Films of High Adventure is over at Fantasy Magazine today, with a double-whammy nostalgia-heavy review of the Rankin/Bass The Hobbit and Return of the King cartoons. The Hobbit cartoonin particular was especially important to me as a kid, because The Hobbit was the standard for all things awesome for me until I reached maybe 13 years old or so.
This one was as fun to write as it was not-fun to re-watch (what?). True story: Jesse and I were bickering about watching RotK as we were renting it from the video store, which prompted the clerk to ask why we were spending four dollars on something neither of us wanted to watch at all. Such a query gave us pause, but then we came to the conclusion that it was worth it, because we were doing it all for you, gentle reader. So just keep that in mind, OK?
We’re kinder to The Hobbit than to RotK, which is only fair because The Hobbit is genuinely ok/good whereas RotK. . . never mind. It’s all there in the review, along with the only good scene in RotK, from which the still above is taken.
Jesse Bullington and I have (perhaps foolishly) decided to embark upon a quest: watching “classic” adventure movies that informed one or both of our childhoods. These columns will run every Wednesday on our blogs, excluding the last post of each month, which will appear over at Fantasy Magazine. Today we turn to science fiction to provide us with high adventure of the omg teh technologiez!! type:
The Film: The Terminator (1984)
WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? James Cameron, who directed and co-wrote with his then-wife Gale Anne Hurd (now a very successful producer in her own right), with “additional dialogue” written by William Wisher, Jr. (who also wrote The 13th Warrior). Harlan Ellison later sued over, er, similarities between the movie and his Outer Limits scripts for the episodes Demonwith a Glass Hand and Solider—the matter was settled out of court, with an acknowledgement to Ellison tacked on later prints. Acting, if you will, by Arnie (da-hoy), Linda Hamilton (Children of the Corn, the crazyass Beauty and the Beast tv show with Ron Perlman), Michael Biehn (The Abyss, Navy Seals), Paul Winfield (The Serpent and the Rainbow), and Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Near Dark), with wee little roles for Bill Paxton (Near Dark, Aliens) and Dick Miller (More B-movies than you’ve ever seen).
Quote: You really don’t need our help coming up with a quote from this.
Alternate quote: Seriously.
First viewing by Molly: Last week. Yes. I made it to almost 29 years of age without seeing Terminator. I’ve never seen Dirty Dancing, Alien, or Terminator 2, either. Are you new to this column or something?
First viewing by Jesse: The night before we went to see Terminator 2: Judgment Day in the theatre. So, nine years old.
Most recent viewing by both: Last week.
Impact on Molly’s childhood development: Beyond knowing the “I’ll be back” catchphrase, I suppose none. I remember seeing the previews for Terminator 2: Judgment Day and thinking it looked pretty cool. The likelihood of my parents allowing me to rent or see either was nonexistent, though, so I largely ignored the phenomenon.
Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: Honestly, not nearly as high as it was for a lot of kids my age. The reason, I suspect, is that I had already watched and become obsessed with a different film concerning androids, action, and the fate of the free world: Eliminators. The Terminator might have been cool, but after coming down from Eliminators there was a distinct lack of ninjas, dune buggies, and Denise Crosby. Terminator 2, on the other hand, did significantly better by nine year old Jesse’s estimation.
Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:
Molly’s thoughts prior to watching: I was excited. After all, I was a blank slate as far as this movie was concerned, and my affection for Arnold had grown substantially after Jesse and I watched Conan. John and Jesse tried to talk some trash about it being slow and/or boring, but Raechel assured me it was well worth my time.
Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Again, I liked it when I saw it but don’t think I ever went back to it after that childhood viewing, meaning almost twenty years had passed since watching it. I had confidence in Cameron’s ability to make a watchable action movie but had no idea if Molly would be terminally bored or blown away—movies like The Terminator don’t leave a lot of room in between. More than anything else I was eager to see how the practical effects held up, and anything with Lance Henriksen’s beautifully weathered face will get me to sit still—I’ve seen Pumpkinhead: Ashes to Ashes, for chrissake.
Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: I’d hoped it would be good, and I was rewarded for that hope. Though some of the practical effects left me giggling (the one post-apocalyptic cityscape they show constantly is just terrible, as are the various unconvincing latex Arnold-masks) I was pleased by how goddamn good this movie is. Really! It wasn’t slow, but rather had that slow-burn quality of 80s action movies, and I really appreciated that. It saddens me that in this Age of Michael Bay, a movie that is only, say, 50% explosions/stuff getting shot is considered “boring” by intelligent folks like Jesse and my husband (Jesse calls shenanigans—I said I thought Molly would find it boring. The times I’ve tried to expose her to Jarmusch and Bergman have led to much squirming and yawning, and I think we can agree Cameron is comparable to those directors, amirite?) (Molly says: did—did you just compare The Terminator to Dead Man? And/or The Seventh Seal? Whut?). Taste the burnsauce (Jesse says: too hot!)!
The Terminator is, I noted, the quintessential 80s movie. Moreso than even many of the John Hughes offerings, I think. While a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is certainly a contender, The Terminator is this amazing pastiche of what was cool in ‘84: Punks in leather jackets being punks in leather jackets! Nikes! Trenchcoats! Guns! Sunglasses! Answering machines! Walkmen-wearing babes who chew gum constantly and wear said Walkman (1) getting ready for sex, (2) during sex, and (3) into the kitchen to make a giant post-sex sandwich! Payphones! A nightclub called Tech Noir! Synthesized music! A model tank rolling over model skulls! A bored psychologist! Cops! Polaroids! Arnold Fucking Schwarzenegger! It’s amazing.
Jesse was saying something I’m too lazy to verify about how the script was ripped off from the same script that would also become The Matrix, and I find that “conspiracy-theory reasonable” (Jesse says: I snopesed it and it seems the lawsuit in question was dropped, which of course means nothing to any conspiracy theorist worth his David Icke collection). It’s kind of the same movie in a lot of ways, with its fear of A.I./technology in general and amusing plot holes/belief that “just because” is enough of a reason for people to do stuff, since, seriously, people will be coming to this movie to see shit shot at with guns, anyway, right? To wit: why do the machines attack in The Matrix? “We don’t know who struck first,” I believe is how they cover that one, though it’s admittedly been a while. Why does La Resistance in The Terminator try to save Sarah Connor instead of, say, sending back people to prevent the creation of Skynet? Um! Maybe a person went back in time to 1995 and saw 12 Monkeys, therefore knowing such an effort to be futile? How, in The Matrix, did the original dude who “saw through the code” do that? Why does the titular Terminator drive a car through the police station after delivering the classic line, instead of just shooting stuff and breaking it with his fists? I don’t know! The most important thing is, of course, who cares! EXPLOSIONS! A TRUCK BLOWING UP BUT OMG HE’S STILL ALIVE! A METAL SKELETON BEING COMPRESSED TO DEATH IN SOME SORT OF FACTORY! WOOOOOOO!
I loved it.
Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: Hey, not bad guys—way to go! As is the case with the sequel—and, I imagine, the rest of the series—intelligence, and often coherence, takes a back seat to impressive action sequences and chases scenes. That said, the inherently paradoxical plot actually works better here than in T2, if I’m remembering correctly, and in any event, it totally has a silhouette of Arnold’s dingus and a dude getting his heart ripped out in one scene alone, so who cares if the script makes sense, amirite?
Earlier I mentioned being curious as to how the practical effects held up—pretty good, as it turns out. I tend to be a bit more forgiving than Molly where non-CGI stuff is concerned and so I even dug the flesh-stripped android effect at the end, even if it did resemble a chromed Harryhausen skeleton. (Molly says: whatever. I love practical effects more than CGI as much as the next person who breathes with his or her mouth shut, but there’s a difference between, say, that weird eyeball-winged thing in Hellboy 2 and, well, the chromed Haryhausen skeleton in Terminator. So there.), I think part of the reason I like it is that it does hearken back to said stop-motion animated beasties, and I tend to agree with another friend who opinioned that even poor practical effects encourage us to suspend our disbelief, whereas CGI too often knocks us right out of the experience. Arnie doing surgery on himself? Still awesome twenty five years later, even if the inside of a complicated skin job android only consists of three little pistons.
In reading up on the film for this column I think I may have hit on James Cameron’s main problem as a director, which rears its face even here—with the exception, perhaps, of Aliens, he doesn’t know how to properly pace a movie; if imdb is to be believed, The Terminator is his only film that clocks in at less than two hours. Not a problem per se, except even The Terminator seems like it could have been a bit shorter, but then it’s still a helluva lot less boring than a lot of the films we’ve revisited here. Plus, Soldier of Fortune magazine approved, so who am I to diss the legend?
High Points: Arnold doing his dumbass thing.Sarah Connor’s totally 80s roommate who won’t take off her walkman during sex. Raechel trying to convince us all that the soundtrack was good. The scene in the gun store with Dick Miller:
Final Verdict: Yeah, ok, it’s still pretty awesome, in a lunkheaded sort of way.
Next Week: over at Fantasy Magazine again, this time with a double feature of the Hobbit/Return of the King cartoons, despite Jesse’s whining and dookie-frowns about watching the latter of the two.
High altitude baking kind of sucks to get used to. You have to do a bunch of stuff to recipes, like adjusting baking powder, flour, liquids, temperature, baking time, ugh ugh ugh. Everyone seems to have a different opinion on what is the fail-safe formula. None of them work all the time.
I can’t offer a fail-safe formula, but I can offer this high altitude cornbread recipe. It’s the one I use either for just baking up a batch to go alongside whatever, or I spread it evenly on top of some chili to make a baked chili pie.
I based this off the Post Punk Kitchen’s cornbread recipe, which has never ever done me wrong. It’s the one I use allatimes, but I like my cornbread full of corn and cilantro and other stuff so you can see the differences. Also, as I said, this is only for high altitude baking! If you like the sound of my flavor alterations, do those but use the PPK recipe for baking powder, cooking times, etc.
High Altitude Savory Cornbread
2 c cornmeal
1 c flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/3 c canola oil
2 tbs hot sauce like cholula
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
½ tsp salt
2 c non-dairy milk (I like either soy, almond, or hemp)
3/4 c corn kernels, drained
1/2 c cilantro, chopped
1/2 green onions, chopped
Preheat oven to 375. Spray the bottom of a 9×13 baking pan with non-stick cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the non-dairy milk and the vinegar and set aside.
In a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients (cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt).
Add the oil and hot sauce to the ACV/milk mixture. Wisk with a wire wisk or a fork until it is foamy and bubbly.
Pour the wet ingredient into the dry and mix together until just barely mixed using a large wooden spoon or a firm spatula. Fold in the corn, cilantro, and green onions.
Pour batter into the prepared baking pan and bake 35 minutes (always check at 35, but depending on the weather and all that stuff, you may need to give it 5-10 minutes more), until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Slice into squares and serve warm or store in an airtight container.
Jesse Bullington and I have (perhaps foolishly) decided to embark upon a quest: watching “classic” adventure movies that informed one or both of our childhoods. These columns will run every Wednesday on our blogs, excluding the last post of each month, which will appear over at Fantasy Magazine. This week we take on what must be the most rented-and-then-returned-unfinished kids’ movies of all time. . .
The Film: Watership Down (1978)
WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? Richard Adams first and foremost, that funny-loving scribe who also penned Plague Dogs, a novel about a pair of dogs who escape from an animal testing lab and are subsequently hunted by scientists. Script and direction by Martin Rosen based on Adams’ novel—Rosen went on to adapt Plague Dogs into a cartoon as well. Rather baffling soundtrack by Angela Morton, with an especially odious Art Garfunkel song inserted into the latter half that not only slows the film down but also led to Conor Oberst finding the perfect name for his band, though he’ll deny it and claim it’s a reference to the Shirely Temple film of the same name. We know the truth, Conor. Excellent voice acting by John Hurt (pretty much everything that’s awesome), Richard Briers (a lot of Kenneth Branaugh’s Shakespeare adaptations, including Hamlet and Henry V), Michael Graham Cox (a huge amount of British television I’ve never watched), Ralph Richardson (Time Bandits, Dragonslayer—we’ll be seeing more of old Ralphie around here), Denholm Elliot (Noises Off, the Indiana Jones movies), Zero Mostel (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum—Duh), and a load of other equally competent Britons. Finally, a stirring huzzah for the animation department—far too many individuals to name here, but props to the prop-worthy.
First viewing by Jesse: Before age had any meaning—maybe six?
First viewing by Molly: Young. Young young young.
Most recent viewing by both: Last night.
Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: High. This was part of my parents’ betamax collection, and one I came back to again and again—yet for some reason I never took the time to read the novel, despite requesting and receiving a copy one early birthday. I was pretty young when I went through my bloody-mawed rabbits phase, so perhaps the book was over my head and by the time I was old enough to appreciate it the paperback had disappeared and I’d moved on to other bloody-mawed things.
Impact on Molly’s childhood development: High, for book and film. Let’s put it this way—my well-worn paperback copy of Watership Down has a quote on the front that’s something along the lines of “everyone who can read English should read this book” and I have a hard time disagreeing. So yeah, I like it.
I do recall that my first viewing was incomplete–I was forced to turn it off because it was traumatizing whichever friend I was watching it with. I believe it was during the horrifying scene where Captain Holly recounts the gassing of the Sandleford Warren. A charming film! If memory serves, the whimpers from my co-viewer began with the weeeeeeird, vaguely perhaps Aboriginal art-inspired opening where Frith punishes El-ahrairah—you know, the Prince with a Thousand Enemies, the John Henry/Robin Hood/King Arthur of the rabbits—for his cheek. I also recall pitching a fit when I was forced to turn it off—I wanted to know what happened to those goddamn rabbits.
Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:
Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: I remember an incident, maybe six years ago, where I considered re-watching it but balked. I was still managing Video 21, this rad little independent video store in Tallahassee, and a guy came up the counter holding our battered vhs of Watership Down in one hand and his four year old daughter’s hand in the other. I asked if the movie was for her, and when he looked at me as if I was taking the piss I quickly asked if he had seen it. He had not. I explained that maybe it would be better if he screened it first considering some of the content, which led to him simply putting the movie back and getting a Beatrix Potter tape instead—his daughter’s go-to favorite, apparently. After they left I flirted with renting it myself, then re-shelved it in the Cult Classics instead of the Children’s films and called it a day—I do hope he went back and rented it for her when she was a little older.
Fast forward to the present and I was a little nervous—as much as I loved it as a kid, I hadn’t re-watched it for the better part of twenty years and while sometimes that distance makes a movie even better, other times revisiting a cherish film obviously sours the memory. Granted, from what I remembered I knew I wasn’t descending into another Conan the Destroyer, but the fear is ever present. Would there be more comic relief than I remembered? Would I start blubbering at the sad parts, whereupon Molly would out me in this column as a great big crybaby? (Molly says: Look, I weep at the end of the book every time I read it, and would never call someone out for being moved when Hazel is called to join the Owsla of the Black Rabbit of Inle. Also—he totally did cry at the end, but tried to front like I hadn’t seen that tear run down his cheek! [Jesse says: point of order—this really should be addressed in the post-viewing thoughts section or, better yet, not at all] But in the interest of full disclosure. . . I cried too.) Was it as brutal as my memories? I loved it as a child, yes, but it also savaged my young mind something fierce.
Molly’s thoughts prior to re-watching: I was more confident in the film holding up because I’d rented it maybe eight or ten years ago, in a sort of precursor to this exercise. I also was in the mood because I’d picked it back up as some literary comfort food a few nights ago and ended up re-reading the whole thing.
The best thing was, however, the reaction our respective spouses had when we mentioned it was time to do Watership Down for Films of High Adventure. Normally, John and Raech are merely baffled by our odd need to punish our eyes, ears, and minds with films from our past—this time, they both looked downright apprehensive. Raech, I believe, asked some version of the very good question “why would you do that to yourselves?” John just shuddered.
Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: Whoa. It’s crazy how much of this movie came back to me as I was watching it—I remembered just about every other scene as it was happening, right down to snatches of dialogue that have lay dormant in the old grey stuff for two decades; sleeper memories. I was genuinely impressed with how well everything held up, which is not often the case here around Films of High Adventure. Sure, we enjoy re-watching the movies, but that doesn’t mean they’re actually good, whereas with the exception of the occasionally fragmented storyline, and a certain wart named Art Garfunkel, this holds up crazy good.
It also wasn’t as grim as I remembered, or rather, I didn’t find it as sad/intense/scary, but then again I’m almost thirty so that probably impacts things a little. More than anything it really makes me want to read the novel one of these days, though I’ll probably give it some time—only so much bunny-on-bunny violence I can take in short span of time. Further differentiating itself from a lot of the movies we revisit here, I’d go so far as to say Watership Down is important, especially as a children’s film. Re-watching it made me regret moving Video 21’s copy to the Cult section instead of finding some other solution, because I can’t think of another movie that mixes a quest narrative with serious, realistic problems to better effect while still being highly accessible to kids. Plus, it has a silly bird, and kids love silly birds in cartoons:
Of course, the downside of this being a quality film about talking animals is that it was nigh impossible to find clips of it on youtube that weren’t overdubbed with the Lion King theme or some terrible pop song that bunbunfan69 really thinks captures the unspoken sexual tension simmering between Bigwig and General Woundwort in their final battle. At least I know if Molly ever really pisses me off and I need something truly evil to slip into an innocuous email I can find some Watership Down fanfic with the quickness.
Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: Ahahah. I knew this was going to be awesome even from the first moment, as the DVD menu is the same as the poster:
WTF? Really? I love that the brutality of this film comes out in even the DVD menu. . . but what was the thought process here? Hey guys, you know that poster we made of Bigwig getting caught in a snare, you know, where he almost dies? Yeah, let’s use that as the first thing viewers see on the DVD.That’ll teach ‘em to rent Watership Fucking Down.
Anywho, God, but this is a movie made to encourage children to be Anglophiles, or nurture the Anglophile in the initiated grownup. The landscapes are all like, hey, do you know what was awesome? The Hay Wain. Let’s make the whole movie look like that! There’s even a scene where Hazel and a friend raid a farm and they hear BBC coming in through the open window. So good!
It’s weird. In some ways, the movie tries to soften the book. . . for instance, doe rabbits play a more prominent role than in Adams’ original text, which makes sense cuz WD is a kids’ movie, and in the book, does are really looked at as breeding stock but not much more by the bucks. Also, just by virtue of it being a faster text, the movie removes some of the weirdness of the Warren of the Snares, and some of the ickyness surrounding General Woundwort and his horrible warren, Efrafa. I mean—here. Let’s just take a look at one of the poems in the book, shall we? This one is sung by one of the does of Efrafa to her friends who tried to leave the oppression and the insanity of General Woundwort’s rule, only to be rebuked and punished:
The yellowhammer sang, high on the thorn,
He sang near the litter that the doe brought out to play
He sang in the wind, and the kittens played below.
Their time slipped by, all under the elder bloom.
But the bird flew away, and now my heart is dark
And time will never play in the fields again.
The orange beetles clung to the rye-grass stems.
The windy grass was waving. A buck and a doe
Ran through the meadow. They scratched a hole in the bank,
They did what they pleased all under the hazel leaves.
But the beetles died in the frost and my heart is dark;
And I shall never choose a mate again.
The frost is falling, the frost falls into my body,
My nostrils, my ears are torpid under the frost.
The swift will come in the spring, crying “News! News!
Does, flow with milk and dig holes for your litters!”
I shall not hear. The embryos return
Into my dulled body. Across my sleep
There runs a wire fence to imprison the wind.
I shall never feel the wind blowing again.
At the same time (Jesse says: Jesus! We’re just moving on after that?! Not, like, a moment of silence or something? Jesu—I mean, Frith!), the movie ups the terror in weird ways. Unlike in the book, Hazel and his group of rabbits leave the Sandelford Warren with a doe—Violet—who gets snatched up by a hawk early on, and it’s like. . . OK! Awesome! Also, for no reason, the rabbits take shelter in a mausoleum rather than a barn, necessitating they lope through the World’s Spookiest Graveyard.
I think, though, what I love most about Watership Down is its expectation of the audience having some familiarity with the text. Richard Adams, in the book, gives the rabbits their own language—“lapine,” natch—and thus terms like “Owsla” (a chief rabbit’s go-to crew), “hrair” (many), “elil” (blanket term for enemies), and “hraka” (poop) are revealed through explanatory notes and even a dictionary for reference. In the movie, of course, the viewer has no dictionary, and so the uninitiated are left to boggle at, say, one of the first scenes where Hazel and Fiver are chased off a coltsfoot by two big fuckin rabbits after one snaps “coltsfoots are for Owsla, you know that.” OK! Sure! Then later on Bigwig cries “hraka!” while frustrated, and so on. It’s really awesome.
High Points: That it was made, and in such an uncompromising fashion. The beautiful watercolor backgrounds where, if you look closely enough, you can even see the texture of the Bristol board coming through. The decision to make certain parts darker than the book. The disturbing bits, such as Cowslip’s crazy ass. John Hurt. The emotion one comes to feel for cartoon rabbits. That it allegedly spawned the first roleplaying game where you could play a non-human character—Bunnies and Burrows. The fact that they didn’t end the movie before the final, tear-jerking moment. The opening animation sequence:
Final Verdict: When the Black Rabbit of Inle calls, you must answer.
Inspired by the insane gorgeousness that is Colorado, the project I’m finishing up is set in what is now Rocky Mountain National Park. This is awesome for me, because whenever I lose my way with the writing, I can just take a drive up into the mountains and find what I need to press on. RMNP is, frankly, the most beautiful national park I’ve ever been lucky enough to visit, and its proximity to Boulder means I can really get to know what’s there–the grassy, river-cut valleys freckled by elk herds, the little hiking trails that become waterfalls during the snowmelt, the glacial peaks. I love it. It is one of the places that I feel completely at rest, even while I scramble, cursing, up a scree-strewn incline, or pick my way down a steep, flooded descent.
Last Friday, Jesse and I decided to drive over the continental divide. I can report that it is, indeed, fucking awesome. The road takes you up past the montane ecosystem through subalpine into the true alpine regions, so you really get a sense of the distinct environments in mountainous regions. The day we went, it was rainy and misty, which was fine by me. While we didn’t get to appreciate the views down the sides of the mountains, it was amazing to see clouds–giant, fluffy clouds, like you see from the ground–chasing us up and eventually enfolding us as we drove. The two times we got out to hike, we’d see wisps just drifting in front of our faces and alongside us as if it was no big deal to the clouds to occasionally take a day off and, you know, go on a hike with some people.
With the craziness that is the Gulf, the writerly people I’m fortunate enough to know have been talking about the environment quite a bit, and those posts, as well as the news cycle in general, have really gotten me thinking. Among the many notable things I’ve read, my dawgg John Glover speaks eloquently about BP, the spill, and responsibility; Jeff VanderMeer has also commented on the situation. I think what affected me the most, though, was not Jeff’s idea that we put all the BP execs in a raft and make them eat nothing but the oily flesh of dying animals (not that such a sentiment doesn’t match my own feelings on the situation), but rather, a quieter, more personal post he made, using quotes from Thoreau and discussing a favorite hike over at St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge.
The gallows humor found in the notion of taking a long drive to enjoy the environment is not lost on me by any means. All the same, I feel inspired to discuss the overwhelming wonder I felt when I was able to, via man’s genius and shame, the automobile, ascend in only a few hours up to the top of the world and hike through an alpine tundra. Taking the drive over the divide was an experience as transcendent as it was depressing. These alpine regions, which we documented below, are delicate, sensitive ecosystems which will likely be devastated by unchecked climate change; the pristine forests, which in some ways look like they did a hundred, or hundreds of years ago, are being eaten alive by the pine bark beetle–a beetle that, were the winters as cold as they once were, would not be anywhere near as able to destroy tree after tree after tree after tree after tree.
Richard Adams tells us that the lapine equivalent of the expression “when it rains, it pours” is the slightly more accurate “one cloud feels lonely.” With that in mind, I present two awesome bits of news:
Esteemed anthology editor Ekaterina Sedia guest blogged over at The Mad Hatter on the subject of anthology-creation. It’s an interesting read as a whole, but I was tickled and flattered that she singled out and praised my story:
Now, what makes a story good? Usually, the stories I pick have surprised me somehow. For example, Molly Tanzer’s story “In Sheep’s Clothing” (from Running with the Pack) surprised me by an ingenious way it fused some very modern concerns with the werewolf myth. Others, like Kaaron Warren’s “The Gaze Dogs of Nine Waterfalls” (which will be reprinted in Bewere the Night), delighted and shocked with their very strangeness, with the language and imagery that created an uncanny, dreamlike feel. I even dreamed about the story the night after I read it, and the next day emailed Kaaron asking her for the reprint. See? All you have to do is to haunt editors’ dreams.
Coming on the heels of that, Jeremy Jones facilitated a round-table discussion on werewolves over at Booklife. Six Running with the Pack authors contributed, among them myself and Jesse. The questions we were all asked were intriguing, and so you can head over there to read various writerly opinions on working with lycanthropy as a trope. It’s fun stuff!
Since we’re speaking of werewolves, I feel compelled to mention that I sat through the new Wolfman movie last night. . . but this post is brimming with positive vibes, so I won’t sully it by raking that movie over the coals, though it richly deserves such treatment. Perhaps later! Right now I’m totally stoked about the awesomeness above, so wooo!
Jesse Bullington and I have (perhaps foolishly) decided to embark upon a quest: watching “classic” adventure movies that informed one or both of our childhoods. These columns will run every Wednesday on our blogs, excluding the last post of each month, which will appear over at Fantasy Magazine. This week we descend into the mind of H.P. Lovecraft filtered through the minds of Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli.
Film: From Beyond (1986)
WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? Direction by Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli, the team responsible for those other polarizing Lovecraft “adaptations” Re-Animator, Dagon, and The Dreams in the Witch-House. Produced by Brian Yuzna, who rounded out Gordon’s production team, and later filled in on directorial duties for Bride of Re-animator and Beyond Re-animator. Not-at-all-derivative soundtrack by Richard Band, he of Full Moon Entertainment infamy.Subtle-as-an-enlarged-pineal-gland-stalk-bursting-out-of-your-forehead performances by longtime Gordon collaborators Jeffrey Combs (Herbert West himself in the Re-animator films), Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, Castle Freak, and similarly classy films), and Gordon’s wife Carolyn Purdy-Gordon (Space Truckers), as well as Ted Sorel (Network, Basket Case 2) and Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead [both of them], The Devil’s Rejects) in a red posing pouch.
Quote: Doctor to dude eating brains: “Please don’t eat those.”
Dude eating brains: “Delicious!”
Doctor: “They can make you very sick.”
Alternate quote: “You may be a doctor, lady, but right now you’re talking like a junkie!”
First viewing by Molly: A couple of weeks ago.
First viewing by Jesse: Mid-high school.
Most recent viewing by both: A couple of weeks ago.
Impact on Molly’s childhood development: N/A
Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: Reasonably high. Prior to watching I was already a huge fan of both Lovecraft and Gordon—and his contemporaries Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi—so my enjoying this was basically a forgone conclusion. Still, it rocked my socks even more than I expected, hitting the right balance of Lovecraftian weirdness with gore, sexuality, and Camp with a capital C. Some people really can’t stand Gordon’s fusion of those disparate elements but I’ve always found even the loosest literary adaptation can be salvaged by an imaginatively grotesque set piece or a be-bannana hammocked badass battling a gargantuan interdimensional worm-monster armed only with a kitchen knife. My ability to acknowledge that it is possible for a film to be awesome despite straying wildly from its source material I can trace rather directly to Gordon’s good-natured, tongue-in-various-places Lovecraft adaptations.
Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:
Molly’s thoughts prior to re-watching: I was excited. Our mutual friend and role-playing buddy David shamed Jesse for not showing me this film, as David knows well my sensibilities. Here’s what’s up: being too cool/nerdy (depending on who’s standard you’re using) to play Dungeons and Dragons, Jesse, David, and myself (as well as other sundry geeks) used to get up every week or so and play Warhammer, and not the bunk-ass tabletop version, either. We played the old-school pencil and paper game, which is sorta like D&D only the magic system makes sense and—you know what? It’s just better. I’ll leave it at that.
Returning (arguably) to relevancy, in the Warhammer system there are regular deities, and also Chaos deities, the Ruinous Powers that threaten the order of the world. One of them is the god Slaanesh, the hermaphrodite lord/lady of desire. Not just sexual desire, either—Slaanesh tempts the idle, bored hedonist who’s seen and done everything, of course, but Slaanesh is also the little voice in the back of the mind of, say, a doctor who just wants to know, and why should ethics get in the way of medicine that might one day help people? Even if you have to kill a man to dissect the body. . . don’t ends justify means? You get the idea.
So anyways, David claimed this movie was very Slaaneshi, and so I was game.
Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Mild shame at not showing this to Molly earlier, but she had always expressed a decided non-interest in horror films, which one might well mistake this for if they weren’t aware of the cinematic pedigree. (Molly says: OK, look. My aversion to horror films is those which would genuinely freak me out, such as Ringu or similar. While I will admit here on the internet that I had about a month’s worth of nightmares after I unwisely watched Cabin Fever, I did just fine with Re-animator, which was just silly, and countless other “horror” films which are only shelved in the horror section by virtue of containing, say, a dracula or something. So there.) From Beyond does admittedly function much like a horror film, but for me Gordon’s stuff is best approached as bizzaro satire/homage, and in this respect I’ve always found From Beyond a little more successful than it’s better known predecessor Re-animator. It had been five or six years since I had last watched this monstermash, and though I was anxious that it might not hold up I was still eager to revisit the priceless dialogue and creature effects. In terms of it being a suitable candidate for Films of High Adventure, I don’t really see it being a question—the adventure may not be quite as high as the camp, but what else do you call a desperate band of heroes standing against the forces of icky darkness?
Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: So, I built up the Warhammer thing, but to be clear: this movie is set in (then) modern times, and involves a mad scientist building a resonator (basically a bunch of tuning forks) that will stimulate the pineal gland. The resonator works, and this causes big problems for the characters. There are no broadswords or anything like that. Yet, at the same time. . . let me say this. Sometimes, when describing movies, David has been known to use “it’s like Warhammer” as code for “it’s fucking awesome.” That said, this movie was weirding me out because it actually was very Warhammer-like, and in a good way–not in the manner of certain films I’ve seen recently on Hulu that were very obviously a transcription of someone’s (awful, stereotypical) D&D campaign. Huzzah!
Like I said, it’s modern, but the monsters and villains were totally spot-on. What’s Slaanesh’s favorite color? Purple! What color are the odd cannibalistic, sex-obsessed monsters? Purple! Who’s getting mixed up with transdimentional slugs and stuff? Doctors who just want to know! Also, scientists who want to see more than the five senses can tell us! Fuckin’ rad, man. Not only that, but the mad scientist who built the resonator and subsequently gets his head bitten off like a ginger bread man is also into BDSM, and has a decently equipped if oddly cheery dungeon in his house. We learn he used to bring beautiful women to his house, eat delicious food, drink good wine. . . and then the screaming started. When poor Jeffery Combs succumbs and his pineal gland overloads it becomes a ridiculously phallic tentacle that bursts from a vagina in his forehead. This movie.
RP-nerdiness aside, the movie works even if you’ve never rolled dice for high adventure in the Old World. Jeffery Combs is awesome, the monster effects are decent if intensely silly, the plot is ridiculous but keeps moving and thus works. It gets a little gross at times for me (my characters who got mixed up with Slaanesh tended to be bored nobility interested in high jinks rather than doctor-types; also, medical stuff and hospitals freak me the fuck out), but I found this to be a seriously enjoyable film.
Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: Ah, Stuart Gordon—you are one classy dude. Of course, credit is due to Paoli for his screenplay, and the cast and prop department, but ultimately we doff our hat to the director when a film really comes together, as this one does. The effects range from the good to the terrible but they are universally fun, and Gordon has no reservations against making this movie as weird and disgusting as he possibly can. Stacking it against your average mid-80s horror film, his flair, ambition, and willingness to break with convention is nothing short of moderately impressive. I know, I know, I claimed this wasn’t a horror movie, but hell, re-watching it, maybe it is—just because I think it’s high-larious doesn’t mean it won’t resonate (ho ho!) differently with someone else.
As I said, Gordon gets a lot of shit for straying so far from the source material, missing the point, blah blah blah, but fuck that noise—he makes a hilarious, gross-out spectacle like nobody’s business. And then there’s Jeffery Comb’s crazy ass, doing his bug-eyed doctor shtick with aplomb. Perhaps it was my youthful exposure to JC that gave me such a fondness, but he really is the lab coat equivalent to Bruce Campbell, and his performance as Crawford Tillinghast is a thing of epic silliness. If you’re looking for a carefully constructed tale of Lovecraftian horror than keep looking, but if you want the nineteen eighties stripped down to their man-panties and dry-humping the gentleman from providence’s coffin than this is your movie.
High Points: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, and Ken Foree’s chemistry as the world’s worst Arkham Horror team.The take-no-prisoners performances. The straight-faced script. The practical effects and creature design. The general manky atmosphere, which gives the impression that the script was written on soiled motel room bedsheets with a variety of ink substitutes. The part where Barbara Crampton gets gussied up in a leather corset and boots and tries to hump an unconscious, swollen-headed Jeffery Combs. The I-don’t-give-a-fuck-how-insane-this-is climax, only part of which is displayed below:
Final Verdict: Two slimy tentacles way up.
Next Week:Watership Down, which, if memory serves, is infinitely more terrifying than From Beyond.