A Quiet Place, Jim and the Smell of Home

John Krasinski’s third directorial outing and first genre film, A QUIET PLACE, has taken America by storm. The survival horror film, focusing on a family living in fear of someTHING in a post apocalyptic Adirondack mountains setting, has been able to suspend disbelief with Middle Americans. Making over $50 million in its opening weekend, it becomes the first original horror movie to reach this summit and continues the trend of well made horror films dominating the screen. I’ve seen the film twice since it opened last Thursday. My second viewing was on a Tuesday evening. Each time the theater was packed. And silent. You could hear every bag crinkle, cough and sniffle for 90 minutes.

This seems to be the most common statement a person makes after seeing A QUIET PLACE, now being heralded as the movie that made Millennials shut up in the theater. But there’s much more to this film than this superficial indicator. The film’s story is simple, which allows for basic understanding by the masses inhabiting Middle America. As is the case in most horror films, we establish the rules early on. Much like last year’s IT, the first incident our family encounters lays the foundation that all bets are off and nobody is safe. Unlike IT, which is a well made and entertaining movie but is missing something (like a second half?), A QUIET PLACE pays off in spades.

Like any good horror story there are rules. In this case, they are a titular establishment. A QUIET PLACE indicates sound will be an element and play a key role in the story and it’s the story that propels this film. Screen writers Bryan Wood and Scott Beck, with a little help from Krasinski, keep it simple and stupid. They don’t waste a moment of screen time, either. Each and every thing that happens on screen is for a reason. Some of it is blatant foreshadowing, some is little moments of character development. No matter what a scene establishes, all of it moves the narrative along at a brisk pace. The trailers for A QUIET PLACE are misleading. This is not a slow burn.

There’s also the “Jim Factor.” John Krasinski’s long time role on TV’s THE OFFICE has made him a darling among the Amy Schumer-something female demographic. He’s everyone’s favorite guy. No attempt to hide Jim works for Krasinski. He’s like an action figure. Give him a beard, he’s still Jim with a beard. Stick him in a war movie (13 HOURS), he’s still Jim, with a gun. Make him angry on screen, he’s still Jim, being angry. In this movie, we get to see Jim as a loving Dad and husband at the end of the world. The natural chemistry he has with his wife, Emily Blunt, on screen also contributes to this movie’s success. She’s no Pam, thank God. Quite honestly, everyone hates Pam for dicking Jim around for the better part of a decade. The young actors playing their children are also outstanding. The entire cast contributes to making this believable.

For me it was more than a sense of familiarity with Jim. It was a feeling of home. I’d like to welcome the rest of America to upstate New York. I’ve called it my home most of the past 50 years. There have been a few times I’ve left for extended periods of time, all of them paid for by Uncle Sam and the United States Army. Missouri, Indiana and Arkansas were nice, but they weren’t New York. They smelled different. The flora and fauna was different. Even the weather. As a teenage in boot camp in Missouri I witnessed my first storm coming across the plains. It resembled a demonic gateway to another dimension, floating in space in the distance, lightning erupting from its black, clouded heart. Of course it wasn’t a rift in time and space, it was an illusion created by the horizon. Locals assumed I’d never seen such a spectacle before because I came from the big city of New York. That wasn’t the case. Where I grew up had mountains. Up until this point in my life, I’d never seen a horizon except on water.

There’s something about upstate New York. It’s rolling hills, its corn fields and cow pastures. We’re blessed with two mountain ranges. Our mountains aren’t your traditional mountains. They’re lower peaked than the high, snow-covered points of the Rocky’s, more like hills in the grand scheme of things. The southern tier’s Catskills are a spur of the range that includes the Poconos of Pennsylvania and the Berkshires of Massachusetts. The Castkills are one of the most commercialized mountain ranges in the country and densely populated to the point where they are nearly a suburb of New York City. Further north, our claim to fame becomes the world famous Adirondack range. Where as most mountains are formed when two plates crash together, the ADKs (as we call them) were formed when a massive glacier ground down a massive volcanic dome over a few million years. As a result, beach sand is as prolific in the Adirondacks as clay earth is in the foothills close to the mountains.

Nestled in the heart of the river valleys surrounding the Adirondacks lies the small town of Little Falls, NY, where much of A QUIET PLACE was filmed. Like most small towns in New York, it’s felt the economic crunch most of New York has been under the past few decades. Many businesses have closed over the years as people have made a mass exodus from the harsh winters and humid summers, leaving brown fields scattered about the terrain. These temperature extremes bring about distinct scents, many of which change with the seasons. Spring, for example, smells of mud and pollen. Summers are a cornucopia of aromas. Rust and mildew mixed with mowed grass, corn and cow shit. Fall brings the distinct scent of dead leaves. By winter, the combined odors of vehicle exhaust and salt are so thick you can taste them.

I made a similar comparison to Ted Geohagen’s WE ARE STILL HERE three years ago, filmed in Palmyra, NY. Geohagen’s follow up, MOHAWK, was similarly filmed in Highland forest near the towns of Tully and Fabius, NY – no more than a twenty minute drive from my house. POTTERSVILLE, last year’s Netflix Bigfoot comedy featuring Michael Shannon, was filmed in Hamilton, NY. Now, with A QUIET PLACE, the rest of America is finally seeing how beautiful upstate New York is.

Much like the under appreciated BOOK OF ELI, a movie that utilized sound as a factor in its story, A QUIET PLACE is a unique film you should enjoy in a theatrical setting, wherein a complete sensory experience awaits you. You’ll smell and taste this film as much as you see it and hear it. When a good movie is made, the public will follow, and man have they followed this movie. After the award winning success of genre films GET OUT and THE SHAPE OF WATER, A QUIET PLACE stands firmly on my short list of Oscar contenders for 2019.

Close Encounters of the Mythological Kind

There are two constants on entertainment, and both contribute to a property’s overall appeal. One: Great art has many different interpretations, and two: Great stories transcend genres.

I got to see Annihilation this past week. Alex Garland’s adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 novel is a visually stunning, thought provoking film that will leave the audience polarized. You either like this or you don’t. People are comparing it to Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey or Scott’s Blade Runner. I don’t see why or how.

I’ve always found 2001 to be a bore fest, and (throw stuff at me now) I’ve never been a big fan of Blade Runner. Ridley Scott’s film lulls me to sleep with its imagery. Yes, its visually stunning. Face it, though, Blade Runner is poorly paced. It damn near requires carbon monoxide alarms to periodically wake you from the inevitable moments of narcolepsy you will find yourself suffering. Now, if the caveat of your comparison is Annihilation is everything people said Blade Runner or 2001 was without putting you to sleep; then you and I share the same assessment.

The secret is the sense of wonder and fear of the unknown that Garland’s script builds. As you watch the team move through the Shimmer, the narrative set up has you wondering what is behind the next tree up ahead. Plus the colors are vivid popping out at you, keeping your interest. Enough suspense has been built that you, as a viewer, want to know what the fuck is up with the Shimmer and why and what it is doing. This keeps you engrossed in it.

By contrast, 2001 had a lot of exterior space shots, basically black and white back grounds and not much going on except space ships docking with one another. And the classical music score, though iconic and great, can also be used for pre-surgery relaxation therapy. Then there is Blade Runner and Ridley Scott’s godamned light filters, plus Vangelis’ Muzak synth wave soundtrack, were a lethal cocktail of GO TO FUCKING SLEEP. And, in both cases, the story plodded along with no real suspense. Not so with Annihilation. Garland keeps you awake. He knows how to weave a mystery box with out cheating (I’m looking at you with a lens flair, JJ!).

Garland is destined to be heralded as one of the greatest early-millennial directors. I see many parallels between him and Stephen Speilberg, more so than I see with the man who has been accused of wanting to be Speilberg, JJ Abrams. Superficially, all three men have made a career out of fantastic speculative fiction. They blend tropes from horror and science fiction into what can only be described as genre defying adventures. All of their films are modern commentaries on social studies using a fantastic platform to tell their story.

Speilberg’s have been more grounded in our world and the suburban development he grew up in. JAWS, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jurassic Park. Indiana Jones. Saving Private Ryan. Horror, science fiction. Adventure. All of them seen through the eyes of Speilberg as a child.

Abrams has been all over the map, dipping his chips into each bowl of dip. He’s the ultimate fanboy who sees what he likes, but doesn’t understand the broader appeal of it. As a result, many of the protagonists and supporting characters in JJ’s films are one dimensional and uninspired.

Garland, on the other hand, he’s stayed true to intimate portraits of what makes us human, using them to drive his stories. They work each and every time, without fail. He keeps the scope small. His interactions are with small numbers of characters, not fitting typical story archetypes, but psychological profiles of common people we can relate to and bond with. He is masterful at creating suspense. In spite of how personal his foundations may be, there are worldwide consequences for the action or inaction of the characters in his stories that would require assembling the Avengers in a Marvel Studios popcorn movie.

Alex Garland slowly infiltrated our popular culture and tapped into our basic fears nearly 20 years ago. He’s as much responsible for you watching the Walking Dead as Kirkman, Keene or Romero. All the while, he’s fully embraced Greek story telling and myth, using them as templates for his stories, shaking them up just a bit so you don’t recognize the source material. He’s constantly showing us the ramifications for opening Pandora’s Box, and all of them are ugly. Zombies, clones, killer AI’s, alien manifestations, to name a few.

Garland is in tune with what scares us. In the past decade, with both the written word and motion pictures, he’s has proven he has a finger on the pulse of the human psyche. And a strong appreciation for the basics. You see, Garland has been retelling Hellenic myth all along, and that’s part of the appeal of his work. His screenplays laid the foundation for what has come with Annihilation and Ex Machina.

28 Days Later helped establish the modern zombie craze was his first dip into what happens when Pandora’s Box is opened, something he revisits in Ex Machina. Never Let Me Go is dystopian Sci Fi, and it’s the myth of the Elyisum fields. Sunshine is so bold it tells you it’s the flight of Icarus, as well as a commentary on global warming and climate change. Even Dredd, a fantastic adaption of the 2000 AD comic book and reboot after the horrible 90’s Stallone vehicle, is Greek. It gives Theseus a bad attitude and a badge as he traverses a sky scraping Labyrinth to kill Ma-Ma’s interpretation of the bullish minotaur.

Now we come to his most recent entries. 2015’s Ex Machina is an amalgamation of the Pandora and Prometheus myths, while also being a study in human survival. Brothers in coding, Bateman is Prometheus,  Caleb is the sibling Epimetheus, who later falls in love with Pandora, er, I mean Ava. Prometheus gets chained to a rock and is stabbed in the chest by a vulture that eats his liver every day for eternity, Bateman gets stabbed in the liver by Ava. We all know what happens when Pandora opens that box, which is tantamount to Ava’s exit from the facility in Ex Machina’s horrifying climax.

 

Annihilation is the myth of Orpheus and proof that love transcends change. Is the Shimmer the Underworld, or is our world? That is the question this movie has left me asking. It also questions our perceptions of individuality. Who are we and what is it that makes us… us.

Annihilation is smarter than most people will give it credit for. In fact, it’s probably smarter than most of the people going to see it. For modern “smart” hard sci fi, it’s everything Arrival and Interstellar both wanted to be, but failed to capture in their third acts. I’m eagerly awaiting Garland’s next offering. Annihilation transcends and defies. It’s art of the highest caliber, and its divisiveness if the evidence.  

Nightmare on Elmo Street

“Nightmare on Elmo Street” is the latest creation brought forth from the mind of indy flimmaker and “King of the B Movies,” Bill Zebub. Bill Zebub is a metalhead, a magazine editor, a radio personality, a social commentator and a self proclaimed clown who has been making movies since the early 2000’s. Such movies include comedies like “Indie Director” and “Stereotypes;” sexually explicit works like “Loving a Vegetable;” documentaries like “Death Metal: Are We Going to Watch You Die;” and straight up horror movies like “Night of the Pumpkin” & “Holocaust Cannibal.”

So what is “Nightmare on Elmo Street” about? In this film, you have a world where puppets and humans are living together but not necessarily in harmony. You see, some people don’t like puppets and treat them as second hand citizens. But some people do like puppets and have relationships with them. Like Lydia. Lydia, portrayed by Lydia Lael, is a starving artist who has recently hooked up with a puppet but her lesbian roommate, portrayed by Erin Brown, isn’t too keen on the idea as she is not a fan of puppets and also has a major crush on Lydia. Most of the movie revolves around these ladies relationship and it’s ups and downs. By the way, one particular puppet Erin doesn’t care for is Jesus. Yes, in this movie, Jesus is a puppet. Oh and don’t forget about the cable guy, Barbara, who is played by Bill himself. Barbara is a felon who installs cable as part of his community service. But Barbara also has a dark secret; one that gets revealed at the end of the movie. Just be wary of anytime Barbara asks if you don’t like puppets because if you don’t, something is going to happen to you and you won’t like it. There is a lot more to it, but I don’t want to ruin anything or give spoilers away. That’s not what this is for.

Simply put, Bill Zebub makes fun movies. Sure they are full of weird, quirky humor; they are loaded with gratuitous female nudity; and there is a lot of anti-religious dialogue, but overall….they’re fun. “Nightmare on Elmo Street” has all these things and more. A lot more. What you ask? How about Teddy Bear rape, girl on puppet sex and a ton of pussy………cats. Oh and it has a message. Wait….what? A message? Yes……A MESSAGE! Now basically, this movie looks like a weekend project for a film class. Some of the camera shots are static, the editing is not very tight and a few of the acting performances come off as rushed. Not to mention it also has a fecal matter consuming puppet called “The Cocky Monster.” Get it? Instead of “The Cookie Monster?” Yeah it’s got all that. Now don’t get me wrong, I like Bill’s movies. But there are some things you’ll probably end up fast forwarding through. Like the fight scenes for example. The fight scenes in this movie, and several of Bill’s other films, are usually produced in slow motion which drag them out in my opinion. Plus there are some scenes which seem to move the film away from it’s main focus. But  if you can get through all that, you get to the message. And what is the message you ask? Well I’m not going to tell you. You’ll have to see for yourself. But trust me, when you get to the message, it will be a big WTF moment.

You see above the editing and the slow mo fight scenes, that’s the thing I really enjoy about Bill’s movies. He has all these weird things happening on the surface that normal people will turn their noses up at and ignore but just under the surface is some intriguing dialogue that indiscreetly exposes religious hypocrisy and also engages in breaking down our common American English language for it’s inconsistencies. What a concept? A movie featuring a woman having oral sex with a puppet also includes these highly thought-inspiring themes. Well, not to mention, the lovely ladies that adorn this film like, Lydia Lael, Erin Brown, Scarlett Storm, Vanna Blondelle & Dangrrr Doll.

So if you don’t have the attention span to make it through the 2 hours and 7 minutes of this movie to get to that message I mentioned, don’t bother. If you want to look at some beauties in little to nothing, go for it. If you want to have a film that you and your friends can let roll while you polish off a few bottles of Jack, Jim & Crown, this is for you. Or if you’re like me and can appreciate the time, work and effort it takes for an indy film to be made and want to see how the director did it with very little resources, then you should see this movie.

If you want to see it, go to Bill’s Vimeo page where you can rent or buy this movie and stream it online: https://vimeo.com/billzebub/vod_pages

As of this writing, Bill has an Indiegogo page up to help fund his next project, “Dickshark.” https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/dickshark#/story. I made my donation so why don’t you.

Here is one final clip for you. It’s an outtake featuring Bill and Dangrrr Doll. And as a former Pro-Wrestler, Bill, my advice to you is learn how to bump. It will still hurt but not as much.

The Maxx Axe can be found on line on Facebook.com/TheMaxxAxe and Twitter @themaxxaxe.

The Paradox of TERMINATOR GENISYS

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I remember seeing the first James Cameron TERMINATOR film as a young man, 17 years old. We had heard the scuttle on the film, mind you this is an era with instant news and the internet, and advance word through magazines indicated the film was revolutionary and would make a star out of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now, we all loved Arnie in CONAN: THE BARBARIAN from a couple years before, so he was fast becoming a genre action hero. Knowing how excited we were, my friend’s Mom felt we should see it, and sneaked us into the R rated flick. The deal was we never tell. I think the statute of limitations has expired on that, some thirty-one years later. Needless to say, I was amazed at what I saw. THE TERMINATOR told a simple story, the themes engaged me and the special effects amazed me. I’d already been exposed to the nihilistic, post-apocalyptic fair of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, THE ROAD WARRIOR and BLADE RUNNER during the preceding few years. But as the opening sequence of THE TERMINATOR unfolded with a tank tread crushing a road of human skulls, my life changed. From that moment forward, nothing could top THE TERMINATOR or my adoration of the film. It also encouraged my interest in time travel, something we’ll do through out this essay. Starting… then…

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Last night I watched TERMINATOR GENISYS. IMAX 3D, of course. If the advance word I had on this entry into the venerable series held any truth, I would need the 3D. The theater was empty, for the most part. I blame that less on critics panning the film than the actual advertising campaign. Here’s where we add TERMINATOR GENISYS to a select group of films that aren’t actually bad, but suffered from a marketing faux pax, ala JOHN CARTER, and are now prejudged to be awful in advance. The advertising for TERMINATOR GENISYS has been off the mark since day one. Couple that with revealing the “twist” of the story three months prior to its release, and you have a recipe for disaster. Now, I can picture the pitch to the studio, “In this one, John Connor is the Terminator!” And the studio heads approved the film. It looks good on paper, right? When initial reactions to the first trailers were met with fanboy hate, an unwise marketing rep decided to make an executive order to cut the infamous twist-reveal trailer. If it worked with the studio, it will work with John Q. Public, right? Wrong. When people watched that trailer, they shook their heads, proclaimed, “John Connor is a Terminator?” And checked out. Why bother watching it, we found out all we needed to know in the trailer. And that’s a shame. TERMINATOR GENISYS isn’t exactly a horrible film, it’s certainly flawed without a doubt, but it doesn’t deserve the vehement hate it has received. At least that’s how I felt after watching it and during my ride home. Time to go… there…

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I got home and started making notes for this review. What I liked, what I didn’t like. Something didn’t sit right with me. So I watched THE TERMINATOR again. This wasn’t good for TERMINATOR GENISYS. I found myself very unhappy with TERMINATOR GENISYS for the same reasons I dislike 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE. Someone, and I’m not sure if it was director Alan Taylor or writers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier, forgot what made both THE TERMINATOR and TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY, work. The blame does not lie with Arnold, oh no.  He plays the Terminator like a pro. He’s the most refreshing thing of the film, and he’s oldest part of the franchise! The in jokes surrounding this are abundant. Part of the blame lies in the casting of Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese. Courtney is a solid actor, but he’s not the right actor for this part. Kyle Reese, as given life by Michael Biehn, is an embodiment of The Man With No Name, he’s gritty and flawed, a man of few words. Jai Courtney transforms Reese into a wise cracking motor mouth and he’s not very likable. His presence on screen often took me out of the film, wishing for Biehn. By contrast, Emelia Clarke’s Sarah Connor is done very well, but it’s almost over the top, she’s less morose than Linda Hamilton, and acts somewhat like a spoiled teenager. Yet it’s not either of those that bring the film down. It’s the dick whipping Terminator count and time traveling run amok.

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More Terminators doesn’t mean better, and this is where they forget what made both T1 and T2 work: the Terminator films are horror films, simply put. The Terminator is a scary, unstoppable force. It is supposed to frighten you. Yet in TERMINATOR GENISYS, they’re plentiful and get knocked off left and right. It’s like a porn convention of Terminators. Everyone is a Terminator. Even John Connor. And that is the ultimate problem with TERMINATOR GENISYS. Starting with TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY, John Connor became the series protagonist. He was the hero we bonded with. Making him into a Terminator caused a disassociation with the audience, predicating the film’s imminent failure. Yeah, it looked good on paper, but it didn’t play out that way on screen. It also doesn’t help that Jason Clarke has played the least likeable John Connor since the franchise launched.

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Just as more Terminators are bad for business, so is more time traveling. It’s a cop out plot MacGuffin when you answer your problems with a hop on the time travel machine. But more so, the time traveling issues are an ironic representation of the movie’s inherent pacing problems. There’s no sense of urgency in the narrative, no suspense. We aren’t given an opportunity to build any, and that’s due in part to the plot line. There’s so much going on, we can’t waste a moment for any development. This is evident from the opening credits, as we get story from the opening frame. Which leads us to… now.

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TERMINATOR GENISYS has come out, people are hating on it. There’s no doubt that the TERMINATOR franchise has hit some bumps in the road, and TERMINATOR GENISYS is one more but as a film on its own, it really isn’t that bad. It’s certainly better than TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES, which can be machete cut out of your viewings of the saga. TERMINATOR SALVATION is solid stand alone film, albeit misguided in its McG-ness, and I would say TERMINATOR GENISYS is a notch better. But when comparing modern films to classic cinema such as THE TERMINATOR and TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY, the bar is already set so high, it is nearly impossible for the newer film to achieve any positive notoriety. Plus, keep in mind that THE TERMINATOR ascended its B-Movie status to become much more than it was intended to be. So give TERMINATOR GENISYS a chance. You might enjoy it for what it is, a B-movie homage. I did.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, Starlord & Raptors

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They say in advertising that if you have a boxom, bikini clad lass holding a baby and walking a puppy dog that you can sell people deep-fried cat shit and they won’t care.  Why?  Because the advertising had a sexy, bikini clad lass, holding a baby and walking a puppy dog. That’s mostly true for any product in general, except for fiction. With fiction’s mediums, be they on the page or the screen, we’ve got a broader field. They’re all imagination stimulators that bring forth immediate recognition, allowing the audience to bond with the narrative. Your choices include Knights in shining armor, Vikings, Pirates, damsels in distress, Cops & Robbers, Cowboys & Indians, flying machines and automobiles, and, of course, dinosaurs.  

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With me it has always been the latter, the dinosaurs. They’ve caught my imagination since I was a little boy. My earliest recollections all link back to two sources: KING KONG and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Kong put a sympathetic face on the giant monster, and yes, he fought dinosaurs. The works of ERB took me to outer space and back to our inner earth, with stops at lost islands and hidden valleys along the way. One of those places was the aforementioned lost island, called Caprona, the titular THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT. The adventure story of the survivors of an U-Boat attack and how they end up on a lost island jam packed with dinosaurs is one of my favorite, ever. In 1975, a theatrical adaptation of the book hit screens, and I was enamored. The next year, a modernized KING KONG came out. There wasn’t a comic book, View Master or coloring book I didn’t have that was somehow tied to one of those properties. This is because dinosaurs are cool.

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Jump forward 20 some odd years from 1975 and author Michael Crichton once again captures my imagination with JURASSIC PARK. The hard science behind the book allowed suspension of belief and I suddenly felt like a pre-teen again, awash in the prehistoric glory of dinosaurs. The movie adaptation that followed a few years later did not disappoint me in any manner, well, unless you include that little issue with Muldoon. Nitpicking aside, the dinosaurs were amazing and far removed from the puppets and back screens of THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT. Special effects had reached a pinnacle in achievements with the Stephen Spielberg movie. Travel another 20 or more years, while circumventing a pair of sequels that failed to live up to the awe and wonder of the first, and we find a new entry into the JURASSIC PARK franchise. This past weekend, JURASSIC WORLD defied the average critical response, which has been a resting bitch face “Meh,” and opened to record box office receipts and smiling moviegoers by the boat load. Making over half a billion dollars at the multiplex was a feat unheard of, until last weekend. I happily contributed to its coffers and I’m about to happily tell you why I enjoyed the movie as much as I did.

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I’ve finally accepted that we won’t get a proper remake of THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT, thanks to JOHN CARTER’s marketing team.. Edgar Rice Burroughs has a stigma attached to his estate, one that says the movies won’t be very good.  It’s not a slight on the source material at all. Burroughs’ stories were action packed pulp adventures, he was a superstar of his time, a pop culture phenomenon. Shit, Tarzana, CA, is even named after his most famous creation. His characters were smart, the good guys good, the bad guys bad and the women, be they antagonists or protagonists, were strong. And sexy. But time and time again,  Burroughs adaptations fail at the box office. I’m fine with that, because, you see, JURASSIC WORLD is every bit as much an Edgar Rice Burroughs story as it is the fourth film of the JURASSIC PARK franchise.

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You see his influence throughout not only JURASSIC WORLD, but through JURASSIC PARK, as well. From the remote island setting to the dinosaurs themselves, the JURASSIC franchise is ripe with Burroughs-esque Easter Eggs. The intelligence of raptors is a modern incarnation of the evil Mahars from AT THE EARTH’S CORE, for example. The themes of conflict between the military and civilians can be seen in any ERB story, and is often established by having our protagonist be a member of the military itself. And that’s what makes JURASSIC WORLD the most Burroughs of all the films, its lead male star, Chris Pratt, and the character of Owen Brady. You see, Owen Brady is the quintessential Burroughs hero. He is brave and intelligent, he has a sense of humor and is he ever a ladies man. You can even see a slight Burroughs take on his character name, Owen Brady easily translates into Tyler Bowen, the hero of THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT, as well as nearly every other ERB protagonist from John Carter to Tarzan. Owen even channels Tarzan himself when he communicates with his “trained” raptors. Brady is an archetypical throwback to the heroes that have endured through time. Even Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire Dearing could be ripped straight out of any number of Burroughs narratives. She is strong, yet she is also beautiful, and alluring to our hero, making her Jane Porter or even Deja Thoris in a power suit.

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Word has it that there are already talks for a fifth film in the franchise. As long as they bring back Chris Pratt and his portrayal of Owen Brady, I’ll be on board, too. Nothing spells a good time like Starlord and the Raptors.

WE ARE STILL HERE: HP Lovecraft and the Taste of Snow

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If there is something I hate about most modern movies, it’s winter. You see, growing up in the North East, you know snow. You simply know everything about it. You are as intimate with it as you would be with a lover. You know how it sounds, how it feels, how it looks, how it tastes, how it smells. This is because winter isn’t simply snow. It’s cold and salt and dirt and ice and dog piss, as well. All of these factors add up to one of the biggest pains in the ass that God ever created. Winter. It’s a bitch to drive in, shrivels your balls and makes your nipples hard for no reason other than to test your hardiness. In movies, they try to fake snow and winter often and I never buy it, I always know when it’s on a set. There are the rare exclusions to this rule, but, typically a movie fucks up winter and it will often pull me out of the narrative, in turn ruining the flick for me. Ted Geoghegan’s first feature length film, WE ARE STILL HERE, embraces snow and all of its attributes. You see, winter is also desolate and often leaves you with a sense of hopelessness, especially once you been cooped up inside for close to 6 months. From the opening frames of WE ARE STILL HERE, you can taste the elements of the often harsh New England winter, immediately establishing the tone for the movie as it sucks you in to its moody, slow burn.

Screenshot (620) WE ARE STILL HERE may at first seem like the same old haunted house/ghost story that has been told in every major studio release the last 5 years. And this means most anything from James Wan (THE CONJURING). The tag line, “The House Needs A Family,” even reinforces this. A middles aged couple, played by Andrew Sensenig (POWERS) and Barbara Crampton (RE-ANIMATOR, YOU’RE NEXT), has moved into a home in rural New England after losing their son in a tragic car accident. Shit immediately gets weird, leading the mother to believe their dead son’s spirit has come with them. We’ve seen this movie before, right? I hate to disappoint you, but this is about where it stops being a cliché.

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You see, WE ARE STILL HERE goes someplace else and borrows its inspiration from a well deeper than the glossy, CGI infested fair we’ve been force fed by the big studios. Pulp is the secret here, both from the printed page and the silver screen, and you can smell the influence of their respective mildewed pages and melted celluloid as clearly as you can the snow. Ted Geoghegan hasn’t made a mass market frosted affair with WE ARE STILL HERE, but he certainly has beaten Guillermo Del Toro to the punch with the best Lovecraftian horror movie in recent memory. By further including a smoking dash of the classic drive-in Italian zombie B-movies, Geoghegan has created something old, yet new, and certainly not typical of our current screen scares.

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The town at the center of the narrative, Aylesbury, even sounds Lovecraftian. In fact, WE ARE STILL HERE has the grocery list of ingredients required for a classic HP Lovecraft story. New England setting? Check! Creepy townies with a hidden agenda? Check! An ancient, un-named evil? Check! A sense of paranoia and hopelessness? Hell yeah! The film moves like a New England winter, slow and prodding, establishing the mood. Adding to this, the period is hard to nail down, and as a result, we are not forced to endure the wasted scenes often prevalent in modern movies, wherein we spend 10 minutes of valuable screen time disabling the electronic devices. Is it the 70’s (the cars and TVs)? The 80’s(the phones)? Now (digital dart board in bar)? You don’t know, and that lack of knowledge only enforces the isolation of the characters, while giving us added character development in the story. Seemingly in spite of this tense build, the movie is surprisingly gory, something you wouldn’t expect from a moody piece, ala THE BABADOOK or IT FOLLOWS. Instead, the film finds itself embracing blood and guts throughout the third act as much as it does Lovecraft. In any other film, the blood and gore presented here would be over the top and comical. But WE ARE STILL HERE never once lapses into the ridiculous or comedic, despite how absurd the spraying blood may be.

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The cast looks the parts, too. Barbara Crampton, a veteran of HP Lovecraft inspired cinema, plays the wife to veteran character actor Andrew Sensenig, the latter stepping up to the forefront in a lead role. As surprised as I was by his appearance, it ultimately became the keystone that allowed me to bond with the film. Sensenig has that common man appeal, something required for a Lovecraft tale to work. Scream Queen Lisa Marie (THE LORDS OF SALEM) as Crampton’s conveniently psychic friend, and TV veteran Monte Markham, playing a creepy townie, round out the required Lovecraft character archetypes. Markham channels the X-FILES Cigarette Smoking Man for David, a town patriarch who knows more than he is leading on to.

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WE ARE STILL HERE will bind to you like a New England winter, holding you in its icy grasp, giving dual meaning to its title. You will wake up one day, tomorrow or six months from now, and you will taste the salt and dirt of its snow and smell the mildew and feel the despair. Yes, WE ARE STILL HERE will remain with you, long after the credits (which you do not want to skip!) close, much in the same manner as Room 237 might disturb a hotel guest or pea soup may make you cringe. Ted Geoghegan’s suspenseful homage to the scares of his youth joins IT FOLLOWS as one of the best examples of horror cinema to be released this year. WE ARE STILL HERE is currently playing in theaters and on VOD.

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Slish, Slash, It’s a Blood Bath! A Look At The Slasher Sub-Genre

Chapter 2 of The Necrocasticon aired last night, and if you missed it, you missed out.  Check out the show here http://www.projectiradio.com/shows/necrocasticon/

On the horror side this week, the guys talked slasher films, so I’m taking this opportunity to take a leisurely stroll through the dark woods of memory lane, and revisit the evolution of the slasher film genre through the years.

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Real Life Slasher – Ed Gein

There is an old question.  Does life imitate art, or does art imitate life?  In the instance of the slasher film, the answer clearly is that art imitates life.  Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, Psycho(1960), is considered to be the first major slasher film.  The one that started it all!  Norman Bates was a disturbed owner/operator of an out of the way motel.  Norman Bates was loosely based on real life mama’s boy, Ed Gein.

Norman Bates - Psycho
Norman Bates – Psycho

Gein was so close to his mother, that once she died, he dug her body up and lived with her corpse, much like Norman Bates did in Psycho.  Like Norman, Gein tried to become his mother.  Norman’s transformation was a mental one, but Gein’s was a physical one.  Ed Gein would kill women, and dig women’s bodies up and used their flesh to make a suit, so he could transform into his mother.  Psycho was a huge success and it’s shower scene is considered one of the greatest cinematic scenes of all time.  Despite the success of Psycho, it took 14 years for another major slasher film to hit the movie theaters.

Leatherface - Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Leatherface – Texas Chainsaw Massacre

If Psycho examined the psychology of Ed Gein, it was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre(1974) that depicted his sheer brutality.  Like Norman Bates, Leatherface was based on Gein.  Leatherface wore a faces stitched together from his families victims, as did Ed Gein.  The furniture in the home of Leatherface was made of human body parts, such as bone and skulls, the same was true for Ed Gein’s home.

The slasher genre began as two vastly different films based on the same person.  One was a psychological study, the other chose to depict the grisly brutality of the subject.  These two films would set the stage for what was to come.  Slasher films can further be divided into two sub-sub-genres.  The “who done it” slasher (Psycho), and the “monster” slasher (Texas Chainsaw Massacre).  In a “who done it” slasher film, the identity of the killer is unknown.  Typically the killers are human, and when the identity of the killer is revealed at the end, it is a surprise. Examples of “Who done it” slasher films are Psycho, Friday the 13th, April Fool’s Day, Scream.  In a “monster” slasher film, the identity of the killer is known pretty much from the beginning.  The appeal of the film is the brutality of the monster/killer.  The killer is usually supernatural.  Examples of the “monster” slasher film are Halloween, A Nightmare On Elm Street, Candyman, Child’s Play, Friday the 13th sequels.

From here, the slasher film exploded into the ’80s, each film and fell in one of the two categories mentioned above.

Michael Myers - Halloween
Michael Myers – Halloween

In 1978, John Carpenter arrived with his masterpiece, Halloween.  Halloween was a “monster’ slasher, and introduced horror icon, Michael Myers. Michael is the physical representation of pure evil.  The Boogeyman. This is the film that really solidified the formula for the slasher film.  A group of people, usually teenagers, are introduced to the audience.  The main character is typically a female, and she is ‘pure’.  She’s still a virgin, doesn’t smoke, or drink.  She will be the ‘final girl’.  She is the film’s Laurie Strode.  A killer stalks these characters, and kills them one by one, until the ‘final girl’ is left.  Only the ‘final girl’ can overcome the killer because she is the only one that is really good, and good always defeats evil.  Of course, in Halloween, Laurie had help from Dr. Sam Loomis.  Slasher movies for decades, and still now would follow the outline that Halloween set forth.

Friday the 13th
Friday the 13th

In 1980, a movie came along that perfected the formula that Halloween created.  Following in the footsteps of Psycho, the original Friday the 13th was a “who done it” slasher.  Camp counselors attempt to reopen a summer camp, that has been closed for many years due to a few tragedies.  One by one, the counselors a picked off in various ways by an unknown killer. The at the end, it is revealed that the distraught mother of a boy that drown at the same summer camp, Pamela, is behind the killings.  She would do anything to keep the camp where her boy died from being re-opened.

Jason Voorhees - Friday the 13th Part VII
Jason Voorhees – Friday the 13th Part VII

The many Friday the 13th sequels, however, are more of the ‘monster’ variety slasher films.  Pamela’s son, Jason, is now hell bent on revenge, and killing anyone who enters his domain.

After Friday the 13th, many copy cats flooded the movie theaters and movie rental shops.  Many tried to top Jason and Michael, but they all failed.  It was evident that you can’t do the “masked killer” routine better than Jason or Michael, and that forced film makers to get more creative with their slashers.

Enter Wes Craven.

A Nightmare On Elm Street
A Nightmare On Elm Street

In 1984, teacher turned filmmaker flipped the slasher genre on it’s head with one of the most creative ideas of all time, A Nightmare On Elm Street.  Craven chose to go the “monster” slasher route, and gave us Freddy Krueger.  A sadistic psychopath with the power to kill his victims in their dreams.  Armed with a self made razor glove, and the limits of his own tormented imagination, Freddy made it difficult for an entire generation to sleep.

Filmmakers took inspiration from A Nightmare On Elm Street.  They knew that if they wanted to compete, they had to get creative.

Chucky
Chucky

So, one killer was a doll.  Child’s Play (1988) introduced Chucky.  Chucky was a Good Guy Doll, based on the real life doll, My Buddy.  The doll was possessed by killer, Charles Lee Ray.

Candyman
Candyman

One killer was a vengeful spirit, similar to Freddy.  Candyman (1992) leaned heavily on the Bloody Mary urban legend, but created something more terrifying.   Candyman also deviated from the typical slasher staple of killing a group of teens.  Most of Candyman’s targets were adults.

Finally, in 1996, a film came along that, once again put the killer behind a mask.

Ghostface - Scream
Ghostface – Scream

Wes Craven returns, this time taking a shot at the ‘who done it’ side of the slasher films.  Scream took the formula that Halloween established, and dumped it on it’s head.  Not only did the ‘final girl’ have sex and survive, but there was two killers!  Scream was the beginning of the parody era.

Once again, there was a flurry of copy cats.  I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), Urban Legends (1998), and more.  These copy cats were endured until 2006, when another very inventive film came along.

Behind The Mask - The Rise Of Leslie Vernon
Behind The Mask – The Rise Of Leslie Vernon

Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon (2006) took the parody concept that Scream teased, and ran with it.  Shot mostly as a documentary, we follow a film team as they record Leslie Vernon, a serial killer, explain the secrets to being a serial killer.  It’s brutal, disturbing, and hysterical all at the same time.

Since Behind the Mask, there really hasn’t been a strong slasher film.  The horror community is ripe for a new creative slasher icon.

Thanks for joining me on this journey through slasher film history.  I know I’ve left a lot of great slasher films out, but there is only so much time.

From The Lord of the Pitts, see ya next time!