Ello

I’m there now. Or, I’m here:

https://ello.co/sgj

I like the smiley face a lot more than the birdhouse, and I like the distinct non-blueness of the whole thing so far. Feels a lot like a Tumblr, really, but I got on Tumblr like fourteen years too late. G+, though, I’m still one of the holdouts who doesn’t understand why that didn’t become the new way (okay, because Google was spookily tracking every move of my mouse and selling it upstream).

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Unbrokenfied Links

Took TWO HOURS yesterday to go through, clean up all the broken junk over in the navigation. And there was no small amount, either, sorry. Most were the result of other sites updating this or that, which changed the URL. Meaning, I only lost four or five stories, two or three interviews, and a couple of podcasts. So, all’s well.
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However, I would guess there’s still the occasional broken link in the posts. That kind of tending, I don’t think I’ve got the eyes nor the click-fingers for. So, if you find something in the archives needing attention, making me looking stupid, frustrating you because it’s SUPPOSED to work, maybe say it as a comment under this? I’ll get to it.

And, what you’ll also find the deeper you go into the the archives—for the moment, anyway—is that a lot of the images are absolute-sized, not relative. This is because I gave them captions. Which seemed good and great at the time, but now, with this new theme that’s got a narrower area to slap the posts up . . . not so great. Meaning, when I post NOW, I keep having to go into the html like it’s 1996, and relative-size all the img tags. Kind of sucks. I’ve tried to address it with a few plugins, but they don’t seem to be keeping up with the WordPress updates very well, so I’m out here on my own saying “90%, 90%, 90%.”

It’s not the worst thing, I don’t suppose. Next up: I need to somehow, magically call forth the ability to make another slider-thing for the front/intro/splash page here, that can include these two new fall books. Right now, I might as well try to solve a Rubik’s cube without taking it apart, for all the luck I’m having remembering how I did that. But maybe the solution will be more obvious than taking all the corner pieces out, changing the stickers, never getting anything back together again . . .

Oh, and I’ve also got to figure how to stuff Ello into the social media widget thing going on in my nav. Wouldn’t be a problem, except I need to make the image-rollovers match the tone/feel/temperature/etc of the four already up there. And I’m no image-manipulation wizard. Shuttling pixels around is far, far from what I was made for. But maybe it’ll be easier than I think.

Don’t Look (Behind You) Now

It-Follows-poster1With slashers, I’ve always been in John Carpenter’s camp: these people aren’t getting punished for having sex, they’re getting killed while naked simply because that’s when they’re the most vulnerable, the least likely to be looking around the room.

However, like Jim Rockford says, If fifty people tell you you’re drunk, then maybe it’s time to lie down, right? Meaning, when the slasher was busy getting codified back in the seventies (Black Christmas, Jaws, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, on up, to, say, Tourist Trap and Friday the 13th and Just Before Dawn and The Burning), this killed-for-having-sex dynamic wasn’t so much in play. But it soon would be. Just because everybody was saying it. And, really, I don’t know if  the critics started pushing that first—Clover & Co.—or if all the films trying to cash in on Halloween etc made it real. Or if that was just the talk around the popcorn machine, and soon it was real enough that Scream and Cherry Falls could even play with it some, invert it, hang it out to dry, throw it against the wall to see what sticks.

However it happened, it quickly got to the point where killed-for-having-sex, that was considered de rigueur, pretty much, or a delimiting factor, anyway—see Behind the Mask: Leslie Vernon, say. If you don’t have some of that going on in your slasher, then how can you even call it a slasher?

It’s not ideal, and it goes a long way towards re-inscribing America’s preoccupation with villainizing sex and thus custom-making a set of people with their urges all tied up with guilt, that expresses in way unhealthy ways . . . but, as far as slashers at the box office go (I’m likely not qualified to talk about society as a whole), killed-for-having-sex, that’s a core characteristic here in 2014. It’s just assumed.

David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, very much in keeping with Eric England’s recent Contracted, knows this. What if instead of getting chainsawed in half while under the sheets, you instead caught a different, creepier (or, as in Contracted, grosser) version of a ‘chainsaw?’

Once there’s a trailer, I won’t have to say this, but I trust that I’m not spoiling it, either, as this is the description already posted on IMDb:

For 19-year-old Jay, fall should be about school, boys and weekends out at the lake. But after a seemingly innocent sexual encounter, she finds herself plagued by strange visions and the inescapable sense that someone, or something, is following her. Faced with this burden, Jay and her teenage friends must find a way to escape the horrors that seem to be only a few steps behind.

That’s a pretty solid write-up: Jay has sex, and pays for it with a very persistent, very implacable haunting, one kind of in league with the infected in Bentley Little’s The Walking, except these sometimes-invisible juggernauts (they always walk the shortest path right to you), they shop at the same outlet mall Samara does, I think.

And it completely works. It Follows is very effective horror. And, just like Final Destination taught us, the slasher in your slasher doesn’t necessarily need a trademark face or mask or outfit or weapon. Granted, the studios might grumble, as merchandising opportunities are somewhat limited with It Follows, but within the movie, within the story, this anonymity, it significantly ups the dread. And that’s where real longevity comes from.

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And, yes, I’m fully aware that nearly every time the slasher turns out to be a ghost, then the story loses that slasher dynamic, and becomes a “We’ve got to do research and find out why this ghost is killing us, and that research will give us the tools to beat it, finally”-kind of thing, which is always disappointing, even in the steady hands of a del Toro. Only time I’ve seen it work in a slasher, I think? Prepare your boos: Texas Chainsaw 3D. There Leatherface isn’t a ghost—a shell of a person, yes, the ruined husk of a human—but still, that dangerous dynamic almost surfaces, to undercut the scare: he’s a victim, he was made, he doesn’t have any choice but to be doing this. The Francis Dollarhyde syndrome, yes.

It Follows doesn’t submit to this. Sometimes when you encounter a hungry bear in the woods, you just run, and run, and run some more, right? You don’t have to go back to the woods of yore to figure out why this bear has a taste for flesh. It’s enough that it does.

The walkers in It Follows, they definitely do. And, I should say ‘walker,’ singular, but once you’ve seen it, you might go plural as well.

And, to keep this from being a ghost story—to insist on its essential slasheriness, here’s some of the other characteristics we’ve come to know and love, that are present in It Follows:

  • all teens
  • a distinct final girl
  • no helpful authority figures
  • “let’s go out to the cabin, cool?”
  • that killed-for-having-sex thing
  • false victory
  • set-piece deaths
  • limited locations
  • high gore quotient (that opening scene is beautiful, and it puts me in mind of Mungo Lake, which never hurts)
  • about an hour and a half run-time
  • low-budget (this so often allows the vision to remain pure, not killed-with-notes)
  • mostly unknown actors (so we don’t know who to invest in)

And, the camera-work here, man. You know how Argento will drag a crane-shot agonizingly slowly up a set of stairs, then go to this window, then that? David Robert Mitchell has to be a fan of that. And he knows how horror works. As far as the camera eye goes, this is the best horror I’ve seen since You’re Next, easy.

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Also, to come back to the golden age of slashers, he remembers that one driving principle: keep it simple, dude. Horror, with its need to persistently escalate, is so easy to let get complicated. It’s what you feel you have to do, the trade-in you make in order to continually pull the rug out from under your audience’s feet.

It Follows is painfully, elegantly simple: girl has sex, catches an STD that manifests as people plodding behind her, trying to kill her, and she now has to get away from them in whatever way she can. Along the way she doubts her sanity, sure—is this just a projection of guilt?—but she finally gets to the same place Nancy does in A Nightmare on Elm Street, the same place all final girls finally get to: it’s time to turn the tables. It’s time to set some traps. It’s time to get brutal. You don’t survive just by running. Running’s only prolonging the inevitable. At some point, you turn and fight.

Where It Follows slightly, and maybe necessarily, diverges from the typical slasher development, it’s in the bodycount. David Robert Mitchell isn’t putting up Terminator numbers, here. Rather—and this is why I say ‘necessary’—he’s maybe acknowledging that each life in a horror movie, it actually counts (something I never cued into myself until The Killing). And so he’s thrifty with them. And, the effect of this? It ups the tension, it ratchets up the suspense.

It’s a trick I think I like.

Another way It Follows might be diverging from the typical slasher, it’s in what Joe Bob Briggs used to call the ‘breast count,’ back in the barely post-drive-in days, the just-after-42nd-street period. There’s no real nudity in It Follows. Unlike Cabin in the Woods—and Whedon and Goddard were both pretty uncomfortable with that nudity, by all accounts—unlike You’re Next, which just gets the nudity out of the way in the opening ‘sacrifice.’

Still, each of those films, you felt they were doing their nudity in a kind of compulsory manner. Like, the slasher audience expects it, we’ve ‘got’ to do it.

Things are changing, though. For the better.

Back in the golden age of the slasher? You watch them, and you kind of feel sorry for all these girls, fresh off the bus, being told to take their shirts off. It’s exploitation, and everybody knows it, and everybody just plays along, because it’s a convention of the genre. Or, because it’s going to pull in a few more box-office dollars, possibly, or at least up the odds of this getting picked up for late-night cable, for that demographic of the audience that can’t get into R-rated movies yet.

Still, the real danger of all that happening back-when, it was that it warped the core dynamic of the slasher. Not so much towards killed-for-having-sex, but in the ‘women become disposable once they’ve taken their shirts off’-way. Which I’m not endorsing. I do love the slasher above all other genres, but that doesn’t mean everything it does is automatically right, either. That is what I identify as finally more operant than killed-for-having sex, though: in so many of the golden age slashers, all the suspense associated with a female character, it evaporates once she takes her shirt off. Yes? I mean, there’s slashers that don’t conform, of course—Tobe Hooper’s Fun House, doesn’t it start with the final girl in the shower, and a very lingering camera?—but by and large, most of them consider their female characters worthless once the nudity’s over. Which isn’t a healthy dynamic to just accept, as we use those same eyes in the real world, I’m pretty sure.

It Follows—much like Scream, and Nightmare on Elm Street (both Craven . . .)—doesn’t accept that. And not just because its cast is underage, possibly (I didn’t look them up). The only nudity we see in it, it’s of the distinctly uncomfortable variety, very similar to the much-postered nudity Romero gave us 68. It’s skin we don’t want to see, please. I’m thinking Zelda in that back room, yes. And, you can tell David Robert Mitchell is sticking to this because, come on, in a movie where sex functions like the passed-on VHS tape in The Ring, there’s an opportunity for nudity every other scene, pretty much. But he always has his characters keep their bras on. As in soap operas, they always pull the covers over them before getting started.

I hope to see more of this. And, with this, I hope to start seeing more slashers as well, please. They’re coming back, think? Yes? Yes.

So, to sum up: David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows is both the freshest concept to come down the horror pike in a while, and it’s horror that really and legitimately gets to you. It’s horror you—and this is so important, as Psycho taught us—it’s horror you take with you.

You’re going to have certain doubts after It Follows. Certain suspicions.

Only the best horror ever does that.

[ I'll try to remember to put the trailer here when the trailer's real ]

 

Coming Home

For the weekend, anyway. And, I’m thinking this is my third time in the Midland Reporter-Telegram? I showed up once when I was about twelve, though I cannot begin to suspect what for. Oh, no: maybe it was for Old Settlers Days in Stanton. And maybe it was the news, not the paper. I was cutting cowchips with my knife, to win the big (throwing) contest. Which, I did, but not that year. Anyway, MRT is also the first place I was ever published. I was about twelve then as well. My little brother, over cereal before school, realized he was supposed to have written a myth for homework. Like, explaining where this or that came from. So I did it for him right quick, and he won some contest with it, and then it got published in the newspaper, under his name. But it’s my story. Or, ours, I guess. Anyway, here’s the most recent write-up, some thirty years after the other times (click the imgs for full-size/readablem or click here for the on-line version):

Midland Reporter-Telegram 2014

Midland Reporter-Telegram 2014

We Could Be Heroes

Meat Loaf and Freddy Mercury

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waylon
SpringsteenDylan
Craig Spector, Joe Lansdale, RC Matheson, David Schow, Ray Garton, Rick McCammon, and Jon Skipp

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bob seger-early-b
stephen king

Elvis and Ali

heart

halloween carpenter

TVZ

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michael-jordan

mötley-crüe

nightmare3

Moore Kirby

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Wer

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For a long time I’ve been in a Kirk/Picard situation with myself, regarding Ginger Snaps and The Howling: which do I like best? And, I know, what about An American Werewolf in London, Dog Soldiers, Bad Moon. They’re all good and vital, and contributed important stuff, but for me, it’s always come down to Ginger Snaps or The Howling. And I usually settle on The Howling, as it’s got a much stronger ending (much longer franchise tail as well).

But now, man. No, not ‘man.’ Wer.

wolfman-hand-transformation-fingersThis may be the werewolf movie we’ve all been waiting on. And, what’s odd about it? Ever since 1941, the transformation sequence has been key. Landis and Baker took that and drove it home better than anybody, and Hemlock Grove‘s still doing it, to excellent effect. But in Wer, there’s only two real transformations, and neither of them required any dayslong choreography of latex and air-bladders, and the cgi rendering didn’t take a whole wall of processing power. Wer, it’s kind of standing the movie werewolf on its head. As the title might suggest, its stripping all the extra off ‘werewolf,’ just giving us the real monster inside that word all along.*

As for why the transformation sequence is so slight—not at all dissatisfying, just not the set-piece it’s always been—it’s not budget, necessarily, it’s that we don’t need to visually chart the ‘shift’ from man to wolf this time. From man to amalgamation of man and wolf, as if a wolf has been laid over the chassis of a man. As if the ‘dangerous’ or best parts of each have come together in some chocolate and peanut-butter perfect storm of an ultimate predator.

Too, I should mention, that’s exactly what I like from my werewolves: not the shoulderpad wolves of Dog Soldiers nor the cat-wolves of Underworld (don’t get me wrong, Lucien’s my sun-and-stars), but something more approaching Streiber’s canis lupus sapiens. Really, this is the silhouette I think a werewolf should cut:

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Which is more or less Professor Lupin’s final form, yes? His intermediary one, anyway. Stretched out thin like a greyhound, hair-as-accessory rather than main characteristic, an actual canine muzzle, and on all fours except when the need arises to prairie-dog up over the cubicle walls. A wolf that can persistence hunt, I mean, not just ambush.

And this isn’t to say Wer‘s werewolf isn’t as excellent as excellent gets. When it runs, it drops to all fours, and could probably hurdle a cheetah when that cheetah was really cooking.

Before we get to that werewolf, though, remember how The Wolfman remake does that authentication shuffle—it does it twice, really: on the train (in the dir. cut, I think), Max Van Sydow, in handing off the silver-headed wolf cane we all know and love, drops “Gevaudan,” thereby tipping his hat to all the werewolf aficionados in the crowd that, yes, this movie’s had its homework done, the Beast of Gevaudan is something that matters. But the other way The Wolfman authenticates itself, it’s by having this Lawrence Talbot diagnosed with clinical lycanthropy, which is what always ‘explains away’ the werewolf, as all us die-hards in the crowd know, and kind of despise (this is where The Werewolf of Paris ended once upon a time, yes?). But The Wolfman then earns our undying loyalty when it very publicly disproves that diagnosis, to the consternation and bloody-necked deaths of a lot of gentlemen of the day.

Wer is doing something very similar, here. Except this time we’re the crowd of onlookers, diagnosing this tall, hairy dude with, probably, surely, an advanced case of clinical lycanthropy. We all know he’s the killer, but we suspect he’s just a killer dude, like Peter Stumpf (Stubb, Stump, etc) way back when: somebody who quit shaving and started eating people, starting at the neck.

Then, just like those Victorian gentlemen in The Wolfman‘s 1891, we get disabused of that notion. Pretty wonderfully, too. When this werewolf gets wound up and bitey, it doesn’t matter who’s in the room or what they’re packing, he’s going to chew right through them.

howling3_shot3lEspecially cool? The nod to Howling III. That’s the marsupial one, yes. Where they use flashing lights to trigger a transformation. The doctors in Wer should have been passing that VHS around before stepping down into this medical theater.

Anyway, Ginger Snaps: what made it work was largely that it was a werewolf story embedded within a high school story. The werewolf story  undergirded and exaggerated the issues the Fitzgerald sisters were already facing. Wer‘s got a similar angle: this is a werewolf story operating behind the scrim of a legal thriller, a courtroom drama that’s just ramping up to some “You can’t handle the truth”-apotheosis.

Except, of course, things go wrong. If things didn’t go wrong like this in stories, really, we’d stop telling stories. Stop listening to them, anyway.

So, the first half of the film is like footsteps, slowly approaching the werewolf door, peeking up to look in through the small window. Then we get some cool kill scenes, a transformation, and that door’s all the way broken down. The chase is officially started. Across the countryside, in barns, in caves, in caravans, in marshes, the werewolf doesn’t care. All the werewolf wants to do, it’s kill and—this is important—feed.

Far too often our movie werewolves, they just bite and run, right? Like, they hate the world, or throats and shoulders, anyway, and are going to do as much damage as they can before getting gunned down in the street.

Scarier, if you ask me, are those werewolves that are actually preying on us. That want the meat off our thighs. Not just because they don’t always kill us before starting in—though that’s not exactly ideal—but because, if the werewolf’s feeding then that makes it an actual biological animal, instead of some supernatural ‘cursed’ temporary creation. And animals are much easier to believe in, thus, much scarier. Killing one will hardly even matter, right? There’s a breeding population out there somewhere.

url-2And, talking ‘preying.’ Anybody remember that UPN series Prey from the late nineties? More than anything, Wer reminds me of that: an embedded species, with capabilities far exceeding our own. What’s cool about Wer is that the (extreme) license it takes with porphyria is used to pretty much ‘explain’ werewolves through the ages. And it makes complete and rational sense. And it even takes into account the moon, as all werewolves stories have to address sooner or later (however, silver isn’t an issue. you think it’s going to be, but then it’s not).

What’s really, really satisfying about Wer, though, it’s how it manages to both have closure at the end, but in a way that nearly sketches out the rough space where the sequel should be. Very impressed with the writing. And with the directing. And the photography. And the acting. And the effects. And this werewolf. Man, this is bad. Closest analogue I can think of is that tall bearded dude from Cold Prey. Except this werewolf would kill him in a heartbeat.

What’s really, really dissatisfying about Wer? That it didn’t get the wide-release. But it’s coming to DVD in September, I think it is. And it’s so buyable right now, digitally. Get there, werewolf fans. It’s the first new thing we’ve seen in these fields since about 2000. Wer is bringing the werewolf into our world. And it’s a bloody, loud birth. As it should be. My only prayer is that this movie has siblings, and children. We already know the grandparents. What we’re ready for, it’s the next litter.

 


* however, if we follow through with this, “Godzilla” becomes “God,” “mummies” end up being just “mum,” etc.

** (this footnote has no launch-point above) also, the Jim Harrison of “The Games of Night”—not Wolf—would dig this movie, I think. Can somebody tell him? He’s not in my rolodex.

Society Isn’t Doomed

mix Buzzfeed‘s “23 Things that Prove Society is Doomed” with Salon‘s “War & Peace on the Subway: How Your iPhone is Saving Literature,” then angle it through my publicists’ rose-colored glasses, and you end up with something a lot  like:

1. Sitting together and reading still counts as socializing:

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↳ Via quoteinvestigator.com, once upon a time.

2. It’s considered polite not to read over your date’s shoulder:

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↳ Used to be via empoweredteensandparents.com.

3. Fill the steps between class and the bus stop with a book:

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↳ I wonder if these kids know they’re in the original of this image from betabeat.com?

4. Books, for all the many time-outs and half-times of the sporting events you attend:

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↳ Somebody here forgot their book . . . (Originally via umhoops.com).

 5. “There’s such a glare in here, we’re all having to hold our phones at odd angles to see the pages of these books”:

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↳ Used to be from picsofaznstakingpicsoffood.tumblr.com, but the internet broke because the URL was too long.

10. Sometimes chivalry is a race. She’s trying to gift him the book before he can buy it himself:

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↳ Originally via 98kool.com, which has to be either a radio station or a cigarette.

11. Sure, Thomas Cole is good, but if you want zombies, you’re going to have crack a book open:

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 12. When you don’t know what to say, maybe a book can help:

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↳ Used to be via saketvora.com. And no, I’m not getting paid for the product placement. Though I am now thirsty.

16. They’re reading so fast it’s making their faces blur:

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↳ Originally via singaporeseen.stomp.com.sg. Unless Samara’s holding that camera . . .

18. He’s putting a bookmark in his audio novel:

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↳ Via businessinsider.com once upon a time. A site I’ve never, never been to.

19. It’s not considered ‘time-out’ if you’ve got a book. With a book, you can still escape to anywhere:

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↳ Original via runt-of-the-web.com.

 

 

 stephen graham jones

Godzilla: What if Smaug Were on OUR Side?

click for the song we all know

Wasn’t a clutch of eggs important last time around as well, for Godzilla? It’s cool. I mean, it shows Jurassic Park influence—’nature always finds a way’—but more than that, it suggests that in order for us to keep these science-fiction monsters believable, we’re having to apply biology to them. We’re giving them life cycles outside their brief, usually-tragic rampages. In the case of this Godzilla, though, it actually feels a little bit more like a course correction, of sorts. From Pacific Rim, I mean, whose kaiju had of course already starred in Cloverfield, The Mist, and on and back. But, as far as giant monsters go, we can’t get enough, really. What Pacific Rim did was just elide that fascination with the then- (and soon to be again) fad of giant robots — Transformers, Battleship.godzilla 3

What this Godzilla is correcting, though, it’s locating the giant monsters here on Earth, instead of via an interdimensional portal to some place Thor should have cleaned up long ago. This is important because in Pacific Rim, the threat of aliens makes that an invasion story, one Adrien Veidt would have loved, as it catalyzes humanity into a single unit, erases the differences we bicker about, reminds us we’re in this together, gives us a common cause. I’m not saying this Godzilla doesn’t have that Independence Day blockbustery dynamic built in as well, but, whereas ‘aliens,’ at least to this Blackfeet, are always a big fancy metaphor for colonization (I don’t see any other way to watch Cowboys and Aliens), radiation monsters, they’re more a critique of unchecked scientific progress, an indicator of our guilt (and subsequent punishmnet) for splitting the atom and using it as a weapon, letting the waste leak everywhere, making the fish in Homer’s river have three eyes. Granted, the backstory for these “M.U.T.U.”s (‘Massive Unknown Terrestrial’-somethings, I think) draws them as much more ancient, but still: they’re rising again now, in what we call the nuclear age, and that’s not supposed to suggest anything?

What’s also cool with Godzilla — with all of them, I think, though I’m no historian of giant monsters — is how handily it plays on the prejudices we humans are of course going to subscribe to: giant, destructive bi-peds with eyes we recognize as eyes of course occupy the moral highground over giant, destructive spiders (and other, unnamed insects . . .). Granted, playing into those codes, into that familiarity, it make Godzilla a little too much of a, as the news suggests, ‘savoir of the city,’ a giant Rocky arising when needed, to put down this Clubber Lang, this Drago, this Thunderlips, but at this point in the story — I have no idea how many appearances Godzilla’s made on the big screen — you’ve got to ask yourself what’s left, right? Better effects, sure, but buildings falling down more realistically doesn’t a story make. And, since about Reign of Fire, I’d say, Hollywood’s been able to render dragons fairly realistically (even if they don’t all talk with Sean Connery’s voice).

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So: what does this Godzilla bring to the table that hasn’t been there before, right?

Well, unlike Pacific Rim, women are back to being damsels, more or less, for worse instead of better. And, taking a cue from I’m-not-sure-where, little kids are used here to anchor and polarize so many scenes. Kids that are never used in the story again, but that, for this scene or sequence, are supposed to up the stakes, I think, and give our hero more chance for, you know, heroism. It’s odd; it almost feels like there was a producer watching the rough cuts, and saying, You know, that was all right, sure . . . But what if we added a little kid to that scene? I’m talking an especially powerful, charismatic producer, who’s suggestions are marching orders, who wears gold-plated diapers.

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click for some Physics Today science, via i09

One thing I really appreciated with Godzilla this time around, though, it was how much story was visually packed behind the opening credits. It handily rewriting what we all know as history. Seriously, give an audience a quiz after those first three or four minutes, and nine out of ten of them will demonstrate that they’ve been positioned exactly as the story wants them to be. It’s some excellent exposition-handling, on the order of that opening sequence in Up, or District 9. Except not as obtrusive as either of those. I could have watched this Godzilla‘s opening credits for the whole feature, I think.

. . . except for the fact that every single Godzilla movie, it’s a waiting game: when do we get to see the big guy? When when when? Like Shyamalan in The Sixth Sense, though, this Godzilla knows that the longer we wait for ‘proof,’ the better it’ll be. Which isn’t to say there aren’t some (updated) big bad monsters stomping around on-screen, of course. As it turns out, some version of the Dharma Initiative has been shepharding them for a few decades, now, and right below Fox Mulder’s nose (though our crazy-like-a-fox character here, Brian Cranston, he’s of course hot on the — to him — very personal trail). And of course this all goes south pretty predictably. And that’s not a bad thing, either: if it doesn’t go south, the movie doesn’t happen, right?

it’s not him, either

I do worry a bit about this world, though. Remember for so long how all the zombie movies had to have this ‘learning curve,’ wherein all the characters had to ‘figure out’ that these walking dead are infectious, killable by headshots, all that? Those movies, they were happening in a world not our own: when we see a dead dude slobbering around, we yell “Zombie!” and get into double-tap mode. Which is to say, zombie movies, zombie stories, they exist in our world, and for a long time, in movies, they never did. It’s kind of the same here. I mean, I can go along with the conceit that the Godzilla franchise never got kickstarted, sure. And maybe we never even got hooked on King Kong fighting giant snakes and the occasional pterodactyl. But, look at the action figures the kids have: are those tyrannosaurs, or are they something more movie-inspired?

I’m being too picky, I know, but, going by headsize (small), they’re Godzilla. Which is a fun in-joke, of course. Except it completely fries the world of the movie, for me. Or, it’s like, talking X-Files again: you know how frustrated you always get, that that Very Important Disc Mulder’s finally got his hands on, it turns to smoke? That sucks, yes, but it resets that world for the next episode, too. And that’s so important. If Fox’s CD ever actually made it to the media, then suddenly the X-Files would be happening in a world divorced from ours, a world in which aliens are proven. It’s kind of the same here, for me: this Godzilla — unlike Jurassic Park, which used the unassailable science of amber — it exists in a world divorced from this made-up-monster-dependent world I live in. So it’s happening on-screen, instead of, maybe, in the parking lot outside the theater. Which is kind of a bummer, I suppose. But also pretty great, as I don’t want to get stepped on, or barbecued with what looks like a butane flame.

However, there’s a much more interesting question to ask of this Godzilla: how did we get here? One way to look at it is a series of one-upsmanships, everybody trying to create a cooler giant monster. And that makes good sense, and is especially compelling as we’re the beneficiaries of that kind of game (well, I suppose the studios have a dog in that race as well).

I look at it different, though.

Remember the world Cabin in the Woods was trying to keep in balance? Remember how those bureaucratic slashers, their main job, it was to supply dream fuel for the slumbering giants of yore? How, if those sacrifices ever stopped, well, then those “Ancient Ones,” they would rise again, and, much like Nix, ‘murder the world.’

I’ve got another title for this Godzilla: Cabin in the Woods 2 — The Elder Gods Are Awake.

Run.

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Cold in July

CIJ_STILL-399The trick in adapting a novel—or anything—for the screen, it’s not about being loyal to every line or faithful to each scene exactly as it happens on the page, it’s about identifying the beating heart of the novel, and then finding a way to get it on screen such that the final effect can feel the same. Jim Mickle’s Cold in July does exactly that with Joe R. Lansdale’s novel Cold in July, a book readers have been celebrating now for twenty-five years. After this movie, though, I imagine there’s going to be a whole new set of readers coming to this book, and then falling into the rest of the Lansdale shelves. And that’s plural on purpose, there. I envy them their fall, too.

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I so dig how the crosses on this cover look like cowboy hats

And, what’s surprising with this adaptation, it’s that, while it didn’t have to be faithful the novel, still, just about everything that happens on-screen, it’s lifted from the page. Sure, there’s some things condensed, some characters erased, but that’s just because the conventions of film and the conventions of fiction are different. That beating heart, though—let me get at it sideways, so as not to directly spoil: you know how the real pleasure of zombies, in both videogames and movies, it’s that they’re complete monsters, you can’t negotiate with them, there’s one and only one rational response to them looming over you? Shooting a zombie feels so righteous.

That’s exactly what Cold in July is about. It’s about putting a normal, small-town guy in a situation where he questions his own response to protect his family, and then sending him on an adventure where he’s shown that his response to protect, it’s not only right and reasonable, it’s a duty. Any ethical hesitation is erased. We’re even cheering his response, and wishing we were him the same way we wished we were William Wallace in Braveheart.

Where Cold in July really accelerates past the Bravehearts, though—and the movie does preserve this as it was in the novel—it’s by texturing this whole dilemma with fatherhood. No, not texturing: tying it in directly, and showing fathers and sons from different angles, yet never resorting to homily or sentiment. This story doesn’t take the easy way out even once. As Lansdale himself says right before his most well-known story starts, this is a story that doesn’t flinch.

And, for all the longtime Mojo readers, there’s even nods to some of Lansdale’s other works. But I’ll let you see them yourself.

What was really telling about the movie for me, though, it’s that my wife and I sat all through the credits talking about it, and about 1989, which was rendered pretty spot-on, even down to the excellent final song (hint: White Lion). At one point my wife said, about the pacing, that “it was so Joe.” And she’s so right. Lansdale’s got some of the best instincts around for the rhythm of storytelling, and where to inject humor, when to cut some gore you’d really rather not have to see. And, with a cast like this—Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, Don Johnson—of course all the acting’s more than spot-on. But the camera work and the set design, that’s what really sells this one for me. The composition of each shot is so intentional if you really watch, but it never gets in the way, either. It makes you appreciate film, I guess I’m saying. Yet never at the expense of the story. All adaptations should have such a steady hand.

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click for trailer

And, not really talking location, but tone: Texas. In his introduction for Preacher, Lansdale notes (rightly) that, while Ennis tells a good and crazy story set in Texas, still, this ain’t Texas, not by a long shot. Cold in July, though, it’s Texas through and through. I’m not saying it was shot in Texas—I think I knew at one point, but have forgot—I’m saying that it feels like Texas. The same way A Perfect World did, or Sugarland Express. That’s partly due to the story, of course, and the characters, and their rambling outside the lines of the law—Texas stories generally put justice in the hands of the individual, not the courts, and that’s a big part of why we like them, I suspect (that’s a great fantasy to buy into for a few hours; it’s every western, from Zane Grey to Louis L’Amour)—but there’s something else, something hard to pin down. Whatever it is, Mickle gets it right. It’s not Don Johnson’s cool shirts, though I think I’ve got matches to most of them in my closet, and it’s not his red Cadillac, but I guess it kind of might be the mariachi in the restaurant, say. Or plinking bottles in the back yard. Or feeding leftovers through the hogwire. And it’s the way our hero and his wife sit on a couch together. It makes me miss home. But, luckily, there’s novels and movies like Cold in July, that can take me back for a little bit.

If you’re close enough to catch Cold in July on the big screen, then of course do that. If not, though, then it’s streaming. And—maybe this was just for us—right when it started raining in the movie, the skies opened up above Boulder, too, so that the sounds mixed and we couldn’t tell one from the other. I can’t guarantee it’ll rain on you if you cue this up, I don’t guess. But I can guarantee you’ll be lost in a good story.

 

Stage Fright

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I can’t figure why exactly slashers and musicals are something that’s been tried now twice. Once here, and once in Don’t Go In the Woods. I mean, Nazis and zombies, that just makes sense. But I can’t figure out what slashers and musicals share, exactly. And, maybe it’s not slashers in particular, even. We’ve already had Cannibal: the Musical, haven’t we? Maybe horror is just something we like to see strained through the musical. If it is something particular to the slasher, though . . . what, right? Is it that they’re both pretty formulaic? Like, gleefully formulaic? Could be. Or—this is sounding more likely to me—I bet it’s the fact that each rely so heavily on set-pieces. Musicals have sing-alongs every X minutes, and a slasher’s guaranteed to deliver an over-the-top kill every X minutes. Which is different than ‘formula,’ of course. Formula is kind of like ‘recipe': put these characters in that situation, and the same thing’ll cook up each time. And that’s not at all bad, either. A lot of people indict slashers for this very reason, whereas I see that as their strength, maybe even their saving grace. But, yes, I think that’s it: a slasher and a musical, no matter what else is going on, we’re getting a specific kind of scene ever few minutes. Their rhythm is the same. And they’re each exuberant, and unselfconscious. They’re not ashamed to let a person sing their inner thoughts, they see nothing wrong with going into unnecessarily graphic detail about how exactly the knife enters the eye-socket.

They’re chocolate and peanut butter.

sf0And, yes, Don’t Go In the Woods (2010) is kind of reviled (and not to be confused with 1981’s Don’t Go In the Woods, though that does rely on a particular song as well . . .). What about this Stage Fright, though? First, though, don’t confuse it with Curtains, or with Argento’s Opera, or with Flesh & Blood, or with Scream 2, though of course they all share that Black Swan/theatre set-up. And, as for why theatre and slashers so often have gone hand in hand: the masks, yes? The, you know, the theater of it all, the grand ‘production’ this slasher is going through, in order for everybody to cue into his or her important backstory. Even Deathtrap had a lot of bloody fun on- and off-stage.

And—okay, for this slasher, it’s being paired with A) the musical, and B) the actual theatre. What else? Well, what’s the slasher’s natural stomping grounds, right? Camp, of the Sleepaway kind, of the Crystal Lake kind.

A bunch of theatre kids are isolated from parents and authority and pitted against each other in order to stage a perfect, save-the-camp play. Only, some masked killer’s killing people, for very giallo reasons, it would seem.

Also, I should say, before I deliver any kind of verdict here, that I’m the only person I’ve found so far who, the first time I watched Rock of Ages, went back to the main menu, and hit play again, and then, after that, inhaled every single extra/special feature, and listened to all the commentaries, and did everything I could to please let that movie live forever in my head and my heart. Granted, it’s way strange hearing my hair band gods’ songs coming from people who don’t seem to fit those voices, or that delivery, and, yes, not all of the songs would have actually been sung aloud, did people actually sing aloud like that. But still: the musical. I love the way they work. I loved the way Rock of Ages worked.

I should also say that Meat Loaf, as near as I’m concerned, is the best performer of his own music there’s been. The dude’s opera in-person; his every move is towards the over-dramatic, to be sure the people way back in back can get every nuance. I’ve got all his music videos pretty much memorized, and his Bat Out of Hell series, I’ve bought that so many times. They’re the albums I’ve listened to the most in my life, by far.

the inevitable love child of Michael Myers and Jigsaw

So, yes, Stage Fright, it’s pretty much made for me. It’s got Meat Loaf in some superfake mustaches, it’s got Minnie Driver in the Drew Berrymore role, dying in a beautifully grisly way, and it’s got that Cheerleader Camp logic, of: So, somebody died. Let’s wait until Monday to worry about that, what do y’all think?

And that’s just the tip of the machete.

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It’s also got Argento’s sensibility when it comes to kill scenes: lay hard on the guitar when the knife’s going in, it’ll make everything so much cooler. And, just when you think it can’t get any cooler? Well, what if the slasher, say, pulled out his own guitar, stepped into his power stance over his latest victim, and laid down a face-melting solo?

But perhaps the coolest part of it all for me, it’s after Meat Loaf’s first musical number—and this is after the movie’s already established for us that it’s in a mode where people can spontaneously fall into song, and that’s not weird at all. But, after Meat Loaf’s kind of introductory song, the coolest thing happens: everybody starts to clap for his performance. Which is to say this wasn’t him ‘singing his heart,’ this was him singing within the musical. It’s a trick I’ve never seen done. And Stage Fright, it’s chock full of fun like that. There’s Pinhead gags, there’s obligatory Carrie gags, there’s somebody saying “pieces” in a way that has to be a reference to the 1982 movie of the same name, there’s post-kill one-liners that would make Arnold blush, there’s the early-on promise of the big massacre at the end (and even a countdown to it), there’s a third-reel body dump nearly as good as any of Jason’s spring-loaded corpses, there’s some high-quality kills with a variety of instruments—and, I lied: my favorite little trick? It’s when a certain person pulls the phone cord from its junction on the outside of a cabin. Which is just what you do in a slasher. But what you usually don’t get with that, it’s the faint sound, then, of a busy signal. Which is of course what anybody who calls is going to hear. It’s not the sound that ripped-out cable’s going to make. That cable’s not making any sound at all.

But we’re in slasher-land, here. We’re in a place where the sound leaks from the cables like blood, and seeps into our ears, and we hardly even notice.

Stage Fright is hiliarious and gory. And that’s exactly what you want in a slasher, I think. It’s exactly what I want, anyway. And, not to overspoil—stop here if you’re worried—but it’s got a closing gag that’s so well-timed it actually made me flinch. And it only works because the structural cues Stage Fright‘s got going on, they lull me one way. But surprise. In the slasher, there’s a jack-in-the-box around every corner. And it’s usually holding a knife. If you’re lucky, it’s holding two.

[ that whole commencement speech: here ]