I have been quite unwell, and with all the time spent glaring at a screen from behind my diseased haze I have consumed quite a lot of the newer releases on Netflix. Rather than draw out reviewing each of the more interesting titles until past the point where anyone is interested, here’s a trio of opinions in quick succession, and relatively spoiler free.
The Umbrella Academy
What do you get when you cross X-Men with Preacher?
It’s an academy of kids with super-powers being trained by an eccentric old lunatic with a monocle, his monkey butler and robot maid! It’s been a while since they all got together, one died, one vanished through time, the others just filtered away to live their own lives until the only one that remained was sent to the moon. This all makes sense, right? We’re keeping up? Based on the 2007 Dark Horse comic series of the same name, the show takes us on a story of loneliness, time-travel, family conflict, and why eccentric billionaires shouldn’t keep secrets from the children they purchase.
Plot beats are fairly predictable once you’ve got a solid grasp of the characters involved, the end of the world is coming, there’s a time-travel plot including a time-cop agency that’s done moderately well, although it’s impossible not to draw comparisons to the agents of heaven from Preacher. Also like Preacher the tone strikes an odd balance between comedy and heavy drama, you have Robert Sheehan playing his own typecast of troubled class-clown with super-powers that he laid down in Misfits* alongside a fifty-something time-traveller in a child’s body, and opposite them you have Ellen Page as “the plain girl”, a mother torn apart by celebrity and relationships, an edgy “Nightwing” dealing with his own ego, and a man who has spent years alone on the moon.
All in all, not a bad watch, nice to see something that is neither Marvel or DC, and the performance from all parties is thoroughly enjoyable. The series does not balance its tone as well as Preacher, which can make it hard to invest in the stakes or characters, and of course the constant reveal of secret after secret does rather have you twiddling your thumbs waiting for the next “grand reveal”. Still, not a bad series, and easily worth watching an episode or two.
*Another Misfits and Preacher bridge, after a dramatic cast-shift in Misfits the character niche occupied by Robert Sheehan was taken up by Joseph Gilgun who plays the vampire Cassidy in Preacher! I hope those two are friends.
The Dragon Prince – Season 2
An improvement on season 1 which was already good, and I’m glad I gave The Dragon Prince chance to develop. We pick up where we left off, a potential war between humans and elves is beginning to reach the boiling point, and the only ones actively trying to put a preemptive stop to it, the newly orphaned prince who has the inexplicable ability to talk to animals, his older half-brother whose determined to learn magic despite the human inability to tap into primal energy, and an elf who is slowly learning to trust humans but whose scrutiny is proving far to useful to ignore.
Again, the real strength of the showrunners shines through in their character and world building that they proved in Avatar: the Last Airbender, although the narrative is still hitting some fairly tame plot-beats. Our main villain is, once again, evil for the sake of being evil, and I can see no reason for him to have gone kill-crazy. His best friend, the deceased king, was nothing but loving to him, heeded his counsel, gave reasons when he turned it down… anyway, let’s kill that rant early.
The show sticks to the D&D party paradigm, each party member fulfilling a role within the group and within the adventure, you can practically see the DM’s screen in the backgrounds of certain scenes. At times it feels a lot more “kids show” than Avatar ever did, but it doesn’t make it less fun, and the fact that you can consume a season in an afternoon makes it worth committing a bit of time to.
End this with one hell of a moodshift, a new horror that has been on Netflix for a couple of weeks now, we have a story of a mad artist whose work causes strange deaths among those who sell it. Told from the perspective of those in the art industry, the world we occupy is quite removed from a classic horror setting, bright, cheerful, full of life and business, no one is isolated, no one is removed from society or cut off from rescue, and that alone makes this an abnormal and interesting approach.
Our cast of characters are cutthroat and volatile, consumed with their own dramas, almost oblivious to the terror unfolding around them, more caught up in their own dramas, undermining and outdoing one another, that by the time it occurs to anyone that anything spooky is going on they’re already screwed. It’s a joyous thing to enjoy watching a cast of characters that you utterly despise, and there’s something a little cathartic about watching a horror film where you are not encouraged to feel bad for anyone except for Zooey Deschanel in the role of “innocent”.
It’s different, but I cannot say that it’s all good. The all star cast is great, sure, but it’s never proof against a failed experiment or a horror film that lacks tension. While I enjoyed what I watched, I found it all too easy to simply not pay attention to the story, skipping great chunks of the inter-personal drama, having to backtrack occasionally for bits of tension I’d inadvertently ignored while working on something else (work’s good, you?) and coming back to enjoy the grizzly moments and Zooey Deschanel finding another body and none of the nearby police thinking to arrest her for always finding the bodies.
Ok, one more post-spooky-season horror review, I’ve just sat and binged another of Netflix’s later efforts, and it’s worthy of discussion. This series tells the tale of a family of house flippers looking to land their biggest payday, one final renovation project before they settle in to an easy life, but as the narrative of their future tells us, we know they never got that far, and everything has fallen apart. (more…)
As a compromise to my ever declining reading habits, I have instead decided to embrace audiobooks with a passion. My recent Lovecraft addiction has ultimately led me to HorrorBabble, a small UK based narration group who read from a short list of public domain and permitted authors, as well as a few original creations. They have an affiliation with Rue Morgue, an international horror magazine* and production company, so in a short space of time they’re already part of a larger media empire, and with good reason.
Simple, beautifully recorded audio, hours of books recorded by a collection of readers, almost entirely Ian Gordon who has been the bulk of my listening habits thusfar. Ian is not the most lively reader, one might be forgiven – in those moments when two characters are talking to one another – for confusing one character for another to an extent, but his voice is soft and clear, at once relaxing, and a little chilling. As cofounder, he also records some of his own material for the channel. (more…)
After playing Layers of Fear, >Observer_ went straight onto my Steam wishlist. The studio, Bloober Team SA, suckered me in with something filled with hints of the Lovecraftian themes, before fully submerging me into a fanboy’s dream (or nightmare). With a chilling atmosphere, fascinating imagery, and a narrative unravelled asynchronously and through gutwrenching imagery brought from deep within the man’s psyche.
Here we have a game in which a detective in a cyberpunk dystopia plugs into the minds of suspects and victims to solve a crime, and he’s played by Rutger Hauer. If no part of that interests you then I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to leave immediately. >Observer_ ticked enough boxes for me that I played three hours without noticing, and the game hits a lot more of my fandoms than I initially realised.
I’ve been devouring my way through Star Trek: Deep Space Nine of late, and it’s rekindled an unexpected fondness, and a habit of mind to pay respect and homage to those lesser known actors who deserve nothing but the utmost deference. Today, Jeffrey Combs, a regular on Star Trek in a wide variety of prosthetics and make-up, but also a face that appears in considerably less make-up across a wide variety of science fiction and horror films and TV shows. (more…)
I find it alarmingly easy to say that the end of the Super-Hero film craze is getting close, but that’s not to say that the genre dies with the trend, much like any genre it must evolve, grow, and integrate itself into other genres.
A quick run down on what one might loosely define as the “super hero” genre, although really it’s just a typical family adventure film with super heroes as the subject, one might similarly define Monsters Inc. as a horror film because there are monsters; all you require is a hero and a villain, pitch them against one another in a narrative that tells us a story of hope, and of self reliance, some kind of positive take away to which the villain is usually the antithesis. Iron Man tells us stories of taking responsibility for one’s own actions; Batman is an exploration of sanity from various angles; and X-Men is about accepting diversity; you get the idea. Toy Story 3 is only a short step away from being a super hero film is what I’m trying to say here.
So who’s seen the trailer for the New Mutants?
Now that you’ve seen that, did you also watch Legion? The FX series attempted to follow the broken narrative of a mutant with incredible telepathic and telekinetic powers and one very serious mental disorder. The first episode was a masterpiece of horror when we witness what happens when an unstable mind is given incredible power, spoilers the ward the mutant in question is in is reshaped violently, and a human being is fused with a wall that was once a door end spoilers and after that it’s eight episodes of questioning the truth 12 Monkey’s style, complete with a demonic haunting.
It was well received, a refreshing take on the X-Men franchise, and an exploration into the possibilities of the mutant narrative that one can’t usually delve into in other properties, let’s not forget that mutants are born with their powers, never ask for them, and often never have anyone to show them how to properly use them* and so are often a danger to themselves as well as others. Enter “The New Mutants”.
That line about baby rattlesnakes being more dangerous is so wonderfully apt, except that in this case we have adolescent children and teenagers who contain the power to tear down nations if they put their mind to it, and the world simply does not know how to handle it, so they shove them into a holding pen turned creche. We’re left with some substantial questions about what the nature of the horror in New Mutants might be, but it looks strongly like the fear may simply be out of control mutants who are simply unable to control their abilities. Legion proved the concept, but it’s not the only intellectual property lately that proves that X-Men can cross genres.
Logan I have heard described as a modern western (I still haven’t seen it, but I look into these things thoroughly), and it makes no attempt to hide its inspirations, flaunting the film Shane throughout to remind us exactly where it has drawn its idea. It was an answer to the fatigue of the “super hero genre” and it worked, and if I weren’t so fatigued at Wolverine as a whole I might have watched it by now, but there’s a certain satisfaction in knowing that someone, somewhere in the market is listening to the consumer.
It’s not new of course, we’ve seen super heroes blending genres for a long time now, comedy, science fiction, the neo noir stylings of the Defenders and Batman, but to my memory I have not seen a super hero project marketed as anything other than just that? The trailers tend to make a big deal out of the spectacle and the drama, where the New Mutants is clearly and unapologetically playing to every horror archetype.
I love the cast. Anya Taylor-Joy has already proven her horror chops, she’ll make an excellent Magik, Maisie Williams has some experience playing a wolf-child, and Charlie Heaton is just great in Stranger Things. Let us hope that it can lay roots for comics to stay in the cinema for generations to come without fear of losing originality for some time to come.
*Which is why I’m anti-registration by the way. If a baby is born with a gun taped to it’s hand do you arrest it for illegal possession of a firearm? I like you Stark, but screw you and your Registration Act/Sokovia Accords.
Last week, dear reader, we spoke about the dangers of answering the door during All Hallows’ Eve. A time considered by many to be a fun, but devilishly devious. Where degenerates roam the streets, knocking on doors and demanding a delightful treat for making you get out of your cosy, warm living room and to face the dark abyss beyond the door. But not all dangers leave the house. For some, a Wonderland full of games and joy is as bad as a world of hurt and anguish.
In 2009, Sam Raimi released the horror film he wrote with brother Ivan before taking to work on the Spider-Man franchise…
Did you ever see a horror film that made you howl with laughter but still left you creeped out? Because that’s Drag Me To Hell!
Oh, and the Evil Dead series. In short, if you enjoy your horror with a healthy dose of comedy then Sam Raimi is your man. In this he tells the tale of loan officer cursed by an old gypsy woman with a spooky eye, to be hunted by a demon for the terrible crime of not giving her a third extension on her loan. What follows will make you laugh until you vomit and/or the other way around. (more…)
Sketch comedy has been a staple form of the genre for a long time, because it’s very easy to tell a joke and even easier to do so in a visual media with physical comedy, tangible characters, and short narratives. Short-form horror is not quite so easy. It’s a genre that benefits from time, and rising tensions, expectations, and breaks that escalate to a final conclusion. Is a sketch-horror format possible?
In fact horror and comedy both rely on the tension-break cycle, where set up and punchline serve the same functions as tension and release of horror. We’re starting to see an emergent wave of short-form horror online, in shorts such as Lights Out or Thresher, and we’re seeing more and more films that are a compilation of shorter horror films showcasing different writers and directors, like V/H/S, Trick ‘r’ Treat, or XX. In fact it’s a format that stretches as far back as cinema itself, and the surge of anthology has risen proportionate to the increasing volumes of films as a whole, but the internet is making it easier and easier for horror shorts to be seen.
Anthology horror continues the campfire story traditions, the old oral tradition of passing on dark myths and urban legends. Horror passed through the pulp-fiction years, the short, rapidly produced horror printed on cheap paper and created by a stable of writers working to deadlines, of which Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard were some of the major players. We now have creepypasta, the creative explosion of horror – good and bad – that has filled the internet with a fresh stock of bogeymen unique to our modern sensibilities.
Pulp horror was a television staple in the days of the Twilight Zone, ten seasons, one film, two reboots and nearly seventy years of history on screen, the single episode stories offering macabre twists and morals that force us to take perspective on our own lives. Today’s equivalent might be Black Mirror, a far less family friendly equivalent that makes a fearful thing of modern technology rather than applying a supernatural twist.
You can also see the short-form horror as a one-liner, a simple search for “two sentence horror stories” will yield some gems that give you a shudder. They follow a basic premise, establish normalcy, and subvert it:
“I can’t sleep” she whispered, crawling into bed with me. I woke up cold, clutching the dress she was buried in.
It tells so much in such a confined space, a tale of love and loss, but hints at something more dreadful and impossible. Ok, so it’s not as potent as an hour and a half film or a good book, but you might as well say that you’d rather go see a stand-up comedian than hear a knock-knock joke.
Which begs the question, can a sketch-horror series have the same potency with fear as a sketch-comedy show can have with humour? Anthology horror films prove fairly conclusively that multiple stories can join into an enjoyable experience, and horror shorts such as those on YouTube and the two-sentence stories are excellent examples of how fear and disquiet can be created in a very short space of time. Now build those into a half hour collection, with recurring characters, common themes, and framing devices.
This has been another article of me pitching ideas into the empty space in the hopes that someone with the resources and skills necessary finds it and makes it a reality. I hope you have enjoyed my analysis into the hypothetical.
As we approach All Hallows’ Eve, tales of ghosts and ghouls become commonplace. Today, I wish to tell you a tale of a young man and a young lady, by the names of Ness and Paula, who fought off unspeakable evils. But before they could take on true evil, they had to overcome fear itself. This time, it wasn’t a ghost or a ghoul, but rather it was the wickedness of humanity itself, with an injection of the macabre. This is the story of Ness and Paula encountering the Trick or Trick Kid.