Quote of the Moment

"What's Past Is Prologue." - William Shakespeare

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Thing - Are You Really Human?

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not seen the movie The Thing there are spoilers in this essay.

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Ah, The Thing. Like Alien, this is an older movie. There are various similarities between both movies, which I'll explore in a bit. Unlike Alien, I had seen this movie before--about ten years ago, so my horrible memory didn't ruin anything for me. The Thing was enjoyable, as I remembered (at least I remembered that). Not really scary for me, but I've already mentioned that not much frightens me in way of movies. I do think the monster in this movie is creepier than the one in Alien.

So, what are the similarities between Alien and The Thing? Both monsters are from space. In The Thing, the creature is on our planet, though. Yes, Antarctica--a research outpost in the middle of nowhere, and the winter storm is rolling in, so the team will be trapped there until spring comes. In both movies, the characters have no way out and are forced to face the monsters head on. My husband claimed haunted house movie again, but The Thing isn't as dark and foreboding as Alien, in my opinion.

The monster in The Thing is creepy--make-your-skin-crawl creepy. It's that fear of not knowing, being unsure who the monster actually is. Could it be the person sitting next to you? Is it your husband? Child? This monster can mimic any form, as long as it has enough private time to do so. It's not until late in the movie that they figure out a way to tell who is a monster and who is clean. Have to take a hot wire to everyone's blood, and the creature will instinctively try to defend itself. Great thing for the people with the flamethrowers (if they worked, that is). Not so great for those tied up next to the monster.

I do love the unknown throughout the movie, but I think when we actually see the creature, which is pretty much just a mish-mash of all the forms it has assimilated, it kills a bit of that unknown suspense. The transformations were wonderfully done for a 1982 movie. Unfortunately, the big blobs of flesh with raw dog heads and split human parts sticking out didn't do it for me.

I have to give props to the dog they used at the beginning, though. That dog was a great actor--he was utterly creepy (I've used that word a lot, sorry). The dog had this look in his eye, and you knew something wasn't right.

There were a few other things I felt were off and unbelievable. Many of the actions of the people were hard to swallow. When they don't know who the thing is, why would they allow anyone to go off alone? Mac is still staying in his shed by himself. Wouldn't it have made sense to stick in groups of three, since this creature prefers to attack when it's alone with a victim? Once they clear all the people who are left, aside from Blair, they split up again, leaving one person behind. Why the hell would they leave a single person alone? True, it feeds into the whole ending where MacReady isn't sure if Childs is the thing or not, but the logic to get there has a big hole in it. And near the end, when they are setting charges to blow the compound, Nauls hears a weird sound and slowly wanders to where the thing has just killed Garry. That was an "Are you really that stupid?" moment I could have done without.

True, there are a few unbelievable moments, but I still enjoyed the movie. The monster is a good one (and creepy--yes, I said it again), and not knowing if either of the survivors are really still human is a great ending.

Works Cited

The Thing. Dir. John Carpenter. With Kurt Russell. Universal Pictures, 1982.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Reading a Movie - The Wolfman

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not read the novelization of The Wolfman there are spoilers in this essay.

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I tend to avoid reading novelizations of movies--I'd rather see novels made into movies, instead of the other way around. So, I approached The Wolfman by Jonathan Maberry with some trepidation. Since I haven't seen the movie yet, that at least didn't affect my reading of the novel. My verdict this time: mediocre. I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it. It was predictable for me. I'm actually back and forth on some things. It felt like a quick read, but I thought the novel was too long for the plot. And then there is the werewolf, or werewolves--a great monster, but a cliche.

The predictability of the story disappointed me, but that also may be because many current movies disappoint me in this aspect. Main character gets bitten by a werewolf, he turns into one himself, he kills the original werewolf, then dies at the hands of the one he loves since it's the only way to "save him". I pretty much knew right when Lawrence reached Blackmoor that his father, Sir John, was the werewolf. There wasn't really anyone else it could have been. I was hoping, beyond hope, for a twist, that perhaps Lawrence's mother, had been a werewolf. They claim she committed suicide at the beginning, and I would have loved to see that suicide be because of the monster she was and not wanting to put her family in any more danger. Sadly, of course, Sir John was the one who slaughtered Lawrence's mother.

Some of the descriptions were nice. I especially liked the full moon as the Goddess of the Hunt and the werewolves as her children. "Outside the moon rose into the sky with regal grace and the inevitability of death. It was huge and beautiful. The Goddess of the Hunt reached down with claws of silver moonlight to take the village of Blackmoor by the throat" (189). The imagery used with this association throughout the book was great.

Unfortunately, some of the description or backstory was a bit much. This book is 342 pages, and for a book this length you would think there is at least one decent subplot, if not two, but the closest we get to a subplot is the growing love between Lawrence and Gwen. The core plot of the book is stretched out overlong, in my opinion. Likely much of the description is longer because the novel is omniscient, not sticking to any one point of view even in a single scene--this made it feel more like a movie, and I didn't want to feel like I was reading a movie.

Things also got repetitive when it came to character development. Lawrence and Inspector Aberline could have been the same person, aside from their backgrounds and professions. Lawrence's reaction to seeing the werewolf for the first time: "All he could do was stand there and behold this thing. This monstrous impossibility. This perversion of all sense and sanity" (108). And then Inspector Aberline, after Lawrence changes before his eyes: "His mind felt disconnected from reality. He could not have seen the things he had seen. It was impossible, insane" (248). Both pursue the werewolf at the risk of their own lives, both are excellent at reading people, and both in the end are bitten. Parallels can sometimes be interesting, but I felt Lawrence's and Aberline's reactions and thoughts were too similar and detracted from rounding out their characters.

In this novel, the first werewolf, or Sir John, is dubbed the Werewolf, and Lawrence is the Wolfman. As humans, both are quite different. Sir John is a true monster--he knows what he is and allows himself to run loose as the Werewolf, frames Lawrence for his crimes, and kills everyone close to him. Perhaps that's why he's more wolf than man, as per the titles. He allows his beast to take over. Lawrence, on the other hand, hates what he's become and considers ending his own life to save others. The beast inside him doesn't rule the human. Some might say he isn't a monster. Only when he turns, and all human awareness vanishes, can he be considered a monster, and it's beyond his control. You have to wonder, though, if he survived as long as Sir John, would he, in the end, become the same? It's a possibility, especially if he would have lost Gwen by his own hand.

The werewolves in The Wolfman are cliche, unfortunately. Turn at the full moon, don't remember their actions as beasts, fast healing, and can only be harmed by silver. I do like the werewolf as a monster, but it would have been nice to see something different, a new layer to an old archetype.

I can't help but mention the fight scenes, if briefly. These bugged me the most, to be honest. The first big one we see is the slaughter at the Gypsy camp. All I kept thinking as I turned the pages was that it was too cinematic and over the top. That made me feel even more like I was reading a movie. I know werewolves are powerful, but it was all overdone, in my opinion.

I might have been overly critical of the book, but the things that annoyed me stuck out in my mind more than the things I enjoyed. The Wolfman is a good choice for the reader who likes novelizations of movies, and I'm just not one of those people.

Works Cited

Maberry, Jonathan. The Wolfman. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 2010.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Haunted House in Space - Alien

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not seen the movie Alien there are spoilers in this essay.

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Here I go admitting my shortcomings again. Until now, I have never watched Alien in its entirety (as a note, I watched the 2003 Director's Cut version). Bits and pieces, here and there, yes, but not the whole thing. There was no reason why, aside from not enough time and too much else to watch--the usual. The verdict? It was a good movie. It probably would have been better if I didn't have a two-year-old making it hard to hear and causing me to pause it every fifteen minutes. Did it scare me? No, but not much does. I don't watch horror movies for the scare factor--I like them for examining the dark side of things. Alien definitely explores that dark side.

My husband calls Alien a haunted house movie, well one that takes place in space at least. I can see why he perceives it that way. Essentially, the entire crew is trapped on the ship, having to hunt down the monster that springs from one of their crewmate's chests. This is no small ship, and there are many places to hide. Even the lighting in the movie lends to the haunted house effect--everything is dark or in shadows, when they are on the hunt.

It's no ghost that they're trying to kill, though, but an unknown life form, one that is vicious and smart. It tricks their motion sensing device, and near the end its smart enough to sneak onto the escape shuttle before the ship blows up. The little creature that springs from the chest quickly sheds its skin and grows into a huge black monster with many rows of sharp, pointy teeth. Mind you, the growth time was a tad unbelievable for me, and like a snake, I would expect more than one skin shed when going from arm-size to bigger than human-size. I know there's only so much time in a movie, and you need to maintain the suspense by not taking too long to go from Point A to Point B, but I would have liked to see a better explanation of its rapid growth.

The best way to describe the alien are the words of yet another monster in this movie--Ash, the science officer who turns out to be a robot. He is given orders by Mother, the ship's brain, who has been programmed by the Company (such a wonderful chain of monsters here), to bring back the life form at all costs, including the sacrifice of the crew's lives. What makes Ash more monstrous is his awe of the creature, and here is where we get the wonderful description of the alien. "The perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility....I admire its purity. A survivor, unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality" (Alien). The discussion with Ash, while he's a severed head, is the best dialogue of the movie, in my opinion.

Both the alien and Ash are great monsters, but they weren't my favorite part of the movie. It was actually one of the scenes added into the Director's Cut version that I liked the best. It's so brief, but I feel it has a strong impact. Ripley is the last of the crew alive (well, and the cat, which my husband dubbed the Harbinger of Death), and she is heading toward the escape shuttle. She makes a stop first, and finds two of her fellow crewmates still alive, but plastered to the walls by some unknown substance. Kind of like a spider wrapping up its prey for later consumption. The captain of the ship begs to be killed, so Ripley takes the flamethrower and ends his misery, along with the other crew member. I was disappointed to find out this scene wasn't in the original, but I'm glad they finally added it in.

Overall, I enjoyed Alien, and I thought both main monsters were well done. I just hope the next movie I have to watch, my toddler sits still long enough. ;)

Works Cited

Alien. Dir. Ridley Scott. With Sigourney Weaver. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, 1979.

Friday, October 08, 2010

World War Z - Zombies, Meh

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not read World War Z there are spoilers in this essay.

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I'm going to be up front--I don't like zombies. Never have, never will. Therefore, I struggled reading World War Z. I tried to have an open mind, but the documentary style isn't interesting to me either. I know this is all a matter of taste, and I am probably in the minority. I've never been one to follow the crowd, so I'm not about to jump on the zombie bandwagon just because everybody else has. In World War Z, though, the zombies weren't the only monsters. Humans do monstrous things as well, when cornered.

Zombies bore me. That is the simplest way to sum up my dislike for them. This boils down to what I've mentioned in past essays--I like my monsters to have a bit of intellect. Zombies, not even a flicker. You can't even say they have pure animal instinct. Animals are more intelligent by leagues! I didn't like Rawhead, but I'd take him over a zombie any day. The slow moving and human flesh eating doesn't do it for me, and that's really all any zombie is. In World War Z, Brooks made them strong, made it possible for them to walk along the bottom of oceans and survive, but those additional differences weren't enough--they were still the same old zombies, in my mind.

World War Z is more about the human condition, the reactions people have to the zombies. The book is a series of interviews from the survivors of the Zombie War. Although this style didn't appeal to me, I did find some of the interviews interesting. I also noticed that some of the interviewees or the things that happened to them could be considered monstrous. Breckinridge "Breck" Scott is the first interviewee who had monster written all over his face. He developed a vaccine for the zombie epidemic. It was a rabies vaccine, and the zombie disease was labeled African rabies. Of course, he knew full well this vaccine wouldn't protect against a zombie bite. "All I did was what any of us are supposed to do. I chased my dream, and I got my slice....Shit, you wanna blame someone, why not start with all the sheep who forked over their greenbacks without bothering to do a little responsible research. I never held a gun to their heads" (58). Not one bit of remorse or guilt--only pure greed. No wonder this guy was hiding out in Antarctica.

Sometimes monsters force others to become monsters. In Russia, the government was determined to hide what was going on with the zombies and they wanted to keep a stranglehold on their military, which led to the Decimation. "We would be the ones to decide who would be punished. Broken up into groups of ten, we would have to vote on which one of us was going to be executed. And then we...the soldiers, we would be the ones to personally murder our friends" (82). To save their own lives, the soldiers abided, followed orders. "Conventional executions might have reinforced discipline, might have restored order from the top down, but by making us all accomplices, they held us together not just by fear, but by guilt as well" (82-83).

There is one interview in the book, with Jesika Hendricks, that implies cannibalism. Many of the people in the states headed north into Canada, where winter comes sooner, since zombies would freeze and give the humans a reprieve (until they thawed in spring, of course). Even though winter took away the zombie threat, they were fighting for basic survival. Jesika was only a child at the time, and she was sick. "There was this smell coming from the neighbor's RV. They were cooking something, meat, it smelled really good. Mom and Dad were outside arguing. Mom said 'it' was the only way....He came back ten minutes later, without the radio but with a big bucket of this steaming hot stew. It was so good!...Dad still had that look. The look I had myself in a few months, when Mom and Dad both got sick and I had to feed them" (128-129). It was a choice thrust upon her family--live or die, and I felt the looks that Jesika and her father had were the disgust at the monstrous act of cannibalism they were forced into simply to survive.

The survival of not only individuals, but of the human race as a whole was paramount in many nations. Everywhere, the zombies were winning, dwindling human numbers and adding more to their own army in the process. Paul Redeker developed a plan for South Africa. First, a safe zone needed to be established, but that isn't what made the plan monstrous. It was the second part of the plan that required the sacrifice of other human beings. "In his mind, only a small fraction of the civilian population could be evacuated to the safe zone....Those who were left behind were to be herded into special isolated zones. They were to be 'human bait,' distracting the undead from following the retreating army to their safe zone" (109). The interview this is from was one I liked. You find out at the end of it that the interviewee, Xolelwa Azania, is really Paul Redeker, who mentally cracked after developing the plan--he distanced himself from it by believing he was another person entirely. So, even though Redeker and many nations stretched themselves to that monstrous line, it had a large mental impact, the guilt taking its toll.

It was a little interesting to see the thoughts, in World War Z, on what actions humans might be willing to take simply to survive. The monsters inside of us can come out when we are fighting for survival, whether we want them to or not. This novel also reminded me how much I dislike zombies, and if anything I like them even less now--my opinion only, as always.

Works Cited

Brooks, Max. World War Z. New York: Crown Publishing, 2006.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Frustrated Demon - "The Yattering and Jack"

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not read "The Yattering and Jack" there are spoilers in this essay.

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The Yattering, in "The Yattering and Jack," is a fun monster, and I liked it more than the monster in "Rawhead Rex". It's making me consider reading other works by Clive Barker, unlike the last story. The only thing I am still having trouble with is Barker's frequent use of head-hopping.

A poor lesser demon, that's all the Yattering is, instructed to do his job whether he wants to or not--a lot of people can relate to that situation. He's supposed to make Jack Polo go insane to pay a debt owed by his mother (see, they owned her soul, but she snuck out of the deal). The problem is, Polo seems imperturbable. Anything the Yattering does is brushed off. We feel the demon's frustration at failure after failure. "The Yattering wept. The Yattering screamed. In a fit of uncontrollable anguish, it boiled the water in the aquarium, poaching the guppies. Polo heard nothing. Saw nothing" (46). Throughout some of his failed pranks, I could just see him shaking his little fists in the air in my mind.

We are solidly in the Yattering's point of view at the beginning. I had no problem with this, and I actually enjoyed it. There would have been no other way to hook the reader with the demon's feelings of being trapped--Polo's house is his prison until he completes his job. Eight pages into the story, though, after the Yattering had killed three cats (one went into the fire, another was drowned, and the third exploded into little bits), there is an abrupt shift from the demon's point of view to Jack Polo's. Since I was a third of the way into the story, the shift pulled me right out of the tale. I had to reread that transition, and several subsequent passages with point of view hops, over a couple of times to get a handle on what was happening. At first I thought it would have been better to have the entire story in the Yattering's head, but then we wouldn't have seen how manipulative Polo actually was--he was wise to the demon's goal, and determined not to let him win. So, Polo's viewpoint was necessary, but the way Barker has the shifts was unsettling, and it didn't help me stay deep in the story.

Polo's two daughters come home for the holidays, and this is when the Yattering ramps up his tricks. Instead of succeeding, though, he grows impatient, and breaks two cardinal rules in the end--he leaves the house and he touches Polo. Now he has to suffer as Polo's servant for the rest of his existence. It was a nice twist at the end, but there was one thing that left me wondering. Polo and his daughter Gina pretty much escape the encounter unscathed, but Amanda does not. "Then he met the vacant look in her eyes and the truth dawned. She'd broken, her sanity had taken refuge where the fantastique couldn't get at it" (59). This was the very thing the Yattering had been aiming for with Jack. Now, we don't see if she ever comes out of it at the end. I wondered, if the demons wanted Jack's soul via the route of insanity in place of his mother's, wouldn't a granddaughter's soul be just as good as a son's? Does the Yattering actually succeed at his job by breaking Amanda's mind? It seems silly if the higher demons would only think of Jack's soul as a good enough replacement. I'm not saying it's a flaw of the story or anything, simply that it was something I considered after it all soaked in.

Overall, this was a fun read, and I loved the quirky monster. The Yattering's personality was great, and he was a well-rounded character. Do I read more Clive Barker now? We'll see.

Works Cited

Barker, Clive. "The Yattering and Jack." Books of Blood: Volumes One to Three. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 1998. 43-64.