Tag Archive: The Road


Snowpiercer clip B

Review by C.J. Bunce

After a long and clunky path to theaters that we first discussed in our review of the graphic novel source material here at borg.com, Snowpiercer, the highly, almost ludicrously improbable story of a train carrying the last humans on Earth akin to Noah’s Ark is finally in wide release.  With below freezing temperatures and the wind howling across the country this week, it’s a good time to hunker down and take a look at this new home release.

The film sees a lower class of humans living at the back of a giant train that is strangely bigger on the inside as they send a small band to try to get to the front of the train controlled by the wealthy.  Numerous reviews call Snowpiercer an allegory, and that’s completely wrong.  Snowpiercer is literal.  It’s a post-apocalyptic science fiction survival story, not the deep symbolic stuff of Plato or even Orwell.  Snowpiercer–the film–is pretty much devoid of any subtle hidden meanings. It’s overt B-movie sci-fi.  In fact it’s closer to Escape from New York or Logan’s Run than a high-brow philosophical look at life, as it was categorized by many critics on its theatrical release.

Snowpiercer strange cargo

Likewise, don’t try to compare it to the much heralded source material, the black and white graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette reviewed here.  Other than the story being about someone trying to get from the back of a train to the front, it’s pretty much unrecognizable.

Yet if you can watch Snowpiercer for what it is, an action vehicle (no pun intended) for star Chris Evans between big picture roles, then you might agree it’s a winner.

Bouncing back and forth between taunts of a gotcha a la Soylent Green, The Road, or War Games, the movie answers every (simple) question it poses, which is surprisingly satisfying.  Korean director Bong Joon-ho peppers each new train car he breaks through in Panama Joe Atari video game style with enough new questions that you’ll find yourself paying attention for the entire ride, just to get to what ultimate wisdom may be found at story’s end.

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WELCOME TO EARTH-4

A Weekly Column with J. Torrey McClain

I just finished my third book written by Cormac McCarthy.  The first was Blood Meridian, the second was No Country for Old Men, and the third was The Road.  Reading McCarthy is unlike any other literary journey I’ve taken.  What will I remember from reading The Road?  Bleakness.  Emptiness.  How man can become a monster.  Not that different from the others I suppose, but it led me to a question – where does hope come from?

In all fantasy, science fiction and apocalyptic tales generally a hero emerges.  A man or a being similar to man steps to the fore and as a reader I can pin my hopes upon him (or rarely her as even coming up with female sidekicks was a chore in the series that popped off the top of my mind.  Amy Pond.  Leia.  Gamora.  Uhura.)  Superman.  Wonder Woman.  The Doctor.  Sheriff Rick Grimes.  Tasslehoff Burrfoot (or the more heroic but less fun Tanis Half-Elven.)  Frodo Baggins.  Luke Skywalker.  Rick Deckard.  Groot.  Mr. Spock.

Through these characters and many more like them we can find the possibility of averting crises.  We can see a proverbial light at the end of the darkening and constricting tunnel.  Survival, though bleak, has a chance.

Movie clip The Road

I think McCarthy likes to explore the world where there are no heroes.  There is only survival and to survive, horrendous choices must be made because after the apocalypse, scarcity rules.  A person cannot go back in time.  A person cannot till the earth by himself, trying to bring non-irradiated soil to the surface.  A ring, a starship, a building or an artifact cannot be destroyed through the hero’s quest.  There is only the earth.  There are only Homo sapiens.  If something happens, powerful heroes won’t emerge, instead it will just be the basest urges within us all that come forth.

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By Art Schmidt

For my top five list of stories I’d like to see turned into motion pictures, I have tried to be somewhat realistic.  Some of my favorite stories, whether novels or games or comic books, I have left off as just being beyond realization.  The wish of their being turned into a movie is, in itself, a fantasy, due to various factors.

For instance, since I was a teenager, I’ve been dying for someone to make a movie from Grand Poobah Dungeon Master Gary Gygax’s original storyline thread from the first D&D modules: “The Village of Hommlet” modules (T1-T4), the Slaver series (modules A1-A4), the “Against the Giants” series (modules G1-G3), and the “Drow of the Underdark” series (modules D1-D3 & module Q1 “Queen of the Demonweb Pits”).  Of course, this would be for the die-hard gaming geeks almost exclusively, and at twelve modules (adventures) it would be difficult to pack into a motion picture trilogy or quintology (!), even if anyone would be so crazy as to provide the funding for it.

I’m stoked for a movie adaptation of Ernest Cline’s recent novel, Ready Player One, but I’m not including it because it’s already in pre-production at Warner Bros.  No need to wish for that which is likely to already happen.  Then there’s the Wheel of Time series, which isn’t quite over.  The final book, currently titled A Memory of Light, is scheduled to be published in January of 2013.  And as the fifteen-volume series will clock in at an estimated 11,000 pages, it could never conceivably be condensed down to make any real sense in a few motion pictures.

Trivia:  A series of three books is called a trilogy.  A series of five books is called a quintology.  A series of seven books is called a heptalogy.  What is a series of fourteen books called?

Answer:  Too damned long!

Note:  No offense to Robert Jordan, may he rest in peace, the series is great, but it could have probably ended after eight or ten novels.  I really enjoyed the first ten Wheel of Time books!  And all of your Conan novels were great, too!

So, too, would I love to hear of a big screen adaptation of some of R.A. Salvatore’s  Drizzt Do’urden novels, especially the Icewind Dale Trilogy, but alas, it is not to be.  I could name some Star Wars and Conan novels that I’d like to see adapted, but those subjects have already been masterfully done on the big screen, so there is no use wasting our time.

Same goes for the less well-known but equally awesome Deathgate Cycle heptalogy from the great fantasy team of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.  Too many books in the series (few of which really stand entirely on their own), and likely too hardcore (i.e. small) of a fan base.  Anyhow, the powers that be (being in power, as they are), would most likely take a run at Dragonlance (ho-hum) before considering Deathgate.  Too bad.

In the “slightly unrealistic” column, however, I have included the Elric of Melnibone saga in my list, despite the main character being an anti-hero and thus a difficult win for a motion picture, even with the hard-core fantasy crowd.  Strangely enough, this may be the one wish that I am granted (read more in my Elric entry, below).

A lot of fantasy, I know.  I’m a fantasy kind of guy.  There are a lot of good horror, sci-fi, and other fiction out there crying to be made into films, but really, we get a lot of good stuff from those genres already.  But there is a dearth of good fantasy films out there, and they come along so rarely; The Fellowship of the Ring came out over ten years ago, after all.

Man, I’m getting old.  Somebody please make a couple of these before I croak.

Other honorable mentions.  I’d love to see something done with Gaiman’s Sandman series, but probably too difficult and definitely niche.  Same goes for Marvel 1601, one of my favorite graphic novels (also Gaiman).  But niche.  The books of Michael Crichton have been done (and done, and done) as they are so interesting and have such strong plotlines, but my favorite novel of his is one of his non-fiction works, Travels.  He chronicles some of his real-life travels had some great insights into his own life from them.  But again, probably too tight of an audience for something like that.

Neuromancer would totally rock, but the conventional wisdom is that cyberpunk is way over.  I’m no good at conventional wisdom, though.  Maybe it’s so over that it’s ready to be hip again?  Disco and bell bottoms keep coming back, after all.  On second thought, maybe not.

Anyway, on with the real list.

#5 – The Gaean Trilogy (Titan, Wizard and Demon) from John Varley

A mix of fantasy and sci-fi, this is the first thing I thought of when I saw Avatar.  And I wasn’t alone.  Space farers explore a foreign planet where magic seems to happen in nature, strange creatures abound, and some of them are intelligent/sentient.  Then humans come along and really muck it all up.  That’s the Gaean Trilogy’s premise (not the plot) in a nutshell.

Of course, there is much more to it than that.  There are far more significant differences between these novels and the movie Avatar than there are broad similarities.  The combination of sci-fi and fantasy is what would make this appealing, and the titanides and eventual revelation of the Gaea intelligence (and what follows) would make for a great movie.

#4 – Fallout: New Vegas (video game)

My favorite game in recent years (besides Star Wars: The Old Republic, which I’m itching to play even now while writing this), FNV was a great game because of the amazing, engrossing storyline.

In a nutshell:

In the late twenty-first century, America and China fight a prolonged war over resources that ends with a nuclear exchange.  The nuclear warheads and subsequent fallout kills most everyone except a chosen few who retreat to underground ‘vaults’ to ride out the Earth’s recovery from global fallout (hence the title of the series).  Life as we know it ends.

Some two hundred years later, people begin to emerge from the vaults, and find some still living humans, along with irradiated creatures, mutants, and all sorts of crazy stuff living in the burnt-out shells of our former civilization.  Las Vegas was spared from direct nuclear attack by the defenses of wealthy industrialist and casino owner, as was the nearby Hoover Dam.  People died, but the core of the Strip survived (what irony).

A lone traveler enters the area, gets shot in the head and buried, but survives and is nursed back to health, although with amnesia from the wound.  He sets about trying to learn about himself and his assailants, and in the process discovers that Las Vegas (dubbed “New Vegas” by the current residents) is being contested over by a growing civilization from California (the New California Republic, or NCR), an army of brutal slave-owning tribals calling themselves Caesar’s Legion, and the wealthy citizen who kept Vegas from annihilation (or is it him?) who runs New Vegas with an army of killer robots and calls himself Mr. House.

The story is compelling, and locations are fantastic, the inhabitants are diverse and interesting, and there are stories aplenty for the traveler to encounter and deal with on his way to the game’s climactic battle between these competing forces over who will control Hoover Dam, the one source of electricity and life-giving water amidst a world of death and dust.

A great movie that would make.  We’ve seen shades of this with The Book of Eli (a great movie, but more of a morality tale than a straight-forward action/adventure flick) and The Road (a great example of how really good books can be terrible movies), but nothing like the tale spun in New Vegas.

#3 – The Elric of Melnibone novels by Michael Moorcock

An island of anemic sorcerer kings who rule the world.  A savage world of monsters and heroes who strive daily to survive.  Magic that allows people to cross into other dimensions and sail through space to other planets.  Stormbringer.  What an absolutely epic fantasy movie that would make!

Of course, the main problem is that Elric is an anti-hero.  In fact, Elric is the very embodiment of the modern-day anti-hero.  He’s not a nice guy.  He’s not even rough-around-the-edges-but-basically-moral-in-an-immoral-world (like Conan) kind of guy.  He’s a self-important, selfish, power-hungry elitist.  At times, he’s a murder, though he does begin to show some humanity and regret after a while.  But he has a goal, and purpose, and oh, the adventures he has, the places he goes, and the things he sees!  All fantastic, and all while wielding what can easily be called the most powerful magical sword in all of fantasy (save perhaps for Shieldbreaker from Fred Saberhagen’s Swords novels, but I digress…)

I would absolutely love to sit in a theatre and watch the albino sorcerer-king travel the planes swinging the Black Sword of legend.  Ever since I saw Conan the Barbarian, I have longed for someone to make movies out of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Elric saga.  One down, one to go.

Apparently, I am a little late to the party on this one.  Director/Producer brothers Chris Weitz (About a Boy, The Golden Compass) and Paul Weitz (American Pie, Little Fokkers) were reportedly in “pre-production” on a movie trilogy based on Moorcock’s dark, brooding novels about my second-favorite anti-hero (see #1, below, for my fave), but that project has been side-tracked and is lately talked about by the brothers in wistful terms of ‘someday’.

Here’s hoping that “someday” actually comes.

Side Note: I’m not 100% certain, but I believe “Pre-Production” is a fancy Hollywood term for people emailing and texting back and forth about great ideas for a movie, then meeting in coffee shops and chatting about how great it would be to make said movie, before moving on to work on real movies that are actually being made.

#2 – Justice League / The Dark Knight Returns

DC Comics is sitting on a goldmine, but they have had some trouble translating the shiny stuff in their mine into coin of the realm.  The Batman movies of late being the obvious exception, DC Comics has not enjoyed the great success of Marvel in translating their characters to the big screen.  Superman was ground-breaking back in the seventies, and the first couple of Batman movies of the late eighties / early nineties paved the way for what was to come.  And then there is Batman Begins, The Dark Knight (of course), and this summer’s Dark Knight Rises.

But taking the long view, that’s maybe six or seven hit movies over a thirty year span.  Not horrible, but not that great.  But compare that with Marvel’s run in just the last twelve years, and you can pick twice that number of successful movies based on their characters.  The X-Men movies (at least two of them), the Spiderman trilogy (again, at least two), The Fantastic Four, X-Men: First Class, and the movies leading up to and including this summer’s The Avengers (Ang Lee’s Hulk and Iron Man 2 notwithstanding).

I’m not bashing DC here, don’t get me wrong.  Their characters are iconic, to say the least.  And maybe they don’t value movies as much as Marvel does, which is fine.  There is certainly more money to be made in movies, but money isn’t everything; no movie is better than a bad movie, when the protection of a brand is essential to the company’s success.

But DC has such a wealth of great story that it’s hard to fathom that there hasn’t been more translation from the inked page to the lighted screen.  Just imagine this movie trilogy, my friends…

The Justice League – A movie centering on the core of the League, Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Arrow and the Flash (possibly also Hawkman and/or the Martian Manhunter, depending on the ability to introduce the movie-going public at large to these characters), coming together to form the group to thwart Prometheus along the lines of Justice League: A Cry for Justice, except using the central characters rather than a competing alliance / ideology, with internal group conflict as to how to deal with the situation as would be natural.  Prometheus is murdering foreign superheroes, then planning to destroy cities of the League’s superheroes (maybe limit it to three key cities, rather than the sprawling destruction in the mag).  After being defeated he negotiates his escape, proving he’s not bluffing by detonating one bomb as in the book.  In this adaptation, Superman is the negotiator and Batman (along with Green Arrow) wanting to make him pay no matter what.  End with the Green Arrow scene (no spoiler here), with the barest hint that Batman helped him (but didn’t necessarily know what he was going to do).

The Justice League: Legion of Doom – The League battles the formation of the Legion of Doom.  The Legion is forming along the lines of the backstory from the Justice series in 2005-2006, with Brainiac (and Lex Luthor) fooling even his fellow baddies and planning to get the League to wipe out his ‘competitors’ of evil.  But unlike in Justice, their motivations are to take over the American government (as depicted in Miller’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again).  The League wins the apparent victory against the facade, but Brainiac and Lex succeed behind the scenes with their real master plan.  At the very end, the League is disgraced and talks of disbanding.  Superman is called away on an emergency he won’t discuss… (Lex has Kandor and is going to blackmail him, but don’t reveal that until the last movie in the trilogy).

The Justice League Returns – The movie everyone wants, Superman vs. Batman, pull out all of the stops.  This movie would basically blend The Dark Knight Returns with a little bit of The Dark Knight Strikes Again, blending the emancipation of Batman’s fellow Leaguers a-la DKSA into the main storyline of DKR (yes, it might be sacrilegious, but this is Hollywood we’re talking about)The Justice League disbanded after their failure in The Legion of Doom, and Brainiac and Lex have taken over America and put a computer President in place.  With Kandor held hostage, they have forced Superman to help capture or banish the other League members (similar to the backstory of DKSA and DKR both: “Diana returned to her people; Hal left for the stars…”  Leave Shazam out, he makes things too complicated).  This bit could be the prologue to the movie itself (before credits).  Batman is the bitter retiree in DKR and follows that storyline back from retirement to defeat the Mutants gang and/or the return of Two-Face, then sets about freeing his fellow Leaguers (DKSA), which leads to the confrontation with Superman as the puppet of the Braniac/Lex regime (weak not from the DKR nuclear missile but from the faux ‘catastrophes’ that Brainiac/Lex cook up for him in DKSA; the asteroid, the volcano in Hawaii, etc.) along with Batman’s fellow Leaguers (similar to Green Arrow in DKR, but with Hal Jordan and Barry Allen also assisting as in DKSA).  No Kara, though, and no Dick Grayson craziness, and take out all of the future media “super babes” hype and whatnots.

Ok, I’m done geeking out.  And I realize that the fanboys would cry FOUL (and worse) and this kind of hacked together plot from what may be their favorite series(es).  Me?  I’m not a purist, I just like good story.  Perhaps that’s why I seem to be one of the small minority who absolutely loved both the Watchmen comics and the spectacular movie equally.

Hollywood can ‘just’ make DKR and I’d be ecstatic.

I know there was (is?) a JL movie in the works, announced as being in “pre-production” (oh, boy) last year by Warner Bros., but couldn’t find anything recent on the subject.  Anyone have any fairly recent scoop on where that one is at?  Still in pre-production?  Man, those guys drink a lot of coffee.

#1 – The Chronicles of Amber novels from Roger Zelazny

This would make a great movie trilogy, no question.  The great thing about this story and why it would translate to the big screen is the beginning: the hero is a seemingly normal human being on planet Earth in the current day.  He awakes in a mental institution, not knowing how he got there, but it’s apparent he’s being kept sedated and held against his will.  He escapes but has amnesia (I know, it’s a tired plot device, but here it absolutely works).  He finds out he has a sister, goes to her home to investigate, and finds some things that are… weird.  He confronts her, and then meets more family.  And things get a bit weirder.

As his journey progresses, the audience learns things as the protagonist does; bit at a time, little by little, slowly building up this incredible picture of the hero as a long-lost prince of a magical kingdom in another dimension.  Sound like a book for young adults?  Hang on to your britches, cause it’s anything but.  Don’t let the terms “long-lost prince” and “magical kingdom” fool you.  This is hardcore fantasy at its absolute finest.

Once the hero, Corwin, loses his amnesia, he finds that he is a talented swordsman, a gifted military leader, and a cunning strategist.  He’s also an able sorcerer and in line for his absent father’s throne.  However, his family is currently vying against each other in cabals and alliances for the crown, and there are as many of them as there are books in the Wheel of Time series.

It has the fantasy swordplay of Conan (the original), the magical flair of The Matrix (if you haven’t read the books, it’s hard to explain that reference, but believe me, it’s apropos), the political in-fighting of A Game of Thrones, the gritty war drama of Braveheart and Platoon (again, the reference works, trust me) and the narrative genius of the multiple Hugo and Nebula award-winning author, Zelazny.

Yeah, it’s that good.  At least to me.  That’s why it makes the top of my list of stories I’d love to see made into movies.

Come back tomorrow, and Jason McClain will give us his take on adaptations and being true to the source material.

By Art Schmidt

People are funny.  Different things mean different things to us all: songs, pictures, movies, books.  Art.  It’s all interpreted by the individual, but even more so by the place in life that the individual is in at the time the art is experienced.  People cling to old songs like gold; a song from high school not only sounds good, but refreshes the happy memories associated with the song in the listener’s mind.  A one-hit wonder band from the mid-eighties may have written the best song you’ve ever heard, but no one else even remembers who they were.

Fans of the original Star Wars Trilogy of the 70s were appalled when Lucas made his infamous modifications to the film, especially the scene in the Tatooine bar in Episode IV where Han Solo shoots Greedo.  ‘Artistic license,’ said Lucas.  ‘Blasphemy,’ the fans screamed.  ‘My movie,’ Lucas retorted.  ‘Our childhood!’, the fans wailed.

Halloween always brings out the focus on all things macabre, and will generate ‘Top 10’ lists as long as kids dress up as Darth Vader and adults go to costume parties as politicians (there’s a moral lesson in there somewhere, BTW.  I am sure of it).  Every Top 10 list is different, and that’s the way it should be.  We all experience things in our own way, our own time, and through our own filters.  So rather than attempt to list an absolute ‘Top’ 10, predestined for failure, I have listed my own personal favorites.  Doubtless others will have vastly different opinions, and some of the things I found terrifying may have barely elicited a small gasp from others.

And that’s ok.

My personal list is not in order of preference or fondness but rather experience, from my earliest memory to the present day.  Obviously, my early years contain the larger amount of my personal favorites; the younger we are the more accepting we are of the impossible and the more susceptible to suggestion, therefore media designed to have a strong emotional impact will generally be felt more so by the young.  After all, you can only read a Stephen King novel for the first time, or watch Jaws without knowing what’s going to happen once.

Which of course leads me to one of the stories on most people’s lists…

Jaws (Movie)

The movie that changed movies, the blockbuster that defined blockbusters, the summer event movie on which the term ‘summer event movie’ was coined.  When it came out it was truly a phenomenon, one most people who did not experience it can never truly appreciate.  My parents were no less caught up in the feeding frenzy of the movie’s release than anyone else.  At the time it was rated a solid PG (there was no PG-13), so taking elementary school children to see it was not a big deal.  After all, most Disney movies of the time were rated PG, weren’t they?  So along with a large contingent of my aunts and uncles, I was taken to see the movie that would strip me of all my eight-year old innocence and leave me strangely wanting more.

My mother shrugged off the initial shock of the opening scene; it was just an attention-getter, right?  Then the child being eaten off of his inflatable raft started her worrying about me.  When the head popped out of the boat, my mom literally threw her box of popcorn all over the row of people behind us; she apologized profusely while my dad laughed his head off.  My eyes were glued to the screen, what I could see of it between my tiny fingers.  By the time the ORCA launched to sea with its two unprepared passengers and doomed captain, my parents had forgotten I was there; everyone was entranced by the story.  By the time the greatest and most re-used horror movie joke of all time came, (“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”), the entire audience needed that release of nervous laughter.

Viewed today, Jaws is much more an adventure movie than a horror film.  Contrasted against the majority of horror films, the comedy of Jaws is heart-felt and sophisticated rather than flippant; the characters are dense and alive rather than stereotypical caricatures; the story is fun and adventurous rather than weighted and dark.  And for all those reasons (thank you Mr. Spielberg!) Jaws remains my earliest, most heartfelt and yes, one of my favorite ‘horror’ movies of all time.

Trilogy of Terror – Part 3 “Amelia” (Made for TV Movie)

It was a classic horror story setup: a babysitter, a dark night, a quiet house, a child in front of a television, a killer on the loose. Except, in this case, the babysitter was our next-door neighbor, the house was mine, the kid was me and the ‘killer’ was a little doll on television.  My parents were out, my sister was asleep and the babysitter let me watch whatever I wanted.  Which in the mid-seventies meant a horrifyingly narrow selection of channels, none of which had the potential for cable profanity or pay-per-view violence.

However, on that fateful night, as I sat in front of the television a bright-eyed eight year-old, I watched a movie that I honestly believe to this day physically altered my DNA.  Trilogy of Terror was a made for television movie containing three short stories, all starring Karen Black in varying and un-related roles.  The first two I can honestly say I have no memory of whatsoever.  I’ve since read about them in IMDB and Wikipedia, but I can’t picture any of it in my head.

The third story, however, I remember in vivid detail.

A woman buys a gift for her boyfriend; a Zuni fetish doll with a gold chain around its neck and a warning.  If the chain comes off, the doll will come to life.  Of course, the chain came off, the doll came to life, and the ensuing fight for survival within the small apartment left me breathless and terrified.  The angry patter of tiny feet throughout the apartment, the monster unseen by the viewer, was brilliant.  I put all of my G.I. Joe action figures and army men in my closet, inside a shoebox, then put a small chair in front of my closet door, but I still didn’t sleep a wink that night.  The image of Karen Black crouching down in a dark corner bearing the doll’s sharp teeth still makes me shudder.

Sure, it was kitschy. But it was also scary as hell.

The Shining (Novel & Movie)

I read my first Stephen King novel in the summer of 1979, a paperback of The Stand.  It was long and brutal and opened up my adolescent mind to all sort of things I had never heard or dreamed of before.  It was good, but it didn’t really scare me.  There were people and events in it that were big and apocalyptic and scary, and I got all of that, but they didn’t creep me out or make me want to hide under my bed.  My second King novel, Salem’s Lot, was also good but didn’t really scare me, either.  Then I read Carrie, which creeped me out, and then I read The Shining, and I was blown away.  The slow burn of the Jack Torrance character from out-of-work recovering alcoholic to raging failure seeking vengeance on the world is a thing of beauty and horror.

All of King’s powers as a storyteller of horror and tragedy come to bear in The Shining.  The huge hotel, empty of people but full of their tragedies, claws its way out of every page, and the Torrances in the novel are among King’s more well-conceived and believable characters.

As far as the movie goes, well, I have to admit that I’m not a big Stanley Kubrick fan.  I respect 2001: A Space Odyssey for its vision, but I don’t particularly care for the movie itself.  A Clockwork Orange wasn’t my cup of tea, and Eyes Wide Shut made me want to shut my own.  But The Shining was nearly as brilliant as the book, despite the changes to the plot and devices and the difference in feel from King’s book to Kubrick’s film.  As a horror movie, it stands firmly on its own.  The movie captured perfectly not only the demise of the man inside Jack Torrance but also the eerie hotel, the crazy loneliness of the long, cold winter, and the strain on the family that the hotel creates.  Despite decades of stand-out horror films ever since, from Paranormal Activity to Scream, for my dollar The Shining is still among the best horror movies ever made.  It’s not the best (IMO), however, as that title belongs to another film from the Seventies…

The Exorcist (Movie)

I’m not one for slasher movies, or serial killer movies, or vengeful spirit movies.  The first Friday the 13th wasn’t bad, nor was the first Nightmare on Elm Street, but all that followed were tired re-treads of the same old idea: a supernatural killer that you can’t stop who wants to kill you and all of your friends.  Lots of blood, lots of deaths, lots of shock.  Lots of yawning, IMO.

Then there’s The Exorcist, the horrifying movie from William Friedken that set the bar, that made you think, that grabbed you by your heart and made you really, emotionally believe in Hell.  Statistics (and opinions) vary, but The Exorcist was arguably the first movie after Gone with the Wind to gross over $100 million in its initial box office run, and its psychological impact is still rarely matched even in modern times.  You have to experience it to believe it.

I know that for me, as a struggling young man with questions about everything, it shook my faith in my beliefs about the larger world around me.  That’s the thing about well-crafted characters and dialogue; once you buy in to those people and their world, you buy into their problems and their actions, and then you are affected by what affects them, whether on the surface you find it particularly believable or not.  I used to tell people, when they asked, that The Exorcist was my favorite movie of all time.  After years and years of odd looks, I began replying Reservoir Dogs, The Empire Strikes Back, or, more recently, The Lord of the Rings.  All three of which are in my Top 5.

But I always smile when I think of the chills I got from watching adorable little Regan MacNeil in all of her pea soup-spewing, head-spinning glory.

DOOM & DOOM 3 (Video Games)

When DOOM originally came out in the early 90s it created a sensation throughout the entire video game industry for its unprecedented software engine, evolutionary 3D rendering, and take-no-prisoners play style.  It was derided by parental groups for its depiction of blood and carnage, and use of the word ‘demon’ to describe most of the player’s enemies and for the fact that you could play in the previously unheard of mode of ‘Deathmatch’, which virtually every other first-person shooter has implemented since.

Of course, all of these advances in rendering technology and gameplay chutzpah overshadowed one of DOOM’s best qualities: a game that was truly scary as hell.  Forerunners in the ‘horror’ video game department were admirable, most notably the ‘Alone in the Dark’ and ‘Resident Evil’ series.  But whereas Alone relied heavily on psychological horror and RE on stock horror movie themes, DOOM delivered something new.

The lighting was dark, shot through with spotlights and spinning emergency lights right out of Alien; the monsters popped up out of nowhere and chomped on your character with gleeful abandon; and nothing, I mean NOTHING compared to being extremely hurt, low on ammunition, and hiding in a dark corner with hungry alien/demons prowling around just a few feet away.  Playing at night with low-lighting and headphones on, DOOM is more an experience than just a game.

A rash of copy-cats and money-making follow-ups came flowing forth, all adding their own little bits to the new genre and making advances in lighting, sound, and graphics engine technology.  None could knock the original from its perch, however.  Then, in 2004 the makers of DOOM came out with DOOM3, a completely re-vamped gaming engine with even scarier-looking monsters and genuine leap-out-of-your seat moments than any other game in the medium.  The story was nothing special, and the game-play was not ground-breaking enough for the die-hards, but the game sure kept me jumping and looking frantically around my bedroom whenever I played it.

The Exorcist III (Movie)

Little seen, under-appreciated, and largely panned by critics and audiences who had given up after the absolutely terrible trash of The Exorcist II: The Heretic, I loved this movie.  It’s doubtful that anyone else will even consider it on any Top-Anything list, but it worked for me.

It ignores the second installment of the Exorcist movies completely and places itself as a sequel to the original classic.  George C. Scott plays a detective who was friends with Father Damien Karras of the original movie, and is currently investigating a series of murders in Georgetown where The Exorcist took place.  The film draws from the original, having been written and directed by William Peter Blatty, author of the original Exorcist novel.  Despite the studio-mandated addition of an exorcism near the end of the movie, where none existed in the screenplay or Blatty’s novel Legion on which the movie was based, and despite the complex plot of demonic revenge against both the catholic church and an abusive father, there are scenes in the film that horrify, and the reconciliation between old friends, one dead and one alive, is a satisfying end to the movie.

There are scarier movies out there, however much I loved this one, and one of the best that came out around ten years later was…

The Ring (Movie)

As previously mentioned, I don’t particularly like revenge spirit movies, but The Ring was so much more than that.  It was a mystery movie as well, as the mother races against the clock to save not only herself but her son from the supernatural killer that no one can stop.  Much like The Exorcist, the fact that the spirit was a little girl made it all the scarier.

The video tape within the movie is a neat twist as well, creepy on its own and adding to the subtle nuance of the movie’s overall disturbing nature.  It doesn’t come right out and scare most of the time, though those moments are there, too.  But the little things all add up; the short film, the father’s ranch, the fly coming out of the film, the horse’s reaction to our heroine.  The movie is more disturbing than out-right scary, which just makes it all the more horrifying.

The Road (Novel)

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was unexpected recommendation from a friend, not something I knew much about or was really jazzed about reading.  And it hit me square in the gut.  The Pulitzer Prize winning book is a lonely, desolate tale of a nameless father and son struggling to survive in a savage, hopeless post-apocalyptic world.  I identified myself so strongly with the father character that when he would make a bad decision I felt personally guilty.  I saw in the son my own son, completely dependent upon his father to provide him food, shelter, and protection from the horrible people crawling the ashen landscape.

That novel stuck with me for months after I read it in a way that no book ever has.  Movies are visual and visceral, images stick with us for years or even our whole lives, but books generally do not have that affect.  I have always heard people talk about being ‘haunted’ by something; a movie, a book, a chance encounter.  Having been a horror fan since birth, I always thought of the expression in the literal sense, and largely dismissed those notions as silly and melodramatic.

After The Road, however, I understood what that really meant.

McCarthy spun a tale at once so deceptively simple and unbelievably complex, so innocent and so wicked, so hopeless and yet so rooted in the need for hope, that it’s mesmerizing.  Some parts made me physically squirm, and not in the good-to-be-scared way.  Nor did I want to finish it because it was exciting or thrilling; actually, there are long portions of the novel where not much at all happens, and then when something does it’s kind of… plain.  Simple, even.

When I first saw No Country for Old Men, based upon another McCarthy novel of the same name, I spent the first half of the movie trying to figure out why there wasn’t more action in it.  Once I settled back to the understanding that the guns were just metaphors, and the movie itself wasn’t about money, or greed, or even good and evil, I was able to focus on the dialogue.  Re-watching it, I now appreciate all of the interplay between the characters; the slow, steady, knowing march of Anton Chigur and the moral decay of western civilization that he represents; the lament of the older lawmen who just can’t understand that the people they have sworn to protect have abused that security by evolving into the very things that the lawmen held at bay.  “The rising tide,” one of them called it. “The dismal tide.”

The savagery and violence of the novel The Road, when it does appear, does so in the same vein.  It’s not the focus of the story, it’s just part of life, not actions but rather the consequences of actions or inactions.  For good or ill, it has its place.  To be fair, I have to say that my wife read The Road and she didn’t particularly care for it.

But then, she’s not a father struggling to protect his innocent child against the dismal tide.

Paranormal Activity (Movie)

I pride myself on being able to predict where movies are going, what’s going to happen to the characters, which ‘type’ of story it is and how it will end, and what details are provided that play into the movie later on.  And for Paranormal Activity, this was mostly the case.  The low budget and low quality of The Blair Witch Project left me wanting; wanting something better from that type of movie.  I was disappointed in that effort to say the least, so when the buzz started up about Paranormal I was frankly not interested.  Recent offerings in the horror genre like the Saw series, Hostel and the recent slew of vampire movies left me wondering if there was anything that would really scare me again.

I sat through the first three quarters of this movie and was only slightly impressed.  It was a neat take on the haunted story, had some clever ideas, and the night-time recordings of the goings on in the couple’s bedroom was ingenious and carried a few frights with it.

However, it was the last ten minutes of the movie that landed it on my personal Top 10 list.  The end of the movie kept me guessing, and when the loud footsteps climb the stairway the last time… and what follows… made me leap off of my seat for the first time in years.  If you haven’t seen it, and want to be scared, you should definitely give it a try.