Nothing is more alluring for both audiences and writers than dusting off old tropes. This is true. There is no argument against this statement. Resistance is futile. Boom. Done. Let’s pack it away, boys. No? Okay, I guess we could talk a little more about this very general statement I just made. And if I’m going to be talking about housekeeping motifs and tropes, do me the favor and humor me by nodding your head or something and when passersby asks why you’re nodding your head, you tell them about this brilliant piece you’re reading, as I delve into this odd analogy to FX’s dark horror show, The Strain. Let it be known now, while I may make mention of some of the newer seasons, my focus will mostly be with the first season, as it is the best and has one of my top ten TV/movies favorite openings/pilots. The only big let down with the second season is the new kid they got to play Zack Goodweather, as he plays a larger role in the second season, he became downright annoying and I’m secretly hoping something really bad happens to him. If that was the point then bravo to the writers cause I really do loathe that little bastard. Anyway, that’s not really why we’re here, is it? Tropes. That’s the term I used before and that is precisely what I want to talk to you about. Dusting off aged tropes is, in my humble opinion, an excellent method of storytelling. The classics for horror being Dracula, Wolf Man, Mummy, and Frankenstein, etc. etc, and how can we use these today? In this endeavor, The Strain is an excellent example we can learn from.
Before we scourge the graveyard any deeper, here’s a quick synopsis from our favorite source, IMDb:
A mysterious viral outbreak with hallmarks of an ancient and evil strain of vampirism ravages the city of New York.
Ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause, if you please, for another stunning synopsis from IMDb. Well, they’re not wrong. There is a virus going around, and it certainly creates hosts that act very vampiric. A very fresh take, I think, on the classic vampire trope. No. This isn’t Lestat. These are monsters, as well they should be. And I love this reimaging of the vampire. The Strain uses invokes classic myths, such as The Master, or “patient zero,” as one of the characters refers to him as, in a way of explaining the legend to a couple of non-beliving doctors. Silver and sunlight are also here too. But no longer crosses and garlic, both of which are hardly ever mentioned. So, despite that the fangs are gone and they have a “stinger,” a worm like tentacle, that the vamps use to “latch on” to their prey, it’s still very much in tune with the aged trope. Better, in my opinion. While we all love Bela, the dashing vampire is too tired nowadays, and xenophobia is more rapid and in your face for such subtlety. We need monsters. Vampires are not lonely outsider boyfriends that sparkle. They are killers, and worse. They are a virus, a scourge, a blight. Some films get it right. 30 Days of Night was good. And Let the Right One In was an instant classic.
What really sets The Strain apart is the use of some of the more classic character types that are largely ignored in modern vampire storytelling. Sure, you cannot have a vampire movie without the preverbal “Dracula,” and in The Strain, we get The Master, who is without question truly terrifying and oddly alluring. But besides the “Dracula” character, what else is offered. I’m going to start off with my favorite. Instead of Abraham Van Helsing, we get Abraham Setrakian, an aged, very aged professor now turned pawn shop proprietor. His history within the context of the show is very rich. Setrakain is a Holocaust survivor who was taught by his grandmother regarding certain “creatures of the night.” As a young man, Setrakian believed her stories to be just that, stories. For a young Setrakian, the Holocaust proved to have enough horrors of its own without the need of mythical monsters. However, as it would seem, the concentration camp, Treblinka, in which Setrakian is incurred is besieged by, not just from war and death and human injustice, but also by a physical parasite that moves about during the night. Witnessing the creature with his own eyes, his grandmother’s stories flood back and he works quickly at finding a way to dispatch this monster. He fails at this but survives the encounter and the war. He then dedicates his entire life at tracking down The Master and his creations and riding the world of the Strain.
The Van Helsing motif in Setrakian was very well thought out, taking the old trope and making it more, giving it more life and substance. For me, Abraham really makes the show enjoyable, especially during flashback episodes that show Setrakian’s evolution.
Another interesting twist with tropes is the Renfield motif found in not just one character, but two, each with their own set of motives that feel very parallel to each other. The first is a human named Eldritch Palmer. While Renfield in the film and Bram Stroker book feels both pathetic and sympathetic, Palmer takes that notion to a different level. Due to his disabling sickness, whatever condition he seems to suffer from physically does not hinder the power of his will, his sheer determination to get whatever it is he wants. And what he wants most of all is to live. This desire seduces him in aligning with The Master and helping the Strain spread over New York. We feel bad for him, as we do with Renfield, for the kind of life he must have had, never knowing which breath would be his last, while at the same time we are appalled by his greed for life and uncaringness towards others. The second Renfield character is in the person of Thomas Eichhorst, played wonderfully by Richard Sammel. Eichhorst is, for lack of a better word, the Master’s right-hand man, but in reality, he’s more of a puppet than anything else and is in fact used quite literally as a puppet whenever the Master feels like “speaking” through him. But his character is more alluring for me than Palmer is. Palmer is just pathetic, especially in season 2. An old groveling to maintain his authority. Eichhorst has an interesting history that is connected with Setrakian, making the motivations for their rivalry very believable, and solidifying Eichhorst as a fan favorite baddy.
There are other characters in the show, a lot of hunters and community leaders, most do not necessarily correlate to classic Dracula trope. We could say that Dr. Ephraim Goodweather could be a close match to a Jonathan Harker motif. But Harker wasn’t really a well thought out character in the movie, perhaps more so in the book. There is one character though that needs mention. The part of Kelly Goodweather as a trope for Mina Harker. While the Master’s fascination with her still begs the question, her role is without a doubt very much Mina-like. When she is turned, she is used, more or less, as a tool to find her son, Zack Goodweather, and in turn to stop Eph and the merry band of vampire hunters. The Master’s interest in Kelly seems to only relate to his interest in stopping the good doctor, perhaps using Kelly and keeping her around just to taunt him.
Have you ever heard the statement, “There is nothing new under the sun?” It’s a saying from Hebrew scripture, Ecclesiastes 1:9. I’m often fond of saying it, especially when fellow writers pitch me their book or story idea and ask if it’s too much like another story. I’ve done the same as well, wondering if this “new idea” is too much like something else. Recently I published a short story with Matt Shaw is his release of Bah Humbug! An Anthology of Christmas Horror Stories. My story is called “Happiness U.S.A.,” and is “inspired” by a classic Twilight Zone episode titled “Garrity and the Graves.” The basic concept is a con artist that travels through an old west town and cons the town into thinking he can resurrect the dead. The catch is that the people in this old west town do not want their dearly departed returned to them, and so to put them “back in the grave” they have to pay Garrity more money. This is one of my favorite shows and one of my top favorite episodes. It’s both cheeky and disturbing, as many Twilight Zone episodes are. And I wanted to do my own take on Mr. Garrity and this old west town. But my version, my dusting off of the classic trope/motif was asking myself, what if Garrity wasn’t really a “con” artist per say, what if he could really bring back the dead. What kind of person or being could do something like that? An angel…or devil? So I took that concept and made my town of Happiness a small Texas oil town back in the mid-1970s. And the price the people of Happiness will have to pay will be much steeper than gold or silver.
This feels like a long way around to basically say, it’s okay to resurrect old trope, give them a good dusting, and retell the story in a new and exciting way. The Strain just so happens to be my favorite example and I wanted an excuse to talk about the show. I’ve started in on the novel the show is based on. There are some differences, but the meat and potatoes are pretty much the same. So if you need a recommendation, you’ve got it. Give this show and book a go. You will not be disappointed.
AND if you happen to be curious about that Christmas anthology I mentioned, follow the image below.
And if perhaps I can tempt you with one more book. I’ve got a new novel that released this week. Conceiving (Subdue Book 3). “…an evil [is] biding its time…waiting for them all,” Conceiving can be read as both a standalone or as part of the series. You can find out more about the book here. Or you can check it out on Amazon. Currently, the book is marked down to $0.99, but only for a limited time. Available for both kindle (or kindle apps) and on paperback.
Why the hell not? Everyone else seems to be putting together their lists of “best of’s” for 2015. Why not me? And besides, “its the first goddamn week of winter.” What better way to usher in the new year by reflecting on the old? And 2015 was certainly a year of boom and bust for movies, books, AND television. Mostly television (for me at least), as I moved away from my typically nightly catch-up to indulge instead on flicks, new and old. Most of which I had not previously seen. So…my list here will be generated from my own experiences and not necessarily a quote-unquote 2015 best of. These will be the “best of’s” of which I personally experienced. And, as suggested, this will also be a list of “busts” as well. The BEST of 2015 cannot exist without the WORST of 2015, for without the worse how can we define the best? Boom…meta… Anyhow. Lets get this end of year jam started, shall we? Also, note that I cannot discuss every single thing I’ve watched or read. The list would feel endless and I’d rather not bore you to tears here. This is meant to entertain as well as inform. So I’ll focus on my tops, and give you a few morsels from both best and worst. Okay?
Let’s kick this wagon off with the least watched medium, on my part. Television.
Best of 2015:
- South Park, without question this season (#19!!! if you can believe that!) is one of Trey and Parker’s best seasons…also their shortest with only ten or so episodes. But each episode is tailor made to fit within this larger story taking place. So, instead of a twenty or whatever season run, we get a longer, broken up movie. But not just that, we get the best in social commentary, from PC shenanigans to gun rights, Trump, and even Caitlyn Jenner, there’s a little bit of everything to offer for everyone.
- Gotham…while not technically over yet, and not typically horror, but certainly “dark fiction,” and we’re just at the mid-season final, still I have to say here how much fun it is to watch this show. I wasn’t a huge DC comic reader back in my childhood. I was more into Spawn and Marvel. But I did watch the hell out of some Batman: The Animated Series! And still to this day hold that particular show on the most highest pedestal. This is the second season for Gotham and the obvious focus this season has been on the “Rise of the Villains.” The star, I think, of this season is not the protagonist focus (Jim Gordon), but rather The Penguin, played by the very talented Robin Taylor. Not only is the show entertaining, but it is also unafraid to take risks, for there is no other group of people more willing to hate then the nerds.
- Ash vs. Evil Dead…disclaimer, I do not have cable. Nor am I typically willing to buy a season when I know good and gosh darn well that eventually it’ll release on Netflix or DVD for much cheaper. Honestly, with Ash, I’m having a hard time keeping to this rule. Though I have only watched the season opener, “El Jefe,” hot damn if this show doesn’t ring true to the original Evil Dead movies. Wow. I’m hoping to watch more of this and am tittering on just buying the damn season on demand, but so far it seems like Ash is his typically Army of Darkness self, but the mood of the show is less campy as Army was and more in pace with the actual Evil Dead cabin flicks.
- X-Files…say whatever you want about how old this show is and how it does not fit within a “best of 2015” bit, I do not care. With the upcoming resurgence of X-Files in 2016, I’ve been following (as best I can) with the Facebook X-files page who are doing a one episode a day thing till the return. And its been fun, to see fan made poster art for each episode and to revisit old haunts from my 1990s childhood. I’m currently on season 8 right now.
The so-so of 2015:
- Supernatural. I’ve been watching this show since day one and though I tend to think the longer a show airs the less punch it retains. It does surprise me how they keep going and come up with these “even badder” bad guys. This season its all about “The Darkness,” this entity that was around before God said, “Let there be light.” There is not much for me to complain about this time around. I’m glad to be done with the whole “mark of Cain” bit and back in the dynamic duo story. There’s still something missing, though. Typically, I was willing and ready to catch up on Hulu the day next, but for this season, I’m falling horribly behind.
- Hemlock Groove…man, this show was so awesome during season one. Season two was so-so…and here we are again. The story in this new and final season feels a tad more developed than season two, but still…I’m finding a hard time forcing myself to watch for watching sake.
- AHS: Freakshow… remember when I said I don’t have cable…? Well, I catch up on last seasons typically on Netflix or Hulu. You may also be surprised to find this show on my list of “so-so’s.” Well, truth be told, I actually enjoyed this season…but, I cannot forgive those musical numbers. Reading the synopsis, I was so ecstatic about a “freak show” season. The circus, as any fan of horror knows, is the roots of the macabre. You don’t go to the circus for the mundane, do you? NO! You go for the spectacle. And what better spectacle, both in truism and metaphor than the freak show? While I did enjoy the story and plot, despite some flattering moments, the reason for the casting away into the “hummock” pile, are the, as I said, musical numbers. I don’t mind musical numbers, mind you, what I don’t mind is the inclusion of modern music with a period piece. Freak Show was set in the late 1950s, right? Why the hell was crab boy singing Nirvana? Seriously! If you’re going to do a period piece, keep to the music of that era. It would have made the season sooooo much better… Ugh!
The BIG BUST of 2015:
- Sleepy Hollow…has bored me to tears… What the heck happened? Season one was soooooo good. I loved the concept. The retelling of the classic Ichabod Crane story was genius…and then Season Two came along, also promising, but then fell flat on its face. The story was so blundered, it felt like two different season endings. Don’t get me wrong. I like fast pace horror. But this made zero sense to me and the character motivations felts rushed and unbelievable. The aftertaste of season two has spoiled my keeping up with season 3 on Hulu. I may go back once its released on Netflix…maybe.
Moving on…cause if I don’t all be here all day! Next up are my favorite, the movies…
The BEST of’s:
- Krampus…yup… Of all the movies I went out to see in 2015, Krampus was one of the more entertaining ones…keeping to horror and dark science-fiction that is (sorry Star Wars!). My review for Krampus holds, both humorous and terrifying. But not just that, Krampus had a message for not just the holiday season, but for the yearlong. Krampus wants you to think about what you are spending your time with or on and to consider others than yourself.
- The Green Inferno…hell yes this movie made my “best of” list! It felt as if we were waiting forever to see this movie. The hype was a bit stretched for this one. And again, there’s a message with this movie about being intentional, but besides that, we get to watch a bunch of wannabe “save the forest” types get picked apart like a leftover Thanksgiving sandwich by the very people they were trying to “save.”
- Insidious Chapter 3. First off…get over yourself. Yes, I watched this movie…IN THEATERS!!! and…I LIKED IT!!! Sure, this isn’t the creme de la creme of horror movies. It was still entertaining as hell and fun to just unplug and watch. There was also character exploration and mourning and loss of loved ones. More going on then you’d probably expect. Plus, as any jump scare horror flick, the movie had a very lasting and satisfying sense of dread. Listen. I’m getting the feeling that horror is turning into one of of things, like wine drinkers or better yet, beers drinkers. Some people will only drink craft beer, and even still some will only drink a certain kind of craft beer. Others like pilsners, like Miller or Bud. And there are some who like both. The same, I think, could be said of horror. Some are, for lack of a better word, snobs when it comes to the lower end flicks, while others will drink anything sat in front of them, especially if its cheap or free. I like I’m more of a moderate. I enjoy craft beers, but would rather spend the night with a lower costs pilsner.
- The Omen (1976). And yes, I know this is a list of “best of’s 2015,” but so you remember when I said this would also be a list of my “first of’s” experiences for 2015 too? Well, now you know. As surprising as it may be, this was my first screening of the original Omen. I had for whatever reason thought the movie would be boring and drawn out, and certainly there were moments of just that, but the movie itself was fantastically grim and haunting. There’s something about these demonic stories that get under my skin! I think when the Nanny (Mrs. Baylock) bumps off mommy Throm in her hospital bed, it is a very chilling scene.
There are so many more “first of’s” for me to list, but again…I’m trying to keep this shortish!
The so-so’s of 2015:
- It Follows. While not entirely bad as some have come to review this flick, it certainly had a kind of hipster-esk vibe going on. The opening for the flick was haunting, but throughout the remainder of the film it kind of fell flat. Obvious commentaries of sex and adolescence. A few splashes of genuine horror, but otherwise…uh, whatever…you know? The hype for this movie was crazy. Only released to a few theaters and then a few more. I had to drive almost into downtown Houston just to watch this damn thing. On the other hand, sometimes its fun to get caught up in the hype, especially over a horror movie. Sure, we’re often disappointed in the end, but the ride to disappointment is enjoyable…right?
- Crimson Peak, while again, a fantastic and beautifully done movie, is (story wise) completely predictable. I went to see Crimson shortly after watching Inferno. It was nice to get back to a classic gothic story with superb acting, my favorite being Jim Beaver. The ghosts were haunting, but could have had more punch. In the end, the people were the ones you had to watch out for…which in itself if you think about it is kinda a nice change of pace. What soiled the movie for me was the very predictable story. I like to be entertained. My standards are not that high. But the one thing that will ruin a movie for me is predictability. Some predictability is okay, as is the ole Jewish saying, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Most of everything has already been done a few times over, but yet, as a writer, there’s a certain skill one must learn in keeping old motifs fresh and interesting. There has to be a surprise and there were no surprises in Crimson Peak.
- Late Phases, while technically a 2014 flick, this was a first screening for me in 2015. The movie had a lot going for it. Low budget. Choice actors. Great setting and mood. There was just something lacking with this return to werewolf classic. Most of which had to do with the practical effects. While my hat goes to the director and producers of the film for making that decision when it would have cost them less to go CGI, still… On one hand, the transformation scenes are actually quite good…but when we get a good look at the wolf…it looks absolutely campy. Had this been a horror comedy, sure okay. But no, this was a rather serious flick.
The BIG BUST of 2015:
- Deliver Us from Evil, man…I had some high hopes for this flick. I watched this one earlier in 2015. I think I rented it on Redbox or something. Jeez. Wish I would get my $1.50 back! This movie stunk to high heaven. What pisses me off most about this flick is how great the set up is. Soldiers discover or awaken something ancient and evil in Iraq and bring it home with them, but then the plot de-evolves into The Ralph Sarchie Show. Give me a break dude! Radar…jesus… To be fair, there were some horror-tastic moments. But I just couldn’t get past this dudes ego. It ruined the movie for me.
I have a feeling there are more “busts,” but for now, lets just keep it at one.
Next up. Last but not least, the books of 2015!
Best of 2015:
- Christine (1983). As one of many King books I read this past year, Christine was one of my favorites. It was short and sweet and had such a colorful cast of not just characters, but also of the town and music and mood. Man, it was a total time portal. The ride was very entertaining. And albeit tragic when it finally came to an end.
- The Stand (uncut). I was just going to list one King book, but it would be dishonest for me not to list The Stand (uncut). This book is so epic and vivid and realistic. There’s a lot to digest in this book and too many things to mention to keep my own modest post.
- Salvage, this was a indie book by a fantastic writer buddy of mine, but don’t let our friendship fool you, this book is freaking haunting and a fantastic use of the classic paranormal tale to talk about some rather difficult subjects, namely depression and the death of loved ones. and probably more importantly, facing our pasts.
- The Colour Out of Space, while technically a short story and not a book, still a amazing read. In 2015, I felt compelled toward the classics I’d ignored in my youth. A lot of these “classics” included a return to H.P. Lovecraft. Personally, in my own craft, I feel this resurgence to the fear of the cosmos, the unknowing and uncertainty of the future played in these grim little tales of madness and creatures from another dimension.
- And in the Endless Pause, There Comes the Sound of Bees is my first story with Mr. Jeffery X. his style is entertaining with a dash of literary prose. He is clearly not afraid with being cheeky nor is he afraid to go places most people wouldn’t even think about. Mr. X told me once he writes from what he dreams, and with this short tasty treat, I do not doubt that. It is a fantastic mythos created from the most mundane of life, the mobile community. Inside that mobile home, Mr. X explores themes of density and cultural dispositions. This short is included in The Black Room Manuscripts, released earlier this past summer.
And there are a ton more, mostly King…sorry and a few Clive’s.
Honorable mentions for best of 2015, mostly because I just started them in December, or because they are not technically out yet.
- Hunting Witches. The first story I read from Mr. Jeffery X, as mentioned above, was his fantastically strange bit in The Black Room Manuscripts, “And in the Endless Pause. There Comes the Sound of Bees.” Having such a long title itself is quite cheeky, but also creating a mythos from a mobile home community into a somewhat insectoid like culture is very very cheeky, and I love that. I had the pleasure of reading Hunting Witches as a beta. I feel honored Mr. X trusts me with his story in its most raw form. From what I saw, I’m absolutely looking forward to seeing the final product.
- Pale Highway. Nic Conley is a great guy and has read a lot of my own work. I’m happy to finally get the chance to read some of his. This is his second book, but it seems (even though I’ve just read thru chapter one thus far) this story is more personal for him.
And the so-so’s of 2015:
- Koko…jesus, will I ever make it thru this damn book? Maybe… Koko is not horrible, at all. In fact, the book is rather fantastic, its just so slowly paced, its really hard to keep reading. Most of the time it takes a backseat in place of some other more proactive story. Which is sad, cause I really want to read this one…some day.
- The Great and Secret Show. Okay, i’m taking a risk here from being clubbed to death by my fellow horror readers and writers. As this epic novel from Clive is said to be one of his best. Personally, I’m having the same issue as with Koko, its just too damn slow to keep my attention. It is beautifully written and the mythos Barker is creating is amazing…I just can’t keep it in my hands long enough to get thru it. Sorry guys!
And the BIG BUST for 2015:
- I’ve got nothing. Seriously. I’m trying to think of one. There were a few indie’s that, while maybe fitting into the “so-so” category, were certainly not a “bust.” There were certainly a few “so-so’s” from the bigger, well known names too. And to be honest, if a book is really that bad, I’m not going to force myself to read it.
And there you have it folks. My list for best and bust for 2015. Thus far, the year has been fantastic, both in the movie realm and also in the literary world. While for the “blockbuster” names I’ve kinda regressed into the older books I missed in my youth, most if not all of the new horror is coming from new and mostly (and sadly) unknown authors. New kids on the block willing to take risks with their work. To talk about uncomfortable things and an eagerness to contribute something of worth to the literary world. I have a feeling 2016 will hold many wonderful new works!
Is it just me, or does it seem like nerds have completely taken over everything worth watching? Don’t get me wrong, I am a nerd, and — as one of my favorite drive-thru commercials often says — “I’m lov’in it.” No complaint here. Its just strikingly odd to find such a concentrated pooling of nerd based entertainment in a incredibly bottle necked period of time. Lets count the cost. Marvel is dominating theaters. DC is smoldering television. And horror in general has made a lot of strides since the decade of reboots (the early 2000’s) in both theaters and television. It is truly an amazing time for nerds. Sure, there have been some misses. But there have also been a lot of hits. And it feels as if our movies and shows are picking up traction and getting better and better as the decade moves along. Yes. This era of nerdom will pass, sadly. Trends come and go on the evening tide. However, the time for mourning has not yet come. Instead, we should be celebrating the advancement of these amazing nerdy forms of entertainment.
If you have not yet partaken in the nerdness, no judgments my friend. Though I do feel a little sad for you. If you’re looking for a solid base to jump into the fray, considering any of the following movies and television shows! You will not be disappointed.
Iron Man (2008): If you’re going to start anywhere, Iron Man would be a good option. Back in 2008, Iron Man was one of the first “good” superhero movies that teed up the Marvel line up quite nicely.
Avengers (2012): If can skip all the individual movies, the set up for the mother of all nerd movies; however, I do require that you at least watch Captain America: The First Avenger before watching The Avengers. You can skip Thor and Iron Man 2 if you want.
Captain America: Winter Solider (2013): Okay. So maybe flicks like The Avengers are a little too crowded for your tastes. Or perhaps its a bit too nerdy and comic bookish. Again, no judgments. If The Avengers isn’t cutting it, try Winter Solider. This last Capt America movie was by far one of the best Marvel movies yet. That’s right…even better than Guardians of the Galaxy (Judge away nerds!). It was old school espionage, giving a nod to both the Cold War era action movies and toward the comic. I loved the first Capt flick cause I’m a sucker for period pieces, but Winter Solider was just so damn good, especially during an era when we’re just now looking back and analyzing the post 9/11, post Patriot Act world.
Gotham (Fox television): DC may be getting creamed in the theaters, but damn if they’re not dominating cable television!! In an area where Marvel seems to be stumbling hard, DC has done nothing but pick up momentum since Arrow aired a few years back. Now we’ve got the Flash, Arrow, Constantine (my person favorite, thus far), and Gotham. And some nerds are protesting this new re-telling of Gotham origins; however, I am not one of those critics. I love the show, especially since I was never a hardcore reader of Batman growing up. The show gives assuming and nostalgic easter eggs while still maintaining a well thought out story. The Flash is a little campy, but watchable. The Arrow has been hard core since the start. And Constantine, as I said above, is one of my favorites because its the more gritty side of DC. An amazing combination of horror and comic. Gotham is worth the watch, if anything, to at least see a new origin take on Oswald Cobblepot, my favorite DC villain, second only to Killer Croc.
And there are many more, of course, not mentioned here in this article. Supernatural has made a strong come back from last season’s snorefest. American Horror Story is still one of the best horror anthologies ever to grace television boxes. Sleepy Hallow comes and goes, depending on the episode, definitely worth checking out on Hulu at least, or wait for the inevitable Netflix release. And The Walking Dead has also made a triumphet return, much to the joy and satisfaction of zombie nerds everywhere. Personally, I feel as if I’ve never had such a hard time keeping up with shows as I used too. Either way, I hope the trend lasts and continues to grow.
What are some of your favorite nerdy shows to come out? Or are you still waiting for yours to make an appearance?
Not to sound like the old guy in the room, but Saturday morning cartoons just aren’t the same anymore. In fact, Saturday morning cartoons seem to be nonexistent. Sure, there are some originals, like Rick and Morty and Adventure Time, but for the most part kids nowadays are being feed a refried equivalent to what my generation watched back in the 80’s and 90’s. Marvel based cartoons (Avengers, Hulk, X-men), thanks to the recent surge of super hero movies during the 2010’s, have found themselves gaining rating with the younger generation. DC’s Young Justice League seems to be rather popular these days. There is even going to be a new take on Batman, called Son of Batman, though I doubt it’ll have the same luster as the original animated series. And sweet baby Jesus, even My Little Pony has made a (some what disturbing) come back! My favorite Saturday morning cartoon, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been revamped and are as popular as ever, there is even a Micheal Bay live action adaptation coming out. And will we see the evil cogs being manipulated by the brain-ish blubbering Krang? No, I seriously doubt he’ll make an appearance. Why?
While today’s cartoons may mimic the ones from our Saturday morning heyday, they are however not the same. It seems like cartoons, or at least the cartoons I enjoyed, back in the 80’s and especially the 90’s were darker, grittier. Not because these pre-HD days, but because the writers and producers seem more willing to take risks and weren’t afraid to show audiences something disturbing. Looking back on it now, even cartoons as far removed from what’s consider traditional horror, would sometimes introduce new character origin stories or plot arcs that involved something tiptoeing the verge of gruesome. Consider the following Terrifying Moments in Cartoon History and tell me if kids are still getting the same cartoons as we did:
1. Clayface (Batman: The Animated Series)
Even now, I can still remember how Batman: The Animated Series was the sole Saturday morning cartoon I looked forward to the most. but when I watched the washed up has-been actor Basil Karlo jumped by a bunch of shadowy gangsters who poured a tub of experimental, addictive cosmetic (which applied in small doses, allowed Karlo to hide his scars) over his gurgling face, I was a bit surprised and applauded this daring take on a iconic comic villain. I’m not sure what was more intense, watching Karlo near choke to death or that he was an absolute sympathetic character who wasn’t really a complete “bad-guy.” He was just a guy who made not so great choices and went through something horrible. This is what made the Batman of the 90’s so darn good. Not all villains are caricatures, sometimes they are people who rationalize their own reasons for doing the things they do.
2. Baxter Stockman (TMNT)
TMNT had a few questionable character creations (Bebop & Rocksteady), but Dr. Stockman takes the cake. This was a Saturday morning kids cartoon that gave a nod to Goldblum’s 1986 eccentric scientist who’s experiment does terribly wrong (watch, The Fly, if you have no idea what i’m talking about…go, now, watch). A CHILDREN’S CARTOON MIND YOU!! No judgments, but damn… could you imagine if some PTA crazed soccer mom saw this reference…and actually understood that Baxter was totally Seth Brundle?!?
3. Man-Spider (Spider-man, 1994 Fox Animated Series)
Spider-man was another Fox Saturday morning animated line up that I enjoyed as an adolescent. It was fun with lots of action and plenty of villains for Peter Parker to fend off. Until the morning when Peter became the monster and transformed into this cuddle bug. The story followed a “what-if” scenario that’s actually part of the larger Spider-man comic universe where the bite that gave Parker his abilities continued to change him.
4. Ghash (The Real Ghostbusters, 1986)
Believe it or not, the Real Ghostbusters animated cartoon used to be widely popular. And for a cartoon based on a comedy about a business that catches and contains ghosts, we should expect some aspect of macabre. However, the episode Slimer, Come Home was a little bit darker than what my six year old self anticipated. I can still remember the howling growl of Ghash, calling the other poltergeists to him, “Come to me.” There was just something about the mouth on the stomach and the bubbling skin that kept me from eating pizza for at least week.
5. Morph (X-men Animated Series, 90’s)
Nothing was more exciting than getting to watch the X-Men on Saturday mornings. But… in the first few episodes fans were introduced to some rather complex and disturbing content. The death of Morph is a moment in animated history I will not soon forget. Everything seemed to be going right. The mutant crew were giving as good as they got from the Sentinels, but Wolverines screams of anguish for the loss of his friend burrowed deep in my memory; his loss was our loss.
I think it goes without saying, they don’t make em’ like they used to!
What are some of your favorite terrifying cartoon moments? Leave them below in the comments section!
Douglas Petrie, writer and co-executive producer of American Horror Story, recently announced the setting for the upcoming season 4. This time audiences will be transported in a 1950’s era carnival. And fans have been surging approval all week. As a fan of AHS myself, how can we not get excited about this new setting? 1950’s carnies? Yes, please! This reported setting ekes everything traditional where horror is concerned. Horror is rooted in the mystique of the carnival, from the days of Lon Chaney, Tod Browning, and Irving Thalberg. But even for non horror historians, folks will enjoy the twisted nature of the grandfather of theme-parks. This fall we’ll find “who will dare to face the challenge of the Funhouse? [And] who is mad enough to enter that world of darkness? How about you, sir…?” (The Funhouse, 1981).
The popularity of American Horror Story is interesting. Horror has always festered in the hearts of those depraved enough to look, but AHS has a wider base audience that doesn’t fit the typical horror fan scheme. The same was said regarding Frank Darabont’s take on The Walking Dead; however, rating and audience approval has been a roller coaster ride all its own, with downs in the opening of a new season, and ups midway through the second half, while AHS has enjoyed a rather steady climb, growing a wider fan base with each season. Why is that?
Perhaps using The Walking Dead as a comparison isn’t exactly fare. Getting zombies on a continuing television show is a transformative process, especially a Romero influenced zombie story. Truth be told, how many episodes can you really do before you know everything there is to know about the characters involved? How much longer can this story of this set of particular characters go on? On the other hand, audiences (despite disapproval) feel invested in these character stories and will sit down every Sunday night (or Monday afternoon, if you watch online) season after season just to see what happens next. OR…The Walking Dead could take a cue out of American Horror Story’s play book. Dedicate an entire season to just one cast of characters and their story. Producers could make the seasons a tad bit longer, but that’s it. One season, done.
You may or may not agree with the above formula. But hey, its working for American Horror Story. And why, you may be asking? Because its an old new take on how the cogs of horror operate. Long drawn out and reoccurring seasons on the same set of characters will kill a horror story quicker than the FCC. Consider Tales from the Crypt, a near decade run horror anthology (1989-96) that demanded absolutely zero audience dedication, because each show was a single story all its own, and yet people still tuned in to hear the Crypt Keeper’s hilarious chuckal and corny one liners. And before the Crypt, we had Tales from the Darkside, created by George Night of the Living Dead Romero himself, which ran from 1983 til 88′. And before Darkside, during the 70’s we had Rod Serling’s Night Gallery (1970-73) based on some of the early work being done by Stephen King. And before that was audiences enjoyed The Twilight Zone (1959-64), with its incredible cast of writers, which included alums of macabre Alfred Hitchcock and Ray Bradbury. Anthologies work! Its a proven 55 year old formula! The only difference now is that American Horror Story has taken said formula and turned it into a single season turn around, instead of a single episode turn around. And this gives us the best of both worlds. We can become invested in characters without feeling stuck with them until the show comes to its inevitable end.
And that’s the rub, right? I think most of us have a tendency of kidding ourselves by thinking our beloved shows will end. And there are those who still feel the sting of watching an amazing show never reach its desired conclusion (cough cough, Firefly, cough) before being canceled. Perhaps the future of television will focus on crafting seasons the way American Horror Story does. Sure, it might not work for most shows, especially shows soiled in drama who keep audiences coming back by drastically killing off major characters (no matter how beloved) each and every end of a season, and despite how much you hate the writers for it, you still come back dammit! But for horror and science fiction, the anthology platform works and can actually improve both the story and ratings. What are your thoughts on the old new? Leave them in the comments box below!
Good science fiction stories will reach its audience at every level possible. What began as short story collections, beginning in the 1950’s, how sci fi entertains has spawned into something greater. From video games to 3D IMAX theaters, the evolution of our modern technological marvels has given these science fiction stories the ability to reach audiences in ways never though possible. With humble beginnings, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), The Thing from Another World (1951), Invaders from Mars (1953), Forbidden Planet (1956) and many more terrified and captured the imagination of adolescent baby boomers and addressed some of the cultural attitudes and fears of the day. And since then, sci fi has only grown more elaborate and celebrated.
As stated above, good science fiction reaches audiences in many ways. Some people dig the cool special effects. What began as puppetry has evolved into CGI created wonders, some good, some amazing, and to be honest, some down right horrifying! And there’s also the story itself, the characters and the things that drive the plot to final conclusion. Some come at you, some of slow cookers, and other can be as mind boggling as the special effects. And then there’s the music. However, what began just from simple beginnings with orchestras has evolved into full fledged techno symposiums. Some on the best science fiction has come with even more remarkable scores. Consider the following list of amazing sci fi soundtracks:
1. Mass Effect
You may have read this already, but Mass Effect, despite its more recent story setback with # 3, has one of the best soundtracks for a sci fi video game I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening. This simple techno score transports my minds eye to somewhere in the distant future, which is of course, the entire point of science fiction in the first place!
2. Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Besides already packing an impressive conspiratorial cyberpunk story line, Deus Ex also gives us an amazing score to boot.
3. Half Life 2
Half Life’s “Hazardous Environments” score is synopsis with the entire Valve production company. Regardless, its still an awesome score, especially in its above entirety.
Did you think I wasn’t going to mention Halo in a list composed of mostly video games? Yes, as we all know or should know, Halo has one of the more memorable soundtracks, combining a mix of techno with Gregorian chant and is one of the more guaranteed songs to be featured @ a Video Games Live concert.
Okay, to be honest, I never stepped into the massive sandbox world of EvE; however, for a game i’ve never played, it has one of the most hypnotic scores to grace my nerd ears. Almost on par with Mass Effect and that is most definitely saying something!
6. Almost Human
It might be strange to list one none video game score amongst a sea of video game soundtracks, but Almost Human has, at the moment, the best sci fi score out there. It may be unfair, as the composition comes from the collaborative genius of The Crystal Method. But be-that-as-it-may, the final credits score captures the very essence of modern science fiction so well and so perfectly, how could I not mention it? If I was to have a sci fi wet dream, this is the music i’d want to hear 24/7. Its not crazy get up and dance like retards techno, its moody techno, and it fits me perfectly!
What are some of your favorite science fiction scores? Leave your thoughts in the comments box below!
AMC and the Walking Dead Spin Off: some quick thoughts regarding the angry internet nerd overreaction
It seems to be official now: AMC and the undead minds behind the Walking Dead comic book series are in talks over a Walking Dead companion show spin off, with a brand new cast of characters and locations. And when I say brand new, I mean these guys have not even been established in the comic book world. The zombie apocalypse isn’t isolated, its a huge universe with plenty of potential stories to be harvested. An actual companion story arch might be refreshing, giving us the “bigger” picture of a world gone awry. Though, be it as it may, nerds and fans of the still airing Walking Dead have begun to complain.
We’ve all got our opinions regarding what’s best for horror and the zombie culture, but are you (angry interest nerds) seriously complaining about getting more of what you love? One commentator snickered something about AMC being greedy and wanting to capitalize on a popular show. To this, I would simple say: “Are you nuts? You’re talking about a television network here, of course they’re concerned about capitol. But I’d argue, friend, that the folks over at AMC are not dumb. Walking Dead is hot right now, zombies are hot right now. This should be good news for zombie fans across the board. How many other TV spin offs have gone on to be actually better than the original? Lots. Seriously, if a bunch of geeky forensic nerds can get three companion shows, why can’t the Walking Dead get at least one? This should be a no-brainer, you igit!”
Okay, perhaps i’m being a little harsh, but my patience with angry internet nerds can be sometimes tested, especially considering how awesome this news should be and how these guys have already written it off. Come on folks! And its not as if the creative minds behind the original aren’t going to be behind this one; the twisted folks who’ve been writing these stories in the comic universe for over a decade are still in the drivers seat. Check out the office announcement from Daily Dead here:
“AMC announced today that the network is in the initial stages of developing a companion series to its original drama series The Walking Dead, which premiered on AMC in October of 2010. The Walking Dead is currently the #1 show on television among adults 18-49. Robert Kirkman, Gale Anne Hurd and David Alpert are on board as executive producers, with AMC Studios set to produce. The companion series has a target on-air date of 2015.”
Hopefully as more news regarding the spin off are released, more fans of horror will step up and defend whats going on. I’d personally enjoy seeing more Walking Dead, especially from a brand spanking new perspective. Until then, lets demonstrate some patience and see what happens, without resorting to biased opinions.
News just broke over at Screen Rant regarding the BBC release of the most anticipated new season of Doctor Who. Hope you weren’t expecting to find new episodes anytime soon, as, according to Steven Moffat, the shows forerunner: “Doctor Who may not be quite the force it was when it returned with Christopher Eccleston and in its David Tennant.” I’m not sure what’s going on over the pond, but here in the U.S., Who has never been as popular as it is today, especially following the announcement of a new reincarnation. Why not capitalize while the iron is still hot? Well, again according to an interview between Moffat and The Guardian: “[Doctor Who] will not return… until the autumn, giving [the show] plenty of time to recharge [its] batteries. And what better way to do that than with a new Doctor?”
Personally, i’m on the fence with Moffat’s obviously upsetting announcement. Hey dude, this is America, we hate waiting for our shows! But then again, maybe Moffat’s got a point. The jump from Tennant to Smith seemed discombobulated and rushed. It took half a season just for me just to get used to the new Doctor. While in time, I did grow to love Smith’s dapper style, perhaps giving some time with the new transition could make things better. While sure, we hate waiting, especially knowing there’s a new personalization to discover, but sometimes waiting can make the heart grow fonder. I know patience isn’t a word nerds like to hear, but it should be something we’re used to. Look how long we’ve had to wait for descent movie adaptations of our favorite comic book heroes. And some of us are still waiting!
A year long wait, while not ideal, will give more time for the writers to come up with some really good episodes. Numerically, twelve sounds like an important number and with the new Doctor being played by an older seasoned actor (Capaldi, 55), big things have to be in-store…have to be! And the wait will definitely be painful. But while i’ve enjoyed Smith’s youthful adventuresome “clever boy,” an older take on Who will seem more believable for those deeper introspective tales of time-travel.
So, until 2014, relish the upcoming 50th Anniversary Special airing on November 23, 2013 and the Smith concluding Christmas episode in December, its going to be a long wait.