Thursday, December 22, 2011

Don't apologize and never explain.

I'm not going to follow the very good advice in the title. I'm about to become a first time father and thing are crazy absurd at work. I'll leave you to determine whether these are valid reasons for radio silence. I'll be back as soon as I can be. Thanks to all y'all that wait for me. For those that don't, godspeed, thanks for hanging.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Art: Is this a bust or something?

The It's Alive Project, currently on display at the City Arts Factory in Orlando, FL, is a show of 80 Boris Karloff busts, redesigned by contemporary artists. Some of the busts allude to Karloff's iconic roles, while others take Karloff's famous mug in some truly odd directions. Make with the link clickin' to check out a flikr set of the designs.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Mad science: The snuggle of doom!

The Psychologuist has a great info dump article on the psychology of horror that gives readers a nice survey of work in the field: from evolutionary developmental theories on uses of fear to theories on the popularity of specific monster tropes. One nice takeaway is the experimental evidence for what's commonly known as the "snuggle theory." Now you'll rarely see the snuggle theory brought into horror conversations when the horror blog pro-am get around to discussing the importance and meaning of horror. Why? Well, because it's main premise is that horror's just an elaborate pick-up gimmick. Also, what horror blog wants to drop the word "snuggle?" The snuggle theory holds that "viewing horror films may be a rite of passage for young people, providing them with an opportunity to fulfill their traditional gender roles." Basically, it's a danger free way for dudes to act brave in the face of fear and be a comfort to their scared potential mates. Not only is there some awkwardly heavy-handed bio-determinism all up in there, but who wants to take their cherished genre and say that its, at it roots, a kinda of half-assed way to impress the babes with faux courage? But before we utterly dismiss it, here comes the science:

A paper from the late 1980s by Dolf Zillmann, Norbert Mundorf and others found that male undergrads paired with a female partner (unbeknown to them, a research assistant), enjoyed a 14-minute clip from Friday the 13th Part III almost twice as much if she showed distress during the film. Female undergrads, by contrast, said they enjoyed the film more if their male companion appeared calm and unmoved. Moreover, men who were initially considered unattractive were later judged more appealing if they displayed courage during the film viewing. ‘Scary movies and monsters are just the ticket for girls to scream and hold on to a date for dear life and for the date (male or female) to be there to reassure, protect, defend and, if need be, destroy the monster,’ says Fischoff. ‘Both are playing gender roles prescribed by a culture.’

So, next time somebody holds a roundtable on what's so great about horror, have the courage to say "I like horror because it's a great way to fool horror chicks into thinking I'm awesome so I can bang them." I know at least one horror blogger who should be answering this way already, but let's all do our horror-blog host pal a solid and take the pressure off by "I am Spartacus"-ing the idea.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Radio: "Listen to them. Children of the night."

Certainly, the most famous Halloween-centric broadcast of the legendary Orson Welles (shown here in dapper and shockingly young form) is the much mythologized War of the Worlds show that, if one believes, was responsible for widespread panic throughout the Tri-state area.

But Welles's alien invasion radio play isn't the only show in The Mercury Theater archives of interest to the spookshow junkie with a taste for the retro. Over at the fine music and horror blog Psychobabble you can listen to The Mercury Theater's production of Bram Stoker's classic vampire novel: Dracula

When The Mercury Theater (full title: The Mercury Theater on the Air) debuted in 1939, Dracula was their first broadcast. Welles himself provided the voices of the eponymous vampire and Doctor Seward. Theater regular Agnes Moorehead plays Mina and the great Bernard Herrmann provides the score. But why stay here reading my blah blah blah? Click on over and enjoy!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Stuff: "There won’t be enough bullets left to kill them all."

Just in time for Halloween, the defense-sector rag Military Times takes a look at effective responses to the inevitable zombie holocaust. Some of the article is delightfully wonky, in a sort of crazed militia-man way:

Perhaps the single hottest topic of debate among necro-warfare experts is what makes the ideal weapon against the undead.

Fortunately, as anyone who has seen the “Living Dead” movies knows, the possibilities are infinite — anything that will take out a zombie’s brain will do the trick.

Former Marine and “Top Shot Season 2” champ Chris Reed says he would keep it simple. “A good Ruger .22 is hard to beat for your typical zombie killing,” Reed says. (His perfect deadpan delivery inspired our take on this story.)

Others worry that a .22 round just won’t have the stopping power needed for zombie headshots. “The .22 won’t get skull penetration beyond 100 yards,” Bourne says. Instead, he’d grab an M4 carbine or — better yet — an AK47 for drag-through-the-mud-and-still-shoot reliability.

Outdoor Life shooting editor John Snow’s top pick: Lauer Custom Weaponry’s LCW15 Zombie Eliminator with the arrow gun attachment and Beta-C 100-round ammunition drum. For backups, he says he’d add the Remington Model 870 Shotgun and Para Super Hawg .45-caliber pistol. All that might seem like overkill for something that’s not even alive — or real — but among the ranks of zombie hunters, you can never be too careful.

Of course, firearms need plenty of ammo and maintenance. That’s why Matt Mogk, president of the Zombie Research Society, prefers simple, lightweight and silent — a baseball bat, metal pipe or other blunt, maintenance-free implement that will deliver a head-crushing blow.

While the simple crowbar and more elegant katana, favored by ancient samurai warriors, typically top zombie fighters’ list of cold steel, Mogk says he isn’t a fan of bladed weapons.

“You have to keep swords sharp, especially if you’re to trying take off heads. Plus, it’s too easy for them to get stuck inside a zombie. Then you’re really hosed.”

As fun as that is, I found it liked the more atypical bits of advice. For example, how should the smart soldier dress for the reign of the dead (Romero, feel free to snag that title - it's yours, gratis). Again, from the article:
When things come to blows, you’ll be glad you dumped your heavy battle rattle for simple protective gear that will keep you light on your feet and infection-free. A supply of medical face masks and surgical gloves are a no-brainer, but to keep all that blood at bay, try a heavy rubber butcher’s apron.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Movies: How much does knowing you suck excuse you from sucking?

What does one write about Monster Island, the Jack Perez (of Mega-Shark Versus Giant Octopus "fame") helmed MTV-produced made-for-TV oddity that pits a gaggle of youths against an island populated by stop-motion animation giant insects and Adam West?

Honestly, this thing is barely a movie, so I feel it's only fair that I barely write about it. The most interesting thing about Monster Island is the unintentionally philosophical question it's existence raises: How much does knowing you suck excuse you sucking? This isn't a purely hypothetical question. Regular readers, God forgive them, will know that we here at ANTSS refer to this as the Byrne Problem, after author Anthony Burgess (yes, of Clockwork Orange fame, but he wrote a lot of other, better stuff too). To sum up: Burgess's last book, Byrne, consisted of the fake autobiographical epic poem of the supposed worst poet in the world. That sounds funny, until you realize that it means reading through 150 pages of the intentionally worst poetry ever written. At no time during this trudge through these 150 pages of utter crap verse do you think Burgess isn't on the joke. He knows he's creating bad verse; that's the point. The idea is that knowing he knows will somehow make what's universally admitted as excruciating somehow less so. Still, you've got to read 150 pages of shit. So, how much does knowing you suck excuse you from sucking? Entire careers have been based on the idea that the answer is "100%." Zack Snyder, I'm looking at you. (Not to be confused with people who don't know that they utterly suck; Day of the Woman, I'm looking at you.) Smack dab in the Byrne sweet spot, you'll find Monster Island.

I'm hesitant to review MI, as I feel that gives it too much credit. So, instead, I'm going to extract some observations from my notes. That's right. I take notes. He says as he indignantly pushes his glasses further up the bridge of his nose.

Two random points.

1. MTV gets props for presenting themselves as heartless exploiters of young people. It would have been enough if MTV had simply allowed their staff to be depicted as shallow, heartless dicks willing to put young lives on the line for a quick buck - which this movie totally depicts them as being - but they actually take it further. Central to the plot of the film is the idea that teenagers would be totally stoked to see a concert by Carmen Electra. Even in 2004, this alone was enough to push the film clearly into sci-fi/fantasy territory, no giant bugs necessary. The oddly brilliant twist is that, later, giant ants (no relation) kidnap Carmen to sedate their human slave population (long story). In drawing the parallel, the film basically suggests that the entertainment MTV peddles isn't just exploitative, but actually part of a control system meant to keep you a slave of the colony. Kudos to everybody involved for the lucid moment. That you buried it in a made-for-TV movie that all of maybe twenty people saw, eh, not so great. Still, lollipops for everybody involved just for doing it.

2. Whenever a film targeted at the mainstream, no matter how hopelessly as may be the case, has to include the taste of an indie music slob, there's always an interesting conflict between the visual and the audio. The perfect exemplar of this is the film High Fidelity. The cats in that flick are supposedly the ultimate in music snobs, but the first time we meet Jack Black's character - a character so music obsessed that he regularly chases away customers by insulting their taste - he's grooving on Katrina and the Wave's "Walking on Sunshine." A spiffy little song to be sure, but hardly the signifier of obscure, elitism. Throughout the whole film, we get, again and again, bizarro cop-out music choices. When Jack Black tries to take over the store's stereo from the sad sack mumbly dude, we learn that the sad music he was trying to play was Belle and Sebastian. That's as indie as it goes. The rest of flick rest clearly in common knowledge. When the shop staff debate esoterica like what's the best first track of the B-side of an album, they land safely in Clash and Stevie Wonder territory (not to diss either of those, 'cause they're great). Who is the favorite musician of the indier-than-thou record store owner? The Boss, Bruce Springsteen. Don't get me wrong: the only boss I ever listen to is Bruce - as me spotty employment career more than attests to. Still, it's kind of weird.

(Okay, as a I'm-no-hipster device, sure. When I was a college DJ, the head of the station was a brutally hip woman - so indie her shirts don't fit - who swore that she was the biggest Madonna fan; but it was bullshit, she deployed this po-mo hyper-intellectualized version of Madge as a defense against the charge that her profound love of intentionally inaccessible math rock was some classist affectation. It's the same reason modern hipster doofuses professes to love Beyonce. But we all know it's bullshit. Own your hipster elite douchebaggery and be done with it.)

Anyway, I bring this up because there's an important scene in MI when our hero, a perfectly insufferable self-righteous dick of a indie boy, thumbs through the CD collection of Carmen Electra - and that's not a euphemism, though the phrase "thumbs through Carmen Electra's CD collection" sounds dirty because of Carmen Electra - and decides, despite the fact that she's whoring out (metaphorically this time) for MTV, she must be okay. The pivot point: Radiohead and the Ramones. Seriously? Why does this kid have the taste of 37-year-old man? What's the point of being a snotty music snob kid if you have to worship at the altar of your parents' balding over-the-hill hipster's music tastes?

That said, the whole scene has an unintentional patina of nostalgia: how long before digital music effectively kills the tradition of secretly checking out a potential sexual partner's music collection for hints as to their suitability?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Neo-folkie Madeline - who was not, I think, named after one of the cats I grew up with, but I like to pretend that she was - has a video that exploits ANTSS favorite horror flick. Enjoy.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Stuff: Does anybody ask mystery writers what crimes they've solved?

The Gray Dame has an nice with-your-coffee-on-Saturday fluff piece that revisits that perennial favorite topic of horror "journalism:" what scares the folk who make the things that scare us? The nice thing about this particular piece is that the NY Times can pull together a list that would be the envy of even the most powerful blogging sites. Their mix of A-list names and notable horror indie types is one of the best horror conclaves I seen in ages.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Books: Speaking of American Psycho . . .

In the Times, there's a neat Google map of the locations that appear in Mary Harmon's cult horror/satire American Psycho.

Two things strike me as notable about the map. First, the section the Times ran it in: "Dealbook" in the business section. Second, the specific fact that it refers to the film alone.

Just some thoughts.

In his 1991 memoir of the Gulf War, ex-Marine Anthony Swofford admirably demolished the notion of filmmakers diminish our taste for conflict when they depict the violence of conflict in graphic terms. Previous, and perhaps more eloquent, writers had dismissed the utility of anti-war art before. Leslie Fiedler, for example, astutely pointed out the obvious in his introduction to Jaroslav Hašek's classic unfinished novel The Good Soldier Svejk and stated that anti-war art hasn't done anything to prevent us from going to war, it's simply stripped it of its nobility. Swofford went one further than Fiedler and suggested that, by stripping it of the nobility that inscribed conflict within a matrix of civil action and responsibility, modern graphic depictions of war became a sort of naked celebration of the unleashed power of violence. Freed of the ideals of combat, what's left is a darkly glamorous wallowing in the use of force, liberated by the presumption of evil of any need to answer to moral calculus. Horace's suicidal war erotica might not have been "true," was it really worse than Blackhawk Down's war porn? Swofford recalls how, prior to deployment, he and his fellow Marines would eat up ostensibly anti-war films like Apocalypse Now and Platoon, getting a proxy wargasm off the display of raw hell that they would soon (potentially) be in a position to wield themselves.

Curiously, workers in the financial sector have the same weird fascination with their own potential corruption. In the 1980s, Gordon Gekko, allegedly created as a symbol of what was wrong with America, became something of a spiritual folk hero to the legions of overpaid insignificants toiling away at the bottom tranch of various wealth factories. (One of the few standout scenes in the otherwise mediocre Boiler Room involves the wannabe brokers watching Wall Street and ritualistically reciting lines along with the actors in the film the way geeks recite lines from Star Wars.) For the bloodthirsty guppy who longed to be a shark in the chum clogged pool of pre-Silicon Alley bubble Wall Street, you couldn't find a better icon than Patrick Bateman, the exquisitely acquisitive mental case at the center of Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho.

As a literary character, Bateman was kind of a bust - at least for the purposes of using him as anti-saint for the quants and bottom feeders of the Financial District. Though Ellis later claimed that Psycho was the second novel he completed, Patrick's first appearance was as the respectable, pompous, and dull older brother of Sean Bateman in Rules of Attraction. In his cameo, the notably not particularly psycho Patrick plays the hectoring voice of adulthood, reminding Sean yet again that the seemingly consequence free decadence of college life is temporary. Given what later know of Patrick, the scene seems unlikely at best.

Even when Bateman got his own book, he wasn't really fit for duty. Though he's now overshadowed by his cinematic version, the literary version of Bateman is an odder and, despite the extreme gore and violence of the novel, more intellectually demanding beast. In the novel, Bateman literally slides in and out of fantasy: many of the characters and locations of the novel are lifted directly from other Brat pack novels and various '80s lit classics, a detail that's often overlooked, partially because the cult following of Ellis's novel is, I think, not the same audience for the novels Ellis alludes to. (Which is my nice way of saying that a lot of the people who love American Psycho don't read a lot.) For example, people often point out that the name of the firm Patrick works for, Pierce and Pierce, is a punning allusion to Bateman's extracurricular activities. It's less common for readers to point out that Bateman works for the same firm as Sherman McCoy, the main character in Bonfire of the Vanities. American Psycho's something of a '80s Wall Street version of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, yet only a single reference to Ellis's use of meta-fictional elements appears in the wikipedia entry for his novel (near-victim Allison Poole is correctly sourced to Jay McInerney's Story of My Life). This odd mingling of the "real" and "fake" within the story has important implications for whether or not Bateman is actually committing any of the increasingly surreal murders he so graphically describes. (Notably, wikipedia doesn't ever suggest the possibly that Ellis himself admits, that Bateman's no killer.)

It would take the movies to streamline and simplify Bateman. Ellis wasn't very impressed with the film. Because "the medium of film demands answers," her said, the character of Bateman becomes "infinitely less interesting." (The adaptation also seems to mark the beginning of Ellis's unfortunate public displays of cinema-centric sexism: since the adaptation of American Psycho, Ellis has been known to raise a stink among the Jezebel-following crowd with seemingly throwaway comments about his belief that women can't direct films.) Regardless, director Mary Harmon's drastic constriction of Ellis's original work clarifies what Bateman is, makes explicit the connections between his violence and the economic rapaciousness around him, and sacrifices nuance for satiric punch. She created a monster where Ellis had built a mystery. And for the drones of Wall Street, that's just what they needed. Sexy, predatory, unstoppable - Patrick Bateman was the new Gordon Gekko. The alluring image of what, in their unrestricted hearts, they could be. Hot stuff. Plus, nice hair.

Which also brings us to the locale map. I'm not certain that such a map would be possible for the novel. Ellis's book purposely has Bateman slide into some Wonderland Manhattan of near-real but not-quite places that seem to exist in a fantasy un-Manhattan matrix Bateman's spread over the real city. Only the movie, with its radically dumbed-down insistence on the literalness of Bateman's existence and activities would demand a geographic sense of '80s New York.

But I ramble. Check out the map and enjoy.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Movie news: Atlantic psycho? Raging bull shark?

A intriguing little tidbit of news from the Hollywood reporter. Take it away, Borys Kit:

Iconoclastic filmmaker Paul Schrader is teaming up with nihilistic author Bret Easton Ellis for the shark-infested psychological horror project Bait.

Schrader, the writer behind Taxi Driver and Raging Bull and the writer-director of American Gigolo, has signed to direct the picture, and will collaborate with Ellis on the latest draft of the script, which follows a young man itching to take his revenge against the wealthy.

The man, who works at a posh beach club, angles his way on to a yacht filled with the obnoxious elite, commandeering it into waters filled with the finned man-eaters.

There's not much more to the article than that. Production's aimed to start this year.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Stuff: Fast food.

Long time readers will know that I'm kinda zombied out at this point. The shuffling corpses have had a hell of run, but I think it's time for the walking dead to hit the showers. I support legislation that would actually pay people working on zombie-themed horror projects to destroy their projects rather than follow them through, the way we control agricultural overproduction by paying farmers to burn market-deflating harvests.

That said, this is pretty boss: The Run for Your Lives 5K zombie run - a 5K run in which runners haul ass through a wooded obstacle course while being chased by "zombies." It's a combination of obstacle run, flag football game, and the opening run-to-the-river bit of 28 Weeks Late.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Movies: "It will give you this wonderful new complexity."

Look at how awesome the poster for Bava's 1965 flick Planet of the Vampires is. Seriously, just ponder it for a bit. Soaked it all in? Are you ready to absorb all the weapons-grade spectacularness that poster implies?

You didn't really look.

No. I know you.

Yeah. Especially you Nathan. With your hyper ADD.

Look at it.

I'll wait.

Okay. Now: Are you ready to absorb all the weapons-grade spectacularness that poster implies?

Here's the bad news: The poster's BS. In fact, weirdly specific BS. It's not typical sci-fi "we hired some hack who didn't read the book, but he painted us a cover anyway" BS. It's the BS of somebody who watched the film, decided that they liked a fairly minor aspect of original and that they'd then spin out a weird alternative story about how they felt that more interesting aspect would play out if it was the focus of the flick. It's a poster from a weird alternate dimension where the poster artist was the director and screenwriter of Planet of the Vampires.

Here's the good news: The movie is still nifty. And I say that as somebody who is, more often than not, underwhelmed by Groovy Age Italian horror. I usually find their plotting lazy, their visual excesses tastelessly tacky, and their detached sadism more contemptuously hip than genuinely thrilling or horrifying. In this case, however, Bava set out to make a distinctly Italian answer to that cornerstone of cinematic sci-fi, American Fred Wilcox's 1956 classic Forbidden Planet, and the genre borrowed genre template and trappings provide a framework that prevents Bava from indulging in the fatal lack of focus that undermines so many of the of the flicks from him and his compatriots.

Solid screenwriting goes a long way to explaining why PotV works as well as it does. Sure, the dialog is a wooden and gets bogged down in clunky technobabble - the creation of top notch technobabble seems to be a poetic pursuit that English is uniquely suited to, sci-fi nonsense translated from another language always sounds extra fakey - but Bava and his writing team understand that the key to this flick to forward motion. The plot, which is involves two crews of space explorers fighting for their lives against murderous body-possessing alien entities, is lean and efficient. Furthermore, the campy artificiality of the sets and alien landscapes provides a context for Bava's visual excess that feels natural, rather than self-consciously showy. Finally Bava's icy brutality seems to have evolved naturally from the amorally genocidal Darwinistic calculus driving the film's baddies, instead of feeling like the heavy-handed imposition of a filmmaker hungering for extreme visuals. The result is a graphically restrained film whose darkness is conceptual and thematic.

With its dated sci-fi trappings, stilted dialog (which I'm sure isn't helped in translation), and lack of blood and guts, Planet of the Vampires doesn't demand the attention of contemporary thrill-seaking modern horror audiences. But if you're looking for a deliciously retro pop sciffy gem that's still solid entertainment, you could do far worse than Planet.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Meta: Uncle Strangely's Dark Mansion of Big Crap Scares

As much as I hate to Collins out on you and whore my other web projects here, there's now officially a Tumblr annex to the ol' And Now the Screaming Starts. For folks who dig on ANTSS, but find it a bit trying on the attention span, management is proud to introduce Uncle Strangely's Dark Mansion of Big Crap Scares. It's ANTSS without all the jibber-jabber. It is not a replacement for ANTSS, but a supplement. Think of it as ANTSS that forgot to take it's medication, so it's now all fidgety like.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Mad science: "Activite their Capgras" sounds more humorous said aloud than it reads off the page.

Wired online has a short article and video presentation on the curious work of UC Berkeley neuroscientist Bradley Voytek. Voytek - who is not helping fight the pervasive stereotype that UC Berkeley is some sort of really expensive summer camp for really smart weirdos - has assembled a neurological picture of zombiism by translating zombie behaviors seen in a handful of popular flicks into known neurological conditions. From the article:

Based on that map of the zombie brain, Voytek and a fellow neuroscientist Timothy Verstynen established that the walking dead suffered from a condition they called Consciousness Deficit Hypoactivity Disorder. CDHD is characterized by “the loss of rational, voluntary and conscious behavior replaced by delusional/impulsive aggression, stimulus-driven attention, the inability to coordinate motor-linguistic behaviors and an insatiable appetite for human flesh.”

After settling on a brain-model for the reanimated, Voytek extrapolated some survival tips for the zombie apocalypse. Notable exploitable bugs in the zombie-brain: Zack's probably got crap memory, so if you come up with a really neat way to kill zombies, feel free to keep it in rotation as long as you please. Also, Voytek speculates that zombies probably have difficulty visually tracking more than one moving object at a time. Certainly the resourceful zombie hunter could put that to good use.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Books: Stabbing her repeatedly with sharp, knife-like reproductive organs.

Ben H. Winters, author of the junior high punk rock detective YA book The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman and the more recent adult horror novel Bedbugs, has probably resigned himself to the fact that he's basically going to be remembered for his novelty mash-up Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies. Oft gifted and rarely read, PPZ was notable for the odd feeling of wasted effort that haunted it. The joke concept at the core of the book was so slim that it was expended the moment one saw the title, making whatever was between the covers pretty much superfluous. In fact, worse than superfluous: The humor of the concept depended on understanding that the proposed fusion would inevitably awkward and fruitless, so the subsequent effort to carry out the plan became somewhat embarrassing and tedious. It's like the old Monty Python gag about the Proust-summarizing contest in which contestants attempt to communicate a comprehensive and lively abridgment of À la recherche du temps perdu using semaphore. The whole joke's right there. The ha-ha's come from an awareness of how ill-suited the proposed combination of medium and content is. The value of semaphore is lost to the length of the task; the value of Proust's work is destroyed by semaphore's low resolution. If you actually had to then sit through several contestants flag-waving their way through all seven volumes of Proust's semi-autobiographical masterpiece, the joke would become murderously dull. The Pythons, comedy masters that they were, only stayed on the joke long enough for the absurdity sink in, and then moved on. PPZ shows no similar insight into the logic of comedy. The experience of actually reading Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies is an experience akin to sitting through a full Proust-summarizing semaphore contest.

Happily for this reader, Winters's new book isn't bridled with the grim task of rendering a clever joke into a humorless novel-length mess. A far more nimble creature, Bedbugs is a slice of retro-influenced middle class real-estate paranoia, in the manner of Amityville or Poltergeist, repackaged as a spook story about satanic bedbugs. I kid you not. Bedbugs from Hell, literally. Using bedbugs as your central nasty is a smart idea that, I'm certain, hundreds of other horror writers - especially in New York - are kicking themselves for having not come up with it earlier. Bedbugs are ready-made horror villains, true examples of just how truly repugnant Mother Nature can let herself get.

Did you know that female bedbugs have no sexual orifice? The male bedbugs swarm the female in mating, stabbing her repeatedly with sharp, knife-like reproductive organs. If she's lucky, one of these bayonet-penises breaks through her exoskeleton at the location of her reproductive organs and fertilizes her eggs. Often, however, in the mad scramble to procreate, the males stab the female anywhere they can reach, filling other organs with their sperm, sometimes to fatal effect. Yeah, I know. That's what I was trying to tell you. An author doesn't even have to make up that part. They're already freakish little nightmares.

For the purposes of a horror story, however, its another, less Rabelais-by-way-of-American Psycho trait that makes bedbugs so attractive as the focus of a horror story. Bedbugs can be strangely hyper-selective. Even if a couple share an infested bed, it isn't unusual for just one partner to be turned into a blood buffet for the bedbugs while the other partner sleeps soundly, untouched. In real life, this causes all sorts of strain and weirdness among the families that get infected. One partner starts getting phobic about the beds and couches, they can't sleep, they get paranoid and can be found searching the bed frames at weird hours of the night. The other can't do anything but sympathize and suppress ever growing frustration. It's your basic haunted house rising-action dynamic: primary victim keeps experiencing things; they're experiences are ignored; what slim evidence there is reinterpreted by others; and people try to be sympathetic, but they really think that the victim is simply losing their marbles.

That classic formula provides gives us the framework of the first half of Bedbugs. The Brooklyniest couple that ever juggled their creative impulses with the need for middle class security moves into a new brownstone duplex in the Brooklynest Brooklyn of all Brooklyns imaginable. (Winters's efforts to situate his narrative in post-collapse Cobble Hill are nearly manic - odd pile-ups of stereotypes, place names, and brand references - and never resolve whether they're meant as reportage or satire. I'm not sure this is the fault of Mr. Winters, himself a Bostonian. Any description of parental culture in modern Brooklyn necessarily straddles the line between reportage and satire.) Before you can say "orgy of bayonet-like bedbug penises," the book's lead, former legal industry drone turned housewife and painter, finds herself falling to a plague of bedbugs who, though they are leaving bites all over her skin, can't be seen. As the book progresses, the attacks get worse and worse, but there's never any sign of the bugs. Is she crazy? (Prolly not.) Or is she under siege by demonic, supernatural bedbugs? (Now we're talking!)

Perfectly timed as summer reading, Bedbugs fuses easy humor with campy mommy-horror and the occasionally grotesque set piece. It's a bit slow to start. I imagine Winters meant this as an allusion to the deliberate pacing of '70s domestic horror, but Winters never really strives for the (mostly unmerited) gravitas of the previous works, so the result is something of a drag, as what is meant to be horror must coast on the goodwill the author builds up with his good-natured ribbing of Brooklyn. Overall, it's a likeable diversion and worth the pick-up for genre fans seeking lighter fare.

That said, publishers Quirk are doing nobody any favors with their slipshod editing of the work. I've been told that basic copyediting is no longer a function editorial house bother themselves with. The incredible number of typos and correctly-spelled but misplaced terms ("she folded the strolled") suggests this rumor is true. Setting that aside as a lost cause, editors still should have encouraged Winters to tighten up his game: his use of generic placeholder terms where precise vocabulary and description could easily be used - for example, at one point a character buys "a thing of sausage;" a package? a pound? a link? what? - regularly crosses the line from vernacular to simple laziness. Demand better, editors: that's your job. The authors will, eventually, thank you for it.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Movies: Enjoy, puny human!

It's hard to imagine the summer will give you better entertainment than Super 8. That's true whether you read that as a rousing endorsement or a statement of surrender.

In Super 8, J. J. Abrams has produced the perfect masscult artifact. Double J's alien-amok flick isn't just professional to the point that it's so slick it makes Astroglide look like P12 sandpaper; there's plenty of directors whose personal signatures embrace a smooth proficiency (see David Fincher). Nor is this a matter of Super 8's constant stream of allusions; whatever his faults, one can't say that Tarrantino's personal signature gets lost under his obsessive recycling. In fact, Super 8's perfection as a masscult object isn't strictly a matter of Abrams's direction. It also a matter of audience reception. The identifying characteristic of masscult production, if one is still allowed to evoke such such an elitist and ostentatiously divisive concept, is the way it turns both creator and audience a type, a member of some demographic, part of a mass. Further more, it contains its own interpretation: it does the work of thinking and feeling for you. What Super 8 does, and I intentionally personify the film because I believe, in this case, it clearly has an agency beyond Abrams' slender talents, is turn the life-work of a prior, superior artist into a formula and invite audiences to react not to the film in question, but to their collective memory of those prior, superior works. It's a quilt of stitched together shared experiences and we're not really responding to it as we are to those shared experiences. Super 8 isn't homage or pastiche; it's Pavlovian movie making.

I don't mean that as a criticism, necessarily. Sure, it causes some problems. Super 8's near-total reliance on the idea that audiences will respond automatically to certain visual patterns does get it in trouble. First, there's several odd plot points that only make sense if you assume you've dropped into a parallel dimension where Spielberg created the rules of logic. Though, honestly, nobody in any film acts "realistic." If they did, movies would be a tedious bore. The second, and by far more serious, drawback is Super 8's tendency to try to cash emotional checks it can't cover. Most notably, the film's E.T. Moment(TM) fully expects to slide by simply on the fact that audience members will recognize that it is the E.T. Moment(TM) and feel the according emotions. The result of this faith in a sort of response algebra is that Abrams includes several scenes that are emotionally inert, but the viewer knows, with a level of response-deadening remove, that this is the X-Scene that's supposed to feel Way-Y. See "the two males leads work out the romantic problem scene," "the two father's bury their differences scene," and "the cross-species mutual get-it scene" for examples of this dynamic in action. For the most part, however, the plan works exactly a it should.

It's hard to fault something for being so clearly the hyper-competent work of a skilled craftsman, following a clearly successful blueprint that's pretty much guaranteed to work. Often, we're told that a certain film requires a viewer "turn their brain off." While it's sad this is often used as a compliment, the directive to purposefully infantalize yourself before a supposed entertainment is usually well-intentioned. More often than not, anybody with slightly higher standards than a voluntarily auto-labotimized would find most genre dreck insulting in its brazen assumption of audience stupidity. Super 8 isn't really a shut-your-brains off sort of flick. It panders, but it does so on two levels. This is top notch pandering. Consequently, it isn't particularly fulfilling, but you don't feel dirty for having swallowed it. During the summer wave of blockbuster hopefuls, I don't think you can reasonably ask for more.

Really, just about the only folks I could see getting upset at Super 8 are genre-fans who have some irrational fetish for the material Super 8 so ruthlessly mines. To folks who make their name confusing nostalgia for quality, Super 8 must seem like a classier, younger, better put together lot lizard suddenly appeared on their stretch of the truck stop. Worse, in fact: it must be like somebody who actually trawls the truck stop looking for love watching her favorite trucker invite a clearly mercenary whore into his sleeper. Super 8 makes it clear that the art we enjoyed in our youth got most of its impact from the fact that we were young when we saw it. And, more importantly, there's no art or expertise in mining it for gems. It can be done mechanically, for a quick buck. Since you shill to the same demo, everybody already thinks the same things about all the same movies. It's a product of the aging process, not the development of taste. If you're the kind of viewer that believes a film can violate the "spirit" of, say, the late 1970s to early 1980s, then Super 8 is too honest a money-making venture for you and you should stay home and rub another one out to the weird "how'd she end up topless in a PG-13 movie scene" of your Sheena: Queen of the Jungle bootleg Betamax tape. Otherwise, you'll probably enjoy it. In fact, you almost have no choice about it.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Television: House of 1,000 Unisex Solid Paprika Rib Vest Sweaters.

If you're anything like me, when you think "high-quality, color-fast detergent that will handle tough stains without damaging my ," you think Rob Zombie. Here's Mr. Zombie's Woolite commercial. Enjoy!

Here's the link, so that you can enjoy the full-screen image.

Does anybody know why Blogger no longer fits any standard video in it's copy column?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Movies: Nick Fury, Magica de Spell, Godzilla, the guy from Die Hard, Evel Knievel, and Dracula.

The subtitle of Resident Evil: Afterlife comes dangerously to being a frank admission on the part of Paul W. S. Anderson. It's as if he was too honest to not telegraph the fact that the series, which was creatively bankrupt after the first 20 minutes of the first flick nearly ten years ago, had entered into a zombie stage. Though without the terrible menace the Z word implies. There's absolutely nothing dangerous about this lazy jumble of stolen visual references and tired plot points. No, the RE franchise is a zombie the way a zombie bank is a zombie: It's a decaying institution whose prior profitability was mistaken for fitness, a delusion that keeps number crunching bureaucrats ordering code blues every couple of years.

A plot summary gives this film too much credit. It shows continuity insomuch as there are some reoccurring characters, notably our superpowered heroine Alice. It should be said, however, that it lacks continuity insomuch as the first 10 to 15 minutes of the flick work diligently to ensure that almost nothing of significance from the previous films comes into play in this one. The army of super Alices? They all go ka-boom. Alice Prime's superpowers? She loses them to some injection of pseudo-science. (Though, as far as I can tell, the superpowers were understood to be something built into her as she was an artificial being, and not some enhanced human. Whatever. The phrase "as far as I can tell" reveals I've already spent more time sweating the details of this flick than the screenwriter did.)

(Wait. Hold on.)

(Okay. I had to check. IMDB says, yes, despite all evidence to the contrary, this film did have a screenwriter. It was auteur, Mr. Anderson himself. He's truly the Orson Welles of utterly shitty video game adaptation zombie schlock crap franchises.)

Instead of a plot summary, the best way to understand this film is to think of it as a near film made out of clips from other flicks. Matrix, Blade 2, the Dawn of the Dead remake, the most recent I Am Legend, Aliens . . . the list goes on and on. And this isn't an homage, or a a confluence of subtexts, a genre-centric blazon[1], or any other fancy-pants term one might have picked up from that freshman intro to film studies course. Instead, it's like somebody signed of on a huge budget for Paulie A's big ass game of backyard war. For those unfamiliar with backyard war because you were never a young boy, the game's pretty simple. Everybody announces who they are. For example: "I'm Robocop" or "I'm King Arthur" or "I'm Wolverine." Then you fight. You might ask, "So, under what circumstances, exactly, would Nick Fury, Magica de Spell, Godzilla, the guy from Die Hard, Evel Knievel, and Dracula all be fighting?" To which Paulie A. would answer, "Don't queer the magic, dude. It's money. Let them fight."

(As an aside, John McClane, Evel Knievel, and Nick Fury surprisingly teamed-up with Drac and saved the day. I know, WTF? But it happened. I was there.)

Sadly, Anderson's willingness to just throw anything into the blender is matched by a palate that hasn't stretched past the most obvious selections of horror-nerd culture from the past decade or so. He's like a dude cutting lose in his own basement man-cave. Sure, he's breaking all kinds of feet-on-the-furniture rules, but what is it really getting us.

Honestly, of all the broken metaphors I've offered up tonight, that's the closest I'll get. This flick is the equivalent of watching Paul W. S. Anderson recline on his couch and tuck his hand snuggly, comfortably, Bundyishly, into his slacks. If that's your thing, right on, mang.

Though, be honest, you know you played far cooler games of backyard war, and it didn't cost ya' nothing.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Movies: I'll give you my Axe Body Spray(TM) when you pry it from my cold, dead hands!

The obvious reference point for Jake West's 2009 lad-inflected zomcom actioner Doghouse is Edgar Wright's 2004 Shaun of the Dead. The loglines are similar enough: Underachieving male lead with relationship problems sorts his life out during a zombie outbreak. The chief distinction between the flicks lies in just what you mean when you declare your life sorted.

The titular hero of Wright's work has a familiar character arc: for all the yucks and guts, Shaun's recognizable from a million dramas and comedies as "the man who needs to grow up." He's got to make peace with a father figure while simultaneously making a definitive break from influence of his parents. He's got to assume the mantle of responsibility and he's got to secure his relationship with the woman in his life. For all Wright's visual and verbal inventiveness, Shaun's journey to adulthood is pretty standard stuff. That only sounds like criticism until you've seen Doghouse.

If you throw a frisbee so that the disk is released with an upward tilt, the frisbee will gain altitude as it flies. At some point, it'll stall out in its ascent and begin a steep drop. Eventually, whatever combo of drag and lift, wind and spin is working on it will give it enough power to right itself and fly back toward the original point of take off. Sooner or later, the disk runs out of power, but if you've tossed it right, you'll be able to catch it without moving. I'm not sure what you'd call the figure traced by the flight of the frisbee. It isn't an arc, because of the looping return. A loop would suggest a more rounded figure. For purposes of the post, we're going to call this shape - an oddly curvy triangle that looks like a child's rendering of a wind-filled sail - the Frisbee Aerial Return Triangle, or FART.

The male characters in Doghouse don't follow arcs so much as they FART their way through the flick. They start out as a set of variably boisterous losers all on the lam from a collection of stereotype women (I think it is fair to say that even the gay member of our stag party has a partner who is, gender aside, essentially a needy, nagging shrew). Their metaphoric/social conflict becomes a violent, deadly one when the boys find themselves stranded in a town where all the ladies have been transformed into zombie-like homicidal monsters - while, luckily, retaining their stereotypical identities: the hair-dresser, the witch, the barmaid, the fat cow wife, etc. The boys reach the peak of their development when they decide to embrace their arrested development and start fighting back against the legion of female archetypes arrayed against them. We learn the valuable lesson that the point of men is that we're irresponsible, not terribly bright, emotionally limited creatures - and we should be proud of it. Finally, we basically end up with everybody back where they started, except for the few lads who were killed along the way.

The "war of the sexes" is a theme that's rarely employed with any sincerity. More often than not, the "war" is an ambush and a slaughter. Few people have picked up pen, paint, or camera intending to document the tensions between men and women with anything like objectivity or impartiality. It is the theme of choice for those with an axe to grind. So it is here. As far as we can tell, the gents that populate this flick are kind of douchebags. With the exception of the sad sack leader of the pack, they are stalled out examples of modern man-boys. It's far too easy to imagine that, yeah, were I a chick, I'd have had it with this JLA of modern male lameness too. West, however, plays the film out like this band of bros is a ragtag Dirty Dozen on a mad near-suicide mission in the battle for gender freedom.

I should point out too, this isn't me stretching for some political subtext here. West made the liberation of Maxim readers everywhere his central motif. When a character tells his fellow bros to grab golf clubs and bash everything "in a dress," its clear that subtext is the whole text here.

Not that I'm personally upset by the absurdly whatever-the-male-equivalent-of-hysterical-is representation of women. It's unclear to me how offensive the movie would be to a female viewer. On one hand, it is clearly giant middle-finger to anything that doesn't have a penis dangling between its legs. On the other hand, I could easily imagine a woman assuming this was some oddly rigorous exercise in satire by an artist so committed to his joke that he never revealed the slightest crack in his character. The latter position, though, she would most take only because the idea that the director was serious would be too pathetic to believe.

If Doghouse were extremely funny, scary, or exciting, then perhaps it could be forgiven for the dumbness of its central conceit. If there's anything the history of genre entertainments teaches us, it's that audiences will forgive a work almost anything provided it keeps manically mashing our pleasure buttons with both fists. Any time you see somebody stop to think critically, you know something's broken down. But Doghouse never achieves that escape velocity. Enamored with its own minimalist take on gender politics, it yammers when it should run, complains when it should scream, and rants when it should joke.

Take away lesson: Be offensive if you like; but for God's sake, don't be tedious.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Stuff: "I have a problem with mirrors."

Over in the UK, the Portsmouth branch of the National Health Service (NHS) is trying to combat what the BBC delicately calls the region's "traditionally poor levels of dental health" with a new public service campaign. Bad teeth? Solution: vampires. Enjoy.

Due to Blogger's sudden inability to size video worth a damn, I'll also provide this link to AdWeek, where you can see the ad in its full ratio aspect: Take me to where they know how a video should treated!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Stuff: What scares the scary people?

Time has gathered up a small list of notable horror worthies and asked them the obvious, "What scares you?"

Here's a couple of sample answers:

The single scariest moment I have ever had in entertainment came during Diabolique [the 1955 film directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot]. It is the moment when the corpse in the bathtub opens its eyes and shows nothing but bulging whites. - Stephen King


Nothing. - Elvira


I've always loved ghost stories, writers like M.R. James, L.P. Hartley, Joan Aiken, Stephen King, Joe Hill. But the scariest story I've ever heard was a true ghost story.

There were eight or nine of us at a restaurant in Raleigh, North Carolina, and we were telling ghost stories. The friend of a friend said, 'When I was a girl living in Texas, I had a recurring dream. In this dream, I was walking down the street of my hometown, and a man would walk toward me. Sometimes he was older and sometimes he was younger. He didn't always have the same face, but I always knew it was the same man. He would get closer and closer, and I would know that something bad was going to happen, but I would wake up each time before he reached me. I would be terrified. One night, in my dream, we finally got face to face and I spoke to him. I said, "What is your name?" He said, "My name is Sammy." And then I woke up, and I was so afraid that I couldn't go back to sleep. I went to my sister's room and said, "Can I get in bed with you? I've just had a really bad dream." My sister said, "Was it Sammy?" I said, "What did you say? How do you know Sammy?" And my sister said, "I don't. But you just brought him in the room with you." I turned on the lights and I saw that my sister was asleep. - Kelly Link


Other respondents include Eli Roth, R. L. Stine, Guillermo del Toro, Frank Darabont, and Joe Hill.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Stuff: "What's nice about Selphyl is you're only using that person's blood."

It's a good Wednesday when you get to announce a "vampire body modification link dump." If only 'cause it's fun to type the phrase "vampire body modification."

Link the first! Unlike vampires, who stay sparkly fresh for all eternity, pure strain humans get old. It's true. Along with nipples on men, confirmation bias, and the fact that at least one of us became Daniel Tosh, it ranks one of homo sapiens' most notable design flaws. And, while you'll still eventually die, the "vampire face-lift" can help ensure that your corpse's face is pleasingly wrinkle-free. The procedure gets its name from the fact that plastic surgeons use the patient's own blood to fight the wrinkles. From the ABC News article:

The technology is called Selphyl, and it involves injecting a mixture of blood products into the affected areas. It's also called the "vampire face-lift," although calling it a face-lift is not accurate. Selphyl is a nonsurgical procedure akin to filler injections, while a face-lift is the surgical repositioning of facial tissues that have become loose over time.

Curiously, the procedure's ghastly nickname seems to be part of the draw. Again, from the article:

"I think this whole recent theme in the entertainment industry ... of using vampire, Dracula themes, has definitely caused a lot of the interest out there," Berger said.

Perhaps this marks some final stage in the vampire's transformation from folk nightmare to harmless pop confection: the use of the term vampire can now make a somewhat grisly-sounding product more palatable to the market.

Link the second! The Sun has a brief profile of lawyer and tattoo artist Maria Jose Cristerna, a.k.a. "Vampire Woman." Cristerna, pictured above . . .

. . . says constant beatings and abuse at home triggered her reinvention and led her to ink nearly 100 per cent of her body.

Maria has also added multiple piercings to her face and titanium implants to create "horns" under the skin on her temples and forehead.

The mum-of-four, 35, has even had dental implants to create "fangs" to complete her look — but claims to live a "normal life".

The smirkingly superior attitude of The Sun aside – I see what you're doing with the "claims" bit there – she's a fascinating, and even inspiring woman.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Movies: Last night a psychopathic clan of murderous wacked-out ex-whale hunters saved my life.

The logline sounds like a goof: It's Texas Chainsaw Massacre on a whale watching ship. And, seriously, Harpoon: the Whale Watching Massacre, from the titular allusion [1] to plot point parallels, puts in a few hours of overtime justifying that pitch. The central baddies are refugees from a shuttered industry that's supported them for generations, only it's whaling instead of meat processing. [2] The imdb flick summary uses the term "fishbillies." But whether it's a goof or not is unclear. And even if you consider it a goof, just who is supposed to be the butt of this joke is a mystery.

And, ultimately, who cares? A sporadically competent flick with a vaguely quirky premise, H:tWWM has all the depth and power of a teenage suburban boy's act of minor vandalism. Fueled by an unearned sense of rage, bounded by an poorly grokked half-hearted anarchism, and suffused by a love of vulgar displays of power and a general disdain for suffering as the mark of the weak, the flick is an energetic, but undirected, middle finger at a wide variety of targets. So wide a range, in fact, that the film's weird attempts at a message get as muddled as its often incomprehensible action scenes. If this is a joke, the comedians forgot to include a punchline. [3]

Our story opens when a ethnic grab bag of tourists hops onboard a whale watching boat to catch a glimpse of the sea's mightiest beasts. Ah, and what an amazing group of soon-to-be-victims this is. You couldn't find a bigger collection of assholes outside a Wakefield Poole flick. Though it's perhaps a talent under-appreciated beyond the confines of the slasher fancy, there's a fine art to the creation of a top notch victim pool. The filmmakers need to make the victims inoffensive enough that viewers can stomach being around them for the 30 or 45 minutes they'll be forced to keep company, but they need to make them vile enough that viewers are happy to see them dispatched. It's easy to screw up, so slasher fans enter into a secret compact with horror filmmakers to count as capital crimes a wide host of behaviors that, outside of the realm of horror flicks, wouldn't raise an eyebrow. [4] H:tWWM's director, Júlíus Kemp, either out of bold disregard or energetic incompetence, totally blows this balancing act. He creates a group so richly unpleasant, it's almost luxurious, a extravagant display of human crappiness that makes one wonder if Kemp isn't a genuine misanthrope simply playing at the flaccid and cynical misanthropy-theater of the slasher genre. From the friend who hangs up on a panicked phone call by her crying twice-sexually assaulted and now held capitve by crazies friend with a blithe "I have it when you're freaking on E" to the woman who, despite the fact that they're fighting for their lives against a murderous clan of "fishbillies," finds time to react with disgust to another character's homosexuality, we've got a collection of superlosers. In fact, Kemp seems almost incapable of creating a character who isn't repulsive. The two "heroes" of flick, the only non-grotesques, are so flat and uninteresting as to be bores. One is a woman who, because Kemp drags her through the wringer early in the flick, is a dazed catatonic character through much of the rest of it. The other is black and gay; but not in any significant way, just black and gay in that "the easiest way to get a liberal to trust you" black and gay way.

If Kemp meant for these characters to be figures of satiric comedy, he missed the mark. He is a decidedly unfunny director, even when he's trying to sell the ha-has. Aside from the laughter inducing plea of a Greenpeace member before he gets an axe to the neck - "Don't do this! I'm a friend of the Earth!" - Kemp's got no touch for comedy. Still, his decision to go full a-hole on his characterization does pay off in one huge way. In the character Endo (played by mono-monikered actress Nae, née Nae Tazawa), Kemp's got perhaps the most delightful "final girl" ever created for horror cinema.

Endo is introduced as the mousy, continually abused personal assistant of the cowardly and misogynistic Nobuyoshi, a repugnant Japanese businessman who is traveling with his timid, emotionally-inert wife Yuko. For the first quarter of the flick, Endo staggers around the set, sullenly carrying out Nobuyoshi's orders and occasionally retiringly to a quiet section of the whale ship to pursue her favorite pastime: chewing off scabs and worrying her wounds with her teeth. [5] Eventually, the clan of murderously irate ex-whalers shows up and begin slaughtering everybody. Like all the other characters, Endo begins fighting for her life. The difference is that Endo brings it. If there's questions about it being here, they are settled. It was brought. The bringer of it was Endo.

Let's take a moment to talk about the final girl. The final girl is the Lady Gaga of horror characters: She gets a disproportionate amount of credit for what is, essentially, a relatively small tweak in presentation, while the ostensible core competency (music for Gaga, being a female victim for horror characters) is really pitched to the comfort level of the audience, by either riffing off a familiar, proven, and predictable pool of inspirations meant to flatter the unjust sense of erudition of the consumer/fan or by relying on common genre clichés. She's easy to like, cause she's built to be liked. She's basically every other dead chick's character: her time to be chased comes up in the rotation and she flees screaming. Only we haven't spent all film inventing reasons - reasons that we don't even believe - that she should die and, though it's been a losing strategy for every other woman in the film, running around screaming works for the final girl. Very rarely, a final girl will show some genuine resourcefulness and vigor. Nancy in the first Nightmare flick is notably feisty, with her pre-game research and booby-trap creation effort. Mostly though, the survivability of the final girl is simply a product of their commitment to cardio exercise and the fact that fans demand somebody whose not the killer be standing in the last reel. Honestly, her importance to modern fans rest mostly on an ill-understood and very dubious theory that states that the existence of the final girl makes it morally okay to watch films that are naked exploitations of the perverse desire many fans apparently have to watch young flesh be ripped apart. She's our out. We're not morbid little trolls because, you know, though we've totally been cheering on the deaths of however many kids, we're Kool and the Gang because, look, we totally were all on the side of the final girl.

But back to Endo . . .

Endo is a final girl we can believe in. The central crisis of the film is a transformative moment for her. When Endo decides she's the final girl, nobody - killers or other members of the victim pool - are safe from her. While the other's are scrambling around the ship, engaging in sporadic and often one-sided encounters with the baddies, Endo sees the this horrific rupture as the end of her old life. The moment a freakin' whaling harpoon plunges through the corpulent body of her boss, Endo realizes that she's not only fighting for her life, but she's fighting for a meaningful life. She won't go back to being the timid, scab-eater we've known for the first quarter of the film. She's reborn. The brilliance of this is that, un-Scrooge-like, this personal revelation turns Endo into a complete bitch. She's willing to gain any advantage over any other character in the flick, from demanding money for taking one of the characters away with her in a dock boat to convincing a mentally shattered and traumatized woman that it's logical to allow Endo to fit her up like a suicide bomber. (In a deliciously nasty touch, Endo decides not to leave the decision to kill herself up to the kamikaze woman/antipersonnel device, so she pushes her onto an enemy harpoon, dooming her and another of the members of the victim pool, who might have escaped without Endo's intervention.) Once Endo really finds her stride, she becomes the most dangerous person in the film. It's a refreshing take on a weak trope that had, long ago, become a goofy crutch for horror filmmakers.

Is Endo enough to make this film worth watching? Look, I don't give number ratings or pretend this is a consumer advocacy sort of thing because I can't imagine you're smart enough to read and yet, somehow, haven't figured out the sort of film you'll dig. If you're into horror, you've already developed a sense of the sort of flicks you'll risk wasted time on and those films you won't. In a genre so filled with stinkers, you've got to evolve such a sense. Slasher flick on whale boat: if that's your thing, go to town.

[1] The allusion is made all the more clearly in the films alternate title: The Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre. Apparently, the more locale-specific title graced the flick on its debut in Iceland, but public distaste over the film's more squishy parts led the filmmakers to rebrand the flick with a more generic title.

[2] Curiously, both flicks seem to suggest that generational involvement with a single industry - something that used to be a symbol of community coherence, but is now apparently a sign of stagnation - is akin (no pun intended) to voluntarily limiting the gene pool: working at the same craft your father did means, apparently, that you'd also breed with close relatives.

[3] And this is coming from a big fan of suburban boys' acts of vandalism.

[4] This compact between viewer and filmmaker is the source of the oft repeated, but not wholly accurate characterization of of the killing-for-kissing morality of slashers as "conservative." It's probably a better characterization to say that slashers exhibit a self-contained ironic hyper-punative morality that replaces fate with narrative utility. Characters engage in some putatively "bad" behavior, though this behavior is, honestly, nothing the filmmakers or the viewers care about, in a moral sense. The reason the nubile teen coed shimmies out of her clothing as soon as possible and then gets an axe to the face isn't because the filmmakers or audience members have any investment in the notion that sexual activity should be punished by death. (Indeed, if either party believed this, the film's would be put in the awkward position of condemning both parties - audience and filmmakers - to death for involving them in softcore skin displays. This is why there's not a huge tradition of teensploiter slashers in, say, Taliban controlled cultures.) Rather, the camp tramp gets the business end of a chopper because she was hired to expose her tits and, that being done, there's nothing else to do with her. That there appears to be a reason - the odd moral calculus of the genre - simply serves to obscure the clumsy mechanical nature of the subgenre formula. Maintaining the fiction that there's some non-financial logic to it requires the viewer and filmmakers constantly push the bar to "sin" lower and lower, until we get moral statements like "you're fat, so you deserve death" and "you just know a midget's got it coming to them." Nobody actually holds these absurd positions. They aren't really even positions. We pick them up just for the flick and then leave them on the floor of the theater, with the rest of the rubbish.

[5] It's part of Kemp's, um, charms as a director that he loves the gross shit that bodies do. And, by this, I don't just mean the horrific gore we can emit when somebody unzips some cavity. Kemp seems to take a positive pleasure in showing people vomiting, picking at scabs, sweating, and so on. There's no toilet scene, but I imagine an extensive and utterly repulsively messy scene exists in some director's cut version.