Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Children

Had an impromptu bad movie night the other night. We watched the 1980 horror film, The Children. And yes, it is still wretchedly bad.

But bad in interesting ways. The story in brief: a school bus carrying most of the kids from the small town of Ravensback passes through a cloud of toxic gas that leaked from a nearby nuclear plant. The exposure turns the kids into zombies with black fingernails with only one desire: to hug people. Unfortunately, their hugs kill the recipients. They burn until they are half-melted, unrecognizable husks.

So yes, it's awful. Filmed on a low budget in a small town somewhere (but a small town with some huge houses--maybe a suburb of a larger metropolitan area), there are no stars. Not one. Not even a cameo by a minor B-list celebrity has-been to pique an audience's interest. The script is awful, and the acting is worse. But it is not entirely amateurish. There are a few stylish shots, and some camera movement.

And the score is interesting. In places, it's reminiscent of the Friday the 13th movies, minimal keyboards with a hollow echoey feel, which just makes sense because the score was written by Harry Manfredini, who scored the Friday the 13th films. But in places, he also "references" (or rips off) Bernard Hermann and Leonard Rosenman. It just seems odd for this low-budget little piece of nothing to have an orchestrated score, even if it is just strings and keyboards But this was before synthesizers became ubiquitous.

Directing choices are also strange. The movie introduces us to many residents of the town, and it seems as if a lot has been left on the cutting room floor. Two women living together, one of whom seems really angry at the sheriff, for some reason. It looks like there's a history there, but it's never explained. Another rich woman is set up to be a major subplot--she shares a fairly big scene with the sheriff, and later, someone coming to see her is able to talk his way past a police roadblock--but then she disappears. we never hear from her again, there are no consequences to her scene with the sheriff, and her body is not even discovered when the sheriff visits her place later. The other people with her are found dead, but she's just gone. It just feels like a lot of stuff got left on the cutting room floor.

But as Sargon aptly observed, it's not as if they had no time for character stuff. Much of the running time is filler, dead space, as characters get in their cars, turn around, and drive into the distance, just so we know they're going someplace.

But perhaps the most fascinating thing about the film is the subtext. Stephen King in Danse Macabre talks about how horror movies often have a subtext that serves as an accurate barometer of what concerns society at large--Cold War paranoia, economic concerns, the Generation Gap. And that might be true for movies that are broadly successful. But what about a movie that found little to no audience?

Might it just be a look at the filmmakers' private fears? And what does it say about the filmmakers in this case? I mean, you could look at it really abstractly and say that it all about people we should trust implicitly being our enemies or something, but at base, the monsters are little kids who want hugs!  What about that spelled "terror" to Carlton Albright and Edward Terry, the credited writers?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Casting Call for Halloween '11

I've finished a first draft of this year's radio script and am now looking for voice volunteers. Details are on Hero Go Home here.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Story About Theme

There's a thread running over on Codex about themes in writing, with basically two camps developing: one side that basically says, "I never write with a theme in mind," and another that says, "I never write without a theme in mind." And I 'm pretty much in the former camp.

When I was in film school, I took a class (actually, I ended up taking it twice and never passed) in which you had to make 5 short films. So comes the week my third film is due, and I have nothing. I get up on Sunday, realizing I have to get the thing planned and filmed that day in order to send it to the lab on Monday, get it back and edit it on Wednesday and turn it in on Thursday.

So I end up doing a TV commercial sort of thing, a pure exercise of movement and music, with no actual story to speak of. I draw my hand writing out the word "Canon" in pencil and then going over it with ink, with the idea that I'll then play Pachelbel's Canon along with it.And to make it visually interesting, I filmed it in short cuts of ultra-close-up with the paper backlit. Substitute chopping vegetables for drawing a word and it would look like any number of TV commercials. But after I had it edited, I realized that Canon was too slow and made it drag, so I substituted an upbeat Mozart concerto instead. So now it really had no meaning.

Now, the way the class was set up, after you showed your film, you had to sit silently while everyone gave their crits, and then you could respond at the very end, after everyone had their say. So for twenty minutes, I sat there while person after person waxed enthusiastic about my film and tried to tease ever more elaborate themes from it. Then when it was my turn, I told them that it was just an exercise in sound and motion, with no more theme than "Fuck, I've got a film due." And then I had to listen to them get angry for twenty more minutes for shitting all over their thoughtful criticisms.

I've always envied the people who can write a story that says something fundamentally important about the human condition, even if I disagree with it. The fact that I've never really been able to do it with any kind of conviction has always struck me as a lack within myself--I don't write stories with messages because I have nothing useful to say.

However, over time, I find I've grown less patient and less impressed with stories that try to preach a worldview to me. Death Wave and Hero Go Home might be superficial and without overriding themes that would make them into good English Literature 101 fodder, but at least they don't fall back on the evil faceless corporation, the evil secret government program, the evil military, the evil televangelist, the noble outsider deciding that other=righteous, "true love conquers all," or any of the other simplistic nonsense that makes up most of what I see and read. I can live with that.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Very Apt Metaphor is funny in a way that Cracked, the magazine (which in my youth was always just a lame Mad wanna-be), never was. Sometimes they pile it on a little thick, and sometimes I disagree with them, but that's a risk with comedy. The point is, in general, it's a fun diversion of a site that you never expect to say something profound.

But this...

In an online world, your writing is going to form a shell around you, and most of the people who interact with you will only see the shell.
Is profound. The rest of the article is good, too.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Did I See This Wrong?

So the other day, I'm at work, standing near the front doors. And there are these two teenage girls standing sort of huddled together looking at something on the floor. And they turn to me and ask, "Is that real or is that a toy?"

So I look down, and there's a big spider. Not tarantula big, but probably the biggest non-tarantula I've ever seen. The legs are spindly and smooth, not fuzzy, but the body is about as long as my thumb and a little thicker. And yes, I have small hands, but still...

The point is, it's so big that it looks like a toy spider, and it hasn't twitched. But it's not obviously rubber. So I nudge it with my shoe, and it starts crawling. And the girls squeal and by the time I've turned around to tell them, "Looks real," they're long gone. Not that I totally blame them, because they were wearing short shorts and I hear that spiders sometimes jump.

So the aisle of dollar-crap is right there. I grab a couple of small cardstock baskets, drop one on top of the spider, then use it to scoop the spider into the other one and trap him in between. And after a pause to show the guy at the Guest Service Desk my catch, I take it outside and away from the doors and dump it.

And this is where it gets weird. Because it hits the ground and suddenly, I see the ground is crawling with little tiny bugs the same color as the spider. I mean, it's like the spider had been covered with little tiny baby spiders who suddenly decided to all jump off at the same time, or maybe were knocked off when the spider hit the ground. Except that I've never heard of this, and saw no baby spiders on the floor in the store or in the baskets after I dumped the spider out.

So maybe it was just a coincidence and there was a colony of tiny ants or something in exactly that spot where I dumped the spider. What I do know is that the spider immediately crawled away, but not towards the doors, so not my problem.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

It's Here! Hero Go Home Ebook Now Available

I've been looking forward to getting this one out there for a while now, and the day has finally come! Green monkeys and a Silver Scorpion! A Man Who's Known By Many Names! Balloon Armor! Ninja Robots! A Valkyrie Riding a Giant Wolf! A Deus Ex Machina! An Alien Invasion! Superbattles Galore! Hell on Earth! All in Color for a Dime!

Okay, that last one was a lie. It's a prose novel, and it's $3.99. But all the rest, seriously. Go read it.

Find it at Smashwords here. I'll get the Amazon Kindle link up as soon as it finishes churning through Amazon.

ETA: The Kindle version can be purchased here.