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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March 31, 2014
The Walking Dead season finale contained one of the most violent scenes I’ve witnessed in a film of any kind and it didn’t involve zombies at all. A ruthless gang of survivors had the protagonists of the series dead to rights. And then the heroes turned the tables, eliciting vile payback. Rick bit open the throat of his captor and then guts the heathen who was about to rape his son. More death. Like that.
The previous week’s episode featured the entirely unexpected murder of a young girl, who’d lost her mind and killed her sister trying to prove that her subsequent “turning” would be evidence that the undead were, what, normal? These episodes were brutal, nihilistic and, basically amazing.
The living people have become the walking dead themselves. They move forward killing everything in their paths, like zombies. The flicker of hope for humanity grows ever more dim. It’s barely there.
During a commercial break (yes, I watched the network broadcast) was a preview of a sequel to The Purge, a film about legalized crime including (and especially) murder. I didn’t see the original movie but enough people did to warrant a sequel.
Then came a Hyundai spot where you can build your own zombie killing car. Benign in terms of mayhem the spot is meant to be funny. I suppose…
My, oh my. So many visions of the Apocalypse! We Are What We Are is the title of a film about modern day cannibals, itself a remake of a Spanish film about people eaters.
I’ve been a horror fan since I can remember. The first real book I ever read for “fun” was Salem’s Lot. As a boy I thrilled at Hammer’s vision of the undead. Christopher Lee’s Dracula and his gory sexy brides formed my world view –or at least provided lurid escape from the sketchy real world: my parent’s divorce, step-father’s suicide, gang-bangers on every corner, teachers that didn’t give a shit, friends who had it worse than me and acted accordingly.
By comparison, fictional evil was somehow… attractive.
For me, hanging out with miscreants on the street corner was far more threatening. Pretending not to be scared in real life was a lot harder than bearing monsters in books and on screen. Enduring evermore-gruesome fictions was (and is) a way for a young man to demonstrate courage. It’s a theory.
And now you feel it don’t you? The mainstream embraces horror like never before, as I did as a teenager and still do. In films, books, comics, games, television, music and even commercials. Always profitable but formerly seedy, the horror genre has risen from the grave!
You have become like me, God have mercy on your souls.
June 24, 2013
Though I studied film in college, and wrote film criticism for three of my university newspapers, I don’t do movie reviews here. However, I do use movies as reference. Often. Personally and professionally, they are a constant source of inspiration. They are for a lot of people. Perhaps more than any other medium, movies shape our popular culture. And in doing so the advertising that permeates it. Like ads, films are accessible to just about everyone. Indeed, when they first came into being movies were made primarily as entertainment for the lower classes. Not as art, per se but so working people could escape from the dreariness of factories and the weariness of farms. The upper classes went to museums and the opera. Until they realized movies were a lot more fun.
Fade to black.
Yesterday, I took in a matinee of Brad Pitt’s apocalyptic thriller, World War Z. Having read the book several years ago and being a major fan of horror (in particular zombie horror), there was zero chance of me not seeing this film. If I didn’t have family responsibilities I would have likely been among the very first.
I’m sure Mr. Pitt and his many nervous backers hope there are plenty more just like me. Reasonable assumption -at least when the film scoped at south of 100 million dollars. After all, zombies have been the new it girls of horror for some time now. From no-budget snarlers to A&E’s The Walking Dead, reanimated corpses have been animating popular culture in frightening proportions.
Alas, the troubled film cost over 200 million bones to make. There are not enough fan boys on earth to cover that spread. Which is how I fear this film got into trouble. Trying to capitalize on Pitt’s fame. Trying to capture female viewers. Trying to be all things to all people so as to get box office, World War Z comes off as a middling thriller and a mediocre zombie movie.
One need only look at the PG-13 rating to know WWZ was doomed. With VERY FEW exceptions you just can’t make good undead horror for less than an “R.” For one thing, you can’t show the carnage, which I feel is absolutely necessary to the genre. This film doesn’t. To put it bluntly no one gets eaten in this film. Hell, I don’t recall even seeing blood. On behalf of fan boys everywhere: WTF?
Yet, the film is just intense enough to keep a shit-ton of normies out of it as well. Granted, films like Zombieland and Warm Bodies and shows like The Walking Dead have opened doors to the genre few had thought possible: women, children and happy people.
But not 200 million dollars worth. Case in point, the matinee I saw was less than one third full. And it was raining out! Not a good sign for an aspiring blockbuster in its first week let alone a good horror 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.