Wes Craven’s 1994 New Nightmare was a movie ahead of its times. In that I mean, the way the story was told, the significance of something we make-believe into being real (knowing it is actually fictional) and having it given back to us as this make-believe thing made real by our own imagination. That was kind of the genius of Craven’s New Nightmare. Freddy wasn’t real, but we pretended he was, as we do with all characters we watch on the big screen, small screen, or even in print, and yes even the horrorish ones. New Nightmare played on that, trapping the imaginative character Freddy in the make-believe world until the “movies” ended and thus releasing the bonds that kept imagination captive. Suddenly Freddy is real because WE made him real. Very clever, if you sit for a spell and think about it. Unfortunately, much like Jason Goes to Hell, audiences, and fans of the Nightmare on Elm Street series were expecting…well…what they have been accustomed to and not this metaphysical metaphor of fantasy meets reality through a sort of cognitive mythological construct. Not all movies fall prey to being ahead of their time. Take 2011’s Cabin in the Woods as a perfect example of the right kind of out of the box thinking movie coming out at the right moment in our social environment, which is to say at the very least uncertain.
Cabin in the Woods
By: Jeremy Flagg
I was raised on 80’s slasher films. Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween filled my nights, and as an adolescent, they may have altered my childhood. However, these classic horror films provided ample education. I learned at an early age, you never separate from your friends, you never skinny dip, you never get drunk, and by all means, never lose your virginity in a sketchy locale. While a multitude of movies have attempted to recreate these classic tactics of terror, few have ever lived up to the original.
In walk Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard with Cabin in the Woods.
Horror movies have a recipe. With an ample suspension of disbelief, a movie builds tension, redirects our fear, and then in a moment of complacency, it scares. This recipe is repeated with variation for a little over an hour and somehow, at the end, our “final girl” perseveres by eliminating the big bad. We are put again into suspense as the credits end and claws emerge, or a hand rises from the grave, or a mask is picked up. There is a formula we’ve grown comfortable with, when it is tampered with, we get uneasy. However, Cabin in the Woods examines this formula, uses it, stomps on it, laughs at it, uses it again, and at the end, we’re left blinking in an entertained disbelief.
It starts with scientists talking about child safety cabinets and how only they and Japan remain viable options. What? Isn’t Cabin in the Woods a movie about a group of people going on a mini vacation to a vacant cabin in the middle of the, well, woods? Cue title scene and then onto the movie we expect. A fun flirty vibe, filled with sunshine, dreams and the need for relaxation. We have all the expected character tropes necessary to make a mediocre horror film; the jock, the overachiever, the stoner, the sexy girl and the kind of nice guy who we instantly forget is in the movie. Everything about this post screams “middle of the road.” Or does it?
True to form, we’re ten minutes into the film and the group of soon to be killed young adults have met the old man who gives foreboding advice. However, in every scene, we see a hint of something. A man following them reports to his superiors. The old man makes a phone call asking for approval. A flying eagle crashes into an unseen wall. A room in the cabin holds a one-way mirror. There is a horror movie laid on top of something, perhaps a conspiracy? We’re barely into the movie and we already know we’re being played with and it’s not being subtle. Are we seeing hints of a twist? It must be a twist because goodness knows every movie has to have an obnoxious twist at the end. That’s how horror is done.
As the screen zooms out, we realize the scientists are watching the five young adults. Wait, that’s not how horror goes? These goons are watching them, luring them into this horrific situation. Lowering inhibitions with chemicals and increasing their libido, we have no idea to what end, but we know they’re setting them up for disaster. It’s only made more comical as they take bets on how the group will die. We have no idea why this is happening, but we know that the scientists can only lead them to a dangerous situation. The group must begin the catalyst that will set them up for death.
Now let’s recap, cause from here on out something serious changes in this movie. We know it’s a horror movie. We know the scientists are setting the scene for this horror movie. We know death is coming, but we’re still not entirely sure why. As they are led to the basement where a variety of talismans and treasures are stored, we discover they will choose their fate. Zombie redneck tortured family. Meanwhile, a similar fate is befalling a group of Japanese school children, a scenario competing with our movie for victims.
The movie adds a new element, horror movie as a spectator sport. However, the darker, and even more genius aspect is that we, the viewer are part of the movie. Much like the scientists watching their hidden cameras, we are rooting for the body count to begin. As danger looms on the horizon, we are hoping for a massacre. We want those partaking in dangerous activities such as drinking, drugs, or sex to fall victim to the classic horror deaths. And when the sex kitten is about to pull off her blouse, we want her to die. Then she resists and plays coy and we, along with a room full of watching spectators groan. Then science jumps in, releasing a pheromone mist.
Wait, does this potentially explain why in every horror movie stupid stuff happens? Were deranged scientists aiding Jason and those campers were all just victims of a mastermind game player? Did chemicals being pumped into the bedrooms of teenagers bring on Freddy as a hallucination? I’m left pondering if everything I’ve been told is a lie. But wait, I’ll worry about that later, because redneck zombies are about to start killing people. Did I just cheer? Maybe.
!!! Spoilers Below !!!
As redneck pain-loving zombies achieve their first kill (a girl about to get her groove on) we’re introduced to a new piece of the puzzle. Somehow, the scientists are culling the blood of the victims in some sort of ceremonial effort. Our next clue comes from the drug-addled hippy that is so used to altering his mind, the chemicals created by the scientists do little to affect him. Cue more classic death scenes, often times paired with comedic lines from the viewers in the bunker of scientists. When the victims refuse to split up, scientists manipulate the scene forcing the classic tropes to align to their 80’s horror counterpart.
Cabin in the Wood teaches us that a healthy addiction to Weed can save us in a horror movie.
The movie gets, even more, meta as the remaining two survivors find themselves in an elevator going down into the bunker hidden beneath the cabin. Locked in cages, we see a variety of classic horror monsters. Werewolves, giant bat things, even a unicorn are kept in cages, waiting to be called upon to slay the innocent. As the fool, our high-as-a-kite unlikely hero and the virgin unleash havoc on the underground bunker, releasing hordes of b-rate horror atrocities, we find ourselves cheering on the death yet again. We’re not quite right in the head.
As the final showdown begins, we’re not given a Final Girl showdown of immense proportions. Sigourney Weaver says that if the heroes live, they will destroy the world. The heroes, the ones we’ve been rooting for, either die, or we all die. I’m not sure if I’m annoyed or I commend them as they decide to live, thereby destroying the world. But, you know, it happens.
The snappy dialogue mixed with this meta look at horror creates something entirely new to the genre. We find ourselves cheering on the heroes, only to condemn them, and wanting more mayhem. We learn quickly that we, the viewers of this disaster, are really quite twisted. Most of all, we’re really excited that we got to watch a unicorn slaughter a man. At the start of the review, you had no idea a unicorn would be whom we cheered on. Cause you know, it’s a horror movie.
Jeremy Flagg is no stranger to Machine Mean, having reviewed for us Final Girls during our Freight Fest series, he also is the author of the CHILDREN OF NOSTRADAMUS dystopian science fiction series and SUBURBAN ZOMBIE HIGH young adult humor/horror series. Taking his love of pop culture and comic books, he focuses on fast paced, action packed novels with complex characters and contemporary themes. For more information about Jeremy, visit www.remyflagg.com.
Order Morning Sun on Amazon for $0.99!!!
April 13, 2017 | Categories: Horror, Movies, Reviews | Tags: Anna Hutchison, black comedy, Bradley Whitford, Chris Hemsworth, Creature Feature, creature features, Creature Features in Review, dark humor, Drew Goddard, experimental metafiction, film, Fran Kranz, Guest author, Horror, Jeremy Flagg, Jesse Williams, Joss Whedon, Kristen Connolly, meta, Metaphysical, monster, monster movies, movie review, movie reviews, Movies, Reviews, Richard Jenkins, Satire, Sigourney Weaver, Tom Lenk | 12 Comments
Before I dive into this review, I had to brew myself a fresh cup of joe, to put myself in tune, hopefully, with the ways of Nicholas Conley. The ground bean vapors, I pray, will act as my spiritual guide in writing this review. I’m not sure how many of you know who Nicholas Conley is, but for those who don’t let me say, if I may, how fantastic of a guy he really is. and not just because how you might find his name on the back of my first novel, Reinheit, but also because of his charm towards all walks of life. Nicholas is an adventurer, both in the literary world and in the literal world around us. He is a fan of science fiction, comic books, and horror movies. His new novel, Pale Highway (of which I will be reviewing here) was based in large of his experiences with Alzheimer’s patients while working at a nursing home.
Before we begin, here’s the blurb provided on the back of the book to give you a somewhat general idea of what Pale Highway is about:
“Gabriel Schist is spending his remaining years at Bright New Day, a nursing home. He once won the Nobel Prize for inventing a vaccine for AIDS. But now, he has Alzheimer’s, and his mind is slowly slipping away.
When one of the residents comes down with a horrific virus, Gabriel realizes that he is the only one who can find a cure. Encouraged by Victor, an odd stranger, he convinces the administrator to allow him to study the virus. Soon, reality begins to shift, and Gabriel’s hallucinations interfere with his work.
As the death count mounts, Gabriel is in a race against the clock and his own mind. Can he find a cure before his brain deteriorates past the point of no return?”
So there you have it, the general premise of things to come.
Nicholas Conley’s Pale Highway is a fantastic read in a brand I typically do not indulge in, yet somehow, through his characterization and prose, in the guise of Gabriel Schist, Nicholas was able to hold me spellbound all the way to the completion of the story. When I say, “not my typical brand,” this is true, I typically do not read disaster, world plague type books (well, except for perhaps Stephen King’s The Stand). Nothing personal to the sub-genre, but it has been my experience, for the most part, those kinds of books typically skim over character development in lieu for action sequences, and too often (sadly) hateful rhetoric and needless doomsday-isms. LET ME BE VERY CLEAR AT THIS JUNCTION, Pale Highway does none of those things. In fact, the “plague” acted as nothing more than to keep the momentum of the story, to keep motivations rolling towards its ultimate conclusion. The real story is in the tired, tragic life of one Gabriel Schist. In that story, we find so much more than the arc of one man’s life, we also find perhaps a “highway,” if you will, pointing us toward deeper, more meaningful questions, not about what we’ll wear this weekend on a date, but rather, questions of what we’re doing with our lives, how we’re treating those we love and strangers alike, who we are spending time with. In the immortal words of Henry David Thoreau, “It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”
The prologue puts us a little bit into the future, giving the reader a small glimpse of things to come. A Black Virus has swept into the halls of Bright New Day and into the lap of one Gabriel Schist, a Nobel Prize winning genius/scientist suffering with Alzheimer’s, who, somehow, is supposed to stop the epidemic. From here, we know the score. Something bad is on the way, and given Mr. Schist’s cognitive condition, the odds are not in his favor, but instead of playing up some sort of blockbuster-ish global terrorism BS as so many other biological Armageddon books typically do, no, from here we move into the lives of the people residing in the beds of Bright New Day, a nursing home along the coast of New Hampshire. And we also get to experience, if only marginally yet beautifully written, how it is to live in a nursing home, how it is to have your basic cognitive functions slowly slip away. You can tell right away, this story was written from experience, and I suspect that the character known as Harry could possibly be a mirror of Nicholas himself.
Be-that-as-it-may, one of the finer qualities of the book was how Nicholas carefully walked the reader through Gabriel’s life. We get to see, inch by painful inch, his story unfold, from the lows to the highs, so much so that certain elements are so systematically revealed, there is a real mesmerizing quality to the pages.
Without revealing too much, and I want to leave a lot of detail out of this review, mostly because I want a first time reader to discover these things on their own, in their natural environment and revelation. However, if we were to look upon this work as a musical composition, I’d say Nicholas hit a range of notes, colliding together in a spectacularly rich, dramatic, heartbreaking, and joyous crescendo. There were moments of happiness. There were moments of tragedy and helplessness (lots of helplessness, and not too surprising considering the subject matter). Lots of regret and understanding purpose. And, especially towards the middle and later half, moments of dementia, unsure if things seen are real or the figment of Gabriel’s imagination, hallucinations caused by his rapidly decaying mind.
And…I will not spoil the rest. You’ll have to find out on your own what happens. Overall, my only complaint, and this is marginal, was the absence of the daughter, Melanie, from a majority of the story. There is a beautiful father-daughter scene in chapter 2, and I had hoped to see more of them. But the focus was not on Melanie, but rather Gabriel, thus, we did not venture far from his perspective. And that’s okay, it doesnt ruin anything at all. When she finally does come back into play, those moments really captured the emotional momentum, literally bringing tears to my eyes. Thank you for that, Nicolas, really. And bravo, sir. Bravo.
My Review: 5/5
You can get your copy of Pale Highway on Amazon, here.
January 14, 2016 | Categories: Book Review, Reviews | Tags: Alzheimer's, Book Review, Diseases, Metaphysical, Nicholas Conley, Pale Highway, Reviews, science fiction, science fiction fantasy | Leave a comment
Here is it, mid March and I haven’t been to the movies since, best guess, November. So, as a movie, especially horror movie, connoisseur (fancy way of saying junkie), I was feeling a bit peckish (the itch) to hit my local theater up for whatever horror movie was currently available. I had hoped to check the supposedly released It Follows. But much to my dismay, apparently Houston selected not to partake in the limited release. So what else was there? What else could I sink my teeth into and wet my appetites? Well, as the title of this post suggests, The Lazarus Effect so happened to be still in theaters with a respectable selection of screening times. I had seen the preview for this before. The Lazarus Effect, via preview alone, reminded me of a juiced up Flatliners…but with demons. So, with no other horror title to select from, I purchased my ticket for a Friday the 13th 9:55pm showing…and this is what I got:
Obviously, The Lazarus Effect failed to capture the imagination of critics. But then again, when are critics ever right in regards to horror movies? Remember a certain film called The Thing? Back in 82, critics hated the damn film, but look at it now! The Thing has a huge cult following and is heralded as one of the greatest films ever made. Okay. So now that I’ve snuck in a The Thing mention, lets get back to the topic at hand. The Lazarus Effect in all its non critical acclaim had both its ups and downs. The unfortunate downs however occurred where it mattered the most. Lets take this play for play. The following review will be as SPOILER FREE as possible.
THE LAZARUS EFFECT follows a group of researchers led by Frank and his fiancé Zoe who’ve achieved the unimaginable – bringing the dead back to life. After a successful, yet unsanctioned, trial on a newly deceased animal, the team is ready to unveil their breakthrough to the world. When the dean of their university learns of their underground experiments, their project is unexpectedly shut down and their materials confiscated. Frank, Zoe and their team take matters into their own hands, launching a rogue attempt to recreate their experiment, during which things go terribly wrong and one of their own, Zoe, is horrifically killed. Fueled by terror and grief, Frank pushes them to do the unthinkable: attempt to resurrect their first human test subject. Initially, the procedure appears a success, but the team soon realizes something is wrong with Zoe. As her strange new persona reveals itself, the team quickly becomes stuck in a gruesome reality. They are no longer faced with the question … Written by Relativity
The Lazarus Effect had one of the best build ups I’ve seen in a long time, at least from the current batch of horror movies. The characters felt real and likable, though perhaps a tad bit underdeveloped. The entire cast was, I thought, great! I loved the back and forth with everyone, especially between Frank (Mark Duplass) and Clay (Evan Peters). The concept was also unique while also familiar, think Flatliners with more believable pseud-science. The “scare” scenes were also good, if not cliched, but then again… are not all “scare” scenes in horror a bit cliched these days? The trick is to build from those cliched moments, giving the audience a sense of dread. And despite the “bad” report below, I’d still say to give this movie a go and discover what you will from its good and not so good moments.
With all the build up, the last act felt absolutely fumbled. As if Lazarus Effect were an underdog sport team making extraordinary plays, and on the wave of cheers and enthusiasm from the crowd they become engulfed by their own momentum. With the suspense and build up, I expected something more fluid. The end felt jumbled together, as if the writers or directors weren’t exactly sure where they were going — they didn’t have a clear vision. Had they stuck to one possible outcome rather than mucking things up with several differing possibilities to the Zoe problem, perhaps the “bad” could have been a lot less worse. Instead, when the shit hit the proverbial fan, I ended up finding myself mostly confused with what was going on. The plot no longer made sense to me, nothing was believable. And once the gear becomes unhinged, we’re no longer witnesses of a story, drawn into its creepy world. While the beginning of movies are extremely important, the time-honored handshake as some call it, so to are the endings. The ending are the last word, the last imagine we take away. If you’re on a date and you’ve been James Bond all evening, being the devilish suave bastard you are, and when you walk your date to her door and let loose a foghorn fart, well…chances are you’re not going to be invited inside for a bite of tea and crumpets, if you know what I mean (wink wink).
Despite the very confusing very mucked up ending, I actually gleamed something interesting from the movie. Recently, I sat down and watched the flick Lucy with the stoically talented Scarlett Johansson. The overall story of Lucy is “what happens if humans could use more than 10% of their brain at any one time.” We homo-sapiens do use all of our brains, but only 10% at any one time. What if we could use 100% at the same time? And that’s what both Lucy and The Lazarus Effect address. With The Lazarus Effect, the Lazarus serum, the magic formula that brings dead dogs and dead Zoe’s back to life also opens the subject to more neural activity in the brain. Lucy in this endeavor was more optimistic. She wanted to impart some great understanding of the cosmos before her ultimate ascension. The Lazarus Effect was pessimistic. That with higher access to our neural capacity people would not become saints but demons. We’d become worse, rather than better. In this respect, I was impressed. I mean, come on, we want to be better (some of us at least), we want to improve not just ourselves but also society, but in the end, if we could access 100% of our brains and become super-human, or meta-humans if you will, would we be better? Or would we be worse? While Lucy was a decent flick, it was too naive regarding human nature. But if The Lazarus Effect was more point-to-fact, more spot-on, as they say, what does that say about us and the human condition?
I give The Lazarus Effect 3/5
March 16, 2015 | Categories: Horror, Reviews | Tags: Evan Peters, Horror, horror reviews, Lucy, Mark Duplass, Metaphysical, movie reviews, Scarlett Johansson, the human condition, The Lazarus Effect | Leave a comment