Sense of Wonder: Korean Horror Day

As you may have noticed, Cinefantastique Online is offering a heavy dose of Korean horror today. In honor of the nationwide release of DRAGON WARS (which had its Hollywood premier last night), we’re offering a handful of retrospective reviews on recent Korean imports: the recent excellent monster movie THE HOST; THREE…EXTREMES, an Asian anthology featuring an episode by South Korean filmmaker Chan-wook Park; the art house ghost story A TALE OF TWO SISISTERS (currently being remade); THE RING VIRUS, a Korean remake of RING that preceded the American remake by two years; and NIGHTMARE, an odd-ball combo of supernatural and slasher motifs from writer-director Byeong-ki Ahn, who went on to make the excellent PHONE. Read More

Sense of Wonder: The Future of Sci-Fi – and the Best & Worst

CHILDREN OF MEN: an example of background detail making a satirical pointAt the Venice Film Festival, where he was premiering the latest (and presumably last) version of BLADE RUNNER, Ridley Scott proclaimed that science fiction cinema is dead, offering “nothing original…we’ve seen it all before.”
When you consider that Hollywood’s idea of a sci-fi blockbuster these days is TRANSFORMERS, you can hardly blame Scott for copping an attitude. Nevertheless, Paul Howlett in The Guardian thinks Scott went too far when he said this was true for all sci-fi films (“yes, all of them”), so he offers this response: “Why Sci-Fi Still Has a Future.” The titles Howlett cites to prove that the genre is not totally brain-dead are MINORITY REPORT, SOLARIS (the remake starring George Clooney, not the 1972 original), CHILDREN OF MEN, and the current SUNSHINE. Read More

SEO Smart Links Test Page ZZZ

Below are words and phrases that have not been manually hyperlinked. The goal is to check whether SEO Smart Links is automatically adding links to posts or tags. (NOTE: The letters “ZZZ” in the headline are just to make it easier to find this post with the search engine.)
10,000 B.C. is Lost in History. This is a post title
20 YEARS AFTER Capsule Review. This is a post title
12 Monkeys (1995) – Science Fiction Film Review. This is a post title.
A Christmas Carol (2009). This is a post title. It does not link to the post, but it does link to the tag “Christmas”
Alien Raiders – Film Review. This is a post title
Alien Revisted: An Interview with Ridley Scott. This is a post title
Alien Trespass – Science Fiction Film Review. This is a post title
Caprica DVD Review. This is a post title
Farscape Season Three Episode Guide. This is a post title.
At a glance, it seems that post do not link properly when the headlines contain a dash or a parenthesis, or when they contain more than one capital letter in a row.
Tags do seem to work with multiple capital letters in a row but not with parenthesis. (There are no examples of the latter, but I have previously experimented with them.)

Sense of Wonder: Seaview voyages into re-runs

American Life TV, which targets aging viewers with fond memories of the ’60s, has purchased the rights to four science-fiction television series produced by the late Irwin Allen: VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, LOST IN SPACE, THE TIME TUNNEL, and LAND OF THE GIANTS. Beginning September 6, the shows will air on Thursday night, starting at 8:00pm.
Unlike Gene Roddenberry, Allen conceived of science-fiction mostly as an excuse to provide a Monster-of-the-Week show. Speculative fiction author Harlan Ellison even coined the pseudonym “Cordwainer Bird” in order to avoid screen credit for his work on VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, and actor David Hedison (who starred as the Seaview’s Captain Crane) suggested, in an interview on the DVD box set for the show’s second season, that VOYAGE would have lasted longer if Allen had not over-emphasized the monsters.
Personally, I’ve always had a fondness for VOYAGE because it aired at a time when I was just young enough not to see how hokey it was. I remember being devastated when it went off the air, and when it returned in re-runs years later I was buzzing with excitement over the opportunity to revisit my childhood favorite – until I actually watched an episode!

Forget about an adult perspective – even a junior-high-school perspective is more than enough to spot the leaks in the structural integrity of the stories. What struck me most was the unapologetic artificiality of the series, where anything could happen just because…well, just because. To cite one example, this was the kind of show wherein characters would get bashed on the back of the skull with a plumber’s wrench, then wake up moments later with nothing worse than a mild headache – usually returning immediately to duty, rather than visiting sick bay. Apparently the crew of the Seaview was virtually imprevious to cranial concusions.
Revisiting the show more recently on DVD, the formulaic nature of the stories is even more apparent, and Allen had a penchant for creating episodes that could utilize stock footage from feature films (including his own dino-epic THE LOST WORLD, not to mention the theatrical version of VOYAGE). Still, there is something intriguing about the design of the submarine Seaview, and every once in a while a memorable image or dramatic moment emerges (e.g., the ghostly U-Boat and her dead captain in “The Phantom Strikes”).
The appeal of VOYAGE and Allen’s other series lies in this kind of nostalgia value; people who saw them growing up may enjoy revisiting them, but it is unlikely that they will win many new converts, so American Life TV seems like the perfect home for them. For myself, I don’t think I’ll be tuning in too often, but it is nice to know that the Seaview’s voyage continues on screens somewhere.

Sense of Wonder: "Resident Evil" Racist?

In a post titled “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” slasher movie fan Final Girl objects to this Bonnie Ruberg column in the Village Voice, which floats the idea that, judging by the trailer for RESIDENT EVIL 5, which features a white hero mowing down hordes of black zombies, the latest incarnation of the famous videogame may have racist undertones.
Says Final Girl:

If you’re anything like Village Voice writer Bonnie Ruberg, you’re thinking “That game is racist!” Is she right? Is a game that features a white protagonist gunning down hordes of cranky black zombies inherently racist? I tend to think not, myself. […]
But I could be wrong. It could all very well be as Ruberg points out, that Resident Evil 5 is actually symbolic of the Caucasian fear of a black planet, much in the way that Resident Evil 4 is symbolic of whites’ fear of a Spanish planet, or Super Mario Brothers is indicative of whites’ fear of an Italian planet.

See the Resident Evil 5 trailer below the fold. Read More

Sense of Wonder: Genre films keep movie-going alive!

Spider-Man 3 smashed its way to the top of the box officeI’m a little bit old school when it comes to enjoying genre movies: I believe they deserve to be seen on the big screen, where the special visual and sound effects can really blast your senses into another dimension. Yes, I own a big screen TV and a DVD player (and even a laserdisc player for those titles not yet available on DVD), and my computer is set up to download movies from Netflix. Yet, when push comes to shove, I want to go to the theatre to see a film, even if it’s not a great one.
Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to see this column by Peter Part in Variety: “Spree of threes defies doomsayers.” The gist of Bart’s piece is that, two years ago, doomsayers were predicting the death of theatre movie-going, thanks to the disappointing box office results of Summer 2005; however, this year sees ticket sales up 10%, with eleven films earning over $100-million and four passing the $300-million mark. Read More

Sense of Wonder: Virulent vampire zombie soldiers

Variety informs us that New Regency has picked up the film rights to Virulents, a graphic novel about soldiers in Afghanistan who encounter vampire-zombies. The obscure Virgin Comics title (I couldn’t’t find it on made its debut this February; you can find its rather threadbare webpage here.
The film version will be scripted by John Cox. John Moore, who directed the unnecessary remake of The Omen, will direct and co-produce. Gothan Chopra and Sharad Devarajan of Virgin Comics will be on board to co-produce the film, along with Seth Jarret.
Says Chopra, in lingo that shows his aptitude for Hollywood stylings, Virulents is “set in a part of the world that has a long history of myth and mystery, and it’s going to rock.”
Well okay, but here’s my question: What’s the deal with war-horror hybrid movies? 2002’s Dog Soldiers showed what happens when some British grunts on training maneuvers ran into a pack of werewolves. 2006 gave us The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginningin which a couple of Vietnam draftees avoid the horrors of war when the encounter the equally lethal horrors of Leatherface and family. And earlier this year we had The Hills Have Eyes 2, wherein a troop of soldiers training for deployment in Afghanistan encountered the equally lethal horrors of radioactive mutants in the desert. With Virulents, it sounds as though we’re finally getting into the thick of battle, mixing monsters with more conventional battle mayhem. Read More

Sense of Wonder: Horror Hibernation

Doing a little catch-up on news I missed when it was news, I find this interesting article by Anne Thompson in Variety: “No horror story for studio genre labels.” The gist of the piece is that hardcore horror movies are petering out, so the studio genre labels dedicated to making them (Fox Atomic, Sony’s Screen Gems, the Weinstein’s Dimension) are moving into other genres, such as thrillers. Only a couple of these so-called specialists insist that current market trends have not turned them off the genre:

“We are going to continue to be leaders in the horror genre for the foreseeable future,” says Tom Ortenberg of Lionsgate.
“We don’t make any rules or pick movies by any particular genre,” says Weinstein. “Projects come to me and I do them regardless if there are 50 horror movies. If I like it, I do it.”

Read More

Sense of Wonder: Depp to cast Dark Shadows on the big screen

Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane in SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999).DARK SHADOWS fans – at least the ones I know – are rejoicing at the news (announced in Daily Variety and at a recent ShadowCon) that Johnny Depp has signed a deal to co-produce a feature film version of the 1960s Gothic soap opera.

Warner Bros. is teaming with Depp’s Infinitum-Nihil and Graham King’s GK Films to develop a feature based on the ’60s daytime supernatural sudser…
Depp has said in interviews that he has always been obsessed with “Dark Shadows” and had, as a child, wanted to be Barnabas Collins, the vampire patriarch of the series. The role was originated by Jonathan Frid.

I find my own enthusiasm considerably more muted, although I am willing to be pleasantly surprised. I suspect that, as a property, DARK SHADOWS truly is a relic of its era, and I’m not sure it can be updated without losing its appeal. Not for nothing have forty years of vampire cinema passed since the original show was an afternoon hit, and history provides a couple of reasons to suspect that turning DARK SHADOWS into a feature film and/or updating its story are far from surefire hit ideas. Read More

Sense of Wonder: Horror Porn and Prick Flicks

Elisha Cuthbert in the “torture porn” flick CAPTIVITY

What’s in a name?” Shakespeare asked. Apparently quite a lot, as I happened to run across two posts recently (one by Chris Stangl, one by Gloria Steinem), both of which object to particular labels applied to certain films.

First, Chris Stangle, at the Exploding Kientoscope, objects to the term “torture porn,” even though he did not particularly like HOSTEL and has little interest in HOSTEL PART II. His objection is that the phrase is not a “meaningful genre designation” but a way for critics to dismiss a film without bothering to engage it in any meaningful way.

Stangl may have a point, but I don’t think he quite makes the case that “torture porn” movies deserve to be engaged. More important, from my point of view, is the fact that words “torture porn” have a fairly clear meaning. As a general rule of thumb, if a phrase is recognized and understandable, then it is useful. I don’t think one can object that “torture porn” is too vague; it describes a fairly clear sub-genre of movies that include not only HOSTEL but also TURISTAS, SAW, and the upcoming CAPTIVITY.

To be fair, a phrase can catch on and yet still be a misnomer. Stangl argues the later case by insisting that we take the word “pornography” literally: “The defining genre identifiers of pornography are that it explicitly depicts actual sex acts.” I think this sets the bar a bit too high, identifying so-called “hard core” material as the only pornography. It is worth noting that the word “pornography” originally referred to written texts, which can never explicitly depict an actual sex act in the manner of a movie or even a photograph.

Stangl goes on to argue that there is a more substantive way of addressing movies like WOLF CREEK or SAW. By way of example, he offers this post by Joss Whedon (of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER fame). Stangl may be right: it is possible to address the underlying issues of “torture porn” in depth, but that’s not quite enough reason to eliminate the useful shorthand inherent in the phrase itself, and we cannot expect everyone who comments on these films to write a doctoral dissertation just to prove that that they are not “glib and dismissive and hysterical at the same time” (although I have no doubt that many of them are).

Second, Gloria Steinem does not like the term “chick flick.” Her basic point is relatively sound:

Just as there are “novelists” and then “women novelists,” there are “movies” and then “chick flicks.” Whoever is in power takes over the noun—and the norm—while the less powerful get an adjective. Thus, we read about “African American doctors” but not “European American doctors,” “Hispanic leaders” but not “Anglo leaders,” “gay soldiers” but not “heterosexual soldiers,” and so on.

Unfortunately, working from this premise she comes up with some rather dubious conclusions. The first is that much of the classic literature we read would be called “Chick Lit” if it were written by women: The Scarlet Letter, Anna Karenina, A Doll’s House, The Glass Menagerie. Steinem suggests that, had the authors been women, their work would be forgotten, “only to be resurrected centuries later by stubborn feminist scholars.”
She goes on directly to say:

Indeed, as long as men are taken seriously when they write about the female half of the world—and women aren’t taken seriously when writing about themselves much less about men or male affairs—the list of Great Authors will be more about power than about talent.

Somehow forgotten in all this are the likes of Mary Shelly, the Bronte Sisters, Anne Radcliffe, Jane Austen, and Daphne DuMaurrier, none of whom required resurrection by feminist scholars – because, miraculously enough, their work survived on its own merits. I also find it rather dubious to assume that the works of Tolstoy, Hawthorne, Flaubert, Ibsen, and Tennessee Williams are around only because of the authors’ “power” as opposed to their talent.

But never mind. The point Steinem is building up to, with heavy-handed irony, is to offer “a modest proposal” for an alternative to the term “Chick Flick.” To wit: “Prick Flick.”

One cannot deny there is a certain justice to putting the shoe on the other foot, but it really only works if the shoe fits. Steinem suggests that “prick flick” could apply to the following

  • All the movies that glorify World War II
  • All the movies that glorify Vietnam, bloody regional wars, and the war on terrorism
  • All the movies that portray violence against women, preferably beautiful, sexy, half-naked women
  • All the movies that insist female human beings are the only animals on earth that seek out and even enjoy their own pain.

It’s the last two that concern us here. Steinem describes that “violence against women” category like this:

These feature chainsaws and house parties for teenage guys, serial killers and sadistic rapists for ordinary male adults, plus cleverly plotted humiliations and deaths of powerful women for the well-educated misogynist.

I’m not sure exactly what Steinem is describing here – this sounds like an amalgam conjured up by someone who has never seen a horror movie but only heard them described by someone else who probably hadn’t seen them either. In any case, I don’t believe there have been many movies made about “sadistic rapists,” and I certainly don’t believe that such films are made to appeal to “ordinary male adults.”

Also, I have apparently been missing out on all the movies designed for the “well-educated misogynist.” Perhaps tellingly, Steinem offers no examples, suggesting that she may be battling the demons in her own mind, rather than anything in the real world.

As for films that portray women seeking out and enjoying their own pain, Steinem does a little better offering one example, BOXING HELENA, “a man’s dream of amputating all a rebellious woman’s limbs,’ after which “she falls in love with him.” Steinem asserts that these films “provide self-justification and how-to manuals for sadists.’ Ironically, BOXING HELENA was written and directed by Jennifer Chambers Lynch – a woman. Perhaps future generations of stubborn feminist scholars will resurrect this film from obscurity.