the film was going to use as little CGI as needed, the final version is FULL of CGI. Not only that, but it’s not revolutionary in any way. It looks okay. It’s not a bad computer effect, but it’s the same thing that’s been done over and over again.
Does the 2011 film stack up to the remake? Yes and no.
It was a really fun movie overall. I enjoyed the action scenes and was concerned with the welfare of every character. I thought Winstead and the rest of the cast were very good at their roles.
However, I do want to address something else. As io9 pointed out, a lot of viewers are complaining that the Thing in the prequel doesn’t seem to have any plan, unlike the original film where it was trying to leave Antarctica and infect the rest of the world. True, but I actually thought it made sense. In the prequel, the monster’s just woken up. It’s weak. Even if it infects other humans, it’s still an alien to our culture and our ways. It’s probably more scared than anything.
By the time we get to the sequel, it’s had time to adapt and it makes the great escape plan of looking like a dog so others will take it in. Even at the end of this film, it finally wised up and decided to try to blend in to get rescued as a human.
Would I watch it again? Probably. It’s not a terrible film by any means, but it does have the added weight of having to live up to one of the standards of the genre, so that hurts it.
Go watch it. If you saw the 1982 version and loved it, this is a nice addition to the mythology. If you’ve never seen the Kurt Russell version, do yourself a favor and do so now before seeing this one.
It’s that time again. This weekend was spent watching horror movies, and seeing as how we didn’t get to play the horror RPG I set up, I’m in a bit of a horror mood this week. Let’s add to the wonderful list of clichés that need to die, shall we?
Hillbillies in Texas
Let’s sit for another vocabulary lesson, shall we? The term “hillbilly” is a derogatory term to identify someone born in mountainous, rural areas of the country, specifically the Appalachians and the Ozarks.
This means that those murderous clans in Texas, or Utah, or wherever the hell else the movies are set, are not “hillbillies” in the strictest sense. Of course, this kind of mentality, that someone from a rural area is inbred or otherwise genetically deficient, is insulting for a number of reasons, but I’m personally taking offense to the old idea of giving these groups in all these movies the same no-names back-story.
They get cut off from “civilization” and a few decades later you have a nice clan of inbred cannibals, because if there’s one thing a group of people who survive out in the wilderness can’t do, it’s hunt, right? I mean, how many people raised in rural areas of the country do you know can hunt? It’s ridiculous, right?
Seriously. The guys from Wrong Turn and Texas Chainsaw Massacre probably have yearly family reunions.
I’ve had friends from all walks of life. Some were Christians, some agnostic, others pagan. Some were conservative, others liberal. Some were straight. Some were gay. Some were bi. A few had a higher education. Some didn’t. And yet, when together with them, you could always tell we were all good friends.
If I have to watch another group of “friends” that look like they’re about to kill each other every five minutes, I might scream.
Most horror movies already have the cliché of “young friends go on the road, trouble finds them.” That would be bad enough, but the movie feels it needs to lump in a mix of personalities: the jock, the nerd, the slut, the innocent girl, etc. Instead of having a story draw everyone in, we get everyone in a car because they apparently know each other and they have nowhere else to go.
I’m serious. Watch the interactions in any movie that features more than three people traveling somewhere. They can’t stand each other.
And I know that friends can bicker and argue, but the groups of friends that go into these trips to an island, or a party, or the haunted mansion where a hundred people were killed by a lone sociopath so it should be a prime Spring Break vacation are so utterly incompatible as a “group” that I find it easier to believe the serial killer really can teleport.
Lovecraft is one of my favorite writers. Just search for him on this site and you’ll see. If he didn’t invent the tentacle monstrosity or the abomination lurking beneath the water, he sure set the groundwork for it. Virtually everyone from Stephen King to Guillermo del Toro has, at some point, used Lovecraft’s monsters as a template for their own horror shows.
And now, can we please move beyond the need to have every inhuman alien or creature look like a Japanese entrée?
There’s a reason tentacles and slimy things unnerve us. They’re not something we see every day. We’re land-based animals that still fear the unknown, and tentacles and goopy aquatic adaptations are some of the strangest things our animal brains can see. That’s what makes this terrifying.
It also means everyone and their mother does it. I’ll admit something, though: this cliché would be very difficult to undo or break away from. You can only design something to make it look alien so much before it becomes either ridiculous or unrecognizable as a life form. The horror of the strange yet familiar is what tickles all of our brain.
Still, if someone found another way to make truly alien beings appear alien and terrifying, I’d appreciate it.
In a video game, it’s not uncommon for your ninja guy on a mission of vengeance to call out his attacks as he does them. Think Street Fighter or any other fighting game. It sounds and looks cheesy right?
So why have we accepted that vampires get weird eyes or otherwise turn animalistic when they’re about to attack?
There’s some justification for this one. At least in the case of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon thought it would be disturbing if high schoolers continually stabbed and killed human-looking villains all the time. Not having to have them dispose of the bodies is another reason for why vampires “dust” when they die.
However, pretty much any time a vampire is going to go for broke, the eyes turn a different color, sometimes the fangs grow out, something. If these are supposed to be stealthy killing machines, why the theatrics? It’s much scarier NOT knowing when the monster is going to attack.
Personally, if you’re shooting for straight horror, nothing’s scarier than a guy who could live next door just casually chewing on someone’s neck or severed arm. It would be hard to pull it off, though.
Any fan of horror should know this one without me even spelling it out. A killer is on the rampage. Dumb college kids are dying left and right. As the killer approaches the Final Girl, we can only wonder what combination of events and motivations led this killer on a murderous spree…
Oh wait. We can’t.
A lot of killers get something akin to a back-story. Freddy was a child murderer. Jason’s mother was killed in front of him. Michael Myers… uhm…
Even the ones that get something like a back-story quickly abandon it in favor of killing and slashing for the sake of murder. At the third sequel, does anyone really care whether or not Jason’s mother went on a killing spree that ended in her death and pushed her son to become a violent killer? There’s nothing wrong with having the antagonist be the star of your show. Having the bad guy be front and center, exploring his or her emotions, is a great way to tell a story from an unconventional point of view.
Let me put it another way. Either the bad guy’s interesting, or the heroes are interesting. One or the other or both.
Most horror films can’t do even one.
And you can be sure I’ll be avoiding as many of these as possible when I finally run my horror game this week. See you tomorrow!