My wife have been viewers of the Syfy competition series, Face Off since its first season. We were interested in seeing how visual effects makeup artists do their thing, particularly under severe time constraints, and the show has not let us down. I’ll probably pass on another season, largely because I think I’ve seen enough variations on the same complications that there’s no real reason to continue, but the show is still good and if you haven’t watched it yet, you ought to.
Anyway, one of my favorite contestants from prior seasons was Miranda Jory. She was on the show twice. The first time around she seemed a little bit out of her depth and didn’t perform too well, but when she was invited to a season that featured veterans versus newbies, she had clearly picked up a step or two and went all the way to the end. She didn’t win, but her stuff was very, very good. I started following her posts on Facebook shortly thereafter, and though she doesn’t post often, occasionally she does post something interesting.
On one particular day she encouraged all of us out there to seek out a documentary called Nightmare Factory. It wasn’t available on DVD or Blu-Ray (and still isn’t), but it was streamable on Netflix. She called it required viewing, so I dropped it in my queue and a few months later finally got around to watching it. Her recommendation was solid, as Nightmare Factory is an enjoyable and informative film. I wouldn’t call it essential, but it’s still full of interesting things.
Nightmare Factory is about visual effects, but rather than take on the entire field and its various practitioners, it focuses on Greg Nicotero of KNB Efx Group. Nicotero is a long, long, longtime contributor to the visual effects community and something of a legend among those who practice the craft today, even as he continues to turn out excellent work in such things as The Walking Dead. He’s actually appeared on the show as a zombie in a couple of different episodes, so there’s no doubting his enthusiasm for it.
Despite everything, I can’t bring myself to hate 1996′s Scream. By all rights I should, because Scream completely reinvented horror movies not as vehicles for terror and/or revulsion, but as ironically detached commentaries on themselves. We’re only just now starting to climb out of this hole, with the better part of 20 years spent watching horror films poke fun at the genre instead of doing what they’re supposed to do, which is scare us. But Scream, despite its assault on the fundamentals of horror cinema, remains a good film. Smiley, from 2012, made 16 years after Scream, is a throwback to the Scream-authored trend and is just about as disappointing as you can imagine.
I probably never even would have heard of Smiley if it hadn’t been for all the movie channels we were getting until recently. While perusing the listings for a channel devoted to such entertainments, I saw the description of the film, about a serial killer who chooses his victims through the internet, and figured what the hell. I recorded it. I watched it. I was not happy.
To start with, the summary of the film was incorrect. It had some elements in common with the actual story, but for the most part it was entirely different. In Smiley it is posited that somewhere in the bowels of the internet there is a murderous being who, like Bloody Mary, can be summoned with a simple ritual. When engaged in a chat with someone, a nasty-minded individual need type, “I did it for the lulz,” three times and the eponymous Smiley will immediately appear and butcher the other party.
Of course, this has maximum effect if you’re using something like Skype or, as the film initially shows us, a Chatroulette knockoff. If someone were to be killed while using Facebook Messenger, they would simply stop typing. Not very dramatic. Add a webcam into the mix and everyone can see the bizarre, smiley-faced murderer killing his victim in full color. High-def, too, if you have the equipment.
Some years back, in a previous iteration of this blog — there have been many, many of those — I did a little experiment. I decided for some strange reason to watch every one of the Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street movies in the order in which they were released. I did reviews for all of them and I wish I still had those reviews because they represented a lot of work. Sadly they were lost when the database for the old blog went kerflooey. I hope against hope that won’t happen to this blog.
Anyway, I performed this exercise because I wanted to see how the slasher movie developed over the years, starting with the granddaddy of them all (Halloween) and proceeding all the way through to the Friday the 13th reboot from Marcus Nispel. At a certain point all these series were sort of feeding off one another and trying to one-up their levels of carnage, so it was interesting to watch the progression, especially from the perspective of today’s horror, which is largely bloodless and concerned primarily with poking fun at the genre.
I bring all of this up because it’s pretty clear Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon, the co-writers of The Cabin in the Woods, have seen all those movies and probably more. And they may even like them — it’s hard to watch all that without some affection, at the very least — but they also retain the current generation’s propensity for snark. This combination of reverence and irreverence makes for an uneasy creation, and one I can’t wholeheartedly say I liked, or even found effective in terms of the genre.
It makes me sad that there are two movies called The Fog. One is the real deal, directed and co-written by horror master John Carpenter and released in 1980. The other is a faint imitation from 2005 made by people whose names I don’t remember, starring a bunch of young actors I barely recognize and containing nothing of the original’s character or thrills. In case you didn’t notice the image on the left there, we’re talking about the former today.
I did not see The Fog (1980) when it was released. Oh, I wanted to see it, because the television spots made it look very creepy and scary (which it is), but my parents went through these occasional fits of propriety, and though they had taken me to many inappropriate movies in the past — and would again, I should add — they drew the line at this one. Harrumph.
Since I missed out on The Fog in the theater, I had to wait until its cable television debut, at which point I could watch it over and over and over again to my heart’s content. And I did watch it over and over and over again because I thought it was totally fascinating. I would be lying if I said I was still enraptured by The Fog today, but I do still like it and I do enjoy taking it out to watch periodically. Not too often, because then the atmosphere would be depleted, but every couple of years or so.
This year for my birthday, my wife bought the new Blu-Ray restoration of The Fog released by Shout! Factory. It has a wonderful painted cover (see the image again) and is jam-packed with goodies sure to delight fans of The Fog everywhere. I highly recommend picking this sucker up if for no other reason that The Fog has never looked so good. It’s a pristine HD transfer and it’s probably a cleaner, sharper image than even theatergoers got. Seriously, buy it now.
You may recall that I recently reviewed a book by Communion author Whitley Strieber called The Grays. In that review I did a short recap of Strieber’s greatest hit and noted that The Grays was a new approach to the material with which he’d become most associated. To whit: Strieber claimed that the things he wrote about in that book were, in fact, true but that he was not able to substantiate them adequately enough to include them in a nonfiction book. Consider this for a moment and decide what you think. Is it possible? Even likely? Probably not, but it is an interesting way of approaching subject matter that’s gone fairly stale over the decades.
Strieber includes no forward or afterword in this book, Hybrids, that makes any similar claim, but I can only assume given its contents that we are meant to take seriously at least some of what’s included. I know, as it happens, that Strieber has expressed a great deal of trepidation about human-animal hybridization going on at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, off the coast of Connecticut. You may recognize the name Plum Island from The Silence of the Lambs, though Thomas Harris never worried about the stuff we’re concerned with here.
Hybrids is about human beings using alien technology to create programmable human-animal hybrids that are faster, smarter and tougher than normal humans. The purpose is ostensibly to create a better soldier, but things go too far very quickly and what seems more likely is that the creator of the hybrids was fixated more on making the perfect being. A next stage in evolution, if you will, only skipping the whole “natural selection” part of the equation.