16 October 2014

reflection on genre: assault on precinct 13

Genre. Its a word that we as fans often find it hard to escape. Divisions, subdivisions, blended tropes and multi-faceted narratives all contribute to this idea that we can always find a place, no matter how small or esoteric, to classify the media we consume. Because no matter what the property, there will always be some kind of genre to place it is, based on whatever we as fans hold sacred. 

Take Alien, for example. When I reviewed the movie earlier this month, I bounced around between calling it science fiction and horror, because the film contains many elements from both genres. It was born out of a screenplay for an SF “comedy,” borrowed elements from Jodorowsky’s epic failed Dune adaptation, and borrowed liberally from every SF trope found at the time. But it also dealt with burning tension, jump scares, blood, and the type of monster that came from our nightmares, and acted like a stereotypical slasher villain. Discussions about the movie occasionally asked questions about where it belonged, until the blended genre of SF-horror became more widely accepted, and it found a niche that satisfied both genre fans (or neither, if one is so puritanical about labels). 

So how do we as fans assign genre? What do we look for when classifying a property, and how do we alter and adapt our definitions to make wayward media fit? That in itself is a huge question, one that I am ultimately unable to answer, or even begin to explain. Better scholars are tackling the subject, and I eagerly await their findings. Rather than try to go down that route, I want to brooch the subject right here with a film that I watched last week, which defies a lot of genre markers, namely because it has so many to choose from. Director, cinematic activity, music, and setting all play a role in where this film can be placed in the “genre-line,” and at least for me, the film belongs to them all. 

15 October 2014

new york comic-con 2014

Exhausting. If I had to sum up this convention in one word, it's that.


For some, it's the exhaustion of post-convention depression, the feeling of emptiness and letdown after riding high on the energy of crowds, cheers, and celebrity signings. But while there was energy for me, it seemed empty; like electricity was powering a model train set but with no purpose or pride in the building, or pride in the community.

The panels I did see were good: I saw a number of anime/manga specific panels as well as a panel on "writing what you don't know" hosted by The Mary Sue, and another panel on kickstarting comic projects. These panels held a wealth of advice, and not that many people lined up for them compared to the wall-to-wall lines I had seen for other panels (Sailor Moon, Marvel, Randall Munroe/Bill Nye, and more big names). But the lines got so bad that if you were going to the convention casually, you might not see much at all except for the crowds in front of and behind you.

It sounds like I'm being unduly harsh on this con, but again: this is a chance to see some big names that you might not have otherwise, or sample a lot of fandoms at once through the exhibitors' hall, or simply get a LOT of free stuff (among other things, I got paperbacks of Game of Thrones and Hounded). But even free stuff comes with the cost of hauling it back and forth, and it got exhausting to keep going for all four days. So exhausting, in fact, my chest cold got WORSE on Saturday, and I was struggling to breathe - only now am I more recovered.

With the lines, poor and overpriced food at the Javits ($4 for water? Coffee starting at $4-6? What?!), customer service griping about how attendees "weren't prepared" (in terms of bringing cash), lines, walking hard for the equivalent of at least 4 miles per day, and lines, I came home with blistered feet, convention crud, and a heavy heart.

Since the merger of New York Comic-Con with New York Anime Fest, there aren't really any other convenient conventions for New York City or Long Island fans (especially if they can't/don't drive). But if you're saving up for a big convention, save up for the trip for Otakon if you can or go out to Anime Expo. If you're local, check out some of the smaller events if you can, or events at your library system.

New York Comic-Con is not a convention for the faint of heart, or the light in pocket.

10 October 2014

close to home: the sacrament

Last night, while chatting with a friend during my viewing of “The Sacrement,” I learned something nearly as horrifying- there are young people in this country that have never heard of Jonestown. If you are one of them, believe me, I am not blaming you for this. Rather it’s just shocking to me- a child of the 80s, not even a decade out from that massacre- that schools have somehow omitted that particular incident from curriculum in the 21st century. It’s kind of like meeting children who have never read Harry Potter, and rather jarring. 

Dapper as fuck. Also fucking
On November 18, 1978, religious zealot and cult leader Jim Jones ordered his entire commune of followers to commit suicide via poisoned drinks, rather than allow an incoming government action break apart the “utopia” he had created. In the resulting mass suicide, several journalists and one US politician were murdered, and any followers unwilling to “drink the kool aid” (which is where that particular colloquialism comes from, by the way) were executed by armed guards Jones had stationed around his settlement in the South American nation of Guyana. In less than one morning, hundreds died, many of them willingly relinquishing their lives rather than be (forcibly?) re-assimilated back into American society. It was one of the worst mass suicides on record, and possibly the worst religious-based disaster in centuries.

08 October 2014

the hills have eyes

So yeah, Wes Craven. Visionary director, auteur, pioneer of some of the trashiest horror exploitation films ever made, and a man who is owed a debt from every modern horror director and genre aficionado. This is the man behind Freddy, behind torture porn, and one of the poster children proving that sometimes conservative Christianity can be good for something. (Seriously, read about this man’s life- his mother sounds like Lois from Malcolm in the Middle, just obsessed with Jesus and military discipline.) 

I will confess that prior to tonight, all I knew of Craven’s work was the Scream series (of which I am still a big fan, Scream III included) and the first Nightmare on Elm Street (of which I preferred the remake). I didn’t realize he was the mind behind Last House on the Left (saw remake, original coming later this month) or The Hills Have Eyes, or that he had worked on documentaries, serious dramatical pieces, and pet projects throughout the past decades working in film. I only knew him for the big-name franchises that were on my radar growing up, which made me laugh more than sent chills down my spine. 

So from the moment The Hills Have Eyes opened, I was left at a bit of a loss on what to expect. I had read last month that the inspiration for this film was a time when Craven had been lost on the road, and rolled into a town full of “rednecks,” whose stares and threats had unnerved him. As an urbane, educated filmmaker, the encounter left him perturbed, but stuck in the back of his head as a possible setting for a future film. He had already worked on Last House, which was a film that had convinced him he was damning his soul, and wanted to try his hand at something decidedly less violent. So he drew up those memories in the desert, peppered them with ideas about inbreeding and psychological torture that was his educational forte, and wrote up a movie about what he expected the encounter to be like. 

07 October 2014

October 2 & 3: The Texas Alien Massacre

RIP, Herr Giger. Thanks for giving
my nightmares form.
Just when I think I’ve got a solid grasp on my annual October horror project, with daily updates and a steady stream of scary stuff to devour, one well-placed anime convention derails everything. Not that I blame Anime USA for radio silence- I had a feeling I might need to do one of these massive recap posts at one point, but I never expected to be without internet for a full week. What curve balls life throws, eh? 

Right before I left, I sat down to watch Alien, which was a movie I hadn’t seen in a few years (since Prometheus in 2012, honestly). I like the sequel a lot more than the original, despite the masterful use of tension and grimy ship corridors that make the single xenomorph into the most terrifying serial killer of all time. But recently I had been reading about the sad story of Alien creator Dan O’Bannon, and how the film was taken from his hands and transformed into something very ALIEN (ha!) when it aired. 

For those unaware, O’Bannon had devised the script for the horror classic while writing the film Dark Star with John Carpenter. That film, which was meant to be something akin to a dark comedy about space travel, had inspired O’Bannon to create many alternate storylines, which his creatively fertile mind kept records of, and would return to while working on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s failed adaptation of Dune in the early 70s. Alien was an unused draft that would have taken Dark Star down a very different route than the cult film was known for- the beach ball that stalks the characters across the ship and serves as a mascot for hijinks was in fact originally intended to be the titular Alien that would stalk the crew of the Nostromo some years later. O’Bannon wanted to tell the story of survival in space, but constraints with funding and technology kept that vision from happening.