Holding the Door and Dying Dragons – Old School

(Just a warning that this post is riddled with spoilers about two 80s fantasy films)

Let’s talk about a heroic act where a notable character held a door so others could push on to saving the day. A memorable and emotional sacrifice. Something that has lingered with me for years.

As may be obvious, no, this has nothing to do with a big idiot whose mind was ruined by time-travelling weirdness and who was left holding a door without realising it, by which point it was too late for him to run. By the way, I would love to see said character return as an undead figure, carrying a door to beat a certain teenage boy who destroyed his life with.

No, this is about the character Rell, the cyclops from the 1983 science-fantasy film, Krull.

Then we can talk about that moment when a dragon was killed in a dramatic fight, which hurt me and still hurts when I have watched it since. Those final moments of life from that character. A character who stood out and meant something, and who died playing an important role in the story. Again, I’m clearly not talking about something that just happened on tv. I mean Smrgol, the older dragon, in the animated fantasy 1982 film, the Flight of Dragons.

This is where I get into being a bit of an old grump. I’ve seen people say they lost their minds, literally cried, at the two tv show moments I alluded to. Okay, people react differently to things. I get that. No one can tell you how to be affected by story telling as you grow up. Still, I found these tv moments to be hollow. Dramatic, yes. Shocking, true. But nothing as emotionally scarring as the two incidents I’m going to describe. It makes me feel old and bitter, claiming to myself “young people today lose it over anything, whereas when I were a lad, we got upset over real characters being killed off” etc. I admit I think I’m being unfair, and a grumpy old man. Maybe younger people emote more than my generation did. Maybe they feel for these characters more than I ever could. Maybe the fact I grew up on other moments means these new moments can’t affect me, but they would if I were growing up now. I hope not. I hope I would always need an emotional core to an event for it to get me, and also I can still find my gut being wrenched when the art is worked skilfully. See the beginning of Up or the end of Moon.

I could write a big complaint about how people overreacted to these tv moments, but again, while I have my logical points to make, the bulk is just emotional reactions. Some work for certain people, others don’t. If anyone grieved over a CGI dragon that barely did a thing and had no personality, well fair enough. I can understand grieving more for the anguish the Mother felt than the creature itself, without doubt. Less so for the death on its own. Fewer so? Anyway, people have their own reactions to things and I don’t like berating others for their emotional outbursts, as if we can control them that well. I’m sure I would have been derided for wanting to cry over an animated dragon breathing its last breath, back when I was a child. Even so, I feel fully justified in that grief. Smrgol was a character and he made a choice and it cost him.

That’s a good place to start. Something that binds these two memorable moments. Choosing for yourself and paying the price. I don’t want to go on about things that didn’t move me and how snarky I got when others were affected. I want to use this to springboard into praising what did work and trying to explain why it did. For me.

Rell in Krull. Here is this big cyclops who appears and helps the band of characters out, later joining them. His story is explained in simple terms. Once his people made a deal with the Beast (the villain) but were tricked, losing an eye to see the future, except the only thing they could see ahead of them was the day of their death. They became a sad and lonely people. But as a cyclops, Rell clearly sees the Beast and his minions, the Slayers, as his enemies. He fights them for his own reasons, and joins the other heroes when he can see they are worthy people, and he has been able to prove himself to them. However, when the ending is near, Rell stays behind. The rest set out to reach the Black Fortress before it moves, yet he has to remain, because it is his time to die, and if he tries to avoid this then a very painful fate will befall him.

It won’t surprise to say that Rell does show up later to save them once again, but still, it made my heart leap to see him come riding in. The others are pinned down by Slayers, they can’t get into the fortress, but here comes Rell, stomping his way up, taking bolts to the chest and barely flinching. He works his way up, kills a Slayer and stops a stone slab door from closing.

That’s right, Rell holds the door.

The others begin rushing through. The door is slowly closing but Rell holds it as best he can. It’s still closing though. The others help a bit as the rest go through, except now that door is more closed than not. Rell is struggling. He calls out to them. Colwyn and Torquil strive to help him. It’s no good. There are gurgling noises as the door closes. There’s a shout, but could be from Torquil, still trying to save him. Then the door slams shut.

Rell chose to risk his life. Actually, maybe he chose to give it up – he knew his fate if he avoided the death he foresaw. He had stayed behind because he was meant to. Instead he rode after them, helped them get inside the fortress when none of them could manage it, and enabled them to save the world. Maybe he thought he could do this and survive, but it was highly unlikely. He went to help them knowing the risk, maybe even accepting a death if it could prove to be the difference. It was.

Rell chose. He suffered. Rell made a difference. He paid the price.

During the story, he had been an enigmatic figure who then bonded with other characters and showed a softer side, with a few funny moments too. He meant something to us. As much as Torquil, the outlaw leader, or Ynyr, the Old One. Rell’s character, saving others, his sacrificial, and also brutal, end – it hit me hard back then. Still does.

Now let’s turn to Smrgol. This is an older dragon who ends up having to go on a quest because a human from the 20th Century has gotten fused with a young dragon, who was supposed to go. So a lot of their interaction is Smrgol teaching Peter/Gorebash how to be a dragon.

This teaching goes up a level when Peter has to take on the Ogre of Gormley Keep. This big bastard has kidnapped the other quest members so they have to rescue them by defeating him, and Smrgol is too old for that shit. He tells Peter what to do, then watches in horror as the human gets it all wrong. So into the fray he goes. He gets it right, of course, and down goes the ogre, but just as it was warned, Smrgol found it too much. He collapses. His heart gives out.

Smrgol isn’t meant to go on the quest. Nor is he meant to fight the ogre. He agrees to go because they need him (well, they need three for some reason) and he helps out, and Peter needs a teacher. He gets into the fight to save the young man’s life. I love his “Hey, Hey You”, after they already called the Ogre Hey You in a challenge. He even taunts the ogre a bit as he tries to drag him off the wall. The ogre is a daunting figure, they made a great job of him being terrifying. He matches each dragon, bests one, just loses to the other. Smrgol uses his wits and wins. Experience plays out.

Smrgol is more affable, more likeable, than Rell from Krull. He is a friendly mentor, helping Peter. He can laugh, he cares, and he certainly isn’t in this for glory or bravado. He’s a knowledgeable dragon who knows what is at stake, but should be taking it easy, seeing out his old age. Loses him hurts even more. I mean hell, I just watched the fight on Youtube to check on things and even then I could feel my stomach tightening.

Maybe it’s nostalgia. Maybe it’s the inner kid seeing these images and getting to me. Maybe there’s just something about the noble sacrifice. I’ll admit, I’ve always had a thing for that. Dinobot in Beast Wars. Obi-Wan in Star Wars. Hector in the Illiad. Piccolo in Dragonball Z. Gandalf, even though he comes back. Definitely Boromir.

Still, I feel it has a logic to it as well as an emotional reaction. These characters mattered. They chose to act. They knew a cost would be asked. They risked everything. They paid it. You can’t beat that. Not for me, anyway.

I’ll admit, both films are very 80s, with a fair amount of camp and rushed plotlines, sometimes very stereotypical ideas. For once, I’d love to see a remake of either, or both, with more character development and some improvements to the story. Just witnessing a new generation look on in awe as Bryagh swoops down yelling “Puny scum of Carolinus! Prepare to die!” before scattering the group. He was a great baddie who could be fleshed out to be even better. One of my favourite bad dragons.

Still, I’d understand people scoffing at these films. Many did back then. More seem to like these and others nowadays, but they’re far from perfect, even in the eyes of us fanboys and fangirls. Yet these two moments always get me. Rell held that door. Smrgol died in a showdown. Both mattered to me. They still do. I hope their stories won’t be lost as those of us who grew up with them get older.

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Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead

A while back I said I really liked Rec 3 and how it was a better film than expected, and also how I hoped it wouldn’t be pre-judged for being a poor sequel. It was a fun film, had a sense of humour about itself and the franchise, but also had good characters and an emotionally driven plot.

So having done that, I feel it is only fair to give a nod to Dead Snow 2. For pretty much the same reasons.

To give some background, the film Dead Snow is a Norwegian cult horror film, where some friends go up a mountain and end up fighting Nazi zombies. There is a historical context for it, revealing that the Nazi soldiers had once controlled this region and been slaughtered by an uprising. They were vicious murderers and greedy looters back then, and nothing had changed for them now they’re undead. They want their gold back and they’ll kill everyone just because. Also, the zombies aren’t slow, gurgling automatons. Rather, these soldiers are armed, quick, deadly. They are presented as highly intimidating early on.

The film itself is fairly Evil Dead 2: a Norwegian zombie retelling. Lots of humour, quick cuts and gore fights. It is a lot of fun as well as a solid horror film.

The sequel continues on from where the original left off. Spoilers here, but the lone survivor, who found a gold coin in his car and then sees the zombie leader outside, manages to escape, taking off the leader’s arm. He had already lost his own during the first story, trying to not turn into one of them after being bitten. That whole sequence was very Sam Raimi inspired, funny as well as wince inducing.

That all becomes important as the character wakes up in hospitable with his arm sewn back on, except it is the arm belonging to the Nazi officer, Herzog. This leads to bloodshed and police involvement, as the arm kills of its own accord, yet the film pushes on beyond this to reveal the Nazis are fulfilling a mission from their previous lives and are intent on destroying a town. Martin, the survivor, has to stop them, and finds out his new arm is not only super strong and bloodthirsty, but can also raise the dead. Both he and Herzog are then building their own forces to face off, culminating in a showdown, where dead Nazis fight dead Commies.

There’s more to this though. I need to mention the Zombie Squad, three Americans who are very geeky but actually quite good at killing the undead. They become involved in this Norwegian skirmish, as does a museum employee, and they’re all quite fun. Best thing is that Martin Starr, aka Gilfoyle from Silicon Valley, is one of the squad. I remember watching the film for some time thinking: wait, is that Gilfoyle? Nah. Looks like his 12-year-old brother at best. But it was him!

So without going on about plots and themes, etc, I want to talk about why I rate this film and think it’s worth watching. Also, why it confounded my own presumptuous nature.

Basically, I saw the trailer for this and swore. I saw Americans in a Norwegian film. I suspected this would be a very American movie. I suspected an American company had got hold of the rights or something and had made some crappy sequel (much like the Descent 2). I saw no reason for this to exist. It looked kind of dumb, as well as just a bunch of random stuff happening. I leapt to my steed of outrage and proclaimed this was some kind of BS sequel for cash and would impair the original!

I ended up watching it anyway, thinking: ah well, if it’s bad, it is bad. Nothing new there. A bad, unnecessary horror sequel. Join the long queue.

Very early on, I got that this was more comedy than horror this time, and it was really enjoying itself. It is still gory, brilliantly so, but the emphasis in tone was certainly more to having a laugh. It isn’t a parody of itself, this isn’t Gremlins 2 or anything, but it does know what it is. Nazi zombies, splatter gore across the camera, jokes and deaths. It goes all out. Many death scenes for nameless characters are pretty unique, or at least striking.

Something I loved quickly, and still do, is how much the film embraces grotesque, horrible humour. This is not a film to enjoy if you don’t like bad things happening to people. Babies are blown up and you hear silly baby noises, making it clear this is comedic, not serious. Early on, you meet an American kid who is all peppy and chatty and just very ‘American kid in a movie’. I did wonder if he’d be a major character, tagging along. But no, he’s dies very quickly. Hilariously too. He isn’t just thrown through a barred window by the zombie arm, but when Martin tries to revive him with CPR, his powerful limb crunches through the boy, spraying blood over Martin’s face. Nope, this film isn’t just about nasty deaths, it makes it very clear this is bad taste humour.

Quick mention of the actor playing Martin, Vegar Heol. He’s really good at humour. I didn’t find him a particularly notable character in the first film, but here he has a lot to do and does it very well. His reaction to a zombie eating its own sick is fantastic.

Oh, got to mention that zombie. He’s a superb example of what this film is aiming for. Basically he is a poor bloke who gets killed by the Nazis. Martin revives him by accident. Then kills him in surprise. Then revives him again, then he is killed by an axe to the face as the Zombie Squad arrive. Then he is revived again. If you’re noticing a pattern, well, it keeps going. The poor sod gets killed and revived several times, and often gets the rough end of things besides that. Being used as traction is never good for you.

The film has a very fun yet also weirdly kind of emotional ending, but I refuse to give that away.

So Dead Snow 2 is a much better sequel than you may think. I wouldn’t put it up there with Gremlins 2, yet, I have to admit, it isn’t far behind. I really enjoyed it. Reminds me of the twisted humour of Peter Jackson’s Braindead (called Dead Alive by North Americans). I liked the characters a lot. The American geeks are a bit on the nose, sure, with the Star Wars references, but nothing that put me off, and I tend to have a low tolerance for that kind of thing. The film is in Norwegian often, also spoken in English other times, so if you’re not a fan of subtitles, well, you’re missing out on a lot of great films.

Dead Snow was a really good horror zombie film, with good comedy and striking gore. I loved it, have it on DVD, seen it a few times.

Dead Snow 2 is more focused on being funny, on pushing the edges of decency, and doesn’t bog itself down in explaining what is going on. Herzog and his men are Nazis, they are trying to complete their mission, Martin has a zombie arm. That’s it. The film does kind of counter some of the stuff from the first one, I guess, where they were only loot hoarders. Doesn’t matter much.

Anyway, if you like horror comedy, watch Dead Snow. If you can handle it and want more, especially if you want the comedy turned up to eleven, then watch the sequel. You might be grossed out. You should be really, and appalled at killing kids, but feel free to laugh too. It’s just a movie. A surprisingly good one.

Well holy shit, in checking facts and names about the film, I found that Stig Frode Henriksen, who plays the repressed museum employee, was also in the first movie as one of the friends. Had to check and, wow, yes it is him, can see it now, but would never have recognised him. Fair play, mate.

REC 3: Genesis – Better Than You Think

I should be writing more Sojourners in Shadow, yet last night I watched Rec 3: Genesis, and I felt impelled to champion this film a bit. So I am.

The first film is one of the few first-person horrors I think works quite well. Ambitious and pushy reporter and her cameraman, stuck in an apartment block where terrible things start to happen. Really great film. The Spanish do really good horror and this is one of the best I’ve seen. The American remake, Quarantine, is okay.

Then came the sequel. I watched it, was okay as well. Did a few different perspectives, built on the story a bit. Had a few good shocks. But honestly, if you had seen Rec, then Rec 2, there’s a good chance you’d never bother with a third film. Which is why I want to say this:

Watch it. No, really, watch it. It’s fun.

Wait, fun? The first two are very serious films. Dark, terrifying, macabre.

So here’s the thing with the third film. It starts off at a wedding. This is the tough part you have to get through. I can see why it goes on, so you get to know people, why they matter – to you as the audience and to each other – but it goes on for sometime. You have a teenager (cousin to the groom I think, I can’t rightly remember) filming things, along with a professional. So it’s first-person and showing you this wedding, where you know things are about to go very bad. Once you see the uncle with a bandaged hand, you really know.

So yeah, wedding stuff, character stuff, and then biting and screaming. Things go nuts. A few run into the kitchen and lock themselves in. The main character, the groom, turns to the camera and asks why the man is still filming. The world must know!, he replies. Groom loses his shit, grabs the camera and smashes it. Then the Rec 3 title comes up. After about 20 minutes. Yeah, 20.

But when the film starts up, it’s third-person, and that’s how it remains (barring a crawl through the dark via nightvision). Basically, this third film highlights the absurdity of someone filming while people are dying and struggling to survive, smashes the camera and goes to third. It throws aside the perspective of the first films. Not only that, but you start to realise the tone is very different. When I first saw this moment (trust me, it works a lot better than I describe) I laughed out loud. I had only watched the film to check it out, with nothing better to do; having seen the sequel and not liked it, I wasn’t too bothered. I let it run through the build up, then that moment happened. I knew something was different from then on.

So Rec 3 quickly reveals itself to be a comedy horror, much more akin to the Evil Dead and Shaun of the Dead than the previous Rec films. A man in the kitchen is uncovered to be someone checking the music played at the wedding for copyright, and is thus dubbed Royalties. Hey, Royalties, come help. But the groom is the focus. He wants to be with his new wife, and when he is panicking, she speaks over an intercom, and this gives him all the drive he needs. Time to escape and find his love!

That is the film. She is newly pregnant, she tells him this over the intercom, and both find new strength to re-unite. There’s a great moment where the bride is in a room and the zombiefied beings are clawing their way in and she is scared as hell, but she clutches her stomach and gets to action, finding a way out.

There’s a lot to love in this film and that is one of them: the main couple get scared, a lot, freaked out even, but they keep on. These aren’t badasses, they are normal people. This is a nightmare. The bride is standing in the rain at one point and her eyes are wide as hell as she is waiting, struggling to cope. But she finds a way.

If you ever wanted to watch a bride charge around with a chainsaw, then watch this film. If you ever wanted to see people be sensible, gear up in armour and go out into the undead, then watch this film. Drunken making out is mistaken for someone being devoured. There are meaningful characters and comedic ones to come and go. There are serious deaths and funny ones. There is tragedy and humour. You get the idea.

You get to meet SpongeJohn. No, not SpongeBob, not at all. Just to be clear. No lawsuits here. SpongeJohn.

I really enjoyed watching this film for a third time last night. I only meant to see a bit, but it really got to me, once again, how fun it is, while keeping the horror. It doesn’t really add much to the lore, just enough to remind you that these are possessed people, not zombies, and that religion/faith plays a part.

I should warn anyone who does watch this film that the ending isn’t funny. I mean maybe in a dark and tragic way. I don’t want to spoil, but this is a horror movie after all.

I admired how, in making a third of this franchise, they just went a different route. Reminds me of Gremlins 2. Let’s just get wacky and turns things up to 11.

I will add that this is the third film that comes to mind when I think of Spanish horror comedies that I’ve greatly enjoyed. I’m not sure if the titles stay the same but the other two films were Attack of the Werewolves along with Witching and Bitching. Both very funny. A SpongeBob gets gunned down early on in the latter, if that’s something you’ve ever wanted to see. Both I found to be very witty in dialogue and amusing in action, and pretty good on the horror too.

Rec is a very intense and scary film. I like it a lot. Seen it a number of times now and will likely watch it again in the future. Rec 3 is no match for it in terms of horror, but it’s very different, and certainly a better watch than Rec 2. For me, at least. So I’d ask anyone who didn’t like that film to not judge the third by it. Give Rec 3 a chance. Just remember, there’s a fair bit of wedding stuff to sit through, then you’re in.

Let’s hear it for the Bride and Groom!

Rabbit Wars

For some reason Watership Down gets played at Easter. Nothing to do with the Christian or Pagan celebration. Just because it has rabbits in. Which is fine by me because that film is one of my all time favourites.

What I wanted to say here was that today, having seen the film was on television and getting into the last third of it, as I always do, I felt compelled to grab the book and read a bit. I was looking for something, I can’t quite remember what. I think Bigwig taking a swing at Campion just because Woundwort wondered if he could take him. Such a typical Bigwig moment.

Anyway, I sent the afternoon skim reading the last part of the book.

If you’re a fan of the film and not read the book, I highly recommend you do. It is well written, not hard to read or follow at all and gives a lot more insight into the characters. Especially the Efrafans.

The book helps us get to know various members of the so-called bad guys. We find some are vicious, like Vervain, and others are only following orders, like Groundsel and Ragwort. Then we have Campion, a loyal captain and yet also someone the good guys respect, because he’s always ready to throw himself into the mud and dark along with his patrol. Campion seems a noble and brave rabbit, whose loyalty to Woundwort keeps him from questioning him.

Woundwort himself is much more than a 2D villain. Even the film gives some glimmers of this. But not much. In the book, we understand Woundwort. Losing his family while young, witnessing his mother be killed, he became ferocious. He went looking for fights. They say, later on in the story, that they think he was unlike any other rabbit. Their natural instinct was to run and hide. He wanted to fight. He wanted to make rabbits safe by making them strong and fearsome. He did this by personally leading and inspiring them. Hell, even Bigwig, for as much as he loathes the regime under the General, admires him for his ability to command. Woundwort leads where others fear to go, and so becomes an admirable but brutal adversary.

The other thing to mention is that the book explores the life in Efrafa much deeper than the film can. That does manage to tell us that their society is breaking down, but in the book we see it for all it is – the good and the bad. Woundwort took over the warren, then moulded it into his image. They feared him, yet many under him respected him and some even admired him. He made them feel strong. Gave them hope.

His society is one of strength and stealth. Rules are ruthlessly enforced. Rabbits can’t even shit where they want, for fear of leaving signs of where they live. Woundwort honed his warren to be one where everything is for the good of the community. Everyone has their place, has their role. You do your job, don’t cause a fuss, and things will go well. In fact, this harsh life has helped them flourish, to the point where Efrafa is overcrowded.

That’s what is so interesting about this society. It is one where the individual wants and wishes are overridden, and it works, but many feel miserable and resentful. Woundwort keeps it together, but you can already see the cracks. It is a facist/communist society. There is a secret police of sorts, led by the reviled Vervain. No one can leave. Order must be maintained. Promotion is highly sought after for the prestige and the rewards. But also many do believe in their way of life and want to do well for their people.

I loved this mention I came across today. After Bigwig helps some escape to Watership Down, there is an incident between him and Blackavar, who he helped escape. Blackavar warns him of something going wrong and Bigwig doesn’t listen, so after it has, he lets Blackavar know he should have listened to him. Blackavar says he has no idea what he is talking about. Turns out, in Efrafa, lessers are so deeply taught to follow their betters, that if a subordinate gives advice that isn’t heeded, he or she will forget about it. Basically, Blackavar genuinely has put that out of his mind, because he can’t show up his better. To him, Bigwig was never wrong, never ignored his warning. Efrafa breeds strong rabbits who are ranging wide across the land, but there is a weakness in their heads and hearts.

As I said, it is a fascinating depiction. A society that flourishes because of its own brutal and regimented nature, and yet is suffering for it too. Woundwort led them to greatness, but then kept them in his grasp. He wanted to stay in charge at any cost. He didn’t believe anyone else could do what he had. Maybe he was right.

Anyway, I love the film, with its melodic score at times and intense drumbeat at others, and the comedy and gore, yet the book is a must read. Woundwort and his followers are more colourful and more intriguing. I feel the story benefits as the world is shown to us via more than one group of characters. Differing views, challenging philosophies, conflicting personalities = more fascinating and engaging story.

I know they’re just rabbits, yet Woundwort and Bigwig remain two of my favourite characters and are a big influence on my writing. Their bloody showdown – depicted with more tactical thought and personal fear in the book – was everything those two promised us. I can only hope to deliver the same one day.

Terminator Just Gets Worse

I watched Terminator Genisys last night. I previously thought that the third Terminator film was the worst, with Salvation not far ahead of it. Now I know we have a new low for the franchise. Honestly, this movie felt half romcom, half buddycop rather than reigniting the Terminator world. Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor could have been played by Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

I could bitch about the issues I had with this film, how I exclaimed several times at the stupidity of it and how fed up I was by the end. I kind of enjoyed it at first, but it lost me big time in the final third. A lot like Avengers: Age of Ultron. But I won’t bother ranting or whining. Won’t do no good, no how.

What I wanted to comment on was body type and look. Specifically, that of Kyle Reese.

In the original film, Michale Biehn played him. He looked like someone from a post-apoc world, a survivor, a scavenger and scurrier among the rubble. Basically, Biehn was scrawny while muscular. He looked like someone who ate little on a regular basis and was ripped in a natural way due to running, fighting and doing whatever else was needed to survive. He looked the part.

I’ll also mention that I loved his performance. He has wild eyes, bad dreams, sharp instincts. He draws you in as Kyle Reese, out of his time, possibly almost out of his mind, yet a tough, driven soldier.

But back to look. I have nothing against Jai Courtney. I like him and still feel the pain of Varro’s execution. But when I saw his body, and we get several nice body shots in this film, he never looked like he came from a post-apoc world of brutal existence. Sure he had some scars slapped on. But physically he looked like someone who eats well and works out. Which I’m sure the actor does in real life.

To me, this is common in films. They glamorise people and things too. When you watch a movie set in medieval times, you rarely see the natives with rotting teeth or lice, unless they’re depicting a group as much more mucky and loathsome than usual. When people die, their bowels are evacuated. That’s not something we want on the big screen. Movies sanitise reality for us. They also make it look fancy.

Kyle Reese looking this way isn’t a surprise. But it did highlight what I felt was wrong with the film overall. Sure, redo scenes from the earlier films. Reuse the famous lines. But the tone was never the same. There was a grim aspect to the first film. A realistic look, or at least as realistic as films can be.

Oh, I was also annoyed that Sarah Connor from the 80s sounded more like someone from today.

Anyway, Kyle Reese fitted the world I was being sold in the original film. Michael Beihn was a perfect choice. Humans living day to day, meal to meal, in a horrific war with machines should look like he did. Or the ones who could survive it would. It has often been how I imagine most people would look in a post-apoc world setting when I write fiction. Lean, tough, grizzled, wary. But this new movie gave me a nice looking chap who spent much of his time in witty banter.

I will say I did enjoy Arnie a lot and I thought the film did some new, exciting moves with the T-1000. Especially liked the cut a piece off, let it spin, catch and throw move.

But yeah, didn’t like this one at all. Important note: when selling people on a make-believe reality, try to not make it very obvious how make-believe it is. Fake yet realistic. Artificial but fitting. Characters should look the part, sound the part, act the way the time and role would have them be. I really don’t think it is too much to want.

Oh damn, just had one more thought I have to mention as I was going to end this. Reese stealing a homeless man’s trousers. In the original, this is done and, while it got a snicker from teenage me, it helps us to know and understand Reese. He has no problem taking the clothes from a homeless man. On the one hand that shows he has no qualms about getting dirty, and at the same time he is equally lacking in qualms at taking from others. Reese is a survivor and soldier, so he takes what he can, when he can, in order to complete his mission. Stealing from a homeless person is really low in our world, yet he is from another time and place, where he has to be ruthless to live.

In this new film, it becomes a running gag. Grrrr.

Dredd vs Dredd

I was wondering about my love for the movie Dredd, originally called Dredd 3D, and my loathing for the piece of trash, Judge Dredd. One is a recent film starring Karl Urban. The other stars Sylvester Stallone, who I like a lot, but I seriously dislike the movie. I have watched it a number of times, but it is from the 90s and been shown on tv often. It is a simple, trashy scifi flick to have on when you have better things to do. Not so Dredd. I have probably watched it more times in the shorter time it has existed, and each time I get sucked in.

So one I am passionately supportive of, one I am passionately despising of. I did wonder, am I just being a hipster or a snobbish geek? Am I just bitching against the film by Stallone because I truly dislike it or because that’s the consensus among geeks, especially 2000AD fans? Do I just like one and not the other for no rational reason? Possibly a simple case of taste?

So I thought and I came to the conclusion that, no, I really do have my passionate opinions and I have good reason for them.

For one, I love Karl Urban’s portrayal of Dredd. He plays the role. He keeps the helmet on. He dishes out tough justice with a grim face and nothing more. Dredd is an iconic character; almost an epitomy of the need for order in Mega City One. He is there to keep control by punishing any trespass. Dredd isn’t good or evil, nor even hero or anti-hero. He just is, administering justice and maintaining the status quo. That’s how Urban plays him. He is there to deal with the criminal element of Peachtrees and that’s that. He is the law.

Stallone’s Dredd is just Stallone playing yet another action hero in a scifi film. He removes the helmet so everyone can see it is him. He finds himself on the receiving end of justice so ends up being the renegade. It is basic Hollywood stuff. Early on, he is more Dredd-like, handing out sentences on any crime as the law states he must. But Stallone plays him almost gleeful as he does this. It comes across as comical. Dredd isn’t meant to be funny or enjoying the role of Judge. He just judges.

Another obvious difference is the mood and look of the films. Dredd is gritty, grimy, harsh, glum. Judge Dredd is colourful and flashy. Some grime, sure, and certainly some gore, but still feels more glamour than it should be. I also really like the soundtrack to Dredd.

I find there is a lack of reverence for the character of Dredd in Stallone’s movie too. Growing up in the UK, Dredd was always well known to me. I had read a number of the comics, I now own several graphic novels, but I was far from a knowledgeable fan. But Dredd was iconic to scifi loving Brits. Like the Doctor or Terrahawks. Okay, maybe not Terrahawks, but he was known as that grim lawman who never removed his helmet and never backed down. If you play James Bond, you wear the tux, drink your vodka martini, fire your Walther PPK and mark smart quips as you kill henchmen. That’s just how it is. Dredd isn’t nearly as famous and not bound by so many features, but if you play Dredd, you wear the damn helmet and you maintain your resolute demeanour. Stallone played a typical hero. Nothing wrong in that, but he wasn’t Dredd and it felt like they never tried to make a Dredd movie.

I feel similarly about the Conan films. Schwarzenegger’s Conan is a dumb thief, as much as I love those films. The newer movie I like a lot less, and while the Conan is better, he’s still not Conan for me. I’m still waiting for a true Conan film.

The new Dredd felt like they were trying to show us Dredd and his world. Mega City One, the apartment blocks that feel like their own insulated environments, and the desperate lifestyle of the inhabitants is brought to us. You can argue they still fall short of that. Sometimes the city scenes feel like a normal city today than a vast, crowded city state of a future. It was a low budget film, after all. But they were trying. They went for it. They wanted to give us that world.

I much preferred the villains of Dredd as well. Judge Dredd’s bad guys are fairly predictable and cartoonish. Ma-Ma, brilliantly played Lena Hedley, is a vicious gangster. Nothing fancy, but very intimidating and threatening. I love the moment when she has her men use mounted mini-guns to blast through numerous rooms just to kill the Judges. It is a character defining moment. She ruthlessly goes for the overkill to get what she wants.

Anderson was a much better second character than anything that goes along in Judge Dredd. The less said about fucking Rob Schneider’s sidekick the better. A few others get a bit of screentime, but nothing to give us a character to support, let alone character development. Anderson is a strong role that is the character we can engage with while watching Dredd be Dredd. She starts off doubting herself if hoping to prove her worth. She screws up yet that forces her to get stronger and see the whole thing through. She is a Judge by the end, whether given a pass or not, and Dredd knows it.

A great comparison is Anderson having to execute a man. Early on, Dredd makes her judge a man who tried to kill them, lying wounded on the floor. She hesitates but does it, and that act hurts later on when she meets the family of the man (yeah, bit contrived I know). Late on in the film, we see Dredd and Anderson pushing up the block, gunning down Ma-Ma’s crew as they go. We briefly see a few bodies on a stairway and Anderson finishes one man off as they pass by. She doesn’t even blink. The movie doesn’t slow down to exaggerate the moment either. Nothing is highlighted but that itself displays the difference. Anderson struggles early on, but by the end she has toughened up enough to just do the job. She can do it. You don’t want to cross her now.

Speaking of comparisons, I can bring up Conan again. Something I dislike about both old and new Conan is that they give an origin story. Howard never had that. We know something of Conan’s past, but the stories never told of how he came to be. We don’t need to know. Conan just is, a primal force in human form, come into the civilised worlds to plunder and achieve glory. We don’t need him explained. He is, for me anyway, better off not being explained.

Dredd is the same. I prefer Urban’s Dredd as being a Judge in the middle of a crisis, needing to survive while doing his duty. I prefer the simple plot of the film. I prefer the directness of the storytelling. I enjoy watching a movie where I come into it, find Dredd as he should be, watch him behave as Dredd would, and then it is over. I don’t need fake family photos, cloning plots and Dredd becoming praised by the people. I know the cloning thing is from the comics, but I didn’t need to explore Dredd’s character that far in one movie. I just want him to show up.

Oh, there is one scene I have to talk about, which links the two films.

Something I despise about most remakes is taking lines or scenes from the old movies and crowbarring them in just for the ‘reference’ factor. Dredd does this, but it works so damn well. I can’t recall if Dredd goes around saying ‘I am the law’ in the comics, but it became famous, maybe infamous, due to the shouty ways of Stallone. The over-the-top LARRWWW was as laughable as it was entertaining. It was also probably one of the few things people remembered by the time Dredd 3D came out. So into the film it went, only when used, it never felt crowbarred in. It was part of Dredd’s speech as he asserts his authority over the block. He reminds Peachtrees who is really in charge. He depicts himself as an agent of a authority even Ma-Ma cannot match. Urban’s matter-of-fact delivery is perfect. For me, it helped make clear this film was about depicting Dredd and his world, not sensationalising it.

So I love Dredd’s portrayal of the main character, of other characters, of Mega City One, as well as it’s tone, soundtrack and look. With Judge Dredd, it is just cheesy fun at best.

I must also declare I’m a full supporter for the demand for a sequel to Dredd. Every time a new and pointless sequel gets made, that Dredd meme shows up and I always give it a like.

Seriously, make a second one. Now. Or as soon as you can. Please. Please please please!

Fear Works

I was watching Fright Night the other night. The original. One of my favourite vampire films. I watched this late one night as a kid – as I did so many movies – and it terrified me. I think the entire concept of a vampire living right next door to you was what really got to me. The sense of this kid fearing each time it grew dark. Having to fill his room with garlic and crosses. I can’t stand garlic!

It was even worse when the vampire realises he knows. To know a vampire lives next door is one thing. To know he (or she) knows too is horrifying. That puts you right in the cross-hairs.

But as I watched this film, I wondered why I didn’t like the remake as much. It isn’t that bad of a movie, to be honest. But when I saw the remake, it didn’t grab me. Arguably higher quality actors. Better special effects – although I’m a fan of the old school physical effects myself, but I know most people seem to like CGI. So why didn’t it hit me? Okay, I’m older now, I know the story, but something didn’t quite work.

Then I got it. Roddy McDowall.

So first off, he’s a great actor. Second, I have seen him in lots of things and always love his performances. He could be so emotive yet quietly so. Hell, he acted the shit out of being an ape while wearing a mask. In Fright Night, he adds some real presence and depth to what could be a daft film – much like Alec Guiness did to Star Wars or Gregory Peck to the Omen.

But here’s what really works. His character is a coward. He shows it. Roddy acts the hell out of being scared. When someone is that scared in a film, it gets to you.

What I loved about his character – Peter Vincent (which is such a great horror name, I suspect it is a combination of Peter Cushing and Vincent Price) – is that he is all bluff and bluster, so when he realises the vampire is real, he gets out of there. He is petrified. He then hides at home, is attacked, barely trusts Brewster (the main character) when he comes asking for his help, then refuses as much as he can. This is someone who only helped when he got paid before, but no amount of money will make him take on a vampire now.

Yet, he gets talked into going. He shows bravery, which makes you like such a wretched character. He is still scared though. This isn’t someone who has that film moment, gets over the fear and never looks back. He slowly follows Brewster into the house of the vampire. He tries to act big, then realises he is out of his depth. He flees. The fucker actually runs out and leaves Brewster there!

He is attacked again. This time he kills. Now this whole scene is really well done. He defends himself and kills the young, rash vampire more by accident than design. But this vampire takes ages to die. He really does! He is slowly dying and changing from his wolf form. He tries to pull the piece of wood out of his chest but can’t. He becomes the boy again and is weeping as he dies.

What is great here is that Roddy as Vincent empathises with this young man despite the fact he almost killed him. He feels for the fear of dying. He is horrified by the change. At one point the wolf-thing reaches out to him and he almost holds his hand before recoiling in horror.

This is the moment Peter Vincent changes fully. He has seen the horror and the humanity. He has killed and felt pity, but did what had to be done. He returns to the house and is much braver, with faith in the cross, and puts himself at great risk. He is still scared. There is a great moment where he traps the vampire by closing his coffin, only to realise he is now cornered. I’ll leave it there. 😉

As I said, Roddy is great in this because he gives us someone who is utterly terrified, and well he should be! As a young boy watching this, he made me fear for him. I didn’t blame him for not wanting to get involved or for fleeing. I had my heart in my mouth when he was cornered. Roddy McDowall was a great actor who displayed fear, cowardice and desperation perfectly.

Fear works. When I watch a movie or tv show and people in it are scared, it makes me scared. Sometimes scared for them, which is the best. I grew up watching horror films where the thing/monster/killer etc was terrifying to those involved.

Then we had the change. Characters started making smart remarks. Jokes would be thrown in. Bad-ass characters who aren’t afraid of anything became the norm.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy these too. I’m for diversity, variety, unpredictability. But I do love me some scaredy-cats. I feel for them much more. If someone isn’t scared of a monster, and they’re meant to be a real person facing a real threat, then why should I fear?

I liked Buffy the Vampire Slayer a lot, but I don’t find it surprising that the only time I found anything even slightly intimidating was the one with the Gentlemen in. Yes, they were creepy looking, but the fact no one could talk, joke, banter, etc. That was the difference.

When I watched Fright Night that first time, and every time since to an extent, I felt that deep thrill as I watch a terrified man dare to enter the den of the beast. In the new one, I never had that. Tennant’s character was like Roddy’s but nowhere near as good, or as well acted.

So what’s the stand out scare scene for me? That end bit of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The girl is trapped and the family of lunatics are slowing trying to kill her, helping their near dead grandfather to do it. She is freaking out. She is screaming and thrashing and everything. Her fear made me fear for her. It was so drawn out it became almost unbearable. I could have cheered when she escaped. The very end, where her screams become laughter, worked so well because you knew her terror had pushed her over the edge to where her survival was nothing short of ecstatic relief.

I’m a fan of terror. Shock kills, no matter how gory, rarely work and even then they just make me jump a bit. Terror, the slower the better, is what gets to me. There are certain films I would dub terror films more than horror. I love them, but damn, they are hard to watch. Which is why I love them!