Sean T. Collins has written about comics and popular culture professionally since 2001 and on this very blog since 2003. He has written for Maxim, The Comics Journal, Stuff, Wizard, A&F Quarterly, Comic Book Resources, Giant, ToyFare, The Onion, The Comics Reporter and more. His comics have been published by Top Shelf, Partyka, and Family Style. He blogs here and at Robot 6.
I've been hostile to Hostel's (and similar films') attempts to dress up their splatter in the clothing of social critique--I've been doing this without having seen them, granted, but it just seems to me like anyone could watch The American Nightmare and say "yeah, me too."
"They’re going to remake Hellraiser One with a lot more money and they’ve invited me to write it – the invitation came from Bob Weinstein – which I am going to do, on the basis that if I don’t do it, it will be done in some way that I probably won’t like!"
Courtesy of the great cartoonist and editor Sammy Harkham comes this old essay on David Lynch and his film Lost Highway by David Foster Wallace. Provided you can stomach Wallace's almost superhumanly grating tics and have already seen Twin Peaks because THE DUMB BASTARD REVEALS WHO KILLED LAURA PALMER WITHOUT SO MUCH AS A WARNING, it's worth a read. It's part of Mike Hartmann's City of Absurdity, an almost superhumanly exhaustive Lynch fan site, which you should probably also check out. I wrote about Lost Highwayhere, if you're interested.
Posting this was inspired by flipping through the channels and discovering that Kyle MacLachlan is a cast member of Desperate Housewives. He also maintains an almost superhumanly adorable website for his dogs Mookie and Sam, did you know that?
But apparently there is a certain type of African fungus that reproduces by driving a certain type of African ant insane. Once the ant inhales the fungus, it infects the bug's brain, causing it to crawl out of its jungle-floor habitat, climb a tree or vine, latch on with its mandibles, and wait to die. The fungus then consumes the ant from the inside out, then shoots a spike-like appendage out of the dead insect's brain, which then lets loose spores that fall to the ground and begin the cycle anew.
Video found at Random Good Stuff, courtesy of the great Bryan Alexander at Infocult, who has more information about the process and about the equally gruesome Alien-style life cycle of the ichneumon wasp. Nightmare material all.
Remember those mysterysmells that periodically enveloped a city or two a while back? There's currently a gas-like odor of unknown origin blanketing Manhattan, and I've received first-hand (first-nose?) reports from friends who say they can smell it in Jersey City, too. Oh well, I'm sure there's a logical explanation. You can go about your business. Move along.
Kristin Thompson analyzes the Internet-fan-driven PR campaign for and interaction with Snakes on a Plane versus the Internet-fan-driven PR campaign for and interaction with Borat and the relative successes thereof, touching on the Internet-fan-driven PR campaigns for and interaction with The Blair Witch Project and The Lord of the Rings on the way. Besides a great deal of insight in terms of the key differences between the phenomena surrounding each of those films, the piece offers another exciting tidbit that I, at least, wasn't aware of: Thompson is writing a book about the Rings films and fandom called The Frodo Franchise. Hot.
Good golly Miss Molly, but there's an awful lot of free downloadable avant-garde films available at UbuWeb. Beckett, Borges, Buñuel, Burroughs, Cage, Cale, Clair, Cocteau, Debord, Deren, Duchamp, Flux, Genet, Ginsberg, Glass, Greenaway, Hoffman, Kirk, Kuchar, Leger, Lennon, Ligeti, Ono, Ray, Riley, the Situationists, and those are just some of the names I recognize. Go kill an afternoon or two.
If the combined praise of the assembled horror-blog cognoscenti didn't convince you that The Descent would be a must-own DVD upon its post-Christmas release, allow me to add one more element in its favor: the accompanying making-of documentary. It's every bit as comprehensive and well-edited as one might hope, but the most exciting thing about it for me--besides the fact that everyone, from writer/director Neil Marshall on down, seemed so nice--is that the filmmakers (and actors) were just as steeped in the horror canon as I thought they were. They all seem so unpretentiously in love with horror and with making horror movies, which is delightful. All the references/influences get called out--Alien, The Shining, The Blair Witch Project, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, An American Werewolf in London, Deliverance, The Thing, Nosferatu, The Lord of the Rings...everything I saw and loved in the film was indeed intended to be there. Plus, there's a whole separate mini-doc on the film's two different endings, in which Marshall compares the two approaches, explains why the ending was changed for the U.S. release, reveals which was the original intention and which he ultimately prefers, and touches on a fascinating distinction between a hopeless ending and a cruelly hopeless ending. Of course that really revved my engine, and I'd imagine that if you're reading this blog, it'll rev yours too.
...are apparently on my mind quite a bit as I discuss this week's issues of Justice Society of America, Thunderbolts, Runaways, Batman Confidential, Mythos: Ghost Rider, Squadron Supreme: Hyperion vs. Nighthawk, and Tales of the Unexpected over at Thursday Morning Quarterback. But not in a creepy way, honest.
Nobody can see themselves in Annie -- not for one second -- and that makes Misery, for all its violence, a very safe film. Norman Bates in Psycho, Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction, hell, even Hannibal Lecter were granted more humanity. Yes, [Kathy] Bates was just giving her boss what he wanted -- but since when is that a defense against complaints that you've abetted something despicable?
The ending was really powerful--I teared up--which made up for a lot of its shortcomings. But it did indeed have a lot of shortcomings.
Part of the problem was that the fantasy stuff was by far the least compelling aspect of the film. I know Guillermo Del Toro has accumulated a lot of genre-fan goodwill with Cronos and The Devil's Backbone; all I've seen of his work is this and Hellboy, and in both cases I was struck mostly by the paucity of his imaginary bestiary. (Seriously, you have access to every creature Mike Mignola's ever drawn and you just stick with frog monsters the entire time?) In this case, for all the comparisons Pan's Labyrinth has garnered to dark fantasy classics of both page and screen, you basically have a grand total of four fantastical creatures: the faun, the fairies, the giant toad, and that (admittedly creepy) eyeballs-in-his-hands creature. That's kind of a poor showing even if you're generous enough to add in the wiggly weepy mandrake root. And even the best of the monsters, the eyeball guy, behaves in a way that doesn't make a whole lot of internal sense; just because his eyes are in his hands doesn't mean they can't look up.
Moreover, I'm never very big on children's fantasies wherein the main character's journey begins out of simple curiosity rather than some actual motivating factor. Whatever the psychological underpinnings of her fantasy world might be, little Ofelia isn't chased or driven or lured into the labyrinth--she gets embroiled in this whole netherworld thing just 'cuz. I've never found it realistic that a kid's curiosity would overcome their fear of something that would naturally be quite terrifying, unless there was a damn good reason for them to need to overcome that fear. Contrary to popular fictional opinion, I don't think children just "accept" weirdness (especially of the monstrous variety), since real-world evidence shows that children freak the hell out over weird shadows cast by their crumpled-up clothes in the light of a nightlight. That faun would send me running screaming in the other direction, sick mother and fascist stepfather or no. Point being, I was much more interested in the Spanish post-Civil War intrigue than I was in any of the ooh-wow-magic stuff. (The Captain was a magnificent villain in that regard, far more fun even on the good-vs.-evil level than anything the faun introduced Ofelia to.)
But the main problem (and I've seen this articulated elsewhere but I can't remember where) was that at several different points, characters chose to do the absolute stupidest/least realistic thing possible, which not coincidentally ended up being the exact thing that would move the plot along. The little girl finds a big giant bug cute rather than disgusting; she eats grapes off the monster's table even though she has no reason to do so and it's not like she's going hungry in real life and she's been explicitly warned NOT to do that exact thing; the guerillas launch this huge attack on the captain's compound but rather than shoot or detonate the lock on the storehouse, they use the key, thus making it crystal clear that they have a mole on the inside of the Captain's household; Mercedes stabs the shit out of the Captain and has the chance to finish him off, but instead she just calls him a motherfucker and leaves him alive so that he can stumble out after her and sound the alarm; the faun makes a big thing about yelling at the little girl and telling her she's shit outta luck after she breaks the rules and eats the grapes, but then just changes his mind; etc. And what was the point of centering so much of the early business between the guerillas, the doctor, and Mercedes around leg-wounded Frenchie, only never to show the guy again after the doctor finally operates on him? Enchanting Journeys and Fairy Tales For Adults become a lot less enchanting and adult when you can see so many seams in their construction.
I certainly sympathize with the desire to hew out an alternative to the witches' brew of leaden, self-serious pretentiousness, after-school-special stabs at socio-psychological commentary, and hard-R, creepily sexualized grim'n'gritty violence that passes for "maturity" in a fair amount of genre entertainment today. The problem is that when, in a search for such an alternative, people fetishize (in a confrontationally funfunfun way) a sort of carefree, willfully silly return to some simpler, more innocent age --a borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered Silver Age, to paraphrase LCD Soundsystem--they find themselves making arguments that are untenable from a factual perspective as well as an aesthetic one. For example, they conjure up straw-man adherents to a grimmer, grittier version of a character with no such history; or they insist that an artifact from a particular character's earlier era would drive that character's current fans and shepherds into a rage despite that artifact's actual presence in a film helmed by the current shepherd to great acclaim by the current fans; or (to quit beating around the bush) they imply that the original Battlestar Galactica is superior to the current one. This last bit is not only a point of view that is all but definitionally unserious, it also ignores the fact that niche BSG fandom has basically taken an opposite trajectory to most comparable fandoms in that its purist factions defend the silly version against the Very Serious version. It's Earlier, Funnier Stuffitis in a slightly less virulent form, is what my diagnosis would be.
A rival strain of genre-based argument is aimed not at genre works that are deemed insufficiently fun, but at non-genre works whose supposed deficiency stems from two faults: 1) their view (as detected by their detractors) that their status as non-genre works alone makes them superior--a view that, even if it were present in the text (which is, to put it mildly, debatable), would still be a remarkably minor facet of the work itself; 2) their detractor's detection of a kinship to a mode of storytelling the definition of which he has stretched to encompass virtually any mode of storytelling he doesn't care for--that definition therefore failing to define much of anything anymore.
Insofar as both these views of genre either fail or refuse to acknowledge the many different ways one can skin a cat, they have more in common than their proponents would (I'd imagine) care to admit.
The day job breaks the news from within the Lost camp that the 13 promised two-minute mobile-phone "mobisodes" that were to bridge the gap between the two halves of Season Three (the conceit being that character Hurley would find a video camera and shoot some goings-on with his fellow castaways) are on a more-or-less permanent hold due to ongoing negotiations between Touchstone and the actors involved.
Curt at Groovy Age takes The Descent and other films to task for copping out when it comes to the scary stuff and revealing that the supernatural or monstrous aspects of the movie were really all figments of a character's psychological disturbance. The only problem I have with that (besides the old "there's more than one way to skin a cat" routine)? The Descent suggests no such thing, of course! Not sure where the Groovy One got that idea--I didn't detect it in the movie at all, and it's also not supported by any statements made by the cast or crew in the making-of documentaries...
I remember babysitting about 15 years ago for a couple of younger kids and watching some of the early animation and in the middle of it one of the kids standing up and holding his hands up like Jackie Mason and proclaiming to heaven, "Why, oh why can't somebody be his friend?"
Learn my opinions on this week's issues of Ultimate Spider-Man, Green Lantern, 52, Battlestar Galactica, Conan and the Midnight God, Girls, Marvel Adventures Avengers, and Ultimate X-Men at the latest installment of Thursday Morning Quarterback.
LIMA, Peru - Few would even dare swim the Amazon river bank to bank but Slovenian Martin Strel plans to swim 3,375 miles down the world’s greatest river, defying piranhas, snakes, crocodiles and even sharks.
Buckets of animal blood will be loaded onto support boats to distract flesh-eating fish and reptiles during the 52-year-old’s 70-day odyssey—which would break his own world length record for a swim.
A while back I wrote about the primal influence exerted by He-Man on my imagination to this day. There's something about its everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach to constructing genre entertainment for children that makes me think "Why can't genre entertainment for grown-ups be like that, too?" Its magpie aesthetic is reflected in a lot of the art I enjoy these days, from David Bowie to Grant Morrison.
Anyway, over at the day job, ToyFare has posted a selection of He-Man pin-up posters created by various comic book artists for a He-Man DVD release--such as the portrait of Skeletor and his minions by Dan Brereton you see above--and immediately upon seeing them I was reminded of just how much I dig Eternia. Go check it out.
Next, you may not be aware of this, but I help write ToyFare's beloved parody comic feature "Twisted ToyFare Theatre." It has an undeserved reputation for just being toys with word balloons over their heads making fart jokes, but when I first started reading it I found myself laughing out loud again and again and again (and that was before I started working on it; now, of course, it's a Pythonesque masterpiece); my guess is that if you are even a little bit of a nerd, the same thing will happen to you. Anyway, the website currently features my favorite of all the TTT episodes I've worked on thus far, a G.I. Joe parody I was fairly intimiately involved with, and I invite you to read and enjoy. And if you like it, there's more where that came from: the Twisted ToyFare Theatre Vol. 8 collection, in which you'll find quite a few strips with my stamp on them, is on sale now.
And as (almost) always, I'm part of this week's Thursday Morning Quarterback crew; my opinions on Wednesday's issues of Doctor Strange: The Oath, Silent War, 52, Cold Heat (yes, you read that right), Criminal, Eternals, and Wolverine are yours for the perusing.
Someone should come up with a name for this Quentin Tarantino rip-off subgenre of action films, and it should be something that takes into account the fact that there have been good ones (Bound, Go, Snatch, Amores Perros), as well as bad ones (Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead, 2 Days in the Valley, 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag, Knockaround Guys). It should also take into account that these films have kept coming more than a decade past the original -- much longer even than the Star Wars knockoffs lasted. In the past year or two, we've seen Domino, Running Scared, Lucky Number Slevin and now Smokin' Aces, from director Joe Carnahan.
I can't watch this again because her gills trigger a minor phobia I have about growths (scary and phobia are two different things), but here's video footage of that deep-sea frilled shark. This is why the ocean is frightening.
At this week's Horror Roundtable, I find myself unwittingly joining an unlikely mass movement in favor of releasing a certain child-of-the-'80s cult classic on DVD. (Seriously, four of us? Kinda random, isn't it?) But as Horror Blog proprietor Steven Wintle pointed out to me when he first received my suggestion, that very film is indeed on its way to an official DVD release near you!
Matt Yglesias, like me, thought that Pan's Labyrinth was okay. Of his three major beefs I disagree with one, sympathize with the next, and agree with the last.
Beef one: "a silly sentimental ending" that I, on the contrary, thought was the best part of an otherwise fairly rote and unimaginative fantasy.
Beef two: "they sapped the Spanish Civil War of any ideological content." That's certainly true insofar as the Captain is pretty much just a very bad bad guy (though a very good very bad bad guy at that) rather than one who's specifically fascist/Falangist, and insofar as the red guerillas might well have skipped out on performing as the students in Les Misérables to go attack the Captain's villa as opposed to having any recognizable ties to the kinds of ideologies and ideological battles chronicled in horrifying detail in Homage to Catalonia or any other such document of the time and place (though I'm guessing that isn't Yglesias's primary focus as far as this beef is concerned). I think Del Toro should be given a little credit for that dinner sequence in which a Catholic clergyman is shown pigging out at the Captain's table and offering a hearty amen to the Captain's insistence that all men are not created equal, but that's as far as it goes, I think.
Beef three: Why is the movie translated as Pan's Labyrinth when the literal translation of The Faun's Labyrinth is perfectly accurate and comprehensible? I'm baffled by this as well.
This is basically a politicized articulation of what I've been saying regarding the "It's about Iraq!" veneer slapped on the modern-day meat-movie cycle, and why I think that's a copout. (My version: There's nothing special about our evil. Evil is everywhere.)
And oh, how they danced, the little people of Stonehenge
It seems amazing to me that the surroundings of Stonehenge are sufficiently unexplored for a tiny village to be discovered there now, but there you have it. I hope they find some suitably horrifying artifacts as they continue to excavate.
And remember, you heard it here fir—well, you heard it here.
One of the great undiscovered horror gems from any medium over the past few years is The Abandoned, the "Dawn of the Dead meets Suicide Girls" graphic novel by writer/artist Ross Campbell. So it's much to my delight/dismay that Campbell himself delivers some good news/bad news in the comment thread of blogger Bill Sherman's review of the book. The good news is that Campbell's pitching The Abandoned 2 to various publishers (all of whom would be well advised to snap that shit up toot sweet), and has a vision for a Volume 3 at some point as well. The bad news is that due to a falling out with original publisher Tokyopop, Campbell no longer has the rights to the first volume's lead character, zaftig lovesick lesbian punk Rylie. Suffice it to say that the events of the first book led Rylie to a place emotionally that would be very interesting to explore; let's hope that Campbell's dream of getting her back in time to cap off the trilogy comes true.
Meanwhile, Thomas Jane, star of director Frank Darabont's upcoming adaptation of Stephen King's wonderful novella The Mist, reveals to Fangoria that Darabont has changed the story's much-loved ending. This news comes via The Horror Blog's Steven Wintle, who expresses concern. However, a coworker of mine noted that insofar as the novella's ending relies on a very specific way of delivering a line or two that would be difficult to replicate outside of prose, it may not be much to worry about. My feeling is that if the changed ending takes up "the last 10 pages" as Jane implies, there are larger changes afoot, ones that may dumb down the Hitchcockian denouement of King's original. We'll see.
Finally, Cinematical brings us the news-to-me details on The Descent director Neil Marshall's next film, the aptly titled post-apocalyptic virus flick Doomsday. This link comes courtesy of my old running buddy Jason Adams of My New Plaid Pants, whose tolerance for all things post-apocalyptic and viral seems a lot lower than mine own.
...is just one of the many pleasures offered by Matt Zoller Seitz's Top 5 Imaginary Movies, which also include a Terrence Malick adaptation of Moby Dick starring Mel Gibson as Ahab and a CGI Watership Down directed by (the overrated, but ymmv) Brad Bird. Hmmm...I may have to cast some Books of Blood films as a response.