Tag Archives: horror

Zombieland: Double Tap

I think this is the worst I’ve ever done. I’m over 90% sure I haven’t missed any reviews and this is the only old one, but damn. Did I read a book and later forget? Probably not, since I take my Hobb slowly, and because of the standard refrain of busy busy work towne, not to mention a board game convention and other various life distractions. Then again… uh-oh, I’d better check the Deathlands stuff. I think that was only while camping and has already been addressed.[1]

But seriously. This is awful. I also have not been updating Librarything with my possessions for like the past year maybe, and okay I actually haven’t purchased much either, but still, that is also a huge problem. I wish I could see an end in sight to this situation, but…

Also, though, at some point probably in October maybe, I saw a movie. Which was the ten years later sequel to Zombieland. And that ten years is definitely a thing. It is completely fair to say that Double Tap is an unnecessary sequel, and I went in with appropriately low expectations. Which is nice, because while it was unnecessary, it wasn’t unwelcome. It’s a zombie comedy meditation on the idea that your chosen family can require just as much work as your real family, and that putting in the effort can be worth it.

Of course, that’s an easier sell when the world’s population has plummeted and whatever family you’re holding onto or pushing away may be the last chance you have at it, but extremity, like wine, is a place where truth lives.

Also, it was still pretty funny.

[1] Update: oh good, that’s the previous review. But now I’m mildly wondering if I read a graphic novel in between. I’m… pretty sure not?
[2] I honestly don’t know whether that’s a good thing. Never saw it.
[3] That, on the other hand, is definitely a good thing, and explains Rosario Dawson’s character entirely, start to finish, soup to nuts. Which is totally a real thing that people have ever said.

The Institute

It’s nice to have read a book within a reasonable timetable for a change. I mean, sure, The Institute came out nearly a month ago, but I’ve only been reading for a week or two. (I think?) Since I’ve been taking a lot longer than that lately and for shorter books to boot, I’ll gladly accept the win.

My last impression is one of sadness. Because, okay, anyone can just be walking down the street and get plowed into by a bus van, and bam, lights out. That is the way of the world. But this is the first time I’ve seen an author photo of Stephen King and thought that he looked old. Which means there’s a time limit outside the confines of happenstance.

If I were terribly clever, I would now tie in the plot or theme(s) of the book into this sense of impending loss. And okay, maybe I could at that[3], but I don’t want to get too deep into spoiler territory. So, instead, let’s start over.

My first impression of the book was… well, okay, it has a pretty confusing intro. I say confusing because it has nothing whatsoever to do with the visible plot of the book, as judged by the cover. And, in retrospect, this is 100% awkward. I don’t mind, because I will give the man a lot of leeway, but if you are really interested in the structure of writing, yeah, I cannot say this is a stand-out entry.

My middle impression of the book was extremely favorable! See, there’s the hyper smart kid, one of those people who is a supernova in a world of candles and light bulbs, right? I’ve met one or two of them, and while I don’t consider myself a dope, I’m smart enough to know the difference between me and someone like that.[1] And via a few dozen pages of plot events occurring, he finds himself in a prison for children who have certain small talents.

Everything else follows from here. Why was he taken? What do they want? What can he do about it? Everyone wants to compare this book to It, because the main characters are mostly children, and… I mean, that’s a true point of overlap between the books, but man are they nothing alike. And almost none of the things I love about that book are present here either. Some of the kids are outsider types, but some are not, and it is certainly not the meat of their friendships. There’s no sense of the sweep of a dark and disturbing history[2], no slice of small town life through a lens as warped as conservative ideology paints our mid-century past, only warped in the opposite direction. In all the ways that make that book matter, they’re nothing alike.

Which is not to say I did not like The Institute. It’s a lovely adventure story with characters I cared about. But it’s a fun book, not a great book. Which is okay! It’s just irritating to compare the books on the basis of “kids vs evil”.

Long story short: I hate writing reaction reviews, and I’m sorry that either of us had to sit through this one.

[1] Also, happily, it means I don’t have to dwell on how King didn’t write him nearly intelligently enough, what with the twin excuses of how would I know the difference past a certain point, and that, supernova or not, he’s still twelve.
[2] Although if the book were twice its length perhaps there could have been. This is not a thing I can recommend, though.
[3] Anyway, after further consideration, the thing I was thinking of doesn’t even really work.

The Walking Dead: Rest in Peace

I’ve been saying since… well, at least since the end of All Out War, that there are ways in which the Walking Dead as a series has outstayed its welcome. I kept reading because I still cared about the characters, but the story? Well, it has become at least a bit repetitive. Who was Negan but a better take on the Governor, and at a larger scale? The Whisperers were a good variant, but still ultimately not very different. And now the Commonwealth was gearing up to be a here we go again, but this time it’s different because, um… it’s geographically even bigger than the previous times?

You see my point, which is, come on Kirkman, get it together and find a new take or a conclusion.

What I did not expect (although the title perhaps should have been a giveaway[1]) was that, as of Rest in Peace, I’d learn that he has been listening to me and the story is now over. Of course, that was five years ago, but still.

With the benefit of hindsight: there have been too many characters to reliably keep track of, but except for that it was a pretty good five year continuation, and a quite satisfying end to the story, containing all the elements I personally deemed essential and pretty well sticking the landing. Go team zombie!, I guess? I mean from a literary tradition standpoint, not from a spoilers about how the story ends standpoint. That it ends at all is the one unavoidable spoiler in this post.

[1] Actually, it sort of was? Also, it’s a large volume. Between those, I had to check the collection info, and it ended at #193, so, nah, no way they don’t go to at least issue 200, for a big momentous event of some kind. Right? Right.

It Chapter Two

Remember that time where they took my very favorite book and made it into half of a movie? Somehow, that was two years ago. Good news: the name pf the sequel is in fact fine.

It Chapter Two does what was promised: we pick up the story a generation later, with the adult characters coming back to Derry to do what they promised, if there was a need. Pennywise is back, and he must be faced again in an apocalyptic showdown. But not before a lot of revisiting the past, both with additional flashbacks that sated my need for more scenes from that wholly non-idyllic summer of their youth and with the kind of revisiting the past that adults more traditionally do, gawking in disbelief at how the things that seemed so big and important now seem so small and far away. But with monsters.

I’ll never really be able to explain why the source material for these movies is so powerful to me. Because the above reads like it’s meant to be a joke, and not even a well-enough crafted joke to justify having made it, when the truth is I meant it sincerely. It’s like, King’s meditations on small town mid-century American childhood ring so true to me. And I know I’ll never actually know, because I was never there, two different ways, but it generates the kind of nostalgia in me that powers a political party. Except he tells the truth via his metaphor, because in fact everything was just as bad then as it is now. There’s a monster who comes back every so often to devour children.

Literally? Metaphorically?

Yes.

But I digress. The last thing I’ll say is that although it took me an hour or so turning it over in my mind, I’ve decided that they stuck the landing. It has a very strange climax, which could not possibly translate to a screen. At least, I don’t think so. I know that everyone made fun of the television series ending, which held onto the literal half of the book’s climax and scrapped the metaphysical version entirely, even though it’s a 50/50 split. This movie, on the other hand, leans about 80/20 metaphysical/literal, which also I think loses something, but does play up the difficulty inherent to a climactic battle with a being that is only slightly literally real.

One thing you will not see the people of 2019 saying is, “Seriously? After all those transformations, Pennywise the Dancing Clown is just a big $spoiler? Seriously?!” When people said that in 1990, they at least had the virtue of a semi-valid complaint. Barely. So, it’s a good thing to avoid.

Anyway. I think the kids did a better job than the adults, mostly, although I cannot deny that the adults did an excellent job of selling that they were the same people 27 years later. I also need to give props to Bill Skarsgård, who has supplanted Tim Curry in my mind’s eye as who Pennywise is. That’s impressive.

Not a bad way to spend three hours, although next time I won’t do it at an 11pm show after a 12 hour day at work. (I hope.)

Ready or Not (2019)

Here’s how you can tell you’re too far inside an industry: when I watched Ready or Not, I had no concern about the deadly game of hide and seek[1] (after all, the rich are different from us) nor about old stories of demonic deals for wealth (that’s just how you get rich), but it really bothered me that they were rich enough to have that kind of sprawling Victorian estate, full of secret passages for servants (and also not incidentally still full of servants) based on creating board games. I guess in real life it’s feasible that the brothers Parker, back when there were only like six boardgames to choose from[2], really did get outsizedly wealthy, and as a result this makes perfect sense. But man does it feel wrong based on my experiences watching a board game in development / following other games with at least a layman hobbyist’s knowledge of the industry.

If you can get past all that, though (I could, and my friends who are actually developing a game apparently could as well, so you should have no trouble), this is a movie that strikes the perfect balance between comedy and gore. To explain the setup a little more clearly than I probably already did, there’s this wealthy family, and on the night of your marriage into the family, you have to play a randomly selected game, in the old style. Like Old Maid, or checkers. Nothing that qualifies as a boardgame even by post WWII standards. And as long as you don’t pick Hide and Seek, that’s as far as it goes. But every generation or so, a sacrifice is required…

The reason it works is because both the writing and casting are top notch. I want to go into it more, but I try not to ever spoil more than the premise, and to elaborate further has all kinds of character and joke spoilers; not plot spoilers, because horror movie genre conventions almost always trump plot, and in the rare occasion where genre conventions are subverted, I would still lie and say there’s no plot to spoil, because anything else would itself be a spoiler again. Long story short, if you like things that are funny and aren’t allergic to violent deaths, this is a good way to spend a couple of hours.

[1] Fun fact: this is not the first hide and seek horror movie named Ready or Not. I’m guessing it’s the better one, though.
[2] Although the same percentage of them were Monopoly

Alien III

Meanwhile, another Audible dramatic presentation, because that’s a thing I do now? It’s not really my fault, both of these were monthly freebie giveaways, and I still haven’t finished the Malazan side book I’m reading, due mostly to the previously mentioned horror show that is my professional life. Although to be fair, I would have spent a hard-earned credit on this one.

The thing is, I don’t really like Alien3. I mean, as a horror movie it’s actually fine, and as an Alien franchise movie, well, the truth is I like the world so much that I cannot fairly judge the film’s individual merits, but I’m pretty sure I like it in that context too. But I absolutely hate it as a sequel to Aliens, because it undoes everything that movie accomplished, from a character perspective. Hey, says James Cameron, let’s give the Final Girl from Alien a tragic backstory, where she loses her entire family over this mess because she’s lost in stasis for over fifty years, and now her daughter, older than Ripley and a grandmother in her own right hates and resents her over something Ripley had no control over. And then let’s send her to an amazing showdown with the creatures that took everything away from her, and have her claw her way back to a family of her own, over the corpses of the family members of the alien bitch that took it all away in the first place. That is narrative gold, and even as much as people mostly approve of Aliens, I still think it is badly underestimated. Top five movie, probably.

And then Alien Cubed comes along and says, haha, nope, what family, they all died in a random crash landing because all we really care about is Ripley v Alien, character development is for other genres. So yeah. In context, I really loathe the movie.

Enter William Gibson, who apparently wrote a script for Alien III, which for reasons unknown to me was disregarded in favor of the dreck above. If I had to guess, it’s because he delved a little too deeply into the corporatist framework of the previous two movies. Which, I mean, is what you expect out of the father of cyberpunk, right? Anyway, I had heard someone mention that his screenplay was floating around the internet, but I never got around to seeking it out. And now, I no longer need to!

The audiobook version is really just a movie performance without the images. So they spend a little more time dialoguing descriptions of what they can see to each other over the radio, which means a little less time in quiet claustrophobic scenes that drag on just long enough to stay scary. It weighs in at a little under two hours, and while there are aspects I would have tinkered with here and there, I am left saddened that I never got to see this movie, and even moreso that I will never get to see or hear its sequels. Because not only is it a better concept for a movie, it’s a better world-building trajectory for the Alien franchise than we will ever see.

The Ballad of Black Tom

As a part of the ongoing series, Chris Reads Books Years Past When People Were Recommending Them, sponsored in this case by Tor who had the ebook on offer for free a few months ago, I present: a review of The Ballad of Black Tom.

I guess this is what they call a novella. I’m not sure how many pages it weighs in at, since the Kindle only tells me what percent is left, but it’s maybe a hundred? Anyway, it focuses on a 1920s Harlem hustler musician who attracts the wrong kind of attention from, well, pretty much everyone. A creepy voodoo(?) lady in Queens, a beleaguered millionaire in Brooklyn, and of course the cops. Oh, and casual 1920s racism of the type unintentionally documented in the works of HP Lovecraft and Robert E Howard, who I should say both figure heavily in the thematic ground the work covers.

I accidentally understand from research that this is the story The Horror at Red Hook, retold from a different perspective. This reminds me that I want to read more Lovecraft, while simultaneously cautioning me that, man, maybe I don’t want to after all.

The Walking Dead: The Rotten Core

I feel bad using the horror tag by default on The Rotten Core, simply because it’s a Walking Dead book. Because this is I think the most political the series has ever been. Not to mention, and this will be a spoiler, so in the unlikely event you are worried about that, skip to the next paragraph: not only did nobody die to a zombie attack in the book, but I’m pretty sure this is the first book where that’s true. I may be wrong, but it’s for sure the first book where it stands out.

Anyway, the political thing. I mean that both in terms of the treacherous political waters that are being navigated, and in terms of how in your face actual political stances are. Which is… maybe less true than I think.

See, the people we know in their many local-to-Virginia/DC communities are now in discussions and mutual goodwill tours with a much larger, much more stable community to the west, called the Commonwealth. And it’s not exactly bold to come out against the idea that people are to be frozen in their social status for the foreseeable future / but really the rest of their lives. At the same time, coming out against a police state is… well, it at least shouldn’t be a bold position either, but hi, 2019!

I guess it’s good to see Kirkman actually reinventing the series a little bit after all, because, well. The same plotline for the fourth time in a row would be a bit much.

NOTE: I have not ruled out that this will become the same plotline in a row for the fourth time.

Us (2019)

As foretold in prophecy[1], I have gone forth and seen Us, so that you don’t have to!

And, okay, it’s no surprise exactly for me to end up thinking you probably should see it anyway. But the uncomfortable squirming in the seat as the plot unfolded that is always what I’m looking for as a bare minimum for horror is exactly what most people want to avoid in the first place, so I should say more.

Thing one: despite what I thought going into the movie, the previews did not spoil the whole thing. They were stage-setting to provide enough knowledge and no more, exactly what a good preview should be. There’s a lot more meat here than I thought, and that is great news.

Thing two: this is not as good as Get Out. Which is okay, that movie was downright fantastic. I will say[2] that it did a thing I found pleasing and a little impressive, especially for the genre. The thing about Get Out is that it is a specific kind of horror, that only a black man (well, okay, person, but I do think it was a little more specific than that) in America can experience. Sure, it’s amplified to make its point, but its point is a distressingly common one that shouldn’t need to be made, and yet here we are. So, all of that said, a thing that I especially liked about Us is that it is not specific to race. This story could have had any characters in the main roles and had the same effect. No, bear with me, I’m not saying what you think I’m saying about “Good job, Jordan Peele, for appealing to a whiter wider audience.” Screw that, a) he can appeal to whatever audience he wants and b) white people have more to take away from Get Out than black people do in the first place; they already live there, like I was saying earlier.

No, my point is this: even though this movie could have been about anyone, it had four black people in the lead anyway, and that’s awesome.

Thing three: all that said, yes, it was creepy and squirmy as all heck, but it fell apart in the final act, both structurally (relying on ten minutes of exposition to explain how all this happened is never a good idea, and way less so in horror, where frankly no reason is usually the best reason) and thematically (it would change so much of the rest of the movie to get a different ending that it would only superficially be the same movie at all, but man did that ending undercut almost everything else that happened), and that just makes me sad.

Mostly because of how good the first two acts were.

[1] Well, in the comments section of someone’s social media account. Close enough.
[2] Content warning: white guy talking about race stuff.

Fido

First things first: ugh, commercials. Like, I dislike them, sure, that’s fine, so does everyone. But there’s a qualitative difference between a show made with commercial breaks in mind, and a movie. Hell, even old school movies on network television, they had people with talent who selected break points as naturally as possible. Modern streaming services with commercials, though… man. It’s just so bad.

Anyway, though, I did watch a movie, despite the many travails involved. Fido exists in relatively unexplored territory: this is the zombie post-apocalypse. Humans won, at least sort of? According to the instructional film at the beginning of the movie, our species continues in walled safe zones, controlled by ZomCon, who has also developed a collar to keep zombies under control. Upshot: sure, the world’s a mess, but in the places where people are alive, they’re thriving. Zombies keep the houses in order, they keep the factories running, they keep the parks clean, and so on, leaving everyone else free to live out their 1950s utopia.

Enter one lonely neglected boy and one newly acquired zombie manservant, mix in a few hilarious mistakes, and there you have it. Black comedy, with zombies! But seriously, it was pretty funny. It was for sure the funniest Carrie-Anne Moss has ever been.