Monday, May 31, 2010

Horror In Comics: Final Crisis (DC Comics) Turpin Becomes Darkseid

(ALL images contained herein are the property of DC Comics - at the end of the day, you should really buy the book I'm about to discuss - trust me on this)

In the world of the superhero, at the end of the day's adventure, the good guys win. No matter how vile the bad guy, somehow the hero will find a way to defeat him or her. It's part of the wish-fulfillment aspect of the comic book and superhero fiction: we, the readers, wish we could employ a variety of powers to tackle the bad guys of the world. But that very notion and super-basic plot device is the basis for something with terrifying potential in fiction:

What happens when evil wins?

Sure there are times when the bad guy gets the upper hand. You can't have a plausible hero without some setbacks here and there. It's why for every hero, there are at least a good half dozen villains in his or her "rogues gallery." But what if there was a moment when the ultimate evil finally - after centuries of trying - set his horrible foot into our world and brought it crashing down, and the heroes figured it out too late to stop it?

This is the basic premise of 2008's DC Comics miniseries Final Crisis, written by my favorite comic book author, Grant Morrison and featuring art by J. G. Jones, Doug Mahnke, and several others. Like a good writer should, Morrison began planting the seeds for Final Crisis in earlier works, going back several years. There are clues pointing to Final Crisis in books such as JLA and the wild, ambitious miniseries 7 Soldiers of Victory. In fact, the Mister Miracle portion of 7 Soldiers serves as a prequel.

While Final Crisis has its place in the Crisis trilogy of DC Comics (Crisis on Infinite Earths and Infinite Crisis), it owes more to legendary creator Jack Kirby and his New Gods stories. Kirby wrote and drew huge epics about two warring worlds of demi-gods, heavenly New Genesis and hellish Apokolips. Sometimes the wars spilled over to our world, and there in the mix of things was Superman himself. The demi-gods were varied and colorful, intensely powerful and yet individually interesting. Heading up the evil gods was Darkseid, a granite-skinned despot who sought to ruin the heroes of Earth and corrupt reality to its core. Much of Darkseid's Silver Age appearances included soliloquies swearing vengeance or making threats.

In Final Crisis, Morrison laid the groundwork for Darkseid to finally enter our world. Doing so not only corrupted reality, but as Darkseid fell, it bent reality and put him at the epicenter of a cosmic pit, dragging our dimension down with it. High concept stuff, but never expect anything less from Morrison. The evil New Gods could infect the bodies of regular people until such a time that Darkseid could manifest himself in the body of a noble soul that he could systematically corrupt. And that's the moment I want to focus on for this blog (even after all that set-up!).

He finds such a noble soul in detective Dan Turpin, another great Kirby creation. During his investigation, Turpin meets Boss Dark Side, the manager of a seedy fight-club style nightclub for villains. Too late does he realize, but Turpin is infected by Darkseid's spirit through the Anti-Life Equation, a mathematical equation that is proof that Darkseid is lord over all.

This Anti-Life Equation is this - read with caution, lest YOU be infected:

loneliness + alienation + fear + despair + self-worth ÷ mockery ÷ condemnation ÷ misunderstanding x guilt x shame x failure x judgment -- n=y where y=hope and n=folly, love=lies, life=death, self=dark side

Turpin finds himself infected when he goes to investigate a lead in a bombed-out city, he meets strange, disturbing people who refer to him as "great one" and seem to know him. Hell, they even have Batman as a prisoner. There's no escape for Turpin. He's getting sicker while those odd people around him rejoice.

His body begins to change. His skin becomes like...granite. His soul is battling against something dark and familiar. He's had run-ins with the New Gods before, so he knows what he's dealing with and yet he knows how futile it is:

"I tried to show them what humanity's made of...But wrestling with Darkseid, well...It's like trying to beat the ocean unconscious..."

It's too much for Turpin, and as the world deteriorates in both physical and relative space, his soul is entirely supplanted by Darkseid. When his minion G. Gordon Godfrey (in the body of a Don King-like evangelist) asks for a sign:

"Give us a sign, great Darkseid...Thumbs up for the triumph of the human spirit...or thumbs down to summon a day of holocaust that will never end..."

...the former Dan Turpin gives us his chilling answer:

Outside, heroes are dying or are corrupted. Time and space is warped. The world has ended. Humans are slaves or dog soldiers completely ruined by the Anti-Life Equation which was broadcast on the Internet to infect as many as possible in the shortest amount of time. Weeks become days. There is no sunlight. Pockets of heroes and villains band together to resist the best they can. It's the end.

What gave me the heebie-jeebies was the deft combination of street-level spookiness and cosmic-scale scares. It's a world being corrupted almost overnight due to the ruination of time and space. The aspect of a mad god falling through dimensions and dragging realities into a dark singularity with him is a wild concept right at home in the mind of Grant Morrison. Evil has won and good didn't see it coming.

I reason I picked this instant of Final Crisis - the transformation of Dan Turpin into Darkseid through a corrupted soul - is that the idea of a malevolent force edging out the personality of a good person while ruining reality at the same time is a grand-scale scare to me. It reminds of what good Lovecraftian fiction is about: Old gods scratching their way back into our world through the corruption of everything that is good about us, and there's nothing we can do about it.

Of course, there is a conclusion to Final Crisis, but the heroes have to really fight for it. The miniseries remains very polarizing, with many fans hating it and many (like me) loving it. Since this is my blog, I'm just dealing with my perception of it. Morrison touched a dark nerve in superhero storytelling with this epic. It influenced my own writing, much as Morrison's work did when I discovered it in the 80's on Doom Patrol. The idea of the storyline made me re-think the box in which I imagine my own written worlds, and forced me to step outside of it.

That's good storytelling.

So, yes, while this isn't horror per se, it does have horror elements, most notably possession. That which was creepy in films like The Exorcist and more recently Paranormal Activity is present in Final Crisis. Also corruption is there, as I mentioned it in relation to H. P. Lovecraft's visions. If you have a chance to read it, I highly, highly recommend it.

Until next time, fellow survivors, don't let the zombies get blood all over your comic book collection. Bag 'em up!

Stay safe!

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Monday, May 24, 2010

I Sell The Dead (2008) Yay, A Fun Movie!

A lot of the movies I love have a unique energy about them. Shaun of the Dead is easily one of my favorites. Braindead or Dead Alive, whichever title you prefer, is another. Movies like those bristle with a kind of unbridled glee that makes every action, every camera angle crackle with that same energy. It makes the movie-viewing experience so much more fun. You see the carnival ride and you know it's going to make you smile, and if it's done right, you do.

I Sell The Dead is one of those great carnival rides. I saw the preview some weeks ago, and immediately put it in the Netflix queue. It's written and directed with great flair by Glenn McQuade and it looks absolutely gorgeous. As for star power, feast your eyes on this little list: Dominic Monaghan, Ron Perlman, and Angus Scrimm. That's right. Angus Freakin' Scrimm. That right there was enough to sell me on it on top of Charlie Pace and Hellboy.

The movie begins with the beheading of a grimy fellow named Willy Grimes (the vastly underrated Larry Fessenden). He's defiant right down to the end as the blade makes a nice clean cut. After the titles, we meet young Arthur Blake (Monghan), locked away in a cell and visited by a record-taking friar, Father Duffy (Perlman). Duffy wants the whole story of the murders of which Willy and Arthur are presumed guilty. Arthur then tells the tale of how he and Willy met while grave robbing for the mean old Dr. Quint (Scrimm).

Willy takes Arthur under his wing and helps the young boy develop into a grown ghoul. They hate working for Quint, who constantly threatens them and barely pays them at all. One grave robbing turns up an undead creature who attacks them when a stake is removed from its heart. The boys finally see a way out by delivering the creature to Quint, who removes the stake at his own peril. At last, Willy and Arthur are in business for themselves, taking on the undead jobs no one else will take. No one, that is, except the evil House of Murphy, a rival gang of ghouls.

The House of Murphy tries to recruit Arthur at one point after a botched grave robbing (watching how it's botched is a great WTF moment), but he refuses. Before long, the guys take on an apprentice, Fanny Bryers (Brenda Cooney), who shares a bed with Arthur. Can you say "Yoko"? Yep, Arthur's smitten, but Willy's not too fond of her. She's anxious to prove herself, and an opportunity arises when a delivery of undead washes up on the shore of a nearby island. Fanny insists they race the House of Murphy to retrieve the creatures. Willy's not happy about it, but he goes along.

The House of Murphy

When they arrive, all hell breaks loose. Turns out the undead are pretty spry, almost lizard-like. The House of Murphy gets the best of our heroes, but it's not for long. The House of Murphy ends up dead, which is the whole reason Willy and Arthur have been sentenced to death. To say that the movie winds up here is a gross understatement. There are a couple more twists to witness, one a good surprise and the other a funnier one.

The more I thought about this movie after I watched it, the more I liked it. It's got an old-school spirit mixed with a modern filmmaking sensibility. Monaghan and Fessenden are outstanding and have undeniable chemistry as two very different friends who just should never be apart. The movie looks amazing, a perfect mesh of colors and lighting. Some things that happen in the script are so out there, scenes that have you chuckling and shrugging your shoulders. But really, that's the fun of it. It's got unbridled charm and energy, with a knowing nod and wink to the ghoulish films of yesteryear. A love letter to the Saturday afternoon classic horror matinees, it's one you'll want to read over and over.

And in the spirit of the type of movie I Sell The Dead pays homage to, check out these great posters:

So, enjoy, fellow survivors. This one will soon be gracing my DVD shelf.

Now with our undead moaning at the gates, let's not try what we see in this movie at home. Let shuffling undead...shuffle. Take care, you all, and we'll see you next time...

HorrorBlips: vote it up!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Perkins' 14 (2009) Is It Wrong To Cheer For The Bad Guy?

Sometimes you just get a movie that...I don't know...doesn't click. You think it should. It's got the potential. It's got several of the pieces required for it to click, but it just doesn't. Perkins' 14 was one of those films for me.

Knowing me and my love for infection horror and apocalyptic survival fiction, you'd think this movie would fall right into my embrace. It's sort of about infection and there's sort of an apocalyptic atmosphere about it. But I wasn't left with warm fuzzies.

It has a unique genesis as being a film whose parts - script and cast - were put up for public approval far before shooting began. Making a film that asks for the input of the horror movie isn't exactly a bad idea, but it runs the risk of becoming said bad idea. Still, the plot synopsis was enough for me to give it a go. While I don't regret it, it's possible I may just forget it.

So you've got this guy, Perkins (Richard Brake). Turns out he kidnapped 14 kids from the Stone Cove area some years ago, and all of these children are presumed dead. Our protagonist, Deputy Dwayne Hopper (Patrick O'Kane), is the father of one of those kidnapped children, something that still haunts him to the present day. Haunts him so much, it makes him intense. I mean, really intense. He takes a shift at the station house while his emo daughter Daisy (Shayla Beesley) plans to head to a party and his pseudo-emo wife Janine (Mihaela Mihut) prepares for her book club. Another normal night at the Hoppers.

"Don't mock me, ceiling."

While at the station, Deputy Hopper starts having suspicions about the pharmacist arrested earlier in the evening, this being Perkins, of course. Through some slick detective work and intense interrogation, Hopper concludes that Perkins is indeed the man who took his son. Perkins doesn't help his own case by being the Chesire Cat of horror films and taunting Hopper just a little. Hopper convinces one of his buddies to check out Perkins' home, and Perkins' facade drops. He warns Hopper, but the deputy just won't listen. Hopper's pal inadvertently opens the cages in Perkins' basement, where he's kept the kids for the last several years.

Now worried about his fellow deputy, Hopper frees Perkins and they head for the house. There, Hopper finds his friend, dead and bloody. Also in the basement, all the evidence needed on Perkins, including the possibility that his own son, Kyle, may still be alive. Perkins not only admits to the kidnapping, but explains his motive. When he was a child, his parents were brutally murdered. The police never solved the crime, and Perkins took it as they just didn't care. When Hopper and the other families called off the searches for their own children, Perkins called that his revenge, that he wanted them to feel what it was like to abandon all hope. He's brainwashed and drugged the children, and now they're loose. His taunting gets to be too much for Hopper, and he shoots Perkins in the head, thereby killing the best character in the movie.

I really wanted Perkins to stay around. Is that wrong?

In town, the 14 kids Perkins kidnapped - yes, Perkins' 14 - are on the attack. They're slaughtering townsfolk left and right. One shows up where Daisy and her friends are partying, killing all but Daisy and her rocker boyfriend, Eric (Michale Graves, formerly of The Misfits). Poppa Hopper shows up just in time, but they find the boy who attacked them quite unkillable. Off they go to find Mrs. Hopper. Only she's not in a book club, according to Daisy. She's at some no-tell motel with an illicit lover.

At the motel, Janine and said lover are attacked by a wild young girl, who literally - and quite impressively - beats the lover's face into ground chuck. Janine locks herself in a bathroom until she's rescued by the rest of the Hopper family and Eric. They take refuge in the police station, where the final siege takes place. Another of Deputy Hopper's co-workers bites it, proving that Dwayne Hopper is a life-size bad luck charm to other law enforcement officers in this movie. The one remaining prisoner in the cells, a hippie protester with a bad attitude named Felicity, also shuffles off this mortal coil after a bad run-in with an air duct.

"Why do you hate my hands?"

The Hoppers formulate a plan to leave, but not only does Janine volunteer to crawl through the air ducts to the evidence room to snag a set of keys to Perkins' car, but Dwayne wants to try to get through to Kyle. The years of conditioning and constant injections of PCP are putting that latter plan into a precarious area. Janine gets the keys, but also a faceful of hopped-up psycho kids. Dwayne locks Daisy in a cell, arms her with a shotgun, and sets off to rehabilitate Kyle.

I dare you to kiss her.

Dwayne finds Kyle and they hesitantly embrace. Kyle lovingly snaps his fathers' neck before taking the cell keys and saying a big shotgun-y hello his sweet sister.

Aaaaand, scene...

All the pieces were there for me to love this movie. Sadly, it didn't click. I'm sure Patrick O'Kane is a fine actor, but he was so intense that I had a hard time buying that he was a loving father in those flashbacks with a younger Kyle. It was as if he had two speeds: intense and about to snap any minute. The other actors weren't bad, but none of them had the presence of Richard Brake, our man Perkins. Brake's been around, too. He's been on TV shows like NCIS and Cold Case. He was in Outpost (on my Netflix list) as well as Doom and Batman Begins, where he plays the very pivotal character of Joe Chill. Hell, he's even in Muse's video for "Knights of Cydonia," which makes my personal zombie movie soundtrack list (cheap blog plug).

In Perkins' 14, he delivers his lines with relish and perfect timing. When he gets half his cerebrum blown out, I thought, "well, there goes the movie." Not entirely, but I half-hoped he'd show up later on.

Like I said, this movie didn't click for me. It might for others, I don't know. I almost would've liked to see a hint that Perkins had stumbled onto creating the first strain of zombie virus, but other than the rampant cannibalism by the 14 kids, there wasn't any indication of it spreading through infection. This movie did have a real "indie spirit," but that's not always enough to carry it in my eyes. Valiant effort, but in my opinion, it simply fell short.

So, fellow survivors, make sure your kids are within your sight at all times. Who knows if we have a nutball Perkins in our midst?

Until next time, stay safe and un-undead.

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Friday, May 7, 2010

Horror In Comics: Crossed (Avatar Press)

I admit it: I'm a huge fan of the apocalypse. Not a real one. I just like seeing the end of the world in print or on film. Infection horror seems to head the list of ways for the Earth to die, and it's enjoyed a resurgence of respectful nostalgia (the undying...pardon the for the original Dawn of the Dead), creative new directions (28 Days Later, [REC]), amazing stories (the comic The Walking Dead), and even a billion poor attempts (the "remake" of Day of the Dead). While Robert Kirkman's aforementioned The Walking Dead remains as the leader in modern comic-based infection horror, one of the strongest and most disturbing entries in the genre was Avatar Press' Crossed, written by Garth Ennis with art by Jacen Burrows.

If you're a comic book fan, you're already familiar with Garth Ennis. Extremely prolific, he writes outlandish action with all inhibitions removed, yet still squeezes in true humanity and emotion. His run on Marvel's The Punisher is arguably the best in the history of that character. His World War II comics are heartfelt with a demonstration of historical knowledge. The Boys is a unique, unflinching, and very adult look at the underbelly of a world "infested" with superheroes who are little more than spoiled celebrities. Ennis remains one of my top ten favorite comic scribes. When I heard he was going to write an apocalyptic infection horror series for the wonderful Avatar Press imprint, it was like hearing Quentin Tarentino was going to do a movie with a ton of shooting and swearing, with no studio restrictions. I had to get in on this action.

I picked up Issue #0 in 2008, and in its short time frame, shows the moment the world started going to hell. When I read this interview at Comic Book Resources, I was sold even before I got to the end of it. Add to that the intrigue stirred up by the striking Internet advertisements (three of which you see in my write-up), and I was ready to invest time and money into reading this story.

It was time and money well spent.

One of the selling points for me is that, much like Kirkman's The Walking Dead, no one was safe. Not a single character was going to be immune from the ravages of the disease in Crossed, and with Ennis humanizing each one, it was going to hurt. See this cover with the cast on it?

Everyone except two in this picture die. Some die in the most unexpected, painful ways, but that's Ennis' specialty: coming at you from angles you don't see. He'll kill off a character that he's spent considerable time making you care about. The deaths in Crossed mean something, and they aren't pretty.

Nothing about Crossed is pretty. Imagine the savagery of the zombies in Romero's Dead movies combined with the frantic speed of the infected in 28 Days Later, but retaining all of their intelligence. The infected or "crossed" develop a cross-shaped rash on their faces, and worst of all, any filter they have between their darkest, most depraved desires and urges and real life is shattered. Take the worst things the human mind can dream up to do to another human being, and multiply it by billions. That's the infection in Crossed and it's terrifying.

There might be some slight spoiler material in the next section since I'm going to go into the plot and all. One word sums up that plot and it's survival. Sure, the familiar plots of many zombie, virus, infection, world-ending movies is survival, but Ennis made a point - as evident in the promos - that in real life, there would be no heroes. There would be no hope. There would be no eleventh-hour rescues by a recovered band of military badasses.

It starts small, as it usually does. We're introduced to several main characters in issue #0, including tough waitress Cindy, chief narrator Stan, Kelly, and Tom, who looks after Kelly after she's blinded by a nuclear explosion that occurs at a nearby reactor. They're in a diner when a lone man strides in, strange markings spreading on his face, and throws a bloody set of vertebrae onto the counter before lunging to bite the manager's nose off. Of course, any transfusion of bodily fluids spreads this virulent disease, which is fast-acting and brutal. Things degenerate pretty quickly from there as a local nuclear reactor goes up, blinding Kelly.

The rest of the series is told in two parts, present and flashback. The present takes place about ten months after issue #0. Stan, Cindy, Kelly, and Tom have joined up with various others, including Cindy's son Patrick. Issue #1 not only catches the reader up on the world since the Crossed spread, it flashes back on how our core group escapes town together just short hours after the diner scene. It also focuses on how the survivors cope in the present, focusing on one man's conviction that the Crossed are like zombies in movies - even that they're weak around salt. He tests his theory to horrifying - and I mean, utterly sickening - results in the first of many slugs to the gut each issue would provide. If your stomach and sensibilities can handle it, you see firsthand what happens to the guy and his wife and daughter.

Issue #2 finds the group continuing to run and hide out with the Crossed everywhere. The flashbacks flesh out the core characters more as they witness the world ending. In the present, the group learns just how ruthless the Crossed have become. Remember how I said before that the disease spreads through bodily fluids? Let's just say the Crossed apply bullets and manage to turn one of the group just through a simple flesh wound. It's one of those memorable moments that make you wonder just what goes on in Garth Ennis' mind, and envy how brilliant the guy is. The survivors also finally consider making a trek to Alaska, hoping its isolated landscape offers safe shelter.

Issue #3 has the group running into another group of survivors, consisting of a kindergarten teacher and several of her students. They've survived by trapping their food. Often their food consists of other unlucky survivors making their way through the devastated town. The flashback shows what happens to a charismatic tough-as-nails cop who tries to lead the survivors, and demonstrates that there are indeed no heroes. When the kindergarten teacher dies, the main characters have a heart-wrenching decision to make. Nothing is easy in the world of the Crossed. There isn't time, and no one wants to have musical montages of them enjoying the fruits and treasures of a dead world.

In issue #4, the climactic plot kicks in as the survivors try to leave a town lorded over by a group of Crossed that has become organized, led by an enormous biker-type nicknamed after...well...a certain part of a male horse's anatomy. Why is he called that? Because that is literally the weapon he uses to club people. I ain't kidding here, folks. It's morbidly funny, yet frighteningly true to the theme of story. The Crossed just...don't care anymore. Seems this Crossed biker dude and his crew, including an old man named Face (who wears a a loincloth) and an armless, legless, sightless "lookout" with insanely good hearing called Stump, decide to make a game of pursuing our survivors after they barely get out alive.

Issue #5 takes the crew into winter. While they seek shelter, warmth, and food, the flashbacks sees what will become the present survivor group coalesce into their own organized group, led by Cindy, whose minimal toughness leaves little with which to argue. This issue is a bit of a respite, as the Crossed don't appear. Cindy and Stan grow closer, not through love but respect. There is a striking scene depicting the parallel between their will to survive and that of pack of majestic wolves.

Issue #6 tells the reader, "break's over, back to assaulting your eyes." The survivors pick up two new friends: Brett, an arrogant prick with lots of food and weapons, and later a stray dog that warms up to Stan. We also find out through flashback what happened to poor Kitrick, a morose young man with little to say. During a fireside chat, we also find out a little more about elderly Geoff, and it ain't pretty. The way the survivors, especially Kitrick, deal with it is subtle and quite sad. And Alaska seems so far away.

Guess who's back in issue #7? Much to their surprise, the survivors find the organized group of Crossed have followed them. It leads to an encounter on a dangerous river that ends with unimaginable tragedy. Ennis makes a point to say no one's safe in the series...he proves it with the climax of this issue. It's still very hard to read. At this point, you could say "it's on."

In issue #8 - only one more left - the crew finds a downed helicopter for shelter and to gather their thoughts after the shocking end to the last issue. Stan finds the last diary entry of a dead soldier there and reads about the early days of the plague and how the military reacted to it. The group is changed in their own way, and Stan reacts to Brett's douchbaggery in a most unexpected way. Stan and Cindy connect, and the group splits up to meet later after Cindy tends to unfinished business.

In the final issue, Stan and Cindy take care of that unfinished business. Meanwhile, the others have a run-in with the persistent pursuers that ends in violent sadness, yet a spark of defiant triumph. In a final, deadpan show of revenge and finality, the remaining survivors finish off their enemies before heading off into their own very uncertain future.

Whew. Long synopsis, I know. I hope it tempts you into at least taking a glance at this remarkable series. Yeah, I'm biased. I've been a Garth Ennis fan for years, and his amazing The Boys is still a treat I look forward to every month.

Not only is the writing great in Crossed, but Jacen Burrows really nails it with his art. It's clean and detailed, right there with no compromise. Gore and brutality is center stage in the book, and Burrows doesn't shy away. I guarantee there is something to offend nearly everyone in Crossed, but think about this: if this disease really happened, would political correctness be on the mind of a purely insane, purely evil person with absolutely no filter? Yeah, not likely.

Now, Crossed is being set up for the big screen, with a script by Ennis himself. Get ready to see that "R" rating smashed to bits. Take a look at an article about it at Bleeding Cool. Wow, The Walking Dead on AMC, and now Crossed in theaters? Sweet.

Not only that, a new comic series called Crossed: Family Values has begun, with excellent writer David Lapham penning it with art by Javier Barreno. This one is not a sequel, but a parallel story about a family with horrible secrets of its own on the run from the Crossed. Only one issues is out so far, but believe me, it follows in the Garth Ennis tradition quite well.

This book is not for everyone. It's sick, sad, brutal, heartfelt, heartbreaking, and wild. I understand if it's not a person's cup of horror tea, but I really enjoyed it. I knew what I was getting into, and the team of Ennis and Burrows delivered. Bravo, Avatar Press, bravo for publishing it.

Until next time, my dear fellow survivors, thank your lucky stars that our undead don't have the organizational potential of the Crossed. Brrr...that's a chilling thought...

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Sunday, May 2, 2010

Paranormal Activity (2007) Maybe Turn Down The Hype Volume Next Time

I think there might be a formula in the horror film genre, similar to physics or mathematics, in regards to the hype of a movie:

"The intense hyping of a film will be converse to the general reception of said film."

Remember The Blair Witch Project? Well, of course you do, what am I saying? That is the poster child of overhyping a film. Actually, the early marketing of the film was great and it looked like something different was coming down the horror highway. More often than not, I hear people speak in disappointed tones about that movie. Most are kinder to Cloverfield, which employed a blitz of viral marketing, easter egg-filled websites, and all sorts of bells and whistles. For the record, I rather liked Blair Witch Project and very much enjoyed Cloverfield.

Paranormal Activity came on like the little demon ghost engine that could. Made for about ten dollars and employing plenty of admirable cost-cutting tricks, the hype machine rolled out with all guns blazing. Moviegoers were told to demand it at their local theaters. Videos of shocked and screaming audiences accompanied the minimal trailers. There was an air of mystery, yet a tinge of skepticism among seasoned horror fans.

I finally got a hold of it and took it in one afternoon, many months after the hype had died down. What I found was a film that wasn't bad, but not the all-out assault on my senses I was promised. When it comes to faux documentaries featuring hauntings, Lake Mungo set the bar pretty high for me.

The plot of Paranormal Activity, directed and written by Oren Peli, is pretty straightforward: a young, upwardly mobile couple has been bothered by strange occurrences around their home for some time, and the boyfriend, Micah (Micah Sloat), is all excited about it. He thinks it would make a great documentary, but girlfriend Katie (Katie Featherston) is apprehensive. Seems the weirdness isn't new to her. She grew up with a feeling that something has followed her, and that something isn't a guardian angel.

It starts off light, a sound here, something moving there. They contact a psychic, who recommends they bring in a demonologist to nip this thing in the bud right away. Katie's okay with that, but Micah overdosed on his douchebag pills and wants to make a film project out of the haunting.

While the hauntings intensify, the once-strong couple starts to fall apart at the seams. Katie is angry at Micah for taunting the entity and dismissing her feelings. Micah is mad at Katie for not embracing his new passion for film, and for bringing the entity into their lives in the first place, which just another notch in Micah's douche-ism tally. The entity itself becomes more and more malevolent. It shows no signs of letting up, and the incidents become attacks. They even become more frequent in the daytime. It's suggested to the couple that no matter where they run, the entity will follow them because it's after Katie.

The nighttime footage gets weirder, with Katie sometimes standing and staring at Micah for long stretches of time. Footsteps sound, heavy and thunderous in the house. One night, something pulls Katie right out of bed and drags her into the hallway, even biting her at one point. Katie is off the deep end after that, and Micah finally gives in to leave the house. Oddly, Katie refuses, saying that everything will be "okay."

That night, Katie spends hours staring at Micah before leaving the room. She screams and Micah follows, beginning a terrifying struggle that we, the viewers, don't see. The theatrical release of the movie ends with (spoilers, so if you really want to know, highlight the text after this warning) Micah's body thrown into the camera, and a demonic Katie entering the room before disappearing, according to the final credits.

Of the three endings I know of, this appears to be the better one. It's not easy to end a movie like this on a note that everyone will agree with, but it wasn't horrible. And that's how I felt about the entire movie. I know it disappointed some and thrilled others, but honestly, I didn't get either side of that argument. Ultimately, I guess there was some disappointment, because I wanted it to be utterly terrifying, and it wasn't. First-person horror that is truly scary: [REC]. Still, the movie provided me with a fair amount of creepy-crawlies:
  • The scratch on Micah's face in the framed picture.
  • Katie's footsteps at the end of the movie.
  • The exorcism footage they find on the Internet.
  • The footprints.
  • Katie's voice when she says, "I think we'll be okay." Listen closely.
Too much hype is like too much sugar. It's good for the product, but if it's overdone, it ruins the taste of what could have been a hidden gem. I'm happy that such a small film could rake in mounds of dough, but there's a part of me that's cynical when the Hollywood Hype Machine-o-Rama demands I watch and be scared. As I mentioned before, Lake Mungo had me turning on the lights from sheer creepiness. Paranormal Activity had me interested, but not as skeeved out as I was told I should be.

So, what's next on the helicopter's rounds? Next time, I'll finally get around to discussing the great horror comic Crossed, which sets infection horror on a new path. After that, I might be doing a little article about I Sell The Dead, which just arrived in my mailbox.

Until next time, remember, if zombies follow you from place to place, unlike the demonic presence in this movie, you'll be able to see them...and smell them. Bring Febreeze.

Take care, fellow survivors!

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