Monday, April 26, 2021
I realized I forgot to place this one before Godzilla, but it's okay- accidentally overlooked it in the chronological syllabus assignments.
Overall, I did enjoy Snow- the plot was intriguing, the characters were interesting, and I wanted very badly to understand what was going on with the evil snow that it kept me turning pages. The writing was easy to follow and very smooth, which I definitely enjoyed. Where Snow lost me though, was the inclusion of elements that I would almost call cliche. You have the main character, Todd, that opens the story up earnestly enough, trying to get back to his ex wife and son for the holidays. Then he meets Kate, an attractive, smart, and dry humor woman that I can't help but roll my eyes at because I know exactly where this is going to end up.
Similarly, we have the whole interlude with Charlie and his sister Cody within the church. I almost closed the book when Charlie was introduced, if I'm being honest. I found myself thinking, verbatim, "Oh boy, here we go with the crazed religious cult weirdo." They're a staple in most horror stories, you know the one I'm talking about. And even if you don't, you can believe that Charlie is a poster boy for it. It's the whole narrative of "I'm God's Chosen" and being a manipulative, overzealous bastard, who tricks his sister into believing that he's some higher power.
Of course there are other stereotypes present throughout the book- including Todd, the deadbeat dad that forgets all his woes upon meeting Kate, the sarcastic, divorced love interest, and others like the older couple and the two young lovers with a baby on the way. In personal opinion, Shawna should have been the main character. She had a lot more of my interest than Todd did at any given point, especially when the book opens with such a dynamic scene involving her. When we went from the prologue to Todd at an airport, I almost thought that I had read something completely different, and was disappointed because I didn't know if we would get to see Shawna again.
Well, of course Shawna had to die- in a very gruesome and horrible way appropriate to horror. And of course the two actual leads had to survive, despite being thrust into a situation where they really had no business being. I suppose you could chalk it up to the poetry of how no one in the town was meant to survive, so Shawna had to die to ensure that- but she seemed more the natural lead that the figure of Todd we were given.
I feel like I'm ragging on this book a lot for having genuinely enjoyed it. The writing style was quick and pleasant to read, and the monsters were original, even if I did have more questions (of course) as to their origins and general presence. The use of snow as a means of horror is beautiful- taking this quiet, scenic material and using it to harbor terror and gore was a smart decision to do. Like The Thing it places the characters in a forced isolation that the audience can't help but feel too.
Friday, April 23, 2021
Thursday, April 1, 2021
It's no secret that I'm a dnd nerd. This is something that becomes very well known very soon into talking with me, whether it's through the introduction of talking about my characters (in which I inevitably start talking about whatever shenanigans or tragedies my dnd characters are going through in my current dnd campaigns) or my rather absurd collection of dice (go on. Ask me about them. I welcome it. I have many pictures). However, I recently (just last week!) picked up the latest dnd pre-written campaign module, Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden, that was published in August of last year to run for my players. I haven't yet finished reading the whole thing, but the Afterword caught my attention. Chris Perkins writes, "Isolation is a bit theme of this adventure. Little did I know that Icewind Dale would be published during a pandemic that would isolate billions of people throughout the world, myself included, trapping us in our dungeons for weeks on end."
The quote stuck with me- especially when going through the remainder of the Afterword, in which Perkins references The Thing as being one of the primary inspirations for the work- and indeed it does share many similarities. (And fun fact, it even references Alien!) Icewind Dale includes a setting where the characters, both player and non-player, are trapped within a neverending winter, forced to survive with limited resources while not knowing exactly who they can trust- all while dealing with their own isolation and knowledge that help is unlikely to come.
I'd heard of the tradition with Antarctica researchers watch The Thing right after the last flight for the summer leaves, but beforehand I had never known exactly what the film itself involved. I was expecting, I think, something a little more like The Blob (though I'll admit I haven't seen that either yet, but I know the similarities with the cold weather). A shapeshifting doppelganger wasn't in my top list of guesses- but doesn't that make things a lot more terrifying?
I commented on how I typically don't watch older movies with Night of the Living Dead because I'm not particularly keen on the graphics or even film quality- but I was pleasantly surprised to find that lacking within The Thing. Sure, there were some funky animatronics, but the design and technology in general exceeded my expectations. I was reading up on some trivia after, and saw that the mechanics at the time sparked a major jump in quality when it involved graphics like that- it makes me wonder if some of the technology inspired the incredibly realistic and masterfully crafted puppets within Jurassic Park.
The isolation was a major factor in this movie, as well as the fallback of "you don't know who you can trust"- but both incredibly effective, and lended itself to being, in my opinion, one of the most genuinely creepy movies we've watched so far this term. It extrapolates the relatively simple concepts of distrust and isolation, and builds on itself more and more until even at the very end you're not sure whether the Thing is completely dead or not with the reintroduction of Childe- who claimed to have gotten lost in a snowstorm, but who can completely say for certain?
Even the way the movie started out caught my attention in a very simple manner- we're watching a dog run across a tundra, being shot at. It raises questions- why are they shooting at the dog? Who are these people in general? Yet as simple as it is, it's effective- it draws the viewer in, and sets up an innate theory of where the Thing originally comes from.
And as Icewind Dale points out, it was a rather unfortunate (or applicable) theme for recent times. Diagnostics on the Thing's assimilation process shows that within 27,000 hours it would infect every living thing on Earth- or a little over three years. One year into our own pandemic and you can't help but question whether our sickness is going to be around that long- or if the estimate for the Thing's infection was an over-exaggeration, given how effective it seems to be at assimilating those it comes in contact with. Unfortunately I don't know if quarantine would work against a monster who can actively pursue others, instead of spreading just to those it happens to come in contact with.
Like any classic horror movie, The Thing also involves quite a bit of tragedy, hopelessness, and inevitable ambiguity. All characters but two perish in one way or another, and even at the end it fades to black with the grim fact that the fire keeping them warm won't last long, and soon the temperatures will plummet to -100. An effective end that reflects the themes woven throughout- isolation and inevitability.
American Werewolf in London featured probably the most humorous horror film we've watched in this class so far. It was kind of campy, very quick paced, and overall easy to watch. The genre of the movie has even been described as "horror black comedy" (referring to the dark humor of the story) and involved many viewers saying that it was too humorous for horror... yet too scary for humor. Comedy horror has evolved a lot over the years, now being a common trope and it's own genre within film.
As our class has discussed before, there's a talent in combining humor with horror- and in a lot of cases, it's almost a necessity. Horror and humor is generally seen (at least from what I've heard) as two of the most difficult genres to write in. You have to know how to really scare your reader, which involves placing them so well within the narrative that they have no choice but to really feel what the characters are feeling. Similarly, with humor, you have to know how to craft jokes and humorous scenarios that don't feel too overdone or ridiculous. You can't force your audience to laugh, no matter how hard you try. Then, of course, there's always the addendum that no matter what, every person in your audience is going to be different. What might absolutely terrify someone or leave them in stitches (of laughter), you'll have someone looking at the whole thing with the completely opposite opinion.
In regards to American Werewolf, the set-up itself is comedic, and convenient. You have two regular American guys taking a backpacking trip through Europe, which sets up the "person in a strange land" trope to some extent. They, and as a result we, are unfamiliar with the specific traditions and customs in this specific area. It leads to the catalyst of Jack and David of course wandering where they aren't supposed to, and getting attacked by the werewolf that turns Jack.
The set design in general for American Werewolf lends itself to the comedic qualities of the film. The first concrete location we're brought to is a pub by the name of the "Slaughtered Lamb"- a definite play on words for the overall themes of the film. We're reminded of the story of the wolf in sheep's clothing, who uses the disguise to pick off unsuspecting sheep- the perfect parallel to a werewolf stalking around in the form of a man, waiting for the moment when it can strike. Similarly, even the choice of "slaughtered" hints towards the rest of the film, because of how "slaughtering" can mean to massacre or kill in large numbers- which the Werewolf Jack clearly demonstrates in his first full moon. Then of course within the Slaughtered Lamb is the infamous pentagram shrine, meant by the tavern goers to ward off any evil.
Where I did feel the movie diverted from at least my personal humor (going back to the "completely opposite opinion" thing was the inclusion of the adult movie theater setting. While technically it created the setting of a humorous scenario based on absurdity of surroundings juxtaposed with the dark humor and serious tone of the conversation Jack and a-very-dead David are having, it just felt too heavy handed for my own tastes- by a long shot. I could have done without the inclusion of that specific setting, and still gotten the same effect from the movie in general.
Saturday, March 20, 2021
Oh man. This movie. I've seen it quite a few times (though definitely not quite as many as I assume others in our class might have) but I feel each time I watch it, it gets better. I first watched it back in high school with an old friend, when our main motivation for watching it was actually because we included it in a story we were writing together. The two characters were watching the movie and, because we hadn't seen it before (or at least I hadn't), we decided to watch it together so we could have more accurate reactions to it. I also watched it a couple times in college, once for a science fiction class, and now for a horror class. Now don't get me wrong, it's creepy and terrifying, but it's also got Sigourney Weaver and cool aesthetic choices.
I just saw a comment the other day talking about Alien in relation to current events, regarding the fact that Ridley is the only one to survive the alien, and she's the only one that didn't want to break quarantine and followed appropriate measures. But maybe that's besides the point- I don't know if currently breaking quarantine and going outside would necessarily result in either a face hugger or being attacked by a xenomorph. (Wear your masks folks, might not be the best time to test it out for improper following of guidelines.)
Truly though, this movie does have an impeccable aesthetic. The setting of the moon in the beginning, where they find the eggs to begin with- you have the creepy, suspenseful music (which the soundtrack for the movie is, as everyone knows, incredible) that correlates to the discovery of the eggs and is revealed to us as the viewer gradually to heighten the suspense. The inclusion of the sheer amount of eggs lends itself to the mystery of the narrative- where did all these eggs come from? Why are they here, unprotected? Is this whole moon inhabited by these aliens, or do they just use the moon as an incubator? Most of these questions go unanswered, as they gather one of the eggs and bring it aboard, only for it to turn into the dreaded alien- which grows at an alarming rate. Though you can't help but question, is the alien truly fully grown? It's only been a matter of days, and though the alien is definitely man sized, I wonder what the actual xenomorph life cycle is like, especially considering that all the other eggs were still unhatched in the chamber.
What follows is survival- a battle in which only Ridley (and the cat) survives. The alien possesses an unnatural intelligence, yet also an adherence to instinct as it slowly makes its way through the ship to kill all of the living inhabitants there. Ash describes the xenomorph as a "perfect organism" that is "unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of mortality" yet, as always, I find myself wondering the true story as to this alien's backstory- or rather, maybe not this specific xenomorph, since we pretty clearly get its origins, but what of its others? Has anyone else ever encountered others of this species, yet just not lived to tell the tale? How long have the eggs been in waiting? I've always been interested in this species, though have not yet done digging on their history, or perhaps seen it in the sequels or related movies, which I haven't yet watched.
I'll admit, it took me a little bit to get through this movie. Self admittedly, I'm not the best person when it comes to watching older movies, since I generally don't like the picture quality or acting style (I'm very shallow, I know) and a movie released in 1968 isn't typically on my top list of things to watch. Secondly, there were many instances where I just got frustrated with the characters in the movie- Barbara in particular. While I don't think her character was the worst thing in the world, especially because I feel she had a valid trauma response, overall she was just very unhelpful during the course of the entire movie.
Certain things also felt too convenient- the addition of five characters being hidden in the cell where they didn't show up until a while into the movie felt cheap, an easy way to add drama and tension when there was already a lot between Ben and Barbara to begin with. They had an interesting dynamic, and then there were a whole lot of other wrenches thrown into the mix- and that's where the real problems started. You have the obligatory "asshole" character that we also saw within Breeding Ground with the character of Harry. You have Judy, who at the last minute proclaims that she wants to go with Tom to help get the gas (even though she has no skills to add to the situation) that ultimately leads to Tom's death because she can't get out of the car. You have the mother figure with the sick daughter. You have Ben in there too, who is one of the highlights of the movie because of his common sense and survival instincts, though the movie did him dirty which I'll get to.
Overall, I did like how the movie rationalized the appearance of zombies and the sprinkling of information and answers throughout the narrative through use of experimentation and radio reports. It was the classic answer of radiation of course, but I did like the fact that it was a short lived phenomenon and how it was explained to be such, because they were able to eliminate the problem and the source.
However. The ending. The ending. I didn't expect everyone to survive- quite honestly, I was expecting most of them to die from the beginning. Maybe Ben and Barbara would survive, but the rest not so much, especially when it was revealed that the daughter wasn't feeling well (which obviously means she's going to turn into a zombie.) I held out hope to Ben, especially as the ending was getting near and it was clear that he knew what to do, and he knew what he had to do.
Then the final scenes came, with the people going around in the morning and shooting extra zombies that survived the previous night. And I knew. And I hoped that I was wrong. But then it happened- they shot Ben and killed him. Whaaaat. Listen, I get it- there's the whole tragedy of surviving this awful event and having enough wits to make it through, then dying because of the one thing that you thought could save you. But honestly, it was frankly ridiculous. I literally closed out the movie with "Really? Come on. No."
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