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Day 14: Daybreakers

 On paper, Daybreakers sounds like a great idea. Ten years after the vampire plague took the world, vampires have nearly diminished their supplies of blood. They’re furiously working to create a synthetic blood substitute (TruBlood?), but the supplies of humans and pigs are dwindling. And when vampires go hungry, they go feral, and become a danger to themselves and others. Other than this little problem, vampires are living the good life. Their cars are designed so they can drive in the daylight using video screens, they don’t reflect in mirrors, but there are video screens for that, too. Ethan Hawke plays Ed, a hematologist who is looking for a cure. He was an unwilling convert to vampirism, and he refuses to harm humans. He’s also starving. He finds some sympathetic humans, and wackiness ensues.

The vampire world is shot in shades of green which contrasts with the vampires gold eyes and anything red. It also contrasts with the sunlit daytimes scenes. The world that has been established, with billboards and vampire news and a coffee bar which at first serves 20% blood! Then 5% blood! And then is closed is excellent.

But the execution is but merely mediocre. Ed tells his brother that someday there will be no humans left, and the brother scoffs and says “there’ll always be more humans!” It was a parable of oil (or something), but the message felt heavy handed and clumsy. The final fight was pretty cool, but I wasn’t invested enough to get too worked up about it.

The movie was decent. The concept is neat, I would be interested in reading or watching something else set in that when. I call Daybreakers “just okay”.

I love Alien SO MUCH

 That this was my Halloween costume a few years ago.

Day 13 and Horror Class Blog: Alien

My top five movies are as follows: Jurassic Park, Fight Club, Empire Strikes Back, The Thing, and Alien/Aliens. I am counting them as one because I love them both, but feel like it would be too much to have them both on my list. Lucky me, then, since for my Readings in the Genre class, I get to watch Alien and The Thing. Day 13’s horror movie is Alien, and while I wanted to only watch movies I’ve never seen, I will be killing two birds with one stone.

When I was in middle school, I got my hands on the novelization of Alien. My parents wouldn’t let me see the movie, but I always had free reign to read what I wanted. I was so excited. I looked at the glossy color pictures in the middle, and thrilled for the horror treat ahead of me. And put it down about twenty pages in because I was so. Bored. Nothing happened! Where was the alien? The mayhem? It was just…space. And boring people.

I made it to my junior year of college without ever seeing an Alien movie. But when I watched it, it was spectacular. As a double feature with Predator, some friends and I watched it on the screen at the theater where we worked. It was night, there were maybe eight people there in that big, dark empty space, with all the catwalks and ductwork. It was perfect.

The titular alien is, quite perhaps, the finest movie monster ever created. First off, it’s a perfect killing machine. If you hurt it, it bleeds acid on you. It can skewer you with its tail or, if it’s more convenient, it can puncture you with its phallic jaw. It blends in deliciously with the design of the ship, biological and mechanical. It is certainly the most alien monster we’ve encountered in our class, completely unfamiliar. There is nothing about the alien that we can relate to. It doesn’t fume and sulk like the Yattering, it doesn’t ponder its motives like Reverend Lowe. Even Pinborough’s widows looked like something from Earth. The best part about the Alien is that it was all done without CGI. In the first film, it was all Bolaji Badejo in a monster suit: Ridley Scott found him in a bar and drafted the young African student into the film because his seven foot build fit with Scott’s vision for the monster.

Not only is the alien a seven foot tall pointy-tailed, shiny-headed terror. No. That’s just the last stage of its life cycle. First it’s a face-hugger, where it mashes its tail down your throat and, for all intents and purposes, impregnates you. It’s like a child’s view of pregnancy, where you get pregnant from kissing and then the baby grows in your tummy. But this baby isn’t terribly agreeable. When it gets to the chest-burster stage of life, it flings itself free, again in a phallic, terrible, thrusting way. It needs a little time after that to collect its thoughts, then it’s the monster we all know and love.

Scott constructs his movie to be deliciously claustrophobic. The tight (womb-like?) corridors of the Nostromo are a wonderful playground for carnage. That claustrophobia culminates in the scene where Dallas is chasing the creature in the ducts. Brilliant. The tension in that scene is rarely matched in all of cinema. Brett’s death scene, with the dripping water and the hissing cat, is another great scene, fraught with tension.

I can’t gush enough about this movie. I didn’t even get to talking about the cyborg! (Read Dave’s blog to get the scoop on that. I agree with him, but love the alien so much I didn’t have time to get to Ash). I think the monster has aged incredibly well, and I even like all three sequels. (The AVP movies don’t count.) I can even defend Alien resurrection. I think the trick is wanting to like it, and not going in with preconceived notions. Alien swimming underwater? Fucking terrifying. Brilliant blend of atmosphere, terror, and courage. Six out of five stars for this one.

Day 12: 30 Days of Night

I've often said the great white north--and the great white south--are brilliant venues for horror. The Terror, Mountains of Madness, The Thing...all of them allow the setting to become an oppressive character, just as eager to kill the humans as whatever supernatural terror lurks. 30 Days of Night is no exception. If you have a moment, check out Barrow, Alaska on Google Earth. There is nothing anywhere near the city. Combine that with the month of darkness, you've got a great setting for a vampire movie.

These are not the debonair, foppish vampires sired by Ann Rice. Not once does a vampire in 30 Days of Night lament his immortality, or make the courageous decision to forsake human blood for love. These vampires reminded me more of Nosferatu, they are all claws and jagged teeth and black eyes. They don't lovingly suck blood from victims necks, like hyenas, they rip the throats out. For most of the picture, these vampires have bloody chins. I like this hearkening back to vampires as a threat, as something to be feared. I'd like to see head vampire Marlow against Edward in a fist fight...

30 Days of Night played up a lot of horror tropes. It's almost something of a joke now to have the disbelieving humans, in the early days of a monster attack say "They must be on PCP--it's the only way they could be so strong!" The sled dogs were all killed. Because dogs are cute, fluffy, and loyal, they're always the first to go. Nothing gets an audience against a killer faster than killing off the dog. 30 Days of Night used a neat, jerky style of cinematography for the vampire attacks which enhanced the impression of super speed. There was a brilliant aerial shot of the town as the vampires tore people apart.

I wasn't wild about the last battle, but the rest of the movie was just great. I was a little pleased to see the ending was more optimistic than the graphic novel (correct me if I am wrong?). Josh Hartnett did a great job portraying a small town sheriff who was all over it when it was minor disturbances, but was in danger of collapse when the threat became vampires. He kind of looked like he was going to cry in most scenes, and I found that humanized him. Too often horror/action heroes don't have emotional reactions.

It blows my mind that director David Slade has done this movie, Hard Candy and...Eclipse? Like Twilight Eclipse. He went from these monsters...to Edward. Fascinating.

Day 11: Trick R Treat

Trick R Treat was certainly a treat. Originally slated for a 2007 Halloween release, the studio pulled the picture with no talk to rescheduling because they didn't want to interfere with Saw IV (or something)'s release. Trick R Treat was sent straight to DVD. This is the second movie (Altered) which was supposed to come out in theaters, but was pulled. Really disappointing what we don't get to see on the big screen. Trick R Treat, starring X-Men alums Anna Paquin and Brian Cox and produced by Bryan Singer, blows Saw out of the water at any turn. Set on Halloween night in a small town in Ohio (But...I'm going to be in Ohio on Halloween night!), the movie follows four separate story lines, reminiscent of Creepshow or Nightmares. We get werewolves, a teenage prank gone terribly wrong, a serial killer, and vengeful ghosts. Writer Michael Dougherty has infused his film with victorious underdogs, he is fond of the reversal...that helpless girl alone in the woods? Maybe she isn't so helpless. The story utilizes lots of Halloween tropes, and has a playful, lighthearted spirit that really sold it for me. It never gets serious or heavy handed, but never devolves into farce. Just remember...you're safe as long as you keep the jack-o-lanterns burning.

Side note: Sam, the spirit on the Trick R Treat poster, looks a lot like Sack Boy from Sony's Little Big Planet, don't you think?

Day 10: High Tension

I’ve seen Alexandre Aja (director of my much beloved “Piranha 3-D)’s debut motion picture High Tension (aka Switchblade Romance) on a lot of “Best Horror Movies of the 2000’s” lists. It was recommended to me by a friend via The Facebook, then another friend jumped in and said “Nooo it’s the worst movie EVAR, there’s no continuity!”

I had to watch it. It certainly did make me highly tense. There were no respites from the horror, even the expository talkie bits in the beginning where we met our characters were draped in menacing camera angles and shadows. There was no humor here, no real breaks. Horror movies get me when I don’t know where the killer is. When the protagonist puts on her headphones in the scary house, that’s when I get tense, because she has just cut herself off. There were a lot of moments like that in the beginning. Then there was a violence-palooza of murder. Then came the revenge. And then came the twist.

I want to like the twist, because I think it’s neat. Aja seems to have said to himself “what could be worse than a crazy killer?” The twist satisfied the problem I had with the seeming randomness of the attacks. But some of the action, in light of the twist, was physically impossible. And once the twist happened, I feel like we left the protagonist’s POV, things seemed to become more objective, which made it harder to reconcile what was reality and what was perception. If I stop thinking about the practicality of the twist, then I can appreciate the movie as a whole. It was bloody, it was violent, and it made me really uncomfortable. (I used the word “twist” in almost every one of those sentences, didn’t I?)

I’ve fallen behind a bit, but it’s okay because I also didn’t get any reading, writing, or schoolwork done this weekend. It was all about the motorcycles. Hopefully Lady Linton will get my ass back on track (at least concerning horror movies) tomorrow.

Day 8: Hatchet

Last night’s major motion picture, movie #8, was the 2006 “Hatchet”. Cavorting around in the bayou near New Orleans, some tourists get hacked up by a special needs kid who died in a fire several years ago. I get what writer director Adam Green was trying to do, I guess, giving us stereotypical characters and clichéd situations. This was truly a hipster horror movie, with gore so over the top and everything drenched in a sauce of irony. Unfortunately, it bled the movie of all suspense. There were no surprises in this picture, and for me, that made it a little hard to watch. The dialog was amusing at times, but felt like it was written to be bad. I’ve read some reviews that praise Green: I’d like to see what happens when he earnestly tries to make a good movie. Is 2010’s Frozen that movie? There was one excellent scene in Hatchet where one girl stood back to a clump of bushes, three other characters stood a ways away from her. Something was moving in the bushes. She joined the rest of the gang, they realized it was a cute raccoon in the bush, and the hatchet dude got the girl who would have been safe if she’d stayed with the raccoon. Little moments like that were good, but I think if Green hadn’t been so focused on what came before he could have made a much better movie, while still keeping the spirit of Hatchet.

Day 6: Altered

I chose this evening’s film because it was the shortest movie in my Netflix queue and I had shit to do. I had very low expectations of Altered, a 2006 straight to dvd alien revenge film. I was wrong. A group of good ole boys catches themselves an alien out in the (scary) woods. Once they get it, though, the real question becomes what to do with the thing. This may not be the movie for everyone, but it was the movie for me. I thought the acting was well done, I thought the premise was unique. I scrunched down in my seat a couple of times, because there were some great scary scenes. The best one (let’s see if I can do it justice) was when two of the men were talking, and outside their peripheral vision, but in view of the camera, is the table where the alien was tied. And the table is now empty. They’re having this heated discussion, not noticing that their hostage has gotten free. As the conversation gets more intense, the camera zooms in on them, getting a better view of the empty table. Then they notice. I wasn’t surprised to discover that this film was directed by the chap who wrote Blair Witch. I lament that this picture didn’t get a bigger budget, because the alien looked pretty crappy. But you know, by the end of the movie, I didn’t care anymore. It wasn’t perfect…not even close, but I thought it delivered a really nice movie. Uncle Creepy over at Dread Central gives a better review than I could (though he gives spoilers, so watch out). This was a really fun movie and I really liked it. Oh...and there was lots and lots of fun to be had with intestines.

The Burrowers

Netflix kept assuring me that I would enjoy the 2008 straight to video horror/western The Burrowers. It was okay. A frontier family disappears and the logical assumption is that they were taken by Indians. A group of rough and tumble men go after them (including some Lost alums), there is a bigoted, unpleasant military fellow, some people disappear, and eventually the movie saunters towards its climax. There was a lot to like about it, the director really focused on making the prairie a character and the cinematography was very pretty and never boring. There was a bit of Dances with Wolves flavored social commentary which came across very nicely particularly in the ending. The depressing ending. But there wasn’t anything amazing or groundbreaking here. They did a great job keeping the monsters hidden until the last scene, and I absolutely think bear traps should be used as weapons more often. The monsters were neat. But there was nothing here that made me go “wow!” This was a pretty unremarkable picture. If I want a movie about tunneling monsters in the west, I have Tremors. And The Burrowers had no Kevin Bacon or Fred Ward.If anyone has any suggestions of what I should watch next, please shout them out! I am looking for stuff I haven’t seen before, though there will be a few exceptions, cherished favorites like Alien and The Thing.

World War Z

I’ve had a zombie-riffic couple of weeks. As of late I’ve read World War Z, Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry, The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell, and The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan.

World War Z’s “oral history” style elevated it beyond just another zombie book. I am curious how it will age, as part of what makes it so effective is the timeliness of the conflicts that go on. India and Pakistan nuke each other, North Korea just vanishes (that is ABSOLUTLEY my favorite part of the book), illegal organ transplants further the spread of the epidemic. It is very much a post 9/11 book, and every time there is a swine flu or bird flu scare, it reminds me of this book. It’s also an extremely hopeful book, things are pretty much okay at the end, humanity came out okay and are putting the pieces back together. So many zombie movies and books end on a down note, with the protagonists dying and the implication that hope is lost, this one is a rare treat. Humanity is the protagonist in this book, and Max Brooks shows us without flinching, the bad right alongside the good. Like the part about Sand Lakes Provincial Wilderness park in Canada. Not pleasant stuff.

The zombies themselves, the actual monsters, are wonderful in this book. From “Patient Zero” the twelve year old Chinese boy to the legions of undead at Yonkers, these zombies are exactly what I’m looking for when I want undead. I don’t like when the undead talk or channel demons or use tools or run, I like shambling, mindless classic-Romero style zombies. You don’t need to add clever tricks to them to make them scary, it is their number the fact that they are us that makes them so menacing. Looking out your boarded up window, you can see your hair-dresser, your bus driver, your mother…anyone can become the threat. That moment of second guessing yourself when you see someone familiar can be the kiss of death. When we kill them they die, but when they kill us, we join their ranks.

As usual with the zombie genre, the humans are also the real bad guys. Zombies are just a backdrop, a canvas for humanity to work out its own issues. There is a clear sense that if humankind had respected the earth and each other, then none of this would have happened. It’s interesting to see zombies sprawled on this scale. I’m optimistic about the movie, coming in 2012. Let’s hope they do the book justice.