Sunday, April 7, 2013

SCREAMs and Scream Again And Again

In the success of SCREAM, there was a lot of irony to go around. The slasher subgenre had virtually consumed the larger horror genre in the 1980s but it had gone into decline as that decade had progressed and by the end of the Reagan era, it was, in effect, dead and gone. By 1996, it had been dead and gone long enough that a fellow named Kevin Williamson could come along and write a loving homage to it, one that thoroughly deconstructed it and, by doing so, killed it for good and provided it a far better epitaph than it ever deserved. That was SCREAM. After the film suffered an embarrassingly poor opening weekend, word began to get around. It took off like a rocket and the film that should have ended the slashers brought them, instead, roaring back to life for a few more years.

"Life," there, shouldn't be read to suggest there was any real vitality in what followed. The slashers had, as a rule, been creatively bankrupt from birth and the trend set off by SCREAM was more about trying to ape the elements--and, hopefully, the success--of SCREAM. One of those elements, the one on which I'm going to narrowly focus here, was SCREAM's poster artwork. For a long time, I've had the idea of putting together a series of posts on the general degradation of the art of the movie one-sheet. In this era of Photoshopped "big faces" posters, even calling this an "art" anymore often stretches the meaning of the word to the breaking point. It's often--and correctly--noted that, in Hollywood, nothing succeeds like success, and any successful film is liable to see its poster artwork copied at some point. SCREAM, however, features what is probably the most copied artwork in the history of cinema. The knock-offs began appearing almost immediately, and have continued for over 16 years, as of this writing.[1] Their subjects quickly moved beyond the mere SCREAM-sploitation pictures; SCREAM knock-off posters were used for all manner of horrors, for sci-fi movies, action pictures, war dramas, even comedies.

What I've assembled here is just a little survey of this phenomenon. It is by no means, comprehensive--the subject is so enormous, I doubt anyone even could prepare one that covers it all. What's here is sufficient to make my point.

When SCREAM first appeared right at the end of 1996, this line of fresh, young faces decorated the artwork one found in the can at one's local movie house:

It was obvious that just about everything about SCREAM--except the fact that it was good--weighed heavily on the creators of this next picture (among them, SCREAM's own Kevin Williamson) when it turned up later that same year:

In 1997, SCREAM 2 also turned up. Copying itself, it would, itself, be often copied:

Some versions, such as this French one, removed the line of faces--I include it because it, too, is copied later:

This little sci-fi thriller also appeared, with a very appropriate title, insofar as its artwork is concerned:

The following year, 1998, someone took MIMIC up on its title:

The ad guys trying to get out the word on THE BRIDE OF CHUCKY had seen the poster for SCREAM 2:

The poster for the 4th entry in the LETHAL WEAPON series SCREAMed:

The I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER gang was back with a sequel (which, despite the passage of time, was not called I KNOW WHAT YOU DID TWO SUMMERS AGO):

SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, Steven Spielberg's unfortunate Oscar-bait movie that year, was a Frankenstein's monster creation, sewn together from pieces of much better war movies from the past, so--in what this writer would like to believe was a private joke--those in the marketing department slapped a SCREAM on it:

More from the "Class of '98":

1999, the song remains the same:

The year 2000 sees the third installment of SCREAM, and again, the franchise copies itself:

And leads to further knock-offs:

In 2001, they come large and small:

David DeCoteau made a trilogy of films called THE BROTHERHOOD and was apparently so enamored of the SCREAM trend that variants on it advertised all three, the first 2 in 2001:

And the 3rd in 2002:

Some other 2002s:






And on and on:








Monotonous enough to make you want to, well, scream, right?



[1] Not so long ago and in a different life, I owned a video store. One night, I was sufficiently bored that I rearranged an entire portion of the horror section to showcase only movies with SCREAM cover art. Before I was finished, I had the better part of three shelves covered by them.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Death of An Amateur

"Y'know, many times, they say [of me] 'he's an amateur,' and I sort of say 'Thank you very much,' because that means I love cinema. It's the real meaning of the word. And this amateurism is disappearing."

The amateur who spoke those words spent 59 years making movies. I suspect no one knows exactly how many. His filmography on the Internet Movie Database lists 199 features and shorts as director, but there are so many variants on so many of his films, so many unreleased works, so many pieces of incomplete projects left scattered all over the world that any mere list is probably doomed to hopeless inadequacy. Making movies wasn't, for him, a job; it was his life. He was a director, writer, producer, composer, cameraman, actor--he could do it all, and did. For six decades, he lived, breathed, ate, slept, walked, talked, shot, and shat film. Earlier this week, he died.

Over the years, this perennial amateur, Jesús "Jess" Franco, has been alternately praised as a genius and, more often, reviled as a hack. Both are, to an extent, true. Buffs of the kind of off-the-beaten-track flicks on which he spent his career like to fight over what constitutes the precise mixture. In this era of implacable dichotomies, one finds very few middling reactions to Franco--he tends to be a love-him-or-hate-him proposition, and people tend to attach great emotion to whatever conclusion they reach. If anyone can be said to be the ultimate cult director, he certainly fits the bill.

I've been a big fan of his work. More than that, he's a real source of inspiration. An indefatigable work-horse of fiercely independent spirit, he could take a few rolls of quarters, some bologna sandwiches, and some pals to a location and emerge, a week later, with a mini-masterpiece. He did it over and over again. I've never been one to dismiss his lapses (which can, at times, be rather spectacular), but I have argued, for a good, long while, that his shortcomings tend to be greatly overstated and his work often significantly underrated, even by those who admire him. I still think this is the case. Even his absolute worst pictures tend to have at least one moment of the brilliance that shines through the frames of his best, and when it comes to the latter, he has scores of genuine classics under his belt.

Over the years, I've written a few articles about him and about his films. I'd written about my first impressions of his work. I'd reviewed EUGENIE DE SADE, one of his best pictures. I wrote "Figuring Out Jesús Franco," an effort to explain the amaestro to heathens who didn't get it. When the lovely and talented Lina Romay, his longtime companion/collaborator/muse, died just last year, I wrote a fairly well-received reminiscence. These are just little pieces though, narrowly focused vignettes. If they work, they convey some of my enthusiasm for their respective subjects. Doing justice to his life in the event of his death is much harder.

Film was the life of Jesús Franco. His viewfinder was his ever-voyeuristic eye, his zoom was the beat of his cinema-infatuated heart, and what it pumped through his veins for six decades was sublime and ridiculous, sweet and savage, silly and superior celluloid, even when he'd switched to video. His career was a bona fide epic, like nothing else in the history of cinema. If trying to sum up that epic in only a few words is just as much an exercise in futility as the IMDb's filmography, the movies are still there, and can tell you all you need to know.

Rest easy, you damned old amateur. This fellow amateur will miss you.

Jesús Franco Manera
12 May, 1930 – 2 April, 2013


Monday, April 1, 2013

Welcome To The Tombs of THE WALKING DEAD

For a television series, a season ender is a big event. Ratings tend to radically rise, offering a chance for greater exposure beyond the normal fanbase, and traditionally, series creators really pull out the stops and try to bring their A-game to the project. The problem for THE WALKING DEAD has been that its A-game tends to look pretty much like anyone else's third- or fourth-string. The series has all the potential in the world and there are the occasional episodes that don't entirely suck but in the larger context of the series, they seem to be more like happy accidents than the result of anyone genuinely applying themselves. TWD splits its season and, as a consequence, has had the equivalent of five season enders to date. None of them have been good. The second season ender, "Beside the Dying Fire," remains, to date, one of the absolute worst episode of the entire run. And that's saying an awful lot. Tonight's season 3 capper, "Welcome To The Tombs," did nothing to reverse this trend.

At times, TWD collapses into such a morass of ineptness that it plays like a parody of itself and that was on display quite a bit tonight.

TWD has the pace of molasses in January. Its creators talk a bullshit propaganda line about running a show where anyone can die at any moment, but when it comes to potentially alienating the audience with the deaths of popular characters, TWD doesn't take any risks, and their decision to spend all season turning Andrea into a hate-figure added up, tonight, to exactly what it always does. GINO leaves Andrea handcuffed to a chair and viciously stabs Milton, leaving the bespectacled scientist to die so he will reanimate and chow down on her.[1] Milton left a pair of pliers where Andrea can get to them though. It's a race against time, with Andrea trying to retrieve the pliers with her feet before Milton's life bleeds entirely out of him. As with most TWD races-against-time though, it turns into more of a really slow creep against time, running most of the length of the episode with--as usual with TWD--filler moments continually destroying any tension the scenario could have built. At one point, Andrea entirely halts her escape attempt to have a few minutes of conversation with the expiring Milton about why she stayed in Woodbury. Later, when she thinks he's reanimating, it doesn't spur her to redouble her efforts--instead, she comes to another complete stop and just sits and looks at him.[2]

As I said, a parody of itself.

GINO takes a Woodburian army to the prison, which serves as the excuse to unleash some loud, visually impressive pyrotechnics as they blast their way in. These looked good in the "next week on AMC's The Walking Dead" preview and that's the only reason they were included. After building to it all season, there's no big fight over the prison. Most of the prison group hides nearby while GINO and his men explore the empty facility. When the Woodburians venture into the zombie-infested area,[3] a smoke-bomb that was left for them explodes and they run from the building like rabbits. Glenn and Maggie are waiting behind cover to shoot at a few of them as they run out. They needn't have bothered--Woodbury takes to its vehicles and flees in terror. GINO and a pair of his trusted lieutenants pursue and, stopping the convoy, GINO becomes so angry his people won't fight that he guns them down himself! And so was ludicrously ended the great Woodburian threat.

Again, parody.

GINO and two of his men survive though and leave for parts unknown, leaving open the prospect of a return--something I imagine most viewers would, after this pathetic mess, welcome about as much as they'd welcome a return to Hershel's farm. Or the return of new Coke.

The episode did feature one really striking moment that hit at the heart of one of TWD's many shortcomings. During the prison attack, Carl guns down a surrendering Woodburian. Rick confronts him about this and Carl thoroughly dresses down his father, noting that their failure to deal with potential threats in a responsible manner is what results in their people being killed over and over again. He failed to kill the walker that killed Dale; Rick failed to kill Andrew, which resulted in Lori and T-Dog dying; Rick didn't shoot GINO when he had the chance, resulting in the attack that had just happened. And so on. At someone finally speaking this hard, frank, nowhere-to-run-or-hide truth, this viewer and vociferous critic of the series felt like cheering. Even more so when Rick looked as if he'd been slapped, then took on the countenance of a rapidly deflating balloon. Unfortunately, TWD has never had the stomach for this kind of matter-of-fact sentiment and Mazzara, its now-fired showrunner and the writer of record on this episode, double-stacked the deck against Carl's brutally frank words by having the incident that led to it be Carl shooting a surrendering teenager, then, in the end, having Rick take in the remaining Woodburians, mostly kids and old people (nothing wrong with that, in and of itself, but it was presented as a direct and total repudiation of what Carl had said).[4]

Instead of moving everyone to Woodbury, Rick moved the Woodburians to the prison, damaged and still mostly full of zombies as a consequence of our heroes' failure to clear it.

TWD, this season, has definitely been a tale told by an idiot (more particularly, a group of them), filled with sound and fury, signifying nothing. Except without the fury. Fury requires competent pacing and was definitely a no-show most of the time. The final count: three episodes that didn't entirely suck ("Seed", "Clear", and "This Sorrowful Life"), adrift in a sea of rubbish. The story: A lot of claim-staking and brainless posturing over a prison that, as was presented, wasn't worth keeping; and a threat to it posed by a well-equipped villain who has no motive to want to do them harm other than being the designated villain (and who turned out to be no real threat at all). It doesn't add up to anything.




[1] GINO kills Milton because Milton torched his zombie zoo in the previous episode and, he says, because of that, eight Woodburians were killed by Merle, which makes one wonder if Glen Mazzara, the writer of the episode, even bothered to read the script for the previous ep. Merle was able to take out a few Woodburians because he brought an army of zombies to the meeting and shot GINO's men in the confusion that resulted. How more zombies roaming around through that situation would have helped GINO is anyone's guess.

[2] And because of the episodes in ludicrous ass-draggery, she is bitten and meets her end.

[3] Why on earth would our heroes take over a huge prison as their new home then confine themselves all season to one tiny, filthy cell-block of it while allowing zombies to roam freely through the bulk of the facility? There's a collapsed wall on one end of the compound, allowing the dead--and, more importantly, any potential enemy--free access to their home, while cutting off their only means of retreat, should they be attacked. Why on earth would they allow the existence of that breach, unrepaired and entirely unguarded, throughout most of this season? To use it as plot points later, of course! Tonight was the payoff on that.

[4] In another low point, the writers attempt to free Rick from the appalling, irremovable stain they'd left on his character by having Michonne forgive him for contemplating turning her over to GINO, telling him that considering it was the right thing to do. She even thanked him for taking her in!