setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)


Wikipedia quotes H.P. Lovecraft, about his Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, as worrying that "Randolph Carter's adventures may have reached the point of palling on the reader; or that the very plethora of weird imagery may have destroyed the power of any one image to produce the desired impression of strangeness." Though virtually all of Lovecraft's fiction implies a strange, hostile universe of his conception, usually they feature something roughly resembling familiar, contemporary reality into which the introduction of the strange and horrifying is the more striking. Short tales set in places alien to our world can still maintain that power of strangeness by virtue of being short but The Dream-Quest is novella length. It is a wonderful piece of fiction but for these reasons its strengths are distinct from the rest of Lovecraft's works.

Following the journeys of Randalph Carter through the Dream Lands, the novella is set in fantasy locations peopled with fantasy beings like the small, forest dwelling zoogs, the vicious gugs, and Carter's allies, the ghouls. The story, particularly in its second half, reminds me strongly of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Princess of Mars in its focus on strange armies coordinated by the human protagonist on missions of assault, rescue, or reconnaissance. One of the most significant ways Dream-Quest differs from Princess of Mars is in its constant reminders of how the appearance or odour of the strange beings frighten or disgust the protagonist. We're even reminded of this in the case of some of Carter's allies, like the ghouls:

And Carter shook the paws of those repulsive beasts, thanking them for their help and sending his gratitude to the beast which once was Pickman; but could not help sighing with pleasure when they left. For a ghoul is a ghoul, and at best an unpleasant companion for man.

It might have been difficult for Lovecraft to imagine modern horror and fantasy fans who have often seen what was obviously repulsive before as something that's now attractive and could even be applied to heroes. Yet the strangeness in Dream-Quest functions in this way, whether Lovecraft meant it to or not--the Dream Lands are beautiful and its denizens are fascinating. It's not easy to understand why the former human, Pickman, had chosen to become a ghoul but the fact that he did in itself makes the beings more intriguing. Making the weird regular does not, as Lovecraft feared, dilute the "desired impression of strangeness" but transforms it into something different. It becomes less of a shock and something like a remapping of basic reality where all the landmarks take on a lustre for their inherent unpredictability and danger. The difference from Burroughs' Mars or Tolkien's Middle Earth is that nothing ever truly feels safe even if it feels familiar and friendly. Even the cats, the animals Lovecraft displays a lovely affection for in this story, have something sinister and secret about them, especially after their treatment of the zoogs early on.

So when the protagonists face extraordinary danger, as in the story's climax which takes Lovecraft's skill at conveying a fundamental wrongness in physics and geometry to new heights, the stakes feel higher. The normal human means of negotiating the world through forging friendships and building a reputation seem inevitably fractured and uncertain. Everything is compelled to hide--the zoogs hide in the forest, the ghouls hide underground, the cats are always sneaking. Everyone and everything's existence is not built on strength but in evasion which makes the potency of the final threat all the more effective because it's a revelation of just how meaningless the apparent rules of reality always were, it's the ultimate rug pulled out from under the reader.

But the ending is a consummation of the feelings that had been built up all along by forcing the reader to identify with protagonists described as repulsive. One becomes more afraid for the ghouls when they're captured because they've been described as repulsive. I even felt bad for what happens to the zoogs despite knowing what they planned for the cats. So the cosmology invoked in the end, of gods who are selfish or indifferent, isn't an abstract concept but something concretely felt. You don't have to ask why the gods aren't in love with these people.

So hug your nearest ghoul or nightgaunt. If for some reason they don't tear your face off or disembowel you.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)


Is Ghostbusters 2 really so bad? Well, yes, it has some big, crucial flaws which a few virtues can't make up for. But there are a few virtues. I've certainly seen worse. Like, the 2016 reboot, for example.

Like the Star Wars prequels, Ghostbusters 2 has become a byword for bad followups for popular franchises. The Star Wars prequels, in my opinion, don't quite warrant the casual rancour they get but in any case they're certainly more complex than people give them credit for. Ghostbusters 2, as many, notably Roger Ebert, complained at the time was like a rough draft of the first film, a far less satisfyingly complex version, in other words. The broad outline is there--Dana (Signourney Weaver) is a normal woman whose encounter with the supernatural forces her to bring the vexing and eccentric Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) into her life. The Ghostbusters struggle at first to be seen as legitimate, they're threatened by a vindictive government functionary before the mayor (David Margulies) grudgingly admits these clowns are the only ones who can save the city and they become improbable, everyman heroes right in front of a massive, cheering crowd.



The necessity of rebooting the relationship between Peter and Dana creates a lot of problems directly tied in to one of the biggest flaws in the film, Bill Murray's performance. In the first film, he has his cheap little tricks and jokes, but you could also see why Dana was eventually charmed by him. In Ghostbusters 2, he just comes off as a pushy creep. His saying to her baby that he might have been his father ought to be sort of sweet and sad but it just seems presumptuous and obnoxious. He's filled with nervous energy throughout the sequel whereas in the original his charm was his ability to remain calm with maybe a simmering anger. But what's worse is that his anxiety in Ghostbusters 2 seems to have nothing to do with ghosts or Dana but seems oddly hostile to everything. Like he didn't want to be in the movie.



Egon (Harold Ramis) and Ray (Dan Aykroyd), though, actually come off generally well. The film lacks the sense of real guys struggling that the first part of the original film benefited from but I love the idea of Ray having an occult bookshop. And Egon's experiment with the couple in marriage counselling is genuinely funny.



I was a big Ghostbusters fan as a kid--I was ten when Ghostbusters 2 came out and by then I was already close to having worn out a VHS copy of the first film and avidly watched the cartoon series. I don't know if it's like this for all kids, but oddly I didn't think about whether one film was better than the other, I was just happy that there was more. In a sense, kids are easy to please, but despite the fact that the second film is more kid friendly than the first, no VHS copy of it was ever in danger of getting worn out. Why is it, when I had no idea what they were talking about when Ray took out a second mortgage on his childhood home or even really understood what was happening when they were getting kicked out of college I still enjoyed the first film more? Maybe it's because when you're a kid you're used to not understanding the things adults do but still sense an underlying logic so the sense of authenticity was more satisfying even then.



Certainly watching the second film as an adult has provided me with insights I never had as a child, like the mood slime that unfortunately takes up so much of the plot. I can't be the only one who raised eyebrows when, shortly after Venkman speculates on whether the Statue of Liberty is naked under the robe, the guys get inside her and immediately begin spraying love goo from some very phallic guns. Some might be tempted to see this as a metaphorical rape but I see no reason not to see it as consensual--I mean, there's no reason that would make less sense. I don't know if Ramis and Aykroyd were thinking of symbolism when they wrote the screenplay but I actually found the concept peculiarly resonant--because of the thoughtless every day behaviour of American citizens, a destructive natural force has gradually gained power and now threatens their destruction. The Ghostbusters wondering if the city can actually consciously reverse course on environmentally harmful, habitual behaviour surprisingly had me thinking of the reaction to climate change. Suddenly the mood slime didn't seem so silly. How symbolic sex with the Statue of Liberty fits into it I couldn't exactly say . . . and yet I think one could tease out a meaning. Like human behaviour in positive harmony with nature (consensual sex as a representation for a love of liberty) versus human behaviour as a selfish, destructive influence (climate change).



I remember really finding Vigo fearsome as a kid. Now I still think Max von Sydow as his voice is pretty impressive. Peter MacNicol as a foreign man from no distinguishable country is funny as a sort of harbinger of Tommy Wiseau.



I really like the scene on the abandoned subway tracks, Winston's (Ernie Hudson) only real moment to shine, first when a demonic voice speaks his name in the darkness, then when he's struck by a ghost train. The severed heads that appear briefly around the group feels more Evil Dead than Ghostbusters but it works, especially in contrast to the softball subway scenes in the new film. I liked the weirdness of the Titanic coming to dock and Janosz flying in as a demon nursemaid seemed like kind of a nice homage to Darby O'Gill and the Little People.



Aside from Bill Murray and the less adult storytelling, I'd say the biggest flaw is the score. Elmer Bernstein's score for the first film is something I associate even more with it than Ray Parker's familiar theme. The Randy Edelman score from the second film just feels like a cheap imitation and it's distracting.

Twitter Sonnet #1035

A night in steady pulses waits again.
In bronze balloons were cast to dream of work.
A shifting eye's behind the system's spin.
And yet the green and drifting spirits lurk.
In to the seat descends a walking lamp.
Beneath the cushions coins're coarse to take.
Above the bait the fish have built a ramp.
But fins refuse to step or scales to bake.
On tongues and tips, retried the trees demurred.
And soft, the step of glancing wisp to pass.
In brighter lights the aether last inured.
As armless birches sway in candid grass.
Misplaced the squash's found asleep inside.
In catered stories roles and hills reside.
setsuled: (Louise Smirk)


A massive, run down Italian manor serves as a setting for strange murderous games in 1972's cumbersomely titled Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (Il tuo vizio è una stanza chiusa e solo io ne ho la chiave). The second giallo film I've seen based on my favourite Edgar Allan Poe story, "The Black Cat", it has a lot more elements of the original story than 1981's The Black Cat but it still fails to capture the essence of the story, which is its fascinating psychological portrait of one man's escalating perversion. Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key contrives far more commonplace motives for its killer and keeps that character's identity secret for most of the film so the focus is more on a pulpy sex plot than on an examination of cruelty. That said, the pulpy sex plot is pretty fun.



The not especially well off man and wife in the original story are replaced by a jaded, wealthy writer and his strange, nervous wife. We meet them in the midst of one of their many extravagant, hedonistic bashes where half the party-goers are getting naked and the other half are singing.



The cat belongs to the writer, Oliviero (Luigi Pistilli), and his wife, Irina (Anita Strindberg), detests the animal. She stabs out its eye one day when she catches it in her dove coop, which essentially means the roles from the original story have been gender swapped. The cat's name, rivalling the film's title for subtlety, is Satan.



But the murderer's identity isn't revealed until later in the film--when it is revealed, it doesn't quite add up with what's been established earlier in the film and feels very much like it was a decision made late in filming.



The highlight of the film is the beautiful Edwige Fenech as Oliviero's niece, Floriana, who comes to stay with the couple after their maid has been murdered. The cool and happily amoral Floriana, who doesn't remotely resemble anyone in Poe's story, is soon having sex, separately, with Oliviero, Irina, and a delivery man.



She seduces Oliviero after catching him sneaking into her room--she's already prepared, wearing his mother's dress under the covers, an over the top 16th century costume--Oliviero's mother was an actress who is frequently compared in dialogue to Mary Stuart for some reason.



It's hard to say exactly what game Floriana's playing but there's definitely some method in her debauchery along with a fetching twinkle in her eye.



Floriana seems to be allied more with Irina, who is verbally and physically abused by Oliviero, but ultimately she's more interested in sexual pleasure and jewellery. The movie errs in not having more of Floriana, spending more focus on Irina, though Strindberg's hard, cat-like face and anxious performance are fascinating to watch.

setsuled: (Skull Tree)


There's a long tradition now of fiction about repressed psychological trauma manifesting in violent telekinetic powers. In 2013, Marina de Van added her own entry to the genre with the unfortunately titled Dark Touch. A pretty, austere colour palette, some good performances, and moments of delicate human feeling aren't enough to pull this film out of a downward spiral. It feels very much like, after a few early good ideas, de Van completely lost inspiration and ditched a series of half formed ideas for a clumsy, cartoonish climax.



Released a year before the far superior Babadook, Dark Touch's cinematography reminded me of the newer film's faded navy blue colour palette, also extending to an improbably coordinated wardrobe. If I see three more films like this, I'm going to call the genre film bleu. It doesn't serve Dark Touch well and seems part of a general lack of a sense that we're seeing real people in real families. The film is about children but the children depicted are all solemnly staring most of the time when they're not in some way dealing with the issue of child abuse. It's like watching something go horribly wrong in the lives of the people in stock photos.



The film centres on a good performance by Missy Keating as Niamh who miraculously survives after her parents are murdered gruesomely by the furniture. I wonder if you'd need to have seen the many other films in this genre to pick up right away that Niamh is the source of the Poltergeist. Hints of her abuse are loud and clear, too, from the peculiar way her parents snap at her and a few suggestive shots of the father's hand and a bruise her baby brother's belly. Her father tries to explain her nervousness as being due to the creaking of a country house--I don't know if it's supposed to seem absurd that we're meant to take this as a creaky old country house.



Niamh goes to live with her neighbours, Mr. and Mrs. Galin, and their two children. Nat Galin (Marcella Plunkett) seems to have a connexion with Niamh that is never explained, getting psychic flashes into Niamh's mental state and hearing a high pitched sound just before incidents of Niamh's telekinesis.



Niamh doesn't trust any adults, something not helped by the fact that nearly everyone seems to hit their kids with no warning. Even at a birthday party Niamh attends, all the little girls are hitting and berating their dolls. It's hard to tell if they're deliberately trying to antagonise Niamh or if some of this behaviour is in Niamh's head or if they're all imitating their parents. Maybe this disorientation is meant to put us in Niamh's point of view where everything looks suspicious, I'm not sure.



In one very effectively tender scene, a pregnant councillor named Tanya (Charlotte Flyvholm) is the first to make Niamh feel safe enough to be held, in part because Niamh likes putting her ear to Tanya's tummy. For the most part, Niamh seems to feel an automatic, silent bond with other children, particularly abused children and a brother and sister she meets at school. Niamh very quickly goes from someone who's helpless to and horrified by her own powers to a deliberate vigilante as she organises a little army of silent kids.



This broad idea eclipses a lot of other threads the film leaves unresolved, like a subplot about the Galins' deceased little girl who was apparently a friend of Niamh's despite Niamh mysteriously lacking any memory of her. Nat Galin is framed as a point of view character and the camera evokes a lot of sympathy for her but her motives and personality are left completely ambiguous outside the actress' performance. But she still gets a lot more than many other characters do.

Twitter Sonnet #1024

The lawn mistook the stone for something felt.
The man's no longer sure of wrapping vines.
The moon resounded 'neath where metals melt.
The dust of sugar monks invade the mines.
Enlarged in part by drams of oranges sing.
Allotted spots, assorted dots arise.
In space the speckled band implies a ring.
The serpent's eye is pretty, sharp, and wise.
A curling fish predicts a reddened sun.
It's on the sea collected in the palm.
The horses in the sky began to run.
A hundred ships abide in lingered calm.
The flour tipped in steel was hard to see.
Combined, a thousand eggs became a sea.
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)


Let's just embrace synthesiser with lots of fuzz, let's not call it an 80s nostalgia thing, let's just have it because it's good. That's one of my main thoughts after finishing the first season of Stranger Things yesterday, a show I found to be uneven but with some very good qualities.

Spoilers after the screenshot



It really put me in the mood to watch Gremlins and E.T., among other things. I wish it had hewed a little closer to 80s style, actually. The monster design felt a bit modern, particularly its sounds which seemed to basically be the same velociraptor noises that've been used again and again since the first Jurassic Park movie. The colour tinting and the lighting started to feel more and more 21st century as the show went on, maybe just because I was getting used to the things that were distinctly 80s.

The imdb pages point out lots of anachronisms in their "goofs" pages, some of which I spotted myself, like how none of the Star Wars toys are from the early 80s. But for a lot of these things it's important to keep in mind the limited time and money the creators of the show had. Doing a period NetFlix series is ambitious, in some ways moreso because it's a period a lot of viewers actually experienced so it's harder to get away with things. However, one of the final scenes of the series has the kids playing Dungeons and Dragons again and seems to directly make the point that people should learn to appreciate a story instead of being caught up in the details, which is something I agree with, as much as I enjoy details.

There were some problems with the show I really can't excuse, like its tendency to end dramatic scenes with a jump cut that doesn't explain what happened in the interim. This is done both for action sequences and scenes with important character development. I'm not sure how fast the monster is but there are several shots of the thing just about to grab Will (Noah Schnapp) or Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and we never find out how they evaded the thing when we see them later. Then there are scenes like the first time Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) uses her powers in front of the kids, causing a door to slam shut, and it cuts away without showing us what the boys said to her.

Other times, I felt like the Duffer Brothers and the other writers were intentionally invoking some of the problems typical in 80s kids adventure screenplays in order to show how, as children, we watched these movies and made these problems meaningful in our automatic childhood interpretations. One of the key aspects of the show is in how it divides up the characters--everyone's basically investigating the same thing but no-one's communicating. There are many times in 80s films where it really would be reasonable for the kids to talk to the cops or an adult of some kind but that of course would spoil the basic fun of the thing. Stranger Things takes this and uses it to say something about human nature, how people isolate themselves and divide into factions when it's unnecessary or even counterproductive.

The story of Eleven is an interesting blend of 80s story devices. She's both Lisa from Weird Science and she's E.T. She's the fish out of water female character that makes the young boys feel safe interacting with a girl for once, allowing particularly shy boys to advance towards sexual maturity, and she's the alien who is really just as important to the adult world as the child world, unlike Dungeons and Dragons which the kids are often told just feels important.

Among all the 80s American film references, I thought Eleven floating in a tank while Matthew Modine looked on seemed like it came from Neon Genesis Evangelion and Gendo watching Rei in the LCL tank. Maybe it was really a reference to Luke Skywalker in a bacta tank but Elle's relationship with Modine's character was much more like Rei's relationship with Gendo, though the motives of Modine's character were never as fully developed. Anyway, I thought it was kind of funny, intentional or not, that Eleven looked kind of like Vincent D'Onofrio in Full Metal Jacket when she did her power glower. If only she'd called Modine "Joker".

I like that she's given more of her own story than the 80s fantasy girl tended to get. Her difficulty communicating makes the moments where she doesn't meet social expectations more effectively painful. One thing the makers of the show maybe didn't intend but I thought was interesting was the fact that Eleven and Will are never in the same dimension at the same time. Throughout the show I nursed a fantasy that Will and Eleven were alternate reality versions of each other. I felt pretty sure the show wasn't going that way but I liked thinking about the implications if it would. How would Mike (Finn Wolfhard) handle that? Holy shit, I just looked that name up, his last name is "Wolfhard"? And I thought "Wolf Blitzer" was over the top. Why didn't his parents just go all the way and call him "Dirk" or "Steel" or "Rage"?

Twitter Sonnet #1011

Immerse, eject, repeat the swimming song.
Engage, egregious box of rocket juke.
Elope, elliptic lily pad sarong.
Return, resplendent, thin, and diamond duke.
Eclipses climb to troubled times to wait.
Convening vapours rise and now collude.
A haunted council sets a guileless bait.
In moving woods the horses have accrued.
Awake, alight, in trees from eggs to roots.
Arise, afloat, suspicion's hollow ship.
Align, enlist, elicit arm to boots.
Asleep, assuage, uncertain word to lip.
An eyelid sky defends the tender beech.
A wounded rider's carried to a leech.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)


Why did it take me so long to see Alien: Covenant? I suppose because my friends who saw it seemed disappointed and the response to it otherwise seems to be lukewarm. The negative reaction to Prometheus seemed better because it was the kind of whining you hear from fans when a movie did something right and it was out of their comfort zones. Now Ridley Scott, the pushover that he is, gave the fans what they want and the fans yawned. To be sure, the old fashioned xenomorph and face huggers are the worst parts of Alien: Covenent but I didn't hate the film. I loved all the references, particularly to Paradise Lost, since I'm a big John Milton nut (as anyone who's read my web comic knows).

I also like Wagner a lot so I loved the use of music from Das Rheingold. It's a lot of fun watching the movie and seeing how perfectly it suits references to Der Ring des Nibelungen and Paradise Lost. Yet the film is not a direct adaptation of either work, which is appropriate, though David, Michael Fassbender's android character introduced in Prometheus, is a far less complex figure than Satan in Paradise Lost. He's a less complex figure than he was in Prometheus, actually. Despite his conversations with Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and the newer model android, Walter (also Fassbender), which emphasise the life of forced servitude androids are forced into, it's hard to see David as anything but a two dimensional villain. Say what you will about Satan in Paradise Lost but he never murdered and dissected Eve.

Still, the parallels to Milton's poem are so perfect it's easy to see why Scott was inspired to explicitly correlate the two with his original title for the film, Alien: Paradise Lost. The obvious point is that David is rebelling against his creator--like Satan in Paradise Lost, who doesn't see why Jesus should be considered more worthy of being called God's number one son than himself, David immediately questions Weyland's assertion that he is David's father. In a reversal of Roy and Tyrell in Blade Runner, it's David who has the longer lifespan than his creator. But there are even more specific ways in which Covenant and Paradise Lost parallel, as in the focus on weapons development in both Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, which brought to mind this piece from a section on the war in heaven:

Whereto with look compos'd SATAN repli'd.
Not uninvented that, which thou aright
Beleivst so main to our success, I bring;
Which of us who beholds the bright surface
Of this Ethereous mould whereon we stand,
This continent of spacious Heav'n, adornd
With Plant, Fruit, Flour Ambrosial, Gemms & Gold,
Whose Eye so superficially surveyes
These things, as not to mind from whence they grow
Deep under ground, materials dark and crude,
Of spiritous and fierie spume, till toucht
With Heav'ns ray, and temperd they shoot forth
So beauteous, op'ning to the ambient light.
These in thir dark Nativitie the Deep
Shall yeild us, pregnant with infernal flame,
Which into hallow Engins long and round
Thick-rammd, at th' other bore with touch of fire
Dilated and infuriate shall send forth
From far with thundring noise among our foes
Such implements of mischief as shall dash
To pieces, and orewhelm whatever stands
Adverse, that they shall fear we have disarmd
The Thunderer of his only dreaded bolt.
Nor long shall be our labour, yet ere dawne,
Effect shall end our wish. Mean while revive;
Abandon fear; to strength and counsel joind
Think nothing hard, much less to be despaird.
He ended, and his words thir drooping chere
Enlightn'd, and thir languisht hope reviv'd.
Th' invention all admir'd, and each, how hee
To be th' inventer miss'd, so easie it seemd
Once found, which yet unfound most would have thought
Impossible: yet haply of thy Race
In future dayes, if Malice should abound,
Some one intent on mischief, or inspir'd
With dev'lish machination might devise
Like instrument to plague the Sons of men
For sin, on warr and mutual slaughter bent.


In Paradise Lost, we see Satan cleaved almost in two by Michael's sword but, of course, Satan, being an angel, pulls himself back together, good as new (so to speak). Much like David. It all seems less like parallels Scott intended at first but like parallels he saw in retrospect and decided to emphasise. The film also is quite conscious of its echoes of Blade Runner, David even at one point having Roy's "That's the spirit!" line in a pivotal fight scene. So, oddly enough, Blade Runner actually functions as a closer compliment to Paradise Lost because of the greater moral complexity inherent in Roy.

In general, the characters in Alien: Covenant fall into more explicit hero and villain slots than those seen in Prometheus, which may have been another of Scott's concessions to fans, who complained that two of the scientists were too foolish in their first encounter with an alien life in Prometheus. The only character in Covenant who really seems flawed is Oram, who seems so really more for Billy Crudup's fascinating performance than for any other reason. Crudup may be the most underrated actor in Hollywood. As much as I hate Zack Snyder's testosterone wank adaptation of Watchmen, Crudup's performance in it showed his willingness to commit to a role. In Covenant, he creates this character who's distinguished as a man of faith but who comes off as thoroughly insecure thanks to the plaintive, muttering and stuttering speaking ticks Crudup gives him.

I also thought Danny McBride was really good in a dramatic role as Tennessee and he and Scott get a lot of effective tension from the scenes where Tennessee is deciding whether to take the ship to a hazardously low altitude. I really wasn't sure if he was doing the right thing or taking a needless risk and the scenes played up that tension beautifully.

Katherine Waterston in an explicitly Ripley-ish role I just thought was fine. Maybe she would have come off stronger for me if the last act of the film wasn't a pointless retread of the climaxes from Alien and Aliens. It's hard to get invested in the old xenomorph as a villain when the biological weapons introduced in Prometheus and early in Covenant seem far more efficient--and a lot scarier. It almost feels like self-parody when David is obliged to sit and wait, idly tossing pebbles, while the xenomorph embryo gestates in a victim. The newer or more primitive version of the xenomorph from the earlier parts of the film was also more effective for how strange it looked--possibly the eeriest moment in the film is when David seems like he's about to tame one that stands in front of him, inscrutable for its apparent complete lack of facial features.

Spoilers ahead

After the unsatisfying retread of the Alien climax, the revelation that David had killed Walter and taken his place was disappointing in another way. It's a downer, yes, but it's unsatisfying for more reasons than that. Really, it would have been a lot more interesting if Walter had survived. I loved the fact that the one direct quote from Paradise Lost, the famous line about how it's better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven, is the thing that makes Walter hesitate. It's fitting, I guess, that it's what gets him killed but what could have been the really interesting thing about it is that it shows Walter is conflicted. David is absolutely certain at this point, confident in his own perfection despite getting Byron and Shelly mixed up (what a surprisingly stupid mistake). Walter is the character in the middle, trying to figure things out--with a little of David's ambition added he would be a much worthier Satan figure than David.

I wonder if there's meant to be any significance in David naming himself after Michelangelo's David and by extension the biblical David. All I can think of is that the statue's supposed only flaw is that its head is slightly disproportionately large and Michael Fassbender actually has kind of a proportionately oversized head. He does a fine job in the movie, though.

Twitter Sonnet #1004

Impertinence impressed the puzzle piece.
Insouciance ensued to wrench the leg.
The butter born of nut belonged to Reese.
But chocolate came from out the faerie egg.
If day turns out to be a planet eat.
A swifter hat could never scroll the sky.
Rejoicing sifts the ghost from out the peat.
A kinder clap applauds the solar fly.
A wayward crown eclipsed the boiling brow.
In nothing rules a relished dog too hot.
For sandwich carts were patrons paid for now.
In tumbling sheets arrests the tater's tot.
In concrete snakes the town constructs a gut.
Tomato dots arranged the garden's rut.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)


The traditional idea of beastly behaviour involves unrestrained lusts without regard for the bonds of human affection or society. 1975's Legend of the Werewolf convincingly presents an opposite view where the uncontrollable animal urges of one man run contrary to a less severe morality in the culture. The film presents a surprisingly positive view of prostitution as an institution and is a nice werewolf movie from director Freddie Francis.



The film might deserve criticism for avoiding some of the more negative aspects of prostitution--the prostitutes in the film are presented as without families and there's no thought given to the fact that many of the women shown would likely have been forced into the occupation for a lack of other options. In this light, the werewolf's attack on their clients could almost be seen as a good thing except that he's motivated by a sense of possessiveness and not any desire to respect the wishes of Christine (Lynn Dalby). It's nice to see that it's this that is shown to be the disease.



David Rintol plays Etoile who became a werewolf after he was raised by wolves, his status as an orphan subtly paralleling Christine's life. After his first years were spent with wolves, he was taken in by a travelling circus as a child and shown as an attraction in a cage, a role he's oddly shown to enjoy eventually. Both Etoile and Christine are forced into occupations at a young age that might be rough, exploitive, and unpleasant to many people but both come to enjoy their lives.



But all is not well in the psyche of Etoile. After he's forced to flee the circus when he transforms and accidentally kills a man, he ends up in Paris where a series of murders begin to occur at the same time. With his guilelessness when he first meets Christine, along with a few of her fellow prostitutes, at the zoo where he gets a job, he doesn't even understand from their innuendos what their profession is. Etoile presents the figure of a country bumpkin exposed to the realities of city life for the first time.



Peter Cushing plays the film's protagonist and narrator, Paul, a police forensic surgeon who decides to investigate these new crimes on his own. Rather than a morally strident Van Helsing, Paul is presented as someone who takes some mischievous pleasure in bending the rules and discomfiting his police supervisors a bit, showing off some pieces of a corpse to a fussy administrator who comes in to chastise him at one point. Paul is quite pleased with himself when the man is forced to leave the room, unable to stand the sight of exposed internal organs. Although Paul is shown to be a man who does not visit brothels--scenes where he interviews the madam and prostitutes of a brothel are played for comedy with his mild embarrassment--he clearly has no moral disapproval for them. He presents a contrast to Etoile in that he is at ease in a world populated by people who are different from him while Etoile is compelled to respond with violence.




It becomes clear that the filmmakers had only one small exterior set to stand in for all of Paris but mostly the film is well put together, Paul's investigation building nicely with the amiable character created by Cushing. The climax shows his ability to empathise pitted against Etoile's psychological disability in his compulsion to respond with violence. There's a sense of how rare and difficult it is for such differences to resolve peacefully.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)


If anyone ever tells you the poor aren't good for anything, remember the story of the 19th century Doctor Robert Knox and remember the corpses of those who died in poverty can always be used for medical experiments. 1960's The Flesh and the Fiends is the second film to be based on the true story of the Burke and Hare murders, the first being the wonderful Boris Karloff and Henry Daniell 1945 film The Body Snatcher, in turn based on a story by Robert Louis Stevenson. The Flesh and the Fiends is a far less compromising film and creates a wonderfully grimy, chaotic atmosphere in 19th century Edinburgh where the wealthy medical men practice and study surrounded by a sea of ragged beggars, prostitutes, and the variously miserable unemployed.



Peter Cushing plays Knox this time, for most of the film with a more prickly demeanour than Henry Daniell before him. One of the reasons this story keeps being adapted is because it presents such a provoking dilemma, a dilemma which reflects the philosophical conflict at the time between pragmatic progress and sensitivity for the exploited underclass. Knox argues that the laws regarding what bodies may be used to advance medical science are too strict, and indeed, with such a shortage of fresh bodies it's difficult to find the necessary models with which he can instruct his students. The other side of the issue is argued by the circumstances that occur--by paying well for fresh bodies, he indirectly encourages the likes of Burke and Hare to acquire corpses that are just a little too fresh.



In this adaptation, instead of plaintively, desperately arguing the justifications for his actions like in The Body Snatcher, Cushing's version of Knox is stiff and firmly convinced of a need to maintain composure at all times. His main tactic of defence is offence and whenever he sees the men on the medical board who might chastise him for acquiring illegal corpses he shows he's well up on every minor infraction of medical ethics perpetrated by his accusers and throws them back in their faces.



George Rose plays Burke and a young Donald Pleasence, unrecognisable with a mop of dark hair, plays Hare, both actors doing a great job of making these men utterly repulsive. They inhabit a world of people at the ends of their ropes, barely surviving and getting dead drunk whenever possible. The two run a lodging house, which is where they ensnare most of their victims.



A subplot involves one of Knox's students (John Cairney) and his love affair with a prostitute, Mary Patterson (Billie Whitelaw). Patterson was one of the real life victims of Burke and Hare. The film's portrayal of the frequently topless women cavorting in dingy taverns is surprisingly unrestrained even for a relatively low budget British horror film from the time.



The relationship between the student and the prostitute helps to bring out the contrast between class attitudes. A chance encounter between the couple and Knox's niece (June Laverick) with her beaux shows the upper and lower classes were so different as to easily convince themselves they were separate species--a handy state of affairs when the better off need to exploit the less fortunate.

My review for 1945's The Body Snatcher can be found here.

My review for Medicinal Purposes, a 2004 Doctor Who audio play based on the Burke and Hare murders, can be found here.
setsuled: (Default)


What if the world is secretly controlled by aliens and the only one who can see them is a cheesy guy with a mullet? I'm not sure if the characters in John Carpenter's 1988 film They Live are poorly developed or are calculated to subvert heteronormative expectations without its stars or studio getting wise. The Sci-Fi concept is nice, its best distinction from something like Invasion of the Body Snatchers is the daring to incorporate economic class, though this has had the unfortunate effect of the movie being co-opted by the alt-right, prompting John Carpenter himself to speak out recently against anti-Semitic interpretations of the film. I don't think the movie espouses bigotry, I do think it's a bit muddled. Its cheesy 80s action charm sits a bit oddly with the implicit ideology of its concept.

I don't like to foist a sexual identity on people or movies. I think of the Ani DiFranco song "In or Out"--"their eyes are all asking are you in, or are you out and I think, oh man, what is this about?" On the other hand, the movie makes a lot more sense if you assume Roddy Piper's John Nada and Keith David's Frank Armitage are in love.



The movie has the least interesting John Carpenter soundtrack I've heard--most of the time we hear the same three notes on guitar played repeatedly as we watch Nada walk around town, trying to get work or wandering. He finally catches a break with a construction crew though he's discouraged when it's mentioned that it's a union job, at which point the camera cuts to a group of Hispanic workers chatting.



Which seemed like it was playing on a right wing fear of Mexican-American labour unions. But maybe not since Nada does get the job and starts working shirtless, his improbable physique scoped out by Keith David's character Frank.




Nada needs a place to stay so he follows Frank to the shanty town where Frank lives across the street from a church. Frank later mentions having a wife and kids but we never see them. After Nada discovers the magic glasses that lets him see the aliens pretending to be humans, the film has its most perplexing scene when Nada and Frank get into a prolonged, five minute brawl.



It's a good fight scene, obviously Piper's in familiar territory. But it doesn't make any sense. All Nada wanted was for Frank to wear the glasses and the fight erupts when Frank repeatedly refuses to do so. On Wikipedia, Carpenter is quoted as comparing it to the brawl between John Wayne and Victor McLaglen at the end of The Quiet Man. That fight was not a fight to the death and was designed as a way for two characters to work out their issues in a form of cultural subconscious hyper-masculine communication. These issues built over the whole movie having to do with tradition and pride--Wayne's character trying to buy land that McLaglen's felt was his by right, the issue further complicated by Wayne's relationship with McLaglen's sister and--well, you can go watch The Quiet Man. You should, it's a great movie. But Frank and Nada had nothing like that. They basically just seem friendly, if a little brisk, when suddenly Nada, who's anxious about the whole world apparently being taken over by aliens, puts everything aside to grapple with Frank, who apparently just can't put on a pair of fucking glasses.



When Frank finally puts on the glasses--seeing how things truly are--the two check into a cheap hotel room together, although they had to live in a shanty town before, and Nada says sarcastically, "Ain't love grand?" and starts telling Frank about how he was abused as a child. I am quite certain I'm not the first person to comment on what this seems like--I haven't even mentioned how encouragements to procreate through relationships with the opposite sex are part of the sinister subliminal messages Nada is able to see. The only female character is played by the sinister looking Meg Foster (most notable, to me, for playing the casino cashier in the new Twin Peaks).



Like I said, I don't like to impose a sexual identity on anyone, but how does any of this make sense if Nada and Frank aren't discovering a physical love for each other? Either way, Frank is oddly underdeveloped. If the two really are meant to be taken as being in love, it would have been nice if the film explored it more directly.

Aside from the political allegory, the film seems to be well-known for Roddy Piper's line about how he's "here to chew bubblegum and kick ass and I'm all out of bubblegum." The bullshitting humour in this reflects the humour found in much of the film, its irony never quite meshing with the ghoulish beings taking over the world and the real threat this presents. Maybe the discord is supposed to be there, though--it's supposed to be discomforting that aliens and Meg Foster are crashing the bubblegum party.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)


The world may seem like it's controlled by powerful, invisible, malevolent forces. Much of this impression may be mere paranoia, so the best answer is investigation and illumination. This is what Peter Cushing believes in 1965's The Skull, a simple but pleasantly garish horror film directed by Freddie Francis based on a story by Robert Bloch.

It may come as no surprise that eventually Christopher Maitland (Cushing) bites off more than he can chew in the form of a skull, supposedly the skull of the Marquis de Sade. The filmmakers don't seem particularly interested in the particulars of De Sade's life beyond the fact that his name is the origin of the word sadism. So the skull is cursed, possessed by a demon that makes its owners commit murder.



Cushing is a collector of bizarre, demoniac paraphernalia from all over the world, surrounding himself with these items and books about them in his study where he spends most of his time alone with the things. Naturally, he neglects his wife (Jill Bennett) in the process.



When a dealer (Patrick Wymark) from whom Christopher purchases many objects stops by, she pleads with Christopher to give up his obsession. She's worried he's tampering with dangerous forces. He smiles indulgently and patiently explains, "It's because people, all through the ages, have been influenced and terrorised by these things that I carry out research to try and find the reasons why."



We frequently see Christopher at ease in his study, relaxing amidst his nightmare sculptures, completely assured of his control. With the introduction of the skull, this sense of control is undermined in different ways. In a possible hallucination, he's dragged out of his study by two men who claim to be police and taken to a place where he's forced to undergo some simple, sadistic trials.



This movie mostly works on atmosphere and performances. In addition to Cushing, Wymark is great as his shady dealer and Patrick Magee is memorable in two brief appearances as a police surgeon. But next to Cushing, of course, Christopher Lee makes the biggest impression, despite being only credited as "guest star"--he's actually pretty prominent in the film as the former owner of the skull who cautions his friend to stay away from it. It's just great watching these two talk about this while playing billiards. I could listen to them discuss occult artefacts while playing and drink cognac all night.

setsuled: (Skull Tree)


Most people don't see any drawbacks in trying to cure cancer, many don't consider the process might produce a new species of rapidly multiplying slime creature that sucks all bone matter from human bodies with its proboscis. For the edification of the scientific community and sober contemplation of the general public 1966's Island of Terror presents the possible nightmare resulting from what many presume is a perfectly innocent and noble endeavour. This Terence Fisher movie starring Peter Cushing not produced by Hammer actually features a moralising coda warning the viewer against the dangers of science gone to far. You have to love such sincerity. Less charming is the film's misogyny but the film's mainly enjoyable for its odd succession of cosy, chatty scenes and Cushing in a very affable mode.



After establishing a super high tech lab hidden on a small island off Ireland's east coast, the film becomes a mystery unravelled in scenes of people going to visit other people who in turn go to visit yet more people with their own questions. This sort of relay of concern is kicked off when one of the villagers on the island visits the constable (Sam Kydd) complaining that her husband is three hours late getting home and he's not at the pub. The constable investigates and finds the man's body turned into a squishy, rubbery mass.



So he pays a visit to Dr. Landers (Eddie Byrne) who is confounded after doing an autopsy of the boneless body. So Dr. Landers goes to England to pay a visit to Dr. Stanley (Cushing), one of the leading men in his field.



Stanley doesn't know what to make of it so the two of them go and pay a visit to Dr. West (Edward Judd) who's even more of a leading man in this field it seems. He's also a sort of knock-off James Bond, trading corny sex jokes with a beautiful woman named Toni (Carole Gray) who's wearing only a shirt.



This was the only truly insufferable part of the movie. To get to the island on short notice, Toni offers her rich father's helicopter on the condition, imposed with a mischievous smirk, that she be allowed to come along. Throughout the film, she insists on joining the men for every adventure and then panics and cries and fouls up everything every single time. It occurs to me the wrong way to write women might be exactly the right way to write children.



By contrast nearly all the men are uncannily cool throughout the film, which is sort of fun. I liked the cosy, relaxed vibe of Peter Cushing and Edward Judd poring over notes in an inn after finding a massacre of boneless scientists at that lab. It's a little while before they meet the creatures.



It's not the most inspiring special effect--not quite having as much fascinating weirdness as the creatures in movies like Fiend Without a Face to make up for being unconvincing but they are pretty fun. I liked how they seemed to slowly secrete spaghetti whenever one creature divided to become two.



Twitter Sonnet #984

Pineapple juice adorns the leaden brick.
The vault's computer dust's too full to-day.
As runners tread like graves they'll slowly stick.
In thoughts triangles pin a bad delay.
In batt'ry temples acid sips the scalp.
Condemned for plastic hair the men retreat.
Repeating slogans captured Pez for help.
The webs of wardrobe finalise the street.
A bubbling counterfeit collects a car.
Divested hands compose an itch to sleep.
A fading laugh obliged the comic's bar.
In radios the signal carries deep.
Forgiving paws disrupt the leaves outside.
When phones make ghosts our hearts'll coincide.

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