Monday, December 6, 2010

Soft focus on the zombie apocalypse

I just got done watching the final episode of the first season of 'The Walking Dead'.
Overall I'm feeling kind of, "Meh" about the series and I'm not entirely sure why.

Maybe it's just a general overdose of zombies over the past few years.
As a little kid I stayed up late and watched 'Night of the Living Dead' and became an instant (though sleepless) zombie fan. I then had to wait years until another zombie film came on my radar (I was still underage when my friend and I tricked my mom into taking us to see 'Dawn of the Dead'). After that we knew there would be more... but we still had to wait years before seeing the various Italian ripoffs. 'Day of the Dead' was only a vague rumor.
Nowadays you can't swing a cricket bat without hitting a new zombie movie... they've even crossed over into comedy (always the sign of excess). Add in all the not-zombie stuff like 'Rec', '28 Days Later', 'The Crazies'... and we are in an age of total zombie movie infestation.
Yet I still love them!
So... why don't I love 'The Walking Dead'?
Maybe it's because of the format? Maybe zombies are best when they hit and run... as opposed to sticking around for multiple episodes.
I mean, once the zombie apocalypse hits... either everyone gets eaten or... hmmm... I'm trying to remember a zombie film that ended with anything more than a dying pen-light's ray of hope ('Shaun of the Dead' doesn't count). At worst you're only going to have to suffer through one, maybe two, heartfelt conversations while the characters discuss those they've left behind. 'The Walking Dead' has those tender moments every week.

But really, I think it's the characters on 'The Walking Dead' that are helping me to suspend my lack of enthusiasm.
I'm fine with the sheriff... he's not a purely goody-goody, you can see it in his eyes. Sooner or later he's gonna go dark. He's got a bit of complexity going on.
The Asian kid and the redneck? I like them too... stereotypes, yeah, but they're fun and don't whine a lot. They don't stink of 'thespian'.
The rest of them though? Let the zombies eat 'em. The sheriff's wife is annoying she's got all of 2 different facial expressions... worry/concern and shocked indignation. The little kids are barely there except for reaction shots and (I assume) to be placed in danger later on. The 'wise old man' is chock full of corn. The blond woman belongs on a soap opera. I'm not sure what the skinny/scared looking woman is going to be up to now that her husband isn't around to beat on her... mostly she is just for reaction shots too.
Oh, and the deputy guy... I disliked him from his first scene, mostly because that actor's pretending-to-eat mannerisms during food breakfast/lunch/dinner scenes, along with his bogus accent, makes me want to scream... but also because he's such a glaring non-entity except for his position as 'impending storm'... and I much prefer the 'Merle' character in that role, despite him only appearing in one episode so far.

Maybe it didn't matter that most of the un-undead folks in previous zombie movies weren't all that fleshed out... but they only had to last for about 90 minutes. We've had six 45-minute episodes of these people and I'm NOT getting any fonder of them. They're the same two-dimensional twinks they were at the start.

It's not that I want more action, more flesh-eating, more gore... all that stuff is great so far. The problem is that when that stuff isn't happening the show becomes very ordinary... and dull. The show needs to be about something more than just running away from the monsters.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Human Centipede

I'd been pretty much in the dark about this movie up until I watched it with my horror pal last Saturday.
I'd seen the comments around the tubes, "Did you see that preview for 'The Human Centipede'?!!! It looks REALLY crazy!!!"
Somehow that wasn't the right flavor of bait to get me clicking on the links to YouTube.
Dinner With Max Jenke put up a blog about it that suggested it might be a bit wilder than the standard 'mad scientist meets monster' romantic comedy I was assuming it was... but even that didn't move me to look into it.

My friend and I just ended up watching it on a lark... and I'm kind of surprised to say I liked it... or at least I didn't have the reaction that a lot of folks seem to be expecting to have once they get around to seeing it.
For one thing, it's not gory... there's very little blood and no guts. The disgusting aspects of the 'centipede' (more of a dodecapede...) are pretty much left out of the visuals. There is no scatophagia in site. It's mentioned, and (sort of) acted out... but... well I've got a VERY weak gag reflex when it comes to poo-eating and I got through those scenes just fine.
I'm not usually a gorehound... I'm fine with extreme gore if there is some reason beyond mere gross-out chuckles, but a lot of times it's just boringly excessive and doesn't add anything to the story/mood. If anything extreme gore serves as a release from any tension/suspense that might have been building... not a good thing. That said I could have done with a bit more gore in 'The Human Centipede'... I would have liked a bit more visual clues as to the mad doctor's surgery skills and the intracacies of the operation... I'd have been interested in seeing any failed precursors he might have around the lab... like his lamented (but unseen) 'Three Dog'.

I've read a few reviews of 'Centipede' now and they're a mixed lot. Some folks seem to be hired boosters while others see an easy target for their snarky jabs. People going on about how 'bad' it is are just being pretentious. It's a technically well made movie, it looks good. The script is no more ridiculous than most mainstream Hollywood fare and the actors do what they were hired to. The guy playing the doctor is the only character that's even close to fleshed-out and even he remains pretty much a complete cypher at the end of the movie... but that's not at all unusual in horror films.
Actually, this movie is fairly slow-paced. Not a whole lot happens. People are caught and operated on, the doctor prattles on in joy, the police show up, the 'creature' tries to escape... there's a bit of violence... THE END. Not complex or twisty at all. If it wasn't for how totally batshit crazy the doctor character was it would almost drift into the dreaded territory of 'boring'.
Disgusting as the concept is the doctor's vaguely suggested motivation, and that actor's ability to keep him from being a total cartoon, are what sold me on the movie... and made it actually creepy. Creepy enough that it stayed in my head for a while after watching it.
See, usually in these sorts of things the mad scientist has some sort of semi-laudable/sympathetic motivation for the nasty stuff he's perpetrating on his victims... he trying to cure a disease, find immortality, restore his wife/daughter's life/face, end world hunger, transmit matter or bring about world peace... or something would probably condone if it didn't require blood/skin/souls/spleens/brains/etc. from unwilling teenagers.
The crazy doctor in 'The Human Centipede' has no such altruistic goals... in fact he early on declares that he hates human beings. In the past he had been an expert on separating conjoined twins, but he's retired now and his surgical arts & crafts projects are strictly recreational. His ONLY reason for building the 'centipede' is his desire to debase/torture other humans in the worst way imagineable. He's a just a very angry man with surgery room in his basement (despite one character's accusations there's, thankfully, no hint that he's some sort of ex-Nazi... he's obviously a lone gunman in his mania).
I'm certainly not saying this is a great movie... but with so many horror movies (or movies of any type) doing little but copying whatever the last 'hit' was... anything that's even a bit out of synch is worth a look. 'The Human Centipede' earns that look by giving a purely nasty villain with authentically horrifying plans. It stands in contrast to something like 'Hostel' which marketed itself as transgressive and failed miserably to deliver. If 'Centipede's' villain had visited the killing rooms of that other film it might have been a bit less of a bait & switch.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hot Rods and Monsters and Go Go Girls

Just the other day I was bouncing around online and found this place, WOW Monster Show, which reminded me of my love of horror movie hosts. People who so love horror films and monster-culture that they're driven to put on these no-budget spectacles of devotion.
I'll take something with that kind of energy and spunk any day over some overproduced garbage like Avatar.
Loads of people like this stuff, for various reasons, but for me it ties into my love of 50's crap culture... Ok, maybe not 'crap'... but all the stuff that was probably meant to be frivolous and disposable at the time... and which is now 'collectible' or 'retro' or... whatever.
I wasn't around in the 50's but when I was growing up in Vegas I think I saw the tail end of them.
My parents have always been gamblers and even back when my sister and I were tiny tots they'd haul us down the hill to Casino-ville and go toss their change into the 'bandits'.
In the early days they'd leave us in the parking garage, in our station wagon, with a small b&w TV plugged into the cigarette lighter.
My sister and I would spend most of the time fighting over what to watch, but I was older and stronger and she didn't usually win out unless we agreed.
That's where I saw my first horror host.
I didn't catch his name and no one I've asked has any memory of him, but I remember his schtick.
He was dressed as a doctor/surgeon/something and his set was built to look like morgue. He had a few gurneys with bodies on them... and, one of the only other details I can remember, encouraged viewers to send in the names of their friends and he'd make sure they 'appeared' on his show... meaning, their names would show up on the 'toe tags' of the bodies in his lair.
I don't remember what movie was showing or if we even watched it after that... I suspect my parents returned before I could see more.
He might have been the great Vegas Vampire, who I became a fan of a few years later, but I don't remember the Vamp being all that gruesome or scary.

Another memory of those days was the journey from our house to the casino and all the places I saw out the windows of the car, but never visited in person.
Among these two stand out from all the rest... Gil's Club Exotica and The Swanky Club.
I think even back then Gil's was out of business... but it seemed to stand for many years after. It looked like a bar you'd find on a stretch of coastal highway... a white shack with aqua-blue trim and maybe a life preserver or two tacked to wall. I remember it had dead palm trees out front. Not a big place... but I always wondered what kind of stuff had gone on there to make it 'exotica'. I'd like to think it was a defunct tiki bar.
The other place, The Swanky Club, was in a kind of strip mall and seemed a lot busier than Gil's... at least it seemed to be open. Again, I never got to go there, it was long gone by the time I was old enough to drive myself around. But I had a definite vision in my head of well dressed adults in a big room with shag carpeting and a glittery piano player and singer... in later years I also imagined that the folks who went there were swingers and had 'key parties' and such.
Oh well... no one I've ever asked has any memory of these places. It's odd what sort of stuff we notice and hang onto from our childhood.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Maze Of Ashes

I had a dream... a long time ago... where I was viewing a place... a basement? a catacombs? some sort of maze of rooms that seemed to be deep beneath the earth.
There was no real light there... things were sensed rather than seen.
The air was dense with floating ash and the floor had a thick covering of it, along with bones and random bits of machinery and statuary and jewelry.
There were shadows wandering in there... shrouded, thin and alone.
Some of the shadows sat in the ash piles, digging in the rubble of a lost world.
It was clear somehow that these were all the dead gods of earth... forgotten kings of the universe left to wallow in the ruins.
At the end of one hallway there was a room with a ornate arched doorway... and beyond that was absolute blackness. Darker even than the lightless rooms of the maze of ashes.
None of the shadows passed through this doorway, but without words they informed me that beyond that door was the first god, the primal secret.
The rest of the maze had been silent and neither hot nor cold... but this door, it had a sound like a windstorm and I felt the air grow cold as I approached it.