Monthly Archives: February 2014

Crash Discussions: Director Mike Mendez

PodcastimageMike Mendez, the “madman” behind 2013’s creature feature, BIG ASS SPIDER, as well as the under-rated GRAVEDANCERS, talks about horror and independent filmmaking, as well as working with Lloyd Kaufman, Bruce Campbell and more! Don’t miss this one!

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Crash Discussions: Director of the Damned: David Cronenberg (Part II)

PodcastimageThe analysis of Cronenberg’s work continues with THE DEAD ZONE (1983) to COSMOPOLIS. We take a closer look at body image, family, and the role of the hero in his many riveting works.

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Crash Analysis Support Team: Randy Brzoska’s “Kid in Play” (Part III)

Children as Antagonists

            So far we’ve discussed children primarily as victims, protagonists, or glorified wake-wood-movie-poster-hammer-films-dvd-coverMacguffins. And we’ve discovered that due to the inherent traits of Innocence and Agency they fulfill those roles nicely. “But,” I can hear you saying, “that creepy kid from next door is looking at me again. Aren’t children also scary? Don’t a lot of horror movies feature creepy kids like my neighbor?” The answer is: of course! I’m so glad you brought it up. And also, close your blinds.

Let’s face it. Whether you’re a parent or non-parent, children can be nightmarish anxiety-inducers. You see, on the surface we see children as innocent and harmless and life-affirming. However, dig a little deeper and you expose a dark undercurrent of subtextual angst we associate with children that lurks down in murky depths of our psyche. Things adults don’t like to talk about in polite conversation.  The reason we harbor this anxiety can be articulated partially via the following subheadings.

 

  1. 1.     Children are ‘THE OTHER’: Even for parents, children can be difficult to understand. They are inarticulate. They’re selfish. They don’t play by the same rules adults do. They are receptive and open and easily manipulated. They are of us, but not us; little strangers we allow into our worlds. Sometimes they can behave in ways that are downright alien or sociopathic. In short, they’re hard for an adult to relate to. To complicate matters, they can turn on a dime and rebel, betray you, and antagonize you. They can be hurtful and cruel…on purpose. And their cruelty is at once incisive and honest. Deep down we know our claim to authority is tenuous at best. A child’s cruelty cuts to the quick because we fear it might reveal this about ourselves. And unlike adults, the impulsive little imps don’t bother to soften their words or worry about the consequences of what they say.

 

  1. Children are constant reminders of our own mortality:  “Make no mistake about why babies are here,” Jerry Seinfeld famously says. “They are here to replace us.” We laugh at the joke not because it is absurd, but because we recognize the truth in it. A new generation ascends to power only in the wake of the previous generations’ decline. Our children will usurp our authority and become OUR caregivers when we are old. In short, children are walking monuments to the fact that we are on the way out and our foothold in this world is temporary.

 

  1. 3.     Interacting with children can reveal our worst selves: Yes, children can bring out the best in us: charity, sweetness, good will, self-sacrifice. But, as any parent can tell you, dealing with kids is tough. You have to protect them from the outside world and themselves. They’re vulnerable, unwise, rash, and helpless. They need the help of adults. But, jeezus, they take that help kicking and screaming. They fight you, annoy you, and cry for no reason. Your self-restraint and emotional control are sorely tested. You want, quite literally, to strangle them. And a lot of people crack under the pressure. Look at the number of kids every year that are beaten, neglected, and killed by their own parents every year. Children need adults to take the high moral ground or they die or get hurt. An adult failing to do so steps into an abyss of guilt and self-loathing. Few things are more terrifying for a parent than a child dying while under their care.

 

So, to sum up, children make perfect antagonists because we can so easily project our own insecurities onto them, and that fact, along with our protective instincts toward them plus overriding moral and social imperatives to keep them from harm (and regard them as ‘harmless’), makes them wonderful ‘stealth’ villains–disguised by our own psychological baggage.

When a child IS revealed to be a monster, it tends to create an acute cognitive dissonance. And our first response tends to be denial. It simply cannot be so! Even as danger is plainly staring him or her in the face (or coming after them with a garden trowel), the actor[i] fails to adhere to the laws of self-preservation because their moral and psychological imperatives are asking them to act in opposition to them. Surely we’re not to harm a child! Surely it cannot be true that it intends me harm! And if I do harm or kill this child, what then? How do I live with myself? Is harming a child worth compromising my moral integrity? Perhaps there is some other way, some other explanation…

And then, of course, it is too late.

We know this sense of denial exists because we see it all of the time. Parents and caregivers deny their kids engage in substance abuse. They deny their kids’ self-destructive impulses exist. They deny their children’s sexuality is anything but aberrant or non-existent. And they deny their children are capable of violence or harm or deceit. But deep down we all know these things are facts of children’s lives because we WERE kids and we know what we were like. But we CHOOSE to remember or not remember particular things in particular ways. And we CHOOSE to not acknowledge those facets of childhood that don’t fit in with our preconceived idealization of it. Acknowledging them is disturbing.

This denial is what makes the parents’ inaction so believable in We Need to Talk About Kevin and what makes Christine Penmark’s realizations so awful and compelling in The Bad Seed. It explains why so many adults underreact when faced with a child’s malfeasance.

There are, of course, those who see children solely via the negative subtexts. The cynical people who believe that all children are up to no good. The sorts that cross the street when a group of children draws near and who gleefully espouse zero-tolerance school policies. The abusers and totalitarians who treat children like miniature adults. People, in short, who wear their fear of children on their shirtsleeves. For those people, child villains confirm what they already believe.

The truth is that kids, like adults, are neither angels nor demons, but human. Child monsters force us to confront this reality. They illustrate our failure to engage with children as complex emotional beings and point out that we need to understand them as a human whole rather than as generalizations based on our own assumptions.

That said, here are some films that get child monsters right:

  1. Who Can Kill a Child? (1976)
  2. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
  3. The Bad Seed (1956)
  4. Wake Wood (2010)
  5. Come Out and Play (2012)
  6. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
  7. Let the Right One In (2008)
  8. It’s Alive! (1974)
  9. Village of the Damned (1960)
  10. The Children (2008)

(Photo from The Wolfman Cometh.)

 

 

 



[i] We’ll define ‘actor’ here as any participant in a given situation or story, not necessarily a thespian.

Crash Interviews: Filmmakers Kyle Schiffert and Ryan Fox

PodcastimageThe team behind Time to Back Out Productions talks about their dramatic horror LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW, their upcoming thriller DESOLATION, and what it’s like to make a film with no damn money. Kyle Schiffert and Ryan Fox do not disappoint!

Crash Discussions: Director of the Damned: David Cronenberg (Part I)

PodcastimageWe explore the career of filmmaking master, David Cronenberg, and his films from 1969’s STEREO to the amazing VIDEODROME of 1983. We also look into the often revisited themes and use of image that makes him of films greatest directors.

Crash Discussions: Filmmaker Erik Bloomquist on FOUNDERS DAY

PodcastimageWriter/Director Erik Bloomquist talks about his upcoming dramatic horror feature FOUNDERS DAY. Get the inside info before the movie hits theaters in 2015.

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Crash Analysis: LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW (2013)

An excellent surprise…

A fearless actor carries a dramatic horror

In 2002, Colin Farrell agreed to play the part of Stu in Joel Schumacher’s PHONE urlBOOTH. Apparently, other more renowned actors (for the time) turned down the role because the majority of the film rested upon that character’s shoulders. However, in 2010, Rodrigo Cortés intense thriller, BURIED, had Ryan Reynolds boarded up in a coffin – and that’s all we see for 95 minutes. Talk about carrying a film! Now, we see that triumph again in the short dramatic horror, LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW (2013) where actor Owen McCuen stands tall for 25 minutes.

Written by Kyle Schiffert, who co-directed with Ryan Fox, LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW follows Joe (McCuen) who resides in eastern-Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley during the spread of a zombie virus. The problem: Joe may be infected and has but hours to live.

PHONE BOOTH had ancillary characters an action, but BURIED had to rely on Reynolds and the suspense surrounding claustrophobia and asphyxiation.

LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW offers something different. Yes, the suspense is certainly there, but this is also a character study that may have more resonance than the aforementioned features. After all, Stu’s a jerk, and Reynolds’ character has no control over his circumstances. Joe, however, has options as he moves ever closer to that time where he’s either turned or remains a fully functioning part of humanity.

His wife and child are safe at another location. It’s just Joe, a beer, an empty house – and a ton of thoughts. It’s as if he’s stuck at the doctor’s office waiting for life or death test results. Joe combats the boredom by maintaining an active mind. He doesn’t talk to himself, but the voiceover narration keeps us aware of what’s happening, and why Joe feels the way he does. But this is far from “telling” in lieu of “showing.” Joe’s simply occupying his brain so he doesn’t have to think too much. It’s not that he’ll just lose a family and a life, but there’s the strong possibility that he’ll become “the other” – the outsider that must be destroyed. He could completely lose himself as a person, and never find his way back. To die is one thing, to become the hated undead is another.

The look of LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW matches Joe’s mood. The colors are washed out, at times monochromatic (think 2011’s THE DAY). These muted tones are reminiscent of a moribund world – the world Joe sees himself fading into. Moreover, as the film progresses to its ultimate conclusion, Joe’s narration fades along with the color. The countdown to whether he’ll remain human or turned into a walker is palpable – and with something so vital on Joe’s mind, there’s probably nothing but a steady buzz in his ears.

Owen McCuen delivers Joe to us as the nice guy at work we’d probably go to lunch with head-shot_22213_1327073816on occasion. He’s not violent or pushy, just a responsible man doing the nine to five so his family can have food, clothing, and shelter. Hell, he’s a “regular guy” otherwise he wouldn’t be named Joe. In this sense, he’s the anti-hero – the average person forced to stand tall in an extraordinary situation even though they really don’t want to. And don’t think you’ll see a stiff actor sighing and crying for a half-hour. McCuen delivers a fabulous performance with subtle body language, those “little things” that separate genuine actors from those who don’t know any better. His performance is strong, compelling, and ultimately impressive. And his actions can conjure the occasional snicker from the audience or even the coming of tears.

With the look and acting squared away, Kyle Steele’s music is the exclamation point for atmosphere. The score is haunting and often serves as something lurking in the background to keep us unnerved.

If LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW has any issues, they consist of one panning shot where the camera seemed to start and stop in increments. And the other is the titles. Courier may be the international font of choice for screenplays, but that doesn’t mean we need to see it on the screen. Additionally, the colors used in the titles are too bold and bright, failing to match the boldness of the film. Both are easy fixes.

Right now, LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW is making its way through the festival circuit. This means you won’t be able to view the short in a public venue for the time being. However, you can see the trailer here: http://www.ttbop.com/like-theres-no-tomorrow.html and even purchase a digital copy or a deluxe DVD if you so desire.

Owen McCuen is currently working with the Time to Back Out Productions’ team of Schiffert and Fox on their latest venture, the feature thriller DESOLATION, which is in post-production.

Don’t miss this excellent short film. And definitely remember Owen McCuen’s name. I have no doubt we’ll be hearing more of him in the future.

4 out of 5 stars

(Poster photo from Kickstarter. Owen McCuen photo from Stage32.)

Crash Discussions: Heartbreak Horror

PodcastimageHappy Valentine’s Day! Well, for some of us anyway. Many find little solace in a Hallmark holiday where they feel unwanted and unloved. And horror films, like MAY, LOVE OBJECT, ROMAN, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, BUG, SIGHTSEERS, and more, take this to the extreme. So step up for a listen about these heartbreak horrors, and hear how horror cinema exploits us at our weakest emotional moment.

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Crash Discussions: Interview with Owen McCuen

PodcastimageOwen McCuen, the star of the dramatic horror LIKE THERE’S NO TOMORROW and the forthcoming thriller DESOLATION, talks horror, acting, fandom, independent cinema, and “The Chin” himself, Bruce Campbell.

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Crash Anaylsis: BIG ASS SPIDER (2013)

A Big Ass Blast!

Horror/comedy at its creature-feature best

Mike Mendez, the man behind the often overlooked THE GRAVEDANCERS (2006), maxresdefaultwhich is one of the best of the “Films to Die For” series, brings us BIG ASS SPIDER a horror/comedy of immense, eight-legged proportions.

Alex Mathis (Greg Grunberg) is an exterminator who just can’t seem to enjoy his day off. After helping out an old lady in need of pest removal, he’s bitten by a brown recluse spider and ends up in the emergency room. But he’s better off than the dead guy who just rolled in – which leads to the spawning of a very special arachnid. And this is just the beginning of our hero’s quest as he sets out to save Los Angeles and win the day.

While watching BIG ASS SPIDER my wife, Ally said she hadn’t heard me laugh that loud in a long damn time. That’s because Gregory Gieras nailed the idiosyncratic dialogue and brought the comedy in fantastic ways. Better still, there was a laugh a minute.

Grunberg delivers as the snarky, sarcastic side commentary guy who’s neither a wimp nor a wallflower. He comes fully loaded with the confidence to be the man of the hour, and regardless of obstacles, presses on. His “Mexican Robin” sidekick is the equally awesome Lombardo Boyer who plays Jose Ramos – the security guard devoid of the stereotypical rent-a-cop trappings. Together, this two-man crew is out to prove to the military that an exterminator, with his trusted partner, can bring down a spider monster without launching sidewinders from fighters in the city of angels. But Major Braxton Tanner, played straight by the always amazing Ray Wise, which creates its own level of hilarity (think Slim Pickens in DR. STRANGELOVE), won’t take orders from a blue collar like Alex. Even his number one, Lieutenant Karly Brandt (Clare Kramer) pays little heed to any of Alex’s pleas or demands – because she’s cocked, and locked, and ready to rock.

And this is the best thing about BIG ASS SPIDER – no weak-minded characters. All of them are strong and ready for action, which leads to conflict because all comers think they have the best solution to their monster-sized dilemma. It was especially wonderful to see a strong female character in Lt. Brandt that didn’t need to be “transformed” to face up to the challenge. Even Jose stepped up into his role as if he refused to play second fiddle.

The only weak spot some have noted is the CGI. It seems as if all the money went into the spider, and the rest is akin to something from the Syfy Channel. But the low budget CGI actually caters to the comedy, as if a nod of nostalgia to the cheesy B-movie monster films of the fifties.

The comedy is fabulous and the horror is more about a BIG ASS SPIDER than gore or jump scares. Even so, Mike Mendez’s movie is a non-stop entertaining treat and highly recommended. In fact, I’d love to see a triple feature with BIG ASS SPIDER, SLITHER, and GRABBERS. Now that would be a creature-feature frenzy of epic proportions.

4 out of 5 stars

(Photo from You Tube.)

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