Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Jurassic World Rant: In Defense Of Dinos & Popcorn Films

The New Yorker, May 1997

Well folks, JURASSIC WORLD has taken the....well, world by storm, and did we really think it wouldn't?  Its world-wide box office (as of 6-30-15) is a staggering $1,259,873,609!!!! Which just goes to prove that dammit....people LOVE dinosaurs.  Surprise!


Now this rant I am closing in on here is just a little bitch session combined with some true depth of feeling (well...as much as I can muster) regarding the creatures I have loved since I was a little girl. 

Part 1:  The Rant


What makes people want to curse a film before it even comes out?  What makes that same person then go to the movies to actually SEE said film?  So they can bitch about it? And why then, when a film is topping the box office for many consecutive weeks and beating all comers, would someone ramble on about the movie being awful and that "everyone thinks it's shit".  Ah, I'm thinking the world populous feels a mite different, as a whole.  


The ode to the original 'summer blockbuster' JAWS (Jurassic World)
Speaking specifically of JURASSIC WORLD, it currently holds a 7.5 rating on IMDB.   Entertainment Weekly gave it a B+.  It has the highest grossing opening of all time, is the world's 8th highest grossing (and counting) film of all time, the 5th highest North American gross, hit the billion-dollar mark faster than any other film (ever - in 13 days!), and has broken countless other records the world over.  This is a serious money maker.  How can a film possibly make so much money and break so many records if it is a piece of crap?  It can't.  Plain and simple.

Though my rant is geared at the animosity towards JURASSIC WORLD, in all honesty this kind of thing goes on all the time with many a film.  Why can't we just like (or dislike, for that matter) a movie instead of picking it to pieces? Yikes! I know that's what "film critics" do...but let me tell you, there are a whole lot of people who claim to be film critics than there are actual, well-rounded, legit critics. And no, I don't claim to be one. At best, I'm an amateur.  But yes, I'm able to be fair and I will call bullshit on a film when I need to.  But someone who has never actually seen - or cannot appreciate for that matter - a decent film like THE GODFATHER, SUNSET BOULEVARD, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, TAXI DRIVER, THE DEER HUNTER, or even Spielberg's own SCHINDLER'S LIST for Christ's sake, has no business pretending to be a critic. Bitching on social media in a forum does not a critic make. And if the best you can do is a few AVENGERS movies and a dozen video games, then just stay in your parent's basement and flap your gums with your equally doltish friends. Yes, you have the right to be bitchy.  Yes, you are entitled to your opinion.  But holy crackers, don't make it seem like those who DO enjoy the film are out of their minds.  In JURASSIC WORLD's case, you'd be calling the masses crazy. 

Jurassic Park (1993)
Here's another point.  I've become so irritated with people that don't understand what a popcorn movie is.  Wiktionary's description says it best:  

"popcorn movie (plural popcorn movies):
(film, idiomatic)  A motion picture without serious dramatic content, a weighty message, or intellectual depth, which serves simply as enjoyable entertainment."

People, JURASSIC WORLD was not meant to be the next CITIZEN KANE. Nor were the three previous dinosaur sagas that came before it.  These movies are not Thomas Hardy adaptations nor are they going to get a Criterion release. They are popcorn films - stereotypical SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS created for the masses about dinosaurs on the loose looking to wreak havoc and eat people.  Take it for what it is. Expecting it to have a mind-blowing plot with depth, multiple story arcs, thought-provoking narratives and Meryl Streep in the lead is just stupid.  This really irks the living shit out of me. Bitching about the acting...come on!  The dinos are the real stars.  Who gives a shit if the character's actions are ridiculous!  What did you expect them to do when being chased by an Indominous Rex?  Kill it in the first act?
Here's my thought:  If you are so sure the film is going to suck, here's a thought: don't go see the fucking movie. Let the people have their fun.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
And here's something else that ought to piss a lot of people off.  Truth be told, I'm a much bigger fan of dinosaurs than superheroes. I don't read comic books. I've never been into them and can't force myself to start....not even when you call them graphic novels! I don't live and breathe Avengers or whatever the SuperheroOfTheWeek is making the rounds, so when JW beat out THE AVENGERS I'm not ashamed to say I was secretly giggling.  But I understand people are passionate about Iron Man and Wolverine or whomever.  Fine.  I do not have a problem with anyone going to see X-Men 17, I really don't.  If they make Jurassic World 17, I'd probably be there.  So I'm not going to bitch about anyone's passion.  It's what makes the world go round.  But it's when you start crapping on my passion that I get a little testy. 

Jurassic World's Indominus Rex
People that say they were so bored they could have fallen asleep during JURASSIC WORLD...I call bullshit.  That comment just smacks of someone trying to act like they are too good to watch dinosaurs....as in, "well, if they would have made it more scientific, more original, more plausible or more meaningful I would have liked it more".  More likely they didn't blow enough shit up for you.  If you were able to fall asleep in a theater with shrieking raptors and bellowing rexes, then you are half dead already.  If you were indeed "so bored I could have walked out" - then by all means, you should have done it.  Those of us enjoying the movie don't want you there anyway.  You're probably one of those idiots that texts throughout a film as well.  

And other thing.  Stop griping about product placement. Give me a fucking break. Everyone does product placement these days. I heard someone say, "it took me out of the whole movie, I almost walked out". Seriously? Because the lead character was drinking a Coke? Because they showed a Pandora store inside a giant theme park? They have them at airports for Christ's sake! 
And it's not just summer blockbusters or big releases that have it. Tell me, did you not notice FORREST GUMP's box of chocolates? Russell Stover, people. His Nike tennis shoes? His fascination with Dr Pepper?  In 1982's THE THING - Kurt Russell was swigging from a bottle of J & B scotch whiskey....several times!   What about James Bond and his ever-present Aston Martin?  All the labels on all the food in the pantry in the movie THE SHINING? Reese's Pieces in E.T.? FED-EX in CASTAWAY? The vast array of brand-name toys in the TOY STORY films. Let's not even discuss TRANSFORMERS, ok?
The thing is...why does this bother people so much? 


Hope there's enough head room in that Benz.
Don't even get me started on sports. Can you even name a sport that doesn't do product placement? I can't think of one! Maybe curling!? I don't know. And television? It reeks of it. Everywhere.  So if it pissed you off that the kids in JW were using Samsung phones or folks were enjoying Starbucks, you really need to move to a desert island. It's not like they put Nikes on the Velociraptors and had them wear shirts that said Just Do It (though maybe they should have!).  

Stop being a snob. You know you're enjoying an ice cold Pepsi while reading this on your Droid in your Jeep Wrangler. Just stop. If it bothered you that the film showed someone driving a Mercedes then you really need to get on some anxiety meds. All cars are some kind of brand. Should they have strategically shot the scenes without showing the front or back of the car, making sure there were no distinctive tell-tale signs of being a German automobile? Should productions put black tape on the side of a Harley in a scene so you can't tell what kind of motorcycle someone is on? Should we not have people reading Entertainment Weekly or The New York Times because we don't want to play favorites? Wow.
Have a Coke and a smile!
Actually, I think it brings me more into the film if there are well known brands used. When I see someone using Heinz ketchup in a film or tv show, it feels more real than if they are using something from a no-name bottle that simply says Catsup. Seriously, the days of generic are over. Even generics have a label now. I used to love it when I would be reading a Stephen King novel and he'd mention something like Coke or a popular band...made me feel right at home and more in the moment.  So griping about product placement is just so ridiculous. Who really gives a shit! Let them drink coke while an I-Rex is chasing them!


Part 2:  Love Those Dinos

Jurassic Park "You bred raptors??"
Now...the dinosaurs.  Who doesn't enjoy a dinosaur movie?  When I was a kid I swooned over Godzilla on Saturday afternoons. Whether he was chasing the Japanese down a crowded street or fighting off Mothra or some other monster, he was my hero!

There seems to be an age-old fascination with dinosaurs that people just can't get over. Me included. One of the very first books I remember reading as a youngster was a book I'd bought at a school book fair- quite possibly the first book I'd ever bought on my own. And the subject matter: yep, dinosaurs. It was pretty hard as a kid to imagine a world in which creatures like the Brachiosaurus and the T-Rex walked the planet. I'm not sure I believed in them at first. But I was utterly struck with a life-long fascination. From watching Godzilla flicks on Saturday afternoons or Land of the Lost on TV to all my various books, stuffed animals and toys, to trying to memorize all the various difficult names, I was obsessed. 


Pteranodon from Jurassic Park III
Naturally, as I grew older other things replaced that fascination. Like Led Zeppelin records. And horror movies.  And boys!  Though in grade school I remember thinking that I could be become a scientist who studies dinosaurs.  Didn't know they had a specific name back in the day. But what wonders could I discover when digging up bones? A new species perhaps? Would they name it after me? Oh my. To be young.
Eventually my parents and my guidance counselor steered me away from that of course..."where would you live with that kind of degree?" Being from western Pennsylvania, they did have a valid point. So I took up psychology and moved on. 

BUT. Then it happened. Fall 1990. Michael Crichton released his novel, Jurassic Park. Being an avid reader, this was something I couldn't miss. Then to make my life complete, I heard they were adapting it. And not just anyone was bringing this story to life....Steven Spielberg was behind it.  And no matter how many blockbusters Spielberg brings to life he can never be called a hack, so you knew you would be getting something extraordinary!

And of course, the rest is history.  The original JURASSIC PARK went on to make millions and millions of dollars and please just about everyone on the planet.  And while THE LOST WORLD and JP3 weren't quite up to the same caliber as the first film, people still flocked to the theater to enjoy the latest offering.  Which is what they are doing now, in vast numbers, for JURASSIC WORLD.  Why?  Because people like fucking dinosaurs, that's why! 

Jurassic Park.  Dinner is served!
There is something truly, truly terrifying about dinosaurs.  The scene from the first JP movie in which the T-Rex attacks the Ford Explorer (product placement alert!) that Tim and Lex are in - that is one goddamned tense and frightening sequence!  I would put it right up there against any of the scariest moments from any horror film.  The T-Rex was going to fucking EAT them!  How is that not horrifying and nightmare-inducing? In JAWS, when Quint slides down the deck of the Orca and (spoiler alert for anyone assholish enough not to have seen JAWS) into the mouth of the 25 foot Great White - that is hands down the scariest thing imaginable - to be shredded to pieces by hundreds of teeth and eaten alive!  So thinking about a giant creature with a roar greater than the crowd's last moments of this year's Belmont Stakes - well that's just petrifying!


 The interest in dinosaurs will likely never wane.  The fascination with these obsolete creatures that lived over 65 million years ago is something that most likely every third person in the world has at least a passing interest in.  Their awe-inspiring size and formidable power has thrilled man for almost as long as they have been extinct.  Still gracing the cover of the National Geographic and other scientific mags, the masses will forever want to read about the latest discoveries.  

The countless array of adventure books and films that have been written and produced (even just since the first JP book/movie) is proof positive that the magnetism of these prehistoric monstrosities continues to enchant! Kids still want to be paleontologists just like I did - even if they live in inner-city Detroit, the wilds of Siberia, or the sandy beaches of Guam.  They are still buying toys and lunchboxes and folders and posters and bedspreads and anything they can get their mitts on that is related to the giant lugs.  Tell me who wouldn't want a chance to dig up the bones of a Velociraptor if given the chance?  Children flock to cartoon movies about the land before time and adults get their kicks watching a T-Rex eat a man while he's on the john.   They're scary.  They're somehow magical. And for heaven's sake THEY'RE FUN!!

So when people feign disinterest or act as though those of us enjoying these Jurassic films are simpletons or don't know a good movie when we see one, well - to them I say 1.2 BILLION DOLLARS.....and counting.  Don't let the theater door hit you in the ass on the way out the door.

In closing... I guess what I am trying to say - oh so UN-eloquently - is that as long as people are alive, dinosaurs are going to continue to amaze, intrigue, terrify, and most of all THRILL audiences. So if you can't handle it - stay out of the park.


Friday, June 19, 2015

We Are Still Here (2015) : ( A Touch Of ) Fulci Lives!

Quickly and quietly atmospheric, Ted Geoghegan‘s We Are Still Here introduces us to not just a grieving couple attempting to move on from a tragedy, but to the house itself, for let's not kid ourselves, the house holds secrets that are truly the star of this film. We get long, sweeping shots of the winter landscape and the house within it, forboding and yet just an average looking house.  The sparse score by composer Wojciech Golczewski sets the eerie tone.

Paul (Andrew Sensenig) and Anne (genre-fave Barbara Crampton) Sacchetti have bought an old farmhouse in the idyllic New England countryside to escape the real world and try to get past the death of their son Bobby in a horrific car accident.  No sooner do they start unpacking when Anne starts feeling the presence of her dead son. Things that go bump in the night daytime draw her into the basement where she, in true X-Files fashion, wields her flashlight toward the strange sounds. As she walks carefully around in the basement, we are privy to a few moments of "what was that behind her?" "was that a shadow of someone?"

But Anne is not as enlightened as we are.  In a moment ripped right from the fabulous ghost story flick The Changeling, a baseball (shown to be in a box of their son's possessions in earlier unpacking) comes bouncing down the basement steps to Anne's surprise. Naturally, it's way too early in the movie for anything to truly rear its ugly head, so Anne is left with a melancholy wonder - as if she hoped her son would grace her with his ghostly presence.

I'm sure losing a child would be the worst thing that could ever happen to a mother, so it's quite understandable that she is yearning for some kind of proof of life after death.  And soon she's relaying her thoughts to her husband, who is much more skeptical of the afterlife, but is also obviously grieving in his own way.  They seem to be a tight couple, and Paul is willing to listen to Anne's ravings and truly does offer his comfort as they try to settle in. 

After determining that the basement of the house reeks of smoke and is scorchingly hot, Paul calls for an electrician to come look at the boiler.  Meanwhile, neighbors Dave (Monte Markham) and Cat (Connie Neer) McCabe come by for a little visit, a little whiskey, and a little tale of the dark history of the Dagmar house - which I will not disclose here.  But as the McCabes depart, Cat slips a note into Paul's hand which he opens after closing the door. It reads:  THIS HOUSE NEEDS A FAMILY.  GET OUT!

When the electrician comes the next day, he is left alone in the basement to work on the boiler and is soon attacked by a supernatural being who is smokin' hot - and not in a good way!  It reeks of Lucio Fulci's many cellar horrors, which is never a bad thing.  It's our first glimpse of the ghosties that rule the Dagmar house. And the practical effects are a breath of fresh air, thank you.

 Anne admits to Paul she has invited their friends May (Lisa Marie) and Jacob (Larry Fessenden!) to come to the house for the weekend - and not just to check out their new digs.  The couple both have beliefs in the supernatural and May is said to have psychic abilities, therefore, Anne wants her to see if she can reach out to the other side and contact Bobby.  Once the eccentric couple arrives, they head out to eat at the local burger joint - where it is extremely uncomfortable immediately, with all the patrons staring at them and whispering.

Back at the house, May and Jacob's son and his girlfriend have arrived, having also been asked to enjoy the weekend with the Sacchettis.  They make themselves at home and enjoy some whiskey (of note:  everyone in this entire movie is obsessed with drinking whiskey. I don't know how the measly bottle keeps on pouring that amber liquid - it's like a biblical miracle) and are just getting busy on the couch when they hear a banging in the other room.  The basement to be exact.  And like in every horror movie that has come before it, someone has to go check it out.  Needless to say, once the others arrive home from dinner, it's like no one was there.  Whiskey glasses back in place, music turned off....no sign of anyone.

As the two couples settle in for nightcaps and chatter, the restaurant in town gets a visit from Dave McCabe.  He wants to know all about the couples, and what they talked about.  He then gives hints as to what really happened in the Dagmar house in the past, and it's none too pretty. 

When we get to the part of the film where Anne and May head into town and the boys stay home, you know something is lurking right around the corner. Jacob decides to conduct an ill-advised seance, which just opens the portal ten-fold.

We Are Still Here, while utilizing plenty of old tropes and clichés used thousands of times before, is still a very fun and scary way to kill an hour and a half.  There's no doubt that having the leads all be adults and not screaming teenagers gives it a credibility missing in most of today's modern horror outings, and for this fan, having both Crampton and Fessenden in one flick is like the rapture. Crampton plays up her usual doe-eyed disbelief well here, and Fessenden playing a new-age stoner - well, I'm not sure it gets better than that.  The rest of the cast is very good as well, with the notable exception of  Lisa Marie, who either over-played or under-played nearly every scene she occupied. There was no happy medium for her, and it did put me off a bit.  Though not enough to ruin the film.  Someone like Illeana Douglas would have been just perfect here. Alas....

The throwback feeling that hearkened back to the early 80's and the Master of Gore, Lucio Fulci, made the film extra special to me.  I grew up watching Fulci and all the horrors he unleashed, in particular his favorite kill-spot - the cellar.  This film reminded me so much of The House by the Cemetery, with a little bit of The Beyond thrown in, that I was nearly blissful and had to watch the film twice before my 48hr rental expired.
Side note:  I even read somewhere that the character names in We Are Still Here are names of characters and actors from THBTC, so I guess that's an homage if I've ever heard one.

Dealing with depression in a horror film may seem beyond prudent, but I think it opens people up for the horrors within and makes them more susceptible to the evil all around them.  Anne was so overcome with grief here that she was actually hoping she could contact her dead son.  Then what?  Ask him to stay forever?  Not allow him to transition to whatever comes next? And she was so certain her son was the presence she felt, she was not able to comprehend that something much more sinister was at work.

The subtle scares here were the best ones, truth be told.  A glimpse of a ghoul in a picture frame, a pair of feet seen in the light under the door, someone standing behind a character who can't see them...these are the things that keep us up at night.  Even more than the icky ghouls that have an age-old agenda and promise that the Fulci-inspired gore is imminent.  And with the final act, we get all the gore we could ask for and more, but it never cheapens the feel of this genuinely enjoyable haunted house offering.

And on that note, I should have some whiskey.  Something has got me in the mood!!



Monday, June 15, 2015

Dark Arts: Paying Homage To M.R. James

"Casting the Runes" ~ Bukowski
~by Marie Robinson

We are big fans of M.R. James here at Fascination With Fear.   His classic stories of ghosts, curses, and monsters are sure to deliver a shiver down your spine and leave your mind filled with ghastly images to follow you to bed at night. It’s no wonder, then, that his tales would provide inspiration for dozens of artists. Today I wanted to highlight three modern artists that have paid homage to the late great Mr. James.

Hannah Cooper is a young woman from the UK.  She illustrates books (a few being The Bloody Chamber and Bram Stoker’s Dracula), runs her own shop (https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/KittenSocksStudio), and shares her wonderfully fun sketchbooks online at her website (http://www.hannahillustrates.co.uk/). Ms. Cooper undertook a project of illustrating M.R. James’ anthology Casting the Runes and Other Stories, and the result is a delightfully eerie batch of black and white etchings.

I find a touch of Edward Gorey in Hannah’s illustrations, which adds a disturbing tone of childlike whimsy to them. It’s like seeing something evil through a child’s eyes, and leaves you with an uncomfortable (but now unwelcome) sensation. I’ve selected several of her drawings below, but you can view them all at her website.


"Whistle and I'll Come to You"

"The Tractate Middoth"

"Number 13"

"A School Story"


A.E. Brown is a Delaware-based illustrator who, like our aforementioned artist, has a fun sense of humor but can also scare the crap out of you. Brown is an illustrator who frequently works on comics, and who also happens to have a lovely collection of M.R. James-inspired paintings. If you had any doubt that James is a master of terrifying tales, then Brown will convince you with his heart-stopping images. Seriously, we’re talking nightmare-fuel. Brown has lovingly illustrated over a dozen of James’ stories, which you can view by scrolling through his tumblr (http://aebrown-medusawolf.tumblr.com/). You can also check out his shop, here (https://www.etsy.com/shop/medusawolf).

"The Residence at Westminster"

"The Ash Tree"

"Number 13"

"A Vignette"


Last but not least is Michael Bukowski, an artist from New Jersey who makes a living by making flyers, shirts, records, and etc for punk bands. By following him on Instagram (https://instagram.com/illustro_obscurum/) I found out about a very intriguing hobby of his—illustrating horror stories. Well, it’s a little more specific than that; Bukowski takes the ghastly, unimaginable creatures dreamed up by authors like Lovecraft, Ramsey Campbell, and, of course, M.R. James and brings them to life. Bukowski has gathered a whole zine’s worth of M.R. James ghouls, but unfortunately for us, was only released in a limited quantity. So, enjoy here what you can for free, and check out his wonderfully fun blog (http://yog-blogsoth.blogspot.com/), and, of course, his shop (https://www.etsy.com/shop/StoreDesGhoules).


"The Treasure of Abbott Thomas"

"The Diary of Mr Poynter"

"Canon Alberic's Scrapbook"


If you haven’t gotten enough M.R. James artwork (how could you?), please check out our good friend James Gracey’s appreciation post, here.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Taking The Color Out Of Horror, Part 6

For many years I've been running this feature, because I love how horror looks in black & white. It changes the mood of a film or television show entirely. Hence, these latest pictures in the series.
 Enjoy, and be sure to check out the previous five parts.

 Part 1     Part 2    Part 3    Part 4    Part 5


The Town that Dreaded Sundown

The Taking of Deborah Logan

Stonehearst Asylum

The Quiet Ones

Pumpkinhead

Penny Dreadful

Oculus

The Legend of Hell House

Jessabelle

It Follows

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

The Hunger

Friday the 13th

Don't Look Now

Candyman

The Babadook

Apt Pupil

Annabelle

American Horror Story: Freak Show