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03 May, 2008

10 Things I just don’t Get



Everyone has certain things that they just do not comprehend; things that, for one reason or another, just goes right over their head. The Unimonster’s no different… indeed, considering how old-fashioned I am, it’s safe to say that there’s a veritable multitude of pop-culture icons and references that I don’t get, and hopefully, never will. I am, thankfully, immune to the dubious charms of Paris Hilton; would gleefully shoot myself in the foot to avoid trying out for any reality show; and should the day ever come when I stand in a line to pay four and a half dollars to order something called a “vente, non-fat, decaf, caramel mochacino…” then the day has arrived when I find the tallest building around and jump.


So were I to list all that baffles me regarding things that are popular and why, I could quite easily fill volumes. So let’s confine ourselves to our chosen genre, and focus in on ten things, in no special order, that never fail to surprise and amaze me in the world of Horror, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy films.

1.) The PHANTASM movies: When I first saw PHANTASM at the theater, sometime in my fourteenth year, I was impressed… somewhat. An original story; cheesy, but interesting, Special Effects; and a genuinely refreshing cast made me hope for the best. Not being a Horror novice, even at that age, I could see the potential of the story, even though the producers obviously couldn’t afford to realize that potential. But I could tell they had a good idea, and wasn’t disappointed with the end result. Unfortunately, even when more money was plowed into the franchise, that potential just never seemed to be reached. None of the three sequels have managed to equal the first, though PHANTASM II (1988) came close. Sadder still, the original loses more luster on each subsequent viewing, to the point where it’s simply become a bad movie.


2.) Post-Modern Werewolves & Vampires: Can someone please tell me why it’s necessary for the undead to travel about packing more heat than a Snoop Dogg concert? The trend that began with 1987’s NEAR DARK shows no signs of petering out, not with BLADE, its two moderately successful sequels; the UNDERWORLD franchise; and a dozen other rip-offs and low-budget imitations. Now believe me, I’m all for an armed populace… but when you can transform into an eight-foot tall beast, with six-inch claws and fangs, doesn’t that kinda eliminate the need for Smith & Wesson??


3.) Horror & Politics: To say that there is a certain political slant in Hollywood is an understatement, and for me not to realize that the majority of filmmakers share a political stance that’s diametrically opposed to my own would be naïveté bordering on idiocy. Still, I would like to think that I could watch a movie about re-animated corpses without getting a political diatribe spewed at me. Now, I’m not talking about some subtle sub-text, such as Romero’s LAND OF THE DEAD, and how the story evolved following 9-11. Screenwriters and directors are human; they’re going to draw on their own thoughts, feelings, and opinions when they create. It’s the blatant, obvious slap-in-the-face attacks on everyone whose opinion differs from theirs that bother me. The Showtime series Masters of Horror is a perfect case-in-point. On the face of it, this is a great idea, one whose time has come. Offer the genre’s greatest directors and writers the opportunity to produce a short film, free from the constrictions of the studio process. Most, such as Dario Argento, Takashi Miike, and John Landis have taken the opportunity to create genuinely good Horror. A few, however, have taken the chance to launch into a political screed, unconcerned about offending fans who don’t share their views. While I applaud Showtime for creating an environment where Horror can flourish, it’s off-putting, to say the least, to try to sit through a program that’s attacking your very core beliefs.


4.) “Non-Horror” Horror: Recently, it’s become fashionable for major stars, actors such as De Niro, Cruise, and Cage, to try their hands at scaring audiences out of their hard-earned dollars. Now, ordinarily, I’m in favor of anything that leads to more Horror Films being made, and far be it for me to say that A-list actors and actresses shouldn’t work in Horror. But I fail to see why, with such a massive investment involved in bringing that much star power to bear, no thought is given to actually making movies that are scary… or even good. HIDE AND SEEK; WAR OF THE WORLDS; THE WICKER MAN… Not a lot there to justify the expense, huh? What’s worse is the situation where directors become involved in remaking classic horror films in order to place some sort of personal stamp on it. From Spielberg’s WAR OF THE WORLDS to Neil LaBute’s abysmal remake of THE WICKER MAN, Hollywood seems convinced that they can improve great films by removing everything that made them great. Steven Spielberg is possibly the greatest living director, certainly the greatest American filmmaker since John Ford, but not even he could improve upon perfection. George Pal’s WAR OF THE WORLDS is a perfect film for its type and time; the remake, simply put, isn’t.


5.) Stephen King: First of all, let me say that King is the greatest Horror author of the past thirty years, bar none. He may be the greatest ever, though that would be a difficult point for which to argue. “IT”, “Pet Sematary”, “Salem’s Lot”, “Needful Things”… these and many other great works have sprung from the mind of this man, and the genre has been much richer for it. That I get perfectly well, and that I do not deny. But the Stephen King I don’t get is the King who gave us THE TOMMYKNOCKERS, and SLEEPWALKERS, and KINGDOM HOSPITAL. It seems as though King will allow virtually any project to carry his name, no matter how tangentially he’s connected to it; and as for his own writing, there’s no doubt that the 1999 accident that nearly claimed his life has had a profound effect on him. Can he return to his Horror roots, or does he even wish to, are questions that those of us who love his earlier work are waiting to have answered.


6.) Why Keanu Reeves is a Star: Seriously, anyone have a clue? He was absolutely horrible in Francis Ford Coppola’s DRACULA, and his performance in 2005’s CONSTANTINE was even worse… so how does he become one of the most in-demand actors in Hollywood? Personally, I think it involves the blood of a chicken and some whispered phrases in Latin.


7.) Why Bruce Campbell Isn’t: Even if you aren’t a fan of the EVIL DEAD trilogy, (and truth to tell, I’m not…) then BUBBA HO-TEP should be enough to convince you that the man with the chin has some serious acting chops. His over-the-top performances as Ash in Sam Raimi’s cult classic EVIL DEAD movies are, in my opinion, the only reason that those films are regarded as highly as they are. Moreover, his spectacular turn as an elderly Elvis Presley, battling a soul-consuming mummy in a Texas nursing home, was a joy to behold and in a righteous world would have earned Campbell an Oscar nomination, at the very least.


8.) Hammer’s CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF: I know, I know… a certified, gold-plated classic, from my second-favorite studio—how can I not enjoy this movie? Simple… the film is slow and uninvolving, the story is weak, the acting is sub-par, especially compared with most of Hammer’s productions, and, while the Werewolf design is excellent, it’s on-screen for such a brief amount of time that it’s wasted. It’s not a bad movie, really… it’s simply not a very good one. Expectations for Hammer films… especially the early ones… are high. This movie just doesn’t meet them.


9.) Universal Studios: Speaking of favorite studios… It’s not that I don’t understand the studio from which I gained my nom de plume; I fully understand greed, tight-fistedness, and a reluctance to remember from whence you came. Fans of the great Universal Horrors have long since grown accustomed to being ignored, insulted, passed over, and forgotten about by the studio, only to be shaken down anew when Universal hits hard financial times and trots our favorite cash cows out for another round of “milk the fan.” The latest round of this began four years ago, with the admittedly superb Legacy collections, and has continued unabated, with the Lugosi Franchise collection, the Karloff franchise collection, the Ultimate Sci-Fi collection, and the Hammer Horror collection. Just last year, we saw the release of the DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN 75th Anniversary editions. What I don’t get is, is this a new attitude from Universal regarding our beloved monsters, whether due to the new ownership by NBC or an increased responsiveness to the fan? Or is this just another temporary fling, and is the rug soon to be pulled out from beneath the feet of loyal fans everywhere? Earlier, I mentioned the 75th Anniversary sets of DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN. Last year, however, they failed to give us a similar treatment for the Mummy’s 75th celebration… only to put it on the schedule for this year, in support of the third Brendan Fraser MUMMY film. I don’t know the answer to my question… but if thirty years of being a fan of Universal has taught me anything, it’s that no matter how bountiful the years of plenty are, there’s always a long stretch of lean around the corner.


10.) Sideshow Toys: Can we please stipulate that when the average price of a company’s product line exceeds the $100 mark, they have to take the word “Toy” out of their name? Seriously, there are few companies that do the monsters as well as Sideshow Toys… but who can afford them? Recently, I was browsing through their website, and was struck by the sheer cost of some of their figures, including a life-sized Robby the Robot… for a staggering $17,000! I’ve never paid that much for a car!


These are some of the things that I just can’t understand. There’s more, much more in fact. How Uwe Boll keeps getting directing jobs; why Jessica Alba won’t respond to my marriage proposals; why I’m the only person in America who doesn’t think they belong on AMERICAN IDOL. Like I said… a world of things I just don’t get.





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