Sunday, July 17, 2016

Getting a taste of Stranger Things

I've scratched just a bit of the surface of Stranger Things this weekend. I binge, but in doses.

What I've watched so far in the first couple of episodes is intriguing, especially in the creature play. We've seen an eerie silhoutte, but there's still room for mystery. There's a wonderfully kinetic opening in a flickering research facility, but a technician's lunched in the first few heartbeats by something kept off screen.

The characters are really what's keeping me engaged, from Winona Ryder's frantic mom to David Harbour's grieving police chief to a surprisingly malevolent and white-haired Matthew Modine on the mad scientist side of the equation to keep things in balance. 
I noticed Harbour last as one of the twisted killers in the under-rated A Walk Among the Tombstones, so it's interesting to see him as an urban cop who's come to a small town for the quiet only to have that upset by, well, strange things.

Then there are the kids, a nice blend of junior high nerds with ham radio and role-playing on their minds until a friend goes missing, and their creepy guest, a girl with a crew cut. 

There's an '80s vibe as well, of course. I don't know that I'm that nostalgic about that era, but there's a nice feel to the series, and it finds its own niche in a content-rich world, so I think I'll keep the stream open until it's finished.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A wild and weird Robot Excursion - Killer Robots! Crash and Burn

I have to say I'm a bit intrigued by the look of the robots in Leomark's July 15 release The Killer Robots! That's their exclamation mark, but I can't say it's totally unwarranted. AI's a little unsettling to everyone these days.

As the official synopsis puts it, there's "a dimension where living machines battle for supremacy, and those who oppose find only destruction." That can't be good for non-robotic types.

"After meeting their end in a mechanized gladiator arena, four robotic mercenaries - Auto, Max, Strobo and Trog are extracted from a junk pile, rebuilt and recruited as mercenaries for a mysterious organization of android adventurers."

Soon they find themselves on their way to the planet Vidya, "an artificial world ravaged by a computer virus that has sent its robotic inhabitants into a state of primitive barbarism."

The robotic heroes "must make their way through a tumultuous landscape, activate a mysterious communication device, link multiple universes, and bring about a new age of enlightenment and prosperity for a dystopian galactic civilization."

Birthed by a Florida band of the same name, The Killer Robots! looks a little different and "out there" and possibly outré. Here's a trailer:

Written and directed by Sam Gaffin, The Killer Robots! Crash and Burn will be on VOD platforms.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Writing Thoughts: Fear in the Shadows - Notions on Generating Subtle Scares

I had a lot of fun doing a presentation this week called "Fear in the Shadows." I've been developing it and polishing a while now. 

I take a look at subtle horror, partly by focusing on things that have chilled me as a reader. That's pieces by Ray Bradbury, Robert Aickman and others.

The focal piece is the 1902 story from W.W. Jacobs called "The Monkey's Paw," a tale to which I said "meh" when I first read it as a kid. It's deceptively simple, and I don't think my junior high imagination was fully engaging with the story, though its brief arc has always stayed with me.

It was really when I transcribed a portion of it a while back that I came to appreciate its brilliance. Very little is "on stage." Much is in the anticipation of a potentially walking corpse that's in a badly decomposed state...

It gives us something to worry about a bit. Wishes with the monkey's paw of the title always go wrong. It seems to confirm that with the first of three wishes in the story. Then it lets things roll along on a cold dark night.

And possibilities are introduced that let the reader's imagination work, possibilities and a little waiting.

There's a wish, a look out the window but...nothing. Then in the dark hours of the night, there's a sound at the door and then a knock an then a little more, coupled with different opinions on whether to answer or not and other bits of dread.

It was fun to do the presentation for a big room. We turned the lights down and had a campfire-story experience.

What does the story offer? A few points to keep in mind:

Atmosphere...a house that's become cold and dark and isolated.

Something to think about...the son who's been summoned back from the dead has been in the grave a while and was badly injured at the time.

Something to worry about...Monkey's Paw wishes don't turn out so well.

Anticipation...At first there's nothing after the wish, but a little while later there's a sound.

Implication...The sound turns in to a knock at the door, a knock that persists and the clock starts ticking as conflict bills. Do we wish the visitor away or open the door?

Sometimes as Stephen King said in Danse Macabre, you gotta show the monsters.

But maybe it's not a whole story you need to compose but a scene. Could the same elements be deployed? I think we see that in play in the log of the Demeter in Dracula, a small but chilling portion of a bigger tale and in many other effective moments in the horror pantheon.

I'd say try these points somewhere along the way and invite readers or viewers to engage.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Awaiting The Night of...

I watched the first episode of The Night Of a couple of weeks ago when it began streaming on HBO Now. I think  it rolls out on air tomorrow, ending what's been a long wait for things to really get started with the eight-parter, though that means yet another week before Episode 2 arrives. Ahhrrrrr! Ep. 1's a real, though almost leisurely, narrative hook.

Based on an arc in a BBC series called Criminal Justice which starred Ben Whishaw of The Hour and the new Q in Bond films, this neo-noir gets a Richard Price extension and Americanization that seems to channel a bit of Serial as well with a seemingly innocent immigrant student as the accused.

That's Riz Ahmed as Naz Khan, son of a Pakistani taxi driver who borrows his dad's hack for a party trip into Manhattan.

Before long he's inadvertently picked up a mysterious girl his age who's mistaken him for an on-duty cab. She wants to be taken to "The Beach," and that leads to a poignant chat then a druggy encounter and a blackout at what must be her residence.

Naz awakes to find her dead, and he's promptly nabbed and deftly maneuvered into giving up his rights by a savvy detective named Box (Bill Camp).

That's when a haggard John Turturro as public defender Jack Stone strolls in in flips flops, because of a skin problem carried over from the BBC, to pick up the ball.

The process moving forward looks to be promising and nail-biting since the circumstantial case against the studious bu naive Naz seems damming and insurmountable.

I think I'll stick around to see how it goes. 

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Brain Dead for the Summer

I haven't noticed a lot of people talking about CBS' BrainDead from The Good Wife creators Robert and Michelle King, but I'm finding it to be a fun and trippy political satire built on a Invasion of the Body Snatchers chassis.

The time seems right for a blend of politics and horror centering around a government shutdown.

Alien bugs are to blame, squeezing out brains--or portions of them--of Republicans and Democrats alike to replace them with themselves. An agenda's not yet apparent, but conquest is probably afoot. Divided we're conquered?

The Heroine 
Documentary filmmaker turned senate aide Laurel Healy is poised to figure things out, but so far she hasn't put her finger on why everyone's fixated on the same tune from The Cars.

Laurel's played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead who this year has already survived a Civil War-era hospital in Mercy Street and being trapped in a bunker with a dancing John Goodman in the cool and different alien thriller 10 Cloverfield Lane.

She's kind of perfect as a Washington insider/outsider with a politician dad and brother who's more interested in obscure tribal music trends but needs $ to complete her current project.

It's trending more zany-reflection-of-the-real Washington than horror, to be certain. The mind control and brain gross outs have been seen before, but it's still keeping me tuning in at least on the week a new episode airs if not on the night.

Happily it's streaming readily on Amazon Prime, so catching up's easy, and with Trump in the background of the real world as well as that of the series, it's a nice fix for political junkies and those with scare leanings on and off screen as well.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Tabloid Vivant Poster Reveal

If you're, say, my friend Chicago author Wayne Allen Sallee, or someone else living in the Chicago area, you might be interested in this special poster for Tabloid Vivant.

The film will be screening film at 7 and 9 p.m. on July 7 at University of Chicago and will be followed by a Q and A with writer-director Kyle Broom and producer Alexandra Spector. 

The film focuses on Max, an artist seduced by the allure of fame. Sara is an art critic whose obsessions exceed even his. When she lands a writing gig at a major art magazine, the pair retreats to a cabin in the woods, where Max reveals his strange new painting method.

Convinced of its potential, she agrees to collaborate on a piece sure to revolutionize the art world. While both original and mesmerizing, the project reveals something dark and disturbing about their relationship. Like two digital-age Frankensteins, they manage to make a painting come alive - though the unsettling consequences of their success may be more fit for the pages of a blood-soaked tabloid than the chronicles of art history. Sounds interesting to me and not something you see every day.

Here's the trailer:
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