Wednesday, 8 May 2013
Tuesday, 30 April 2013
Of all the things to adapt for television, why would anyone choose a debut novel? Indeed, some books debut to fanfare, the authors lauded for their literary skill but Hemlock Grove and its author, Brian McGreevy, don't belong in that camp. McGreevy's publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, have published award-winning authors, but again McGreevy isn't one of them.
I vaguely recall seeing this book at the bookstore and I might have been curious about it. But then I likely dismissed it because I don't like werewolf stories. I'll admit, this does bias me somewhat. And I'm not a fan of Eli Roth, either. So there's that. But I do like mysteries. I was willing to give a werewolf mystery TV show produced by Eli Roth a fair chance.
Truth be told, I did kind of enjoy the first half of the season. It had intrigue: brutal murders; a shady medical research facility; church-sanctioned monster hunters; a gypsy werewolf; a would-be vampire; teen pregnancy. I was curious to see how all the characters' stories would intersect, what the outcome would be. Would the unlikely pair of Roman and Peter identify the crazed werewolf that's eating the townsfolk before Dr. Chasseur finishes her investigation? What is project Ouroburos and is it connected at all to the various dragon references made throughout? And what, exactly is Oliva's role in everything that's taking place?
The answers, when they finally came, ranged from stupid to disappointing. Hemlock Grove, more so than any other horror TV series in recent memory, managed to piss away its potential resulting in what appears to be a hastily-assembled mash of plotlines. Hastily-assembled, and it took nearly thirteen hours to tell the story.
All of Hemlock Grove's story is crammed into the back end, and the final episode is less an end and more of a waypoint, a place to check your progress along a tiresome winding road. This kind of story telling is at best amateur, at worst deceptive. Moreover, there's very little investigation that takes place in what is, ostensibly, a murder mystery. Rather, the show's running time is devoted almost entirely to relationships and feelings, and what little horror there is exists only in terms of premise and special effects.
Gripping werewolf murder mystery or prime-time family drama?
Rich pretty-boy Roman is the only character with any arc, and even he takes a powder halfway through the season. To suggest that Hemlock Grove's twisting plot is what keeps the show interesting only proves that you don't know what a plot twist is. Hemlock Grove holds no surprises, or any real closure for that matter. Character plots don't intersect in any way that make sense and the various stories being told are properly developed to provide the viewer with any sense of forward momentum.
In short, the story goes nowhere and then, as if realizing it took too long, it rushes toward an end that defies logic and undermines expectations. It's disappointing in the extreme and upsetting to think everything that happened was just laying the foundation for a second season. I haven't felt this cheated since Underworld.
Hemlock Grove has all the potential to be a really good mini-series. A shorter format would cut out all the fat, but alas the greedy folks at Netflix had to go whole hog with a whole thirteen episodes of what is mostly filler. But maybe it's not their fault. Maybe that's just what you get when you pick a first-time novelist to write you a TV show.
Monday, 22 April 2013
When you watch a lot of movies it's just a matter of time before you start to recognize certain locations. Like Griffith Park Observatory, which I'm sure you'll remember from Bowfinger and Charlie's Angels 2: Full Throttle. Or Toronto City Hall, which was first made famous by Yeti, The Giant of the 20th Century and then again in Resident Evil: Apocalypse.
Over the past few months I've seen a lot of haunted asylum movies and just recently saw two films back-to-back that featured oddly similar locations. To be sure, the inside of these places all look pretty much the same but the outsides in these two cases were so alike as to give me pause to wonder if the movies weren't filmed at the same place.
They weren't. But typing "haunted mental hospitals" into Google inspired me to take a closer look at some of the locations used in the haunted asylum sub-subgenre.
Linda Vista Community Hospital
as seen in BOO!, 100 Ghost Street, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The Linda Vista Community Hospital is on the US National Register of Historic Places. When the hospital opened in 1904 it was called the Santa Fe Railroad Hospital and was a Moorish-inspired design. The building was razed and rebuilt in 1924 in the Mission Revival style, and this is what survives today.
Initially, the hospital kept cows and chickens, and had a vegetable garden. In the latter part of the 20th century, the hospital fell on hard times and closed its doors in 1991. Since then it has become a popular shooting location for film and television. Beginning this year (2013), the nurses' dormitory building will undergo conversion into apartments.
as seen in Halloween: Resurrection, Grave Encounters, every TV show shot in Vancouver
Listed on the Canadian Register of Historic Places, Riverview Hospital still functions as a mental health care facility, but in a much reduced capacity than when it first opened. In the first part of the 20th century, the hospital's grounds were 1000 acres and included a working farm. Presently, the hospital sits on 240 acres, the rest of the land having been sold off and developed.
Riverview is the most-filmed location in Canada, the Crease Clinic and West Lawn buildings being among the more popular.
Lincoln Heights Jail
as seen in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Room 33
The original jail was built in 1931 in the Art Deco style. In 1949 a second wing was added in Bauhaus Modern, and it's this mish-mash of architectural designs that gives the jail its unique appearance. The jail closed in 1965, and though it was only open for a short while, it still managed to colour its history with corruption and scandal.
On Christmas Day in 1951, LA police officers beat up six prisoners at the jail, believing they had caused grievous injury to a colleague the previous night during an arrest. As many as fifty cops were involved in the beating that lasted over ninety minutes. The beating was covered up, but continued pressure from the Mexican-American community forced the LAPD to investigate. Eight officers were eventually indicted, and five were convicted. A further fifty-four officers were transferred and thirty-nine were suspended without pay. The incident inspired the book LA Confidential.
The jail is a Los Angeles Cultural-Historical Monument, and like all similarly designated buildings is undergoing review for house or mixed-purpose zoning.
Danvers State Hospital
as seen in Session 9
Also known as the Danvers State Insane Asylum, the State Lunatic Hospital at Danvers, The Danvers Lunatic Asylum, the Danvers State Hospital is rumored to be the birthplace of the pre-frontal lobotomy. It's believed that Danvers was the inspiration for the Arkham sanatorium that appears in The Thing on the Doorstep by HP Lovecraft.
Located outside Boston in Danvers, Mass., the hospital was built between 1874 and 1878 and originally consisted the main administration building, called the Kirkbride Building, and four wings. More buildings were added over the years, and all were connected by a series of tunnels.
Although originally conceived as a residential care facility, the hospital's services expanded and the buildings grew overcrowded. Patients where housed all over the place, including the tunnels and eventually reports were issued regarding concern over the use of shock therapies, lobotomies, drugs, and straightjackets. Deinstitutionalization saw a decrease in the patient population and the hospital eventually closed in 1992.
Kirkbride is on the US Register of National Historic Places, but that didn't stop the the hospital buildings from being demolished. Only the Kirkbride facade remains.
Tuesday, 16 April 2013
In Paracinema 19, I wrote an article titled “Firing Broadsides: Creating a Horror Canon,” in which I examine the issues surrounding canon-building. When I first proposed a piece on horror canon I thought it would be a fun time researching classic horror titles. I had no idea what I was getting into. Typing “horror canon” into Google didn't return much, and though Google Scholar yielded better results, I soon came to understand that I was getting involved in something much bigger and more complex than a simple list of movies. Canon was just the beginning.
Researching horror canon led me deep into genre history and development. As I learned, canon-building is a lesson in genre: how it grows and develops over time, and how it's studied and analyized. Through my readings, I learned that canon-building can be a divisive topic as the politics of inclusion and exclusion are applied during the process of canon formation. Why this film instead of that one? Why not this other film also? Thornier still is the issue of what's genre and what's not. I recall one author who, when asked the question, “Is it horror or is it thriller?” answered, “That depends on whether you like horror movies.” I'm not here to debate the issue of horror vs thriller, but I have a new appreciation for the difficulties involved in that kind of genre analysis.
What I am here to do is propose a horror canon. Ask any group of horror fans what's canon and no doubt they will each of them draw up similar lists. This would be the “unofficial” horror canon, an agreed-upon list of movies that are, for whatever reasons, important to the genre; classic films, great or award-winning films, cult films—all enjoy canon status within the hearts and minds of the horror-loving public. But what about an “official” canon, the authoritative list of horror movies that must be seen and studied for a proper education in genre film?
To read the rest of this post, please visit Paracinema. I invite you to leave your comments on either site with your thoughts and recommendations about which movies should be considered for an "official" horror canon.
Thursday, 11 April 2013
So I saw a trailer for The Colony when I went to see Olympus Has Fallen. It followed the trailer for After Earth, which made me think about Titan A.E. and how nobody really liked it but I thought it was good and so did my friend DJ but we've never sat down to watch it together which is strange.
While watching the trailer for The Colony, two things came to mind.
Thing #1: It seems that every sci-fi movie nowadays is about the post-apocalypse.
Thing #2: People aren't scary.
About that first thing, the fact that a lot of contemporary sci-fi is preoccupied with post-apocalyptic scenarios is rather telling. Future film theorists will theorize that we were afraid for our future (their present or past depending on how long this civilization lasts), a fear probably brought on by a cynical/pessimistic dissatisfaction with the present. Whatever the factors--social, political, climatological, or religious--the current state of affairs can only lead to apocalyptic disaster which more often than not manifests as either natural disaster or zombies (which may or may not be a kind of natural disaster in its own right).
This leads me the second thing, about people being scary. First I need to lay some foundation: I'm bored with zombies, and that boredom clouds my judgement and totally biases me against zombie movies. I'm including not-zombie movies, too. Films like 28 Days Later or Carriers in which people are sick and behave like Zack Snyder zombies (they're fast!) but are not actually dead (or undead).
I'm not so blinded by prejudice that I don't understand the point of the "zombie" film, that it's about the survivors, but how many times am I expected to watch the same plot? Not story. Plot. Plot is what happens, story is how the plot unfolds. Sometimes a movie manages to break the mold, Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead, for instance, are stylistic and funny, and Dead and Breakfast is just ridiculous fun. But most zombie movies, for the most part, are the cinematic manifestation of repetitive stress disorder. Just the same shit over and over again.
And then along comes The Colony, a post-apocalyptic survival movie about not-zombies. From the trailer the villains appear to be hunger-crazed people, who may or may not be possessed with a suite of super powers including speed, aggression, and noisiness. In much the same way that zombies have ceased to be scary through over-exposure, so too have not-zombies. There's nothing scary about a hungry, feral cannibal other than the immediate threat he poses. His motivations are known, his behaviour is predictable; he's all style and no substance, just like all those that came before.
Now if the hungry cannibal wore a mask of civility and behaved as normal person, just doing his best to survive the in the barren wasteland of the future (in this case, a snow-covered one), then he'd inject some substance into the picture. The insidious nature of the danger he poses would have long-lasting repercussions, would threaten the very nature of what it means to be human. He still might no be scary, but what he represents would be terrifying.
Maybe instead of The Colony, we should all just watch Ravenous. It's pretty much the same thing, based on The Colony's trailer, and likely a hundred times better.