Monday, October 19, 2009


Decades of fancifully lousy representations have given me cause to be trepidatious when walking into a vampire movie. Thirst by Park Chan-Wook was no exception. My husband and I had a double date with a comedy rapper and a Russian-born psych student (not relevant to the review; just had to put that out there) and we all arrived early to guarantee good seats. Everyone else's expectations were high, which meant I was nervous. I love Park's work. But vampires?

As put off as I am by traditional vampires, I'm even more apprehensive of "reimaginings" of the vampire mythos. (Y'all know that of which I speak. coughglittercough) I thought maybe we'd be treated to a depiction of Korea's historical equivalent of the European vampire, but was pleasantly surprised to learn that Thirst's vampires are about as conventionally western as they come: night-dwelling, super-strong, immortal, black-bedecked bloodsuckers, obsessed with Christian images and superstitions and the struggle between good and evil. It's interesting to see this faithful representation of western myth cast through the lens of an Asian culture. It strikes me that Europe's vampire, the evil spirit of the dead that comes by night to feast upon the blood of the living, turning to ash at the touch of sunlight, fits in perfectly with the majority of Asian lores, which are saturated with malicious revenants bound by quirky, complex rules. Our Draculas and Nosferatus would fit in perfectly over there.

As I expected from Park, every shot is crafted conscientiously and individually, paying attention to the entire toolbox available to cinematographers but somehow never feeling overly artsy or conspicuous, always in service of telling the story rather than distracting the audience with flashy visuals. American directors ought to be ashamed of themselves; with a few remarkable exceptions, cinematography has become a sleepy game of Follow the Leader, made up of cut corners and obvious answers intended to keep the production short and cheap. And when it's not that, when it's designed to impress, the poor audience is bludgeoned with sweeping (typically artificial) vistas, junky color correction and hamfisted, "Look how dramatic" shots. Park allows his environments to be natural and his scope is mostly kept to the characters' awarenesses. The shot style often reflects their emotions.

Park's paramount Vengeance trilogy (full disclosure: I've only seen two of them) thrives on black and bitter peripeteias that make you cry "Mercy!" The same notes are struck in Thirst, though lightly, and the supernatural subject matter in combination with a heightened dark comedy angle make the whole experience less realist and, thus, far less harrowing than those films. Still, the story twists in a dozen little directions from act to act, so the predictability factor is zero.

It's probably fair to say that my favorite things about Thirst are the non-vampire things. (And that's a lot; the story is largely about humanity and its motions.) I am not converted, I still expect vampire movies to suck, but I have had a bit of a revelation. Between this and Let the Right One In, I see that even subgenres I've written off as foolishly gothic can come calling in the form of a movie I love, provided the right director is molding it.

I have learned to trust Park absolutely. He has my blessing to adapt for screen stories that I would otherwise have nothing but disdain for, and I'll be first in line. Perhaps he could try a sports legend biopic next. I'll place myself in his fatherly care.

Friday, October 16, 2009

I have a new euphemism for suicide

"Putting up Halloween Decorations"

Pepper's Ghost

Fun video explanation of the Pepper's Ghost trick at Disney's Haunted Mansion.


I've been watching the USA show Psych for a couple years. Each episode is a happy potluck of inventively geeky plots, low-stakes drama, fake psychicry and real cowardice, Easter Egg pineapples, rapidfire wiseassery, Final Jeopardy-level eighties references, third-tier celebrity appearances, and, dependably, yet more fodder for my crush on Secret-Latino James "Roday" Rodríguez. (Oh, James, talk Tejano to me!)

Best (and most surprising) of all is the occasional emergence of really savvy horror-homage elements. I'd credited the writers alone for these secret-handshake gestures (such as the name of the final episode of the second season: "Shawn [and Gus] of the Dead") until I watched February's documentary on the SciFi channel (back before it was Siphy), His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th, wherein Rodríguez Roday gushed his commentary and memories in the company of innumerable Hollywood power players. Yes, the varied cast of grateful creators and thinkers illustrates the far and wide influence of Friday the 13th. Indeed, there are many commentators whose names I almost recognized!

His gushing proved it: James Roday appears to be the genuine article, a dyed-in-the-dollar-cinema horror geek. (He was also the biggest name attached to the Freddy Tribute Special even if you DO count the next-highest contenders--and you most certainly shouldn't, as they were all involved in the original project, namely Cunningham, Manfredini, and Savini.)

Learning that Roday was a genre nerd sealed the deal on my infatuation, naturalmente. Apparently the lead actors on Psych have a pretty considerable hand in shaping the show's content. They even did a group panel--actors and writers--at this year's San Diego ComicCon. Unusual? Mmmmmyyyeeeeeesssss.

The most blatantly and thoroughly genriffic episode was, of course, "Tuesday the 17th", the penultimate episode of last season. This season has so far brought us an Exorcist-inspired episode ("The Devil Is in the Details... And the Upstairs Bedroom", August 28) and last week's episode, "Let's Get Hairy", a werewolf-themed episode featuring none other than David Naughton. (Okay, it featured one other than David Naughton; Biff from Back to the Future played, as well. Hey, I said third-tier and I meant it.) It bears mentioning that there is no genuine supernatural element to the show. Rather, as straight mysteries go, nothing is what it seems, and the culprit never turns out to be reeeeaaal ghoooosts wooooo. It's a little like Scooby-Doo that way. Also, the protagonists are a duo of constantly-in-over-their-heads goofballs who bug eyes and turn tail almost as often as they munch branded snacks. Make of that what you will.

Alas, I lack basic cable, so I've not yet caught tonight's episode, the fall finale. However, USA Network graciously places the full episodes on their website one week after they air. I can't link to a specific video but the navigation is easy-peasy.

Full (recent) Episodes of PSYCH at

¡Llámame, Jaime! ¡Te quiero!

Wordle is Adorable

And this doesn't belong here.

Wordle: the dead dont die

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Shambling to New Orleans

If you're going to be at Voodoo Fest in New Orleans this Halloween, be sure to slap on some greasepaint and register (register. REGISTER!) to be counted in Disneyland for Alcoholics' the Big Easy's attempt at an official record-breaking Zombie Walk! Get your Instant Zombie tips below.

This just in

Zombies are, apparently, hot. Check out this week's Savage Love at the Onion AV Club.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Review: Zombieland

It's gotten harder and harder to knock my socks off with a movie. Lately the honor seems reserved for sparsely set dramas that lay on the abject, self-destructive, human-condition themes fairly thick.

The trailer for Zombieland, however, had me over the moon with juvenile excitement--RJ and me both, actually. It was our favorite movie ever that we hadn't actually seen. The snappy physical comedy, unaffected cinematography, dorky lead, witty third-person omniscient observations, slow motion attacks, Van fucking Halen--what wasn't exciting? I declared it "the perfect zomedy", a sentence which physically pained me to construct, since I've said time and again that I'm no fan of neologisms, and, further, that neologistic portmanteaus are outright offensive. But in this case there was no other way to say it.

The actual movie keeps the trailer's promise by delivering all these fun features, distributed quite adequately, and more. I won't even give it away, because the second act has a prize so timeless and perfect that Harrison Ford himself would get off his Hoveround just to catch a glimpse of it.

None of this will come as any surprise to those who've been following Zombieland at all (of course, those people will have already seen it by now). It's holding steady as a B+ at Rotten Tomatoes and handily earned back its budget in the first weekend (domestic).

The weaknesses are brought by the comedy element alone, and are fine examples to illustrate why I don't care for comedies in general: Dialog is dedicated to larfs rather than nuanced exposition of well-thought-out characters, so it's hard to care when disaster (or even love) befalls them.

Secondly, similarly, and tragically (I say "tragically" because it cropped up at the very end, leaving a sour taste in my mouth about the film overall), the comedy actually irreparably undercut the climax. I'm giving away little (and even less worth preserving) when I say the movie's last act takes place in an amusement park that a couple of characters had been trekking to, thinking it a safe haven. Obviously, this Shangri-La gives the film its name, and would have done so from the concept stage of production, when, perhaps, the characters were more fluid and the tone of the film, like a flan in the oven, was not yet set. It's a crime that the first sixty minutes of the movie grew to be something downright remarkable but, due to the locked-in title, (if my projections are correct) that stupid finale in the stupid theme park had to stay. Nevermind that it makes no logical sense on any scale, that savvy characters become as hapless children when they set foot in Pacific Playland. Nevermind even that the very goal of getting these streetwise characters to the park necessitates a precipitate string of out-of-character decisions.

BAH. Nevermind. I'm going back to thinking about the great parts, and there are many.

Does this flick knock Shaun of the Dead off the throne? That's subjective, a matter of taste. There would be no Zombieland without Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, I'm sure, but the quality of the former is undeniable. It's close enough, though, that there will be a hearty debate in horror-geek circles on the topic for years to come. And that's refreshing.

Friday, October 2, 2009

See what I mean?

They're everywhere:

CNN on the enduring popularity of zombies.

Yesterday I said: "Max Brooks may very well never outsell The Zombie Survival Guide," a statement that may very well be proven to be in error: this Wednesday, Brooks's third book, The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks, hits shelves. It's a graphic novel, which means that it has fewer words and more pictures, which in turn means that it has broader appeal to the stumbling slack-jawed hordes.

Not that I won't be purchasing a copy, of course. Or that you won't, right here:

The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks

ZOMBIELAND was fun. I'm working on my review now, which will run at Fear Zone. The lovely and talented Julia may chime in with her own thoughts later.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Welcome to Zombieland...

Not the movie, which I'm seeing tonight, but the world in which we live.

The Zombie Explosion

Twenty years ago, it seemed like all we had were three Romero movies, a few Italian oddities, CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS, and that funny one that convinced the public that zombies love to eat brains. In the printed realm, there was Skipp and Spector's BOOK OF THE DEAD, and Philip Nutman's novel-length expansion of his short story, Wet Work. DEAD/ALIVE came along and moistened things up a bit, but, beyond that, there really wasn't much for a zombie fan to chow down upon...

Today, one could say that our cup hath runneth over: zombies are everywhere. In less than five years, we've gotten three new Romero movies. Over the past decade, Skipp, Spector, and Nutman have been scooted down the shelf to make room for tomes by Max Brooks, Brian Keene, Kim Paffenroth, and a shambling and varied host of other zombie novels.

Romero predicted the zombie apocalypse, and it is here: the living dead are everywhere. Slim pickings have given way to an embarrassment of Rhodes-style open-belly feasts, and one has to wonder: how much is too much? Is the grue-filled balloon about to burst?

Yes and no.

Gamers have shown no sign of zombie fatigue. After a decade, Resident Evil--the spark behind today's zombie craze--is still going strong, and its progeny (LEFT 4 DEAD, DEAD SPACE, DEAD RISING) are among the most popular games on the market.

In movie theaters, zombies have yet to take a serious chunk out of the box office. Films like [REC] and DIARY OF THE DEAD receive limited theatrical runs, and a modern classics like SHAUN OF THE DEAD produce less-than-stellar box office numbers. Zack Snyder's remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD remains the reigning zombie box office king, and it's popularity is due more to the fact that it's a balls-out action packed horror film than to the fact that the movie-going public at large were champing at the bit to see zombies on the big screen.

As far as books are concerned, the public will move on. Some new trend will pass over the cultural landscape, and a few major publishers will get burned, having dumped too much money into a zombie book simply because Pride and Prejudice and Zombies sold well, and Max Brooks may very well never outsell The Zombie Survival Guide.

There will, however, always be an audience for zombie books. Zombies have niche appeal, and I don't believe the core audience--the folks who purchased 20,000 copies of DAY BY DAY ARMAGEDDON, for example--is going anywhere. They've been around for quite some time, and while their numbers are not strong enough to put anyone on the NY Times Bestsellers List, they are more than powerful enough to keep several small presses afloat for the foreseeable future.

Outside of games, movies, and books, zombies continue to disappoint nut-jobs the world over by simply insisting upon remaining fictional.

Big Book News

We're about to find out just how strong the zombie book buying audience really is: George A. Romero, the real Big Daddy, has reportedly been paid a $300,000 advance by UK publisher Headline to pen two zombie novels. The first, aptly titled The Living Dead, will reveal "the origin of the zombie realm," and will give us "glimpses of increasing chaos from around the globe."

A decade ago, Romero dipped his toe into these waters, with a serialized e-book, the somewhat Vonnegutian The Death of Death. The plug was pulled on that project one hundred pages in, but elements of the story have shown up Romero's recent work, and I suspect the minute-by-minute, around-the-globe time-line style of Death will carry over into The Living Dead and its sequel.

Click here for more.


Thanks to the fine folks at Sony Pictures and Moroch, I'll be attending a press screening of ZOMBIELAND tonight. Based on the trailers alone, I have pretty much decided that this is my favorite film of all time.

Stupendous advance word isn't helping, but I should probably lower my expectations...