Friday, January 29, 2010

Edge of Darkness

Mel Gibson's return to the screen in Edge of Darkness doesn't reinvent the conventions of the thriller genre but it does bring a bracing authority to its familiar beats. This is territory that Gibson knows well, as does director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) and their collaboration has resulted in a supremely sure-footed effort.

With a script by William Monahan and Andrew Bovell based on an 1985 BBC miniseries, Edge of Darkness follows Gibson's character, a Boston homicide detective, as he investigates the death of his beloved daughter who returned home for a visit only to be gunned down next to him on the porch of his home. As expected in a thriller, the reasons behind his daughter's death are not simple and in fact tie in to a much larger conspiracy.

In playing a grieving parent who turns their rage towards seeking justice and, ultimately, revenge, Gibson is in top form. This is a role that's tailor-made for him and in his first starring role since 2002 (When We Were Soldiers, Signs), Gibson doesn't leave anything on the table. Recently, many of the glowing reviews for Up in the Air cited George Clooney's indelible movie star charisma as being vital to that movie's success and the same can be said of Gibson on Edge of Darkness. Gibson sells the character of Thomas Craven, and this movie, in a way that few other actors could.

At heart, the conflicts that Craven goes through here are nothing new. He's up against forces bigger than he imagined but he's got righteous rage on his side. But Gibson doesn't play Craven as a stock character. The loss that he suffers as a father is palatable (throughout the movie, Craven speaks to the spirit of his daughter, a device that I wasn't sure was necessary but it has a touching pay-off at the end) and in his quest to uncover the truth, he is capable to the point of being efficiently lethal but he isn't a superman. The time away from acting hasn't dimmed Gibson's chops in the least and this is a performance that easily ranks with the best of his career.

As the first movie to get Gibson in front of the camera in eight years, one might wonder what was so special about this script. On the surface, the fact that it appears to be a familiar, audience-pleasing revenge story might lead some to assume that Edge of Darkness simply represented safe ground for Gibson but I think it's more a case of this being the kind of tough movie that has gone out of fashion and that Gibson responded to that. Edge of Darkness delivers on the gratifying, only-in-the-movies fantasies of scoring payback and putting down the people who need to be put down but it's also about hard-nosed characters facing mortality and the crooked, compromised ways of the world with sober understanding.

There's also a political anger at work here (as Craven's search for answers moves him farther up the ladder of Massachusetts' legislature) that is more pointed than I've seen in any mainstream film of late.

Besides Gibson, the other indispensable player here is Ray Winstone as "Captain" Matt Jedburgh, an CIA officer called in to handle the potentially messy fallout of Craven's daughter's death. This role was originally cast with Robert DeNiro but thankfully he dropped out as it's impossible to imagine that DeNiro could've matched Winstone's performance. His scenes with Gibson as these kindred men of honor spar with each other are among the film's high points.

The action and thriller genre has become increasingly glib, marked by outrageous, over-the-top violence but the slow-burning style of Edge of Darkness is a reminder of a time when these kinds of films weren't glorified cartoons. The closest thing to it in recent years would be Taken (2008), which seemed like a throwback to an old-school Charles Bronson type of movie but Gibson wouldn't go for anything so lightweight. Gibson has a thing for suffering and Edge of Darkness is right in line with that. Compared to almost anything else out there, it's, well, dark. But I think Gibson would say that's just life we're looking at.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Big Win

There are many valid instances where awards must be given as a acknowledgment of achievement - specifically in the worlds of sports or academic activities. That's where accomplishments can be definitely, inarguably measured. If you've run a race faster than any of your competitors, if you've outscored your opposing team - these are the kind of concrete wins that deserve special commendation.

From fencing tournaments to spelling bees, whether it's on the local, national or worldwide level, these are the kind of contests where champions are rightly honored. It isn't about popularity, it isn't about the mood of the crowd, it isn't about gaming the system, it's about who was able to bring it on that day.

When it comes to the arts, things get a little fuzzy. The music, television, stage and film industries all honor their own and while many deserving artists are singled out each year, I don't think anyone believes that these awards are given in an objective, even-handed way. I love the glitz and pageantry and ballyho of these ceremonies but at the end of the day, it's pretty much bs. That's because so much of who wins these awards comes down to politics within their respective industries - and down to individual taste, of course. Determining what's best in any creative field is always bound to be imperfect and subjective - just think of the many notorious blunders made by the Oscars over the years. But an awful lot of work goes into making films, music, TV shows, and musicals happen - so if these industries want to honor their own with some made-up awards once a year with a night of collective ass-kissing, then so be it.

Given how popular and prevalent awards are, it should probably be no surprise to see the world of blogging becoming more award-happy as well. Bloggers have been passing awards around to each other in gestures of mutual appreciation and camaraderie for awhile now, as seen in examples at the right of this blogspot. Now the online horror news outlet Bloody Disgusting is giving a shout-out to bloggers with their Horror Bloggers Awards.

This is in direct response to a minor uproar over Total Film's recent Best Horror Blog Award in which news outlets like BD, Shock Till You Drop and Dread Central were nominated instead of actual horror blogs. While I do agree that Total Film should've been more accurate in their wording, or else nominated actual blogspots, my opinion on that controversy was "who cares?"

But because of that slight, BD's blogging awards are here with 62 (!) blogs in the running, including (to my surprise) this one. That's an awful lot of blogs vying for votes - and even with that huge number of contenders, I can readily think of many more excellent blogspots that inexplicably weren't included. In looking at this contest, and in anticipating more like it to come, I think that it may turn out to be that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. The idea of honoring the efforts of bloggers is noble enough but as a community, I think that contests and competitions should be something we look at with extreme skepticism - if not avoid altogether.

As I said above, there's 62 blogspots nominated in BD's contest. Some of these blogs I already knew of; a good deal of them, though, I hadn't heard of before. The good news is that seeing these new names (new to me, at least) has brought them to my attention. But the reality is that no one casting a vote in this contest will take the time to look over each and every one of these blogs and make an impartial decision on which is best based purely on the merits of their content.

For one, what makes one blog better than another? Is it how frequently they update - because that really is so dependent on someone's personal situation, like whether someone is a student, is unemployed, is self-employed, is single or attached and so on. Is it how they write, because even within the small community of horror bloggers, there's many different styles - and skill with language doesn't always count so as much as passion. Is it the subjects they tackle, because I know there's a lot of well-respected blogs I don't frequent just because the subject they're dedicated to isn't to my personal taste. Even under the larger umbrella of horror, there's a lot of separate - if friendly - camps.

But all this varied criteria aside, the truth is at the end of the day people are simply going to vote for who they know. And even that isn't as easy as it sounds as in this case most of the people voting are most likely bloggers themselves (who else cares about blogs but other bloggers?) and probably fellow nominees in this contest - so how that will play out is anybody's guess. For the record, I won't be voting myself. I do have an opinion on what I feel the best blog out there is but voting for it would mean not voting for several other blogs I also love so I feel better just abstaining altogether.

Way back when, I used to self-publish a fanzine called Gravedigger's Union. Due to issues of time and money, it would take me on the average about a year to get an issue out - between writing all the content (with rare contributions from outside sources), finding photos, getting the layout done, and getting it published. After that, there would be the matter of personally schleping copies to comic book and music stores in the area (with some mail orders to fill, thanks to reviews of Gravedigger's Union in the magazine Factsheet Five, a publication that was dedicated to the 'zine community). From top to bottom, it was hard and expensive work but my reward was that I had a magazine of my own making to look at and the occasional snail mail response from readers. It was, in every way, a labor of love.

In light of my fanzine experiences, the opportunity that having a blogspot represents is something miraculous. That I can write something, and with a click, have it be read by people around the world - all with never leaving my home - is just amazing. I never check the hits that this blogspot receives because I know that no matter what, any single post I put up is going to be read by more people, in more far-flung areas, than ever read the fanzine that I put so much time and money into. As corny as it may sound - that, in itself, feels like a prize.

This is not, and will never be, a competition for me. Just by having this blog I feel like I'm ahead of the game - I don't need another win on top of that.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Horror In The Age Of YouTube

One of my four-year-old son Owen's most requested activities is to watch horror previews on YouTube. Mostly we watch old-school monster movie stuff, with some newer material on occasion. But in the process of warping his mind, I got to thinking about the easy access to horror that YouTube provides and whether it's a dangerous detriment to the genre's mystique. It's one thing to be able to pull up trailers but to be able to see random scenes out of context is something that can't help but degenerate the sensibilities of viewers.

Like every other young movie buff who grew up in the pre-home video age, I would scout the TV listings each week looking to see when classic films would be airing and make sure I was in front of the TV to watch them. To know that, say, Psycho would be on at 4 o'clock on Tuesday made it into an event. And in the specific case of Psycho, waiting for the shower scene was a source of obvious anticipation - to know that this infamous scene was coming and that I'd better be paying attention because once it was over I'd have to wait until the movie repeated maybe several months later to see it again. The fact that anyone who hasn't seen Psycho today who wants to satisfy their curiosity can go to YouTube, watch the shower scene and then move on to answering their e-mail strikes me as incredibly dispiriting.

I'm sure people old enough to have seen Psycho in theaters in 1960 would say that it wasn't the same experience to watch Psycho on TV with commercials and so on and while that's surely true, that seems ideal compared to watching it in bits and pieces on a computer - or on a phone, for that matter.

For past generations of kids, a large part of horror's allure was that it was inaccessible - a forbidden fruit. Either you couldn't get into theaters for R-rated movies or your parents didn't have cable or a VCR or else they did have all that but they closely monitored the television. That might sound like it sucked but to my mind, that early drive to have to find ways to watch horror movies - that need to be patient, resourceful, and dedicated - instilled a sense of passion that remains at the heart of many adult fan's ongoing love of the genre.

Now everything is just a click away - even the likes of Cannibal Holocaust or Zombie. Horror hungry kids don't even have to beg their parents to stay up late, to lie about what they're up to, or ask for money for a video rental. It used to be a real adventure to go to the video store to find a Fulci movie or some Italian cannibal flick (and to try and watch it someplace without any parents getting wise) but now anyone can watch the zombie vs. shark fight in Zombie on their computer with no hassle. I ask you - where's the romance in that?

I was so determined to see horror movies as a kid that I'd try to watch R-rated movies through the static of cable channels that my parents didn't subscribe to. Now if anyone wants to see Linda Blair spewing pea soup in The Exorcist or the chest-burster from Alien, the clips are out there 24/7. That's assuming, of course, that kids today even care about old crap that was notorious once upon a time. I'm sure they've moved on to much harder material.

Horror ultimately depends on context to work - from a classic like The Haunting (1963) to the cheesiest Saw sequel. While I think it's still possible to scare audiences today and that the internet can have a hand in generating excitement for a film (as The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity proved), the age of YouTube could threaten to turn horror into a Greatest Hits collection. When future generations wonder why so many horror movies don't have the same impact that they did on earlier audiences, it won't be so much a case of "you had to be there to understand" but only that you just had to watch the damn movie.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Butcher Knives & Body Counts

This fall, a new anthology compiling over 75 essays on slasher cinema will be released by Dark Scribe Press. The title is Butcher Knives & Body Counts: Essays on the Formats, Frights and Fun of the Slasher Film. Contributors to the collection include authors Jack Ketchum, John Skipp, Stephen Graham Jones, Cody Goodfellow, Lisa Morton, Hatchet and Frozen director Adam Green, FANGORIA's Tony Timpone, Going To Pieces author Adam Rockoff, and many others.

I'm happy to say that I will be included among these names, with three essays set to appear in BK&BC. My small part in its pages aside, I think this is going to be a terrific book for slasher fans so I'm anxiously awaiting its publication. For more info, check out Dark Scribe's BK&BC blogspot!

Friday, January 22, 2010

When Angels Attack

When people accuse James Cameron of not being fully original with Avatar (if I had a nickel for every shrill cry of "It's Ferngully in Space!" that I've heard I'd be as rich as, well, James Cameron ) they clearly don't know or don't appreciate the kind of wholesale pilfering that constantly goes on in the world of genre cinema. Horror, sci-fi, and fantasy are all about recycling familiar ideas and putting new glosses on time-tested storylines. Personally, I find that to be part of their appeal - seeing the same stories retold in different ways, for different eras and different generations. Rip-offs, homages, shared inspiration, whatever - it's what makes the genre world go 'round.

That said, I believe Legion has set a new record for appropriating from other sources - blatantly lifting from The Prophecy, Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight, From Dusk Till Dawn, Maximum Overdrive, Exorcist III, and The Terminator.

Scriptwise, Legion is a Frankenstein monster of stitched together parts - which makes it a good thing that director Scott Stewart (who re-wrote Legion after Peter Schink's original draft) is able to provide some lightening to bring it to life.

Brought to life or no, many will still call this movie an ungainly creature (and not without good reason) but I think as a calling card (this is Stewart's first feature after a long career in visual effects), Legion portends a promising directorial future for Stewart. I know for damn sure that I'm now jazzed to see his next film, this summer's futuristic vampire opus Priest. As long as it leans heavily on the visuals, I bet that it'll be a great time - regardless of the script. A lot of reviewers in nerd circles gave the recent Daybreakers props for being like an old-school John Carpenter movie but in truth, it was nothing like old-school Carpenter. Legion, on the other hand, absolutely is (even if it lacks the skilled finesse of those early films).

Carpenter's films are known for favoring siege scenarios with compressed timelines and characters defined through action and Legion is 100% in that mold. Think of it as Assault on Precinct 13 meets The Omen.

At the Paradise Falls diner in New Mexico, the last stand of humanity is taking place. Adrianne Palicki plays Charlie, a waitress who's pregnant with the child who may be the Second Coming. Unfortunately, God has decided that he wants to scrub humanity altogether and he's sent an army of angels to accomplish that. Archangel Michael (Paul Bettany) has gone rogue, however (he even cut off his own wings!), and he plans to stand between Charlie and the forces of Heaven who want to ensure that her baby is never born. Helping Michael are Dennis Quaid as Bob, the diner's owner; Lucas Black (of American Gothic) as Bob's son Jeep; Charles S. Dutton as Percy, the diner's one-handed cook, and an assortment of other diner patrons who just happen to be passing through when Judgement Day comes.

The action in Legion is bloody and over-the-top (including a splat-stick moment that would be at home in a Sam Raimi movie as a possessed old lady gets nailed with a hurled frying pan - although Stewart plays even the most exaggerated bits with a straight face) and it already has an early front runner for Best Fight Scene for next year's Video Music Awards with a heavyweight WWE smackdown between archangels Michael and Gabriel (Kevin Durand). I've read that originally, the Legion script had the angel characters as demons and that Stewart altered the storyline to its present form when he came on board. If so, good choice. Demons have been done to death in a hundred horror films but jacked-up, battle-hardened angels who truly do kick ass for the Lord, not so much. And as a heads-up, fans of the DC Comics character Hawkman should check this out because to see Gabriel in action with his enormous wings and his pimped-out mace is to see just how sick a live-action Hawkman movie could be.

Make no mistake - Legion is a ridiculous movie. It's both harebrained and lunkheaded. However, it'd be a lie to say that I didn't enjoy myself - even if I was laughing uproariously at moments that were likely not meant as comedy. Still, I hope there's always a place in this sad little world for pulp nonsense like this. And I'm telling you - keep an eye on Scott Stewart. One day he's going to make a movie that geeks will really go crazy over. Or maybe not. But for now, I've got faith.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Beast In The Black

Nowadays with the easy access to all things horror provided by cable, DVDs, downloads, and so on, kids looking for a fright fix are living in a much different world than the one that Gen-Xers grew up with.

Back in the day, if you couldn't get into R-rated movies and your household didn't have a VCR, it was a big deal whenever anything horror-related would rear its head on TV - no matter how tepid it was. I was so hard-up for horror as a kid, I would even get stoked whenever Fantasy Island would take a turn towards the scary (which it often did, as in those episodes when Mr. Rourke would lock horns with Satan) and I thrilled to the episode of The Brady Bunch where the Bradys went to Hawaii and it appeared as though they had fallen victim to a cursed tiki idol.

But when earnest school teacher turned bumbling superhero Ralph Hinkley (William Katt) crossed paths with the eponymous entity of The Greatest American Hero episode, "The Beast In The Black" (originally aired on December 9th, 1981) that was heaven for me. GAH was my favorite series at the time and they were doing a horror episode to boot - how cool was that?

When Ralph is given permission to raid an old house scheduled for demolition of as many valuables as he and his class of teenage delinquents can carry, he rallies his students to do so in the name of raising money to buy a class present for their high school. Of course, whenever a home with a troubled history and an ominous "Sold" slapped on the realtor's sign appears in a movie or TV show, chances are good that it's haunted property and sure enough, the house in "The Beast In The Black" is plenty haunted.

...It's so haunted, in fact, that it even has a wheelchair that moves by itself and careens down a staircase, as in the then-recent supernatural shocker The Changeling (1980).

Scouting out the location ahead of the arrival of his students, Ralph and his cohort in crime fighting, FBI agent Bill Maxwell (Robert Culp), start to see what this old house is made of. Wearing his alien-made super suit, Ralph approaches a brick wall and is able to see past the wall to what looks like a portal into another dimension. Invisible to Bill's eyes, a woman (Christine Belford) sits in a parlor in front of a fireplace.

...Turning when she senses Ralph's eyes on her.

As Sheila Redman, a woman who died years ago in the house, the look of actress Christine Belford here reminds me of Karen Black in Burnt Offerings (1976) - specifically as Black's character looked at the end of that movie, with her brown eyes having turned an icy shade of blue.

Believing the woman is silently imploring him for help, Ralph is able to use to suit to pass intangibly through the brick wall, into this fourth dimensional space. Instead of standing in the parlor he was just peering into, he's first wandering through a vast black space.

Inside that blackness, a pair of red eyes lock in on Ralph.

And whatever it is that those eyes belong to (the episode is vague as to what the Beast actually is - apparently some kind of watchdog from beyond), it makes lunch out of Ralph. In describing the omnivorous creature featured in "The Crate" episode of Creepshow (1982), Stephen King referred to it as like the Tasmanian Devil of Looney Tunes fame but that more accurately relates to "The Beast In The Black" in that, like that whirling cartoon tsunami of teeth and claws, the Beast flashes in and out of sight with subliminal speed. Ralph doesn't even get a chance to fight back, the poor bastard.

Making it out of the fourth dimension and to the local hospital, Ralph's body is seen to be covered in vicious welts. As a kid, this struck me as pretty hardcore. I mean, Superman never got torn up like this. It's common today to see heroes getting knocked around and bloodied but at the time it was a novel to see a super powered character be so vulnerable to attack. It's also interesting that, unlike most fictional heroes, Ralph isn't required to go back for a win in order to retain his heroic posture. Most heroes would've been honor-bound to not let anyone or anything get the best of them but in "The Beast In The Black" (written by Juanita Bartlett), Ralph doesn't let his ego put him back in harm's way. He got his ass handed to him but there's so sense of pride drawing him back to even the score. He only returns to the house in order to get his students out before the house can harm them.

The rest of the episode is almost totally Beast-free, dealing with the machinations of the ghost to inhabit the body of Bill Maxwell after he briefly dies thanks to the lethal one-two combo of a brass chandelier and gravity.

Sheila possesses Bill, and apparently will be content to live a new life as a man rather than be destroyed when the demolition crews bring the house down.

Culp does a fine job playing Bill as inhabited by Sheila, but the possession angle can't help but feel so-so after the ferocity of the Beast's attack (and to have Culp speaking in Belford's dubbed voice is unmistakably silly as well). The Beast makes an encore appearance in the climax, tearing Ralph another new one as he has to bring Bill/Sheila back into that fourth dimensional parlor in order to get Sheila out of Bill's body for good. As he does so, the Beast is chomping at his heels all the way.

The Greatest American Hero struggled throughout its three season run to find a balance between the more realistic treatment of its characters and their world that creator Stephen J. Cannell strived for and the more sci-fi, creature-orientated program that the network felt would draw in kids. Usually those later shows were the weakest of the series' run, pushing the series towards infantile territory (not because of the fantasy elements themselves but because of how poorly they were handled), but "The Beast In The Black" was an exception. The episode may not have had a sustained sense of terror, or much logic (why Ralph turns to a psychic to locate Bill when the suit already gives him psychic abilities - which he uses in this same story! - is unexplained), but as directed by experienced TV vet Arnold Laven, "The Beast In The Black" did have a little bite to it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Web Too Far

If I keep commenting on Spider-Man news, I should probably change the name of this blogspot to Dinner with Peter Parker but what can I say - I'm a web-head from way back. To hear the news this week that Sam Raimi had officially parted ways with Sony, leaving Spider-Man 4 as an unfulfilled project, gave me a tinge of sadness. My son isn't old enough to have seen any of the Spidey films in the theaters but he's seen them all on DVD and I really wanted to take him to see 'his' Spider-Man in the theaters next year. Oh well, at least we'll be on the ground floor together for the next guy to don the webs. And it'll be in 3-D, more than likely, so that's pretty bad-ass.

It's become fashionable in geek circles to bash Raimi's Spidey films because 3 was something of a letdown (personally I thought that, flaws aside, that last film was still more good than bad) but Raimi deserves enormous credit for bringing the web-slinger to the screen over the course of three films with as much faithfulness to the source material as he did. I'm sure at many points in the development process on that first trip to the screen, it was even in question as to whether the classic red and blue costume would make the journey to live-action and for that, and many other choices that Raimi likely fought hard for, he deserves a huge thanks.

Sure, Raimi's Spidey trilogy wasn't perfect but no one vision of Spider-Man on film is going to completely jibe with each fan's perception of what the ideal adaptation should be. The organic web-shooters was a touch I thought was inspired (credit for that goes to James Cameron's original scriptment) and the heavy emphasis on Peter Parker's emotional life, rather than gunning for all-out action, was true to the soap opera elements of the comic. Villain-wise, Raimi broke even with Doc Ock and Sandman being outstanding (even if Sandman could've used more screen time), Venom being dismal, and The Green Goblin overcoming a goofy outfit (to be fair, the Power Rangers upgrade Raimi went with isn't any goofier than the GG of the comics - I mean, honestly, the guy carries a purse and has purple booties!) thanks to the inspired scenery chewing of William Dafoe. And while some can quibble with the casting choice of Maguire or Kristen Dunst (my own casting issue was with Bill Nunn's Robbie Robertson - a good actor but too paunchy to resemble the classic Robbie from the comics), no one can say that J.K. Simmons wasn't THE perfect J. Jonah Jameson. Like Judi Densch's M in the Bond films, I believe that Simmons' JJJ should be the one cast member to make the transition over to the reboot.

As for the reboot itself, I'm all for it. Spider-Man 4 or no, Maguire is getting too long in the tooth to play the perennially youthful Spidey. And while the resetting of the Spidey movie-verse back to high school has some fans crying, and even believing that Sony is cynically chasing the Twilight crowd, I don't get the uproar - classic Spidey is a high school character. Why not bring him back to high school if you're going to reset the series? I do agree with the general consensus that a retelling of the origin story should be bypassed - this reboot needs to hit the ground running rather than backpedal.

It's too early on in the process to comment on Sony's plans because so little information has been released but my hope is that the new film will place on emphasis on fun, that it'll buck the darkening trend of the comic adaptation landscape (fine for a character like Batman but a bad fit for Spidey), and that Peter Parker will break into tears much less. I'm all for Peter showing some emotions but Raimi turned the character into a sobbing wreck a few times too many for my taste. In terms of villains, I expect they'll be going after a new version of either Green Goblin or Doc Ock (pumpkin bombs and mechanical tentacles would both look sick in 3-D, by the way). Even though they've both been done so recently, I think it's hard to kick off a Spidey series without using one of the character's two main villains. There's plenty of classic Spidey villains that have yet to make the jump to the big screen but foes like Scorpion, The Rhino or Mysterio seem like sequel material to me. Oh, and how about calling the new movie The Amazing Spider-Man? That'd be cool.

Finally, with all the activity on the Spider-Man front, what I really want to know is why hasn't anybody released the classic '80s cartoon Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends or the '70s live-action Spider-Man TV show on DVD yet? I mean, come on - both these series introduced generations of kids to Spidey and encourged them to follow his exploits in the comics. Even though they have some serious, serious cheese issues, you'd think it'd be a natural to release them. Every time a new Spider-Man film came out, I kept expecting to hear a DVD announcement on one or both of these properties but maybe the reboot will finally be the right occasion. Or maybe they're tangled in a legal web so great that even Spidey - and his lawyers - can't undo it.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Award Winning Max Jenke

While 1989's The Horror Show may have never received any official accolades, the blogspot that bears the name of its star slasher is the object of much online affection.

Citing a lack of time to properly acknowledge it, last week I deferred my Kreative Blogger Award from Geof at Enter The Man-Cave to Steve Senski at Heart In A Jar. However, that hasn't stopped the awards from coming in.

Planet of Terror awarded DwMJ its second Kreativ Blogger Award of last week, saying some incredibly nice things about yours truly and my efforts here. And now the exemplary blogspots Made For TV Mayhem, All Things Horror, and The Drunken Severed Head have all bestowed on DwMJ the One Lovely Blog Award. Damn, that's a lot of awardin'!

I graciously accept both awards and while I've lost track of what accepting each award entails, let me give special shout-outs in return to Enter The Man-Cave, Planet of Terror, Made For TV Mayhem, All Things Horror and The Drunken Severed Head.

Instead of officially giving out these awards in return, let me say that if you're a fellow blogger that's come here and you don't have one or the other of these awards, consider yourself a recipient - no strings attached. Maintaining a blog is hard work, and requires real dedication and diligence. Whether you post once a day, once a week, once a month, or even once a year, the fact that you're taking the time away from your family or job or school to share your passion for a subject is inspiring. Congratulations all around!

Friday, January 8, 2010


Simultaneously ingenious and half-brained, Daybreakers is better than what usually gets released in the dumping ground of January but there's still good reason why this didn't get released at a more competitive time of year. Written and directed by the Spierig Brothers, this tale of a future in which vampires are the dominant species is chock full of neat details involving how vampires manage their day-to-day (or rather night-to-night) existence. We see how their cars, their houses, their work places, are all designed to keep these busy bloodsuckers safe. It's a cool, elaborately conceived world that the Spierigs have come up with. However, in crucial areas their logic gives out and Daybreakers' story of the urgent race to invent a blood substitute before the world's supply of the real thing runs dry is something less than special.

In theory, it's a decent idea to hang a movie on - one with a topical metaphor to boot - what happens to a species when it burns through its natural resources? But that the vampires have allowed their situation to progress so far before discovering a valid way to cope with it seems, well, bloody ridiculous. When it's announced that there's only a month's (!) worth of blood left to sustain the vampire race, you have to wonder - who's running this monkey farm?

Research is being done to find a blood substitute but in the meantime, the vampire's management of their limited resources leaves a lot to be desired. Perhaps you could say that it's only a fitting analogy given our own less-than-perfect skills in harvesting the natural world but it feels more like the Spierigs wanted to start their story with vampire society off a crisis point and didn't care how much sense it made. Had they introduced the idea of a plague unexpectedly wiping out a majority of the human population, that would've been better - anything other than "whoops, gettin' low on blood now!"

So right off the (vampire) bat, Daybreakers is one of those movies were the characters are forced to behave like idiots in order to serve the story - like the questionable logic behind humans who choose to travel by nighttime in a world populated by vampires. When you have an underground movement of humans who need to live by their wits so strategically challenged that they transport a large group of survivors in the dead of night only to run afoul of a vampire attack, that's just bad writing. You'd think these people would have a pretty hard and fast rule about putting as many odds in their favor as possible and only make long journeys during the day, but that's just me. In another scene, these crack survivalists let a vampire they're hoping to recruit to their cause wander out of the room unattended to take a phone call (because he definitely couldn't be talking to the vampire police force that's hunting them down!) - causing one to wonder how it's possible that they've managed to last so long without being caught or killed.

While the film's pseudo-science has been given plenty of thought by the Spierigs, the rest of the movie - not so much. Conceptually, one the biggest missteps is that they've made it look so miserable to be a vampire. The Spierigs have come with with all kinds of cool tech to facilitate their vampire's nocturnal lifestyle but they forgot to make it look appealing - past the opportunity for immortality - to actually be a vampire. These creatures may be at the top of the food chain, but feeding on the world must not all that because every one of them looks bored to tears - which is funny, because this movie takes place in 2019, just ten years after the vampire plague has hit humanity. That's hardly long enough for the ennui of living forever to set in. And save for a couple of characters, apparently being a vampire in this movie also has the unfortunate side effect of turning you into an evil asshole, making the film seem very one-dimensional in its outlook (and again, the timeline is problematic - would so many people who were human in the recent past be so quick to erase their sympathies for humanity?). The Spierigs do have a pretty terrific cast on their hands, though - I never thought I'd see Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill and William Dafoe all together in a frigging vampire movie but here it is.

Some horror fans will rush to embrace Daybreakers just for the fact that it's a new vampire movie that, with its hard-R bloodletting and lack of romance, is proudly not in the Twilight camp. But it's also not very good. While Daybreakers is an improvement over the Spierigs' first film, Undead (2003), as storytellers they've still got a ways to go. Style, however, is something they've got in spades - the Spierigs give plenty of kick to the action scenes here.

With its solid cast, fast-pace, and striking visuals, Daybreakers is never less than watchable. The problem is, as soon as you give it any thought, it crumbles away to nothing - like a vampire at dawn.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

On A Wing And A Prayer

Followers of both Spider-Man and director Sam Raimi, who has shepherded the web-slinger's movie adventures to date, got some troubling news this week with reports that Sony and Raimi are at an apparent gridlock over who the villain should be in Spider-Man 4. Raimi wants to use the old-school baddie The Vulture while the studio doesn't know what it wants - except that it doesn't want The Vulture.

Now, even the most ardent admirers of the original Lee/Ditko Spidey villains probably aren't jumping up and down at the prospect of seeing The Vulture on screen. After all, he's an old guy who flies - how exciting is that? I mean, after seeing The Green Goblin, Doc Ock, the Sandman, and Venom - all villains with pretty neat sets of powers - make their live-action debuts, The Vulture seems to be a big "so what?" But the more I think about it, the more I think that everyone - besides Raimi - is selling The Vulture's cinematic potential short. The possibilities for dizzying, vertiginous ariel battles would be ideal for Raimi to realize and instead of just an old coot flapping his wings, Raimi's Vulture could be a sleeker, swifter, more stealth presence - a villain that can strike with lightning speed, dive bombing his prey from great heights. And from a character standpoint, I think it'd be interesting to show someone who is feeble and nonthreatening on the ground that becomes lethal in the sky.

If Raimi has it in his head that The Vulture is his guy, then I have to think he's already got big plans for how he wants to use him. And the news that John Malkovich is cast sounds perfect. He's younger than the Vulture of the comics, but then again, if you cast the Vulture to look as old as he does in the books, he'd have to be one step away from a pile of dust. You'd have to cast Abe Vigoda, basically.

In the wake of bar-raising critical and commercial success of The Dark Knight, and given the general dissatisfaction with how Spider-Man 3 turned out, I have to imagine Raimi wants to come back to Spidey in a big way and restore some luster to the franchise. If Sony would only relent and let Raimi go with the high-flying Vulture, I have a feeling that the sky could be the limit.

A Short Non-Acceptance Speech

Things have been hectic around these parts with the usual day-to-day responsibilities but I didn't want to let too much time go by without acknowledging the thoughtfulness of fellow blogger Geof from Enter The Man-Cave. Geof was kind enough to pass on the Kreativ Blogger Award to this blogspot along with some much-appreciated words of praise. There's a list of rules attached to accepting this award, however, and at the moment I simply don't have the time or the ability to comply. In turn, I'd like to respectfully pass on my award to a blog that really deserves everyone's attention: Heart In A Jar.

Steve Senski's blog is relatively new but I believe it outclasses almost everything else out there. If you haven't done so already, do yourself a favor and give it a read!