Anatomy Of An Unnecessary Remake

*Spoiler Alert! I’ll be discussing detailed plot points about the 2015 film remake of Poltergeist below. You’ll have less chance of spoiling your lunch if you read it here than actually watching this nausea-inducing trainwreck*

Very few things annoy me more than when Hollywood decides to chase the money and crank out a remake of a beloved classic film (your definition of beloved may vary). With the current climate of reboot and rebrand and repeat going on today, this problem has become an epidemic, and the casualties are mounting. Just look at poor Patrick Swayze, may he rest in peace. First, Chris Hemsworth headed an horrifically bad and unnecessary remake of the Swayze/Charlie Sheen brothers in arms classic Red Dawn. That’s been followed up by a terribly unimaginative re-do of the Swayze/Keanu/Busey surfing bank robber epic Point Break. Now with more X-treme! I must’ve missed when we time warped back to 1997.

And to top it off, there’s news that the Swayze/Sam Elliott ass-kicker Roadhouse is getting redone, starring women’s UFC superstar Ronda Rousey. No offense to Rousey (please don’t beat me senseless) but that’s the trifecta of picking the bones of a great career many of us recall very fondly. At least Ghost is safe. Wait, what? Oh, for fucks sake!

With this cavalcade of awfulness going on, I thought I’d dive into the deep end and subject myself to another one of these hideously unnecessary money grabs, Poltergeist. I’m going to watch it now and pause every so often to throw up my thoughts on the 2015 remake of the classic 1982 horror film (and I do mean throw up. I may vomit). This is about as clear an example of an unnecessary remake as there is. Generally, a film I consider unnecessary is one who’s original is strong enough (and in some cases, recent enough) that a remake has only the possibility of ending up an inferior film. So, Poltergeist? Check and mate on that.

The original Poltergeist is certainly not perfect. Aspects of it are dated to the point of incomprehensible to some younger audiences. The national anthem playing before the channel signed off late at night and switched to static comes to mind. And the special effects used at the time can sometimes be a bit clunky, like the guy peeling his face off in the bathroom mirror. But if cheesy effects and inconsequential dating is the reason you’d want to remake this movie, you should really go back and watch it again because I think you missed the point.

The 1982 version was written (mostly) and produced by Steven Fucking Spielberg at the height of his Spielbergian powers in the early ’80s. It was directed by Tobe Hooper of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame (another of his films to be victimized by an unnecessary remake), and starred Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams and that creepy little girl who played Carol Anne (who even more creepily died filming a later sequel). The new version is directed by Gil Kenan who, according to IMDB, is known for some shit I’ve never heard of. It stars Sam Rockwell (who I’m totally cool with. Moon was awesome! ) Rosemarie DeWitt and some non-creepy dark haired girl whose character’s name is no longer Carol Anne. It’s Madison. *sigh*

“Don’t go into the light, Madison,” just doesn’t have the same vibe as Zelda Rubinstein’s soul searing, and slightly country-fied, “Carol Anne!” But then, there’s no Tangina in this new version, anyway. *double sigh*

Well, here goes. I’m going to hit play and watch some, then comment when the mood strikes.

20 Minutes In…

After making it through the opening setup, my previous reservations have become full-on annoyance. Gone is the entire subplot between Craig T. Nelson and his boss. Shouldn’t matter much though, because it was only the entire proximate cause of the haunting, and by extension, the plot. No big deal. The unscrupulous boss, who moves the headstones from a graveyard, builds his houses right over the bodies then convinces his top salesman and family to move right into the model home, all the better for his sales, is out.

That moment near the end, standing on the hill beside the next graveyard his boss wanted to build atop, when Nelson realized what he’d done, and that all of their paranormal problems had been caused by that man’s greed and callousness, that’s gone too. Sam Rockwell’s boss is now a faceless John Deere exec who laid him off, causing the family to downsize for money reasons. Why change that original relationship? Now, they’re just another in a long line of hard luck horror movie families who got a little too good of a deal just when they were desperate for one, with inevitably ghastly consequences.

So not only is this an unnecessary remake, it’s now dumbed down an integral plot point from the original. The payoff in this one for why the house is haunted better be good, but I’m not sure how they can improve upon what they’ve already discarded.

Oh, and #thishouseisclean?!?
#fuckoffwiththat!

40 Minutes In…

So the abducting the little girl part is roughly the same only without any of the tension of the original. It’s almost as though the screenwriter said, “you know how this goes,” and gave us the cliff notes version in an extended montage scene. That’s an inherent problem with unnecessary remakes, particularly of well known originals. The audience already knows all the beats. A skilled filmmaker can sometimes use those audience expectations to their advantage. Or not, lest we forget the Khan debacle.

The result is the tree that attacks the boy loses its stoically ominous nature, the clown is barely creepy at all (quite an accomplishment to make a clown like that not frightening) and Madison’s “they’re here” gets mumbled out of necessity by a little girl who looks like she hasn’t slept in a month rather than Carol Anne’s welcoming, drawn out version that made everyone’s skin crawl. Again, how do you improve upon what doesn’t need improving? Don’t bother asking the makers of this film because they don’t seem to know either.

Apparently, the family does still live in a house where the developer moved the headstones of a graveyard but left the bodies. The parents find out at a dinner party. But now, it’s no longer a direct betrayal but something that happened long in the past and has become idle rumors for the snotty well-to-do. The movie also further reinforced the family’s money troubles with an extended “credit cards are overdrawn” scene, as well as some convenient condescension from other dinner party guests. The money angle makes sense as justification for how the family got into this situation, it’s just less original and much less interesting than its predecessor.

Another point of annoyance for me so far, as if I need one, is the lack of levity in this version. The supernatural happenings are all unambiguously evil. There’s none of the playfulness of the kitchen floor scene from the old film. It’s dark throughout, from the tone, the setting, the characters; it’s all skirting the edge of darkness all the time. Even Rockwell, who I generally enjoy, has descended to being irritating to the point where I just wish one of the others characters would tell him to shut the hell up. There’s no happiness present to be ripped away from the family like in the original. It’s just a group of people suffering bad on top of bad. It’s almost masochistic. Speaking of which, onward I go.

One Hour In…

How can I put this? The part about the paranormal investigative team is just like the original only less. The people are thin imitations, the pace of the film sped up to the point it’s sacrificing characterization, even the supernatural moments are slight, less complex variations of what we’ve already seen. The dad drinking and hallucinating about throwing up a worm(s); the ghostly apparition that floated downstairs/ghostly shadow that drifted upstairs, the anecdote by the cameraman about only seeing objects move with time lapse photography thrown in his face, a table leg/tennis ball goes into the upstairs closet and out the downstairs ceiling, covered in goo. One beat after another, all the same and all playing like somebody ticking items off a checklist. It’s almost as if this movie were filmed from a numbered outline rather than an actual screenplay.

There’s not a single element of this film so far that’s improved upon (or even matched) it’s original presentation. It seems to be simply a sequence of events that, taken on its own without the original film as a frame of reference, might well be incoherent. I can’t wait to see how it ends!

One Hour 15 Minutes in…

Ok, wow. As I mentioned earlier, there’s no Tangina in this version. But apparently, Captain Quint from Jaws was available. And what do you know, he happens to be the ex husband of the science team leader! Don’t you just love convenient symmetry?

We also discover that remote control drones can send back crystal clear picture from the underworld. That’s a nice feature. And the cemetery the developers built over was huge, as evidenced by the mounds of writhing corpses all over the place in limbo. How two children managed to evade all those thousands of desperately grasping limbs and escape remains unclear.

Which brings me to another change, the mother didn’t save the girl this time, her brother did. In fact, there’s little suggestion beforehand that the mother go at all. Now the film has taken bites out of both parents; the dad’s an unemployed loser who can’t support his family and the mother is a flighty (she’ll get to that novel someday, I’m sure) helpless bystander.

Mercifully, it’s almost over. I’ve still got the “surprise” after the faux ending to come. See what I mean about knowing all the beats?

The End

Awful. Just awful. Points, though, for when the poltergeist flipped the minivan and dragged them all back into the house. That may have been the only genuinely cool moment in the entire movie. This time around, Captain Quint leaps into the abyss to lead the lost souls into the light, apparently by blasting the roof off the place. The house doesn’t completely implode, however, and Quint appears to survive, somehow, much to relief of his ex wife. That may be the most unrealistic thing to happen. Most people’s exes would likely be thrilled to have theirs swallowed up in a cavern of tormented souls, I would think.

Even the little bit of humor at the end didn’t work as well as the original, when Craig T. Nelson wrapped the movie up by wheeling the hotel TV out of their room. In this one, the family is house hunting again and run away when faced with a house having similar characteristics to their last one. How a broke, unemployed couple fresh from a demolished house they just bought can afford another one so soon is a bigger mystery than the poltergeist itself. You might want to check, but I’m reasonably sure homeowners insurance doesn’t cover ghosts ripping your house apart from the netherworld. Probably need a separate rider for that kind of coverage.

If they hadn’t spent a goodly portion of the first 45 minutes beating us over the head with the family’s money troubles, this scene might not be so terrible. As it is, I suspect the family simply took up fucking with realtors as a hobby rather than actually having the resources to buy another house, especially a bigger and better one than what they just demolished. It smacks of the screenwriter trying to be cute at the expense of consistency.

Overall, this was terrible. Basically the same movie as the original, only worse in every respect, often spectacularly so. But that’s not surprising. There was no reason for this movie to even be made. If you’re interested in watching a film that shits all over the far superior original (and Terminator Genisys isn’t available) by all means, give this a shot!

With Hollywood continuing to crank out little or nothing but inane reboots, comic book movies or some combination of both, the only question I’m left with is how long until tech gets truly affordable enough to kick off a genuine independent film revolution? It’s coming, sooner than later, no doubt. And when it does, it’ll benefit greatly from an audience likely desperate for some new material for once, thank you.

Dan Meadows is a writer living on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay. Follow him on Twitter @watershedchron

Published in: on October 3, 2015 at 2:04 pm  Comments (1)  
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Riddick’s Latest Chronicle Should Have Gone Unrecorded

*Spoiler Alert! Actually, I’m not sure there’s anything I can say that could possibly spoil this movie any worse than watching it. It’s terrible. But I may inadvertently give details of things you don’t want to know if you’re planning on still wasting your money seeing it. Little tip: set your money on fire instead. You’ll get a brief few seconds of warmth from it which is more than you’ll get in two hours at the theater.

Beware long awaited sequels to cult-following type movies. Lest we forget, there’s the damage done to Indiana Jones by the horrible Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or the sheer reputation-destroying wall of schlock thrown up by George Lucas in his second set of Star Wars movies to remind us. Sometimes it’s best to just leave well enough alone. Of course, both of those terrible affronts to iconic characters banked enough coin to encourage talk of an Indy 5 and spur Disney to drop the price of a small country to land the rights to produce the next series of cash-printing Star Wars films. But that’s the way of Hollywood these days; squeeze that franchise for every dime regardless of quality. And you don’t have to worry about killing the golden goose because you just hire new folks and reboot every decade or so. Great for the accountants but not so hot for continuity, coherence or character.

At least with those films, you have a solid bankable asset still in play with a large fan base’s fond memories of past success. That’s not the case with Vin Diesel’s labor of artistic love, Richard B. Riddick. A character, by the way, who only even has a first name or middle initial to prop up an offhanded joke near the beginning of Pitch Black, the first film in this now-trilogy. Riddick is a character so thin on nuance that even giving him a full name seems superfluous. But that was okay to me because the Riddick introduced in Pitch Black was mysterious, silently threatening and sneaky-clever beneath the veneer of a muscle bound dullard. In that way, Diesel fit his character, his performance naturally seamless from his personality and acting style.

Despite the money, accolades and string of Fast and Furious driven hits, Diesel is not a very good actor. He has one speed, and it works if the character he’s playing is firmly in that wheelhouse. Dominic Toretto is one of those, and the big difference that separates the B-movie, direct to video feel of the Fast films without him from the A-list blockbusters the one’s with him have become. Riddick, at least in the first two incarnations, was another, albeit sans the massive box office.

Pitch Black was released in 2000 to little fanfare. It was an atmospheric low-budget ($23 million) sci fi/horror movie, more in common with Alien than any kind of space opera. At its simplest, Pitch Black works well. Cold anti hero finds that little spark of humanity left within him, the crash survivors picked off “Ten Little Indians” style by the seemingly inevitable crush of the darkness-loving monsters. The movie hints at a larger universe, but keeps things vague enough that your imagination fills in the details of the world they exist in and allows the story to focus wholly on the man vs man/man vs monster battles for survival.

The second film, The Chronicles of Riddick, was much different. In place of the simple survival against long odds story was an overly-ambitious sweeping space epic. The budget for the film ballooned to nearly $120 million, and with it, expectations of box office success it just wasn’t capable of meeting. Despite the far expanded scope of the film, the Riddick character was essentially the same steely badass taking each fight as it comes from the first movie. He was given a sometimes incoherent backstory about his Furyan heritage and a prophecy he may have been born to fulfill but, much like his full name in Pitch Black, it felt like pointless exposition to set up the next scene of Riddick coolly wreaking carnage. And I was okay with that. Movies are what they are and this, in particular, was one not to get too hung up on the details or occasional dangling plot points.

After the relative box office bomb that Chronicles became, it looked like the accountants would do what all the space monsters, Mercs and Necromongers couldn’t and kill Riddick. The movie actually wasn’t a bomb in the epic sense. When all was said and done, and the International box office was counted up, Chronicles was dangerously close to break even. But for $120 million in 2004 dollars, break even was light-years away from good enough to green light any more chronicles.

After that, as part of the deal that brought Vin Diesel back to the Fast and Furious franchise, he swapped a cameo for the film rights to Riddick, a decision that now looks like it might be a very astute, and very profitable one. I waited anxiously for the nine years after Chronicles, sucking up every little piece of internet gossip I could find, hoping beyond good fiscal reason that a third movie would find its way to theaters. Hell, I’d have been happy with a direct to video. As imperfect as Chronicles was, and its imperfections are easily as epic as its scope, I wanted to see more. There were questions I wanted answered. And that sly little smile curling up on Riddick’s lips at the end of Chronicles as he realizes the implications of “you keep what you kill” was a supreme tease. This man was hard enough to handle on his own, what special kind of hell would he bring forth in charge of the entire Necromonger fleet? I wanted to see it.

When I finally saw the trailer for the long-awaited third film, simply named Riddick, earlier this year, I was so happy, I wouldn’t let my concerns about the film surface. This was gonna be awesome! How could it not be? All the years, all that work from Diesel to keep this dream alive? You don’t see people put that kind of effort in without good reason. Or so I told myself. When I bought my ticket and perched myself into that theater seat, I was so excited for what was to come. Then, as the film’s near-two hour runtime spooled out before me, I slowly realized there was one major problem here; the movie itself really sucks.

It isn’t bad in the same way Chronicles was bad, failing because their vision outpaced their grasp. It’s bad in the way Hollywood sometimes ham-handles series reboots. Riddick is part Pitch Black only without the atmosphere, tension or claustrophobic feel. And it’s also part Chronicles without the scope and even more incoherent backstory. Why the strong desire to go home for a man self described as born in a liquor store trashbin with an umbilical cord wrapped around his neck? Relive the good times?

Riddick is a movie that feels put together by audience survey. Riddick fighting monsters tested really well? Here’s 45 minutes of Riddick fighting monsters to open the film. Riddick fighting Mercs also tested well? Then we’ll double down with two competing Merc crews to battle. Riddick winning over the space cat from Chronicles tested well? Have 20 minutes of Riddick raising a vicious brindle space dog from a puppy. The Necromongers didn’t come off so hot? Well, we’ll wrap that plot point up with five minutes of flashback exposition. The end result is a clunky film that seems familiar, mostly because we’ve already seen everything in it done better in the earlier movies.

None of the characters are even slightly compelling. Even Riddick himself seemed less than before. His banter with Katee Sackhoff was blunt and crude, none of the sly allusions of earlier films. The Riddick of Pitch Black or Chronicles wouldn’t have used the phrase “balls deep”. Too coarse, too obvious. Too sexualized. The shot of Riddick’s bed full of naked Necromonger hotties was a stark contrast to the stoic feel of before. It was an attempt to add sex to the character that didn’t need to be. Before, it was subtle and implied. This was ugly and obvious.

The Mercs were hollow shells of their counterparts from the previous movies. Johns in Pitch Black was a far more interesting character, eliciting far more of a response than his father, the elder Johns who appears in Riddick searching for answers about the death of his son. Santana had none of the humor or presence of Toombs from Chronicles. Their respective crews were just to pad the eventual bodycount.

All except for Sackhoff, that is, who had the pleasure of playing the lone female character in the movie, with the exception of the aforementioned naked bed of Necros. This was perhaps the most disappointing part of this. There was an obligatory topless shower scene for Sackhoff, of course, being the only woman in a sci fi movie, that I’m sure the Battlestar Galactica fanboys will enjoy. But overall, she’s a stock character like the rest. Even worse, we’re expected to believe Riddick’s raw animal magnetism gets the lesbian to switch sides. People talk about sexism in sci fi, and this movie’s sure not doing anything to put the lie to that.

It’s particularly disappointing in that both of the earlier films had strong and/or interesting female characters. Pitch Black had Radha Mitchell as the docking pilot who grew into the role of Captain after the crash and Claudia Black’s take-charge prospector. Chronicles had Judi Dench, for god’s sake, an an envoy from a race called Elementals who oversee balance for the entire universe and Thandie Newton as the scheming, Lady Macbeth-type Dame Vacco, wife to the heir apparent to the Necro throne. And then there’s Jack/Kyra, who grew from the cowering girl dressing up as a boy in Pitch Black to the fully grown, ass kicking woman in Chronicles. Riddick’s universe went from strong female characters to a token woman who exists solely for Riddick to make lewd comments to. That, in this case, it happened to be a woman who did such a good job with a strong woman character in Battlestar Galactica makes it all the more disheartening.

Somehow, this film is actually being received fairly well. Rotten Tomatoes is showing a critics’ rating of 58, which isn’t gangbusters but is much better than this deserved. The viewers’ rating is even higher, at 73! Riddick was produced more in line with Pitch Black. It had a low budget, around $38 million. In just five days since the movie opened in the U.S., it’s already earned back close to $30 million. I think it’s safe to say, when all the receipts are in, the international box office added, and the inevitable video game tie-in or two, Diesel is going to have a nice pile of money for his troubles. That also means we’re very likely to see Riddick 4 and probably Riddick 5 over the next few years.

Back in 2004, after Chronicles bombed, I remember being disappointed knowing that, barring a miracle, there’d probably not be any more Riddick movies. Now, after seeing the new one and knowing with near certainty that there will be more, I find myself disappointed yet again. There’s millions of dollars to be made, after all, so these movies will exist, but by the time the money dries up, will anyone still remember why we watched the Riddick movies in the first place? Be careful what you wish for.

Published in: on September 11, 2013 at 9:22 am  Leave a Comment  
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The 13 Days of Halloween: Alfred Hitchcock Presents Horror

Alfred Hitchcock is one of those Hollywood folks whose films can be associated with various types of creative work.  Thrillers are probably what he’s best known for as, over the years, Hitch cranked out many excellent films with espionage, murder and other general all-around mayhem as the main component to their plots.  Hitchcock even frequently discussed his use of the MacGuffin, put simply, whatever it was the protagonists were fighting over, be that secret plans or, typically in his films, some vague, unspecified crucial thing that sets up all the thriller elements.

While I do seriously enjoy Hitch’s various array of thrillers, I’ve always been more of a fan of his horror films.  While many of his most famous works straddled the line between multiple genres, there are a few that I feel fall squarely into the horror category, and I believe they include some of the very cream of his cinematic efforts.

Before I get into my list, though, I want to give a specific shout out to four of his films, in particular, that simply straddled that line too far on the thriller side to be considered horror.  I also very briefly considered The Lodger, which is definitely in the horror genre as it’s based on Jack The Ripper, but ruled it out immediately.  It was Hitch’s first film, a silent one at that, and simply doesn’t hold up to the standards set by the other movies listed here.

I really wanted to have Vertigo on this list, mostly because it’s my single favorite Hitchcock film.  Jimmy Stewart gives simply an awesome performance as the troubled and almost creepy-obsessive main character.  And the plot, with its hints at ghosts, dopplegangers and an all around unhappy ending really had me struggling to overcome what I knew was true.  Vertigo is a sublime example of a richly textured psychological thriller, not a horror film.  It pained me to do so, but Vertigo is out.

Speaking of great performances from Jimmy Stewart, I had nearly a carbon copy internal conflict over the fantastic Rear Window.  Stewart was again wonderful, this time as a curious but helpless man stranded in his apartment, only able to watch a murderous plot unfold through his telescope, powerless to do anything about it.  In the end, though, even more than Vertigo, Rear Window was just too clearly a psychological thriller to make it on this list.

Another film I was compelled to leave out despite myself was Grace Kelly’s fabulous turn in Dial M For Murder.  A husband’s ruthless plot to have his wife murdered in a fake robbery goes awry when she manages to kill her would-be assailant.  Unfortunately for Kelly, she herself ends up being arrested for murder.  This is truly a great film, but after her arrest, the movie plays much more like a murder mystery than a horror film.  Despite my initial consideration, deciding to leave this one off was actually easier than either Vertigo or Rear Window.

The fourth film I seriously considered was Strangers On A Train.  In this one, Guy meets a mysterious man on a train trip who offers a bizarre bargain: he’d kill Guy’s wife in exchange for Guy doing away with the man’s father, thereby solving both of their problems.  Guy says no, but the man carries out his end anyway soon thereafter, by killing his wife.  While the setup has some elements of horror, this movie ultimately becomes a thriller/blackmail film.

So, which of Hitchcock’s films did make the cut?  Here are what I consider to be his five best actual horror films:

Psycho

Ok, so this one is obvious.  Psycho may well be the best horror movie ever made, and if not, it’s on an extremely short list.  Written by horror great Robert Bloch, Psycho set the standard for quiet, unassuming nice guy cum serial killer stories.  There’s a creepy old house, a creepy rundown motel, split personalities, cross dressing, desicated corpses and more.  Do I even need to mention the shower scene, quite possibly the single most famous scene in cinema history?  This is a totally creepy masterpiece of horror, no doubt about it.

The Birds

Like Psycho, there is simply no question that this is first, foremost and completely a horror film.  What starts as a seemingly innocent romantic flirtation turns downright frightening as a small coastal California town becomes ground zero for an all-out war on mankind by the area’s bird population.  Made well before the current environmental “green” movement, Mother Nature is pissed in this horror classic and she’s not gonna take it anymore.  Has there ever been a creepier scene than the end of this film, where the birds perched on every available surface magnanimously provide a brief reprieve from their all-out assault to give the few remaining people an opportunity to give up and get out?  If there is, I haven’t seen it.

Rope

Some may say that this film is a thriller, but I disagree.  It is very much a horror story.  Two college friends decide to kill a third friend before a graduation party just to see what it’s like to murder someone.  They then proceed to stuff the body into a trunk, put a table cloth over it and serve the party guests refreshments on it.  If that’s not horror, then I don’t know what is.  The cold, calculated manner of the killing, and the way in which the stronger of the two friends totally relished every moment of the tension during the lead up to and throughout the party was just simply psychopathic.  Besides, I already ruled out two great Jimmy Stewart Hitchcock films, no way I was leaving off a third.

This film may actually be more famous for the way it was filmed, presented in real-time, cleverly masking cuts to make it appear as one long continuous shot.  Those elements helped to build up the tension right from the start, opening as it did with the last gasp of the dying man, strangled by the title character, the rope.  Murder, madness and unfeeling evil sounds a lot like a horror movie to me.

Shadow of a Doubt

What many people, including the man himself, consider to be Hitchcock’s finest film, this is another thriller that I believe totally fits the bill as a horror movie.  Joseph Cotten is charming Uncle Charlie, come to pay a visit to his namesake niece in California.  What the young girl doesn’t know is that sweet Uncle Charlie is also the Merry Widow Killer, seducing and killing a series of wealthy widows, and part of his visit is motivated by a need to flee one of his recent bloody conquests. 

During his visit, young Charlie begins to suspect and finally confirms her Uncle’s murderous ugly side, and has to survive an attempt on her life, leading him to a gruesome face-first meeting with an on-coming train.  Serial killer, beautiful young girl marked for death, and a brutal comeuppance for the killer at the end.  Yup, this is a horror movie.

Frenzy

Hitchcock’s final film and one of his most horrifying.  The Necktie Killer is stalking London, strangling unsuspecting woman with, you guessed it, a necktie.  This film features one of the most disturbing scenes of rape and murder ever put on film, at least up until 1972, when this movie was released. 

Frenzy follows the killer as he plies his deadly trade all over town, and even leads police to pursue and arrest an innocent man for his crimes.  The murder scene alone, and I mean alone as it was so effective that it was the only actual murder shown in the film, rates this as a definite horror movie.

For more scares and your otherwise generally creepy reading pleasure, check out my new short story collection Devil’s Dozen.  And if that’s not enough for you, try my earlier collection, Bad Timing.

Click below for more fright-filled stuff.  And come back tomorrow for even more of my favorite time of year as The 13 Days of Halloween continues…

The 13 Days of Halloween

Day 1: Scary Movies to Spend a Cold, Dark Night With

Day 2: The Ghosts of St. Mary’s County

Day 3: Vincent Price–The Last of the Great Horror Icons

Day 3: A Few of My Favorite Vincent Price Films

Day 4: Some Fiction For The Season–One Step Ahead

Day 5: Horror Literature–A Truly Unappreciated Art Form

Day 6: Hauntings of the High Seas

Day 7: A Few of My Favorite Horror Books

Day 8: More Fiction For the Season–The Trail

Day 9: Edgar Allan Poe–The Greatest American Writer

Day 10: Horror Anthologies on Film and Television

Day 11: Halloween Rituals and How They Originated

Day 13: Psycho Killers

Day 13: My Favorite Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Happy Halloween: Even More Fiction for the Season–This Old House

The 13 Days of Halloween: Horror Anthologies on Film and Television

Perhaps as much as any genre out there, horror caters to the short story format.  In fact, I would argue that horror actually does the short story format better than most.  Given that is the way it is in print, then it is no surprise that their equivalent will show up in the movies and on TV.

I love horror anthologies.  I have shelves full of them in book form in my dining room.  I have copious anthology films on dvd, and even entire tv series on dvd, and some older ones on VHS, if you can believe that.  The horror story has always had the capacity to get its point across concisely and effectively, be that in a dozen pages, a half hour episode or a 45 minute 1/3 of a movie.

So, here are a few of my favorite anthology series and films.  I had a difficult time whittling this list down.  Who knew there were so many to choose from?

Tales From The Crypt

Beginning in the late 1980s and running seven seasons, Tales From The Crypt may well be the best horror series ever.  Based on the pulp horror comic of the same name from the ’50s, this show seamlessly blended scares, sometimes extreme gore and dark humor in a way that I just couldn’t get enough of.  It got to be so popular that name actors were lining up to get their turn at an episode. 

I’ve been sitting here for an hour trying to figure out what my favorite episode is, but I simply can’t.  Over the years, so many of them stick in my mind that I just can’t narrow it down.  The Christmas episode with the escaped lunatic dressed as Santa, the lumberjack episode where they literally split the only woman in camp down the middle, the struggling cafe that finds success serving a unique new menu item, the conjoined twin ice cream salesman where one twin gets killed in a robbery attempt, the escaped killer who kills the cop handcuffed to him and gets stalked across the desert by a hungry vulture, the salesman/con man who gets caught up with the most repugnant woman ever when Tim Curry played the whole backwards family, the haunted house episode with Morton Downey Jr. as an exploitation journalist, the one where Jon Lovitz wants to be a Shakespearean actor and wins a key role as Yorick’s skull in Hamlet–I could go on forever. And if I don’t stop, I will.

Creepshow

This may be my favorite anthology movie.  The cast was loaded with big names–Ed Harris, Ted Danson, Leslie Nielson among many, and told a variety of tales.  Father’s Day where a murdered wealthy patriarch returns from the grave for some cake, The Lonesome Death of Jordy Ferrill where an alien weed consumes everything in its path, including Stephen King, They’re Creeping Up On You where eccentric germaphobe E.G. Marshall gets overrun by bloodthirsty cockroaches, and The Crate where Hal Holbrook and friend find a unique way to dispose of his unbearable shrew of a wife.

But my favorite of the bunch is Something To Tide You Over.  Ted Danson is screwing around with Leslie Neilson’s wife, so to get even, Neilson buried them both up to their neck on the beach and watches via closed circuit tv as the tide comes in.  Needless to say, things take a horrible turn for Nielson, and he ends up the one buried neck deep in the sand.  I will simply never forget the end scene when the waves started to lap over Nielson’s head, with him cackling insanely, “I can hold my breath for a long time!”

There were two lesser sequels to this movie, but other than a brief high point or two–The Raft, for instance, from Creepshow 2 where the creepy oil slick in the secluded lake ate the stock group of horny, stoned, drunken teenagers–but neither film came close to the original.

Tales From The Darkside

This show from the early 1980s followed on in a tradition established by Rod Serling’s
excellent work with the Twilight Zone and later Night Gallery, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and the Outer Limits and preceded
The Ray Bradbury Theater and the harsher, more graphic Tales From the Crypt that I referenced earlier.

Episodes were written by a plethora of great writers, including Robert Bloch, George
Romero and Stephen King. One of King’s episodes, in particular, based on a short story of his, The Word Processor of the Gods, had a unique impact on me. Good horror tales are always morality fables, and this one was no different.  What would you do if you had a word processor that would make whatever you typed come true?
Would you use that power for good or let it destroy you? It was that kind of ethical quandary and commentary that brought me to horror fiction. In fantastic situations, would people stay grounded or would they get drunk on the new-found abilities?

Later on, they also made a Tales From The Darkside film that ranks among my favorite anthology movies, as well.  An all star cast that included Christian Slater and Steve Buscemi told three tales wrapped around a more modern take on the old witch in the gingerbread house, capturing small children and fattening them up for supper.

Watching David Johansen as a high end hitman struggling to put down a small black cat or Rae Dawn Chong as a tormented gargoyle were great, but Lot 249 was my favorite.  Based on an Arthur Conan Doyle story, of all things, what could be better than watching Steve Buscemi reanimating an ancient Egyptian mummy and having him act out the mummification ritual on unsuspecting victims?

The House That Dripped Blood

In the late ’60s to early ’70s, a British film company called Amicus cranked out an array of horror anthology films, many featuring Peter Cushing, loosely based on the horror comics of the ’50s.  Some even sported the titles of the comics, like Tales From The Crypt and Vault of Horror.  Most of them were surprisingly good, but my personal favorite is The House That Dripped Blood.

This film is a collection of four stories, all written by the great Robert Bloch, wrapped around the gruesome history of one particular house.  Starring Cushing and horror film great Christopher Lee, this movie has one of the better wrap-around stories in horror anthology film history.  Including tales about a muderous fictional character come to life, a creepy wax museum, some voodoo and a haunted cloak, The House That Dripped Blood isn’t just a movie with a very cool-sounding title, it backs it up in terrifying substance.

Masters of Horror

This series, which appeared on Showtime in 2005, took the Tales From The Crypt precedent a few steps further.  Running for two seasons, Masters of Horror featured individual episodes directed by some of the biggest names in horror cinema.  Admittedly, the episodes were a little uneven at times–the one where dead soldiers came back from the grave to vote stands out as particularly awful–but overall, there was more good than bad here.

Jennifer was a particularly creepy episode about a smoking hot girl with a demonic face who enchanted men to look over her and had a taste for fresh meat.  The Fair Haired Child told of a boy’s parents who engaged in an intricate ritual to bring their deceased son back to life.  The child itself, crawling around all herky-jerky still gives me the shivers.  Pelts with Meatloaf as a fur coat maker taken in by some enchanted raccoon pelts has a particularly gruesome ending.  And Pick Me Up is a great mano-y-mano duel between two serial killers.

My favorite episode, though, is The Black Cat with Jeffrey Combs as Edgar Allan Poe struggling to stay atop his sanity with no money, a fatally ill wife and a heavy drinking habit.   Combs descends into a surreal madness before emerging with one of the most famous tales ever written.  This series may have been short-lived, but well worth the time.

Friday the 13th: The Series

This series, from the later part of the ’80s, has always been among my fondest memories of childhood tv. The Friday the 13th television series (no, it’s not about Jason) was an entire show based on the morality play.  The main characters had to go around hunting down cursed objects from their deceased uncle’s antique store, objects with the power to grant the owner their inner-most desires, at the cost of their souls.  Every week, we’d see the consequences of giving in to temptation.

The show was really very 1980′s, big hair and all. On one episode about a scarecrow who beheaded its owners’ enemies, there was even a macrame owl hanging on a bedroom door. I haven’t seen one of those
since, well, since 1987.  I think my favorite episode was about a woodchipper that would spit out cash depending on how much the person stuffed in the business end was worth.  Drop in a rich heiress and oodles of money came flying out.  But in the end, the guy who used it was sucked in himself, and all that came out was ground up gardener.  The episode was so cool, it never occurred to me to ask why the hell an antique store was selling a woodchipper in the first place.

Cat’s Eye

This is a 1985 film based on some short stories by Stephen King.  The title comes from a cat that serves as a unifying character, appearing in all three separate stories.  Previously, I mentioned how much I enjoyed King’s early short stories, and this film is made up of two of those. 

In The Ledge, a former tennis pro is made to traverse the thin ledge around a mobsters penthouse apartment after being caught screwing around with his wife.  The cat plays a tangental role, helping the tennis pro and working against the mobster.  Then, in Quitters Inc., James Woods signs up for a smoking cessation program only to discover that the primary motivation to quit is the threat that his wife and child would be brutally tortured if he continued to partake.  To hell with the patch and nicotine gum, cutting off one of your wife’s fingers every time you puff is a plan for people very serious about laying off the smokes.  The cat appears only briefly in this one, just long enough to have some electro shock demonstrated on him.

Finally, the cat plays a lead role in The General, battling it out with a soul-stealing troll to protect a young Drew Barrymore.  In the end, the cat wins and finds a permanent home as Barrymore’s guardian.  This isn’t the best movie ever made, but I definitely have a soft spot for it in my memory.

For more scares and your otherwise generally creepy reading pleasure, check out my new short story collection Devil’s Dozen.  And if that’s not enough for you, try my earlier collection, Bad Timing.

Click below for more fright-filled stuff.  And come back tomorrow for even more of my favorite time of year as The 13 Days of Halloween continues…

The 13 Days of Halloween

Day 1: Scary Movies to Spend a Cold, Dark Night With

Day 2: The Ghosts of St. Mary’s County

Day 3: Vincent Price–The Last of the Great Horror Icons

Day 3: A Few of My Favorite Vincent Price Films

Day 4: Some Fiction For The Season–One Step Ahead

Day 5: Horror Literature–A Truly Unappreciated Art Form

Day 6: Hauntings of the High Seas

Day 7: A Few of My Favorite Horror Books

Day 8: More Fiction For the Season–The Trail

Day 9: Edgar Allan Poe–The Greatest American Writer

Day 11: Halloween Rituals and How They Originated

Day 12: Alfred Hitchcock Presents Horror

Day 13: Psycho Killers

Day 13: My Favorite Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Happy Halloween: Even More Fiction for the Season–This Old House

Coming Soon to a DVD Player Near You: A Review of 2011’s Movies

So in my internet perusing this morning, I ran across a preview of the big movies coming out this year.  First off, let me say that very few of these look like they could be really great films, they are almost all throw-away entertainment.  But you know what, there is definitely a place for those, especially with the now-prevalent $1 rental kiosks from Redbox, Blockbuster and others, as well as the online versions and Netflix.  It’s cheaper than ever to rent a movie these days and, honestly, a movie has to be really, really bad to not be worth a buck.  The end of 2010 saw two movies, coincidentally both starring Jeff Bridges, that I’d like to see, the long-awaited sequel to Tron, and the Coen Brothers remake of the John Wayne classic True Grit.  Both have gotten some pretty solid reviews, but they belong to 2010.  These are the movies I’d like to see in 2011.  And no, there will be no mention of boy wizards or shimmery vampires, so please look elsewhere if that’s what you’re in to.

Next year will be a big one for comic book superheroes.  Admittedly, probably not as big as 2012 when Spiderman, Batman, Superman and the Avengers, among others, return to the silver screen, but there is no shortage of men in tights flying around and smashing stuff up set for this year.  Probably one of the more interesting ones being Thor.  Kenneth Branagh of Shakespearean fame, directs this flick about the Norse God of Thunder and even has Anthony Hopkins as Odin.  If anyone can treat this material right, it’s Branagh, and he could make this into the epic it should be rather than a lame lead-in to The Avengers movie coming out next year.

Speaking of which, Captain America: The First Avenger does kind of look like the aforementioned lame lead-in.  Admittedly, I’ve never been a big fan of Cap, and his story of genetic engineering to fight the Nazis just seems really, really dated at this point.  Hopefully, they can make this more relevant and not just a simple origin story for yet another character in The Avengers (to go along with Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk, etc.)  But I’ll check it out anyway, just to see if they pull it off.  Plus, his nemesis, the Red Skull, was always creepy in the comics.

Over on the DC Comics side, we have the most inexplicable star in Hollywood, Ryan Reynolds, taking the power ring of Green Lantern.  Honestly, at what point has Reynolds ever done something good?  Two of my favorite comics as a kid were Daredevil and Green Lantern.  Well, Ben Affleck totally destroyed any possibility of the dark, complex character Daredevil ever being anything more than a bad joke to anyone not familiar with the comics.  Get ready for the same treatment for Green Lantern from Reynolds.  Certainly, Reynolds is eye candy for the female audience, but this is a superhero movie not a cheesy Rom-Com.  Two thirds of the audience are going to be pudgy guys in glasses with anime-themed tee-shirts, not exactly Reynolds’ core fanbase.  Plus, his suit is entirely CGI.  This one is going to suck mightily, but it could be so bad that it is at least vaguely entertaining.  Or it could be another Daredevil.

In other superhero news Seth Rogan is set to star in a farce kind of update of the ’60s television show The Green Hornet.  Unfortunately, Bruce Lee was unavailable (due to being dead) to play the role of Kato.  This movie could be funny.  Did I mention rentals are only a buck these days?  In yet another relaunching franchise, a new version of Conan the Barbarian is also set to come out this year.  No Arnold in this version, though.  And we won’t get the pleasure of watching James Earl Jones morph into a giant snake.  This time around, Conan is being played by Jason Momoa, who played Ronon on Stargate Atlantis.  I actually think he could be pretty good.  And as cheesy as the original was, I still kinda liked it.  That and The Beastmaster, but don’t tell anybody.

Aliens also make several appearances in theaters this year.  I Am Number Four is a big-screen adaptation of the first book of the Lorien Legacies series (Can’t anyone just write a novel anymore?  Why does everything have to be a series?) written by none other than Pittacus Lore, the ruling elder of the planet the alien babies in the book and movie come from.  Actually, Pittacus is a pseudonym for James Frey.  If you don’t know who James Frey is, he’s the guy who wrote the drug-addled memoir A Million Little Pieces that garnered such rave reviews for its shocking honesty from Oprah Winfrey and others before they found out the book was actually all bullshit.  Hey, if the guy can scam Oprah, he’d gotta have some talent for fiction, right?  Oh, and the movie’s about somebody hunting and killing these alien children on Earth.

In Battle: Los Angeles, aliens surprisingly come to Earth to wipe us humans out and it’s left to a small band of marines to fight off the evil invaders who outclass them in every way imaginable and save the day for humanity.  Sound familiar?  It’s only been the basic plot for every alien invasion movie since film was invented.  But still, spaceships are cool, and I’m sure they’re gonna blow lots of stuff up.  I never said these were going to be classic films.

In Cowboys & Aliens, visitors surprisingly come to Earth to wipe us humans out and it’s left to a small posse of cowboys to fight off…oh, you get the point.  This one might actually be interesting, though.  One, it’s based in the Wild West of Arizona in the 1870s.  And two, it stars Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig.  If you could get behind Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith destroying an alien fleet with their laptop, I’m certain watching Indiana Jones and James Bond kick some alien ass from horseback with a Winchester rifle and a Colt revolver will not pose any problem at all.  Hey, I like westerns and I like aliens.  Why not bring them together?  Once I watch this movie, I’ll likely find out.

In the category of reminiscing from my days as a little kid, there are two movies coming out this year that I will definitely watch.  One is a retooling of The Muppets.  In this version, Kermit and the gang have to put on a show to save their old theater from being demolished.  So it’s like a big screen episode of The Muppet Show?  Awesome!  I wonder if they’ll do a Pigs in Space segment?  Or if the grouchy old dudes are still going to be bitching about everything from the balcony?  Hey, as long as The Electric Mayhem make an appearance, I am there!

The other movie in this class (please don’t laugh) is The Smurfs.  That’s right, they are making a live action Smurfs movie (the Smurfs themselves are actually CGI, probably because shirtless little people painted blue would have been offensive, Umpa Lumpa’s notwithstanding.  And they were orange, anyway.)  The best part?  Jonathan Winters, apparently back from the grave (you hear that Bruce Lee?  That’s commitment to the craft) does the voice of Papa Smurf.  I am all over this, unless, of course, the movie includes the late-cartoon-era Grandpa Smurf and his urine stained yellow pants.  Then I’ll skip it.

As ever, there are an array of sequels hitting theaters in 2011, most of which would likely have been better off not being made, but the chance to suck every last dollar out of a concept is just too overwhelming for Hollywood to pass up, I suppose.  We have The Hangover Part II where the boys get back together for another bachelor party, this time in Thailand instead of Vegas.  The first was pretty good, I suppose, but Thailand?  Really?  And after all they went through in the first one, what kind of universe would any of these guys ever go on another group trip again?  I’m getting nauseous just thinking about it.

Checking in this year, we also have Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides or, as I like to call it, Johnny Depp’s Personal ATM.  I guess after struggling along for years doing excellent work in really good films, I can’t begrudge Depp the right to cash in as much as he can.  And this one has Ian McShane, who played one of my all-time favorite TV characters Al Swearengen on Deadwood, as Blackbeard.  Yeah, I’ll be watching this one.  There’s Sherlock Holmes 2, where Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law try to solve the mystery of how the hell this ever got made after the trainwreck that was the first one.  But I do like Robert Downey Jr., and I have read all of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories.

And then there’s Scream 4. Scream 4 Mercy?  Scream 4 Relief?  Scream 4 someone to please stop Wes Craven before he beats this premise any more to death than it already has been?  However, it is a cheesy slasher movie and I’ve watched a lot worse, so I’ll be plopping my buck down at some point out of boredom if nothing else.  Another interesting one is Mission Impossible: The Ghost of Tom Cruise’s Career…er, The Ghost Protocol.  This is the fourth in a series of films that probably shouldn’t have made it past one.  But it is a spy flick with fancy gadgets and wild action sequences.

Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon is the third installment in this series about giant alien robots.  Interestingly, everyone involved in part two pretty freely admits that it sucked and promise to do better this time.  No word on when they’ll be offering refunds on the $400 million box office take they made on it, though.  The really cool thing with this movie is, if you sync it up to The Wizard of Oz, the plot will actually make sense.

The last sequel I plan to check out is Fast Five, the fifth in the Fast and the Furious franchise.  Oddly, there are characters in this movie who died in previous Fast films.  The producers explain it by saying that this movie actually takes place before part three.  That means this is the sequel of a prequel of a sequel.  Confused?  Somewhere in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is an explanation for how the continuity of this franchise actually works.  I’ll be watching to see really cool cars go really fast, and to see Vin Diesel get all up The Rock’s grill.  It’s The Pacifier vs. The Tooth Fairy in a no hold’s barred battle royal.  Who can beat that?

And that leaves me with just four films that might actually be pretty good, and not in a cheesy way.  The first is Red Riding Hood, a dark, gothic retelling of the fairy tale (which, honestly, was pretty damn dark and gothic in its own right) starring Gary Oldman.  I just love Gary Oldman.  He’s had me hooked ever since I saw the drug-sniffing, psycho dirty cop he played in The Professional.  He was pretty good in Dracula, too, which leads me to believe that another dark, horror-type tale is just the vehicle for him.  Another one is Unknown with Liam Neeson, who I think is one of the most underrated actors alive.  He’s always excellent, no matter how lousy the movie.  In this one, he wakes up from a coma to find someone else has taken his life and identity and even his wife doesn’t know who he is.  I just love a good mystery.

Then there’s the American version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  If you haven’t seen the Swedish version (warning: it has subtitles) go rent it now.  It was an excellent film, start to finish.  I’ll be very interested to see whether it gets neutered in translation.  The original has some rather disturbing things happen that help explain the main character, Lisbeth Salander, that I’m just not certain will make the cut without being toned down for us prudish American audiences.  If they do hold to the story, this could be a Best Picture kind of flick.  If they don’t, it could totally suck.  I just want to see which way it goes.

And lastly, here’s a movie called Sucker Punch. Just read this description:  “A young girl, confined to a mental institution by her stepfather who plans to have her lobotomized in five days time, creates an imaginary world to plan her escape.” That just sounds all kinds of screwed up.  And something tells me that it’s not going to have a happy ending, a la Pan’s Labyrinth where the little girl escaped the Nazi’s in her mind but actually died in the end.  I’m ready for the Jack Nicholson Cuckoo’s Nest moment when he’s drooling on himself after being lobotomized.  I could be expecting too much, as the trailer seems like a big action movie, but considering she’s imagining it all, it could be pretty decent.  After watching the rest of the stuff on this list, let’s hope so.

Movie Review: Let Me In (or as I would put it, Let Me Out…of the Theater)

So what is it about horror movies these days?  The past few I’ve actually went to the theater to see have been nothing short of dull.  Yesterday, I dropped $10.50 on a ticket to see one of the latest horror flicks out there, Let Me In.  At the concession stand before the movie, I ordered up some Italian coffee.  I’ve never bought coffee at a movie theater before, and I made an offhand joke to the girl I was with that at least I wouldn’t fall asleep during the film.  Little did I know that the caffeine in that cup would likely be the only thing to keep me awake.  Lord knows the movie didn’t.

Let Me In, at its core, is the love story between an awkward, lonely 12 year old boy and a vampire in the person of a 12 year old girl.  The boy, Owen, is caught in the middle of a crumbling marriage between a distant father and a religious, alcoholic mother.  One of the things I did like was the presentation (or lack of) of Owen’s parents.  The father never appears in person, only as a disembodied voice during occasional phone calls.  His mother, despite being physically present, is not really there, either.  We never see her face, and in virtually every scene, she’s seen pouring yet another glass of wine before passing out on their couch.  Owen is dangerously close to being an orphan.  At school, he’s tormented and tortured by a group of three classmates led by one particularly sadistic boy who’s tranferring the poor treatment he receives from his brother onto Owen.

Owen spends his time sitting alone in the courtyard of their apartment complex, and one evening, he meets the new girl, Abby, who just moved in next door.  Over the next few weeks, (and believe me, it felt like a few weeks) Owen and Abby grow close despite her warnings that they can’t be friends.  At the same time, we see why.  Abby’s father, or at least the man we’re supposed to think is her father, spends his nights stalking, killing and draining his victims of their blood to feed Abby’s hunger.

The story itself actually has some fascinating undertones, with the lonely little girl vampire just looking for someone to connect with, and the disenchanted little boy suffering in his domestic Hell just looking for the same.  The end is fairly predictable, especially after we discover the secret of her father, but its not inconsistent with the film.  Unfortunately, the plot takes too long to develop, and the constant courtship-type scenes between Owen and Abby are an odd, uneven  combination of cute and boring.  It felt like I spent half of the film’s two-hour run time watching the pair just stare unemotionally at one another.

After about an hour, sixty minutes that contained about five minutes worth of action, I began to yawn uncontrollably, and to feel really grateful for the coffee.  There was a very real chance that I would have fallen asleep, otherwise.  Even the movie’s conclusion was somewhat boring, despite it being quite literally like a bloodbath.

At the end of the day, Let Me In isn’t a terrible movie, it’s just dull, and it does win some points for trying a different, more realistic take on what a vampire would go through in this day and age.  The film is a remake of a Swedish film, Let the Right One In, and like too many other Americanized remakes of foreign films, you should probably stick to the original. 

This one is worth a look on dvd somewhere down the line, but save the ten bucks for something better, like a pillow.  It’ll make the nap this movie induces much more comfortable.

Published in: on October 10, 2010 at 11:12 am  Leave a Comment  
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Return to Pandora again, and again, and again. And don’t forget your check book.

First off, let me say, I haven’t seen Avatar.  It may, indeed be a fantastic movie, and the effects look cool enough, I suppose, but I’ll wait until I can get it for a buck or watch it at a friend’s house (if that doesn’t constitute copyright infringement, and, given the course of things, someday soon, it might).  Interestingly, this movie has already topped every other movie in the history of recorded film in box office.  That means it’s made tons and tons of money, while also being one of the most, if not the most, pirated movie ever.  So, how exactly has that illegal copying hurt Avatar?  How much better than the best ever could the sales have possibly been?

Anyway, director James Cameron and the studio, 20th Century Fox (there’s an apt name, if I’ve ever heard one.  Do they even realize it’s the 21st century now?  Has been for a decade or so)  have started down a somewhat disturbing road.  First, they locked out movie rentals for 30 days after the DVD release to boost sales.  Well, apparently, the disc has some copy protection on it that requires blu-ray players to download some sort of upgrade for the disc to even play properly.  Quite a few folks are pissed, after assuming, rightly so, that paying the extra bucks for the blu-ray version would actually mean you could watch the film without hassle.  Guess not.

Anyway, from all reports, if you do get the movie to play, what you get is a stripped down version with no special features and any of the fancy stuff that blu-ray was supposedly designed for, you know, an enhanced viewing experience, other than a supposedly superior picture, of course.  Well, apparently, the plan is to re-release the film with added footage (the director’s cut, I suppose) in the fall, followed by a new round of DVDs and blu-ray discs, then later a 3D version with yet another release of DVDs and blu-rays.  Exactly how many times do they think people, even big fans, really want to buy the same product?  I understand that they have a commodity, and they are more than free to try to exploit that, but this seems a bit too far to me.

The film has already surpassed expectations for sales in a big way.  Do you really need to soak your audience three or four more times over?  Isn’t there a point where you just have to say, “Hey, maybe we should be a little more considerate to the people who put out their hard-earned money to see our movie than trying to sap more of it from them, one new blu-ray release at a time?”  At what point does an honest desire to find success and protect your work turn into unmitigated greed?

If I understand properly, the point of the film is decrying humans trying to exploit these poor, simple aliens by stealing their precious resources.  Apparently, the people selling this movie don’t see the irony of essentially doing the same thing to the movie-going public.  Do as I say, not as I do, I suppose.

Published in: on May 1, 2010 at 4:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Publishing Links For Today: Ad Annoyance and Litigation Abounds

Here are a couple themes for today:  One is the premise that improving ad spending online is simply a matter of changing the conditions.  And the other is increased legal challenges that protect larger media companies but work to the detriment of the rest of us, their customers.

Right upon the heels of unveiling the largely popular iPad, and a new operating system for the iPhone, Apple has rolled out an ad service platform called iAd. Basically, this is a pretty self-serving attempt to eat away at Google’s dominance in online advertising dollars.  Here’s a quote:

“In his presentation, (Apple CEO) Steve Jobs expressed a sentiment that even many mobile ad evangelists concede as well: “We think most of the mobile advertising really sucks. We thought we might be able to make some contributions.”

But the main contribution Jobs is talking about involves making the iPhone app experience a little less vexing. As Apple explains in its release, when users click on mobile ads, they’re almost always taken out of their app to a web browser, which loads the advertiser’s site. Most of the time, that process completely cuts users off from what they were originally doing in the app. So, iAd’s solution is to offer advertisers a full-screen video and interactive ad content without ever leaving the app, and letting users return to their app anytime they choose.”

Makes sense, but leaves out the one little sticking point that I have never been able to get past:  Readers actually have to click on an ad for it to be of any use.  As we’ve seen with so many of the advancements in technology over the past decade or so, people don’t like ads.  And they especially don’t like them we’re they’re shoved in your face.  DVR’s became so popular so fast largely because it allowed viewers to cut out the commercial breaks.  Personally, I’ve moved on to watching TV shows on DVD or in other digital means simply because the experience is far, far superior without the intruding block of ads every ten minutes or so.

We also saw it with pop-up ads, as web browsers starting building in blockers specifically to head off those annoying little things before they even opened.  The reason the cost rate for online ads has been steadily dropping is not because of a lack of possible customers, but because very few people actually click on the ads, or even recognize that they are there.  Advertising worked so well in outdated models like print because we couldn’t avoid it.  The new platforms allow us, the reading, consuming public, before-unheard of power to stay away from annoying advertising.  Like most industries today, the internet has forced what should be a shift from the way things used to be done for advertisers.  But has it?

Read any article anywhere about online advertising, and all anyone is talking about is better targeted ads, that is companies harvesting your personal browsing data so they can throw ads for things they think you might want at you at every turn.  Does anyone out there really think people want that?  How many people are going to leave an iPad app they are currently using to click on a full page distraction of an ad, no matter how flashy and interactive it is?  Superbowl commercials are the holy grail of advertising, sometimes seeming almost a bigger show than the game itself, but if the audience actually had a choice between watching a random camera sweep over the crowd or the newest Pepsi commercial, what percentage do you think would actually choose the commercials?  This is a major problem.  Times have changed.  When people want a product, they’ll look for it.  Experience and technology have proven time and again, that when given the opportunity, people would avoid ads in a far larger percentage than will welcome them, no matter how targeted they are.  Advertisers, like publishers, had better adjust and soon, or else they’ll end up spending large amounts of money on promotion that really is just going in the pockets of the people selling you the platform.

My second point for today is about lawsuits.  There are two that caught my attention recently.  The first is a legal challenge ensuing over Great Britain’s recently passed Digital Economy Act.  I’ve touched on this previously here. To it’s credit, a major ISP in England, Talk Talk, has come out strongly opposed to some of the provisions in the new law, specifically those requiring the disconnection of service for people accused of copyright infringement.  I had a problem with this as well, primarily because it puts the burden of proof on the accused to show that they are innocent.  Here’s a quote from Talk Talk:

“If we are instructed to disconnect an account due to alleged copyright infringement we will refuse to do so and tell the rights holders we’ll see them in court.”

Here, here.  If only all companies had the balls to stand up to this kind of legislation bought and paid for by industry to protect its own interests at everyone else’s expense.

Speaking of which, the movie rental kiosk operator Redbox has recently filed suit against Universal Studios and Twentieth Century Fox on the studios’ new policy of requiring the $1 rental places to withhold new releases for 28 days, ostensibly to support flagging DVD sales.  The online, mail-order rental company Netflix, unfortunately has acquiesced to this demand, making me glad I canceled my subscription a while ago.  The wait for new releases was bad enough as it was, but adding an extra month to it, when you can still, inexplicably, rent them same day at actual brick and mortar stores like Blockbuster, makes that monthly subscription fee a whole lot less useful.  Reportedly, Netfilx negotiated a big discount from the studios, on the level of 50%, for agreeing to the delay.  No word on whether they’ll be cutting their subscription price, though, to accommodate the real victims of this policy, their customers.  Don’t bet on it.

At the heart of this matter is the belief that the inexpensive rental places are undermining DVD sales.  Like the music industry before it, the studios don’t seem to get the shift in how people consume their products.  They seem to believe that forcing people to pay high DVD prices will suddenly bring back the profits they’ve lost due to the changing habits of its customer base.  Not only won’t this work, but as happened with music, it’s likely to alienate their own customers, leading to further sales declines.  But then, they’ll find someone else to blame.  As is the case with all media companies in the face of declining profits and revenue, it’s everyone else’s fault but their own.

How Can The Film Industry Possibly Survive Rampant Piracy?

We’ve heard the yells for years now, ever since the proliferation of high-speed internet access, that piracy of copyrighted material–be it music, movies or otherwise–in the form of illegal downloading was stealing millions if not billions of dollars away from the copyright holders.  Coming from a background that dealt with the value of someone getting your product for free (both in my publishing career working for free-distribution magazines and in my music collection which leans greatly toward bands that allow the free distribution of their concert recordings) I cannot disagree more.  It’s my belief that all of this downloading that tasks these industries so much actually benefits them.  Part of the reason I think it seems so frustrating to the people in question is that it is so easily trackable today.  It is possible to know how many people, relatively, are downloading a particular piece of material off the internet.  So the bean-counters jump straight to the conclusion that each and every instance of downloading is money lost.  Not true.  In fact, it could very well be that each instance of downloading actually helps drive revenue down the line, particularly if the material in question is good.

I will say this, if the material sucks, downloading will cost you money, but not as much as it seems.  It benefits companies that produce and distribute lousy material to keep its relative lack of quality hidden, thereby tricking people into paying for something they think might be good.  But I have a hard time feeling sorry for companies losing out on scamming people into paying for garbage.  And people will pick up on its lack of quality a bit slower if its exposure is kept down, but it’ll happen none-the-less.  If the material is good, a little free exposure leads to all sorts of things.  With music, it leads to increased CD sales, concert ticket sales, tee shirts, hats and most importantly, referrals to friends which builds a bigger fan base that leads to increased CD sales, concert tickets, etc.  With movies, it works the same.  If the movie is good, you get an upshot in ticket sales, merchandising, DVD sales, rentals and the same benefit of referrals to friends and family.  Cutting out the free distribution cuts down on the fan base to make money from.

Before the internet, both of these industries benefited from people sharing their material for free, but it wasn’t so easily trackable.  There was simply no way to tell how many people recorded your movie on their VCR, or made copies of movies they rented from the video store, or burned copies of CDs and mix tapes for friends, or recorded songs they liked off of the radio.  This kind of behavior with copyrighted material has always been rampant, only before it happened in ways that the industry didn’t or couldn’t see, and all the while they benefited from the increased exposure without even realizing it.  Fighting this kind of sharing material of value harms the industries in question, and it is not piracy, nor is it something new.  The music industry did nearly irreparable damage to itself fighting file sharing instead of seeing the possibilities of building ever-larger fan bases easier than ever before.  The movie industry will do the same kind of damage to itself if they follow in those footsteps.

And here’s a little evidence to support my claims.  Here is a list of the 10 most pirated movies of 2009. These are the 10 movies that were illegally downloaded the most this year.  Now compare that list with this one, the top box office films of the year. Notice any similarities?  There are five movies there that finished in the top 10 movies in domestic box office for the year, including number 1, The Transformers, and number 2, Harry Potter, both of whom are approaching $1 billion in worldwide gross.  In fact, the 10 movies that appear on the most pirated list have grossed nearly $4 billion combined world-wide.  For 10 movies!  The same 10 that have been downloaded more than any others.  Boy, that piracy has really been sucking the life out of the film industry, huh?

Further, there are only 3 movies on the list that have done less than $200 million world-wide;  one is a mediocre Guy Ritchie British mob movie RocknRolla; one is a political thriller with Ben Affleck (sure, State of Play has gotten good reviews, but it’s still a political thriller starring Ben Affleck); and Knowing, a horrible apocalyptic thriller with Nicolas Cage.  So my point stands; downloading helps good movies (or at least movies with positive value) and hurts bad ones.  And how is that a bad thing?

This is progress, folks.  Make better stuff, and you have more possibilities to benefit from it than ever before.  Make junk, and you can get hammered on it quicker and more completely than ever before.   The answer here is to make more good films.  It seems obvious, but in this internet age, people pick up on crap much faster than ever before.  And excuse me if I’m not weeping for an industry’s right to sap money out of people with unredemptive garbage.  If they really want to “stop piracy”, then they should start by calling it what it actually is:  free marketing and word of mouth advertising.  That would be a start.

Published in: on December 23, 2009 at 5:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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