Another Rotten Sequel

So a while ago I posted about movies that piss me off, which pretty much consisted of sequels and remakes.

Well now I have another to add to that list:

The Last Exorcism: Part Two.

Now the first one wasn’t perfect. I didn’t like where it ended up, for various reasons. But overall it was a really good film. The main character was a highly likable individual who you grew to care about. There was plenty of ambiguity, if you really suspect something is up so you lean toward genuine possession. The reveal for what is truly going on is a wonderfully subtle and simple one liner. The ambiguity is my favourite part of the movie, I was really guessing all the way, and then that is thrown out at the end. That’s mainly why I dislike the ending. Still, overall I really appreciated that film a lot.

I have just watched the second. Okay, so I didn’t expect it to be anything that good, but it is a feeble cashgrab with jump scares (well, attempted ones) and an ending that made the first film’s conclusion shine with ingenuity by comparison. It was good to see the actress back and she’s pretty good in both, but this film reminds me of those other sequels I despise because it feels so different from the original. Where the first film was an interesting and different horror film, driven mainly by the main character’s charm and likability, your concern for the girl and your questions about the situation overall, this is just spooky shit happens, then more, then some stuff, and then end. Noting new, nothing impressive. No interesting characters. It feels like exactly what it is, a bland addition to a strong movie for bucks. Which irks me. It was boring, it was obvious and it gave me no humanity to fear for or real threat to fear. So I felt it was worth mentioning along with the list I had presented before, although I don’t think it would make it.

It would sit well with the Descent Two. Pointless, bland, generic, lacking any of the first’s personality, and a sequel you really didn’t think the first would ever lead to.

Sneaky Zombies

So I’m a zombie fan. Well, the movies, not the creatures themselves. I have never gotten the fandom about them. They lack the personality of a vampire or the ferocity of a werewolf. A single zombie is pretty unimpressive. What works is the unstoppable sense of doom. That’s also why I prefer slow zombies to the newer, faster upgrades. When I see a character stuck somewhere and the zombies are slowly, slowly closing in, that is awful to watch. Death is inevitably coming, and taking its damn sweet time about it.

But what I really like about zombie movies is the breakdown of society. In that sense, zombies or mutants or cannibal humans – whatever it is that brings us down and sets us against each other – that’s what fascinates me.

Going back to zombies, however, I must declare a serious pet peeve of mine.

No one, no half decently aware human being, should be surprised by a zombie.

You see it all the time in films and shows, but it shouldn’t happen unless set in very specific circumstances. Zombies are not sneaky. They don’t see a human and start tiptoeing over. They grunt and groan on a regular basis. They stumble. They would also smell. I mean smell bad. They’re dead so that means an evacuation of the bowels has taken place, plus they are often rotting away. You should smell that bastard coming a mile off.

Okay, so there can be certain circumstances in which this would be overcome. For instance, if you were in a building which had a lot of dead lying about, the smell from them would blot out that of a single zombie. You could have a situation where there is a lot of noise to cancel out the stumbling stomping of the undead – such as the helicopter blades whirring in the Dawn of the Dead original. Trying to make your way through a world overrun by zombies, you would find yourself in moments of vulnerability to the usual warning signs.

Yet, if you were a survivor and fighter, tackling the every day dangers of a zombie-plagued world, you would soon learn to become more aware the more ways there could be for you to be attacked. If sound is blanked out by noise, keep an eye out. If the smell is overpowering, well, not sure how you could stand being near it but again, be alert. Essentially, if the senses that are your natural early warning system have any trouble, keep those peepers peeled. Even then, having sound and smell blotted out would be rare, and zombies are still stumbling buffoons. A human should not be sneaked up on unless they’re stuck in really bad circumstances or an idiot.

But the single zombie sneak up continues to be a thing. It bugs the hell out of me. I mean, I accept it. It is a cliched thing that is going to happen and keep on happening. It is a tiresome way of getting a quick scare. Just like the walking murderer somehow getting ahead of the running victim or the car that won’t start for no good reason. Even so, for some reason every time I see it my brain has to gripe. It just shouldn’t happen. It is a highly forced contrivance.

Oh, and so is the peripheral vision failure. That happens a lot in zombie movies too but also in other horror. A character looks one way, then another, then back and SURPRISE!! I mean, again, no way you don’t notice a zombie that close, but definitely you see it out the corner of one eye. Vampires can get away with it a bit, you might suspect there is something supernatural going on to make them stealthy, but it happens way too often.

Anyway, jump scares are annoying and it bugs me when they are forced on the audience in a dumb way. It isn’t anything to get worked up about beyond a random blog post, but if you do have a movie or tv show where a unlikely zombie sneak-up occurs, don’t expect me to feel for that character as they expire in your fictional post-apoc world. That character is either an idiot or you are lazy at your job. Perhaps both.

Movies that Piss me Off (Part Two)

Back for more:

Okay, so here we go. The Thing.

Actually, a pit stop. Right now I am watching the remake of the Evil Dead. I’m a big fan of the Evil Dead series and I wasn’t thrilled to learn of this film’s existence. Seventy minutes in and it has a bunch of lines from the original, copied scenes too, and other gimmicks you’d expect from a remake. But it is actually decent. The idea of someone trying to ‘cold turkey’ from drugs being a comparison with demonic possession is an interesting one. Yes, it is another remake I don’t think needs to exist, but seeing as it does, I don’t mind it too much. I won’t watch this one nearly as many times as I have the original, but hey, I won’t avoid it. Probably.

So back to the Thing. Oh how I despise thee. One of the main reasons being your name. They couldn’t even bother to use something else. So now, when I say the Thing is one of my favourite movies, I have to specify that I mean the John Carpenter movie, not the remake. Ah ha, someone might say. It isn’t a remake, it is a prequel. True, I would respond, but it is pretty much just a remake, and it was meant to be one at first. Maybe if it had been I wouldn’t have minded so much. But the fact it is a prequel…. Well, that just pisses me off to no end (Big Trouble reference).

Now the Thing, the first one, is a great movie. Claustrophobic. Paranoid. Scifi and horror. A cluster of characters who stand out, butt heads and play off each other. Childs, the hothead. Palmer, the weed-smoking conspiracy theorist. Blair, the scientist who sees it coming. Clark, the man who seems indifferent to anyone but the dogs. McReady, the loner in his shack who hates losing to his computer. The soundtrack sends shivers down me. I mean it really does. I love that …. dun dun … dun dun … that Ennico Morricone came up with.

When it comes to the new one, I have little idea of who and what the characters are. Lars stood out, who is a combination of Childs and Clark. But this movie isn’t interested in giving you a group of intriguing or appealing, or even unappealing, individuals for you to fear for as their numbers dwindle. No, it is Norwegian No. 3 getting killed. Then Norwegian No. 7 turns out to be the Thing and dealt with, yet maybe No. 4 and No. 8 are too. Who knows? Who cares?

We have a young American woman, an arrogant Danish man, and some others who are kind of notable, like a British bloke who is all British like. Plus Lars. But none of it matters. This movie is a copy of the first with none of the atmosphere or characters. Much like the other remakes I have mentioned. We get an attempt at the brilliant testing scene with people being checked for fillings. As much as I did like Lars a bit, seeing him shove a flamethrower in men’s faces was just comical. Surprised he didn’t singe his own beard. Also the filling thing doesn’t make much sense. Wouldn’t the Thing have gaps in the teeth to put them back in? Couldn’t it reshape itself to do so? Shouldn’t it know, having absorbed someone and knowing what they know, what those things are or even maybe think about removing evidence?

Or maybe the fact I have no fillings makes me biased against the test. Damn dental bigotry!

This is a dumb movie that does nothing but throw random jumps and deaths at the audience. The main character cannot carry it either. Her rise to leadership is poorly executed. She, a young American female, ends up telling this bunch of beardy Scandinavians what to do. No. You need to earn that. I almost bought her team up with Lars, although her being sent off with the single person who spoke no English was daft, not mentioning how risky it was to go somewhere with just one other. I’m pretty sure they had even declared not to go anywhere with someone else.

Going back to the proper Thing, we see McReady take charge. Why? Well there is a command structure there but it is quickly overthrown by suspicion and paranoia. Garry was a weak leader anyway, while the scientific minds of Blair and Copper are deemed unreliable for different reasons. So we have three alpha males enter the fray: McReady, Childs and Clark. Yet Clark is too introverted to take charge; the strong, silent type. Childs wants it, he reaches for Garry’s gun. Clark stops him, threatening him with his knife. MacReady takes the gun. Mac is a loner and often seems fed up with being asked questions or to do things. But now someone has to take charge, and it is not going to be Childs. If anything, Mac’s and Clark’s issue with Childs settles the matter, and they’re not fond of each other either. Mac becomes the new leader due to others being set aside, his own qualities and the group dynamic. Even then, his authority is challenged and he only gets to oversee the test thanks to a bundle of dynamite.

In the prequel (remake!) there is none of this. She just starts calling the shots. Why? Maybe because she’s the American and we need American audiences to cheer someone on, and who could cheer on foreigners? Maybe because she’s the recognisable star (kind of)? Maybe it was a feminism thing? Doesn’t matter. It could be all three or none. You need it to work within the world you have set, within the group, due to character development and interaction. None of that occurs. There is more reason for the others there to not listen to her. But the foreigner they don’t know starts giving orders because why not? Just like the movie overall. Things happen because things have to happen. Who cares about originality, creativity, character development or believability?

However, as I mentioned earlier, this movie would be a mere annoyance – much like other Carpenter remakes such as Assault on Precinct 13 and the Fog – if it was just a remake. The fact they moved it to being a prequel is what bothers me. If you have never watched these movies, if you’re young or new to scifi/horror, and you feel like checking out the Thing, you might want to watch them in order. You may sit down, check out the prequel, then the Carpenter version. If you do, you lose out. You’ll watch an average movie and then sit and watch something special, only by then it will feel like deja vu. You’ll see the same shit. What’s worse, the eerie visit to the Norwegian camp made by Mac and Doc won’t mean anything. That section is something that was never meant to be told. That visit is foreshadowing, warning the characters as well as the audience of what is to come, and yet it is also meant to baffle. They see a dead man, wrists and throat slit, and ask themselves what could have driven him to it, and so do you. They see something weird, almost human, and cannot fathom what it might be. As do you, the audience. But with the prequel watched, the characters’ shocked confusion is not echoed by us. You know what this is all about, and yet nothing in that prequel really explained anything. The Brit character who slit himself open, well, no idea why he did that. The visit to the Norwegians is meant to set up the rest of the tale. It is foreshadowing. This prequel robs a first time viewer of that, as well as hampers the film overall.

So fuck the Thing prequel. Again, I don’t hate this miserable work. It is shallow and dull and predictable, but nothing more. But I do resent, strongly, the damage it has done to a film I revere.

Oh, and Scary Movie 5 was really bad. I’m a sucker for spoofs and can watch the others, but that one was just shit. Shit, I say!

Movies that Piss me Off (Part One)

I often hear people say ‘I hate that movie’, or variations of this interspersed with swearing. Personally, I think it is a bizarre sentiment. Hatred is a very powerful emotion. To hate a piece of art or entertainment is baffling to me. Oh I get angry at films. I swear at how stupid or predictable they are. I have shouted at movies. But hate them? No. The type of movie I might hate is just not worthy of that level of passion ie. poorly made films shouldn’t make you mad.

But, let’s talk about movies that put me close to hating them, and why.

I was thinking about this recently and the film titles that came to mind were the Vanishing, Battle Royale 2, the Ring, the Departed and the Thing.

Actually, I’m removing the Departed from that. I watched it last night and it just irritates me by how flat it is in comparison to Infernal Affairs, the Chinese original. Essentially, the lead performances of Andy Lau and Tony Leung are far superior. It also depresses me to think that THIS is the film Scorsese won an Oscar for. Ergh. I think that movie just reminds me of how little I care about Oscar nominations and how strongly I wish others did too. But the Departed doesn’t belong with those others I listed. Not even with that stupid moment of the rat at the end. It is poor but not aggravating.

No, we’ll go back to the Vanishing, Battle Royale 2, the Ring and the Thing.

Why these ones? They are all bad movies, but the reason they piss me off so much is for reasons outside of the films themselves. Three of them are remakes. Now, I’m not against remakes. One of my favourite films is the Thing, which is a remake (you may be confused right now, but fear not, all shall be cleared up). But this trio of remakes irk me due to their complete failure to capture anything that worked in the originals, as well as not even needing to exist.

Disclaimer: one remake I refer to is actually a prequel, but it is essentially a remake, so sod it.

The one non-remake is Battle Royale 2. That’s a sequel, obviously. If you are a fan of Battle Royale, may I take this moment to urge you never to see the sequel. No, it isn’t so bad it is good, nor is it worth watching to catch up with the characters, world or themes from the first. No. Just no. Don’t do it, don’t think about it. Stop it right now. I mean it.

Battle Royale was a fast and violent film with Japanese schoolkids forced into killing each other on an island as part of a government attempt to control the unruly youth. It showed us how these kids were troubled and how they troubled others, what they did right and wrong, and it used school social hierarchy to good effect.

Battle Royale 2 does none of this. It is one big rant about the USA, in essence. I have bitched about this movie before, in a post called ’28 Weeks Later and Other Pointless Sequels’. I won’t bother to do so again. But what I will say is that this film takes nothing that worked from the first. We have one character who returns, yet I wish he hadn’t. There is no school or teenager analysis. Many characters are slaughtered early on. The terrorism of one group of kids seems to be excused due to the behaviour of the big bad adults. It is just a weak, pointless film that does nothing to add to the first, and I loved the first. It is a cash grab, but hell, I’ve seen cash grabs that have some level of entertainment or thought put in. This does have one thought in it, I admit, and that is to blame America for everything going wrong. As a Brit, blaming Americans for anything is a favourite past-time, but this is tedious, clunky and over the top. This sequel sickened me. Still not worth hating though.

So we have the Vanishing. The original is a film I came across late one night. I used to stay up watching all kinds of weird and wonderful movies. I was an avid fan of Moviedrome. One night, I saw the Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The one directed by David Cronenberg and starring Donald Sutherland. It has a great ending, which is also a shocker, and after seeing that I didn’t feel I could just go to sleep. So teenage me (not sure how old I was exactly) stayed up and started watching a French/Dutch movie called the Vanishing. In this, a couple are driving about, the woman goes missing, the man spends years searching for her – ruining a new relationship in the process – until he meets a strange man who claims to have kidnapped his girlfriend. In order to find out what became of her, he has to drink a cup of coffee with a drug in it. Having incessantly searched for her, having ruining his life in this pursuit, he concedes and downs it.

Now, the ending is more of a shocker than Body Snatchers, and how I got to sleep that night after seeing it, I don’t know. I won’t give it away. But the film was intense to watch.

The remake is made by the same director but has ‘Hollywood ending’ written all over it. Starring Keifer Sutherland (an odd link to my personal experience of watching the original) and Jeff Bridges, with a brief appearance by Sandra Bullock as the missing woman, this film follows along the same route for the most part. Then we get to the end. It hurts me just thinking about it. We need a happy ending so the new girlfriend sticks around and helps save the day. That is fine. In truth, it was an interesting development with how she plays mindgames with the strange man. But we get this awful ending where the happy couple are offered coffee, which they instantly reject, then laugh about it. Laugh! After what they have been through, they laugh! It is this awful, ridiculous, inappropriate bit. People died, they were both nearly killed, but let’s have a giggle about no longer drinking coffee. Because, you know, drugs and murder. Tee hee hee.

Do I hate the film? No. Overall, it may not be that bad. I’ve only seen it once, I think. The original definitely only once. But I get angry at what it represents. An American remake failing to capture any of the atmosphere of the first, yet more importantly, blotting out the original work. Looking up originals and finding only references to the more widely distributed and advertised remakes can be such a depressing experience.

Speaking of which, that brings me to the Ring. I also saw this one recently, but it has been on my shit-list for some time. It is just boring. I find the original, Ringu, an intense watch with an impending sense of doom that keeps ticking forward. I don’t watch it often, I can’t bear to. I have the book, which explains a lot of the background of Sadako and makes sense of the supernatural phenomenon. But the remake is as if someone watched the original, chose to make the exact same movie yet thought that all that suspense and mystery just slowed things down. What we need is insects, jump scares and eeewww, girl with gross face!

Again, I feel no hate toward this movie. It isn’t worth it. It isn’t an atrocious film, I guess, just bland and obvious. But again, it bugs the shit out of me that films like this get made. Ringu was a huge international hit on DVD. But noooooooooo. We need a dumb, American version. And that’s not to say, ha ha, Americans are dumb and they need dumb things. No, it is the opposite in truth. People who make entertainment in the US seem to think their audience is dumb and treat them as such. My experience is that Americans get more passionate about the source material from abroad. Yes, some want the dumb shit, but that happens in all countries. Yet many are fine with foreign films, weird movies and art/entertainment that challenges them. The Ring is none of those things. It panders. It is stupid and predictable and trundles along. Harumph.

Okay, seeing as I still have plenty more to moan about, I’ll stop here for now and put up Part Two in a couple of days time.

The Twilight Zone

So I’ve been binge watching the Twilight Zone this past week or so. I was always aware of the most famous tales from this show and had seen them parodied often (especially by the Simpsons). I had seen the movie too. I enjoyed it. But it wasn’t until I sat down and started watching these that I realised I had never really gotten into this show. Which is a crime for a writer, or a lover of scifi, or someone who loves the imagined, the weird and the fantastic. This really was a great show. It was amusing to watch the first episode where Rod Serling – the creator, main writer and that odd guy who always introduced and concluded each episode – mocks himself for daring to claim this TV series would go on to great things. He wasn’t wrong.

I guess we could call the Twilight Zone scifi, and many stories are straight up science fiction, with tales of aliens coming to Earth or humans ascending to space. Yet this show is far more about the fantastic. It reminded me of what scifi TV and films were like back then. There was a golden age of scifi during the 50s and 60s, at least for those of us who adore cerebral and challenging science fiction (I also love flashy nonsense like Flash Gordon and straight up action like Aliens). Movies like the Day the Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet, the Thing from Outer Space/Another World, etc were filled with social commentary and questioning the advancements of science. The atomic era especially. Also shows like Star Trek, Lost in Space, Land of the Giants and the Time Tunnel. It is amusing to see how old Star Trek differs from the newer stuff. The original series is full of episodes with weird things happening. More supernatural than science.

For me, the best scifi is often using science to tell us about humanity. In the Twilight Zone’s case, we have the classic episode ‘Time Enough at Last’. A nuclear holocaust leaves one man who loves to read alone with all the books he could possibly ever want. I won’t spoil the ending, even though it is well known, just in case, but the episode is about him, not about the science. In another, ‘People are Alike All Over’, we have a man land on another world, who fears what is out there, only to find that people – including alien people – are alike all over. Truly. Again, the science is a tool, not the main content.

But we have plenty of weird and wonderful episodes too. Some very dark ones. I was surprised to see Dennis Hopper in one episode, playing a Nazi, who becomes influenced by a shadowy figure and starts to win people over. There are a number of episodes laden with the aftermath of World War Two. An episode called ‘Deaths-Head Revisited’ has a former SS captain of a concentration camp going back to his place of torture, with old friends waiting for him. These can be pretty dark, but with meaningful messages.

The Twilight Zone is a celebration of the new frontier that was science fiction of American TV back then. We knew enough to use science to create new scenarios but not much more so that going out to space or developing new technologies had an almost magical feel to it. Admittedly, aliens tended to be a bunch of white people who spoke English, but this was not the time of diversity. We understand the cosmos much more too. But the episodes are still telling us about ourselves.

Other episodes are downright supernatural. I’ve seen the devil show up in two already. There has also been a ghost caller, a writer bringing characters to life, and a few individuals reliving a nightmare, even their death.

The Twilight Zone is entertaining as well as intelligent. I prefer the shorter episodes, they feel tightly written, whereas the ones closer to an hour sometimes feel a bit padded. Episodes often work on a nugget of realism with a character made to deal with it and then some weird wonderment thrown on top. So they can be very short and very effective.

I admit I love the way Rod Sterling presents them too. He seems so earnest. His presence as a visible narrator should be breaking the fourth wall. Perhaps it does in a way. Yet he also lures you in. He makes you feel as if you have front row seats to a television episode and also a notable event coming from the Twilight Zone itself. He never tries too hard. Never gives it the high hat. He states in that enunciated manner of his and you’re believing his words before you realise how absurd things sound.

I highly recommend watching the Twilight Zone if you haven’t. There are episodes all over Youtube. Not sure about availability on DVD and such, but for now my intent is simply sharing the love. Again, I liked the movie but the television show feels special. This was a ground breaking work from a brilliant writer. A lot of young actors are involved too who go on to great things. Stories that now feel overdone are freshly set for the first time.

Essentially, I’ve become a bit addicted. I guess this is what happens when you enter…. The Twilight Zone.

Do de do do, do de do do, do de do do, do de do do……..

Death’s Head is the Best, yes?

I’m a Batman fanboy. I like the Green Arrow a lot, although not read much on him. Big fan of the tv show. Always been interested in knowing more about Martian Manhunter after watching the Justice League animated series. Judge Dredd is great (give us a Dredd sequel, you bastards!) as are the ABC Warriors and Bad Company and others. I love me some 2000AD.

Yet if I had to pick a favourite comic book character, it would have to be Death’s Head. Not because he is a Marvel character. Don’t give a shit about that Marvel vs DC crap. Being Marvel certainly suits him – he has an irreverence about the mayhem he gets involved in, although that also shows his British origins, I think – but I don’t care what team he plays for. It is the character himself. The all business, ultra violent freelance peacekeeper with the twisted sense of humour and affront to being named a bounty hunter.

Death’s Head. The mechanoid who fought Rodimus Prime and Galvatron, and future Iron Man and the Fantastic Four, and had two run ins with my childhood Doctor, Number Seven (Sylvester McCoy), and more. Not the most intelligent of individuals but quite devious when necessary, in a blunt-weapon-on-legs type of way, Death’s Head was like a mechanoid mountie – he always got his man. You hired him, he got the job done, no matter how many walls he had to break through, heads he had to bust open or hits he had to take. He was damn tough, if not invincible. He had to be rebuilt by his new partner Spratt at one point. He can be broken up a bit too. When he fights Arno Stark, he gets his head ripped off, but his body kicks the crap out of the Iron Man of 2020. He also had a detachable hand. He carries an array of weapons that can be fixed onto his arm. Very handy, yes?

Perhaps I should explain about that. Death’s Head had a quirky way of talking. Often short and sharp, to the point, as any businessman should be. But he often ended statements with questions or added a querying yes or no to a question. “I scare you, yes?” “Should have ducked faster, no?” “Bad day for you, yes? Should never have got out of bed, huh? Let me put you back to sleep.” (These aren’t quotes, by the way. Just things I made up that suit his style).

It is amusing to read but really added to his unique behaviour. He’s an oddball, even for a heavily armed robot who lives for profit. He also has strict codes and a very practical attitude to, well, everything. Never take things personally. Don’t get mad, get paid. Oh, he would whole heartedly agree with the Joker’s comment: If you’re good at something, never do it for free. Even lunatics make sense sometimes, no?

So credit where credit is due, the two creators of Death’s Head are Simon Furman and Geoff Senior – the writer and artist respectively. Apparently he was only meant to be a minor character in the Transformers’ world, yet after Geoff Senior had worked out the appearance, they knew he had to be something more. He looks great. Kind of like a robot devil – something which is highlighted in one story where a criminal refers to him as El Diablo. Simon Furman is a name that means a lot to me too. He worked on Transformers comics in the UK, then got promoted to running things in the US because of how good a job he had done. He used the new characters from the 1986 movie really well and wrote a brilliant storyline for the Transformers facing Unicron. Different to the one in that movie, and elsewhere I believe. Much better too. I wrote about it before: Me, Grimlock, Understand Genetics

Death’s Head came from good parents and deserved a better run. From what I’ve read, Furman and Senior both love the bastard and have tried repeatedly to bring him back. If he ever got into one of the Marvel movies somehow, that would be my true fanboy moment. I might literally squee.