And The Next Great Zombie Live Action Adaptation Should Be…

One of my early op/ed pieces for THIS IS INFAMOUS. Judging from the second paragraph, this 7-year-old piece was published in tandem with the release of the film version of WWZ…

 

The zombie craze is at an all-time high in popular culture.  Pinnacle in the public eye is the television adaptation of THE WALKING DEAD, an incredible ratings and critical success.  The comic book source material continues to sell out consistently at newsstands.

Hot on the heels of THE WALKING DEAD, the big-budget film adaptation of WWZ opens today.  It’s drawn a bit of pre-criticism from purist loyal to Max Brook’s phenomenal novel for its depiction of the zombies and derivations from the original narrative.  I believe it’s unwarranted, and fans of the novel will enjoy the movie for what it is, a blockbuster special effects film that shares a name with a beloved work of literature.  Now, I am writing this sight unseen of the finished product. I know the movie was plagued with issues from day one, which is never a good sign for any movie, but I am optimistic.

What I’m really wishing for is a fresh take on zombies in the motion picture and television mediums.  They’re becoming tedious as a whole, zombie films are. It’s time to up the ante and start seeking for tried and true adaptable material.  The comic book medium has been beaten to death for zombies, how can you top THE WALKING DEAD? ZOMBIELAND, though a successful motion picture for the genre; failed miserably as a television program, mostly due to poor production, acting, and writing.  I believe there is source material out there that has been lingering around for years and needs to, well, rise from the dead and take a bite out of the zombie market and make it infectious again.

THE RISING:  Brian Keene is the current anti-hero rock star of small group of horror and suspense fiction writers, the last of a breed of authors I still affectionately call splatterpunks.  The term denotes both the authors and the sub-genre of horror fiction they wrote. The books and short stories these writers pumped out pushed the envelope where horror fiction could go.  The tales could be rather violent, vulgar, sexually explicit and/or/all of the above. Surprisingly these stories also have a high moralistic theme, utilizing their graphic nature to grab you by the balls and force you to pay attention to their message.  Call them Aesop’s Fables with a punk rock attitude.  Brian’s peers are writers the like of Joe R. Lansdale, Craig Spector, Nancy A. Collins (when she’s not writing teen-pire books), Jack Ketchum and John Skipp.  Keene infuses the common, unadulterated person into his characterizations into his novels.  All while utilizing the spiritual and mythological folk tales of his rearing in Pennsylvania and West Virginia for the preternatural elements present in their plots.  This makes his narratives and the players that inhabit the worlds in them relatable on a level that could make Stephen King jealous.  

Brian’s first full-length novel and contribution to zombie fiction, the Bram Stoker Award-winning THE RISING, is by far the first novel Hollywood needs to adapt into a zombie film.  What separates THE RISING from other works of zombie fiction is the ferocity of its prose and straight up in your face violence that permeates the pages. Optioned in 2004, this property is lingering in motion-picture limbo. 

As a Father’s Day treat to paternal zombie fans everywhere, Mr. Keene recently re-released his classic novel, unabridged, including nearly 30,000 words not previously published.  Earlier editions were heavily edited. Father’s Day was apt, as the novel tells the story of Jim Thurmond, a man on a familiar quest to find his son. They are separated by a continent of zombie-filled, post-apocalyptic real estate.  He picks up the traditional cast of fellow survivors to assist him on his quest; and this about where it ceases to be a traditional zombie tale. Not only does our protagonist have your standard shambling corpse zombies to deal with, but we quickly learn the fauna can also become undead.  A flock of zombie crows is difficult to deal with, to say the least. The Hero’s Journey is well represented in the narrative, as Jim fights his way to Boston to find his son with the aid of a fellowship of companions. 

Oh, and did I mention that by the novel’s end the zombies have gained sentience through demonic possession?  What Hollywood needs is INTELLIGENT, SENTIENT ZOMBIES! They’ve already begun to condition us to it through films such as FIDO and WARM BODIES.  This is the logical next step to fairly bend the Romero mold and THE RISING is the perfect source material. Due to this plot device, for the first time in a zombie story that I know of, our zombies have motivation other than simply munching on human flesh.  A motivated bad guy fighting for a principle is a more effective antagonist. In this case, he, or it, is Ob, a demonic entity with righteous purpose in this hellish new world.

THE RISING has built-in franchise capabilities, as well.  The sequel, CITY OF THE DEAD answers the mysteries of THE RISING and further expands the mythology of its post-apocalyptic world.  Everything Hollywood wants in a single package.  

Brian also wrote the short-lived THE LAST ZOMBIE comic book, and since comic-book is one of Hollywood’s current favorite words.  With all these factors considered, Keene could very well become the motion picture industry’s new zombie darling and surpass Robert Kirkman.  I say it’s time to “Book him, Dano!”    

BOOK OF THE DEAD:  The foremost writers to front the initial splatterpunk “craze” of the late 80’s and early 90’s were John Skipp & Craig Spector, a writing duo hailing from Harrisburg, PA; not far from the Pennsylvania Dutch counties that helped produced Brian Keene’s vivid imagination.  The writing team has since separated, but the printed legacy that is their body of work lives on. An adaptation of their last novel together, ANIMALS, was made into a low budget movie that can be found online through various outlets.  John Skipp now writes with Cody Goodfellow, and though enjoyable, I find their material to lack the pizzazz and raw, written attitude of the Skipp & Spector days. Craig’s work, on the other hand, still maintains the same narrative style as the classic Skipp & Spector books, yet lacks that edge that I believe John Skipp added to their collaborations.  

Not to be confused with the ancient Egyptian tome The Book of the Dead, the 1989 horror anthology BOOK OF THE DEAD was Skipp & Spector’s first editorial effort.  Conceived as an anthology of short stories surrounding the events in George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, BOOK OF THE DEAD collects some of the most visceral and entertaining zombie stories ever written.  Featuring stories by, among others; Stephen King, Joe R. Lansdale, David J. Schow, and Richard Laymon, BOOK OF THE DEAD is considered to be among the first example of modern “zombie literature.” With this in mind, why hasn’t HBO or another cable network picked this up to make what would essentially become the greatest zombie anthology series we’ve ever seen on the tube? 

The jewel of the collection is David Schow’s Jerry’s Kids Meet Wormboy.  Wormboy is your typical survival nut, who teams up with a group born again Jesus freaks to wage war on opposite hills in a cemetery with the insane Right Reverend Jerry and his zombie Deacons.  Wormboy’s M60 is named Zombo. And it is “swell.” The story is not for the faint of heart as it breaches all conventions of moral ambiguity and goes right for the jugular with controversial topics and a gross-out twist ending for the ages. 

Sometimes you have to go old school and “reboot.”   Hollywood loves that word, it seems to be the magic term to drop in a pitch.  With this source material, we can re-imagine zombies in the public eye through the voices of a plethora of talented writers. BOOK OF THE DEAD clearly fills the criteria, with a trilogy of these collections coming out since, any smart cable network could pick up a huge ratings boost and give THE WALKING DEAD a run for its money with a multi-seasonal, zombie-themed, hour-long program.   

Zombies are nothing new to the creative minds of writers.  For years fantastic words breaching the subject of the mindless undead have graced bookshelves.  I believe it is time for the venerable tales that sit on the shelves of used book stores to reach a new audience, televised or theatrical.  They can breathe fresh life into a film genre, though still popular, that is becoming stagnant. How many times can we project what is fundamentally survival horror in a refreshing manner?  The framework for the zombie mythology that was laid by George Romero can only be twisted and bent so much until it is no longer a zombie movie at all.  

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2020, the Year of Hindsight and How 13 Minutes UNDERWATER Can Make a Difference

It’s a new year, the year of hindsight… 2020, and with it comes another promise from me to blog more. As much as I enjoy critiquing movies on The Necrocasticon, my reviewing roots lie within the written word. So expect weekly, if not daily, updates on this site now.

When I don’t write something new, I’m going to republish out of print, old reviews and Op/Eds I wrote at This Is Infamous and Rue Morgue here. I’ll populate this site with stuff for you to read… some people have this incorrect assumption of me. They seem to think I’m “some new indy writer” who “doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” 

They couldn’t be further from the truth. 

For a decade, within roughly half a million words, I’ve covered entertainment news. I’ve grown as a journalist with integrity and clear objectivity of the products in question. I’ve reviewed and critiqued hundreds of hours of music, television series and films. Throw in some thousands of pages of novels, comic books, and games, and you’ve got an impressive resume. It’s time I remain consistent with my strengths. If nothing, blogging and reviewing are writing. I found my voice in this medium, where better to continue the maintenance?

You have to admit, 2019’s crop of horror films was a stale offering. Aside from a few stand out movies, including MIDSOMMAR and DOCTOR SLEEP, horror took a huge hit on the big screen last year. Jordan Peele’s follow up to GET OUT, US, fell to the sophomore slump. The MCU set the tone for the year, with Superhero blockbusters AVENGERS: ENDGAME topping all the charts and making box office records. Supervillains, too had their time in the limelight, as JOKER surpassed all expectations to become the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time and gather an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.

In order for a horror film to be successful, it must bond with its audience in some manner. Too many of the films of 2019 fell victim to this. The cast of MIDSOMMAR wanted you to kick them in their babymakers. Even Danny in DOCTOR SLEEP was a reprehensible person. And what about the adult cast of IT? Who cared what happened to them.

UNDERWATER, the first horror film to hit in 2020, nearly suffers from some of this same malady. It’s no fault of the actors or the director. They do a great job, and it’s this work that keeps the story together. William Eubanks gets every bit of emotion he can out his cast. Even the often panned Kristin Stewart delivers her character in a believable manner. Sorry, but if you came here to see me shit on Ms. Stewart you will be disappointed. She sold me with her portrayal of Joan Jett in THE RUNAWAYS. Even though writers Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad screwed the pooch on this one, by forgetting a time tested storytelling technique. If they had utilized it, UNDERWATER would be a summer blockbuster, making a respectable amount of cash. Hashtag talk about that later.

Even the crop of NETFLIX films of 2019 fell well below where they could have gone. Streaming hits like BIRD BOX, THE SILENCE, and ELI, though successful on the platform, would have flopped at the theater. Exactly like UNDERWATER has done, only taking in $14 million it’s opening weekend. I feel UNDERWATER would have been a hit on NETFLIX in much the same manner as BIRD BOX. But the Evil Mouse Eared Empire wants to see returns on their investment.

Made three years ago before FOX sold out to the Mouse, Disney execs are relieved. They’ve done what studios traditionally do with shit films, dumping it in the winter dead zone, that first weekend of the new year. The numbers didn’t lie. They’ve popped another TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX zit on its face, acquired when they bought the struggling studio. DARK PHOENIX was the expected flop, and THE NEW MUTANTS is rumored to be as bad, if not worse, than a 70’s live-action X-Men TV would have been. 

Why did it fall on its face and drown? The answer is simple. When you go seven miles to the bottom of the ocean, you need thirteen minutes.

I’ve seen a few of my peers compare this movie to ALIEN or THE THING. Let’s not go there, please. It’s got a monster or two in it, yes. But is it a Lovecraftian Cosmic Horror movie? I’ll leave that up to you to decide. I’ve not made up my mind yet on this. I refuse to spoil the movie by revealing what I think has gotten some of my peers all giddy like toddlers at a petting zoo. With that being said, I know one thing about this movie that separates it even further from the aforementioned Cosmic Horror classics. It’s the film’s only flaw, albeit a mortal wound for a theatrical release.

Thirteen minutes.

UNDERWATER’s run time is 94 minutes.

ALIEN’s run time was 117 minutes.

THE THING’s run time was  109 minutes.

UNDERWATER is missing an opening sequence. A sequence familiarizing you with the characters you will follow in this adventure. This plagues many modern films, as a result, many of them come off as cheating for their “twists”, as they are often foreshadowed in an opening set-piece as I mention. It also prevents you from bonding with the characters. As a result, you don’t care when people die. There is no sense of urgency.  

ALIEN did it beautifully with the wake scene to open the film. THE THING executed it with skill as we followed a dog through OUTPOST 31. You witnessed ticks and quirks and personality traits of all your cast, each one allowing you to bond just a little with each of them… before they get killed before your eyes. Imagine how fucking bad JOHN WICK would have been if they didn’t establish the death of his wife and kill the dog?

Kristen Stewart stars in Twentieth Century Fox’s “Underwater”.

For as good as the movie is, ultimately UNDERWATER is JOHN WICK without a puppy. It needed a 13-minute scene in the beginning, introducing us to our cast, telling us their flaws, their motivations. Establish Norah’s mourning of losing her fiance in this part of the film. The Captain’s death wish and remorse for his daughter… The love and the marital bond between Emily Haversham (Jessica Henwick) and engineer Liam Smith (John Gallagher Jr). The Godamned bunny TJ Miller’s Paul Abel plays hot potato with throughout the film. And all the dead… make a couple of them marquise names, like DEEP BLUE SEA did with Samuel L. Jackson. Kill a kid or a big name in the opening of a movie and all bets are off. You’re telling me TJ Miller couldn’t have talked Ryan Reynolds into a cameo?

“Ryan, you die in the opening, like Steven Seagal in Executive Decision!”

“Great idea, TJ!”

Thirteen lousy minutes and a cameo. 

That’s all it would take to put UNDERWATER on a higher level. Thirteen minutes of exposition.  Show it through a dinner table dialogue, or a rec or break room work out scene. How much would this have cost? A few days of shooting? When the movie’s budget was an estimated $80million, they had the space to do it. Thirteen minutes would have gotten their money back. 

In spite of this dire flaw, UNDERWATER is well made, the special effects are top-notch. Because the cast excels, you are able to bond with the characters, more so than any other film from 2019. The story is simple and straight forward, it moves at a brisk pace. The monster effects are great, and they use the dark of the ocean depths to give them more life. 

Much like THE RITUAL from a couple of years ago, which kicked off the 2018 year of fantastic horror, UNDERWATER is a worthy start for the new decade’s crop of horror films. And with Cosmic Horror being the new darling sub-genre of horror, who knows where we will go next.

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Good Boy

Finally, after a long road… the release of my debut novella, Good Boy, is upon us. Black Friday, 11/29/19, you can pre-order it. Tuesday 12/17/19 it hits bookshelves.

It’s my hope you all enjoy the story of a pack of Jack Russell Terriers and their animal friends as they endure to survive during a zombie apocalypse.

Good Boy is the first in a trilogy. I plan to release one a year over the next three. The next book is scheduled to be called GOOD GIRL.

This wouldn’t be a thing without the guidance of Lisa Vasquez at Stitched Smile Publications. To this woman, my mentor, I am grateful. I can’t forget Garrett Cook, either. He didn’t work on Good Boy, but he did work on me and how I write – so his influence is all over the words, too. Also, the artists involved with the project: Jeff Perdziak and Cayentano Valenzuela,  a pair of gentlemen who brought my story to visual life. And finally, my editors, Erin SweetAl-Mehairi and Donelle Pardee Whiting – thank you ladies for making sense of my words.

#StitchedSaturday 08/10/2019

Here’s the #StitchedSaturday writing prompt for this week… featuring my flash piece, a twist on the myth of Davy Jones… “Guardian.”

Stitched Smile Publications

Here is your prompt for #StitchedSaturday

Write a story in less than 750 words using the image above in the COMMENTS. Make sure you SHARE the link so others can read it and please make sure you LIKE this post.

Artist Credit Below:

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#StitchedSaturday – June 22, 2019

I wrote one of the stories in the comments!

Stitched Smile Publications

#writingprompt #WritingCommunity #FlashFiction #StitchedSaturday #HouseofStitched


This Saturday’s writing prompt:

Max Word Count: 500

Min Word Count: 300

Using the image below, tell us a story. Then share the post and get others to choose their faves or participate with their own contribution!

(Picture credit: https://picsart.com/i/image-darkart-depressed-freetoedit-227153035028202)

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