Thursday, 30 December 2010

The 10 Worst Horror Films of 2010

Bad Movies We Love1 was a column in Movieline2 magazine that celebrated the atrocious with a double vodka. There are bad movies that can be laughed at because they are so inept – like Showgirls 1995. It was supposed to be erotic but now it’s viewed as a comedy – which is funny because it killed of Elisabeth Berkeley’s career.

Then there is the other type of bad film. Films that were cynical at conception. Many of them masquerade as remakes and sequels. Many of them exploit the subgenres of slasher or torture. They are without entertainment value. They are beyond redemption. These films usually head straight-to-DVD like a disease that cannot be cured. Some of them are released theatrically.

Bad movies are made for first weekend box office returns. The HorrorFolk are as voracious as zombies and we will consume first and vomit later. We are marks. Ergo the criterion for this list is theatrical release (bar one exception – a DVD sequel with high expectations). Yep. Fooled again.

2010 was a fallow year for quality horror. In 2011 if you’re looking to Blockbusters or Netflix for a quiet night in then beware the following titles.

You have been warned.

10 Cherry Tree Lane UK
Perhaps the most famous propaganda film is the Nazi Triumph of the Will 1934. Cherry Tree Lane is not so grandiose. It is however a testament to the return of European fascism and overt cinemascope of the racism that never went away. It is biased, facile and deceitful with the narrative arc of a Madrasah graduate turned suicide bomber who knows he’s going to heaven.

70 million people died in the second war Europe gave the world. 65 years later and these people have learnt nothing.

9 Legion US
The first scene in the trailer is a premise. It is a showpiece lifted from the greatest horror film of all time The Exorcist III 1990. The end scene is foreboding. The between scenes feature guns – lots of guns – and angels. The trailer is a promise of perhaps The Prophecy 1995 meets Resident Evil 2002.

Dennis Quaid, Charles S Dutton, Paul Bettany and Tyrese Gibson should be enough manpower for a thriller, neo-noir or horror. However writer-director Scott Stewart does his best impression of Goldman Sachs and throws in the towel as soon as patrons have paid for their tickets.

He commits the cinematic sin of stealing from The Terminator 1984 then has his angels drive ice-cream vans. The resulting story defies logic and mental stability. How Paul Bettany could recite his lines with a straight face deserves some sort of recognition.

He used to be a prospect. What a fall from grace.

8 Frozen US
A certain type attends the Sundance Film Festival. While others go about the business of film these hipsters ski schmooze and party. They return with wild tales of fantastic movies mere mortals will have to pay to see in perhaps a year’s time. They were responsible for starting that American phenomenon The Blair Witch Project 1999. They are also responsible for this nonsense.

The concept is cigarette paper thin. The acting is bad, the dialogue is hackneyed the tension is contrived. Just because a bunch of yuppies on frozen yoghurt and crystal meth decide a film is good doesn’t mean it is.

It was Utah in January. Perhaps they could relate.

7 Night of the Demons US
Edward Furlong was 14 when he starred in Terminator 2 1991. That was a long time ago. The dude is still a capable actor with a perennial baby face and in this film he plays a young adult. It’s that type of film: young ladies with heaving bosoms doing stupid things to get them killed. It is tongue in cheek bordering on camp but that doesn’t make it excusable.

There’s no rhyme or reason to the motivation of the characters. They’re all stereotypes. There’s no one to root for. The special effects look like they were made on my computer. The net result is a low rent Hatchet 2007.

Sorry Hatchet.

6 The Descent 2 UK
Or as I like to call it Crimes of Exploitation.
This sequel went straight to video in the US – another example of the Americans getting special treatment. The original is well regarded by critics with a politically correct agenda. The Descent 2006 is a gimmick movie. Its gimmick is an all female cast engaging in the macho and moronic pursuit of caving. There are two versions in existence. In the British edit all the totty died. In the American 2007 release there was a final girl.

Alfred Hitchcock promoted Psycho 1960 with the mantra “it’s only a movie”. The Descent 2 is only a movie but I’m only human.

No spoilers but this film sucks.

5 Splice US
The creature-feature was a staple for our parents in a more gullible unenlightened time. Not like today. Us 21st century sophisticates are still arguing about the safety of vaccines not to mention genetic modification.

HG Wells wrote The Island of Dr Moreau in 1896. It’s been filmed three times. All versions treated the subject seriously and all had stellar casts – as does Splice. However the latter has more in common with the B-movie Species 1995.

There are acts so grotesque they shouldn’t pass the censor whether Sarah Polley is in the film or not.

4 My Soul to Take US
Scream 4 may well be the most anticipated horror film of 2011 (for me it’s The Thing) but do not be deceived. Scream 2 1997 was bad. Scream 3 2000 was worse.

My Soul to Take shows just how bad Wes Craven can be. He’s the writer as well so he bears all blame. The title is trite. The setup is appalling. The monster is ridiculous. The concept – multiple personalities – is as intriguing as it is medically controversial. Clearly there was something there. 

Alas what came out the other end is a cliché riddled yawn. It’s a waste of everybody’s time but even the great have their bad days.

Perhaps it’s time for this Master to stop writing.

3 Survival of the Dead US
How the mighty have fallen. First John Carpenter now George A Romero.

Click the poster for the full review.

2 The Wolfman US
Fellow Horrorfolk you are in the presence of history. This film has a mega budget of $150million3. What? All that money spent just to entertain me?
Oh hang on. The film was originally due out in November 20084. It was pushed back four times over 16 months5 to its release date in February. That tells its own story.

The story The Wolfman wants us to swallow is even worse. The first problem is the cast. How to explain Latino Benicio del Toro as son of white Anthony Hopkins? Well seeing that it’s only a movie perhaps the viewer should ignore that. Ignore too the conflicting accents because plenty of people grow up in a different locale to their parents. What can’t be ignored is the diction. Why is everyone talking like the Brontë sisters?

Too much attention was paid to wardrobe and set design and not enough to the script. This movie certainly has a look but look closer and you’ll see nothing. It is portentous self aware self absorbed and fails to entertain on every level. As for the money shot transformation from man into beast – big deal.

Watch An American Werewolf in London 1981. It’s still the yardstick.

1 A Nightmare on Elm Street US
The most anticipated horror film of the year.
The worst horror film of the year.

Click the poster for the full review.

The good news is that I’m writing a spec sequel. It’ll be online in 2011.

I promise.

Those were the 10 worst theatrical released/high profile films. There were plenty more. The likes of which I’m not going to mention because you’ve seen them yourself; the straight to DVD, the low budget, the micro budget, the foreign tosh, the art house muck, the internet darlings, the torture porn.

This is proof positive of the contempt Hollywood holds the Horrorfolk in. I hate you too Hollywood. This is my indictment to be used as evidence against you. Carry on like this and the audience will go on strike.

TFi: The only reason why The Walking Dead is not on this list is because the hordes who like it get their welfare cheques on a Monday. They’re spent up by Monday night.

What a load of zombies.

2 Movieline magazine
3 The Wolfman budget Box Office Mojo
4 The Wolfman Wikipedia
5 The Wolfman Wikipedia
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Monday, 27 December 2010

Remakes: And Soon the Darkness

Those who defend remakes often cite the (possible) revival of interest in the original as a result of the new movie being made. Prior to the publicity of And Soon the Darkness 2010 I had not seen nor heard of the 1970 film. I’m not the only one. It is indeed an obscurity. Since its theatrical release a generation has passed. Thus on face value it seems fit to be remade.
The premise is in the trailer: two young women go on holiday abroad where they stumble into a tourist’s worst nightmare. It’s not a revolutionary plot. It’s a story that has been told a million times before and a million times since. It is the cautionary tale “don’t go in the woods” and is the perfect premise for a thriller with horror motifs.

British girls Jane and Cathy are too old to be children and as young as adults can be. They are naïve but adventurous. Their background is middle class which places them firmly at the forefront to reap the fruits of the sexual revolution. They’re clearly from progressive families; they get to bike tour the north of France before our time of cheap flights and the Channel Tunnel.

They are of the age of sexual bloom. Cathy has discovered she’s a woman. She knows men fancy her. She’s unashamed that she fancies them. Her hair is blonde and long. Her midriff is as bare as her legs are to her thighs. She is available. She is on exploration and expedition.

Jane is dark haired cut short. That means she’s sexually reticent. She’s more interested in the experience and culture of rural France as if on a post school project. They are the yin yang pairing – where one pushes the other pulls. Due to their adolescent banter and personalities when they have a tiff and part ways it is portrayed naturally.

The whole film takes place in a natural setting. When Jane starts looking for Cathy all she encounters are the French. They don’t speak English. The odd one or two that do ask her to slow down her talking. It is easy to empathise with Jane as she struggles to make herself understood to all and sundry. She does meet an English expat; a schoolmistress whose motives seem questionable.

The woman has been in France for 15 years. She seems weird or perhaps it’s just loneliness. Why is she still in France? What is she running away from? Why hasn’t she gone back to Britain? Where is Cathy? In these high anxiety circumstances everyone’s a suspect.
Director Robert Fuest fools the audience on more than one occasion. Characters exit scenes with audience expectations that may or may not be proved justified. There are no subtitles to the abundant French dialogue. The audience is in the same darkness as Jane and the two English speakers may not be honest translators.

This film is a seduction. Fuest builds the lead character, the scenery and the circumstances. Cathy goes missing but since the audience follows Jane’s search for her there is no indication of what actually happens to Cathy. Actress Pamela Franklin excels as she convinces and distracts the viewer. She carries the film on her feminine shoulders like a thorn filled English rosebush. Fuest allows poetry in his penultimate shot.

This film bears more than a passing similarity to The Wicker Man 1973. They both are quintessentially English. They both have to deal with an incompatible culture. They share a quest to find a missing girl. They have a rousing finale. However where The Wicker Man is great And Soon the Darkness is very good. It is not a criticism. It is as accomplished a film as Black Christmas 1974.
A timeless story from 1970 should be easy to update.

Not if you’re Anchor Bay.

The original has no backstory: these are two British girls on holiday bicycling across France. The remake has two Americans bicycling in Argentina complete with expository dialogue about a former boyfriend.

The problems are immediate: why on earth would two American girls who look like Amber Heard and Odette Yustman be on bicycles? They’d look more at home on a Girls Gone Wild tour bus. Furthermore why do the writers feel the need to explain why these two girls are on vacation?

The only original contribution to this update is that the dark haired girl is the slut and the blonde is the sourpuss. Is this political correctness or acknowledgement that blonde girls have feelings too? The course of the story is cliché laden: a white American teaches a bunch of Latinos how to dance, the local boy who mistakes American flirtation for carnal desire and tries to rape her, the expat who’s gone native and every Argie in the outback can speak English.

The contrived argument that leads to the girls parting company is a forewarning of the nonsense to come. The writers have tried to sex up the original. What they’ve achieved is to make an exciting story a predictable implausible bore.

Worse is to come; where the original treated the two girls as innocents abroad this remake treats the Argentines as sweaty foreign types lusting after white women.

At least someone apologised for Turistas1 2006.
And Soon the Darkness 2010 is a nasty little flick that no one will remember in four weeks time never mind 40 years. Its one (unintentional) positive is the (possible) revival of the original.

Remakes sometime work – even if for the wrong reasons.

Read more Thrill Fiction: Re/Made: The Thing
1 Turistas Wikipedia

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Thursday, 23 December 2010

Red State trailer

Kevin Smith is a sub cultural chronicler not to be confused with Richard Linklater1. His generation – my generation – was confronted with the economic fact that we won’t have it as good as our parents did whilst we were still in school. Apathy became chic. The media called them slackers. Smith wrote films about them (ergo by definition he’s no slacker himself). He is their Pedro Almodovar2.

Like the aforementioned Linklater as Smith grew older he entered the mainstream. In February Warner Bros released Cop Out 2010 starring Bruce Willis. It was a disaster3. Smith’s new movie is Red State 2011. It’s a horror film.

Smith is not the first visitor to test our waters. Neil LaBute remade The Wicker Man 2006. It was a disaster4. Martin Scorcese adapted Shutter Island 2010. That was a box office hit. It was a narrative disaster. Horror is best left to those who know what others are scared to.

The trajectory of the film seems to be that of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974. The difference deduced from the trailer is the finger pointing is less subtle. Hollywood rages like the devil against certain demographics: black people. Christians.

I’m both.

Red State premieres January 23rd at the Sundance Film Festival. General release date is to be announced.

Read more Thrill Fiction: La Horde
1 Richard Linklater IMDb
2 Pedro Almodovar IMDb
4 The Wicker Man 2006  Rotten Tomatoes


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Tuesday, 21 December 2010

The 100 Best Horror Films #3

Cinema is the art of storytelling through motion pictures. Thrill Fiction recognises that the movies are mass entertainment storytelling. This in and of itself is not an attempt at art. Then cinema is the art of motion picture storytelling as mass entertainment. Examples are The Watchmen 2009 The Godfather 1972 All Quiet on the Western Front 1930. To wit; movies are entertainment, film is art, cinema is art as entertainment.
Dawn of the Dead 1978 is cinema with all its faults in widescreen. Cineastes with low tolerance for low budget may be resistant to its visuals. Dawn’s stunts, special effects and jump cuts were dated on release; three years prior Jaws 1975 was convincing and one year later Aliens 1979 was mesmeric. Dawn succeeds through narrative. Its story is the star. Its location is its genius.

Due to the nature of this beautiful beast Dawn is episodic in structure yet doesn’t suffer for it. In 1978 the behemoth indoor shopping mall was an American experiment. It was so unfamiliar one of the characters had to ask what it (the Monroeville Mall1) was. This film is divided into two parts; the shopping mall and before the shopping mall.
 Gaylen Ross2

“We’re blowing it ourselves.”
Francine

Come the apocalypse and people won’t believe it until they are dead. That mass delusion will be fed by a hysterical mass media. In (England) 1978 I had not seen an American news broadcast whereas in 2010 I can watch Fox News 24 hours a day. What was once a noble profession – the fourth estate – is now a distributor of lies to a gullible audience.

Perhaps this type of television journalism was the norm in 1978 America – if not nationally then perhaps regionally. What George A Romero does is predict the Fox News style badgering of expert witnesses and the downplaying of their salient testimony. This is where Romero recreates his zombie myth; Dr Foster states that the dead are come back to life: all dead – not just those bitten. The journalists erupt in outrage. They need to pander to the dwindling gallery. They insist on false hope. Their audience (American/human) is not mature enough for life and death truths.

This is the start of the film. This is three weeks into the apocalypse.
 David Emge3

The film’s first encounter with the zombies is during a police siege. The cops are after Martinez and his crew who have taken refuge in a tenement populated by black and Hispanic citizens. The police attack with zest and glee and impunity.

“Shit man, this is better than what I’ve got.”
Woolley

The massacre is reminiscent of the Symbionese Liberation Army siege4.There are echoes from the ghosts of Attica5. Romero knew this law-enforcement tactic would be used again. In 1993 eigthy-four men women and children were killed in Waco6. 22 of them were British.

Rest in peace.

The siege introduces the two (good) cops – Roger and Peter. They meet on the job. Roger offers Peter a way out; his buddy Stephen has a helicopter. Francine, the journalist, is Stephen’s girlfriend. As befits horror not one of the actors was (or became) a star. The audience doesn’t know which characters will live or die. The two cops rendezvous with the couple at the docks – bang in the middle of a hijack.

In foreshadow of the second trilogy actor Joseph Pilato plays Skipper, the leader of the hijackers – a bunch of renegade cops. Pilato went on to star in the sequel Day of the Dead 1985 as army Captain Rhodes. In the second trilogy actor Allan Van Sprang played Sarge/Captain – the leader of a band of rouge soldiers (as well as Brubaker in Land of the Dead 2005).

Animals in the wild do not fight unless necessary. Skipper calls off the hijacking. It would make no sense for both parties to shoot each other up. The two groups become friendly but in a display of sardonic humour our heroes don’t share their cigarettes. Sans cash that’s the universal currency. The cops head out in a boat for an island – “any island”. The foursome fly off for Canada.
Scott H. Reiniger7

On the ground below rednecks, aided by the army, go on a zombie killing spree. This is a rehash of the climax of Night of the Living Dead 1968. In real life this is the militia in Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Nazi Europe, Columbia, name a country. In the United States during Hurricane Katrina the militia8 were so brazen they displayed signs with racist epithets9.

You are stronger than us. But soon I think we be stronger than you.”
Old Priest

Dawn of the Dead reads more like prophecy than history. This amongst other things lends it to repeated viewings and the discovery of hidden gems. Fans of The Walking Dead would do well to revisit this film and see where their beloved TV show stole its ideas from; plot points such as a lead character being pregnant and fine detail such as the division of labour between the sexes.

The Dead Trilogy is legendary. It is the best trilogy in horror. It is the best trilogy ever filmed. The series consists not of narrative sequels but of thematic ones. There is time and distance between each movie it’s what makes the trilogy more powerful than all others. Dawn is to be purchased and kept forever in the family library like a copy of Animal Farm. It is the best zombie film ever made. 

It is American cinema.
 Ken Foree10

When there is no more room in hell the dead shall walk the earth.”
Peter

Read more Thrill Fiction: The 100 Best Horror Films #1
1 The Monroeville Mall Wikipedia
2 Gaylen Ross GR Films
3 David Emge Wikipedia
4 Symbionese Liberation Army Wikipedia
6 The Waco Massacre Serendipity
7 Scott H Reiniger Wikipedia
8 Katrina’s hidden race wars The Nation
9 Millitary.com forums
10 Ken Foree Wikipedia
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Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Forbidden House (Propriete Interdite) trailer

The pitch: a yuppie/bourgeois couple buy a house with status dreams of social mobility. The house turns against them. The house becomes their nightmare. Lesson learned: don’t be a yuppie.

This concept (or variants thereof) can be filmed as drama (Heartburn 1986), comedy (The Money Pit 1986), or thriller (Pacific Heights 1990). It is best served as horror (Black Christmas 1974, Ils 2006, The Strangers 2008, The Amityville Horror 1979/2005).

Each country has its own culture which defines its films. The French are the purveyors of cinéma vérité. Note how lead actress Valerie Bonneton performs with lack of self awareness. This is not Liv Tyler looking cute for the cameras. 

Fear is always ugly.
Forbidden House is released in France today. No future word on its UK or North American release schedule but this is one to keep an eye open for hopefully in 2011.

Thanks to Bloody Disgusting for the share of their exclusive content.
Read more Thrill Fiction: La Horde
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Friday, 10 December 2010

The Rite Trailer #2

Adjusted for inflation The Exorcist 1973 is one of the top 10 highest grossing1 films ever made. Discard Jaws 1975 as a horror film (as I do) and it is the industry high grossing horror film ever made.

91% of Americans believe in God2 (88% of people worldwide3). Belief in God is a belief in the existence of the devil. This applies to Christians, Muslims and Jews. As in 1973 these are fertile days for the religious film (Passion of the Christ 2004), novel (The Da Vinci Code pub. 2003) and horror.

The last 15 months has seen the release of three independent productions: Paranormal Activity 2009 has a domestic gross of $108million on a $15k production budget; its sequel grossed $84m on a $3m budget; The Last Exorcism 2010 has grossed $41m on $1.8m. There be gold in them thar hills.

Enter the studios. The Exorcist was made by Warner Bros. It is based on the eponymous novel by William Peter Blatty. The Rite 2011 is made by New Line Cinema a subsidiary of Warner Bros. It is based on the eponymous novel by Matt Baglio4. Horror films are sold on the power of the story. None of the aforementioned blockbusters have a single movie star between them (Ellen Burstyn wasn’t a star in 1973 and her name didn’t sell the picture). Despite this Warner Bros are taking no chances. Sir Anthony Hopkins is the headline of this picture.

Ever since The Silence of the Lambs 1991 Hopkins has been an overrated movie star. He should have remained a respected character actor like Robert Duvall. Hopkins’ blustering in Dracula 1992 is identikit to his bellowing in The Wolfman 2010. Without Hannibal Lector his ability to open a movie is questionable. However after watching the trailer it looks like his role is the second lead – and this is where he excels. Like in The Silence of the Lambs.

The Rite opens 28th January in the US and 25th February in the UK.

Read more Thrill Fiction: The Walking Dead finale
1 Wikipedia Top 10 highest grossing films adjusted for inflation
2 Digg 91% of Americans believe in God
3 WikiAnswers 88% worldwide believe in God
4 The Rite by Matt Baglio
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Thursday, 9 December 2010

The Walking Dead finale 106: TS-19

Richard Desmond is the proprietor of the Daily Star a softcore pornographic tabloid newspaper. He’s also the owner of Channel 5 a terrestrial TV channel and the future UK home of The Walking Dead1.
Trash for the trash.

The pre credit sequence is flashback to (episode 1) Days Gone Bye: The hospital is chaos overrun by zombies and military death squads. Shane examines but fails to find vital signs thus he must abort his rescue of Rick.

This sequence exists to redeem Shane. It’s extemporaneous; the audience didn’t doubt that he thought Rick was dead. Furthermore the audience was willing to accept Rick surviving the apocalypse. We’ve seen the scenes following the Haiti earthquake and the 2004 tsunami. Chosen people do survive. The problem in this show is in the details. Eg how did the comatose Rick survive with no medical attention including (drip) food and water? 2

The writing on The Walking Dead is so bad they fired3 the writers4 despite it being the most successful show (18-49 demo) in cable TV history1. The season 1 writers were puerile at best hacks at worst. My supposition is that Darabont earned the contempt of his peers at dinner parties. He now wants to make great television – as opposed to simply great ratings.

TS-19 does nothing to further the narrative of the characters. They learn that the whole world has gone to pot – something that the audience already knows. We’ve been waiting for these morons to figure it out but they have to be told. Common sense dictates that in such an apocalypse if the US military aren’t all over it then the US military don’t exist anymore – and that includes the capacity to launch nuclear bombs. Likewise the world military. If the Chinese, Russians, French or the Tea Party hadn’t bombed Atlanta then it’s safe to assume they were incapacitated too. With no television, radio, internet (never mentioned) and no airstrikes it should be a safe assumption that this is the end of the world. Once inside the Centre for Disease Control the survivors shower – in a scene already enacted in Days Gone Bye.

This episode introduces a cringing horror/sci-fi cliché: the mad scientist. This is the lone nut job who will attempt to succeed where multinational pharmaceutical companies have not. There is no cure for cancer, AIDS or the common cold but Dr Edwin Jenner will attempt to find a cure for the Walkers. He doesn’t realise there are no patents or Nobel Prizes after the apocalypse. Jenner does have help though. From a voice activated computer that even responds to Rick. It must know he’s the lead character.

Dr Goebbels would have recognised this show. With the exception of episode 5 Wildfire this series has been a love letter to the racist white supremacist fantasist. The most disturbing aspect of this episode is the dénouement. Andrea and Jacqui decide to stay with Jenner in a Jonestown Massacre5 style suicide pact. Dale refuses to allow Andrea her death. He begs her, pleads with her and rescues her.

To hell with Jacqui.

She gazes in supplication at her great Satan the Jim Jones-esque Dr Jenner. 
And so they die.  

Thrill Fiction exists to support the horror community. It is my intention to critique film and now television in support of the industry. I will expose the fraud. I will laud the worthy. There are talented writers reading this. The Walking Dead is a prime example of another Hollywood failure. It falls to the responsibility of the writer, not the hack/charlatan, to record the human spirit in the art of fiction. This record will last for our future generations and will serve as testament to our present. They will remember us. We are writers.

Thrill Fiction condemns and denounces the racist/terrorist white supremacist propaganda that is The Walking Dead. As a narrative it is riddled with plot holes, inconsistencies, contrivances, bad dialogue, bad acting, a lack of research and contempt for viewer.

Some viewers are worthy of contempt.

You have not been charged for this editorial.

Bourgy.com is my go-to site for entertainment and jibber jabber. I’d like to thank webmaster Steupz for his support. I am indebted. Ricky Sprague writes at Project Child Murdering Robot and When Falls The Collesium. He is the writer Vanity Fair wishes they had. His acknowledgement supersedes Frank Darabont’s ratings. Thank you to Melizmatic. Don’t be a stranger. Hi to Lee at the Houghly Film and Beer Journal. Keep chugging the pints. A special thanks to all who read my editorials on this series. I appreciate your time.

Next time leave a comment.

It waters my ego.
Read more Thrill Fiction: The Walking Dead
2 TV.com The Walking Dead forum
3 Deadline Hollywood The Walking Dead lets go of writers
4 Time Magazine Walking Dead writer’s not fired say producers
5 Wikipedia The Jonestown Massacre

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Monday, 29 November 2010

The Walking Dead 105: Wildfire

Do not enter the city. It belongs to the dead now.
Rick Grimes

In 1986 Spike Lee made a film about a bed hopping single black female. She’s Gotta Have It was revolutionary at the time: a film with an African-American female lead, a film directed by a black man, a non-accusatory film about (black) female sexuality. Lee incurred the wrath of (white) America with his pertinent Do the Right Thing 1989. He awakened ghosts, frightened the living and had to battle Warner Bros1 with Malcolm X 1992. He is the pre-eminent African-American film director in the history of motion pictures. His films for the most part challenge, provoke, entertain, involve and engage. His films are cinema.

Ernest Dickerson2 made his name during the Spike Lee years (1986-1995) as his director of photography. Having served his apprenticeship he was rewarded with a studio released debut feature Juice 1992 starring Tupac Shakur. At this point Ernest Dickerson was the next big (black) thing3.

A career in the arts is a marathon and not everyone can be Alfred Hitchcock. Dickerson floundered at features. Others have too. Allan Moyle was a notable disappointment. Richard Kelly is a notable disappointment. Television is become a refugee camp for the once promising movie director. Television is what keeps Dickerson in the visual arts.
He used to be a contender.

The pre credit scene is a harbinger. Unlike the preceding three episodes there is a point to it; Andrea now knows how to use a gun – and accepts the leadership of the cops by consent and not coercion. The immediate question raised is the genre’s pièce de résistance: the transformation from dead to walking dead.

The very first sequence after the titles displays the difference of this episode. Morales and Daryl carry a corpse towards the bonfire. Glenn accosts them. He is strident.

Our people go in that row over there. We don’t burn them. We bury them. Understand? Our people go in that row over there.
Glenn

He controls himself. He is insistent. Glenn is a boy. Morales and Daryl are men. They are not chastened but they do not argue. They bury their dead.

For the first time since this series began there is consequence. The characters are to dwell in the aftermath of the machinations of the plot. This is the blitz. On some occasions when Churchill and/or King George VI visited the bombed out districts the crowds would boo them4. They had survived that night. They would have to survive this one.

After catastrophe comes chaos. Daryl declares the massacre as punishment for the camp deserting his brother. Jim begs Jacqui not to out him. She does. Shane considers murder – a sight seen by Dale. Andrea kills her sister’s walker.

Dickerson’s skill as a director is to dwell on the actors. It is the reaction shot. The actors – all of them – raise their game accordingly. The survivor’s register shock, horror, dismay, revulsion and fear at the revelation of a bleeding bite wound on Jim’s stomach. Jim pleads for his life then has to sit and wait as a people’s tribunal decides his fate.

There are bouts of sentimentality – Gale’s soliloquy and Amy’s zombie death – but these are negated by her burial. They are negated by the tribunal arguing to a near point of violence about what direction to take. The camp is to separate. The farewell scene invokes images of Somali refugee camps in Kenya and the blind choices a man must make to save his family. No actor is wasted where they hitherto have been. This is the skill of Dickerson.

For the first time Sarah Wayne Callies as Lori gives a worthy performance. Rick approaches his wife for help. She can’t give it him. She won’t give it him. These are people falling apart. They are frantic, desperate and propelled by fear. The realisation is settling in; they are living in false hope. Rick, Shane and Daryl want to defeat the enemy while Lori and Glen insist on retaining their humanity. It takes all sorts of mechanisms to cope.

Shane is given more motivation. His family are dead. That’s more than enough to tip any man – much less a self believing cop – into the insanity of jealousy. Jacqui has her best scenes yet. Jim’s demise is a good (off screen) death. In a world of 6.5 billion people what’s one more zombie in the scheme of things?
 
The climax to this episode rivals 101. It doesn’t supersede it but it does come close. It is action and drama. It is cinematic. It is magnificent. Ernest Dickerson is the biggest mistake of this series because he has exposed the potential of The Walking Dead. He has shown what could have been. What it should be. He hasn’t lost his talent.
He is wasted in television.

Read more Thrill Fiction: The Walking Dead 104: Vatos
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Thursday, 25 November 2010

The Walking Dead 104: Vatos

Vato: The word Mexicans use for homeboy(sic).
The Urban Dictionary

Not to be confused with the Hispanic street gang Vatos Locos.

400 years ago Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament. To celebrate his failure the British burn effigies atop bonfires every November 5th. The fires burn at public gatherings and in private backyards to a firework display finale. Bonfire night aside throughout the year people use fireworks to celebrate a myriad of occasions: sporting events, the openings of restaurants, nightclubs, birthdays. Other countries celebrate with fireworks too. The fact is human beings are mesmerised by flashing lights in the night sky. Just like the zombies in George A Romero’s Land of the Dead 2005.

The Walking Dead is a fireworks display: all smoke no mirrors.

Monsters 2010 is an apocalypse-set film in the tradition of Cloverfield 2008. Whereas the latter positions itself in the horror genre the former is set firmly in drama. Monsters tells the story of two Americans stranded in Mexico who attempt to walk their way through the ‘infected zone’ back into the United States. In this apocalyptic world the characters have nothing left but time – and a survivalist’s urgency. It is a time to re-examine themselves. It is time not afforded to us in our world of capitalism and consumerism. There comes a tipping point in that time where the characters realise that this is the end of the world and all hope is gone. At the end of time will people gravitate to each other out of lust or despair?

The Walking Dead attempts to position itself as drama yet after more than three hours of broadcast television it has failed to establish tone. There is not a sense of static time or hopelessness. Rick Grimes’ quest seems to be leading to a point but post Armageddon all points are futile. The show does not convey this. Civilization would have to start over but these characters act like they’re waiting for a rescue. The series balances itself between horror and drama – Atlanta and the campsite – with no equilibrium. The last two episodes have seen the drama fail at camp. This episode sees the horror fail in Atlanta.

The fail is the writing. Time and again the program makers waste the pre credit sequence. Rather than establish the episode they signpost the climax – with a bludgeon rather than a blade; the conversation between two blonde women about fishing tackle is at best inane at worst sentimental. These two characters then expose the series as fraud. Where did that boat come from? Did a refugee carry it on their back whilst fleeing escaping flesh eating zombies? How long have these people been in camp because they act like this is the first time the sisters have caught fish. Yet the girls are lifelong amateur fishermen. They catch a bounty bigger than the Cornwall fishing quota.

Jim wanders off and occupies his time digging holes in the ground. That causes consternation amongst the campers. Apparently he’s scaring Lori’s son and Carol’s daughter. Notably his digging is not scaring Juan’s children. I guess the only time a white man scares them is when he wants to deport them. Nevertheless we must protect the (white) children so Shane handcuffs Jim to a tree.

Do not be deceived. This episode does not deal with the inevitable nervous breakdowns following Armageddon or even the camp dynamics. Jim’s ‘sunstroke’ is a setup for the conclusion. A society can be judged by the way it treats its mentally ill. How would Shane or anyone else treat a liability who screams at night as a beacon for the walkers? Why hasn’t anyone challenged Shane his leadership position especially after Ed’s beating in 103 and now Jim? There should be murmurings and grumblings of a coup d’état most likely from Lori. Alas this show has no interest in human motivation and condition. This is soap opera and General Hospital has been running for 50 years.

In Atlanta the racist stereotyping continues. The only good Injun is a dead one but these Latinos are good guys. They may come across as gangbangers but they’re really just looking after their grandmothers – for shame. Atlanta is a majority African-American city but in the wonderful world of white fantasy where are all the black zombies?

They’re unemployed.

There is a token black zombie. T-Dog is given a gun. He gets to use it as well. He gets to shoot a zombie. Guess which one.

I’m your worst nightmare.
I’m a n— with a gun badge.
Eddie Murphy
Another 48 Hours

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