#31DaysOfHorror: Oct 25

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Clive Barker. Clive Motherfucking Barker. The man is an underappreciated genius. And like many geniuses, he doesn’t get the credit/respect he so richly deserves. For the most part, Barker is regarded as a Horror-Guy, but any close analysis of his work shows his stories are just as rich in fantasy. Several of his stories have been adapted into film with somewhat mixed results (Transmutations and Rawhead Rex being examples of things not working out so great).  The Barker directed Hellraiser was a shining example of the brilliance he could churn out if given sufficient creative freedom. After finishing the novella Cabal, Barker realized it would make a good film, originally envisioning a trilogy of films which had the makings of being the Star Wars of Horror films. This was to be Barkers crowning a achievment in film… Then the studio (Morgan Creek) decided to fuck with things.

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Anyone who has seen Nightbreed can tell you the film they saw was a unfocused, confused mess with a confusing narrative, and poorly defined motivations for the characters. The film has many incredible ideas and plots that seem to go nowhere. We see a fantastical mythology hinted at, a world full of monsters glimpsed, a poorly executed love story, and a slasher plot all crammed together amidst the core story which somehow got lost in the editing.  When Barker saw the initial marketing push for the film, he was aghast to see that his film was being marketed as a Slasher film and the supernatural elements were all but ignored. According to Barker, the head of marketing for Morgan Creek never watched the finished film, saying that it “disgusted and distressed” him. Night breed was a film that was neither understood nor wanted by the studio. The original version ran 2 and a half hours…but after the final bit of studio butchering, clocked in at 102 minutes.

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There is a happy ending though. For years, a bootleg directors cut had been rumored to exist, and even traded amongst diehard fans. After many years, this version was finally released, dubbed the Cabal Cut. Upon viewing this “complete” version of the film, we finally have clarity. Suddenly the relationship between Lori and Boone takes on a new light, Davis Cronenberg’s portrayal of Decker shows clearer motivation and makes his flat portrayal all the more chilling, and the ending is much different. Now the film has a clear direction with potential for the planned sequels. Aside from a far more detailed look into the fantasitcal underground city of Midian, and its denizens, the most significant change from the original release is that the Night breed themselves are portrayed in a far more sympathetic light. The original intent was to depict humanity as the true monster in the film, however that concept did not sit well with the producers, so additional footage was shot to portray the Nightbreed as more aggressive and more threatening, and expanding the role of a masked serial killer to fill the need to have a “villain” to satisfy their need to fit in to the mold. Nightbreed cannot fit into any mold. As you can tell, I’m trying very hard to avoid spoilers. I want EVERYONE to see the Cabal cut of Nightbreed. Do not deprive yourself of the chance to finally return to Midian, to where the monsters live.

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#31DaysOfHorror: Oct 16

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Right, so this film is terrible. I think we can all agree on that. The only reason I watched it again is I saw this as a HUGE wasted opportunity for Universal pictures. Originally intended to be a sort of reboot of the classic Universal Monsters line-up for contemporary audiences, the release also coincided with DVD reissues of the original films as well.

We meet the infamous Van Helsing, an enigmatic Monster Hunter in the employ of the Catholic Church. Van Helsing is played well enough by Hugh Jackman, but anything he may have done well is overshadowed by the seemingly endless piles of shit littering the film.

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The creature designs for the Vampires and Werewolves look decent enough, but they fall apart once rendered in this films flagrantly over-used CGI. They are left looking like something out of a particularly cool looking cartoon. Post-Interview with a Vampire, pre-Twilight, Vampires were still pretty popular and had not worn out their welcome yet. Still, somehow Van Helsing manages to give us some of the most insufferable Vampires ever depicted. OK, its kinda cool that when they Vamp out they turn into a kind of Demonic Bat Human hybrid…but was it really necessary to depict the Vamps cloaks/dresses morphing into their wings? What happens if they are naked? Do they still get wings? Fuck sakes… I can’t remember who played Dracula, nor do I care to look it up… It felt like the dude was trying very hard to imitate Bela Lugosi, and as you can imagine, he fails. Dracula is one of the most famous characters of all time, if you are going to portray this character effectively, you need to bring something special to the role. Also, one of the Brides is far too tan, Ginger, and big-titted for me to ever buy that she was once a Romanian villager.

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Yup…that’s how they’ve decided Frankensteins monster looks now. It’s like Frankie just decided to stitch on extra muscles when assembling him. The one thing about this abomination of an abomination that I enjoyed is the idea of the Monster being a tragic, misunderstood, and sympathetic character…even if he was overly articulate. Its not all bad though. The visuals in the film as stunning. Everything from the set design to character design(apart from the silly looking Frankenstein) looks fantastic. I’ve already mentioned Jackman doing a good job, but Kate Beckinsale deserves praise here too, although if she hasn’t already planned on fighting Vampires and Werewolves while wearing a Corset, I really have no idea what else she would do with her time. My favorite character was sadly killed off early on. The Creepy Undertaker.

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He had a presence about him that made me want to know what that creepy lil fuck was up to. He distrusts outsiders, Morbidly goes about measuring them for caskets during conversations, and even tries to kill Van Helsing, simply stating “It’s my nature”. I would have enjoyed the film far more if he were tagging along with the hero’s the whole time, working towards the same goal of killing Dracula, but still taking any opportunity to cause trouble and sew dissent.

If you have no particular affinity for the classic Universal Monsters, or aren’t much of a fan of Horror films, then this film actually works fairly well as an action/fantasy film. Its got all the right ingredients to succeed with mainstream audiences, except for heart. As we’ll discuss in later entries, the re-boot train has not stopped rolling, but does appear to be riding much more smoothly. Ultimately, Van Helsing was ambitious, and had some great ideas…but I think it stands as an example of what NOT to do.

King Of Monsters

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*BIG FUCKING SPOILERS AHEAD!!! (Although, if you can’t guess what happens in a Godzilla movie by now, i should probly come over there and hit you over the head with a Tack-Hammer)*

31. Before 2014, there have been 31 Godzilla films. consider the scope and magnitude of this for a moment. A film legacy like that is truly the stuff of legends. Debuting in 1954, Godzilla has been portrayed a number of ways and has fallen in to the realm of cliche many years ago, but at the heart of the character, has and always will be an allegory for the misuse of atomic energy and the perils therin. 1950s Japan still felt the sting of the Atom bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and had just received a memory refresher when a Japanese fishing boat was exposed to the Bikini Atoll weapons test, leaving the fishermen with radiation poisoning. Godzilla (More accurately known as Gojira) is a personification of the growing fears of a Nation, that would one day grow to encompass the Planet.

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There is a reason that the original 1954 film holds up to this day, and it sure wasn’t because of the sweet Monster suit.  Eventually, American studios decided they wanted to take a stab at making a Godzilla film, with plans for a 1983 3D version being scrapped early on, and 1994 attempt being shelved part way through production. Then came 1998…Third time’s a charm, right? Fuck No.

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The less said about that hunk of shit the better. It was so bad that Toho studios bought back the rights, and the ’98 designs, renamed it ‘Zilla, and explained it wasn’t really Godzilla, that some idiot had just confused a lesser monster for Godzilla in the film…then went so far as to have Godzilla kill ‘Zilla in “Final Wars”. Enter Gareth Edwards. A relative unknown with only one full length film to his credit, 2010’s Monsters. If you haven’t already seen Monsters, please do check it out, and you’ll see why I breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing he was attached to direct. Simply put, the man knows how to properly bring appropriate life to monsters while making sure the human stories don’t get lost in the massive shadows cast.

Our story uses the first third setting up the story and establishing the back story of the Monsters. Yes, Monsters. We will see Kaiju Battle! Rather than give you a detailed description of the intricate(though not complex) events, I’ll give you the basics. Mankind’s use of atomic energy have awakened an ancient creature referred to as Gojira, and along with him two Parasites referred to as MUTO who feed off of atomic energy. The two species seem to be closely linked, but through somewhat ambiguous means. They explained it, and I was paying attention, but it still wasn’t really clear. De Facto Japanese Science dude Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) theorizes that Gojira might be natures way of “restoring the balance” and that if left to his own devices, he will hunt down and destroy the MUTO. Of course, that’s exactly what winds up happening, but as he puts forth this theory, I couldn’t help but ask myself “what the fuck is he basing this on?” We are given no evidence that Gojira will behave this way…if anything I would assume Gojira would be pretty pissed at humanity after we tried to stuff a 15 kiloton Nuclear Bomb up his ass the last time he showed up. But I digress…

Along the way we get a good performance by Bryan Cranston who plays Nuclear Plant supervisor Joe Brody who lost his wife in the meltdown triggered by a MUTO years ago and becomes obsessed with finding out the truth in the wake of the coverup that follows. Brody’s son Ford ultimately becomes our hero, but i found it hard to become invested in him. Which leads me to my biggest gripe about the film. The Humans. Cranston does a fine job, and despite some questionable character direction, Watanabe is also good(I think it’s just because his accent sounds cool as shit), but other than that, i found it nearly impossible to connect with any other person in the film. Not only was there no emotional investment, but i found them all just a little too accepting of what’s happening. One scene shows a large crowd of people fleeing a Muto attack, the city literally crumbling around them…might as well be the world as they know it collapsing as they are being attacked by a gigantic creature that shouldn’t exist…only to run right smack dab into Gojira, and even bigger nightmare! Their brains should be screaming at them that this can’t possibly be happening…THIS CAN’T BE REAL!!! Instead, the whole crowd just turns 90 degrees and keeps running. I would have expected at least a who people to be frozen with fear, or suffer a complete mental break. Not all, just some…but the most we get from people is just panic. I know i’m knit-picking with this example, but the majority of my problems I had with the film began and ended with the humans. Then i realized that there could be no more perfect metaphor.

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“The arrogance of man is thinking that Nature is under our control”

As in the original film, the catalyst of all the trouble is mankind meddling with a power that is too great, trying to harness a force of nature. The weakness is humanity, and that cannot be illustrated more plainly than beholding the sheer might of  Godzilla. He is the personification of our worst fears in an Atomic age, Powerful, unpredictable, destructive, and unstoppable. It’s a heavy realization to sink in, and this film is not afraid to kick you in the teeth in a few more subtle ways as the disasters depicted in the film recall some of the more grimly iconic moments from recent history. The ruble and dust clouds from skyscrapers crumbling in the streets echo the chilling visions of the 9/11 attacks, the tourist resorts washed away by tidal waves remind me too much of the handheld footage from the Boxing Day Tsunami, and the destruction of the Nuclear plant, well it doesn’t take a genius to see shadows of Fukushima. Even the Military basically knows they cannot succeed. Their only shot is to use a manually armed nuclear weapon to lure the Kaiju away from civilians, and detonate. They know full well that these creatures feed on radiation, and that their only hope is that the payload of the blast itself is enough to kill them…but it’s really just a guess. Before deployment the troops are briefed that there is no extraction plan. “You walk out of there or you aren’t going home”. When you consider how gung-ho and cock-sure the Military usually is, it’s rather grim to see them approach a situation pretty much saying “Yeahhhhh….so this probly isn’t gonna work, but we have to try SOMETHING…so let’s just hope for the best?”. The Military are not the heroes, but helpless on-lookers, as terrified and enthralled by the Kaiju-battle as we all are. Forced to watch, Petrified and in awe of events and things that are bigger than them. Impotent with their man-weapons and Stars and Stripes patches. I can’t help but think this to be a comment to Americas Interventionist failures.

My only other gripe with the film is minor. I wish Gojira had been more of a menace to mankind, rather than go into his protector role so early. I wanted the unyielding force of nature to punish our foolish world for daring to toy with a power so great! But with all the other grim allegories within the film, I completely understand why he was made or Savior. We needed hope. We needed to know that yes, terrible things will happen. Some are because of mistakes we have made, others are beyond our control. But maybe with a little well placed help we can be put back on the right path? Fuck it, I’ve had enough of metaphors. Less story, more huge monster battles! Let’s see updated versions of Anguirus, Rodan, Gigan and King Ghidorah!

Sure, there were a few things that bugged me, but overall i felt this was a really strong film. The visuals are amazing as well as the sound! THAT ROAR THO!!!!!  It feels like Godzilla was finally done right by Hollywood and hopefully we can look forward to many more sequels. And hopefully you’ll take this chance to check out the 31 other films in the Gojira catalog. Some get a little silly…like Gojira throwing the weirdest looking dropkick in history, as well as doing a victory dance…but show me ANY film series who has that many entries doesn’t start to run out of good ideas.

 

Thanks for reading, Creeps!