Category Archives: Horror Movies

Horror movies

Gay Heroes in Genre Fiction

Last night I actually went out of my way to watch Mortuary, a Tobe Hooper blunder from 2005 starring Denise Crosby as a single mother who takes a job as a mortician and moves with her two children to an old house attached to the mortuary.  While it’s better than some of the cheap horror films that show up on the Sci Fi Channel, it’s still pretty forgettable; it features zombies, a killer fungus, and some sort of beast thing that lives in a pit, but there was no real coherence to the storyline and no attempt to explain what was really going on.  There were a couple of gratuitous Lovecraft references, but I suspect they were there more so the writers could show off ("Look! We know horror! Really! See? A Lovecraft reference!") than to offer any cohesive mythology to the film.  There was also an end that… well, wasn’t.  Again, I suspect the writers were showing off by trying to put a twist on a standard twist ending, but it just came off feeling truncated.  The characters, in general, were ineffective, only reacting to events in the movie but not initiating anything, and featured the standard crew of ineffective female characters and barely effective teenage boy characters.  I’ve always thought Denise Crosby deserves better than this sort of thing; perhaps it’s because she’s gained a few pounds and wrinkles since her days on Star Trek: The Next Generation that she doesn’t manage to land any roles that are interesting and effective.  But that’s another rant for another day.

What intrigued me about this film was the presence of Grady (played by Rockey Marquette), a self described gay character.  The viewer would not have had any idea that Grady was gay just by watching him; Grady flirted so much with Liz (played by Alexandra Adi) and interacted with her so intimately, it was easy to assume that the two of them were dating.  And once Grady has "outed" himself, there’s very little indication at all of his orientation, except for the appearance of an occasional swish or over-emoting (because no straight man, of course, ever feels emotion in a film like this).

And, of course, Grady is the first of the heroic characters to die.

So now I’m curious about this.  Is being gay in horror films as serious a crime as being black, or being a young and pretty woman who has sex?  I can’t think of many gay characters in horror films (that’s films, not literature, where gay characters seem to get almost a fair shake); Grady is the only one I can come up with off the top of my head.  Can anyone out there suggest any others to me, and how they fared in the film they were in?

(On another note, I remember that the character Zach (played by Thomas Dekker) on the show Heroes was originally supposed to be gay; however, this was apparently changed when Dekker’s managers thought that him playing a gay character might be detrimental to his future career.  Seems that even playing a gay character can land you in hot water.)

The horror… the horror…

A month or so ago, Jennifer and I saw a commercial on the Science Fiction Channel for a horror movie called Dead and Deader.  It was a zombie movie, and as a zombie fan, I was obligated to watch this film.  It was predictably awful, but some good came of it; after watching it I was inspired to create the Random Sci Fi Channel Movie Generator.  So even from the worst movies, some good can come to mankind.

Sometimes, though, finding the good in a bad movie can be a challenge.  Last night, because we were very bored, we started watching another Sci Fi Channel original movie, Legion of the Dead. And dear God in Heaven, this film was bad.  Sometimes you can watch a bad movie and have fun mocking it; Plan 9 from Outer Space falls into this category.  But sometimes, mocking a bad movie is like mocking a one-legged kitten that’s trying to catch a dangling piece of string; it’s just cruel, and even stops being fun after awhile.  Especially if, you know, the kitten is dead.  Then it can’t even try anymore.

Watching Legion of the Dead was like watching a dead, one-legged kitten going after a dangling bit of string.  Seriously, you have no idea how thoroughly awful this film is.

It starts with a couple of motorcyclists speeding through the forests of southern California, and then crashing into a mysterious cave.  While hanging out and smoking in the cave (and I swear to God I have never before seen a movie where the shots of people smoking dope were pixellated out — no, I’m not joking; whenever a character put the joint to their mouth, their face was blurred out), they discovered that the cave was, in fact, an Egyptian tomb.  Yes, an Egyptian tomb in southern California.  How did it get there, you ask?  Well, apparently some Egyptian priestess took a trans-Atlantic trading route from Egypt.  Because, of course, if you cross the Atlantic from Egypt, you’ll end up in California.

It only gets worse from there.

This film had the elements which I’ve come to expect from really awful Sci Fi channel movies.  There was the really hot but brilliant female scientist (in this case a grad student in Egyptology); there was the evil scientist; there were the really awful special effects, which I’m guessing were put together by the producer’s twelve year-old nephew on his Macintosh.   There was the awful dialog, complete with long pauses while the actors consulted their cue cards or waited for the director to feed them a blocking instruction.  Or something.

Inevitably, the hot but brilliant female scientist accidentally awakens the evil villain (because far too often, the world threatening awful force is unleashed by a woman), who happens to be the mummified ancient queen of Egypt who is going to come back and maybe rule the dead, or the living, or maybe both, or something.  This revived priestess emerges from the tomb, perfectly preserved, with perfectly manicured nails, and, of course, naked.  She goes for the archeology professor, of course, and drains his life force, or something, leaving a strip of beef jerky in his place, which the camera lingers on lovingly for almost a full minute.  Then she wanders the streets of the city and, purely by accident, comes to the hotel where the hot but brilliant female scientist is staying (because no one is going to notice a hot naked chick wandering the streets, especially if she’s covered in blood).

Then other stuff happened.  Other people died.  She ate their souls, or something, leaving behind more beef jerky.  Girls screamed, yet because the evil naked priestess was looking only for men to eat, the women were never in danger of anything, thus violating one of the most important rules of God-awful horror movies, which is always put your cutest actress in horrific jeopardy.

I dunno.  After about an hour, we decided it would be better if we turned off the movie and performed amateur root canals, so I don’t know how the movie ended.  Honestly, I didn’t care.

I use to have this theory that for every awful movie like this, there’s at least one person going, "Come on, I promise, it’ll be cool!  No, really!"  After seeing this, I’m no longer sure that’s the case.  I think that maybe the only reason for some films is as a tax dodge.  I can imagine that as long as the Sci Fi Channel paid fifty bucks to have this movie made, then if they got at least that from the advertising revenue, then there’s a purpose to this movie.  It’s a damn shame, though; there’s so much creative talent in the world, that you’d think films like this could be avoided.

Ah, well.

At least I know I can add "Evil awakened Egyptian mummy" as one of the possible antagonists in my random Sci Fi Channel movie generator.

Staying true to the mythology

I love horror movies. I’m not entirely sure why, but I do. Nobody is quite surprised when I tell them this; if I tell someone that I like horror movies, the usual response is, “Meh. Figures.” I like werewolves, supernatural killers, ghosts, ghouls, and all that (except for vampires; I have an irrational prejudice against vampires). Being scared by such things is just spiffy.

Most of all, I love zombie movies. I haven’t dug too far afield in looking for good quality zombie horror (some people I know like Mexican or Guatemalan zombie films with gore that makes George Romero look like Disney), but I enjoyed all of George Romero’s Living Dead (LD) films. I even enjoyed the recent remake of Dawn of the Dead which changed some of the rules of Romero’s zombie horror films.

In 1985, a new zombie franchise emerged to compete with Romero; I’m talking, of course, about the Return of the Living Dead (RLD) series of films, which were produced by a former co-producer of Romero’s who thought Romero was doing it wrong. There’s a fundamental difference in how zombies are protrayed in Romero’s films versus how they’re portrayed in the RLD series:

Romero’s Living Dead films

  • Zombies are inarticulate, shuffling corpses
  • Zombies have no emotion or reasoning skills
  • Zombies want human flesh, any type of flesh
  • Zombies are killed by destroying their brain or decapitating them

Return of the Living Dead films

  • Zombies don’t move very fast, but they can be agile
  • Zombies can talk and reason and make jokes (”Send more cops…”)
  • Zombies just want to eat brains
  • Decapitating a zombie or destroying its brain doesn’t stop it; you have to destroy it completely

The last point in each list is what makes these movies so distinct from each other. In any of of the LD films, when you shoot a zombie in the head or cut its head clean off, the zombie is killed. In the mythology, the brain is the animating force. In the RLD films, though, a military chemical revives dead corpses and animates the entire body; cut off a zombie’s hand, and that hand will come after you as well as the rest of the body. If you cut off its head, therefore, the rest of the body will keep on moving, even if it can’t see where it’s going and can no longer eat the brains of its victims. The first RLD film showed this point dramatically with a dog that had been cut in half but was still breathing and alive. In my opinion, this makes the RLD zombies more interesting than the LD zombies, but Romero’s a better filmmaker, so his films are superior.

The RLD series has been going strong for about twenty years now, and over the weekend, I saw Return of the Living Dead 5: Rave to the Grave. It was made specially for the Science Fiction Channel, and it shows. The production values were awful, the script was lame, and the acting was wretched. Even the music sucked. There were plot holes so large they could have contained a small moon, with room for its friends to have a tea party. It sucked so bad it collapsed in on itself and created a spacetime singularity from which may emerge all manner of horrific disasters, such as Battlefield: Earth, Part II. Even the pixellation on the actresses’ breasts was bad during the one or two nude sequences. God, there was even a cheesy shot of a zombie hitchhiking on the highway (with a “Rave or Bust” sign). I think this was supposed to be funny.

Man, that movie stank.

But what I hated the most was that it destroyed the mythology of the RLD films. I didn’t mind the fact that the zombies were quick and agile in the recent Dawn of the Dead remake; I considered that more of a “reimagining” or the film. Even the semi-sentient zombies of Land of the Dead were consistent with Romero’s mythology, since his zombies had been evolving throughout the series (the zombies in Day of the Dead were smarter than they were in Dawn of the Dead and at least one even had some basic communication skills).

But in RLD 5, the zombies, while still out for human brains, could be killed by shooting them in the head. This isn’t a case of zombies evolving (impossible in the RLD mythology anyway); it’s just a case of the screenwriters being lazy and deciding to take the easy way out of instead of creating the kind of conflict and horror which the earlier films could generate in spite of their comedy. It demonstrated that the makers of this film were not at all interested in retaining the spirit of the first RLD films; they just wanted to make a buck. Yes, that’s the point of most films, but not many films are as blatant in insulting the intelligence of the viewers or violating the source material (Lawnmower Man II is a close second in this category).

Why should this matter to writers? Because it serves as an object lesson — albeit an extreme one — of what can happen when you ignore the need for consistency in your own stories. When you write a story, you create a world for that story, even if it’s just a five hundred word piece of flash fiction. That world has rules which had better be followed throughout the course of the telling. If your vampires can be killed by smelling garlic in chapter one, for example, then you’d better not have your vampire king dining at the Stinking Rose restaurant in San Francisco in chapter five (unless there’s an exception for vampire kings — in which case, you’d better make that clear). And if the single mother is terrified of public transportation in chapter two, she cannot blithely get on a bus in chapter seven. I’m not talking about character consistency; characters, being human, are allowed to change and be unpredictable, though they should change and be unpredictable within the context established by the rules of the story.

All fiction has rules. Even DaDaist fiction has rules (though the main rule there is to ensure that you don’t look like you’re following any rules).

Violating the rules of your story, or the mythology you establish about how the supernatural elements in your story work, demonstrates laziness on the writer’s part at best, and flat out cynical apathy at worst.

Slipping to the Dark Side

Okay, I admit… I’m a fan of horror fiction and movies. I enjoy the genre, and I know it pretty well (to the point where I overhead a brief conversation between two co-workers and could tell, based on one single sentence, which movie they were talking about and which version). And when I worked at the video store, I took the opportunity to catch up on a lot of classic horror movies that I’d never had a chance to see before.

I’ve read a lot of horror novels, too. I like Stephen King a lot, as well as Clive Barker (Dean Koontz and Bentley Little are okay, but I will rarely bother finishing one of their books if I can’t do so in one sitting). I have a very active imagination, and I can envision what I read very well. My imagination has always been like that; in fact, my parents would not let me read a single Stephen King novel until I was 18 because they were afraid that I would scare myself too badly. I admit, though, that I cheated a sneaked a copy of The Dead Zone when I was 16 years old — and it had pretty much the effect my parents had predicted.

So last night a friend of mine and his wife went out to the movies. She took herself to see Pokemon 2000 while my friend and I went and saw Scary Movie.

God help me, I thought it was funny.

Granted, I had to turn off my good taste in order to enjoy it at all, but once I did, I found myself enjoying it and even laughing at the sickest jokes, in the same sort of way that I like watching South Park from time to time.

Scary Movie is unbelievably offensive in many ways. Some of the jokes are blatantly racist, some are outright homophobic, and some are unbelievably degrading to women. It’s not what I really had hoped for in a good parody of the horror genre (Young Frankenstein is probably the best for that sort of thing), though I thought it poked some good fun at the Scream trilogy and the I Know What You Did Last Summery films. And it had no plot, no honest character development, and no real point — but, then, neither did many of the other films that it parodied, including The Blair Witch Project.

Of course, it made jabs at a number of films that were well-done and well-made; the end, for example, spoofed both Dark City (well, I thought that was a good film, at least) and The Usual Suspects. And because The Sixth Sense is part of the recent revival of the horror genre, Scary Movie poked fun at that one, as well. Unfortunately, while many of the spoofs and jabs were pretty funny, the jabs at some of the others were just kind of dumb.

All in all, yes, I enjoyed Scary Movie. I’ll probably never see it again, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to any of my friends (and I wouldn’t rate it more than a 1 on any scale), but, yes, I laughed. I can’t help but wonder if perhaps my good taste just fell away completely, or if I’m just a lot sicker than I thought I was. I found myself asking myself these questions all throughout the movie, and thinking things like, "Oh my God, how can I ever respect myself now? How will anyone else respect me? That woman’s being beheaded, and here I am laughing about it!"

In the end, though, I gave up on trying to justify myself and decided to simply enjoy the film.

After the film was over, the three of us went to the International House of Pancakes for a late dinner and a game of Fluxx. I was still thinking about the movie when I got home, and felt an overwhelming need to take a long hot shower. I did so, and then I popped in The Sixth Sense just to reassure myself that yes, I could still enjoy a quality horror film. Seeing Scary Movie was cathartic, in a way; but still, seeing a film of good quality was sort of a cleansing experience.