Friday, October 31, 2008

Scary Monsters...Super Creeps...(And Lousy Teasers?)

Been reading a lot of horror feature scripts lately...they've been ending up on my desk for development or story editing consideration. And frankly, most have been really disappointing.

First, they all start with a scary action 'teaser'...and fair enough, that's B-movie 101. But the problem with every one of the opening sequences in the scripts I read was that the 'teasers' weren't really connected to the 'story' at all. In fact, most felt tacked on after the fact.

And when I realized later that the opening had been just a bit of a wank, I got pissed. It's like...cheating.

Then we had 'the stories'. Now I don't expect the bar to be set very high, but the in between scenes (or plot) in most of the scripts I read just felt plugged in to get us from one supposedly scary, gross-out sequence to the next supposedly scary gross-out sequence.

Character development? Forget about it. Motivation? Not important. Logic? Hardly. Even suspense and tension seemed a secondary consideration...they were all just about trying to get to little scenario's that could shock or repulse the reader/viewer. Generating some squirm factor is good, but not just all about the squirm please.

And then there were the endings...ALL ultimately unsatisfying, much less surprising or even making any sense. I know endings are tough to make sing when there's generally only two or three ways these kinds of stories can go, but still...try at least. Sigh.

It's paint-by-numbers screenwriting. Imitating, not invigorating. Trying to marry and thus capitalize on two recent horror movie trends - the resurgence of the slasher film (mostly remakes though), and the 'success', I suppose, of goreporn like Hostel I and II, followed by Vacancy and Captivity (but thankfully that trend seems to be behind us).

And while I know you can go back to the original Halloween or Friday the 13th or The Hills Have Eyes or Last House on the Left or Texas Chainsaw Massacre and question whether those flicks had any of those elements in spades, I would argue that they still had more than a lot of these scripts. And those films in their day weren't trying to be 'hits'. Instead, they were designed to be made on the cheap and scare the shit out of teens at the drive-in, NOT be released in 3600 theatres after a month long 20 million dollar marketing campaign.

The greedy system is creating these new types of script 'monsters', whether it knows it or not (or cares or not).

I was discouraged reading most of these submissions. I felt the writers weren't bringing anything original to table. Okay, maybe original is too much to expect from a horror flick...but something 'special' then.

Because it can be done. Like my faves of the past five years...28 Days Later, The Ring, and Saw.

Yes, Saw.

I think Saw was a freakin' great horror movie. Part slasher/gore, part psychological worked on a lot of different levels. And had a killer twist/reveal at the end. You can mutter about the quality of the sequels this picture has inspired, but you can't deny the originals masterful horrific simplicity.

28 Days Later was Night of the Living Dead on speed...and managed to not only reinvigorate the tired 'zombie' movie genre, but was an intriguing commentary on human nature.

And even though it's a remake (a better remake) of a Japanese hit, The Ring succeeds with many of the same elements (though with less of the slasher/gore).

All were scary as hell but ultimately 'about' something... morality plays...loaded with complications and dilemmas....characters we could understand and even relate to...created rules and logic that tracked within the context of the story, and all told with loads of tension and suspense.

That's what I'm looking for.

Lately, we've been subjected to constant 'reimaginings' of twenty year old slasher flicks, or remakes of foreign (mostly Japanese) horror hits.

Think about it, and naming only a few...'Halloween'...'Texas Chainsaw Massacre'... 'Amityville Horror'....'Black Christmas'...'The Fog'...'Prom Night'...'The Hills Have Eyes'...even 'Psycho' for crying out loud?!

And then there's all the foreign remakes...'Dark Water'...'The Eye'...'The Grudge'... 'Mirrors'...'Shutter'....'The Invisible'...'Quarantine'...

So many do-overs. So few originals. No wonder new writers don't feel like they have to work too hard.

Be special. Be inspired. Be scary.

Keep me running, ruh-ning scared.

Happy Halloween.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Scaring Up A Good Score

Yesterday was a brief overview of scary, some soundtracks that helped make those movies even scarier. And not surprisingly, a lot of the most haunting or unforgettable scores are from a lot of the same films.

First rule seems to be LOTS of minor keys...major notes or chords, not so much.

Next, refrain from resonance...add plenty of dissonance.

Then bring on the cacophony...leave the harmony on the shelf.

And finally, a LOT of repetition...drilling it into your head over and over...this is scary...this is scary...this is scary...

As for classic horror movie soundtracks, there's the obvious ones..John William's Jaws... the theme from The Shining... Bernard Herrmann's score from Psycho...Mike Oldfield's theme from The Exorcist... Krzysztof Komeda's score from Rosemary's Baby ...Jerry Goldsmith's The Omen ...

But even though clearly influenced by Oldfield (in the case of Halloween) and Berrmann (in the case of Friday the 13th), for me the two most memorable have to be from the 'original' modern slasher films...

John Carpenter's theme for 'Halloween':

...and Harry Manfredini's theme for 'Friday the 13th':

Ki ki ki ki... ma ma ma ma

Ki ki ki ki... ma ma ma ma


Monday, October 27, 2008

The Horror...The Horror...

Saw V did over 30 million at the box office this weekend, proving once again that public appetite for such 'horrific' fare still reigns supreme, especially when All Hallows Eve approaches. Also in the spirit of Halloween, my tweenage son and I watched Will Smith's I Am Legend on Friday night.

Bad idea.

Now I am old and jaded, so it didn't do much for me (not to mention an abundance of CGI which, however well it's done, always tends to push me out of a movie as opposed to draw me in), but it freaked my son out. A lot. He's since woken up from nightmares, and when awake hasn't stopped talking about it - ("...what if world got wiped out by virus?" "...what if a virus turned us into flesh-hungry zombie-like creatures?"). What if. What if. Gak.

I will admit I'm feeling a little guilty for subjecting him to it (even though he was the one who said: "Let's watch something scary!")

"I Am Legend", like most contemporary horror films, isn't 'original'. The story is adapted from a 1954 sci-fi novel by Richard Matheson, which has been filmed twice before, as "The Last Man on Earth" (1964), and "The Omega Man" (1971) starring Charlton Heston.

And I do remember "The Omega Man". Oh yes. It freaked me out when I first saw it...probably around the same age as my son is now. And like him, I didn't even see it in a theatre but on late-night television, and it still freaked. Of course, checking it out now, it seems pretty cheesy...but way back when...Omega Man...."shiver".

Sticking with when I was younger, the two movies constantly referenced as well-made pictures that also managed to scare the crap out of the audience were "The Exorcist" and "Psycho".

No argument here...but when I eventually saw them, I'd either heard too much already or my expectations were too high, and I felt let down. I wasn't 'fugged up'.

"Jaws", on the other hand, freaked me out quite a bit, but most wouldn't really categorize it as a horror movie. The first "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street" all had their moments, but they were just good candy-coated popcorn...tasty in the moment, but generating very little of the residual 'wake up screaming covered in sweat later that night' factor.

No, the two that really did it for me it were John Carpenter's "The Thing" (1982)...

...and "Alien" (1979).

I suppose one could debate whether they are 'horror movies' in the classic sense as well, but I would say so. At their core they're 'trapped in the house with a monster' movies...relentlessly suspensful and tension-filled...and they accomplished horror's highest grade - they scared the bejesus out of me.

More on contemporary horror later this week, but now that you've read this far --- scariest horror films ever?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Bummer-Free Zone

Friday fun...Ferrell returns to SNL (Thursday)

Because it makes me smile.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

YouTube meets Amadeus (Cont.)

A quick followup to my previous post.

During my channel flipping and subsequent rediscovery of Amadeus, I witnessed something I found rather fascinating in regards to youth/kids and their media viewing habits per say.

My youngest tweenage daughter and I were chatting as I scrolled through the tee-vee channels...she was telling me about how impressed she was by another student's drumming talent....she wanted to know how someone got to be so good at such a young age. I said that some of it could be natural ability, but most of it was because of practice. Anyway, the word prodigy came up...she asked what that was...and I explained...and then she went on YouTube and looked up 'child musical prodigies' or something. And she found a clip of an amazing pianist who was like, 6...and a wicked guitarist who was 8 or something. Then she asked if Beethoven was a prodigy. And I said I believed so, and then mentioned Chopin or especially Mozart. So she 'youtubes' Mozart...which led us to a list of clips from the Amadeus movie.

And here's where it got interesting.

If I'd said: "Let's go down to the big TV and put on the Amadeus DVD," she'd have laughed and said no way. But instead, she clicked on Amadeus movie Part 1, and we watched the first nine minutes of the film. "Cool," she said, "And look, there's more." And she clicked Part 2...the next nine minutes of the movie.

She was totally engrossed...asking some questions, but still enjoying the story.

The clip ended. I held my breath. She said: "Onto Part 3..." and was about to click it when she remembered she had some homework to finish. And off she went to do her math, but her parting words were: "That was pretty good...I'll watch some more 'parts' tomorrow."

That's how the kids take in so much of their media and movies and music and TV 'clips' and 'parts'. And I know that's no big revelation, but it was kinda cool to see the process unfold in front of me.

And my takeway was realizing that the big challenge ahead for us creatives is to figure out how to create stories best told in that manner, make them (that's the hard part...financing the 'making' part), and then somehow attract the kids to our story (on the computer/internet) that's presumably told in 'parts', thus tapping into and hopefully capitalizing on their new-found viewing habits.

Easy composing a symphony. Hmmm. Sigh.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Rock Me Ama... BloodMonkey??

Was flipping this evening and came across something called 'BloodMonkey' on one of the movie channels - kind of an Anaconda meets Blood Diamond but with killer apes instead of snakes - and was about to keep flipping when I recognized the crazed leader of the rain forest was F. Murray friggin' Abraham!!

Great 'so bad its good' trailer HERE.

You know, F. Murray Abraham. Best Actor Oscar winner for his portrayal of Salieri in Peter Shaffer and Milos Foreman's Amadeus. Amadeus! Oh sweet Jesus, you rocked my world way back when...

Perfect storytelling. Perfect casting. Perfect direction. Perfect performances. Pitch perfect score. In relating the tale of a lessor artists agonizing and ultimately futile quest for notoriety and creative excellence while the 'genius' of another eats away at his very soul (we've all been there), the film works on so many levels.

I needed more...

But YouTube clips couldn't quench the thirst, I had to have it all on the big (TV) screen.

"On the page it looked nothing. The beginning simple, almost comic. Just a pulse - bassoons and basset horns - like a rusty squeezebox. Then suddenly - high above it - an oboe, a single note, hanging there unwavering, till a clarinet took over and sweetened it into a phrase of such delight! This was no composition by a performing monkey! This was a music I'd never heard. Filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing, it had me trembling. It seemed to me that I was hearing the very voice of God."

Sort of like how the words on a page of a screenplay, in the right directors hands and right performers mouths, can result in an amazing film...but it still all begins with the words.

And after I watched Amadeus through and been moved to tears yet again by this wonderful film and F. Murray's brilliant performance, I didn't begrudge Abraham and his 'BloodMonkey' money. He's a great actor, but there's just not that many Amadeus's floating around...and a man's gotta eat.

Still, it seems a little sad that compositions by performing monkeys, like the script for BloodMonkey, are more the norm and not the exception. Or perhaps it's that our business is primarily made up of "Salieri's", while the "Mozart's" are few and far between.

And as a bonus, go HERE to find all six parts of a marvelous behind the scenes making of Amadeus...sweet filmmaking goodness.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Young Haiku

Less folky, more 'Arc/Weld'
Lurching, stomping, shreds Ol' Black
Old man, lot like me

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Crash! Ah-hahh

Sort of a work-related plug, but also kind of a cool tip for Canadian television viewers...

Like Burn Notice, The Closer, Skins, and Sons of Anarchy before this, Super Channel continues to add provocative and entertaining TV to its broadcast roster - next week its Crash, a new series, in fact the first original dramatic series, from the Starz network in the States.

Inspired by the Academy Award®-winning Best Motion Picture of 2006 of the same name, Crash explores the complexities of social and racial tolerance and the meaning of the American dream through characters whose lives intersect and collide as they strive to achieve that dream in Los Angeles California.

The production team headed by writer/executive producer Glen Mazzara (The Shield) includes executive producers Bob Yari, Bobby Moresco and Paul Haggis and co-executive producers Don Cheadle, Tom Nunan and Mark R. Harris – part of the group behind the Oscar-winning movie.

Add to the mix a large ensemble cast, including Dennis Hopper doing his best variation on 'Frank' in years, and you got Crash: the series.

And in a nice bit of cross promotion, you can find the entire first episode of Crash posted HERE on the short film sharing Super U website.

Check it looks good (Alan Sepinwall reviews pilot here), but know this online exclusive will be available in Canada only until November 30, 2008.

Super Channel will premiere the Crash series on its premium pay television network with a double episode Oct. 20 at 10 p.m. ET.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

He Won't Stand Still!!

So, one national election down (a disappointment but not a shock - we are so spread out as a country with so many parties to choose from, I predict minority governments will continue to be the norm...and I don't know if that's necessarily a good thing. It feels kinda...half-assed, if you know what I mean, though that may be what we deserve after the lowest voter turn-out in our nation's history), one more national election to go...

And as I watched CNN speculate over the weekend and today with story after story wondering whether color or 'race' will be a factor in the US presidential election (more like 'how much of a factor it's going to be', I'm sad to say)...I couldn't help but remember this classic Eddie Murphy bit:

I'd like to think that we've all come a lot further in terms of acceptance and tolerance and 'color-blindness' since 1982 (yes...1982...when Murphy was only like 20 and funny as hell), but when it comes to the USofA, I'm really really doubtful.

Although here in Canada, the majority/minority? seemed colour-blind to Harper's sweaters, so perhaps there's still hope.

Go Vote...'ll be funtime!

Well, the final result at the end of the day might not be so fun for Canada, but still, do your duty....

Sunday, October 12, 2008


So, not only did the Leafs get stomped 6-1 by Montreal last night, the new Hockey Night In Canada Theme song winner was announced:

Um...yeah. (Bagpipes...seriously? Since when did our national sport become synonymous with the River Dance?)

Oh well, at least it doesn't suuuuuccck. When Monday Night Football changed its theme song there was lots of grumbling and gnashing of teeth, and now we can't imagine it any other way. Eventually, this HNIC anthem will be the norm.

So for old times sake, HERE is the old HNIC theme song...but also found this entry that didn't make the finalists but absolutely positively should have been on the short list:

I laughed till I peed. Then I ate more pumpkin pie.

Happy Thanksgiving Canada!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Times A Wastin'

This might be like so ten years ago, but I just found it. For fun, create your own South Park character HERE...

Should I call mine Wilbur, or Willard? Either way, I'd probably want him to tell Cartman and co. that last night's Season 12 Part II premiere kinda suuuuuucccckkkked... (though I'll never be able to look at Steven Spielberg or George Lucas the same way again - OMG!!!)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Gonna See If I Can't Unwind

Thanks to Jaime Weinman for reminding me that South Park returns tonight to Comedy Central for the second half of its 12th season with the episode 'The China Probrem'. I can't remember when this ep will air up here in Canada, whether it's this Friday night or next Friday night. But no matter, I'll catch it online later this evening (which makes me wonder...since most US TV series are simulcast up here at the same time, including 'premium' shows from HBO and Showtime, why do we always have to wait a few days or a week to catch South Park on Canada's Comedy Network?).

Anyway, Weinman was somewhat underwhelmed by the first half of Season 12 which aired back in the spring...and upon reflection I suppose I have to agree. I feel kind of fortunate to have only discovered South Park and all of its yummy goodness in the past couple years, when the show has really been on a roll. But the whacked-out funny goodness of 'Super Fun Time' and 'Major Boobage' didn't make up for several one-note one joke episodes like 'Over Logging', 'Britney's New Look', and 'Canada On Strike'. And the show has set the bar pretty high with a lot of consistently brilliant episodes (not to mention lotsa relevant political, social, and cultural commentary) in Seasons 9-11....which Mr. Weinman also points out in this great article he wrote earlier this year.

Come to think it...who cares what I think. Go read Weinman, and find somewhere to watch 'The China Probrem' tonight. Even if it isn't an 'instant classic' ('Make Love Not Warcraft' or 'Le Petite Tourette' anyone?), South Park's less than stellar episodes are still better than most comedy series on air right now.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Bill Kills

Sorry about being all linky and slutty, but that's how some days go.

Today Bill 'the Mad Pulp Bastard' Cunningham comes out swinging, then pulls off the gloves and tears apart some B-movie maker's lame poster and marketing campaign. Witness the carnage HERE...

Part of me has been sometimes tempted to post a really badly executed (read: shitty) synopsis or outline or screenplay I've been sent, just to point out what's not working (read: rip it a new asshole) in an effort to educate and inform...but I always jam out. Maybe it's because I'm just a nice guy. More like I'm just a pussy.

Not Bill.

But as tough as he is on these poor people's work (or peoples' poor work), there's a lot to be learned from their mistakes and his analysis. is in session at Pulp 2.0. Go. Now.

p.s. I especially liked the 'why the Trajan font sucks' clip.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Sanctuary 2.0

Remember when I chatted up old pal Damian Kindler about his new web-only supernatural series 'Sanctuary'? Well after a relatively successful run on the internets, the show was picked up by Sci Fi Channel in the U.S. and then eventually Movie Network/Movie Central here in Canada (funny how so many of our Canadian nets only come in after our neighbours to the south get on board...hmmm) for a 13 episode television season.

The rejigged and rewritten reboot of the pilot premieres tonight, and although some reviews or other reviews or even other reviews haven't been glowing, with old colleagues like Damian and Sam Egan (Outer Limits) and Martin Wood (Earth: Final Conflict) at the helm, I'm still looking forward to it. I'm sure it was difficult to re-introduce the series again after you've already done it, but now with a whole new layer of input and expectations. And the news hasn't been all negative, especially with the Canadian Press. And here's a nice article where Wood discusses the in's and out's of directing a show set primarily against green screen.

Check out Sanctuary this evening....let's see where they take us.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

No Blinking!

Film and television acting is more of a science than an art, in my opinion.

Not to belittle the brilliance of the many talented performers who grace our movie screens and TV sets every year, but acting for 'the lens' requires lots of other very specific abilities. Of course it's about creating a voice and becoming the part to make the viewer believe you 'are' the character being portrayed, but it's also about finding your light and hitting marks and maintaining eye lines and understanding lenses and knowing edge of frame...I could so go on and on. Not to mention NOTHING is performed continuously top to bottom, but rather in little bits and pieces all filmed out of order.

Generating a performance is very important. Conveying that performance effectively to the audience within the parameters and constraints of the filmed if not more important. More math than method...again, in my opinion.

That's why the 'Acting In Film' series with Michael Caine is so money, and should be required viewing for every aspiring (and even established) thespian. Caine's all about less is more, craft not art, and in a straightforward and understandable way drops dozens of helpful hints to make the camera love you.

Here's a taste:

Michael Caine On Acting In Film...I own the book and DVD and recommend them to anybody, but you find find some of the best video bits HERE (parts 1-6)