On Hatred

(author’s note: I originally wrote this a couple of weeks ago but did not get around to posting it until now. Obviously some stuff has happened in the meantime so I’ve added post-election thoughts at the end.)

On Hatred

During a recent episode of The Splattercast (#483), my friends Mat and Rachel accused me of hating Hillary Clinton. I denied this in the strongest possible terms and even expressed that I was offended by the charge. I do not hate Hillary Clinton nor anybody else. I view “hatred” in a certain way, that I think must be different from the way Mat and Rachel view it. Bless their hearts, Mat and Rachel are card-carrying liberals and in that sphere I think the word “hate” is used quite, well, liberally. “Hate” is now commonly used to describe any disapproval of any given thing.

I’m certain I’m guilty of throwing the word around too casually, especially while riffing on the podcast. For example, I might say something like “I hate pineapple on pizza!” Perhaps I should choose a different word there so as not to diminish what “hatred” really is. For me, and this is informed by my religious and moral beliefs, hatred is a very serious thing. It is unacceptable for me to hold hatred in my heart for anyone. I can absolutely vehemently disagree with someone, such as Hillary Clinton, and I can criticize them harshly. But that is distinct from hating them. If I examined myself and concluded that I was feeling hatred for anyone, I would need to expunge that hatred from my heart.

On the bright side, being so charged has helped me tie together a few disparate thoughts that I’ve wanted to write about for a little while now.

On Empathy

I’ve come to believe that empathy is the most important thing you can bring into a debate, aside from whatever empirical facts and figures are germane to the discussion, of course. An ability to empathize is more important than a quick wit or a large vocabulary. I think that if you make a concerted effort to understand where your opponent is coming from and begin each interaction by assuming that your opponent is arguing in good faith, you will be distinctly advantaged over them if they are not assuming the same of you.

This is because you will be positioned closer to the objective truth of the situation (that is: most of us, on all sides, really do mean well) and arguments based on truth will be stronger than those based on falsehoods. If some portion of your opponent’s argument is based on their assumption that you are motivated by, for example, hatred or racism when you in fact are not, their arguments will not hold up. If your argument, conversely, is based on a fair interpretation of your opponent’s position and a willingness to understand their reasoning, it will be stronger.

To be clear, I’m lauding empathy here, not naiveté. Don’t be a rube. Don’t be willfully duped if someone does indeed give you cause to revoke that initial assumption of good faith. But I am saying, start the interaction by assuming that your opponent has arrived at their position, whatever the topic, based on their honest evaluation of the merits of the issue through the lens of their beliefs and values, and not simply because they are a hateful person who wants to hurt others.

Two-Way Streets

It’s been proposed to me that if someone accuses me of being a racist (or a sexist or a bigot, etc) I should accept that I am a racist because my accuser probably has standing to make that assessment whereas I do not, by virtue of the privileges into which I was born. I shouldn’t try to argue with them about how I’m not actually a racist, but should instead take the opportunity to meditate on my racism and look for ways to get less racist.

But here’s the thing: We don’t interact with other people for no reason. We don’t have to. Sure, you might casually say “good morning” to a stranger on the street out of simple politeness but your more meaningful interactions will be based on some sort of mutual exchange. When interacting with family or friends, you’re exchanging love and affection. When interacting with people at your job, you’re exchanging your work for compensation, and so on.

In the case of a person who wants to tell you that you are a racist, it seems that they wish to control both sides of the exchange. They want to deposit their judgment and withdraw your penance. If, however, you are not a racist then you will have no penance to give. This means their judgment feels much more like an unfair assault than a well-intentioned attempt to educate, and people are not inclined to hang around with other people who treat them unfairly. This is unfortunate because I believe we all benefit when we are able to have positive relationships with people of differing points of view. It makes us into more complete humans. We need to be able to interact with people who feel differently on important issues without being miserable to each other about it.

Racism Is Now A Meaningless Charge

Ditto hatred, sexism, bigotry, take-your-pick-ophobia.

The broader context for the original “you hate Hillary Clinton” discussion was in relation to the current presidential race, which is pretty much a dumpster fire. I’m incredibly disillusioned. I’m a conservative with some libertarian tendencies so generally I’ll end up voting for Republicans but I may not even vote at all this time around. I dunno.

But enough about my existential despair.

To my friends who are more aligned with the Democratic party politically, you guys were always going to call the Republican candidate a racist, whether it was Donald Trump or Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz or anyone else. Those on the Republican side understand that this is always the case, so the charge is meaningless to us. It has been for a long time. Honest disagreement is “hatred,” honest disagreement is “bigotry,” and on and on. It’s not true and we’re over it.

Look at someone like Mitt Romney. Sure, he lost the 2012 election fair and square, I don’t have any issue with that. In terms of personal character, though, you won’t find a more decent person than Mitt Romney. But even he was accused of all the standard garbage: Racist, sexist, bigoted, etc. If you’re willing to say that about Mitt Romney, you’ve either been misled or you’re trying to mislead others. I’m not saying that it’s not an effective tactic for influencing undecided voters. It probably is. Congratulations on being able to steer the minds of the uninformed by telling vicious lies. Really guys, cheers.

Part of what Donald Trump is, what the whole “Donald Trump Thing” is, is a response to the type of treatment that Romney-style, McCain-style candidates have received and the type of electoral performances they have delivered (i.e. they lose). If character doesn’t matter, then why not spin the wheel on someone who’s going to push back for once? If you’re going to lose, there’s some appeal to doing so with your chin stuck out.


Welp. I did not see that coming.

It’s “the day after” as I write this last bit and I know emotions are raw. I do not mean to pile on to people who are hurting but I think the gobsmacked reactions I’m seeing on social media today sync right up with what I’ve described throughout this piece. Many people seem to be having an extremely difficult time even considering the possibility that anyone could have opposed Hillary Clinton in good faith for substantive reasons other than sexism/racism/hatred.

If that’s where your head is at, I implore you to get over that mental hurdle. You are situated away from the truth and it makes your arguments weak. Certainly, take some time to decompress and vent. Take as long as you need. But come back and consider alternate explanations for what happened in this election.

Here are a few pieces I’ve read today that I think are well worth your time. I’m sorry if any of these headlines are abrasive to you, e.g. “Democrats have themselves to blame” and whatnot. These are not gloating pieces.

Jack Mitchell (local Lincoln, NE radio host) on Facebook (read this one if nothing else)

Trent Lapinski at Medium – Dear Democrats, Read This If You Do Not Understand Why Trump Won

Robby Soave at Reason – Trump Won Because Leftist Political Correctness Inspired a Terrifying Backlash

David Harsanyi at The Federalist – Democrats Have Only Themselves To Blame For Trump

David Wong at Cracked – How Half Of America Lost Its F**king Mind

On Harley Quinn

On Splattercast #479 we talked about the Suicide Squad movie and while we all agreed that it sucked, we had some differing opinions on the broader topics of Harley Quinn, her relationship with The Joker, and villainy in comic books. I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit lately, beginning with my rant on Batman vs Superman a couple months ago. (see Splattercast #470, at around the 37:00 minute mark)

I’ll preface this by acknowledging that it is probably a “me problem.” I think maybe I just don’t like comic books very much anymore. A lot of the stuff I’m criticizing is simply part and parcel of how comic book stories have always operated. If it works for comic fans, hey, that’s great. I certainly don’t presume to demand that anything change to accomodate my tastes.

I also do not claim to be a DC Universe or Harley Quinn scholar by any means. I have tried to read a variety of Harley comics and research some noteworthy story arcs while writing this piece, but please forgive me if I get some details wrong or miss some important context. If you want to hit me with something like “That doesn’t count because it was during New 52!” then I will just have to shrug and defer.

On Harley Quinn’s Appearance

Some have criticized the sexualized depiction of Harley Quinn in the Suicide Squad movie, the skimpy outfit and the leering camera angles. Being an insufferable prude myself, I understand the complaint but I will say that we are all very pick-and-choosy about our puritanical bugaboos. In many Harley Quinn comics from the last few years, she is wearing basically the same outfit and striking the same poses that people are criticizing in the movie. So, in fairness to the film, it really wasn’t treating Harley any differently than the comics have been doing for quite some time. Whether it’s in poor taste is a separate matter, but it is absolutely comic-accurate.

This is how she looks in the comics, folks.

On Harley Quinn’s Relationship with The Joker

Harley Quinn, created by Paul Dini & Bruce Timm, first appeared in a 1992 episode of Batman: The Animated Series. Quinn’s definitive origin was fleshed out in the Eisner Award-winning comic Batman: Mad Love, also by Dini & Timm.

Mad Love depicts Harleen Quinzel as an intelligent, capable woman. She’s a doctor of psychiatry and also a champion gymnast. Sure, why not? While working at Arkham Asylum, Dr. Quinzel becomes fascinated with The Joker and surrenders herself to him. She forfeits her old life and transforms into his evil sidekick, Harley Quinn. She does have doubts near the end of the story but The Joker pulls her right back in with a simple “aww baby I didn’t mean it” gesture.

Not super cool, Harley.

I think the issue is, right down to the basic premise of her character, i.e. a woman who continually chooses to return to her abuser, Harley Quinn is what we in 2016 might describe as “problematic.” She was created nearly 25 years ago and sensibilities have changed since then. If she didn’t already exist, I don’t believe a character with the foundational premise of Harley Quinn would be written from scratch in the present day.

As a similar illustration, consider Batman: The Killing Joke, another Eisner Award-winning comic. The Killing Joke was written in 1988 and for many years was lauded as an all-time great Batman/Joker story. More recently, though, The Killing Joke’s themes and especially its shock moments are out-of-step with contemporary sensibilities. When an animated adaptation of The Killing Joke was released this year (see Splattercast #477) many commentators took the occasion to weigh in with strong criticism of both the new movie and also the original book. (link, link)

Tragic Versus Problematic

Paul Dini writes in the foreward to the deluxe edition of Mad Love:

“We’ve all done it. We’ve all selected the wrong partners, all gotten hurt, and hopefully all moved on wiser for the experience. But there are those who, even in the face of constant disappointment, continue to believe that the intensity of their desire will be rewarded by an eventual jackpot of affection. And if that’s the slot machine you’re playing, friend, you’d better leave the casino ’cause that one don’t pay out. Advice to someone in the throes of mad love is pretty meaningless, because any capacity they once had for rational thought has long since split for Aruba. Despite the setbacks and heartaches, the pursuer tunes out their inner voice of sanity and is more than willing to swallow the tears, paint on a smile, and once again resume the chase.”

Dini here describes Quinn as a tragic figure but he seemingly isn’t aware that she is also a *problematic* figure. Indeed, our modern notions of problematicism (is that a word?) weren’t quite fully-formed at the time Dini was creating Quinn.

Retroactively Problematic

This is a tangent, I beg pardon but I can’t help wandering off. I anticipate that more and more things from the 1980s and 90s will become retroactively unacceptable according to contemporary standards and I wonder how it’ll be handled.

I recently rewatched The Gate, a kiddy monster movie from 1987 and I noted 2 or 3 lines that were very problematic. Nothing thematically important to the movie, just certain words used by the characters usually in the context of ribbing each other. I know The Monster Squad, also 1987 and a huge personal favorite, has some identical issues. The other night I watched The Little Rascals movie from 1994 with my kids on Netflix and there was a bunch of stuff in there that might be offensive to some 2016 sensibilities. Not to mention it also features a cameo from Donald Trump, which could be triggering for some.

I would not be surprised to pull up The Monster Squad on Netflix in the future and discover that certain lines had been cut out or even dubbed over with different words. Maybe that’s crazy to say, and I’m not accusing Netflix specifically of having that philosophy, I’m just describing a hypothetical that I find plausible. I can easily envision “cleaned up” versions of older films appearing, the reasoning being something like: “If we can enjoy this movie while also removing outdated hurtful elements, why not cut those parts out?” We’ve seen variations on this concept before.

Not Allowed to Lose?

Now, back to Harley. Considering her problematic origin, it is difficult to tell any Harley story at all that doesn’t touch on those elements. It’s just sort of “who she is.” Her story, in a sense, is that she repeatedly loses to The Joker. Is that premise somehow not allowed? Are writers forbidden from writing a female character that loses?

Do we just want a carbon copy of Jessica Jones, wearing a clown costume?

And if The Joker is supposed to be one of the greatest, most menacing villains in all of comicdom, why is it at all incredible that he could succeed in subjugating one particular person? Especially considering that, in Harley’s case, she willingly joins him at the outset?

Not to get ahead of myself, but please ponder for a moment why you are more troubled by The Joker treating Harley Quinn with callous disregard than you are by the scores of innocent people that The Joker and Harley Quinn have murdered across two decades of stories.

You Go Girl, and Nevermind the Murders

More recently (Harley Quinn #25, February 2016) Harley has had a reckoning with The Joker, kicking his ass and declaring her independence from him. So, in current continuity, that seems to be where she’s at: an independent anti-hero having her own adventures without The Joker’s evil, controlling influence poisoning her mind. Batman even loans her his boat in this issue, giving her a stern, Batmanny warning to keep her nose clean. Pretty nice that she’s apparently off the hook for everything she did prior. You know: all the wanton murder?

lol no worries seeya later

Which brings me to my next point…

On Villains & Villainy in Comics

Killing people means nothing in comics, least of all in Batman comics.

Murder means nothing in comics, least of all in Batman comics.

The Joker has slaughtered countless innocent people. Harley Quinn has also killed many innocent people. At the very least she’s an accessory to many of The Joker’s crimes. I read one Harley story where she straps a police officer to a carload of dynamite and detonates it inside of a police station, and then proceeds to kill several dozen (hundreds?) of children via bombs planted in their Game Boys. She’s not even teamed up with The Joker in that one, she does that all on her own!

Bob's not here, maaannn.

In most comic book stories, the villains are not committing petty crimes. They are not simply robbing a bank or stealing some valuable jewels. If they were, it would be a police matter and we wouldn’t need a superhero with a bat-shaped jet to address the situation. We always understand that lives are at stake in some way. Usually the villain is depicted doing something splashy that results in some amount of people dying or at least being gravely imperiled. This is necessary to establish the villain as a serious threat.

Yet, our superheroes deal with the murderous supervillains as if they were merely common thieves. Scores of people are dead, families are destroyed, buildings are smoldering rubble, but Batman’s going to punch The Joker a couple of times, slap the ‘ol batcuffs on him and toss him back into the clink – only to have it all invariably happen again sometime in the not-too-distant future. The cognitive dissonance has gotten to be too much for me.

Somewhere around the tenth time that The Joker escapes from Arkham Asylum and kills a bunch of people, I start to think that Batman’s a piece of garbage for not doing what needs to be done to protect the innocent people of his city.

You’re not supposed to think too hard about the people that The Joker and Harley Quinn kill in these stories. You’re supposed to just credit those acts of violence to The Joker’s “evilness account” so that he can be understood to be a fearsome foe for Batman. Likewise, Batman gets credit to his “righteousness account” every time he chooses to not kill The Joker. Then, with our characters thus clearly established, we get to enjoy seeing them do battle over and over again.

this meant nothing

It’s basically the same as watching pro wrestling, another medium that I struggle to understand yet find strangely fascinating. It’s a couple of charismatic characters brawling with no lasting consequences for anybody. The Joker’s victims in the comics are just props, akin to folding chairs in a wrestling match. Just something that gets thrown around to make a situation appear dangerous. After the big fight is over, the props are all swept up and put away, and nothing much has really happened.



This is what’s wrong with the world. Really?

So a girl named SuperHeidi who I think used to run a website called Pretty/Scary, and now writes for a site dedicated to women filmmakers called Planet Etheria, wrote an article criticizing my selections of the Splatcademy Awards as being too male oriented. Essentially, the implication is that I may have intentionally whitewashed women from the awards….or something? It’s kind of ridiculous as the gender of a director is meaningless. A good horror movie is a good horror movie. Who cares if you have a cock or have ovaries? Anyway, thought you guys might be interested in some negative press we got.

I posted a response to her article in the comments section but I’ll repost it after the jump for anyone interested. I would please ask that nobody get the wild hair up their ass to engage in any flame war on DeadLantern’s behalf. If you must comment, please be respectful.

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Top 10 Horror Films of 2011

After finishing up my Worst of 2011 list, I figured I might as well give my Best Of list.

Best of lists are always more difficult than worst of lists. It’s easy to pick ten shitty movies, but not so easy when it comes to deciding which film sneaks into entry 8, 9, or 10. This year had a whole lot of movies that I dug. Stuff like Dream Home, Wake Wood, Cold Fish, and Evil Things all struck my fancy. I dug Stake Land and Troll Hunter. I liked the ideas in Yellowbrickroad, and was alright with The Thing prequel. Fright Night was surprisingly decent, as was the theatrical experience of Final Destination 5. And Rubber was fun in a “WTF am I watching?” sort of way. I’ve been saying for months that there is a lot of really solid horror stuff this year. It might not have been a year where stuff like Paranormal Activity and A Serbian Film sort of blow you away and dominate the discussion, but overall I would put this year up against any of the others in recent memory for overall quality. That doesn’t even count all the really top notch genre television that hit its stride this year. Even goofy stuff like Teen Wolf was better than expected (Granted, the expectations weren’t high). And marginal genre fare like The Killing was really interesting and got the watercooler abuzz each week.

Sometimes I think we look at Top 10 lists as “definitive”. They really aren’t. If I wrote this list yesterday, or even tomorrow, some of the films I mentioned above would certainly replace some of the films on my current Top 10. I think they are all worth checking out in their own ways. And in full disclosure, there are just some things that I didn’t quite get around to yet (Attack the Block, for example). But, that being said, my list reflects the stuff that really struck me this year. Stuff that, even months afterward, still seem fresh in my mind. I imagine there will be quite a bit of disagreement with some of my selections, but that’s a good thing! Who wants boredom?

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The 10 Worst Horror Films of 2011

Another year in horror has about wrapped up and so it is time for the obligatory “Top 10” lists to start appearing. Though lists are pretty much meaningless, they are fun nonetheless and as I’m making my final preparations for the Splatcademy Award nominees, I figured I’d make a brief return to the site and mention the properties I thought were unforgivably bad. As I explained with last year’s list, it’s easy to pick 10 direct to video shlock films, but this list is more representative of films that really had no business being as bad as they were.

In making this list, I realized that, surprisingly, I was having a tough time finding ten movies I really, really disliked this year. It’s been such a strange year for horror. Not a whole lot that stands out as being either really bad, or really great for that matter. A lot of the films sort of exist in this weird “could go either way, I guess” category. In some respects, maybe that’s a strength? I guess the genre must have done something right if I couldn’t immediately name 10 things I just despised. That, or maybe I just lucked out by missing the garbage. Whatever the reason, here are the ten properties I think stunk up the joint this year…..

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Some updates regarding the next couple of months

First off, I want to thank all of the Dead Lantern crew for putting in so much work this year. Deejay, Jeff, Steve, Tony, Jo, Lauren, Chris, Bryan, Ronin and all the other people who have helped us create this massive pod empire! 🙂 It’s very much appreciated. Watching movies and doing multiple podcasts is crazy time consuming and all of you do it without complaint. You’ve all helped Dead Lantern become bigger than ever this year and it couldn’t have been done without you. So pat yourselves on the back, you deserve it!

I also want to give special thanks to our film crew. Deejay, Steve, Spooky, Jeremy, T.J., Ali, Jenny, Tina,  Brady, Jeff, Bryan, Tony, and the rest who will no doubt be doing a lot of hours for very little in return over the coming months. Filmmaking is even more time consuming than podcasting and I appreciate everything all of them do. We have a lot of cool stuff planned to show you (an Ancient Rome horror short is coming for Shivers Down Your Spine!) and we’re all very excited. And yeah, there might be another feature length happening here soon…

And of course, all you listeners. We’ve made some great friendships over the past couple of years and we’re all very humbled that you guys and gals keep coming back to listen to our shitty little podcasts and support our dopey horror movies. You guys make it all worth it and we’re excited to bring you all some rad content in 2012.

Now that the mushy stuff is out of the way, I did want to update you all on a few changes happening over the next couple of months.

  • Cold Case Cinema will not be scheduling any new shows for November and December. We’re taking a much deserved two month break for the Holidays. We have 7 episodes in the can so you’ll still get new CCC’s from now until the new year, but we won’t be covering any current TCM flicks until January. Please feel free to continue to send in feedback, though! We’ll get to it in January.
  • The Round Table will also be taking a bit of a break. This is the most intensive cast to produce because we have to edit down 5+ hours of content to around 90 minutes. It’s just too tough to try to get those out weekly, so they’ll be released sporadically. Maybe once a month. You’ll probably see one more before the new year.
  • Dead Trax will probably continue to be posted (remember, it’s not in the feed) though maybe not consistently weekly like it has been. Though look for our upcoming Commando commentary track!
  • Splattercast will continue as normal. We might be off next week for Halloween but we’ll be back in full force to do Noirvember. And don’t forget Deejcember, a month of shows programmed entirely by Deejay!
  • Due to recent events, the first episode of SHIVERS DOWN YOUR SPINE might not be out on Halloween as planned. If not, don’t fear because it will be posted very soon! We promise!
  • And last but not least, I’m gonna be taking a break from site blogging for the next couple months. I’ll still post when new podcasts are uploaded but I’m very keen on just taking as much of a break from Dead Lantern as I can for awhile. Sort of a mini-vacation for the holidays. So don’t think we’re quitting, just things might be a tad quieter around here beginning in November.

So once again, thanks to everyone who has made this year a big success for Dead Lantern. There’s a ton of great stuff coming in 2012, including more episodes of SHIVERS, the 2012 Splatcademy Awards, and possibly a new feature length movie! And of course, more of the podcasts that you’ve come to tolerate.

We appreciate all of your support.

Paranormal Activity 3 smashes the box office

I’m checking this out tomorrow night but it’s worth noting that something odd happened at the box office this weekend. Paranormal Activity 3 apparently smashed it. It’s rare to see a horror film do this much business in a single weekend, let alone the third in franchise it’s critics call a one-trick pony.

To put this in perspective, let’s take a look at the first 3 films in the Saw franchise, which most people agree is the dominant horror franchise of the past decade.

The first Saw made $103 million worldwide with $55 of that coming domestically. Paranormal Activity made $193 million worldwide with $108 being domestic. Also consider that PA was a word of mouth flick not given a traditional wide release immediately.

Saw, of course, was a huge hit and its sequel showed that. The sequel grabbed about $148 million worldwide, with $87 of that being domestic. It’s opening weekend was about $32 million, large for a horror film, for sure. So how did PA2 stack up to that? Quite nicely. The sequel grabbed $177 million worldwide, nearly thirty million more than the highly decorated Saw 2. It also stacked up just about even domestically with about $85 million. It’s opening weekend put Saw 2 to shame with a haul of $41 million.

The verdict is still out on how well PA3 will do. After all, it’s only been out for two days. It could drop like an anvil next weekend. But if the $50 million dollar opening weekend holds, that puts it well ahead of Saw 3‘s opening weekend of $34 million (which was about the same as Saw 2’s opening with higher ticket prices. Part of the phenomenon of Saw was it’s quirky ability to open with complete stability over and over, which helped make it a venerable franchise). It wasn’t until the fourth film that Saw began seeing noticeable diminishing returns (though still hugely profitable in movie terms). To put PA3’s opening weekend into even more perspective, Green Lantern opened at $53 million. So it’s operating in superhero film range.

Let’s also not forget that though the budgets for both franchises are extremely small (part of the reason they are successes regardless of diminishing returns), the PA films are dramatically different from the Saw films. The first Saw and PA were dead even, right around a million dollars. PA2 stayed around that range whereas Saw 2 moved into the $4 million range. After that, the Saw films average $10 million for their budgets (with Saw 3-D coming in at $20). The Saw films also had massive marketing campaigns that probably added at least double to those production budgets, if not more. I think it’s safe to say, as of now anyway, that the PA films have been more successful financially.

So what am I saying? Well, it appears just based on numbers that Paranormal Activity could well be on its way to usurping Saw as the dominant horror franchise of this century. It has a long way to go. A lot will depend on how well PA3 holds over the next month. Is it front loaded, or is it genuinely scaring the crap out of people to keep word of mouth going? It would also have to hold up over four more movies. Can it make it? I dunno. But I was kind of taken aback when I actually looked at the numbers and compared the two franchises. Is Paranormal Activity actually more popular than Saw? To me, that’s weird to think about. The default answer would be “Of course not” but right now, I think the answer is “yes”. I don’t know if it will have the longevity of Saw, but it’s certainly on its way. There are so many variables (changing ticket prices, weekend competition, release dates, the zeitgeist), but the numbers right now seem to tell the tale. My review of PA3 on Monday’s Splattercast, by the way.

P.S. Can we please get an actual sequel to Paranormal Activity? I want to know what happened to Katie (and her boobs) at the end of the first!

Back from the Poltergeist screening and American Horror Story

I caught the first episode of Ryan Murphy’s new show American Horror Story tonight before I headed off to see Poltergeist. First off, this is exactly what I expected from a Ryan Murphy crafted horror story. Bizarre, artsy fartsy, unlikeable characters, extreme (for television) content, and a serious case of melodrama. In short: I totally dug it. This show is Nip/Tuck crossed with Bunuel if he was a 25 year old hipster into old Nine Inch Nails videos . The story follows a family of three who move out to California for a fresh start. Vivian, played by Connie Britton, catches her husband banging a college student after her miscarriage. Rather than divorce, they decide to start anew and try to repair their marriage. Of course they have a screwed up daughter who likes to cut herself and he is a psychiatrist who thinks it’s smart to have his patients visit him in his house. Speaking of the house, it has a history of its occupants murdering each other and, unsurprisingly for a Murphy project, shit starts happening immediately. Weird neighbors with “mongoloid” daughters (Jessica Lange actually calls her mentally handicapped daughter that), teens who want to shoot up their schools, naked men masturbating while crying, and capped by that guy in the latex body suit having sex with Vivian and impregnating her. Did I mention the old lady housekeeper might be a ghost and who appears as a sexy maid to Ben? There’s also an old lady monster ghost in the basement with razor sharp teeth. The first episode is pretty balls to the wall.  I’ve seen a lot of people criticizing the fact that the episode is just so wild and zany from the get go.  Personally, I thought it was a breath of fresh air. The conventional thing to do in a haunted house story is to build the ghostly activity sloooooooowly. This? S&M ghosts raping our main character in the first episode. You’re thrown right into it.

I thought it was really good and different. The style is gonna turn a lot of people off, I think. Jump cuts, multiple angles for simple lines of dialogue (edited together rapid style), and some very odd musical choices during certain moments all serve to create this weird sense of “WTF am I watching?” If Murphy was trying to make something unique and unlike anything else on television, he certainly achieved that. One criticism I’d have is that Murphy can’t just let a scene be a scene without putting as many curse words and “OMG I’M SO EDGY” face slaps into it as possible. I think every cuss word you are allowed to say on television was repeated about 10o times each in the first episode alone. Murphy’s trademark is being Jump The Shark All The Time. Nip/Tuck eventually collapsed under the sheer absurdity of its scenarios. That would be my biggest fear with American Horror Story. Can Murphy sustain the successful feeling of freakiness for a full season before everyone starts rolling their eyes? For what it’s worth, my girlfriend was genuinely creeped out by this show, going so far as to say it was the weirdest thing she had ever seen on tv and that she couldn’t believe that this was actually allowed on non-premium pay television. That’s from a non-horror fan. For me, I liked it. I’m genuinely interested in watching the rest of it. I loved that it just threw a bunch of wackiness at me and said “Process this…if you can”. A haunted house story with no buildup, I dig it! I’m afraid it’ll collapse under the sheer weight of its own zaniness, but hey, Nip/Tuck got 3 excellent seasons in before it imploded. If American Horror Story can get just one, I’d consider that a win for genre fans.

And then of course there was Poltergeist! Our local theater is screening some famous horror flicks every Thursday this month and this was the first one on the docket. Unlike past old movies they’ve screened, like The Thing, I’m pretty sure this was not a 35mm print (If it was, it was a remastered, pristine version. It was totally clean). I’d guess this was a digital projection. There were zero scratches or marks on it. Other than the audio being quieter than I would have liked, it was a pretty perfect screening. The place was packed to the brim. So full that I’d guess it actually sold out. If not, then it was damn close. When the lights went down and the movie started there were still people standing around and struggling to find seats. I’ve always liked Poltergeist and seeing it on the big screen was great fun. It’s pretty clear Hooper didn’t direct this movie. Steven Spielberg’s mitts are all over this thing. Even when it ends, he’s tosses up ” A STEPHEN SPIELBERG PRODUCTION” before the credits roll (gotta make sure one last time that everyone knows his name, lol). Interestingly enough, though the film is rated PG, my theater had it listed as an R on their board. Rewatching it, I’m not sure the film holds up as much as it once did. Some of the scenes just don’t have the same oomph as they once did (such as the clown sequence) and the film’s last act destroys its internal logic. Act 2 ends with them getting Carol Anne out of the netherworld where her and the mother almost die. So what do they do? Stay in the house while Coach conveniently heads off to his job and leaves them alone for the night. It sets up the rollicking finish (by the way, the entire family gets out of the house without the help of Coach even though they are screaming for him to help. The magic of editing.) which is certainly fun but honestly, it’s pretty lazy screenwriting. Still, it’s a fun movie even if it’s twenty minutes too long and doesn’t make a lick of sense. That guy ripping his face off is aces.

Next week is The Shining. I can’t wait to see that on the big screen. That’s a quintessential movie designed and shot for the theatrical experience. Be jealous.


Quick thoughts on TV: Supernatural, Ringer, Pan Am, and Terra Nova

Supernatural is one of my favorite shows on television. It also happens to be one of the best genre shows that horror fans never seem to talk, or care about. It’s got a cool mythology (even though it does seem to be stretching at this point), neat monster-of-the-week episodes, and excellent action. Last season ended with everyone’s favorite angel, Castiel, consuming all of the souls caught in Purgatory, thus making him God. The cliffhanger final involved Cas turning into God right after Sam and Dead attempted to kill him. It’s never wise to make God angry and thus, season 7 picks up with Cas deciding that God is better when he instills fear into his subjects. Forget that free will crap. Cas is going to show everyone he is here, real, and that they better worship him or else. Turns out, though, that when he consumed the souls in Purgatory, there also happened to be all manner of other stuff in there including the Leviathans. Unable to control them, they quickly take over Castiel and are intent on turning Earth into a hellscape of pain and suffering. Sam, Dean, and Bobby do a binding spell on Death (pic above) trying to get him to kill God. Meanwhile, Sam continues to deal with the after effects of the mental barrier Death put in place coming down, as he is hallucinating (or is he?) about Lucifer coming back and escaping the cage in hell he was put into.

I really dug this season premiere. Sam and Dean don’t have much to do as it mostly focuses on Castiel but I liked that they completely changed your expectations. Instead of Cas as God as the main season struggle, that is solved by the end of the episode, it becomes Cas as an evil Leviathan. On one hand, I like that because it gives Misha Collins out of his stoic, emotionless acting and lets him get a little crazy. Plus, we’re not exactly sure what the Leviathans are and how powerful they are so the first episode hints at a good narrative thread that could be coming up. But it is a little disappointing that the Leviathans seem to be just inhabiting bodies instead of us getting any genuine Lovecraftian monsters. But we’ll see. I have a feeling we’ll see Lucifer escape the cage this season and our heroes will have to make some sort of deal with devil to figure out this Leviathan stuff. Which is good, I think, because Lucifer always felt like a genuine threat to me, whereas stuff like the Mother of All just felt like “We need another powerful entity”, thrown into the story. Supernatural continues to be a quality genre show but if you haven’t seen anything from Season 3 on, you’ll be completely lost in terms of the mythology. My recommendation? Go watch them. It’s a wonderful series.

Ringer is the new show by Sarah Michelle Gellar, who sort of disappeared after Buffy, deciding to focus on a couple Scooby Doo flicks and making babies. This show is three episodes in so far. The plot is insane but basically, SMG switches places with her successful twin sister in New York who just so happens to have not told anyone about her crackhead prostitute little sister. The twin then seemingly kills herself, leaving SMG to take her place and start a new life. Unfortunately for her, her twin wasn’t the good girl she made out to be. She’s been having an affair on her husband, has been transferring money into secret accounts, and has had a hitman try to kill her. So now SMG must try to negotiate her twins fucked up life while simultaneously trying to hide out from the cops who have had her under protective custody ever since she witnessed a mob murder. And oh yeah, the mob is trying to find and kill her as well.

The premise of this show is solid. It’s twist after twist. You never really know what’s going on. It’s been described as a neo-noir and that description fits it in some way. The characters, other than SMG aren’t really that interesting yet, but they’ve been giving hints that none of them are what they seem so maybe they’ll flesh them out more in the future. I like the show so far, but I can’t help but feel like this show will lose its interest in the coming weeks. Like, once the novelty of the situation wears off, is there going to be any “there,” there? It’s also filled with lots and lots of rich people melodrama, fashion, money, design, dinner parties, etc. So if that’s not your thing then you probably aren’t going to go for it. I’ll give it a few more weeks and hope it keeps my attention. It certainly has potential, that’s for sure.

I’ve been singing the praises of Mad Men since the very first episode. It’s easily my favorite show on television right now. It feels good to be a fan of something from the beginning and then to watch it become this really successful thing. One offshoot of success is that everyone will try to copy your formula. Hence, Pan Am. One of the novel things about Mad Men is the 60’s period of it. The fashion, the different culture, it’s the in thing right now. And c’mon, chicks looked smoking hot back then. Take a cue, ladies, you can be completely covered and gorgeous. Pan Am utilizes all of that. It takes place in 1962, when Flight Attendants were still called Stewardesses. The premiere is mostly just an introduction to all of the hot chicks in tight uniforms that will be the backbone of the show. One of em is played by Christina Ricci, which was weird, not because of the forehead, but because I wasn’t expecting Christina Ricci. There wasn’t enough to really give a lot of development to any of the characters, but you see bits of their backstories and to how they came to be on the plane. One stewardess had an affair with a passenger and now finds herself face to face with his wife. Another pair are sisters, one helped the other escape a wedding. The pilot is in love with a stewardess who happens to be missing. And the main plot of the show is we find out that one stewardess is a spy “Pan Am girls can go anywhere and talk to anyone without raising suspicion”.

It looks good, has a nice espionage angle, and those women do look gorgeous. I’ll keep watching, for sure.

$20 million dollars. That’s the rumored budget of this pilot episode. Outrageous for a television show, and unsustainable as far as profit goes (Each episode is reportedly $4 million buckeroo banzai’s). But Stephen Spielberg’s name is attached, and much like his other show this year, Falling Skies, Terra Nova is pretty bland right off the bat. Basically, in the future we have destroyed earth’s environment. So scientists discover a rip in time. That time turns out to be 85 million years ago. So they send back people to colonize earth (don’t worry, it’s a separate timeline) and give humanity a new start. They have this little colony which they call Terra Nova. Anytime anyone leaves the walls, dinosaurs try to eat them. There’s also this mystery of another colony that was sent through the time rift and why they hate the Terra Nova peeps. There’s a Lost style “WTF is Terra Nova REALLY?” angle that they set up. Meanwhile the other group of outsiders (which all seem to be minorities. I guess Terra Nova is white utopia, or something lol) has control of the mine that has the show’s version of Unobtanium (Avatar reference). It’s pretty much Jurassic Park meets Avatar meets Lost. Which is fine, I guess, but the show just recycles a bunch of stuff you’ve already seen before (How much do you want to be that that kids girlfriend he left in the future comes back and is all “WTF?” when she sees him with his new love interest? Didn’t take long for that kid to get past his girlfriend who he tells he’ll find a way to bring back “no matter what”. Love is fickle like that)

Dinosaurs. You want to know about the dinosaurs, right? I mean, that’s the ultimate draw of Terra Nova.  Just like Jurassic Park, the first dinosaur you see is a Brontosaurus type thing. Just like in Jurassic Park, there is T-Rex style dinosaur attack. Just like Jurassic Park, there are Raptor like dinos that attack a group of kids. What I was struck by is the shitty CG. For a pilot that cost this much money, and which was delayed because of the fx work, I couldn’t believe that I was watching SyFy level CG. I mean, it all looks like an expensive show…until you see the dinosaurs. Even Spielberg’s other show, Falling Skies, had better CG than this. I like dinosaurs, but I can already tell that I don’t give a shit about this show. I’ll keep watching if only because my girlfriend is interested in it. Maybe it will get better. It took a good two-thirds of the season before Falling Skies got interesting. Both shows suffer from the same problem: the characters are totally uninteresting. They are bland. Spielberg bland. My prediction is that Terra Nova will be seen as a big failure. I would expect a significant drop off in terms of viewership over the next couple weeks. We’ll see.