Monday, November 19, 2012

Post 999: The Walking Dead Season 2 (2011) Spoilers


Post 999 folks, still drafting a 1000th.  In the meantime, since I've torn through Borderlands 2 a good couple of times, I've been watching movie after movie and trying to find other things to watch (whilst avoiding Hulu or downloading or paying for anything else besides Netflix).  Yesterday I realized that the second season of The Walking Dead was on streaming so I figured what the hell and tore through it -finishing off the  last three episodes tonight.

As many of you know I am not a fan of zombies and have a less than flattering opinion of "preppers" (I maintain that while having an emergency kit, a copy of the Army Survival Manual, a bicycle, and a decent flashlight on hand are perfectly reasonable there's been a trend in our society that's gone sideways).  I am also of the opinion that I would not do well or survive long in a post-apocalyptic world (or prison).  Truth be told I always figured I'd be a Glen Bateman, the old fart in The Stand (played by Ray Walston in the surprisingly strong TV adaptation from 1994).  It's not a flattering or really self-deprecating view of myself.  I just don't have the illusion that I will be some kind of bad-ass road warrior zombie smasher (or villian).

The ending of season one of The Walking Dead left me flat and not particularly interested in the second.  The CDC explosion made me actually say, "Oh come the fuck on."  Fuck that ending.  That being said, I'm going to start rewatching season one after I finish this post because there was a lot I forgot about that season which influenced the second.

Season two is, despite a few problems, really fucking good.  There are a number of themes I wish were developed more instead of being touched on (age/gender/race roles in their world).  I would have liked to see a stronger development of T-Dog (IronE Singleton) - though I expect he's going to come into his own in season three.  There also could have been one "breather"/mounting tension episode after #11 "Judge, Jury, and Executioner" but I realize the end of the season just snowballs into mayhem.  I just prefer the pacing of the first half and the development of the relationships between Glenn and Maggie and in particular Daryl and Carol.

I have to say, I was really impressed by the writing and acting between Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Carol (Melissa McBride) and it really sold me on the entire season.  Where you'd stereotypically put Daryl in Shane's camp, he turns out to be a character who reminds me of Sandor Clegane in a bizarre way (only less brutal).  Carol has turned into one of my favorite characters over the course of this season.  She's not a bad ass but she reminds me of Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother".  There's a hard edge of endurance to her, not just base drive for survival.

Hawaiian shirts are the new red shirts.  Dale got Whedoned.  I was a little pissed that the breather/tension build episode didn't take place after his death.  But that's just me being a fan of Hawaiian shirts and old farts.

Andrea (Laurie Holden) has turned into a beast of a bad-ass and I look forward to rewatching the first season to watch her development.  She kind of "holy shitted" me near the end of second season when she breaks away from Shane's influence and comes into her own (particularly in the last few episodes).  I wish she had been able to meet up with the group again because she would be the new Rick.  I also love that she gives Lori a well needed verbal ass-kicking.  AND DUDE WHO IS THE KATANA WIELDING, HOOD WEARING MOTHERFUCKER?!?

I'm really impressed by the way female characters are depicted in The Walking Dead.  We've seen the bad-ass assassin/vixen/shake'n'bake if you've watched enough movies you know the tropes and stereotypes.  The Walking Dead has them but there's an unexpected depth to them that few of the male characters have.  Rick/Shane/Glenn/Dale/Daryl/Hershel are all recognizable male archetypes.  That doesn't make them unsympathetic or necessarily paint by numbers but I dunno, I'm kind of into the series because of Carol, Andrea, and to a certain extent (though I don't like her) Lori.  


Thursday, November 01, 2012

Random idle thoughts about the horror genre:

One of the benefits of taking a class about horror fiction (besides rereading stories and books I haven't read in a long time with a much different perspective) is being in an environment with people who aren't necessarily horror fans (it's an English Honors class) or who aren't horror buffs who have seen and read everything.  Through their experience with the texts, I'm allowed - in a strange way - to look at some works from a fresh perspective (with some interesting insights to the genre).

I told my classmates as much the other day but then I got to thinking about the sentiment further after I watched Black Sunday and thought about what I was going to say in my review.  It's a tough thing being a genre fan because you know what's coming, you know the tropes, the archetypes, the twists, and in a certain way desensitized - or perhaps more accurately unimpressed due to familiarity - therefore being at risk of turning into an overly critical, cranky, know-it-all (who really doesn't know all that much) who people think hates everything (not that I would know anything about that).

In a strange way this familiarity doesn't breed contempt so much as it takes the fun out of watching (or reading).  Example: We were assigned Du Maurier's brilliant short story "Don't Look Now" (1971).  About halfway through the story I had this nagging suspicion that I knew the piece though I had never read it.  As the story progressed I realized that I had seen Don't Look Now (1973) and was vaguely disappointed by knowing the shock waiting for me at the end of the piece.  Sure, I felt a little bit of pride and "Ohhhhhh, it's that movie." but still I got to the end and it didn't blow me away.  I basically spoilered myself.

There's also a tough habit to break (especially if I'm not involved in a movie) where I simply begin dissecting the movie while making jokes (I can't help but think of a coroner who eats a sandwich while saying rude shit about the corpse on the table).  I'm looking at the technical aspects.  I'm more interested in set dressing than I am in the action.  The bad writing becomes much more apparent.  If I'm lucky I can go glassy-eyed and just stare at the pictures on the tv box (or I'll put on some nature show narrated by Richard Attenborough or Patrick Stewart).

However, if a movie does engage me I'll sit there in rapt attention like a toddler (though I'll say to myself, or Moxie, or the person I'm watching it with, almost shocked, "This is actually really fucking good").  Those movies usually end up as favorites that I do my best to show other people.  One of my favorite modern horror movies  is Eduardo Sanchez's Altered (2006).  Every time I watch it, usually showing someone else for their first time, I get completely into it.  It's just so well done and I can't think of a single movie I've seen like it.  I think I've seen it probably a dozen times.  Strange that I've never done a review of it.  Gonna have to remedy that.

This has gotten a bit meandering and I need to start drafting the 1000th post so I'm gonna leave you folks with a very rough top ten of my favorite horror movies.  I call these favorites because of the number of times I have rewatched them and "enjoy" every time for a laundry list of reasons.  Yes, there are some of them which might not be "horror" movies but contain shit that scared me or have left an indelible grisly mark on me.  I'm considering doing a top 25 with a short review of each because this list is made up primarily of movies I've seen the most and does not include favorites I've seen less than a half-dozen times (e.g. Romero's original Night of the Living Dead, Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects, and Medak's The Changeling).

  1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) dir Tobe Hooper
  2. Poltergeist (1982) dir Tobe Hooper
  3. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) dir Steven Spielberg
  4. Dog Soldiers  (2002) dir Neil Marshall
  5. Altered (2006) dir Eduardo Sanchez
  6. The Thing (1982)  dir John Carpenter
  7. Alien (1979) dir Ridley Scott
  8. The 'Burbs (1989) dir Joe Dante
  9. Predator (1987) dir John McTiernan
  10. Jaws (1975) dir Steven Speilberg


Black Sunday a.k.a La Maschera del Demonio (1960) dir Mario Bava

Mario Bava is one of those directors whose name I've seen time and time again and whose films I'm seen referenced almost as often.  Until recently I never really thought about sitting down and watching one of them.  I can't remember where but I saw a clip from Black Sunday and figured it was about time to give it a view.  Of course it wasn't on netflix streaming and I can't rent anything from the video store because it's too far to bike to (and probably wouldn't have any Bava movies anyway plus I owe them a shit ton in overdue fees).  However, just in time for Halloween, netflix added the movie so I sat down yesterday and gave it a watch.

I'm not sure what I was expecting, probably some early example of giallo.  Well, it is but not to the extreme of Fulci and Argento but I can see where they might have drawn inspiration from Bava.  Black Sunday is a tough movie to review because there are many elements which I appreciated but over all the movie wasn't terribly good and the English dubbing was pretty friggin' bad (not Ed Wood bad) almost to the point of making the movie impossible to take seriously.  If it had been in Italian and subtitled I might have enjoyed it more.

Black Sunday is one of those old horror movies that isn't "good" (though it's considered by some to be a masterpiece) but if you're looking at it as a progenitor of later Italian horror it's kind of cool.  Technically Bava (a cinematographer on his directorial debut) has a good eye.  Many of his shots are fascinatingly composed and he does several slow pans that I rewound to get a better look and a few that I wished I was much better versed in film making so I could figure out how he got certain results.

The effects were unexpectedly grotesque and though in one section it's obviously a prop (the flesh melts off a head) the result was suitably grisly.  This is one of those movies where, though the visual effects and make-up are laughably crude by today's standards they do the trick at getting into your head and all of a sudden what you're seeing in your head is far more horrific than what you're seeing on screen (e.g. the scene in Night of the Living Dead when the zombies are tearing apart the young couple who have burned to death).

Barbara Steel cuts an impressive figure on screen.  An English actress, she was over-dubbed for the film's international release.  She's got a great look, oddly innocent at one moment and frighteningly erotic (like she's gonna pull your skin off and make it look like sexy fun) in others.  Again, not what I was expecting and I'm interested in seeing how she is in other films.

I'm on the fence about how Black Sunday is a masterpiece.  I'm sure if I saw it in a film class or read some brilliant film critiques of it I could appreciate it more.  Apparently it was a huge hit and Bava went on to direct thirty-seven movies.  Steel has been in fifty movies after Black Sunday - including the thriller The Butterfly Room (2012).

I'd be interested to see a remastered version in Italian to really get the full effect.  Worth watching but only if you're a horror buff who can appreciate older films (and their impact on later, more well known directors).  Casual modern horror fans (sweeping generalization) will be unable to get past the dated aspects and end up missing the horror elements.   

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