Song of the Day: Make Thee An Ark (by Clint Mansell)


I’ve been waiting for quite a long time for the release of Darren Aronofsky’s biblical disaster epic. Now that it’s finally here it also means a new film score from Aronofsky’s collaborator Clint Mansell.

The soundtrack to Noah is definitely on par with past Mansell scored Aronofsky films going all the way back to Pi. It’s a soundtrack that’s both epic, majestic and more than just a tad apocalyptic. One of my favorite tracks from the soundtrack comes at a moment of triumph early on in the film which creates a sense of hope in the face of the approaching divine apocalypse.

“Make Thee An Ark” starts off slowly. Layers on layers build within the string work by the Kronos Quartet who have worked with two Mansell on past Aronofsky films. The track actually has a nice musical throwback to Mansell’s work on The Fountain. It’s probably the influence of that past film which made the Noah soundtrack appeal to me more than the previous ones for Black Swan and The Wrestler.

Quickie Review: 2012 (dir. by Roland Emmerich)

[guilty pleasure]

When one sees the name Roland Emmerich attached as the director to a film on any given year one almost has to audibly groan. He’s not on the level of Uwe Boll in terms of awful films, but he does give Michael Bay a run for the title of worst blockbuster filmmaker. It’s quite a shame to see Emmerich’s films one after the other get worse and worse. This was a filmmaker who showed some talent in the scifi-action genre with such cult classics as Universal Soldier and Stargate. He would reach his apex with the popcorn-friendly and thoroughly enjoyable Will Smith alien-invasion flick, Independence Day. Since reaching those lofty heights each successive film has been more groan-inducing and worse than the previous one. For a brief moment in 2009 this would change as he finally succeeded in destroying the world that he had only hinted at with previous films such as ID4, Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow. The film 2012 was released in late-2009 and, while it was universally lambasted by critics and a large portion of the public, I thought it was his most fun film since ID4.

2012 literally has the world greet it’s apocalypse according to the Mayan Calendar in the year 2012. The first forty or so minutes has Emmerich explaining the details of how the world will end in 2012 either through the film’s lead scientist (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) or through a conspiracy-theorist played with manic glee by Woody Harrelson. The bulk of this film is almost like disaster porn for film lovers who are into disaster flicks. We have earthquakes which sends the whole California coast sliding into the Pacific. Supervolcanoes erupting in what is the Yellowstone National Forest right up to mega-tsunamis that dwarf the highest mountain ranges.

The cast might be called an all-star one, but I rather think it’s more a B-list with such names as John Cusack playing a goofy everyman who must save his ex-wife and two young children right up to Danny Glover playing the lame duck of lame duck presidents (I guess Morgan Freeman was unavailable or already done with disaster films after doing Deep Impact). The performance by this cast ranged from alright to laughable, but even with the latter the sense of fun never wavered. This was a flick about the world ending and Emmerich delivered everything promised.

It’s the scenes of world devastation which made this film so enjoyable for me and has become one of my latest guilty pleasures. No matter how bad the dialogue got or how wooden some of the acting came off the sense of wonder from Emmerich destroying the world on the big-screen and on my TV made this film fun to watch. Maybe those who hated it or thought it was trash were aiming to high. I will admit that the film is trash, but in a good way that past enjoyable disaster flicks of the 70’s were fun. It took the premise serious enough, but the filmmakers involved didn’t skimp on over-the-top destruction. I mean this film’s premise means we get to see in high-definition billions of people die as the planet decides to suddenly switch things around to get a better feng shui vibe to the planet.

Scenes such as the mega-tsunamis topping over the Himalayan mountain range was awesome. But even that scene couldn’t top the super-quake which destroys Los Angeles around Cusack’s character who tries to outdrive the quake and the resulting chasms which appear to chase his limo with is family inside. Seeing Los Angeles and the bedrock it’s on upheave and slide into the Pacific was one of the best disaster porn sequences I’ve ever seen and I don’t see anything topping it in the near future.

2012 as a Roland Emmerich production already has a black mark on it because of his reputation as a filmmaker, but for once he actually made a film that was able to surpass all the glaring flaws from it’s one-note, stereotypical characters to it’s wooden dialogue. He did this by making a film with disaster scenes of such epic spectacle that one had no choice but to just sit back and enjoy the ride. It’s a bad film, but it sure was a fun ride. This is why I decided on a fan-made trailer which best exemplifies this film and not the one made by the studio.

I eagerly await the sequel I fully expect from Hollywood: 2013: Disaster Strikes Back.

Review: The Walking Dead S2E6 “Secrets”

“Everything is food for something else.” – Carl Grimes

[spoilers within]

“Secrets” is the title for the sixth episode of the new season of The Walking Dead. It’s an episode that really should please not just fans of the gore and action, but also those who like some character and story development in their shows. The first five episodes of this second season has been hit or miss. Those episodes have reinforced some viewer complaints about how the show seems to go nowhere at times. Except for a couple moments of well-done script work involving Daryl Dixon (who happens to be the one character created for the show and absent from the comic book) the writing for this season continues last season’s uneven quality.

The last couple episodes were light on the zombie mayhem, but they were rife with character development and some forward momentum in the story (though Sophia still remains missing) with the discovery made by Glenn the big cliffhanger leading up to tonight’s episode. An episode which more than lives up to it’s title as secrets become known as others remain hidden.

With Glenn’s discovery one would think that the title of tonight’s episode meant Glenn and Maggie trying to keep the secret of the zombies in the barn kept from Rick and the rest of the group. The predicament Glenn finds himself in with Maggie begging him not to tell anyone about the barn then on another side Lori also begging him not to tell anyone that she’s pregnant. Glenn would be the first to tell both women how much he sucks at keeping secrets and the episode wasn’t even past the first ten minute mark when his resolve breaks under Dale’s epic eyebrows and fisherman’s hat.

The secrets which this episode focuses on doesn’t just include the barn and Lori’s pregnancy, but the secrets Shane has been trying to keep from everyone in camp. It’s during the aftermath of a very thrilling and eventful foray into the nearby housing association by Shane and his shooting apprentice in Andrea that Shane’s recent turn to the dark side comes to light with none other than the show’s elder busybody. Everyone in the show seems to tip-toe around the topic of Shane and his behavior, but not Dale who sees danger in Andrea learning from the one person who’s agenda may not lie in the group’s overall safety.

Like the show’s own troubled off-season, the show seems to have made a turn with the last couple episodes into something that seemed to balance well zombie action with the show’s more expositional side. This may not be too much of a surprise since Darabont as show-runner was supposed to have been fired around the filming of episode 4. Could his departure from the show and the promotion of a veteran tv writer and show-runner in Glen Mazzara finally put the show on a much more focused path. It’s a possibility and it could also have been part of Darabont’s plan for the season to have such a long slow-burn. I hate to admit it but as much as I love Darabont as a horror and genre fan I think his departure finally putting the show on the path to consistency on all creative fronts.

The secret about the barn and Lori’s pregnancy, not to mention Shane’s character becoming more and more dark, could’ve been strung along for the length of this season’s 13-episodes, but the last 2-3 episodes seem to dispute that. The show has begun to reveal it’s secrets into the open quite quickly and letting the characters deal with the ramifications and fall out. Already we see a much more spirited Rick react to Lori telling him of her pregnancy and what occurred between her and Shane. We get to see why in the end he’s the leader the group needs now and not Shane or Daryl or even Glenn (as Maggie suggested). He’s thinking of the group and trying to keep them sane in a new world hell-bent on driving all of them beyond the brink and past the breaking point. All that he has suspected since reuniting with his finally are now out in the open and while he’s angry he also looks to trying to work things out. How the knowledge that Shane and Lori got together bears out in future episode will make for some interesting thing times ahead especially for Rick.

This episode definitely put character conflict and drama into the forefront with very little wince-worthy moments. Everyone reacted in an organic way to everything suddenly coming out into the open. Even Andrea has begun to make the turn from helpless, suicidal to someone who may become the group’s most important protector. While the episode continues on last week’s high points it still had the Sophia issue which continues to plague the show. The writers will need to reward it’s viewers’ patience (and growing lack of in regards to the missing girl) and make sure the Sophia question gets an answer and soon.

There’s just one more episode left before the show goes on it’s mid-season break. From the look of things the show looks to be heading towards this break on a high note. It would be interesting to see how the Mazzara-led writing group deals with the ramifications of tonight’s episode with the mid-season finale.


  • For a kid who has been shot then operated on just days before (unless the show has skipped showing some days pass by) Carl looks to have recovered quite well.
  • Great to see Carl wearing Rick’s sheriff’s deputy hat. That look on Carl remains one of the comic book series’ most iconic image.
  • Seeing Carl learn how to shoot and do it well could be a sign that the show may soon start dealing with putting this show back on track in regards to the Rick-Lori-Shane triangle.
  • Steven Yeun’s role as Glenn continues to grow and he’s definitely got the awkward moments of the character done to a T.
  • I think T-Dog as a character either needs to grow or he needs to go. He’s been mostly absent from this season outside his fever-induced ranting to Dale a couple episodes back.
  • We finally get to see more and more how the Greene family sees the zombies and why they keep them cooped up in the barn. Some people will say what they’re doing is stupid. I think it’s a nice shout-out to the tenement scene in the beginning of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead where people kept their dead locked up because they still thought of them as loved ones who might still get cured or whose culture teaches them to respect the deceased.
  • Lauren Cohan as Maggie continues to be one of this season’s highlight. Her reaction once back on the farm toward’s Lori after her and Glenn have themselves a zombie encounter was very nice. Lori’s horrified reaction was great.
  • For those wondering what that piece of badass metal Glenn used to go aggro on the pharmacy zombie. It’s a Gerber Gator Machete Pro  and retails on Amazon for $41.63 with nylon sheath.
  • If Glenn wasn’t confused about how Maggie feels about him then tonight’s episode will drive him crazy. Still great to see that the show has one relationship born out of genuine interest and not out of necessity (though for Maggie it may have started as one it sure doesn’t seem to be that now).
  • I know there are people out there calling for support of Team Shane, but I think everyone should get behind Team Glenn. He seems to be the one out of everyone in the group to be the most level-headed one notwithstanding the awkward with girls and not being able to keep a secret routine.
  • I know that there are many out there who hate Andrea because of the past 4-5 episodes going back to last season’s finale, but tonight definitely saw her go from victim to survivor and do so with a bang. Love the moment out in the middle of that suburban street as a calmness washes over her face and every shot begins to land true.
  • Dale gets to use those epic eyebrows of his and say how it really is when it comes to Shane.
  • Finally, the show’s cold opening of Patricia breaking the chickens’ legs before dumping them into the group of zombies in the barn should not be pleasing PETA and this show probably not in PETA’s must-see list since the pilot episode.

Review: The Walking Dead S2E1 “What Lies Ahead”

“It’s all about slim chances now.” – Rick Grimes

The first season of AMC’s The Walking Dead was a runaway hit for the network. Despite the inaugural season being a a truncated 6-episode long one the series gained a huge following that included long-time fans of the Robert Kirkman long-running zombie comic book series, but also new ones. The Walking Dead would have it’s showrunner and tv series creator Frank Darabont to thank for bringing it to a wider audience which is why this second season premiere brings with it a sense of bittersweet to the proceedings. This past summer saw Darabont fired from the very show he had helped create due to creative and financial differences with the show’s parent network in AMC.

Does this mean the show will suffer as it moves forward without it’s leader at the helm? If the premiere episode of season two is any clue then the show has hit the ground running and doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to stop to mourn the firing of it’s leader.

“What Lies Ahead” begins with the survivors soon after their narrow escape from the destruction of the CDC in Atlanta. The group’s number is now one less and any chances of a cure to what has caused the zombie apocalypse and a hopeful future seems slim at best and a hopeless exercise in futility at it’s worst. Rick (Andrew Lincoln) continues to be the group’s de facto leader which seems to wear on him now that he doesn’t just have his wife and son to think about but others as well. The episode does show that Rick’s acceptance of leadership in the group might be more out of necessity and less about him wanting to lead. No one, from his partner Shane (Jon Bernthal) to the wise, old Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) seem to want the job and everyone seems willing to blame Rick for every instance of danger the group finds itself in.

Just like the pilot episode of the first season this new season doesn’t skimp on the tension. Frank Darabont wrote this first episode and his handling of the group’s first encounter with a moving “herd” of zombies show’s that he hasn’t lost the ability to create tension and just build it past the point of unbearable. This entire sequence with the group hiding beneath abandoned cars on the interstate with countless zombies walking past just inches away has to be one of the signature scenes of this season and more than a match for Rick’s solitary walk through the empty hospital in the pilot episode.

The bulk of the episode doesn’t come down too much from the tension and dread built up during this “herd” scene. It continues to keep the tension level at a fever pitch as the group must now search for one of their own who has gone missing during the “herd” march. The tension doesn’t just come from the situation Rick and the group find themselves in, but from the cracks and fractures that has begun to appear within the collective group. It’s these fractures which becomes the impetus for some character building that the first season rarely seem to have time for.

We still see repercussions from decisions made in the last season continue to make itself known. Whether it’s Shane wallowing in self-pity for losing what he thought was a ready-made family he had created for himself once Rick reappeared right up to Andrea’s bitterness towards Dale for having saved her from her choice to commit suicide in the last episode of the first season. It’s through the interaction between some of the factions being created through these particular characters that we begin to see the stress of this new world beginning to wear on them. Not to mention how they all seem to blame Rick for the situation they find themselves in. Which made it a suprising turn of events when was left to Lori to defend her husband and put everyone in their place. Her little speech near the end of the episode went a long way in establishing her character as one who sought redemption not in self-pity but in supporting the one person she understand to be the most qualified to see them through alive.

The episode wasn’t all positive. What hampered the first season was still quite evident in this season two premiere. While most of the writing was much improved from the first season there was still some parts in the episode when the dialogue seemed forced and not something which came about organically. It’s a testament to the performances by the whole cast that most people watching the show wouldn’t notice it much. Some stand out performances has to be the husband and wife team of Andrew Lincoln and Sarah Wayne Callies. Then there’s Norman Reedus as Daryl who continues to grow as a character beyond the typical redneck many thought him to be during the first season. With Reedus’s portrayal of Daryl one could see that he might not agree with some of Rick’s moral choices and decisions but he respects the man for actually making a decision instead of being wishy-washy. Daryl knows and understand, just as Lori does, that Rick is their best chance at surviving.

“What Lies Ahead” is a great start to a new season of The Walking Dead. While the firing of Darabont as showrunner from the show (replaced by a more than qualified Glen Mazzara) does hang like a dark cloud over the premiere that still shouldn’t detract from this episode’s quality. It’s an episode that really doesn’t dwell on allowing the rest of the world to catch it’s breath from start to finish while at the same time still allowing for characters to grow. This episode even ends in a cliffhanger that should be quite familiar for fans of the comic book, but should be quite a shock to the system for those who haven’t read a page of Kirkman’s comic.

Rick said in the beginning of the episode, after seeing the destruction of the CDC and getting the news that there’s really no more way to turn back the clock on this apocalypse, that it was all about “slim chances” now and from what this episode showed even slim might be too hopeful a word. These are people living on borrowed time and one can say that they’re already the walking dead. Time to see if Rick’s word’s will be rewarded with safety and salvation or just new levels of hell they must navigate through.


  • Chandler Riggs as Carl looks to be getting more and more comfortable in the role. His line delivery don’t seem as flat as they were in the first season.
  • Steven Yeun didn’t get as much time on the screen, but his gleeful reaction at being handed one of the bladed weapons was priceless. Like a kid in a candy store.
  • I noticed that while Frank Darabont wrote this episode the name shown during the beginning of the film was the name Ardeth Bay. For genre geek fans that name should sound familiar. It was a nice touch and better than just using the usual Alan Smithee.
  • We see more clues as to zombie behavior in this episode as Daryl once again proves that the stink of the dead bodies will hide living humans from zombies as he drapes corpses over himself and T-Dog during the “herd” march.
  • Love the line reading by Norman Reedus as his Daryl looks up at the large crucifix in the abandoned chapel and says “Hey J.C….taking requests”.
  • Gore content in this episode still continues the series trademark of being quite high for a network tv series. I’m still surprised at how much the show has gotten away with. Tonight’s signature gore scene has to be the impromptu zombie autopsy and trying to find out if their missing group member is in its stomach.
  • This episode deviated very much from the comic book, but when it mattered most it used one of the early shockers in the comic book series to end the episode on a huge note.

Horror Review: Dead City (by Joe McKinney)

Joe McKinney’s debut novel, Dead City, is quite an impressive piece of writing for a first-timer. It’s doubly impressive for taking the zombie tale and just making it unfold as one long nightmare with little or no prelude or wasted exposition about what led up to it. McKinney’s novel is not overlong or full of filler chapters that does nothing but try to extend the telling of the tale far longer than necessary.

Dead City is not too different from many of the zombie novels and stories that continues to see a renaissance of sorts these past couple years. McKinney takes a more novel approach in his setting by using the hurricane disasters which plagued the Gulf from Katrina and onwards. It is during the aftermath of a series of non-stop super hurricanes hitting the Texas Gulf Coast where we meet the main protagonist of this novel. Eddie Hudson is a police officer in the San Antonio Police Department who we see balancing the problems he’s having with his wife with that of the devastation left by the passing of the major hurricanes over San Antonio. The action and horror begins pretty quickly as Hudson and his partner for the night head off to a disturbance call in one of San Antonio’s neighborhoods. What they encounter at the scene is one they’ve not been trained for. Confusion and lack of relevant knowledge to combat the newly zombified citizens of San Antonio leads to disaster for Hudson and the rest of his police and emergency services brothers.

McKinney does a great job of showing the confusion and disbelief Hudson goes through as a real-life horror film comes to life in front of his very eyes. There’s the disbelief in seeing their attackers continue to move towards him and his partner with a focused determination despite being pepper sprayed at point-blank range, then hit by shotgun beanbags then to lethal gunshots to the body. It is only when shot cleanly through the head and thus destroying the brain do their crazed assailants finally stop for good. This revelation comes way too late from most of Hudson’s fellow police officers and he’s left to his own dwindling supplies of ammunition and a vow to get to his own family before the nightmare he’s seen reaches them. Along the way Hudson meets up with other survivors from undocumented workers, a high school teacher and amateur zombie researcher, to other fellow officers who have managed to survive the first few hours of the zombie outbreak.

Throughout Hudson’s attempts to get to his wife and six month-old son, more of the extent of the zombie outbreak makes itself know to Ernie and those who tags along with him as they travel the streets of a devastated San Antonio. McKinney gets high marks from this fan of the zombie genre for not shying away from describing the sort of damage these zombies can do to a human body. The gore quotient in Dead City is quite high and I think one that would satisfy any fan like myself. In fact, I will very much like to see how this novel will look like adapted into a film. The story is pretty simple and a horror road trip through a devastated city with the simple goal of a man trying to find his family amongst all the horror he has seen and still to see.

Dead City is by no means a perfect novel and at times it shows. Characters sometimes have a certain cookie-cutout feel to them. From the gung-ho and adrenaline junkie cop whose wisecracking attitude is suppose to balance out the near-desperation and panic Hudson seems to be in all the time. Then there’s the angry black man whose mistrust of the police makes him blind to the need for cooperation. Some characters seem to be there looking to become a major role in the making then quickly gone thirty pages later under the assault and tearing hands and teeth of the zombies. I think the size and length of the novel may be one reason why characterization on some of the people on the periphery got a bit shortchanged. It doesn’t bring down the overall quality of the story but it does show that this is indeed a debut novel. But with the amount of quality storytelling McKinney was able to put together I am more than confident that this writing style will improve with each successive book.

In the end, Joe McKinney’s Dead City is one roller-coaster ride of a debut horror novel which doesn’t pull its punches. The story never lets up for a moment to give our main protagonist a moment of respite from the dangers around him. Like Officer Ernie Hudson, the reader becomes bombarded with horrific images after horrific images and only until the end to we find the respite and time to relax. I hope McKinney has more tales of the undead ahead of him and that he shares it with those likeminded people who displa the same kind of interest in the black sheep of the monster genre. I very much recommend Dead City to those who enjoy a very good zombie yarn.

Horror Review: Wet Work (by Philip Nutman)

Philip Nutman is a name rarely known outside the zombie genre circles, but that could be just the fact that he hasn’t written much in terms of novels since his explosive debut with his novel Wet Work. The novel was born out of the short story of the same title that was part of the 1989 zombie short story collection, Book of the Dead. Philip Nutman took the interesting twist on the zombie tale in that short story and blew it up to novel length and epic proportions which brings to mind George A. Romero’s grand opus work, Dawn of the Dead.

The novel begins with one of the lead protagonists, Dominic Corvino (CIA covert operator and part of the black op and wetwork team code-named Spiral), barely living through a botched mission in Panama City and realizing that there might be a traitor not just within the team and but in the CIA as well. At the same time all of this was occurring the comet Saracen begins its close pass by of the the planet and leaving behind a gift which would begin the clock to humanity’s downfall and damnation.

It is back in the U.S. where the action really starts to go into overdrive as the effects of Saracen’s pass-by of the planet begins to turn what should’ve been a normal day for D.C. cop Nick Packard into a decent into the hell that only grew worse with each passing day. Random, violent incidents begin to flood the station call-lines. It’s the beginning of the zombie pandemic which starts off with a handful of attacks but which begins to spread in a geometric rate as each death returns to a semblance of life with only the extreme hunger for human flesh their only want or need. Most of the zombies were of the George A. Romero slow, shambling types but Nutman throws a wrench into the whole machine by allowing certain strong-willed individuals to return fully cognizant of their faculties and memories but at the same time harboring the same hunger as their slower and dumber cousins. These intelligent zombies will soon include Dominic Corvino as one of their numbers. As he battles his own hunger Corvino goes on a vendetta mission to take out those who betrayed him and his team in Panama City and whose new lease on unlife has turned the battle of the humans against the zombies into a slaughterhouse where the livings humans are both outnumbered and outgunned. It doesn’t help that another side-effect of Saracen’s pass-by of the planet was to lower the immune system of all humans worldwide. If the dumb and intelligent zombies do not get the humans then infection and disease of all kinds would finish the job.

Nick Packard gives the reader a point-of-view from the battleground itself. We see the world he knew fall apart around him as horrific scenes bombard him and his fellow officers at every turn. He also has to worry about his own wife who he has left behind at their D.C. suburban home before the crisis broke out. He, too, has his own mission to accomplish as law and order quickly crumble and fall around him and his brothers-in-arms. He now has the singular goal to reach his wife and hope that she has lived through the nightmare the world has turned into.

As the story progresses to its inevitable conclusion, both Corvino and Packard’s paths will cross and both men will have to settle their score with the powers-that-be who seem to have accepted the new order in the world and have adapted quite fast from protecting and serving the people to feeding on them.

The book has its share of flaws that at times belie the fact that Nutman was new to this novel-size writing. The dialogue would become very cliched and purple in prose. I didn’t mind the extreme level of gore (it’s a zombie novel and I expected it, in fact) and violence, but the description of sex in the book seemed forced and too much like something out of bad fan fiction to be believable. It just goes to show that it is much easier to write about violence and gore than it is to write a good sex scene. The story could’ve needed another hundred pages or so, as hard to believe as that might be. The story had a very consistent fast pacing which suddenly went warp-speed in the final 80-90 pages.

In the end, even with the flaws in the story I thoroughly enjoyed reading Wet Work and was completely engrossed by its mixture of apocalyptic horror, 80’s action thriller-style action sequences and splatterpunk excesses. It’s a shame that Philip Nutman hasn’t written more horror since he certainly seems to have a talent for it. I’ve read his comic book writing and they’re very good to great which just makes it even more baffling he doesn’t write more. I would recommend this book to all zombie fans who haven’t read it yet. The book delivers as advertised and doesn’t try to be anything but a rip-roaring, action-horror tale which will leave the reader exhausted but still wanting the story to continue even past the final scene of judgement day by way of nuclear fire.

Horror Review: 28 Days Later (dir. by Danny Boyle)

(For the month of October 2011 I’ve decided (and the other writers have agreed) to make this a horror film review month. There will be at least a minimum of one review of a horror film posted every day until we reach Halloween. Since I did force the idea upon everyone I think I should start things off with a classic horror film in from the last ten years.)

For decades the zombie film genre has always been dominated by the rules set down by the grandfather of the modern “zombie story”. George A. Romero’s landmark horror film Night of the Living Dead from 1968 had taken what had been a gothic-style monster taken from the voodoo folklore of Haiti and the Caribbean and added to that an apocalyptic re-imagining which still resonates with film and horror fans alike to this very day.

There had been attempts to deviate from the rules set by Romero’s films. The most successful one had been the horror-comedy franchise Return of the Living Dead, but even that one didn’t have the legs to last. It wasn’t until 2002 when British indie filmmaker Danny Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland collaborated on the one film which would help revive the zombie film genre and, at the same, create a schism within it’s rabid fan-base. The film I speak of is 28 Days Later.

Boyle’s attempt at horror begins with some well-meaning, but misguided animal activists breaking into a British animal research facility in an attempt to document animal cruelty and to rescue the animals being tested on. Right from the get-go we see that things are not what they seem to be as we witness research chimps bound to chairs and forced to watch unending scenes of violence. It’s from this opening that we see the origins of what will be the Rage virus which will sweep across all of Great Britain. It’s a well-done opening sequence which sets plants the seeds of the film’s rules. We learn more about the Rage virus as the film goes on, but from this opening we learn that the virus is infected through the blood of one already infected and that exposure is always 100% and fast.

The film quickly cuts from the first day of exposure from the first animal activist to a scene of the film’s lead in Jim (played by Irish actor Cillian Murphy) waking up from his month-long coma (hinted at to be 28 days) and finding the hospital that he had been admitted to empty of people with evidence that something violent had occurred to empty out the place. He ventures out into the city streets only to see that the empty hospital’s current state is not unique to the place but to all of London itself. This sequence with Jim wandering the empty and garbage-strewn streets on London has gone down as one of the iconic scenes in horror film history. Like Jim, we’re witnessing the utter silent horror of an empty London with papers and debris fluttering in the breeze. We street corners with desperate missives and flyers of people asking for information about missing loved ones. helping with Jim and our own growing sense of dread and horror is the excellent film score by John Murphy and use of GY!BE’s apocalyptic track “East Hastings” (a full version of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s “East Hastings”) which just added to the film’s apocalyptic tone.

It doesn’t take long for Jim to encounter the very thing which has empty London and the country of it’s people when he attempts to find refuge in a church. What usually is a place of refuge and salvation has become a place of horror as Jim must run for his life as Rage-infected individuals chase him through the streets of London before he’s rescue from a couple of survivors. The film gives more clues as to the extent of the epidemic from these pair of survivors, Selena (Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley), and explaining to Jim the new rules of this new world.

Jim and his new companions will meet up with more survivors in the form of a father and daughter team (Brendan Gleeson and Megan Burns) as they move from one refuge to another while trying to avoid the Rage-infected. Through this journey we see the group lose people and encounter survivors of a military blockade who have been sending radio transmissions to anyone that they have found the cure to the “infection”. It’s this “cure” which ends up becoming the main focus of the film’s story in the second-half of the film which also marks the film’s descent into “enemy within” territory as the enemy outside batters at the gates.

Boyle does a great job of working with Garland’s screenplay not just in paying homage to past zombie films, but also adding his own ideas to the genre in the form of the Rage-infected themselves. Zombies since Night of the Living Dead have always been of the slower, shambling at times, but not overly energetic variety. They may stumble forward when fresh meat is in view thus giving a sense of speed and momentum, but overall they’re easily avoidable in small numbers. It’s in their relentless, unending pursuit and horde-like numbers which gives them their horrific advantage. Boyle and Garland throws all that away and creates a new breed. People who act like zombies, but are not walking corpses, and whose Rage-infected metabolism have granted them the ability to chase after their prey and do so in as fast a manner as possible. It’s this game-changer which has split the zombie genre community in two with some decrying this change with others accepting it as a fresh change of pace.

28 Days Later is actually a film which takes Romero’s first three zombie films and condenses the themes and ideas from the first three Romero Living Dead films and explores them efficiently in one film. We see scenes of rampant consumerism as Jim and his group of survivors happen upon an abandoned local shopping mart and shop to their heart’s content. This scene is reminiscent of a similar montage from Romero’s Dawn of the Dead as survivors in the mall “shop” once they’ve secured the place. The film also has within a siege and the dangers posed by other human survivors towards others and their inability to work together for the common good which were major themes in both Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and, especially Day of the Dead (with its civilians versus military dynamics). It’s this theme which really drives the film in the second half and finally cements it’s foot in being one of the great “zombie” films in the genre.

The film also has some of Danny Boyle’s indie filmmaker fingerprints in addition to the horror of the story. Some of the visuals work in both conveying the horror of the current situation to Jim (and to the audience as we see everything for the first time when Jim does) to the beauty of the countryside as nature slowly begins to take back what man had taken. There’s a scene with the group driving down the English countryside with them in the background and the foreground a field full of flowers shot and made to look like an impressionistic painting. Of course, we can’t forget the scenes of London empty which wasn’t just wonderfully shot and framed, but also make’s one wonder how a film made on a low-budget (somewhere around 8-9 million dollars at that time) could afford to empty out all of London and do so in daytime.

28 Days Later still could’ve just made its way on the strength of Boyle’s direction, Garland’s writing and Murphy’s score, but the cast of relatively unknown (at the time) actors, Cillian Murphy and Naomie Harris leading the bunch, were game enough to keep stride for stride with the rest of the film’s creative crew. Cillian Murphy does a great job as the everyman who the audiences will see as their avatar in the film while Harris blows away the stereotypical damsel-in-distress in most horror films. She actually joins a long line of strong female roles in other classic zombie films who don’t wait around for the men to save her, but who can handle herself when things get rough and bloody. The work of these newcomers plus those of veteran British actors Brendan Gleeson and Christopher Eccleston (as Major Henry West, leader of the military blockade who has the cure for infection) just shows that just because it’s a horror film doesn’t mean the acting has to be horrific.

It’s almost ten years since this film was first released and to say that it still holds up would be an understatement. It’s a horror film which has heart in addition to the the primal impulses which usually drives entries in the zombie film genre. It’s a testament to Danny Boyle as a filmmaker that he’s able to inject new life to what had become a subgenre in horror which had stagnated when it came to new ideas. it’s all because of 28 Days Later and it’s success with critics and the general public (not to mention becoming one of the most successful low-budget films ever) that the zombie genre earned a new resurgence in the entertainment landscape. Zombie films soon began to multiply (most of them awful, but always with several entries which would join this film in classic territory) and it also introduced young film fans to the classic films in the subgenre and to the one who created it all.

The film’s success didn’t just reinvigorate the subgenre but also push some of it’s cast and crew to new heights of fame. In five years a sequel, 28 Weeks Later,  would come out with talk from Boyle himself that he’s interested in making it a complete trilogy with 28 Months Later.

Film Review: The Prophecy (dir. by Gregory Widen)

I first found out about this little cult film starring the very awesome Christopher Walken around 1993 or so when I was at the local Waldenbooks (yes there used to be bookstores not named Barnes & Noble or Borders back in the day) looking at the latest issue of Fangoria. Inside the magazine they were doing a brief feature on an upcoming horror film tentatively called God’s Army. All I saw was that it was to star Christopher Walken and it had gore and angels in it. That alone peaked my interest and I was looking forward to seeing it in the theaters. Almost two years passed and nothing about it was ever heard again until I visited the video rental place near my house and saw a VHS tape (yeah, those big videocassette thingies) with the title of The Prophecy and starring Christopher Walken.

This was the film I was so hyped to seeing in the theaters. The title had changed from it’s earlier (and much cooler) one of God’s Army. It would seem that it’s film distributor had little to no faith in the box-office potential of the film and just delayed it’s release to the point that when it did come out no one knew about it barely anyone saw it. It was a real damn shame since filmmaker Gregory Widen made such a good film that was able to mash-up horror, angels and a detective story all in one without creating a mess of things.

The Prophecy was about the war in heaven we were never taught about in Sunday school. We all know about the war in heaven where Lucifer and the rebel angels who followed him tried to overthrow God. That didn’t go over so well for Lucifer and he and his band of fallen angels were cast out into Hell by God and his right-hand man the Archangel Michael. This film talks about the second war in heaven soon thereafter which no one outside those who wrote little-known apocryphal texts about it (and being apocryphal they never were included in the Bible). This war now had a new group of angels led by the Archangel Gabriel rebelling against God for choosing humans (talking monkeys as these new rebels called them) above all living creatures including the angels themselves for God’s love. This war was now in a state of stalemate after countless millenia, but a prophecy about a soul so dark and evil was to be the tipping point for either side. This particular soul was to be found on Earth and whoever acquires it would break the stalemate and finally bring this second war to an end.

With this in mind we have Walken as the Archangel Gabriel coming down to Earth to look for this soul so he can finally win the war for his side (which also means the end of mankind). It’s the angel Simon (played by Eric Stoltz) who comes down to stop him from getting this soul or, at the very least, hide it from Gabriel. With these two factions of angels vying to acquire this soul we have a Detective Thomas Daggett smack in the middle of the case investigating all the weird happenings and deaths surrounding the battle between these two factions. The dead bodies of angels begin to appear on morgue slabs looking like eyeless, hermaphroditic specimens and angelic script found in crime scenes brings Daggett back to his time studying to be a priest before images of angels warring amongst themselves breaks him down and he quits the seminary to become a cop instead.

It would come down to these three factions racing against time to acquire this dark soul.

The film is not as gory as it’s feature in Fangoria made it out to be, but it is quite violent and bloody that I understand why it got the horror label attached to it. It’s more a dark fantasy thriller more than horror. It’s rare in today’s film that we see angels portrayed as the bloodthirsty beings that the really are. The film even points out this oft-ignored detail of God’s messengers. Angels are always the ones God sends to punish or send a very serious message to his chosen beings that is Man. The Prophecy shows this aspect of angels in full light and how their attitudes about humanity might lead some of them to hate God for raising Man above even them.

Christopher Walker does a great job conveying Gabriel’s hate and contempt for humans. His Gabriel is like one of those pundits always on tv (both liberal and consevative) who are so into their sides’ message that they never see the other side as anything but the enemy. One could almost say that Walken’s Gabriel is like then apocalypse-hungry version of Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann in one body. This is not to say that Walken goes over-the-top with his performance. In fact, he’s quite subdued in how he uses those many tics and voice mannerisms a whole cottage industry has grown around in.

Walken’s portrayal of Gabriel infuses what could’ve become a one-note villain with lots of layers and complexities that the rest of the cast were able to play off from. His character would be terrifying one moment then smoothly switch over to being funny and charming then back to terror. It’s due to his great performance that the other cast members like Stoltz as the weary, loyal angel Simon and Koteas as the fallen religious cop Daggett were able to bring their own performance to another level. This is quite a feat since the dialogue in the film was a mixed bag of horror cliches and interesting Biblical-speak about secret wars, apocryphal books and prophecies. The film even has a nice appearance of the first fallen angel himself and none other than Viggo Mortensen plays Lucifer.

The Prophecy does have a feeling that it was always one misstep away from becoming an awful film. This had happened with 2010’s Legion and did that film about angels and the apocalypse turn out to be a huge steaming pile of shit-turd. But while Dimension Film saw the film fall over on the side of bad for myself and those who have come to admire and love this cult classic the film stayed balance between good and bad. Widen’s film never went over to the side of becoming a truly great film, but it also never fell on the side that Legion ended up on. What Prophecy ended up becoming was a film that was almost grindhouse in nature, but even then it still looked too good with too many good performances to be given that label. The fact that it contains one of Christopher Walken’s best performances speaks well of a film that many critics during it’s early days had dismissed as just another bad horror film.

In the end, this film became just one of the many little-gems that got lost in film studio money politics. I definitely would recommend this cult film to people who haven’t seen it, but I would tell them to stop at just this film and not even go near the four sequels which came after it.

Stephen King’s The Stand to Trip Up Onto the Big-Screen

Stephen King properties sure has been heating up around Hollywood of late. For the past month or so we’ve had almost weekly news about Ron Howard’s plans for King’s massive book series, The Dark Tower. Today news that the role of Roland Deschain, the Gunslinger, has been offered to Spanish-actor Javier Bardem shows that the planned film adaptation of The Dark Tower is moving forward.

Now, according to The Hollywood Reporter blog Heat Vision, Warner Brothers and CBS Films are planning to co-produce the film adaptation of another Stephen King property and one many of his fans consider as their favorite. I consider myself one of those fans and I’m actually quite excited that these two studios are looking to adapt the epic, apocalyptic novel The Stand.

The novel already was adapted into a mini-series by Mick Garris in 1994, but that adaptation didn’t satisfy the book’s fans as its producers were hoping for. This planned film adaptation looks to give The Stand a grand stage to be shown to its old and new fans. While trying to adapt a novel that is over 1200 pages long might seem daunting the same was said about trying to adapt a novel that was three times it’s length and that one succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations. If Peter Jackson can take The Lord of the Rings and create an epic masterpiece out of such a dense piece of literature I think King’s The Stand should make just as good a transition.

Here’s to hoping that this particular apocalyptic project gets on the fast track and doesn’t get bogged down in development hell the way another apocalypse-themed film project has found itself in: Max Brook’s zombie epic novel, World War Z.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

Book Review: They Thirst (by Robert R. McCammon)

Robert McCammon’s 1981 vampire novel, They Thirst, has to be considered one of the best of its kind in horror literature. Most vampire novels take on either the Victorian-era guise with velvet coats and silk fipperies, or they take the more monstrous route with the vampires less a literary analogy for repressed-sexuality and more the undead monsters that they are. In They Thirst, McCammon takes the concept of the vampire as an evil plague that slowly acts like an epidemic, consuming all in its path until none are left and only the primogenitor of its evil left to rule over the wasteland.

McCammon’s vampire tale is a massive one which takes on a grand stage from it’s Eastern European beginning all the way to its urban apocalyptic climax. Similar in tone to Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot, They Thirst posits the question of how would a place such as Los Angeles do when confronted with one of mankind’s oldest evils. With ‘Salem’s Lot the same premise wass used but in a smaller, intimate setting of a quaint New England town where everyone knows everyone. McCammon does King exponentially better by setting They Thirst in one of the largest metropolitan cities in the world. The vampire lord in question is Prince Vulkan, a Hungarian prince from the 13th-century whose plan to create a vampiric empire molded in his image begins in the City of Angels.

The story begins simple enough with grave-robbings and an inordinate amount of mysterious disappearances even for a place like Los Angeles. They Thirst still follows the so-called vampire rules laid down by Bram Stoker in Dracula which he in turn had taken from Eastern European folklore. There’s even a subplot concerning one rich executive whose business of mass-producing coffins catches the gaze of Vulkan and his minions. The novel is rife with modern re-telling of the folklore of medieval times, but this time around McCammon pulls out all the stops as the epidemic of vampirism slowly works its way from the slums and ghettoes of the poorer sections of LA and into the middle-class neighborhoods and soon even the high and mighty in their manses in Beverly Hills are not left immune. McCammon does a great job of describing the gang-ridden streets of early 1980’s Los Angeles. He makes great use of this colorful aspect of LA to help explain why the rise of vampires in the city became unchecked. Vulkan’s decision to prey on the destitute and down-trodden of such a massive metropolitan area gives him the army he’ll need to take over the rest of the region.

Chosen, as if by fate or by some higher power, are a disparate group of Los Angelinos whose only tie to each other are their own horrific encounters of the true danger plaguing their city. There’s LA detective Andy Palatizin whose own encounter with the demons now in his city goes back to his youth while living in Hungary. It is Palatizin’s own past history with the creatures of the night that helps tie him to Vulkan and whose confrontation in the end makes things all the more personal. There’s also Wes Richer, an up-and-coming comedian whose sudden rise in fortune gets interrupted by Vulkan’s own plans. It is through Richer’s lover, Solange — a medium whose knowledge of the supernatural gives her some insight about the danger at hand — that he becomes involved in the fight for the city. Then there’s Tommy Chandler who becomes the youngest of those chosen to fight the undead menace that soon engulfs the city. Vulkan himself has his own soldiers amongst the mortals and the most interesting being an albino sociopath called Kobra whose amorality causes him to answer Vulkan’s siren call to join him in LA. All in all, the characters in They Thirst were well-written and brought their own complex personalities to the story.

The novel gradually builds up from its simple beginnings. Like a dam just barely keeping the overflow from breaching the top, They Thirst doesn’t let the reader go once it’s gotten its hook into them. The horror of the magnitude of the epidemic shares a similarity to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. McCammon deftly shows how governments and people in general lose focus and common sense when faced with something that shouldn’t exist. He shows how quickly modern man can fall from their perch as the dominant predator due to their science and logic. They Thirst shows that it’s those individuals and small groups who’ve held on to the old traditions and/or willing to believe the impossible who eek out a sense of survival once the region becomes cut-off from the outside world and the undead run rampant in the streets. It was so easy to read the book and substitute zombies in place of vampires and see it work just as well. In fact, I think McCammon could’ve easily written this novel as an epic zombie novel and it would’ve lost none of its horror and punch.

As a horror novel They Thirst must rank up there with classic vampire novels such as the aforementioned ‘Salem’s Lot and Dracula, but also another vampire novel which share similar apocalyptic foundations in Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. Robert McCammon takes an age-old legend and infuses it with a modern sensibility and a sense of the epic that even horror wirters rarely ever pull off. It’s a shame that the paperback is now out-of-print and the novelist himself have kept further printings from being made and released. But for those still willing to read this great vampire novel, I suggest they search the used and second-hand bookstores for a copy. The book won’t disappoint.