Posts Tagged ‘horror’
Last week on Ash vs. Evil Dead, the show put its unique splatstick spin on Hellraiser. This time out, it took on the Monkees’ Head. The Pre-Fab Four’s film, a free-form psychedelic-era artifact (written by Jack Nicholson!), is as good a touchstone as any for the far-out trip Ash J. Williams went on this week — that, or the “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” dream sequence from The Big Lebowski. Our working theory was that tonight’s episode, “Brujo,” was going to offer AvED’s version of New World witchcraft. Instead, it showed us El Jefe’s brain on drugs. As the man himself might put it: Groovy.
I reviewed this past weekend’s Ash vs. Evil Dead for Rolling Stone. This show is really a hoot.
If you’ve watched more than a handful of horror films or TV shows, you know the ugly truth all too well: There are a million ways to make a denizens of the netherworld completely boring to watch. So praise the Lord and pass the ammunition: Ash vs. Evil Dead knows how to do it 100-percent correct. What this Starz continuation of the venerable “splatstick” franchise understands is that when it comes to the genre, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel — sometimes simply building a better mousetrap will do.
Is it premature to declare the birth of a whole new TV-show genre? Tonight’s Ash vs. Evil Dead episode — “Bait” — boasts more gore-soaked scenes than half a True Blood season and better gags than the bulk of the broadcast networks’ fall comedy line-up. What do you call the result? Action, drama, sitcom, horror — none of these feel quite right. It’s some high-octane hybrid of all of them, and it pursues a single purpose with all the relentlessness of the reanimated dead: to entertain the living shit out of you.
I’ve got a little essay on horror in the back of The Hangman #1 from Archie Comics’ superhero imprint Dark Circle, in stores today. I’ll be contributing one of these to every issue. Riverdale will run red with blood.
But the show’s biggest selling point is neither a dick joke nor a Deadite — it’s the director. As a filmmaker, Sam Raimi brings every weapon in his arsenal to shooting this thing: kinetic but clear action-sequence editing, off-kilter angles, whiplash-inducing camera movements, and that signature evil’s-eye-view high-speed tracking shot. He has one of the few directorial styles that really does merit the ubiquitous comparison to a rollercoaster, although in this case you’ve gotta move down the midway to another attraction: the haunted house ride. The episode lurches and careens, stops short and speeds up, and always seems to have another jump-scare just around the corner. It’s all so gleefully gonzo that you forget this gentleman has helmed some of the biggest mainstream blockbusters of all time. Watching Raimi work his magic on the small screen isn’t just entertaining, it’s inspiring — a sign that TV really can do whatever it wants, and that the only obstacle is that no one bothered to try before.
I’m covering Ash vs. Evil Dead for Rolling Stone this season, starting with last night’s premiere—a mixed bag, especially the writing, but with much to recommend it.
3. Hannibal (2013-2015)
How the hell did a show as visually audacious, narratively perverse, and mind-bogglingly gory as Hannibal wind up on the Peacock Network? Before its unceremonious and unfortunate third-season cancellation, Bryan Fuller’s adaptation of Thomas Harris’s series of serial-killer novels — starring cannibalistic psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter and his arch-frienemy, FBI profiler Will Graham — was nothing short of a horror lover’s fever dream. It treated murder as performance art, peeling away the flesh and gristle of the human body in sensuous, spectacular slow motion to expose the heart of darkness within. In the process it made pretty much every other Prestige Drama look like a student film. As the Phantom of the Opera once said: Feast your eyes, glut your soul.
I counted down the Top 25 horror tv shows of all time for Rolling Stone. Who’s number one?
The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead send the message to a society in the throes of endless war, openly nativist and racist politics, and mass gun psychosis that the only way to ensure the survival of you and your loved ones is to act with maximum brutality at all times. It’s not that I’m saying these shows are turning people into killers; on the contrary, everyone involved knows damn well that this is decadent nonsense since virtually no one watching will ever be in the personal position to do anything like what Travis Manawa and Madison Clark are made to do. But the same is true of the NRA or Donald Trump or Ben Carson, who for political and financial profit fuel the paranoid, masturbatory murder fantasies of a country full of gunfucking shut-ins terrified of the unwashed, undead masses flowing over the border, out of the ghettoes, and into Main Street USA. Ideologically, Rick Grimes and George Zimmerman are just a zombie apart.
It’s important to understand why this violent show, among the countless ones now on offer and racking up gangbusters reviews as well as ratings, stands out. What’s wrong with Fear the Walking Dead and the show that spawned it that isn’t wrong with Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, The Wire, The Americans, and on and on and on? To find the source of FTWD/TWD’s ethical failure, you have go look at an artistic failure, a hole in the writing the show falls into time and time again. On those other shows, characters are presented with moral choices between right and wrong options—one side may look more appealing or viable than the other, one may have better or worse repercussions, one may be easier to live with or live through, but their nature is never truly in doubt. Fear the Walking Dead is different. It repeatedly offers characters and viewers alike a false choice, one in which the only options are brutality and survival on the one hand or naïveté and death on the other. In this closed moral circuit, violence is both vital and virtuous; no other correct answer is allowed.
The Walking Dead in Westeros
We’re comparing two of the biggest shows on television in this episode of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. One of them is an adaptation of a popular staple of nerd culture—a genre work that had only appeared in print before—which has translated its bleak themes, wide scope, and controversial use of violence into a modern-day ratings blockbuster. The other is Game of Thrones.
That’s right—the BLAH Boys are taking on The Walking Dead, and its current spinoff Fear the Walking Dead, by contrasting the shows and their source material to Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire. How does their treatment of violence in an unforgiving world of real and supernatural menace differ? What do the relationships between the original works by George R.R. Martin, Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard and their adaptations by David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, and AMC’s land of a thousand showrunners reveal about their respective ideas, ideals, aesthetics, and ethics? Which shows really deserve our moral outrage, and why? We’ll be examining all these questions and more. And one of us, at least, will be getting really freaking worked up. Enjoy!
What makes both Fear and The Walking Dead flagship exceptional television, literally, is how they break the usual rule against assuming that depiction equals endorsement in fiction. In both shows, violence is repeatedly depicted as both necessary and, given the post-apocalyptic context, virtuous. Yes, the brutality is made to feel ugly, but it’s invariably less ugly than the alternative. All of the show’s dramatic weight rests upon the idea that if you were in these people’s shoes, you’d want to do the same things to survive. And man, fuck that noise. Like the zombies locked into that stadium in their thousands then inexplicably left unguarded, I want out.
I reviewed the latest installment of TV’s most morally repugnant franchise, Fear the Walking Dead, for Decider. Much, much more on this coming soon.
While great art generally fills some kind of need in the hearts and minds of its audience, art need not be as utilitarian as all that. Fabergé eggs, extended remixes, the Wet Hot American Summer fart track: In these cases and many others, enjoyment is self-justifying. Hell, by some definitions, art is inherently unnecessary, which is precisely what elevates making it from the pursuit of food, shelter, sex, and survival.
But this ain’t dancing when nobody’s watching or writing the great American novel we’re talking about here. This is “Not Fade Away,” the fourth episode in what looks increasingly likely to be the entirely superfluous first season of Fear the Walking Dead. With the largest fanbase in television built right in, this spinoff series could have gone anywhere. Instead it made an infected-style beeline straight for one of the most traveled paths in the history of the zombie genre: When the dead rise, the army runs amok. Whether you’re talking about 28 Days Later and its sinister soldiers, its sequel 28 Weeks Later and its well-intentioned but incompetent and ultimately indiscriminate occupying army, Day of the Dead and its tiny band of undisciplined bullies and martinets, this story has been told over and over, in a much tighter and more engaging way. It’s difficult to watch Fear and think this particular take on the tale is worth telling.
I reviewed this week’s Fear the Walking Dead, which was bad, for Decider. Danny Boyle, contact your attorneys.
This is the cover for a minicomic edition of Hiders by me and Julia Gfrörer, previously available only in Study Group 3D, which we’ll be selling at SPX this weekend.
“Good people are the first ones to die,” says Fear the Walking Dead, doling out INSANELY badass truths to its audience of bored gamers. Is that an unfair characterization? Of the audience, maybe. Of Fear the Walking Dead? I fear it’s not. With the conclusion of “The Dog,” this week’s episode, we’ve reached the halfway point of this short introductory season, and the series has yet to produce a compelling reason for itself to exist—other than “we can make a lot of money selling grimdark violence to people who will live and die without ever once experiencing such horrors themselves,” that is. Ending with a military takeover of the town is appropriate, because ethically and aesthetically, Fear is basically a gun nut waiting for the UN’s secret Muslim invasion squad’s black helicopters to land, in TV-show form.
This is the cover illustration for a print version of The Deep Ones by me and Julia Gfrörer, which we’ll be selling at SPX next week.
Maybe it’s the strength of the preceding episode, which, true to the Red Dragon arc’s pattern of being brilliant every other week (the first, third, and fifth episodes were amazing, the second, fourth, and now sixth not so much) was as good as this show ever got. Maybe it’s the apples-to-apples comparison of this season’s final hour to the crushing defeat at the conclusion of Season One and the orgy of bloodletting that ended Season Two. Maybe it’s simply the wish that the show go on, with further heights to hit and depths to plumb. Whatever it was, the whiff of anticlimax permeating “The Wrath of the Lamb,” quite likely the last episode of Hannibal we’ll ever see, was unmistakable. Ideally, this de facto series finale would have felt stronger, grander, more final than the fake-outs and gunshots that dominated the proceedings, which, timing aside, added up to one of the season’s weakest episodes. No one will fault you if you wound up wishing for something a bit more, ahem, mindblowing.
Apocalyptic fiction should have the courage of its extinctions. If you’re going to feed damn near every man, woman, and child on earth into the maw of slaughter for our viewing enjoyment, own what that really means: not just full-grown undead versus ragtag survivors, but hundreds of millions of children dying in terrified agony. You don’t have to dwell on it, I suppose, but passing it over in silence to get to the good stuff is aesthetic and ethical cowardice, pure and simple.
So a very dark congratulations goes out to Fear the Walking Dead’s second episode, “So Close, Yet So Far,” for the image of a mom getting devoured amid the ruins of her daughter’s birthday bouncy castle. Sure, doing this just hours after having her cheerfully and audibly sing “Happy Birthday” lays it on thick—you could practically hear the collective groan of millions of viewers going “oh no” the moment the first notes rang out—but it’s better than the alternative.
Whatever its pleasures as a hobby and legitimate value as a means for its mostly young, mostly female practitioners to explore sexual taboos, fanfic has a worrying tendency to collapse the incredible range of potential adult relationships in fiction into a romantic singularity, distorting the totality of human experience just as surely as a black hole warps light. This act of emotional reduction—and reduction’s the right word for it, as both the fannish truncation of “relationships” into the neologism “shipping” and the pruning of the pair names into the portmanteau “Hannigram” semiotically symbolize—hits the possibility of non-romantic male friendship, cooperation, or even enmity especially hard. Is there truly no other way to process the bizarre mind meld between Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham than as their bloody valentine?
The answer, of course, is that maybe there is and maybe there isn’t, but either way the question is irrelevant. This is the way Bryan Fuller, Hannibal’s creator and visionary, is processing that relationship. It may not be the story I expected—not any more than I expected Will Graham to slip into murderous darkness throughout the show’s run rather than remain squarely on the side of the angels—but it’s the story Fuller has chosen to tell, and it’s that story, and no other, that must be engaged by the audience. At its worst, the partisanship of shipping represents a willful refusal of art’s transcendent potential, in which rather than step outside oneself and inhabit the mind of the artist, its adherents force her ideas into a template of their own mentally provincial devising. What better way to atone for its excesses than to go along for Hannibal’s ride, no matter how many left turns it takes?
Given that it’s the most popular show on television, The Walking Dead can pass quite easily for one of the New Golden Age of TV’s crown jewels. The reality, however, is a lot closer to costume jewelry. Despite a grim tone typical of many iconic shows and proximity to masterpieces of the medium like Mad Men and Breaking Bad via their shared network, AMC, the blockbuster adaptation of the surprise-hit comic-book series by writer Robert Kirkman and artists Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard is striking for has so little else in common it has with its antihero-and-auteur-driven era that it gives us a whole lot to chew on.
For starters, there’s no auteur to speak of. Developer and Shawshank Redemption director Frank Darabont departed unceremoniously after disputes with the network, and his successor Glen Mazzara lasted only two seasons until parting ways with the show in another impasse before current showrunner Scott M. Gimple took over. And while creator Kirkman remains actively involved, the show departed so radically from his source material almost immediately—another marked contrast from contemporaries like Game of Thrones—that the closest thing it has to a consistent creative vision is that of zombie-makeup guru Greg Nicotero. Though this lack of a singular voice is not necessarily an inherent evil—Darabont’s mawkish sub-Spielbergian sentimentality, to say nothing of his penchant for Wang Chung music cues, is certainly no great loss. But the difference from Davids Lynch, Chase, Milch, and Simon, and their heirs, from Louis C.K. to Shonda Rhimes, is tangible.
More importantly, and alarmingly, TWD’s approach to its own bloody bleakness too often takes the “anti” out of “antihero.” Even the most uninspired post-Sopranos series about the inner turmoil of men who murder people for a living generally pay lip service to the idea that their cathartic explosions of violence do more harm than good, and that our vicarious thrills must be priced against the moral cost of killing. For Rick Grimes and company, however, gore, to paraphrase Gordon Gekko, is good. Yes, the show frequently toys with the idea that the former sheriff and his roving band of zombie-apocalypse survivors have Gone Too Far This Time; in fact, the frequency with which this question is raised indicates the inconsistency of the writing. But far more often, the story serves as an ersatz endorsement of brutality in the name of survival, justice, and revenge, concepts frequently treated as indistinguishable. For The Walking Dead, killing is bad, unless you really really have to or unless they really really deserve it, in which case it’s extremely good. Seriously: When The Wire veteran Chad Coleman’s pacifistic Tyrese finally offed someone, the crew congratulated him like he’d just been bar mitzvah’d.
Normally I’m first in line to blast critics for equating the depiction of atrocity with either the exploitation or outright endorsement thereof. But in TWD’s case, the frequent recourse to redemptive violence in a world where virtually none of its massive audience will experience such situations reads as decadent at best and downright immoral at worst, a nasty and unnecessary exponent of the reactionary potential that’s been buried beneath the zombie-horde metaphor from the start. To treat “What would you do to protect those you care about?” as the central ethical question of our time is to invite the creation of imaginary enemies to justify our mental murderousness against them; the consequences of this paranoid mentality for America are as thick in the air as teargas in the streets of St. Louis.
I reviewed the series premiere of Fear the Walking Dead, and the Walking Dead phenomenon generally, for Decider. I’ll be covering the show there all season, which should be interesting.
TMI time: As a TV critic, you see enough sex scenes to get desensitized. Whether it’s the pneumatically thrusting buttocks of a pay-cable drama or the “let’s show them getting all breathy and frantic as they start tearing at each other’s shirts because that’s basically all we can show” approach of your average commercial-network affair, the stuff just hits a point of diminishing returns after a while. For me, at least, it takes something special to elicit that telltale sign of effective televised sexmanship: a long, low murmur of “fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuudge,” but, you know, not actually the word “fudge.”
So, yeah, the bit where Rutina Wesley’s Reba McClane reenacts holding her face to the power and heat of the sleeping tiger on the lap Richard Armitage’s Francis Dolarhyde instead? Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuudge.
If a lifetime of gorehoundsmanship has taught me anything, it’s that horror is a genre in perpetual conversation with itself. By that standard, “…And the Beast From the Sea,” this week’s Hannibal, is a chattier episode than most. And why shouldn’t it be? If you’re going to bring one of the most iconic monsters in horror history to the small screen, why not cannibalize some of that history in the process?
So take a look at Francis Dolarhyde’s raid on Will, Molly, and Walter Graham’s family homestead. His mesh mask echoes the pantyhose disguise of an earlier incarnation of the Red Dragon, Tom Noonan’s in Michael Mann’s Manhunter. Molly & Wally’s daring through-the-window in-a-bathrobe escape echoes Wendy & Danny Torrance’s flight from Jack Nicholson and the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. The way they burst from the trees into the road to be saved by an African-American motorist passing by feels a whole lot like the end of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, while that motorist’s death so that they might live is reminiscent of one of the shootouts in No Country for Old Men. You don’t needto know any of these reference points; hell, they don’t even need to be things the show is deliberately referring to. They’re just part of the narrative and visual vocabulary of terror available to any astute horror filmmaker. And that’s long before we get to the Tooth Fairy’s Tyler Durden impression.