Hellspawn and Creep Shows

A three-chapter sample of Corpus Evil is coming soon. I expected to have it online this week, but I decided to get a mailing list set up so that anyone who reads it can choose to be notified when the novel releases. The problem is setting up mailing lists is much more complicated than I expected. (It’s probably not complicated at all, but it is boring if you’re expecting a set-it-and-forget-it solution.) That and I really don’t know what my newsletter would entail, other than: “Hey, the novel’s out. Um, bye now.”

So I’ve been reading a ridiculous amount of Spawn lately in an effort to catch up. I don’t give a damn what people say, I still love 90s comics and I even like (fight me) Rob Liefeld because his stuff reminds me of what I tried to draw when I was a kid. (On second thought, this connection is probably a chicken-and-egg situation.) I never cared much for moderation and 90s comics were gloriously excessive.

Todd McFarlane was the king of this stuff. I drew Spawn and Violator about a million times growing up and I still doodle ’em to this day (uh, that sounded raunchy but you know what I meant). As much as I love McFarlane’s art, I keep thinking the same thing whenever I read his writing: I wish Spawn comics didn’t take themselves so seriously. (For context, I’m currently working my way through the Jim Downing issues and his name might as well be Debbie Downer.)

Then I crawled out of bed this morning and discovered RLM uploaded a serendipitous video (see above) in which they review Faust, a Brian Yuzna film about a “superhero” who’s suspiciously similar to Spawn. I quite like Yuzna and special FX wizard Screaming Mad George, but I somehow missed this pairing. In other words, I know what I’m watching this evening.

If you live anywhere near The Circle Cinema in Tulsa, you should probably check out their 35mm showing of Creepshow this June. Creepshow is a huge influence on Corpus Evil; I listened to John Harrison’s soundtrack for the film more than anything else while I was writing it. In fact, I think Creepshow is a more enjoyable Tales from the Crypt adaptation than HBO’s Tales from the Crypt.

Horror Talk (via an /r/horror post) drew my attention to an unproduced script for a Friday the 13th sequel. Here’s the direct link. I haven’t started it yet, but I’m keeping it open in a spare tab for light reading.

The weather here is stupid. Clouds are stupid. Chances of rain are stupid. Everything is stupid.

Logan (2017) [Midnight Movie]

I generally like MCU movies (more than X-Men movies, in fact), but the stylistic continuity is limiting to what the filmmakers can do. Each movie is different, to an extent, but directors aren’t allowed a whole lot of breathing room, which is a shame because the franchise attracts such big names. I want to see Kenneth Branagh make a Kenneth Branagh movie starring Thor, not a run-of-the-mill MCU movie. Meanwhile, Edgar Wright’s removal from Ant-Man still feels like we missed out on something great.

X-Men’s stylistic continuity, on the other hand, has been thoroughly torched, tossed out the window, and struck by a large truck. The varying tone has made the franchise a little spotty (to put it nicely), but it’s apparently given director James Mangold a whole lot of breathing room—the same kind of breathing room Christopher Nolan had when he rebooted the Batman franchise. 
This isn’t a Wolverine film. It’s a James Mangold film. And it’s probably my favorite mainstream comic book movie since Richard Donner’s Superman. I’ve merely liked X-Men movies up until now. Here’s the first one I loved.
It’s notable something this different got made with such a huge IP. It just doesn’t move like a carefully plotted action movie. It moves like a deliberate drama and feels like a classic western. Usually when I see these movies, I’m reminded of all the other comic book movies. This one reminded me of Clint Eastwood’s A Perfect World and Unforgiven.

The first time we see Logan, he’s sleeping off a hangover in the back of the limo he drives for a living. He’s awakened by the sound of thugs trying to steal his wheels. He tells them exactly what you’d expect Wolverine to say: “You don’t want to do this.” Yet you get the feeling Logan’s talking to himself this time. He’s old, he’s limping, and when the thugs shoot him, the wounds remain for the remainder of the movie. He’s also experiencing a bit of blade-extension dysfunction.
It turns out Logan’s healing factor gets weaker the older he gets and, as a result, he’s experiencing the effects of adamantium poisoning. (He’s something like two hundred years old at this point… it’s especially amusing to see the world famous hero require reading glasses.) Logan lives with Professor X and the mutant albino Caliban (Stephen Merchant, who’s great in the role) in the middle of nowhere. It’s likely they’re the last mutants alive. Charles is worse for the wear than Logan; the first time we see the professor he’s zooming about jerkily in his wheelchair, mumbling like a madman. Sometimes he has seizures, which puts everybody within a large radius at risk of death by telepathic shock.
And Charles cusses now… a lot. He’s gotten quite curmudgeonly in his old age, earning some of the best laughs in the movie. Patrick Stewart manages to play him with equal amounts of realism and dignity. 
One day Logan is hired to drive a woman and her daughter across the country. It turns out the little girl is more than what she appears to be: she has mutant abilities which are suspiciously like Wolverine’s. Naturally, the secret lab responsible for her existence sends their highly militarized security team to get her back. The leader of the team is the film’s villain, Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). Pierce doesn’t like “muties” and refers to his band of cyber-enhanced killers as “the good guys.” This is probably the best movie villain since Fury Road’s Immortan Joe.
There’s a bit of a surprise about midway through the movie. I’m amazed the trailers haven’t spoiled it. Lately, there have been a lot of surprises in movies like this, but when the surprises are, “Oh, look, another crossover cameo,” they kind of lose their effectiveness, don’t they? The surprise in Logan isn’t like that at all. It’s jarring, yes, but far from distracting.
What’s special about Logan is it sticks with you like a real fucking movie. I’m still piecing together some of the backstory and it occurred to me, a day later, that a lot of this stuff had deeper meaning than I initially thought. The balls-to-the-wall action at the end almost feels at odds with the rest of the movie, but maybe the movie earned it.
I saw the trailer for Justice League after watching Logan and I’ve gotta be honest: I pretty much couldn’t care less. I have a feeling a lot of superhero movies are going to feel old hat compared to this one. There are certain ways these movies comfort us, even when we’re sick of being comforted, so I’m not convinced this is the right time for the DCU to adopt a Saturday morning cartoon vibe. Meanwhile, Logan has more in common with The Road than its own franchise. And man, it feels so damn fresh.

Tales from the Crypt Vol. 1 (2007 revival series) [Comic Books]

With the worrisome news that M. Night Shyamalan is rebooting the Tales from the Crypt television series for TNT, I looked to the relatively recent comic book revival to lift my spirits. Instead, it all but crushed them. Even the lackluster cover suggests a downgrade in quality, but once you get to the first story you’re assaulted by some hideously out-of-place artwork.

Case in point:

Does anything about the above panel suggest horror to you? I’m not saying this is bad art, just that it has no business being in a Tales from the Crypt title. Yeah, I get they’re going in a new direction, but creative decisions like these suggest the creators were more interested in doing their own thing and only slapped a familiar title on it to sell it to an unsuspecting fan base. (I admit it worked on me, but isn’t the idea to sell a series of comics, as opposed to just one?) This looks more like Sunday paper funnies and the other stories don’t do much better of capturing the original run’s spirit.
Below is probably the best panel from the entire thing:
There’s something wrong when you have a lot less bite than your 1950s counterpart.

Jason Vs. Leatherface (1995) [Comic Books]

Sometime between Friday the 13th VII and VIII, Jason gets unexpectedly freed from his watery resting place, wanders onto a freight train, then kills a hobo and his dog. From there he hitches a ride to Texas and—wouldn’t you know it?—he stumbles across Leatherface and his family of dimwitted cannibals. Talk about coincidence!

Before going any further, maybe it’s time to confess my shameful secret: I loved (and still love) comic books from the 90s. Yeah, modern fans live to shit on the era of impossibly posed women and gun-wielding anti-heroes, but if it weren’t for the likes of graphically explicit horror titles (and Spawn… let’s not forget Spawn), I might not have read many rags outside of Mad Magazine and EC reprints.

Speaking of EC horror, I was sure the evil businessmen responsible for draining Camp Crystal Lake (and subsequently freeing Jason) were going to get their just deserves in true Tales from the Crypt fashion. Nope. Just as in real life, these corrupt businessmen skate right by any undesirable consequences for their amoral actions. Maybe there was a follow-up planned that would address the lake’s draining, but as is it seems like an extremely convoluted excuse to get Jason up and killing again.

Which begs the question: How did the lake get refilled? And how does Jason find himself at the bottom of it again in time to take Manhattan? Those questions are not entirely explained. JvL feels more like an alternate timeline, sprouting from a fork in the road before Part VIII and Jason Goes to Hell, even though the comics’ editorials are adamant this is all canon.

The title, too, is misleading: if you’re expecting a colossal battle between the horror icons, you’ve come to the wrong place. At their first meeting, Jason and Leatherface get into a scuffle, but Leatherface loses his chainsaw within a couple of panels. At this point Jason could easily kill Leatherface, but he doesn’t because, for the first time since he was a child, he found somewhere he fits in.

And that’s where Jason Vs. Leatherface unexpectedly shines: the character development. I didn’t ask for it and I didn’t think I wanted it, but getting inside Jason’s head isn’t just a gimmick to fluff out three issues. I’m always annoyed when sequels and spin-offs attempt to rob a character’s mystique by explaining too much of their backstory, but it works here. Apparently Jason is a character who could use some fleshing out, which might explain why so many of the sequels grew stale.

You can tell writer Nancy A. Collins (a horror novelist) has a soft side for Jason, choosing to see him as a human being who doesn’t know why he kills. This version of Jason actually reminds me of Man-Thing and a little bit of Swamp Thing (the latter of which Collins also worked on). Nobody can blame Frankenstein’s monster for killing the little girl in the 1931 film… Jason Vs. Leatherface is a lot more gruesome than that, but hey, it was the 90s. What did you expect?

So Jason and Leatherface finally square off, which isn’t the story’s high point, but most of the stuff leading up to that point (and coming after it) is organic and endearing, particularly when Jason sympathizes with Leatherface’s situation. You expect a versus story to answer the “Who would win?” question, but Collins isn’t the least bit interested, which is a brave choice considering that’s how most buyers were sold on it. I would even say this mini-series is actually better than many of the movies which inspired it.

You’re going to like Jason here even though he is a ruthless serial killer.

Come on, Suicide Squad isn’t THAT bad

So I saw Suicide Squad last Friday with a group of four. I was the one who liked it. Sort of.
Look, I hear the criticisms loud and clear, I really do. The RLM guys make an excellent case that the film’s shoddy pacing and patchwork tone is the result of executive meddling. In retrospect, I think they’re right. I just didn’t think it was nearly as apparent as it was in the theatrical version of Batman v. Superman Dawn of Justice. (Yes, I saw the extended cut of Dawn. I agree it’s a much better picture than what we saw in theaters, but its everything-but-the-kitchen-sink ending remained irredeemable in my opinion.)
Suicide Squad is getting almost as much shit as Dawn of Justice. I have no idea why some people seem to think it’s as bad as Dawn. It’s not. Like, at all. I wanted to punch the projector when I saw Dawn. I had a reasonably good time when I saw Squad.

There were things I hated about Suicide Squad, too. Minor spoiler: when Batman shows up to capture Deadshot at the beginning of the movie, Batman hides behind his daughter like a coward so Deadshot won’t shoot. (Never mind it’s already been established that Deadshot can ricochet bullets into his targets’ heads.) I get that this is supposed to be a more reckless Batman than we saw in Nolan’s films, but come on. Would a guy who’s haunted by the fact he saw his parents murdered in an alley show up to potentially murder a guy in front of his daughter in an alley?
Then there’s (another minor spoiler) the way they bring Joker and Harley Quinn together, only to concoct one of the dumbest ways to split them up again mere seconds later. And don’t get me started on the Joker. I liked him more than I thought I would, but, uh… yeah. Jared Leto isn’t one of my favorite people and the reports of his behavior on set make me dislike him as a person more. Why are method actors always such douche bags?
So my least favorite thing about the movie? The studio billed it as this irreverent, Dirty Dozen-esque film about bad guys, but the characters aren’t all that bad. Sure, you don’t want to invite these guys to a dinner party or anything, but Batman probably caused more property damage and murdered more people in Dawn than the entire squad combined. The film plays it way too safe for the bad-to-the-bone image it wishes to project.
Despite everything I didn’t like (such as Diablo’s fiery emoticons or the average Hollywood “humor”) there were aspects I did like. I’m just having a harder time putting them into words. Let’s put it this way: I really liked Swamp Thing movies when I was a kid and something about the hokey monsters in Suicide Squad reminds me of the cheese in those movies. So yeah, a lot of what I liked probably wasn’t intentional, but it was there nonetheless.
Although Harley Quinn and Joker are trying way too hard—way, way too hard—the performances aren’t terrible. Will Smith is effortless at playing Will Smith, which isn’t a complaint because that’s the entire point of Will Smith, and I was surprised to find Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flagg had a much more substantial role than the trailers would have us believe. In fact, he’s probably my favorite part of the entire movie because instead of being an expendable military stooge, he’s actually the one grounding the group in reality. Katana is another comic book character who makes the transition to the screen surprisingly well. Although I want to see a lot more of her, I’m afraid her own movie would probably sap all the mystique out of her.
Color correction and lighting issues aside, I liked the look of the movie as it’s colorful without going full Shumacher. Joker’s crazed henchmen are awesome, but underused. It’s in all these little superficial moments you catch brief glimpses of the auteur before the corporate side of things fucked everything up.
At this point we should probably consider the theatrical versions as extended trailers of the DCU movies we’ll get on video a few months later. I’m looking forward to seeing the movie David Ayer made. It looks pretty good.

X-Men Apocalypse

I’ve never really loved the X-Men movies, but I kind of enjoyed The Last Stand. I tell you this now so you know to take my opinion with a grain of salt.

Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), the world’s first mutant, was worshiped as a god by ancient Egyptians. The power he was born with was the ability to transfer his consciousness from one body to the next, rejuvenating himself whenever his current body neared death. As an added bonus he retains the superpowers of all the people he possesses. While performing his latest ritual of transference, which will place him in the body of a mutant who possesses healing powers like Wolverine’s, his enemies manage to bury him deep below the ground.

Fast forward to 1983 and Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) stumbles upon a group of dumb asses who revive Apocalypse. Once the big blue cheese-ball is free he decides to “cleanse” the world of non-mutants. This guy can kill ya just by glancing in your direction (unless you’re a leading character, naturally). Despite his limitless powers he decides he needs four guardians—or “horsemen,” if you will.

It’s immediately clear this movie wants to cram in every first- and second-rate mutant from the source material it can. Angel is probably the lamest of them. He simply isn’t a character who translates well to the screen, which is just as apparent today as it was ten years ago (yes, it really has been ten years since The Last Stand). And I know a lot of fans were excited about Psylocke’s authentic look in this film, but because Bryan Singer has already established his “superheroes must wear black” rule she sticks out like a sore thumb in a movie that’s all thumbs from the get-go.

So Magneto has been lying low since the events of Days of Future Past. He has a wife and child now. I’m sure you already know how that’s going to turn out. Long story short: Magneto, Storm, Psylocke, and Angel form Apocalypse’s modern horsemen and they have absolutely no problem with his genocidal tendencies. It’s an idea that probably sounded cool in the writing room, but requires all kinds of logic-deflecting to make it work. A Holocaust survivor probably isn’t going to jump on board with a villain whose plan feels so Final Solution-y, but it’s not the first time Magneto has shown signs of cognitive dissonance.

I haven’t even gotten to the good guys yet. Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique is one of those bored action heroes who’s too cool to react to anything with any kind of human emotion. Sophie Turner’s Jean Gray is already being nudged toward Dark Phoenix territory. Once again the best part is the Quicksilver scene, but we’ve been there, done that. Meanwhile James McAvoy’s Professor Xavier is a snore and it feels too late to salvage the romantic subplot between him and MacTaggart, but they try anyway.

So the most striking aspect of X-Men Apocalypse is its absurdity. If Roger Corman had been known for excessively expensive films he could have made movies which felt a lot like it. It’s a good thing he didn’t because the overproduced slickness of Apocalypse works against its B-movie charm. Otherwise it’s one of the best dumb movies I’ve seen a long time. So much of this stuff feels exactly like the kind of mindless storytelling I would have concocted with my action figures when I was eight.

I’m okay with that. I just can’t believe something so goofy could be made in this age of Brooding Superman and Dark Fantastic Four. It turns out it’s as refreshing as a cold drink on a summer day even though it can’t hold a candle to Captain America’s most recent outing. Bryan Singer has just confirmed what I’ve long suspected: he is a massive dork. There’s just something extremely satisfying about seeing legitimate movie stars act so serious in a ridiculous action movie. Outside of the Quicksilver stuff the intentional jokes are terrible, but you’re going to laugh a lot anyway.

Good show, Singer, but making fun of The Last Stand was a low blow. You either die a hero or live long enough to become Brett Ratner.