The Complete Carpenter: Village of the Damned (1995)

Saturday, August 18th, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey


Here’s a crossover I want to see in a comic: Superman vs. The Village of the Damned. I just thought of that as I sat down to write because Christopher Reeve is in this movie. Hey DC, you’re welcome! You need all the help you can get.

Anyway, welcome to the late period of John Carpenter’s career. It’s downhill from this point, dear readers.

Village of the Damned came about when Carpenter and his producer Sandy King (whom he married in 1990) signed a contract with Universal and tried to set up a Creature From the Black Lagoon remake. When project planning bogged down, Tom Pollock at Universal handed Carpenter a script for a remake of the 1960 British SF/horror picture Village of the Damned (based on the novel The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham) and asked the director if he’d make this before continuing with Creature. Carpenter agreed to do it as part of his contract.

Village of the Damned was a commercial failure when released in April 1995 after Universal rushed its release schedule. The Creature From the Black Lagoon remake never got the greenlight from the studio and faded away. So rather than getting a John Carpenter remake he was passionate about, sort of a follow-up to The Thing, we got a John Carpenter remake he was just trying to get out of the way.

The Story

A bizarre phenomenon strikes the Northern California town of Midwich: for six hours, every person and animal in the town and surrounding countryside falls unconscious. Pretty weird. But weirder is that a month later local doctor Alan Chaffee (Christopher Reeve) finds out that ten Midwich women are pregnant — and the conception date is the day of the blackouts. Dr. Susan Verner (Kirstie Alley), an epidemiologist studying the occurrence for the US government, offers financial incentives for the pregnant women to carry their children to term so the offspring can be studied.

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The Mercutio Effect

Friday, August 17th, 2018 | Posted by Violette Malan

MercutioI’m sure most of you know this, but just in case: There’s a character in the play Romeo and Juliet that Shakespeare kills off. He’s a friend of Romeo’s named Mercutio. It’s his murder that leads to Romeo’s killing Juliet’s cousin, and everything goes down hill from there. So you can see how important Mercutio is from a plot/narrative point of view.

There’s something special about this particular character, though. He’s very witty, very quick, has some great lines/scenes. Actors of my acquaintance say they love to play him. He’s so popular, in fact, that the story is Shakespeare killed him off (instead of one of Romeo’s other friends) because he was a more interesting character than Romeo himself. After all, the play’s not called “Mercutio and Juliet” – though now that I think about it, that would have made a great play too, but probably not a tragedy.

Are secondary (or even tertiary) characters always doomed to die when they are more interesting than the lead? In fact, isn’t it necessary that the audience likes and cares about characters before you kill them? Certainly it happens that way in a movie, or in a novel for that matter. We’re always being told (and we tell others) that you have to make the audience/reader invest emotionally in characters that you plan to kill.

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Goth Chick News: YouTube Takes the Virtual Ruler to The Nun

Thursday, August 16th, 2018 | Posted by Sue Granquist

The Nun poster-small

As we all know, there is no such thing as bad press. But in the world of horror, “bad” press is actually the best possible press you can get. Remember when several stores pulled the 90’s PC game Phantasmagoria off their shelves due to the violence? And suddenly if you had a copy you were the most popular kid on the block?

I do.

Earlier this week, a YouTube ad for Corin Hardy’s The Nun got a lot of people talking, mostly because it scared the crap out of them. In case you haven’t been following the plotline, The Nun is a spin off from The Conjuring 2, which itself is the fifth installment in The Conjuring series. Based on a story from James Wan, chief architect of the franchise, The Nun will be the chronological starting point for the entire shared universe, telling an origin story of sorts for a recurring villain, the ghoulish nun Valak.

And by the way, Valak isn’t and never has been a nun. According to the demon conjurer’s go-to guide, The Lesser Key of Solomon, a 17th century grimoire that acts a kind of Yellowpages of Hell, Valak (or Ualac, Valac, Valax, Valu, Valic, Volac) is none other than the Great President of Hell. Often depicted as riding a two-headed dragon and commanding 30 legions of demons, he takes on the visage of a small child with wings, which if you ask me, would have been way more terrifying than a nun in corpse paint. Hopefully The Nun will explain why a big cheese in the demon world has decided to take on the persona of early Marilyn Manson.

Anyway, back to the video.

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Fantasia 2018, Day 10, Part 2: Born of Woman 2018

Thursday, August 16th, 2018 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Lucy's TaleThe third and last screening I saw on Saturday, July 21, was a selection of short films: the 2018 Born of Woman Showcase, presenting short genre works by women filmmakers. This year saw nine movies from eight countries.

First was “The Gaze,” from the United States, directed, written, and produced by Ida Joglar. Mayra (Siri Miller) is a young scientist who seems to be on the edge of manifesting psychic powers. Then her boss, an older and far more renowned scientist (Drew Moore), makes an improper advance; we don’t see exactly what happens, and when Mayra tries to explain it to her friend Jenny (Jennifer Rostami) later, Jenny minimises what she has to say. But later he makes an unambiguous assault on Mayra, leading to a manifestation of power and a lengthy final shot as the credits roll that can be read as either comedy or horror. Or, perhaps, both. The film’s well-shot, particularly a sequence in which Mayra tests her apparent powers with a pencil and a glass of milk, and Miller in particular is very good. It’s not especially subtle, but some things are best not handled subtly.

France’s “Petite Avarie,” directed by Manon Alirol and Léo Hardt, written by Hardt, was next. It begins with a woman (Manda Touré) coming home to her boyfriend (Hardt). She’s just been diagnosed with breast cancer. His response is to break up with her in a lengthy monologue, because it’s going to be too hard on him to stay with her. He leaves the apartment, goes to a nearby bar, and there she catches up with him and lashes back, verbally and physically. This leads to a kind of reconciliation. It all works from the sheer absurdity and cruelty of the dialogue; Hardt delivers his self-pitying speech blandly, like some sort of psychopath. When Touré’s character catches up with him, though, we find out she’s every bit as terrible a human being as he is. The writing here is stunning in its crudity and cleverness, and it’s delivered with an outrageous precision. It’s strong stuff, such that some won’t be able to see the humour in it, but it works.

“Lucy’s Tale,” from the United States, was next. Written and directed by Chelsea Lupkin, it follows a bullied teenager who’s trying to negotiate high school and develop a romantic life — while she’s also developing a tail. Irina Bravo gets across Lucy’s desperation, anger, and the unpredictable surges of emotion she has to deal with. The movie looks nice, often dark, always ominous. It’s about growing up, but growing into something nobody expects. What is Lucy at the end? I’m not sure, and I’m not sure it’s important to be sure. Whatever she is, that’s what she’s become.

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Fantasia 2018, Day 10, Part 1: The Travelling Cat Chronicles and Da Hu Fa

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Travelling Cat ChroniclesI had three screenings I planned to attend at Fantasia on Saturday, July 21. The last would be a showcase of short films, but the first two were features. The day would begin at the Hall Theatre with The Travelling Cat Chronicles, an adaptation of a Japanese novel about a cat and assorted humans. Then would come Da Hu Fa, a 3D animated film from China about a diminutive martial-arts master seeking a lost prince within a hidden valley.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles (Tabineko ripôto, 旅猫リポート) was directed by Koichiro Miki from a script by Emiko Hiramatsu adapting Hiro Arikawa’s novel. Nana is the travelling cat in question, and she narrates the film in question (voice-work contrbuted by Mitsuki Takahata) as Satoru (Sota Fukushi, also in Laplace’s Witch, the Library Wars movies, and Blade of the Immortal), her human, tries to find her a new home. The reason why Satoru must find a new home for his beloved cat isn’t hard to realise, but at least at first the point is that he takes Nana with him as he travels around to some of his closest friends — all of whom are willing to take her in, but each of whom have various practical difficulties. Flashbacks establish Satoru’s relationships, and his travels with Nana become a way into his life as a whole, leading to some surprising revelations and to a devastating emotional conclusion.

The first thing that has to be said about this movie is that it’s the most ruthlessly effective tearjerker I’ve ever seen. The entire second half of the movie played over a theatre full of sniffles and sobs. I thought at first that I’d never heard so much crying at a Fantasia film, then revised that to “any film,” and by the end to “any gathering, funerals and memorials included.” If it’s a tearjerker, though, it’s a tearjerker with real integrity — it’s so effective in large part because it’s a good dramatic film, not because it’s filled with unearned emotion. (I will specifically note that nothing too bad happens to Nana.)

It’s also effective because every character in the movie is genuinely nice. You sympathise with all of them; you see why they do what they do. And what tragedies of their own they have to cope with. Most notably, a character we barely meet, the father of Satoru’s best friend Kosuke (Ryosuke Yamamoto) at first is described as cruel and abusive, but with a few lines here and there and one twist near the end we come to understand him better, come to see for whatever damage he’s inflicted he’s really a man who simply doesn’t understand people. It’s impressive when a film’s able to humanise a character who barely appears in more than a few frames.

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Shirley Manson: Killer Android

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018 | Posted by Steve Carper

Shirley Manson the-world-is-not-enough still 7

Did you know there are more than 200 rock songs (using rock as loosely as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame does) about robots? The first one — this is real, because it’s too weird to be made up — was “Robot Man,” sung by 50s rock diva Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero, better known as Connie Francis.

Mmm, we’d have a steady da-ate (yay-yay-yay-yay)
Seven nights a wee-eek (yay-yay-yay-yay)
And we would never fi-ight (yay-yay-yay-yay)
‘Cause it would be impossible for him to speak

With robots being as wonderfully visual as they are, it’s surprising that so few robot rock songs have accompanying music videos, although one exception is … “Robot Rock” by Kraftwerk. Their robots are extremely dull form is function, in the best Bauhaus tradition. Not much snazzier are those in the short film Styx used in concert by during their Mr. Roboto tour.

The one that blows all the others away, in typically loopy rock serendipity, has nothing whatsoever to do with a robot song or with its source material at all.

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Fantasia 2018, Day 9: A Rough Draft and The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

A Rough DraftI’ve said that the last two movies I saw on Thursday, July 19, did different things with weirdness: one extremely weird in its way, the other unweird to a surprising degree. As it turned out, the same could be said of the two movies I saw on Friday, July 20. The first (at the J.A. De Sève) was a Russian film, A Rough Draft. The second (at the larger Hall Theatre) was American, The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot. From those titles you might not guess which movie had the weirdness and which didn’t. But that’s the reward of watching things at Fantasia: the chance of the wholly unexpected.

A Rough Draft (Chernovik, Черновик) was directed by Sergey Mokritskiy from a script he wrote with Maksim Budarin, Denis Kuryshev, and Olga Sobenina, adapting a novel by Sergey Lukyanenko. Kirill (Nikita Volkov) is a successful computer game designer in Moscow — until he begins to disappear from the memory of his friends and family. Reality has changed, and he’s no longer part of it. He confronts the woman who seems to be the cause, Renata (Severija Janusauskaite). Kirill, we learn, has become a Functional, a person with superhuman powers; he’s been drafted to serve as a customs officer in a stone tower that’s a gateway between worlds. Mysteries abound. Can he get back to his family and to the love of his life, Anna (Olga Borovskaya)? And will he find the mysterious other reality, Arkan, that is 30 years ahead of our own and thus a rough draft for our own world?

A Rough Draft plays like a film that’s supposed to be a blockbuster. It’s full of big ideas, bright visuals, and the unexpected. Whole universes can lurk behind a door. At every turn it seems like a new concept or gimmick’s being introduced. Which is really why it goes off the rails so spectacularly, in ways an American blockbuster would never be allowed to do. It’s a train wreck, but a fascinating, entirely watchable train wreck. After the movie ended, seven of us gathered in the atrium outside the De Sève Theatre to form an impromptu therapy group trying to work through what it was that we’d just seen. While this felt necessary, it was pointless. It’s not possible to make what’s on screen make sense as a coherent whole. Too many pieces are missing. But I’d very much like to read Lukyanenko’s original novel.

The first act of the film, in which Kirill finds himself being erased from everyone’s memories, is simple enough. We’ve seen this before — a man being wiped out of the world, a man being initiated into a new life with strange and secret powers. It moves well; Volkov brings Kirill’s astonishment across; the mystery’s enough to make us want to see what happens next. And then the chaos begins. We start getting ideas thrown at us hard and fast, and halfway through an explanation of one idea another breaks in on us and we get some of the basics on that and never end up getting the rest of the explanation of the first. Meanwhile another three things have happened.

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Fantasia 2018, Day 8, Part 2: Under the Silver Lake and Laplace’s Witch

Monday, August 13th, 2018 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Under the Silver LakeStrangeness has many vectors; you can be weird in multiple directions at once. Whichever shape a movie takes, it’s often a good idea to have something strange in it. Something unexpected. You can usually count on movies at Fantasia to have at least one well-developed kind of weirdness in them, but the last two movies I saw on July 19, both at the large Hall Theatre, went in very different directions; one the strangest film (in a certain way) that I’d see this year, and the other imagining a world in which there is nothing unpredictable at all. The first was an odd Hollywood-set detective story, Under the Silver Lake. The second was Laplace’s Witch, an adaptation of a Japanese science-fiction novel, directed by Takashi Miike.

Under the Silver Lake is directed by David Robert Mitchell, whose previous film It Follows was a surprise hit. This is very different from that quiet teen horror film; Silver Lake follows Sam (Andrew Garfield), an unemployed 33-year-old who spies on his female neighbours and has no obvious ambitions for his life. Somehow he attracts a new neighbour (Riley Keough), who promptly disappears. Sam’s half-assed attempt to find her leads him to a loopy world defined by stream-of-consciousness conspiracy theory. There are eccentric minicomics zines that hold the key to a murderous ghoul; a killer of dogs; a king of the homeless; secret messages in pop songs; clues hidden in an old issue of Nintendo Power; parties in assorted strange locations with assorted strange people; multiple trinities of women; and secrets underlying the geography of Los Angeles.

This film’s a maze, in which everything refers to everything else, and occasionally to things outside of the film. It’s about, among other things, a kind of search for profundity in popular culture, and how that search is doomed to failure. It’s about the anomie of a generation of young men. It’s about voyeurism, and women performing for the male gaze, intentionally and unintentionally. It’s about 140 minutes long (to paraphrase one overrated pop singer), but it feels longer, if only because of its intentionally episodic and elliptical structure. It’s sporadically funny, but not really a comedy. It sporadically provides clues, but is only nominally a mystery. It is consistently very well-shot, and very precise in its compositions and mise-en-scene. Mainly, though, what it is, is weird.

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Fantasia 2018, Day 8, Part 1: The Fortress

Sunday, August 12th, 2018 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The FortressThe first movie I saw at Fantasia on Thursday, July 19, was at the J.A. De Sève Theatre, a Korean film called The Fortress (Namhansanseong, 남한산성). Based on a novel by Hoon Kim, Dong-hyuk Hwang wrote the screenplay and directed his own adaptation. It’s a historical war story, set in 1636 when the Chinese Qing dynasty invaded Joseon-ruled Korea. The royal court has to flee before the Qing armies, taking refuge in a mountain castle, the fortress of the title. The Qing besiege the place, and the film follows what happens in the fortress as a result. More precisely, it follows the dispute between two of the officials of King Injo (Hae-il Park): on the one hand Myeong-gil Choi (Byung-hun Lee, who was in RED 2 and was Storm Shadow in the G.I. Joe movies), the Interior Minister who wants to negotiate with the Qing and if necessary surrender; and on the other, Sang-heon Kim (Yoon-seok Kim), the Minister of Rites who wants to hold out until the end, believing that an army’s gathering in the south that will strike north and relieve the fortress.

A blacksmith (Soo Go, The Royal Tailor) from a nearby village conscripted to serve as a soldier is the voice of the common man, while Prime Minster Ryu Kim (Song Young-chang, Kundo: Age of the Rampant) schemes to maintain his place and refuses to consider surrender. Class conflicts develop, as the court tries to keep the soldiers in line while allotting them the barest minimum of supplies needed to survive a harsh winter. Meanwhile conflicts among the court are a mix of show and threat, ministers alternately genuflecting to the King and calling for each others’ heads.

At its heart, though, this movie is about the dispute between Choi and Kim. The key is that both are honourable men, and both have deep principles informing their positions on the war. They respect each other, by and large, but are utterly opposed — with the Prime Minister a kind of wild card in their conflict. The difference between the two men is established from the very opening scenes of the movie. Choi goes alone on horseback to negotiate with the Qing, and does not flinch when they launch a flight of arrows that fall purposely just short of his mount: this establishes he’s a brave man, which we need to understand to grasp that his desire for negotiation doesn’t come from personal cowardice. Then we see a ferryman lead Kim across an icy lake to the fortress, and observe fatalistically that on the next day he’ll do the same for the Qing. Kim responds by killing him, establishing his ruthlessness but also his determination to save Joseon’s independence.

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Fantasia 2018, Day 7: Cam

Saturday, August 11th, 2018 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

CamThe only film I planned to see on Wednesday, July 18 was called Cam. Directed by Daniel Goldhaber from a script written by Isa Mazzei, it tells the story of a woman named Alice (Madeline Brewer, of The Handmaid’s Tale and Orange is the New Black) who works as an erotic webcam performer under the name of Lola — until she finds her account stolen by parties unknown. As Alice investigates she finds it’s more than just her financial information or identity that’s been stolen; someone who looks and sounds exactly like her is performing as Lola in her place, and this Lola is breaking all the rules Alice established for herself as a performer. Alice investigates and tries to regain control of her life, driving the story toward a brutal conclusion.

The first thing that must be said about this film is that it is structured perfectly. It’s only 94 minutes long, but it gets across a lot of information and introduces us to a lot of characters — Alice’s friends and rivals among her co-workers; some of her customers; and her family (who don’t know what she does for a living). The plot’s laser sharp: we spend the first third learning about Alice’s life as a performer, getting to understand the environment, and seeing how she plans her shows for the sake of getting her clients to give her tokens which move her up the ranking of women on the webcam service. Then she loses control of her account, and has to find out what’s going on, and her actions are exactly what you’d expect — talking to her friends, suspecting her rivals, trying to deal with the company, trying to report her problems to the cops (who don’t understand, and one of whom tries to hit on her). This is a mystery, and her investigation gets more and more desperate, setting up the final third of the film in which there’s another slight shift of genre as Alice finds out what’s happening and tries to deal with it. The ending’s unexpected, tense, and thoroughly solid.

It is probably worth noting — as it was in the Fantasia program — that Mazzei’s a former camgirl, meaning that she’s writing from a place of knowledge. Issues relevant to sex workers (as when Alice’s family finds out what she does, and the consequences that follow from that) are used well, and the depiction of Alice’s job is appropriately everyday: it’s a job, with things she likes and things she doesn’t, and some co-workers she gets along with and some she doesn’t, and regular customers good and bad, and all the rest of it. I don’t think the film’s especially celebratory of the work, but one does get a bit of a sense of why Alice keeps at it: she has an outlet for her creativity and performative drive.

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