March 27, 2017
“I have a gun in my hand but all I really want to do is talk.”
Sometime during this season (7) of AMC’s hit series, The Walking Dead the show toppled over its own hubris and died. “Jumped the Shark” as it’s often called in popular culture. Though leaping over an apex predator would be more exciting than the demise of this once wonderful show.
Before getting into it, allow me to qualify. I loved The Walking Dead before it even came out. Devouring the source material comics and any and all related content. Without sounding like a preening fan boy, I was a zombie freak before the genre became a genre. The nihilism and terror of reanimated corpses feasting on a terrified and dwindling population spoke to me like no other type of story could, ever since I saw George Romero’s iconic Night of the Living Dead at a drive in movie theater(!) I was gutted. Something about people “turning” into their own worst enemy resonated, igniting my deepest fears: “They are us.” More than just ghoulish, the undead delivered the perfect allegory for our overpopulated, corrupt and polluted world.
Now zombies, like vampires before them, have become a tired trope, instead of rampaging into our nightmares they are lumbering on pub crawls and into low budget, straight-to-video oblivion. The “Dawn” has become a great yawn.
But because of its superior characters and production, The Walking Dead had largely avoided that fate. Until now.
The show has become a sequence of two-shots and medium close-ups comprising lesser characters talking endlessly to other lesser characters. In other words a soap opera. Might as well be called, “The Talking Head.” No doubt the producers feel that people are what drive the show, not zombies, that it is the living who are the real enemy -an understandable evolution but one that has, this season, gone too far. Look, we all know that in the last (or second-to-last) episode there will be a big battle with evil Negan and his Saviors. But must every episode prior be so damn talky? When I find myself trolling the Internet during the show, I know the magic is gone. Sadly, I went from riveted to mostly bored.
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Say what you will about the horror franchise but the latest Purge movie is eerily prophetic in its depiction of the divisive state of our Union. For those unawares, the concept deals with a government sanctioned night of rage that takes place once a year in America. All crimes, including murder, are legal for 12 hours. The subsequent carnage is supposed to “purge” everyone’s pent up frustrations and lead to less crime overall. Something like that anyway.
Regardless of what we think of this science fiction one cannot deny how prescient the idea is. So ripe is the concept I don’t know where to begin. Ragged race relations? Check. Police brutality? Check. The gun debate? Check. Political unrest? Check. Rich vs. poor? Check. And on and on. Clearly, The Purge has tapped into the zeitgeist in ways unimaginable and uncomfortable.
None more so that the latest entry, aptly titled The Purge: Election Year.
One scene has a corrupt, white officer shooting a young black man dead through the window of his car. Another has angry black civilians rampaging against a stronghold of rich white people. At times it was like watching You Tube videos of chaos in our streets. And I haven’t even mentioned the gross similarities between the “Election Year” depicted in the movie and the one we are enduring now. The two Presidential candidates are a fearsome and corrupt rich white man and a liberal leaning female. Sound familiar?
Of course the film is over-the-top and grossly distorted. But it’s all too freakishly on point. That the film was produced well before the recent mayhem in our country further adds to its power. If America wasn’t going through what it is going through right now this movie would come and go as a mildly entertaining piece of pulp genre. Instead, it damn near passes for a documentary.
The eyes of the demon, The Conjuring 2
Last Saturday night, I served as the “adult aged person” allowing my 8th grade daughter and her BF to see The Conjuring 2. Truth be told they served as my ticket to see this horror film as well. I have loved horror films ever since I began sneaking into them at various grind houses in Chicago when I was in the 8th grade. That one of my daughters finds them intriguing as well is a bonus I hadn’t counted on. Having an ally in this dark pursuit is irresistible. When she asks, “Dad, will you take me to see The Conjuring 2?” we both know the answer.
For the record, The Conjuring 2, is a beautifully produced, at times ridiculous, but also legitimately scary horror movie about demonic possession. That it’s “based on true events” make it even more compelling.
And then this. On the car ride home my daughter asks me if demons and the devil really exist. Rather than abruptly saying “Don’t be silly, sweetheart it’s only a movie” I truly ponder her question. I take it seriously. “Well,” I reply, “if you believe in the Christian God then you have to be open-minded that evil exists in this world and that it has a face.”
Save for the radio, the remainder of the car ride is silent, perhaps the gravity of my answer weighing it down. Was that too heavy a statement, especially for two young girls to bear? I don’t know.
Later that evening, after the girls are in bed (not sleeping, their lights on) I go into my office and turn on the computer. There, I quickly learn about the mass shooting in Florida – the worst ever in US history. A lone gunman entered a gay nightclub firing a barrage of bullets into the dancing throngs, killing scores of innocent people enjoying their Saturday night. The next day his identity and photograph would be posted everywhere. Soon after, the terrorist group, ISIS, would take credit for his gruesome and deadly act.
Again, I think about what I told my daughter “that evil exists in the world and that it has a face.” I stand by my answer. Demons exist. It’s not only a movie.
September 26, 2011
My Bears lost today but I wasn’t watching, because I was at the Chicago Horror Film Festival, which held it’s final screenings and awards show Sunday at the Portage Theater in Chicago. Unlike the Monsters of the Midway, my screenplay Belzec: The Made Undead won first place in its category at the CHFF. It beat five other finalists, including a ditty called Jug Face.
The Chicago Horror Film Festival, run by the indomitable Willy Adkins, has been an indie staple for 12 years, showcasing some pretty terrific horror films, many of them produced in Chicago. A good example would be the film, Moleman of Belmont Avenue, which had its premier at the festival. The film, produced in part by Zombie Army, features a number of actors from Second City, including Tim Kazurinsky and Dave Pasquesi.
I saw Moleman (silly and very Chicago) as well as a short vampire flick entitled Afraid of Sunrise. In addition, I got to meet Elias Matar, who won best director for a terrific undead picture called Ashes, a film I happened to catch at the Waterfront Film Festival earlier this summer. It’s great and will be out in limited release and on DVD shortly. See it. Finally, I also screened What They Say a creepy film about a “cutter” who does what comes un-naturally. Actress Heather Dorff won best actress for the film and was in attendance as well, donning a sexy horror gal costume. Yum.
Winning is cool, but the boobs and blood are what make these underground festivals so much fun. That and all the hardworking dreamers trying to make a go in movie making. For sure it’s a nerdy, Goth experience but what can I say? I’m an introverted writer that grew up in a grind house. When I was a boy we used to sneak into the Parkway Theater on Broadway (long since demolished, I think it’s a Lens crafters) and see triple features totally unsuitable for youngsters… Deranged, Enter the Dragon and The Exorcist. How’s that for a Saturday matinee?
Before I get back into advertising (soon come!) I wanted to prove my chops at screenwriting. Whether my Belzec zombies see the light of day or not, I did what I set out to do, and in my crazy little world, that counts for something.
September 21, 2011
Let us compare two disparate groups of four: sports and monsters.
For the last hundred years America has had a love affair with four sports: Baseball, Football, Basketball and Hockey. For most of those years it was in that order. I’m leaving out soccer but will come to it shortly.
There are four major monsters haunting these lands: Vampires, Zombies, Werewolves and Mummies. For most of the last 100 years it was in that order. I’m leaving out witches but will come to them shortly.
While baseball has long been considered America’s pastime, in the last 20 or so years the NFL has taken over, largely due to gambling and its colorful violence. While sports purists and old people still prefer baseball, most concede that football has passed by it like a 50-yard bomb from Tom Brady.
Ever since Bram Stoker penned Dracula, vampires have been the preferred undead, bolstered now by Twilight, True Blood and the Vampire Diaries, among others. Zombies, however, have shambled to the top of the heap, starting with George Romero’s seminal Night of the Living Dead and all that it generated, including last years ugly-faced darling, The Walking Dead.
Zombies are the new vampires. Football is the new baseball. Agreed? Then let’s move on…
In a way (granted a very odd way) the NBA is like a pack of werewolves. Sleek, fast and cool but just not as popular as the others. Both have their rabid fans but the numbers just aren’t there. Werewolves and the NBA are like middle children.
An even odder comparison would be hockey and mummies. Hockey is the fastest sport and mummies are the slowest monsters. Clearly, The two have nothing in common. Except the glaring fact that compared to the other three in their respective categories, they fall miserably short. And yes, this is a popularity contest.
So: witches and soccer…
Soccer, or European football, is without a doubt, the biggest sport in the world. Yet in America it’s basically an activity for children. I prefaced this silly article by stating an American bias. And in the US of A, soccer is barely a stepchild to the Big 4.
Witches (yawn) are random, closer to fantasy than horror, at best a default costume for every other mom on Halloween. They are not scary. Of many proof points, take Marnie the witch on True Blood. In my opinion, she all but derailed the show. And then there’s Samantha. Bewitching yes but no monster.
I will withdraw my paragraph comparing boxing with dinosaurs, for they are both extinct. Mixed martial arts are having a nice run. Alas, I don’t have a monster corollary for them. Demons? Aliens? Rosie O’Donnell?
Why have I written this you may rightfully ask? Well, I love sports and I love monsters. And since popular culture would be sadly bereft without either, I decided to mash ‘em together, just for the fun of it. I hope you enjoyed the exercise as much as I did. If not, you’re either a witch or someone who gets up at 3AM to watch Real Madrid play Chelsea.
Editor’s note: I ignored Frankenstein for he is one-off like the Invisible Man or table tennis.