Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Give The Gorehounds What They Want - Part 2

Continuing on...

Warning: if you're not a horror fan, and especially if you're sensitive and easily disturbed by horror movies and such, don't read this one. Give me another day or two and I'll probably go back to nice safe complaining about checkout lines or something, and it'll be safe for you to come back.

There have been a few bright spots in recent horror movies, but not many. The Others was very good, and one of the few "twist ending" movies where I honestly had no idea that the twist was even coming, much less what it was going to be. I expected a straightforward haunted house story, like The Changeling (one of my favourites), and it turned out to be much more.

If we're going to talk twist endings, then of course I have to digress to discuss Shymalan. The Sixth Sense was very well-done, but I actually thought that we were supposed to know, right from when he got shot, that Bruce Willis was dead. (Whoops, spoiler alert a couple of sentences back or so.) I was puzzled by the audible surprise reaction from the rest of the audience when his condition was made clear - I thought it was meant to be an emotional moment for him, since he apparently hadn't realized (or admitted to himself) he was dead until then, but I thought the audience was supposed to have been in on it all along. I thought the movie was about a dead man's coming to grips with his own death, whereas the rest of the audience was watching a whole different movie. The funny thing is, I think both of those movies worked pretty well.

The Sixth Sense was actually spoiled for me by a trailer I saw for it shortly before its release. It was the standard "random clips from the movie while poignant lines of dialogue play in voiceover" formula. The dialogue, though, was the conversation when Willis told Osment that his relationship with the ghosts "doesn't work that way." Osment asks Willis how he knows, and then the shot onscreen cut to Willis smirking, clearly telegraphing that he knew all about how ghosts behave because he was one. So, when I saw the movie shortly thereafter, my only question at the start was how long Willis would survive, and Marky Mark's bullet seemed to provide a clear answer.

As for Shymalan's other works, briefly: my initial reaction to Signs was that it was a terrific, faith-affirming story. Once I got time to think about it, though, I was troubled by the ending. So Gibson's a priest again. For how long this time? Until something else bad happens to him? I may write more about this, but not today.

The Village was again rather predictable, and ultimately just a big-budget Scooby-Doo story. The villagers would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for that meddling blind girl.

Unbreakable - saw it, wasn't that interested. Not much further opinion. I've read enough comics to have thought the "surprise reveal" was obvious.

Lady In The Water - haven't seen it, probably won't.

Of course, there's more to being a horror fan than movies. I've read almost all of the works of Stephen King, for starters. My favourites are The Stand (of course) and the Dark Tower series, especially Wolves of the Calla. I've read everything of King's up to Cell, with one exception: Black House. I have a lovely hardcover copy which was given to me as a gift sitting on my bookshelf. It's never been opened, and may never be. You see, I read The Talisman, and it's the one book with King's name on it that I really intensely disliked. Whereas I've read and enjoyed every one of King's other books, I've decided to hold Straub responsible for the mess that was The Talisman, and probably won't be reading anything else with his name on it.

I tried Anne Rice. I really did. My wife is a big fan of hers, and just this past Christmas I got her the last Rice book she needed to complete her library (Vittorio The Vampire). I find Rice well-researched, very highly technically skilled as a writer, and insufferably dull. I made it through Interview With The Vampire, and found it adequate to keep going with the series, but just barely. As the chapters in The Vampire Lestat drug by, I had a harder and hard time to maintain my interest (and my consciousness). When I turned the page to see a section headed The Vampire Armand, Armand having already been established as possibly the least interesting fictional character of all time, I closed the book and never went back.

The other aspect of Rice's writing that stood out to me was summarized much better on a Saturday Night Live Weekend Update review of the Interview film adaptation. I believe it was by Norm MacDonald, a strong candidate for the title of Funniest Man Alive, and the entire review consisted of three words, delivered in a very sarcastic tone: "Not gay enough."

Back to movies.

Recent years have seen something of a resurgence of the zombie genre, and much of it has been to the good. Resident Evil (but only the first one) was a surprisingly good zombie movie with distracting sci-fi elements, the 2004 remake of Dawn was solid if not as groundbreaking as the original, Land of the Dead was worth it if only to see Romero get to work with a budget for a change, and 28 Days / Weeks Later and I Am Legend were worthy close cousins, fitting the genre in everything except the fact that the antagonists weren't actually dead. I have a strong preference for Romero's vision of the zombie - shambling, not-terribly-bright hordes whose main threat comes from their inexorable nature. One Romero zombie, alone, is not much of a threat. The problem is that there's rarely one Romero zombie, alone. Slow, relentless, painful death is worse than a relatively quick end. If you disagree, think about this: would you rather face being burned at the stake, or a quick drop of the guillotine?

One movie stands above all others, though, as the leader of the modern zombie pack. Even Romero has to take a back seat to Shaun of the Dead, one of the very few movies that I actually own on DVD. I can't think offhand of any other movie that works as both comedy and horror (most attempts fail miserably at both). Wright and Pegg deserve credit for essentially singlehandedly (doublehandedly?) reviving the zombie genre (yes, I did that deliberately, and no, it isn't very good).

Zombies have shown up in other media of late, as well. The Walking Dead is a comic written by Robert Kirkman, and it makes me wish I still worked in a comic shop, because I could sell the daylights out of this book. It's drawn in stark black-and-white, and is one of the very few success stories in modern comics, having seen its readership snowball since its debut. The trade paperbacks are a terrific value, but the individual issues allow for a great addictive, immediate experience as Kirkman manages to end almost every issue on a cliffhanger and generally holds to a pretty solid monthly schedule. He also has the best letters pages in the business these days (except maybe Groo), and they aren't reprinted in the trades.

Several other zombie comics have seen print in recent years. Notably Marvel Zombies, a series of mini-series taking place in a world where a zombie plague has overtaken the world where Spider-Man, Wolverine, The Hulk, and all the other Marvel characters live. Of course, the superheroes remain dominant, leading to tales of Zombie Hulk and Zombie Iron Man. It's entertaining black humour, but it's probably all too inside if you aren't already a comics geek. The Walking Dead, on the other hand, can easily be enjoyed by people who don't normally read comics.

There have been a spate of others, mostly amateurish and forgettable attempts by smaller companies (known in the biz as "independents"). Sometimes one stands out from the pack, though, by offering something different, and that brings me back to my originally intended topic.

Crawl Space: Xxxombies (CSX hereafter) is created by Rick Remender, Kieron Dwyer and Tony Moore. Like The Walking Dead, it's published by Image Comics, but the two titles have nothing to do with one another and do not take place in the same fictional world. CSX is meant as a black comedy, and its initial premise was to show the effect of a zombie outbreak on an adult film set (hence the XXX in the title). The book itself is not pornographic, but if it were a movie it would be a hard R rating due to nudity (but no explicit sex), harsh language, and violence that would make Tom Savini wince.

I thought the first two issues were pretty good, but nothing particularly special. Then the third issue came out, and I saw a scene I've been waiting for for twenty years. Had I been the writer / artist / director, I would have framed it differently (more on that in a moment), but the base concept is there and I'm surprised that in the war to outdo, outshock and outhorrify, no one had done it before:

Zombies get into a hospital nursery.

If you're already revolted - well, that's what they were trying for.

Remender, Dwyer and Moore handle the scene more explicitly than I would have envisioned, and take it in a direction I hadn't considered. I'll just say this: remember what traditionally happens to someone who gets bitten by a zombie? The person who tried to come to the children's rescue evidently didn't. If you like "dead baby" jokes, this issue is a must-read.

I've been saying for years that I expected (not necessarily wanted, but that's a whole other odd distinction for horror movie fans) this to happen in a zombie story. Personally, I would have done it like this (and I think Romero would be far likelier to handle it more along these lines): it's early in the chaos, and zombies are just starting to overrun a hospital. There's general panic. One zombie wanders, more or less unnoticed in the pandemonium, down a corridor and through a door. Entering the room, it stands there looking around aimlessly for a moment, and starts to turn to go back out. Then we hear a baby's cry. The zombie stops, turns, and notices the rows of bassinets (or whatever you call those plastic box-cribs hospitals use in the nursery). As the baby continues to cry, the zombie shuffles toward the sound, raising its arms as it looms closer.

End scene.

I wouldn't make it any more graphic than that. If I really wanted to go (what I'd consider) over the top, I'd later include a shot, from outside in the hallway, of the zombie coming back out through the nursery door, perhaps visibly bloodied.

There. I've probably now managed to drive away most of my readers. You did read the warning at the top of this entry, right?

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of a receipt.

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