Thursday, June 20, 2013

Exploring my passions, pursuing a dream, and adapting HP Lovecraft

I first saw an advertisement for the Full Moon adaptation of “The Lurking Fear” in some random issue of Fangoria back in ’92 or ’92. It was a picture that featured a creepy manor house overlooking a dug up cemetery, and from the depths of a small cave near the bottom of the picture a creepy little face stared out. It was a picture that sort of caught my attention from the get-go with a pretty cool monster design, classic motif, and the expectation that comes from adapting material by H.P. Lovecraft… before I realized that Lovecraft is rarely ever adapted very well.

The story was stuffed in some random book of collected works, a story that didn’t really measure up well against the likes of “Rats in the Walls”, “Call of Cthulhu”, or “Dagon”… .but it featured many of the Lovecraft staples, from a dark secret driving the narrator mad to the general feelings of dread and horror associated with his work. The Lurking Fear, however, was a little more traditional than most. It featured a much more linear storyline with a variety of supporting characters to push the narrative forward. It would be a few short years before I managed to come across the film, but finding the story and a love for H.P. Lovecraft was much quicker.

The movie, when I eventually saw it, was a poor representation of the work though it did try to maintain a number of the character names featured in the original story. It featured Jeffrey Combs in one of his many featured Lovecraftian roles, it was a typical Full Moon production, and the creature design that I thought looked pretty cool on the box-cover wound up looking rubber and stiff while in action. But it still held a bit of a special place in my heart for box cover and advertisement art alone. My one thought was, “this could be done better.”

So flash forward some twenty years later and I find myself in need of a project, something to occupy my time between family, work, and all the stresses involved. I’ve got a passion for writing, but I can’t think of anything to write and I’m sort of floundering creatively… so I decided to tackle a written stage adaptation of something by H.P. Lovecraft. The first thing I thought of was “The Dunwhich Horror”, probably his best known and most often adapted works. It’s a fairly standard story with a solid narrative, but it’s been done before (none of them especially faithful or necessarily ‘good’ <though I did enjoy the Corman version>). My second thought was something related to The Rats in the Walls, or maybe The Call of Cthullhu, but both seemed a little difficult to envision. And this led me to “The Lurking Fear”, my old flame. It was a good narrative and I had once thought “This could be done better” and then did nothing to prove it. Well, I consider comments like that to be a challenge from myself so I set out to tackle the project and see what I could make of it.

It started out as a verbatim faithful adaptation, but realized that it was really just one guy narrating a whole lot of dialogue. I needed to create some action, some sort of narrative dynamic, and so I placed the whole of the story within the confines of the Martense Manor and built a story around the narrators’ description of events. I added characters from the story and created one of my own to encapsulate the whole of various others who appear briefly. I looked beyond the story and to others from Lovecraft for influence, for direction, for a general sense of where things might end up going . The end result is pretty good and something I actually believe in… so after several drafts and revisions, I think the whole thing is ready and geared up. It’s time to see if I can get it produced.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

3? Fucking 3?!?!! Part Three... Hatchet and Iron Man and the rating...

Hatchet III

I love Adam Green’s franchise! Let me make this clear… Adam Green makes the kind of stuff I wish I could do; the blending of horror and humor and just enough geekiness to make every project seem like a dream come true for me. I look forward to the annual “ariescope” Halloween short film on youtube, ever since I saw “The Tiffany Problem” and the twisted horror and humor brought to life there. I watch “Holliston” on fearnet, one of the few sitcoms I can get into since it’s about two horror movie fanatics who wish they could make their own independent film. I found “Frozen” to be one of the most suspenseful horror films in the past ten years, and it all started when I rented “Hatchet” from Netflix a good many years back. Victor Crowley smashed his way into my heart and mind and I’ve been a huge fan ever since.

Hatchet III is the third film in the franchise, and Adam Green passes up the directors’ chair in favor of being a producer on the project. His absence is felt in a slight change of style behind the lense, but the mans’ touch is still there as Kane Hodder reprises Victor Crowley and Danielle Harris returns as Marybeth. There are a number of other returning actors and a few characters, but some are spoiler-ish surprises so I’ll leave mention of them to a minimum. The Hatchet franchise has always been about the splatter… slapstick splatter, to be exact. Gruesome deaths mount up through the running time, creative “kills”, and the vicious onslaught of Victor Crowley goes far beyond the previous two entries as he manhandles one character after another including a brief one on one battle between opposing “Jasons” that may have been intended to mirror the previous films battle between Hodder and a former “Leatherface” actor.

Okay, the film starts off right where the last film ends with Marybeth shooting Victor in the head and then follows that up with a series of gruesome moments before she wanders back into New Orleans and stumbles into a Sheriff’s station covered in blood and clutching a scalp torn from the head of Crowley. The Sheriff and his deputies head out to Honey Island Swamp and discover the grisly scene, bring in paramedic, SWAT officers, and basically offer up a smorgasbord of victims for Victor to mow through. The Sheriff is played by Zack Gallagher, from Gremlins. We have Derek Mears (Friday remakes Jason) come in as a SWAT officer, RileahVanderbilt (AKA: Young Victor Crowley and Adam Greens’ wife) is another SWAT officer, Dee Snider’s son as Schneiderman, cameo appearances from a variety of genre vets, and of course the returning Parry Chen as an Asian EMT named Andrew who bears no family connection to the brothers he played in the previous two entries of the franchise. The body count piles up as the sun goes down… but the film sort of stalls out at various points. We basically have two stories happening at the same time and the character of Marybeth seems to have gone from our lead Heroine to a foul-mouthed background character we kind of stop sympathizing with halfway through the film itself.

The film benefits from having Adam Green closely involved with the story and production, but it suffers from having a lack of attention to the story itself and the characters that Adam Green had a knack for bringing to life. In the first two Hatchet films we really got to know the characters, whether in the lead or in some sort of tertiary role. We kind of rooted for many of them to make it, even the scummy Reverend Zombie had enough “character” to be someone we kind of want to see make it through to the end. Heck, the mute hunter who didn’t have a single line did more with his facial expressions than Zack Gallagher does as a semi-lead in the third film. The third entry in the Hatchet series doesn’t give that much warmth to the characters… they’re all cussing up a storm, threatening one another, and generally acting like privileged jerks who we actively want to see Victor rip apart. Schneiderman may be the only exception, but I don’t really think it was on purpose when you look at how the movie was edited together. His performance is just so over the top that it has nothing to drag it down, and kudos to Sniders’ kid for that.

There is a good movie here, but it doesn’t rise to the level of the previous two films. I enjoyed it, however… it was fun, goofy, gory, and entertaining. Worth the money I spent to watch it On-Demand and would have been worth the money to watch it in a theater even if I would have had to drive to San Fran like I did with the previous film. I will be buying it to own when it comes out on DVD, and I will still see it in a local theater if it happens to play.

3 out of 5

Iron Man 3.

I don’t know… maybe I’m spoiled at this point. Or I’m jaded. Or my expectations were set to high. It could have been any number of those things, or it could just be that the movie really isn’t as good as I’ve heard others describe it. But I do know I wasn’t the only one unhappy with the film.

My son wasn’t happy. At the age of 7, he’s become invested in the Iron Man character and practically grew up on the exploits of Tony Stark. He wasn’t grinning from ear to ear, he wasn’t pleased, and he asked me to take him home at various points throughout the film as we sat in a dark theater and munched popcorn to the latest installment of the Iron Man Franchise. And, please understand, my son loves the Iron Man movies… he really loves the Avengers, he was bouncing in his seat throughout the Thor preview, and he was excited to be AT this movie when we took him but the excitement gave way to fear and discomfort as the movie progressed. You see, that’s one of the things that’s been haunting me… my son was ‘scared’ of this movie, it wasn’t making him happy, it wasn’t making him feel good, and it really wasn’t making me feel too good myself.

Director Shane Black takes the helm for the third movie and he sets a different tone from the earlier productions with Jon Favreu, with Tony Stark coping with PTSD after the events of the Avengers and relocating himself to Malibu, California. War Machine is rebranded the “Iron Patriot” by the U.S. Government and Pepper Potts has all but taken complete control of Stark Industries while Tony copes with his personal demons and amasses a veritable army of Iron suits. He’s also coping with other demons from his past, including a jilted lover and a spurned genius whose work results in the creation of AIM and the Extremis Project.  And then there’s the looming threat of the Mandarin… a foreshadowed threat handled quite well during the earlier two movies kind of fails to bring a pay off in the third, with much of the earlier groundwork being ignored. It’s a boiling cauldron of plot points and characters that seem to … well… be there. They’re all taking a back seat to Robert Downey Jr. portraying the flippant, dismissive, and amusing Stark as he copes with one panic attack after another… a vulnerable hero is a good thing, but the sorry wreck that we constantly get to see over and over again doesn’t make us feel like someone is rising above their vulnerabilities; Tony Stark is wallowing in them and being snide while doing it. This isn’t the fault of Downey, who is fantastic in the role… but rather the script which is frankly poor and cobbled together with various points.

Iron Man 3 tries to be clever when it should just be heroic. It tries to do too much with the number of characters at its disposal, and fails to make an impact with any of them. They try to make Pepper into something more than a damsel in distress, but they don’t give her enough time to develop her own story despite the hints that there’s something more there. There are too many sub-plots and twists and turns to make Iron Man 3 a cohesive story and it ultimately fails to live up to the promise of the previous two films. This isn’t to say the film is an absolute disaster, since there are several good points in the film.

The Extremis effects are good and it’s an interesting way to add variety to the stock villains in the Iron Man “tech battles”.  I enjoyed the battle sequence featuring Stark having to go against two of the agents sans suit, using his wits to survive and take on the villains. The finale battle is impressive, a good escape scenario earlier in the film, and the rescue of passengers thrown from an airplane is definitely impressive as anything else you’re likely to see in a superhero film. Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow shine in their reprisals, but the rest of the film is cluttered.

And then there’s the end. It’s meant to be an upturn ending, a “hope for tomorrow” kind of ending, the hero gets his rest and the world is set right. But it isn’t… it’s more of a confusing scrunch of the brows, we wonder what the point was, and we’re sort of left floundering as fans to a series. My son said something that broke my heart, and I won’t repeat it because it may be a bit of a spoiler. And it pissed me off to some extent, because my son deserves to have his mythology and his heroes. He deserves to look forward to the next installment, the next challenge, and Shane Black might as well get strung up and have his spine ripped from his body for this ending.

3 out of 5?