alexxkay: (Default)
Kestrell and I watched a nifty movie yesterday, an obscure Gothic horror from 1998, written and directed by Michael Almereyda. “The Eternal” is the name we saw it under, but as often seems to be the case with low-budget horror movies, it had several other titles as well: Trance, The Mummy, and Eternal: Kiss of the Mummy – possibly others.

All this mention of a mummy is perhaps deceptive, though not false. Our setting is not Egypt, but Ireland; the body emerging not from a pyramid, but an ancient peat bog. Also featured are Druids, witchcraft, transmigration of souls, terrorists, guns, explosives, whiskey, broken glass, broken hearts, broken promises… Plus most of your traditional Gothic elements: the creepy, isolated old house, the family secrets, the madwoman in the attic, the creepy girl, the thunderstorms. No individual ingredient was anything we hadn’t seen a million times before, but the sheer quantity of volatile moving parts meant that we had NO idea where the plot was going to go next.

The film ended up on our radar because it has Christopher Walken in it. As is often the case, his role was relatively small, though important to the plot. His faltering attempt at an Irish accent was perhaps the weakest element of the film, but that didn’t get in the way of my enjoyment.

So, what’s the basic set up? A loving couple of alcoholics bring their son to Ireland and the ancestral house. Ostensibly, so he can meet his grandmother, but possibly also to try and stop drinking. (The script does acknowledge that going to Ireland to dry out is perhaps not the wisest choice.) Such family as remains alive within the ancestral house mostly accuse each other of having “lost the bucket” (apparently the Irish equivalent of losing one’s marbles – there seems to be a series bucket shortage in their neighborhood). Uncle Bill (Walken) is perhaps most obviously bonkers, since he’s spending a lot of his time hanging out in the basement with a remarkably well preserved 2000 year old corpse that he seems to think might be able to be revived.

One thing that particularly pleased me about this movie was that the script did not depend on anyone holding the idiot ball. At various times, characters are inattentive and miss details that one wishes they had not, and there are no shortage of poor life choices, BUT no one wastes any time denying the evidence of their senses (once they notice the weird shit), and they make reasonable efforts to get out of danger, even if these don’t always work. There is a character who looks for a while as if he will be a traditional Fatal Boy, but he does not fall into that trap, and even makes effective use of his one real life-skill (partying hard) before the end.

Many reviewers panned this on the sadly-traditional basis that it is a horror movie without a huge amount of blood, or even that large a body count. For those (like me) who like their horror with a lot of atmosphere and characterization, it’s an overlooked gem. Recommended.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
I spend a *lot* of time providing on-the-fly descriptive tracks for Kestrell. In that time, I have gotten great utility out of a technical term I picked up from Buffy scriptwriters, "Baitcam". This describes the frequently-used shot where the camera starts looking at the protagonist and/or potential victim from behind concealing foliage, usually from the middle distance, implying that something dangerous is hiding in the bushes. (There usually is, but sometimes it's just a fake-out.) This is, as you can see, complex to describe, but sufficiently quick to establish visually that it's very handy to have shorthand for it.

After the third time in a week that I found myself pausing a video to say: "They're doing that thing with the protagonist in the middle distance and suddenly an indistinct outline figure dashes across the camera in the foreground," I decided I needed a new piece of shorthand. After some thought, I decided that "Forezoom" did the job nicely, being evocative, and only rwo syllables.

Having used it successfully for a month or so, I've decided to share it with the world :)
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Kestrell discovered this today, and we watched the first two episodes. It’s a newish TV series from CBS that’s available for free on Amazon Prime Video. It’s basically “The West Wing” meets “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, with an extra dash of black humor. We’re definitely intrigued enough to watch more.

Also, for extra geek cred points, after the first episode, the “previously on Braindead” segment is a song by Jonathan Coulton (with slightly altered lyrics each week). While there is definitely a horror element, the level of gore is consistent with broadcast television. On the other hand, if you have trouble with a plot revolving around mind-controlling bugs crawling inside people’s brains, you might want to give it a miss. And of course, having only seen the first two episodes, I can’t guarantee that the quality will stay high. Provisionally recommended.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Kes wanted to see this movie because it seemed to be in the sub genre “evil trees”. It wasn’t EXACTLY that, but it satisfied, nonetheless.

A young English couple moves to a remote forest in Ireland, to help prepare for an upcoming logging operation. The locals warn them that these woods belong to “The Hallow”, fearsome faery-like beings. Our protagonists, sadly, do not appear to have any genre-savvy, and write this off as rural superstition. Viewers who ARE genre-savvy, especially fans of real-world biological horror, will see a lot of what’s coming as soon as the word “Cordyceps” is uttered.

Plot-wise, there aren’t a lot of surprises, but the direction and acting are excellent. Stylistically, the film moves through a half dozen or so classic horror sub genres, frequently adding a new bit of spin to what our not-so-heroic protagonists have to deal with. It starts calm and slow, but there’s some truly disturbing body horror by the end of it.

Speaking of ends, if you do watch this movie, stay for the very end of the credits. Several of the last few credits are amusing in and of themselves. And in the final 90 seconds or so, music plays over them which slyly re-contextualizes the entire film that came before it. Recommended for horror fans.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Kestrell and I watched this Spanish-language horror movie today. It was of obvious interest to her since it featured not one but two characters suffering from visual impairment. Sturgeon’s Law applies even to such niche categories as “horror movies about blind women”, so it was a pleasant surprise to find one that was well made and not overly clichéd.

Our protagonist, Julia, appears to be in her 30s, is happily married, and works in an observatory. Her twin sister, Sara, and she both suffer from a degenerative condition that is slowly driving them blind. Sara goes completely blind first, and as the movie opens, appears to commit suicide. Julia, however, remains unconvinced, and insists on looking for a deeper motive, despite the objections of both the police and her own husband. Naturally, she discovers more than a few secrets that Sara was keeping, and before long finds herself targeted by a killer whom no one else believes exists…

As the plot develops, there are quite a number of interesting twists, only a few of which even Kestrell saw coming. Reading some reviews of the movie later, I noticed that some people complained about plot holes; I honestly didn’t see any. To be sure, there were places where in order to understand what was going on, you had to be observant and put the pieces together yourself; this was not a film that wanted a big exposition scene after the climax.

In fact, I was impressed with how little explicit exposition there was. A lot of information was delivered, but generally through very naturalistic dialogue, or through clever camera movements and NO dialogue. The director makes frequent use of POV shots, and they usually reveal aspects of character as well as plot. One of my favorite things that the movie does is, during the sections where Julia is nearly or completely blind, they subtly indicate the impact on her by never showing any character’s face EXCEPT for her own. Other people are viewed from the back, or are standing out of frame, or what have you. In this way, you feel viscerally the manner in which she is no longer able to gain information from facial expressions – or, indeed, facial recognition!

While I greatly enjoyed this film, I’m afraid that relatively few people reading this review would also like it. It is slower paced and less violent than a typical giallo movie, but has considerably more violence and action than your typical psychological thriller. Also, be warned that there are some fairly significant invocations of the old Injury-To-Eye Motif, so if that’s a squick point for you, stay away.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
I really like this indie horror film (though Kestrell was “meh”). It’s sort of a mix of M.R. James’ “Casting the Runes” and an 80s slasher flick. The protagonist is being followed by an implacable monster that is guaranteed to kill them unless they passed this curse on to someone else first – by having sex with them. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a sexually transmitted CURSE.

I thought it worked well on a number of levels. It’s a scary horror movie, obviously. It’s also in some ways a meditation on inevitable mortality, and the ways in which we try to avoid it; In a move that reverses the 80s trope that sex equals death, in this film sex is the only mechanism by which you can (temporarily) avert death. And it’s a great example of rules-based storytelling.

Being who I am, I feel compelled to analyze the rules in some detail. Naturally, this involves heavy spoilers.Read more... )
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
The new issue of Alan Moore’s Providence is out. I have some mixed feelings.

On the one hand, I am disappointed that the dizzying intensity of existential terror reached at the end of the previous issue is retreated from.

On the other hand, Moore has taken the well-worn Lovecraftian trope of the Clueless Narrator and driven it to hitherto-undreamed-of heights (depths? lengths? marls?). It’s so overdone it’s funny – which becomes horrifying in a very unusual way.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
I said some of this in conversation recently, and thought the analogy worth expanding upon.

He produced a great deal of work in genres and formats that were widely considered to be lowbrow, disposable entertainment for the lower classes. Most of his work wasn't

collected during his lifetime. Shortly *after* his death, some of his literary disciples started getting his work collected and reprinted, marking the start of the genre and form being seen as (at least *capable* of being) "literature".

Some of his political attitudes are not in fashion today, which some readers can't get past. And he had stylistic quirks (including a fondness for long words) that are easily parodied (and arguably became self-parody in his own lesser works).

Of his prodigious output, about the top 5% consists of enduring classics, works that influenced *everything* that came after them in their "home" genres, and had considerable influence even outside those genres. The next, say, 10% of his output was also very good, though not quite *as* enduring as the first-rank material. After that, the work ranges from "good" down to "wretched".

Although only the cream of his work is widely influential, devout fanboys of his work (starting with his first reprinters) have been completists, including everything they could get their hands on, indiscriminately. This has inadvertently led to a dilution of his mass appeal. People often hear great things about his work, but are then exposed to (sometimes quite large) pieces of his work that is not at all impressive. This is, IMO, why so many people are willing to say, "I'm not a fan of his stuff", even if they generally like the genre he helped make respectable. I believe they *would* be fans of his if they read his best works, and avoided the vast sea of mediocrity around it.

[Of course, countless arguments could be made about *which*, exactly, the best works are. But if you compiled a list of many people's opinions, I don't think many people would put works in the top tier that anyone else thought weren't at least second-tier.]

I once had a conversation in which I drew a few comparisons between Shakespeare and Neil Gaiman. While there's still some validity there, when I look at the *whole* of the description above, the name Jack Kirby leaps out at me as the Shakespeare of superhero comics.

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Alexx Kay

September 2017

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