GHOSTBUSTERS (2016) and the Dread of Difference – Part III by Jonny Numb

ghostbusters-2016-post-credits-sceneIn the horror world, nobody knows better what it’s like to be ostracized for having a contrary vision than Rob Zombie. Revered as the dreadlocked ringleader of White Zombie for years before he ever helmed his first feature, he seemed a natural fit for horror cinema. His first two films – House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects – were steeped in 1970s genre influence (particularly the works of Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven, and Sam Peckinpah), and fans responded with enthusiasm. In an unlikely twist of fate, Dimension Films solicited a remake of Halloween to the auteur, who accepted.

Heavily hyped and coasting on the faith of fans looking forward to Zombie’s take on the well-regarded John Carpenter film, it met with mixed reviews but a voracious opening weekend. I was as curious as anyone else, and saw it on opening day in a packed theater.

So here’s the thing: I have watched Carpenter’s Halloween many times over the years, and every time, I try to understand what a majority of horror fans see as its 90 minutes unfold. I simply don’t get it, and I can’t even appreciate its historical value as the forerunner of the “slasher” craze, especially since 1974’s superior Black Christmas does indeed exist.

I followed the film’s promotional campaign and read articles in Fangoria, Rue Morgue, and online outlets like Dread Central with fevered interest, to the point where I probably spoiled the film for myself. My function as a ticket-buying consumer taking my seat in that theater on August 31, 2007, was the hope that Zombie wouldn’t deliver a slavish remake of Carpenter’s film. For what it’s worth, the trailers and stills I’d seen leaned strongly toward that possibility.

Despite some continuity errors that resulted from test screenings and post-production tinkering (an unfortunate norm at Dimension), I appreciated Zombie’s theatrical cut, which created a fleshed-out backstory for Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch as a child; Tyler Mane as an adult) prior to returning to the familiar beats of the 1978 film. The writer-director put his own gritty stamp on these familiar characters and events, bringing a fresh perspective to the well-trod material (diminished over the years by a string of increasingly unnecessary sequels). And the “unrated director’s cut” that popped up on DVD later enriched the proceedings with about 15 minutes of additional footage.

What’s interesting about Halloween is how the fans that championed Rob Zombie’s previous films, and banged the drums for his vision of this remake, recoiled when they finally saw it. Granted, the film cobbled its share of supporters, but the collective reaction – even outside of mainstream critics (the film has a 25% rating at Rotten Tomatoes) – was one of derision. Many cited how it fell short in comparison to Carpenter’s film, others took issue with the violence and some overwrought acting, and more felt the compression of the events of the 1978 version didn’t work next to the new backstory.

The film is not free of flaws, but the greatest irony is that Zombie went from being one of horror’s potential saviors to a pariah whose subsequent works were met with apprehension or pre-emptive condemnation. When questioned about the sequels Dimension had commissioned, Zombie stated he’d do no more than the 2007 version, something that was taken to task when he returned as the writer-director of Halloween II in 2009 (which carries an even less favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes). The sequel ventured fearlessly into territory so abstract that it became a psychologically dense art film, full of metaphors and hallucinogenic nightmare imagery (yes, I’m one of its few adherents). One can see the liberation of Zombie casting off the chains of fan service he felt (at least somewhat) bound by with Halloween, giving a dual middle finger to his detractors.

And perhaps that’s the point: whether making or viewing remakes, re-imaginings, or re-whatevers, the best course of action is to follow instinct and push the incessantly-chattering voices of the World Wide Web aside. I would bet that the assholes downvoting the Ghostbusters trailer and sending hate-tweets to Leslie Jones are part of the same collective that posts Game of Thrones spoilers on social media for the sole purpose of pissing people off. After all, fairy tales (and some infamous horror movies) have established that trolls are little more than snarky mischief-makers who do their damnedest to throw wrenches in the gears of life, just because. That mischief has metamorphosed into something more sociologically rotten in North American culture, where changing the gender of the Ghostbusters results in a flood of sexist and racist bile spewed by anonymous cowards. For all the civil discourse and productive communication that can take place online, this pre-emptive assault on Ghostbusters shines a shameful light on a generation that’s known nothing but entitlement, and is therefore unable to process a decision that stands defiant in the face of how things should be (not to make an overblown comparison, but such mentalities allowed men to keep slaves and robbed women of the right to vote, but – silly me! – those notions will be absorbed in the sexist-racist vortex where the trolls reside).

Let’s be honest: the worst damage that could have been done to the Ghostbusters name would’ve been 1) putting a sad III behind the title (17 years after the last sequel); 2) bringing back the aging, past-their-prime (Sigourney Weaver excepted) original cast for a depressing nostalgia trip; or 3) having said past-their-prime cast shuffle through an obligatory prologue where they hand over the reins to Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, and – in a bit of comeback casting – Dane Cook. Megan Fox could play a sexy secretary, because why the fuck not? And the older generation can return to help the young(er) generation during the final showdown, because, you know, teamwork! Up top, bro!

No thanks.

As the United States seems to grow madder – in the Lewis Carrol sense – with each passing hour, Feig and company took a “risk” by doing something as simple as casting women in roles previously inhabited by men, and that Ghostbusters had a “soft” opening weekend speaks as a distressing testament to the type of “groupthink” George Orwell warned us proles about. I would relegate such nonsense to a few ornery cranks, but with the rise of a full-time sexist and racist bully to the Republican nomination for the highest office in the land, I have a nagging itch that this may become our New Normal, whether it be the entertainment we choose to peruse or in our daily lives.

Within this sea of insanity, it seems like the only logical choice is to support the assertive, ghost-chasing gals who avoid drama and actually get stuff done – I’d vote them all into office in a heartbeat. Not only are they cool as hell; they’re unencumbered by the trivialities by which we’ve come to define our own lives (aside from, of course, the low wonton count in Chinese takeout – seriously, what’s up with that?).

Crash Analysis Support Team:

Jonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast with @crashpalace, and believes that demons are best expelled through writing (sorry, ladies). You can find his movie reviews here, and at loudgreenbird.com. He is also on social media @JonnyNumb (Twitter & Letterboxd) and @jnumb1 (Instagram).

(Photo by Screen Rant.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Fan Service

The Last Knock

No, we’re not talking about “happy endings” from horror filmmakers, you poor desperate soul – or fixing that busted fan of yours that ran all summer long. “Fan service” has usually been associate with manga and anime from Japan, where scenes are purposefully injected into the story to satisfy fans. Has fan service been used in horror? You bet. And we’ll discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly of it. Wait, was that fan service for Sergio Leone? Just listen to the show and find out how some horror filmmakers go out of their way to please you.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@TimothiousSmith @thewarpedone @MO_Donn @TormentOfLaurie @madbradpotts @RealJillyG @tonyakay @ScreenplayStory @EmilyDiPrimio @OwenMcCuenQuest @MirandaNading @AFiendOnFilm @MelanieMcCurdie @wilkravitz @Talk2Cleo @GlassEyePix

GHOSTBUSTERS (2016) and the Dread of Difference – Part II by Jonny Numb

empiregbcover

So here’s the thing: along with Green Room and Suicide Squad, Ghostbusters was one of my most anticipated movies of 2016. That’s right – an uberfan who had faith in the comedic track record of the actors and the quality of Feig’s previous efforts (Bridesmaids, Spy, and the short-lived TV series “Freaks and Geeks”) had me itching with palpable anticipation. As with any big-budget reboot of a long-dormant, much-loved franchise, the potential for greatness or awfulness is equally present, resting on the simple fact that you can’t please everyone.

Is the new Ghostbusters completely successful? No. At times, the actors are allowed to venture too far into improvisational territory (a flaw in all of Feig’s films), which stalls the pace. Some of the punchlines don’t land, and at times, the characters’ deliveries are so feverish that one feels the writers were going for broke in the sheer volume of attempted gags. In the last act, some of the action choreography is hard to follow (but that doesn’t make it any less thrilling). And the cameos from the original cast members often stick out like a sore, shoehorned thumb (I will say, though, that they saved the best for last). All that being said, one of its biggest successes is replicating the sense of camaraderie that informed the all-male teaming of the original: this has nothing to do with gender, and everything to do with smart characterization. I loved this scrappy new paranormal collective, from Kristen Wiig’s meek, puritanically-dressed college professor; Melissa McCarthy’s outspoken scientist; Leslie Jones’s street-smart, take-no-shit transit officer; and especially Kate McKinnon’s discombobulated, non-sequitur-uttering physicist (Feig gets some of the biggest laughs from cutaways to her incredible reaction shots). While Chris Hemsworth’s himbo secretary is a hit-or-miss one-note joke, it’s nice to see the Avengers star poking fun at Hollywood’s fickle attitudes toward the expectations that come with physical beauty.

Perhaps there’s some buried logic to the phenomenon of sight-unseen hatred toward Ghostbusters, something that could be attributed to J.J. Abrams’ ascent to the Spielberg throne as the newly-minted master of the any-season blockbuster. Spielberg has long been considered a strong storyteller and adept visual stylist, but has also earned heckles for his overt sentimentality and saccharine dramatic cues. With a latter-day Spielberg flick, regardless of the subject matter, it’s a fairly sure bet the type of film you’re going to get.

With Abrams, whose successful updating of the ultimate fanboy franchises – the one-two power punch of Star Trek and Star Wars – has rendered him one of the most powerful figures in Hollywood. But this has come not from a wild embrace of risk, but rather an aversion to challenge. Granted, his interpretations of these much-loved, generation-spanning series make for rousing, big-budget entertainment, but the level of risk doesn’t really extend beyond the wild-card actors he uses to fill out the cast (unknowns – or lesser-knowns – buffered by thespian lifers). And even then, the Star Treks lean on Leonard Nimoy cameos and characters who, despite the new faces inhabiting the roles, have already had decades of development. The same goes for The Force Awakens, where all the virtual ink spilled over Rey (Daisy Ridley) and her influence over the future of female-led blockbusters was marginalized by Abrams’ over-reliance on giving fans their due with the requisite appearances by Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hammill, and the usual gang of costumes and CGI. Ridley is fine, but plays second banana to the wistful nostalgia most fans paid for, making one wonder at the reaction had none of the established characters and actors logged an appearance. Personal friends (more well-versed in the Star Wars mythos than I) tend to be of two schools of thought on the film: that it’s great in spite of – or because of – its heavy leaning on the plot of A New Hope.

Like Spielberg, Abrams is a fine storyteller who also happens to have his finger on the pulse of what the public wants. It’s interesting to gauge my reaction toward Super 8 – his foray into original storytelling – and how the stunning visuals attempted to wrestle the disjointed plot into submission. With nods toward E.T., The Goonies, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Abrams once again looked to well-established nostalgia to win over audiences and critics. I responded to the characters’ relationships while struggling with the arbitrary plot developments and ILM-styled overkill. The film has an 82% “fresh” rating over at Rotten Tomatoes, but its existence in 2016 seems relegated solely to jabs from critics comparing it to the NetFlix series, Stranger Things.

Which begs the question: Is there simply greater appeal for mainstream films that give audiences what they want, every time, with a minimum of surprise? While Marvel’s comic-book juggernauts continue to kick dirt in the faces of their seasonal competitors, the films themselves hit familiar beats and draw appeal largely from the impressive ensemble casts that tie the action together. Is there an emotional pulse? Sure. But when will this mass-marketed bubble burst?

To be concluded…

Part III available Wednesday, August 31!

Crash Analysis Support Team:

Jonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast with @crashpalace, and believes that demons are best expelled through writing (sorry, ladies). You can find his movie reviews here, and at loudgreenbird.com. He is also on social media @JonnyNumb (Twitter & Letterboxd) and @jnumb1 (Instagram).

(Photo by Geek.com.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Filmmaker Mark Dossett

The Last Knock

Mark Dossett didn’t just dream about making a horror film – he made it a goal, and his first feature, The Torment of Laurie Ann Cullom became a reality. Mark discusses how he made a horror period piece on a budget, what led him to turn down three distributors, why his star Shannon Scott is so amazing, and he gives us a look inside his upcoming thriller, As They Fall.

You can find Mark on IMDb and follow him on Twitter. Better still, check out his film, The Torment of Laurie Ann Cullom.

GHOSTBUSTERS (2016) and the Dread of Difference* – Part I by Jonny Numb

ghostbusters-2016-cast-proton-packs-imagesRowan (Neil Casey), the central villain of the new Ghostbusters, is a nerd. He’s so lame, in fact, that he erroneously flashes the hand-sign for “love” – not devil-horns – as he walks into an Ozzy Osbourne concert. His modus operandi is to provoke enough spectral disturbances around New York City that he unleashes a concentration of angry ghosts into the world. He insists that their voices, like his own, have fallen on deaf ears – “kindred spirits,” if you will, to his own underappreciated, “the-world-must-pay-for-my-failings” mentality.

When Rowan optimizes his powers, he resorts to the lameness of having a bunch of cops and National Guardsmen strike Saturday Night Fever poses for his own amusement. Furthermore, he even co-opts the classic “Ghostbusters” logo and repurposes it in order to take on his final form, which bears a resemblance to a slightly less blobby Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.

It’s hard to tell whether the character of Rowan was a bit of snarky commentary in director Paul Feig’s and co-writer Katie Dippold’s script, which hews closely to the story structure and character-development style of the1984 original. It was a given that a few kooks hiding behind anonymous social-media handles would take to the web to spin their opinions on why an all-female version of Ghostbusters could never work, but the reality was a more widespread outcry.

Like the Westboro Baptist Church, the trolls of the Internet found their target, lugging a ten-ton bucket of bile on their backs in an act of assumed pop-culture purism. When prolific YouTube personality James Rolfe (better known as the Angry Video Game Nerd) released a video stating why he wouldn’t be seeing the new film, he became a folk hero to those anonymous online voices while stirring the anger of trolls eager to burn a path to the film’s box-office failure.

I guess they figured Feig, Dippold, and everyone involved with the new Ghostbusters owed them something – that “something” being a reboot sans estrogen. The outrage even prompted distributor Sony to buckle, promising the outraged contingent a male-centric version, a development that has gone curiously silent. (And I gotta say: what a bunch of pussies for undermining their own film.)

I didn’t go out of my way to read any of the vitriol; I didn’t seek out negative hashtags on Twitter. I have enough real things to worry about in my life – things that affect me on a daily basis – without going out of my way to find more things to get pissed off about (I haven’t been a teenager or a twentysomething in a long time). Granted, I will admit that one of my favorite pick-me-ups is reading negative reviews of the Electric Factory (a popular Philadelphia concert venue) on Yelp – the difference being, I can vouch for the awfulness of the venue based on years of experience attending concerts there (fuck you, Ticketmaster!).

For me, the art of slagging something only takes on artistic value when you’ve actually exposed yourself to what you’re slagging. If you’re basing your opinion solely on conjecture, rumor, and a 2-minute trailer without having seen the film itself, then you deserve to be shamed when someone who’s done their due diligence calls you out on it.

Granted, I read articles about the backlash for months before the film was released. While it is customary to respond to remakes, prequels, and sequels of well-regarded films with apprehension, the pre-emptive scorn loaded upon Feig’s Ghostbusters was more hair-raising than witnessing an actual supernatural occurrence. We horror fans might be the most apprehensive of all, perhaps because our much-beloved genre receives so little respect in the first place: many among us bristled at the notion of The Hills Have Eyes being remade, only to discover that, hey, Alexandre Aja actually knew what he was doing!

Funny: I am as big a fan of the original Ghostbusters as anyone else. That film, and especially the long-running cartoon series, served as my gateway drug into the worlds of horror and the fantastic. Even though the film is not formally classified as being a part of the genre, you can find it reviewed in VideoHound’s Horror Show, John Stanley’s Creature Features, and my first-ever book on the genre (which I still own) – Movie Monsters (“Ghostbusters is scary and funny,” author Gary Poole proclaims). I can nerd out about the Murray-Aykroyd-Ramis-Hudson films with the most devoted of nerds, and that is something I take great pride in.

To be continued…

* Author’s Note: The title is a deliberate nod to Barry Keith Grant’s The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film, which I would recommend to anybody interested in gender studies as it relates to the horror genre.

Part II available Wednesday, August 24!

Crash Analysis Support Team:

Jonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast with @crashpalace, and believes that demons are best expelled through writing (sorry, ladies). You can find his movie reviews here, and at loudgreenbird.com. He is also on social media @JonnyNumb (Twitter & Letterboxd) and @jnumb1 (Instagram).

(Photo by IndieWire.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Films of Frankenstein

The Last Knock

Mary Shelley shocked the world with her “Frankenstein” novel in the mid-1800s, and it’s still a shocker today. We not only indulge in her tale and questions it raises, but how Victor Frankenstein and his monster have been interpreted and reinterpreted through many decades of film, from Boris Karloff to Robert De Niro. Even so, the Frankenstein mythos comes with many thematic layers explored in many a movie, so join us on the operating table as we put together a podcast piece by piece and bring it to life.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@AmandaBergloff @MFFHorrorCorner @playvioletmovie @mercershark @SunshineBoyProd @kevin_sluder @jensluder @baron_craze @stevecourtney79 @PasspChells @LividEmerald @RealJillyG @MelanieMcCurdie @RonGizmo @dixiefairy @Isaacrthorne @iamgoreblimey @Tammysdragonfly @LoudGreenBird @GTGMcast @EmilyFlory @corybrin and Paul J. Williams from Facebook

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Interview with Actor Brad Potts

The Last Knock

Brad Potts is a salt of the earth gentleman who served his country, acted on stage, and has been on the big and small screen since 2003. Don’t miss his interview as we discuss his horror roles of past, present, and future, as well as his work with TLK favorite, Maria Olsen, and one of horrordom’s most celebrated, Bill Oberst. Hell, we even talk about strong writing, and how Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone” exemplified quality storytelling. Most important, you don’t want to miss Brad’s stories of stage and screen!

You can learn more about Brad from his IMDb page, check out his acting reel on YouTube, visit his website, and you can also follow him on Twitter.

SOUTHBOUND (2015) – Highway to Hell by Jonny Numb

Southbound-FB[89 minutes. R. Directors: Roxanne Benjamin; David Bruckner; Patrick Horvath; Radio Silence]

After it was over, I wondered: does Southbound win by default?

I know, I know: it’s not about whether you win or lose, but how you play the game (ha, ha)!

In the boundless terrain known as the Millennial Horror Anthology, the lessons of films like Creepshow, Dead of Night (1945), and Tales of Terror have been mostly forgotten. Notions of narrative and aesthetic consistency – and the challenges contained therein – have been jettisoned, replaced by disparate tales propped up by weak wraparound stories (the V/H/S films being prime offenders). Sometimes, a wraparound story doesn’t factor in at all, leaving what is essentially a lazily-assembled short-film compilation (such as the catastrophic ABCs of Death 2).

I have talked elsewhere about my overall disenchantment with this trend, and how these projects often come across with all the charm of high-fives at a circle jerk.

Then along comes Southbound. I heard a few voices in the social-media wilderness (@AFiendOnFilm; @loveandmonsters) buzzing about it prior to its DVD release, but had no inkling of its plot (outside of its anthology structure).

And don’t get me wrong: when done well, I enjoy me some horror anthology. The most ambitious of this subgenre blend a wide variety of characters and scenarios to great effect, creating unpredictable terrain that holds the viewer’s attention throughout. This is a sandbox where filmmakers can have great fun juggling disparate premises, and let their imaginations run wild – one of the reasons I love Lewis Teague’s Cat’s Eye so much (outside of its feline protagonist) is that the absurdity of its stories bleeds into reactions of both humor and terror.

There is something to be said, truly, about Southbound from a story perspective: there is a definite flow to the proceedings that gives it the free-form feel of a dream, something that is sorely lacking in the horror anthology efforts we’ve grown accustomed to. While the tales blend into each other, that isn’t to say there is a relationship between characters and stories, per se (or is there?). The bottom line is: this gives the film a sense of overall cohesion, instead of a group of shorts cobbled into a loose feature.

We open on two blood-spattered guys, Jack (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin) and Mitch (Chad Villella) speeding down a desert highway, while black, jellyfish-like specters loom in the distance; parking at a rest stop, they find themselves stuck in a fatal loop where a crime from their recent past is literally inescapable. The next segment follows an all-Grrrl band stranded along the roadside, given a lift by a ‘50s-sitcom couple who offer lodging, dinner, and perhaps something more. The third story has a tortured hit-and-run driver (Mather Zickel) desperately attempting to do what’s best for his victim. The next tale revolves around an obsessed father (The Jesus Lizard’s David Yow) seeking the whereabouts of his estranged daughter. And the final segment brings the story full circle, centering on an act of revenge carried out via a tried-and-true home invasion template.

It’s not a spoiler to mention the intermittent appearance of Carnival of Souls on random TVs throughout the film. After all, that 1962 classic – with its at-times literal blurring of fantasy and reality – dealt firmly in matters of spirituality (in both a religious and secular sense), and notions of karma as a vengeful exterminator unto itself. In Southbound, characters are either haunted or perpetrate the haunting, and their comeuppance often hinges on an ironic cruelty that invokes the wheel-of-fortune randomness that punctuates everyday life. Even the victims, like Mary Henry in Carnival, carry traits of circumstantial tragedy while raising the paradox that they are authors of their own fates.

It bears noting that there are some exceptional performances to be witnessed here, from Zickel – who goes through emotions of fear, guilt, and acceptance in what is essentially a one-man segment – to rising genre ingénue Fabianne Therese (John Dies at the End; Starry Eyes), who shines as the haunted band leader who finds herself isolated from reality and alienated from her friends. And in a seemingly peripheral role, Maria Olsen (of the forthcoming I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà vu) is given the film’s greatest introduction, and delivers a performance of menacing, understated intensity. To top things off, Glass Eye Pix head honcho Larry Fessenden offers up an aural presence as the gravel-voiced radio commentator whose ruminations on fate and consequence stitch the stories together.

All that being said, does Southbound, for all its effort to be a throwback to the honorable tradition of the horror anthology, deliver the satisfaction horror fans seek?

I’ll say this much: some of its images, sounds, and twists are still rattling around in my brain. It is compelling at times, but also meandering and inconclusive. The run time is a compact 90 minutes, but I couldn’t help but wonder if some segments would have benefited from more character and (sub-)plot development. I realize the ambiguity is intentional, and it does complement the film as a vision of Purgatory. But part of me wonders how great Southbound could have been with even more detail added to the individual stories (it certainly would’ve made its cumulative moody weight that much more oppressive – in a good way).

Who knows…perhaps repeat visits to this particular lost highway will yield more satisfying results. Until then, it’s a good horror effort within an outstanding year.

3 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis Support Team:

Jonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) measures his life in coffee spoons, and writes reviews once every couple years at numbviews.livejournal.com. He co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast, and can be found on Twitter and Letterboxd @JonnyNumb.

(Photo by ConTV.)