Logan Proves a Triumphant Sendoff (SPOILERS)

When Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. walloped its viewers with the double whammy of the cliffhanger ending to the February 21 episode “Self Control” AND the revelation that it wouldn’t be resolved for over a month, until April 4, there were veritable howls of frustration from fans.  I immediately consoled myself with the idea that the adjoining month of March would provide me with enough fresh Marvel media content to hold me over.  Logan, which has been described as Hugh Jackman’s final performance as Wolverine, would hit theaters on March 3, and Iron Fist would drop on Netflix 2 weeks later on the 17th.

I’ve loved all of the Netflix MCU properties thus far, and I’m expecting similarly great things from Iron Fist, casting controversies aside.  But I can also say, now that I’ve finally gotten around to seeing it, that the non-MCU Logan has proven to be a noteworthy swan song for Hugh Jackman, whose portrayal of Wolverine/Logan/James Howlett has been lauded and beloved by fans and moviegoers the world over since he donned the adamantium claws in 2000’s blockbuster film X-Men.  While Fox has certainly had a hit and miss track record with its Marvel properties, there’s no doubt that Logan will be remembered as one of the biggest hits.

What follows is a SPOILER-FILLED review of Logan.  PLEASE DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER if you want to remain unspoiled for this film.

The X-Men series of films, like the comics, have never been shy about portraying the future as bleak, apocalyptic, and altogether terrible for its heroes.  What Logan does that’s both unexpected and successful with this trope is live in that future,facing down both its bleakness and the accompanying fallout, which only gets worse.  It’s a powerful slap to the viewer’s sensibilities to learn that it’s years removed from the last X-Men film, that the future is dark and foreboding, and that things are not going to be changed by a leap back in time to alter the past.  The X-Men are gone, Logan is in hiding, and mutants have all but gone extinct, with none having been born in decades.

nekttmhdhikhoo_2_bThis setup makes for a dark, gritty, and often violent story that only gets darker as the exposition continues.  An older Charles Xavier (the ever-venerable Patrick Stewart) is now prone to seizures, which cause him to psychically lash out to anyone nearby during his episodes, and Logan has to keep him both isolated and medicated, and works as a driver to try to make ends meet.  When a woman approaches him with a request for help, he is soon pulled into a chase that involves him far more intimately than he could have imagined.  Pursued by a ruthless agency, Logan and Xavier embark on a road trip that may spell the end for them, even as it delivers hope to a new generation of mutants.

One of the most gratifying, yet simultaneously saddening elements to this film is its unflinching exploration of how these characters have aged.  The film is set in 2029, which–if you count the X-Men film as being set in the year 2000–means that nearly thirty years have passed since Logan and Xavier met at the Institute.  And time has not been kind to the X-Men.  In addition to the lack of new mutants being born, and the talk of them simply being a near non-issue in this world, there are oblique references to a “Westchester incident,” which may or may not have involved Xavier.  This paints a grim picture of what may have happened to the rest of the X-Men, and though it is never directly addressed, Xavier clearly remains haunted by it, effectively leaving viewers’ imaginations to fill in the details while also making them almost too afraid to ask for the details.  It’s a big narrative risk to take, but one that pays off nicely to the story’s tone.

hugh-jackman-wolverine-logan-e1477492112271Logan has aged, in several notable ways.  He clearly looks older now, which makes sense given that Hugh Jackman himself has aged in the last 17 years.  But there’s more: his healing factor is no longer working the way it used to, and appears to be slowly failing him.  He has wounds that no longer heal, he looks older and more beaten-down, and he’s overall in a darker place.  He can’t just slash his way through a fight anymore and expect to self-patch up afterwards.  He’s playing reluctant nursemaid to Xavier, and the two have clearly had their differences during this time, even if it’s clear they still care for one another.

logan-9Of course, the most obvious way in which Logan has aged is embodied in the character of Laura (played perfectly by Dafne Keen), who anyone who’s familiar with the comics will know is X-23, a.k.a. Laura Kinney, a.k.a. a clone of Wolverine.  She looks like him, acts like him, and has his power sets and gifts, in virtually every way identical.  When it’s confirmed that she was indeed cloned–well, actually birthed in the film–using his genetic material, Logan has to deal with the fact that, like it or not, he is responsible for her–something he is clearly not eager to do.

Another strong aspect of this story is, unsurprisingly, a tragic one.  It’s obvious that Logan pushes people away out of fear that anyone he cares about dying because they happen to be around him.  This is no more perfectly portrayed than in the scene where Logan, Laura, and Xavier help out a family in the aftermath of a near-fatal highway accident.  After helping them round up the horses that got loose from the family’s trailer, they invite the mutants to their home for dinner as thanks.  They have a nice, family-style dinner with their new friends, including several moments of humor and warmth, before their pursuers catch up with them.  In the confusion and chaos that follows, every member of that family is killed, and the father clearly knows it was because they befriended Logan and his companions.

logan-trailer-2-01The importance of relationships is also a strong theme in Logan.  Logan and Xavier.  Logan and Laura.  Laura and Gabriela (Orange Is the New Black‘s Elizabeth Rodriguez), the nurse who died to get her to Logan.  Laura and Xavier.  There are genetic obligations, there are relationships that are built on the foundation of a long association and trust, and there are familial relationships.  It’s telling that Logan leaves Laura behind when they first come under assault, grabbing Xavier and saying, “She’s not our problem.”  Clearly this changes as he learns about his connection to Laura from Gabriela’s recording and Xavier’s prodding, but the real sense of family between those two doesn’t come through–at least from Logan–until nearly the film’s end.

And it is that relationship that is used to violent effect upon Xavier, as a cloned, younger replica of Logan sneaks up on him and mortally wounds him before he can take action to defend himself.  It ends up being the first of several hard to watch deaths in the film, another notable feature Logan brings to the table.  And while it’s hard to watch Xavier die in front of Logan during the action (I mean, really, it was), the emotional wallop comes afterwards, when Logan has buried him, and can’t come up with anything to say, plodding and stumbling through just a few words about having “water nearby” before finally giving up.

One fairly amusing theme in all of this grit involves communication, namely how Laura communicates, particularly with Logan.  Through out the first two thirds of the movie, she is silent, or at least wordless, only giving voice to primal screams during fights. Xavier can communicate with her telepathically, and relays her thoughts to Logan, but he also speaks back to her in Spanish, apparently how Laura understands language.  After Xavier’s death, Laura starts speaking to Logan–in Spanish.  Which is hilarious, as Logan clearly doesn’t understand a lick of Spanish.  When she finally does start speaking to him in English, the end of the movie is nearly upon viewers.

Which does set up the most emotionally impactful–if not terribly original–moment of the film.  In most films where there are distance issues between a parent and child, one of the most powerful moments is when the child finally utters the word, “Mom” or “Dad” for the first time.  After Logan‘s high-stakes, action packed finale, we have a mortally wounded Logan, fading and dying despite Laura’s best efforts to save him.  She finally breaks down and calls him “Daddy” just before he passes.  And even though you see the moment coming a mile away, even though you know this is a trick verging on outright manipulation, you can’t help but feel the power of that word when Laura speaks it.

There are plenty of other details I’m leaving out, but these are the most memorable ones I could recall from seeing Logan.  It’s a violent movie, with plenty of blood and gore.  It’s dark.  It’s gritty and hard to watch.  People and characters you care for will suffer, and die.  It’s fierce.  It’s cutthroat, literally, in places.  It’s visceral.  And it’s quite possibly the best film that stars Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine–and I include the X-Men films in that group.  It’s an excellent swan song for a beloved actor/character pairing that filmgoers and fans have loved for the last 17 years.

Onto Valhalla with you, movie Wolverine.  And to Hugh Jackman: well done, good sir.  Very well done indeed.

And as this is Patrick Stewart’s final outing with Charles Xavier, I will simply say thank you.  You were an amazing Professor X, as well as a wonderful Captain Picard.  I can’t wait to see what you do next.

An Early, Spoiler-Free Review of Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange

maxresdefaultI had the benefit of going and seeing an early screening of Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange this evening.  It’s enjoyable, as Marvel movies tend to be, though it could easily be charged with taking the mystical end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and going through the same motions we’ve seen in the earlier films, but with trippier effects.

I’ll start with some of the positives.  Benedict Cumberbatch is spot-on as Stephen Strange, in looks, in voice, and in manner.  He starts off as he did in the comics: an arrogant, brilliant surgeon who has an automobile accident that leaves his hands all but useless to him.  This particular arrogant jerk is far less likeable than, say, Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark, favoring a more caustic, at times visceral wit that can seriously cut.  It’s off-putting at times, but I think is ultimately successful for a character who takes on the burden Strange finds put on him, especially as he comes to understand how little he really knows as he studies the mystic arts.

nullThe supporting cast is also ably utilized.  Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One brings surprising warmth and introspection to a role I was expecting to be otherworldly and almost uncaring.  Chiwetel Ejiofor is superb as Karl Mordo, whose power and experience is only matched by a certain regimentedness of purpose that he can’t quite ever seem to shake.  Rachel McAdams is Strange’s romantic interest, Christine Palmer, who has a few amusing scenes reacting to Strange’s antics (both mystical and not so mystical), but is otherwise not terribly memorable.

The biggest problem one might find with this film is that, as a Marvel Studios film, it does seem to hit some fairly predictable points.  Marvel has clearly mastered the storytelling aspects of the hero’s journey, and has amassed a multimedia juggernaut by doing so successfully.  That’s why we see a lot of the same elements: a hero who starts off not particularly heroic, who finds a way to attain the power to change the world, loses an elder figure, and completes the journey themselves, changed for the better.  Along the way there’s some humor, some romance, and some fun.  Doctor Strange seems to follow this formula to the letter, and while Marvel still does the job ably, it may be time for them to consider new angles to their films’ storytelling.

doctor-strange-kaecilius-1And then there’s the villain.  Marvel’s tendency to do lousy movie villains (Loki notwithstanding) is intact and going strong.  Mads Mikkelson’s character Kaecilius is someone of whom I’d never heard until this film, and it turns out I didn’t need to know much about him, in the worst ways possible.  He’s out to remake the world anew, and willing to destroy reality to make it happen.  Armed with a bland fanatacism and an even blander cadre of disciples, he’s less of a threat and more of an inconvenience, as Strange soon deduces.

None of this is to say the movie is a failure.  Quite the opposite.  It’s still building to a larger conclusion, and it does take this old formula and run it against the considerable backdrop of a mystical, reality-spanning adventure.  And the special effects are simply mesmerizing.  We have sorcerers and wizards bending reality all around themselves, creating portals, altering gravity, summoning matter and energies out of thin air, astral projections, out of body trips through the universe, multiverse, and so on.  It’s a visual feast, and a bit overwhelming at times, but it’s definitely worth experiencing.  Even if Kaecilius isn’t all that memorable, he can still do some fun things during a fight.

doctor-strange-benedict-cumberbatch-04-02-2016-620x413There’s the Marvel blend of action and humor, some of which you can see coming, but which ultimately works out.  A few of the jokes in particular come out of nowhere, making them rare gems indeed.  Stan Lee’s requisite cameo comes at a moment you can hardly miss.  And the post credit scenes are definitely worth sticking around for, both for humorus and plot-driven reasons.  Definitely worth a view, and I would say this is one of the few times I’d lobby for seeing it in 3D IMAX if possible.

When the Paladin Wins Out: A Library Tale

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have a paladin and a rogue vying for influence over my actions.  Sometimes paladin wins out, sometimes the rogue does.

This story is one in which my inner paladin demonstrates why being the goody-goody sometimes works out for the better.

In spending time with one of my friends a few months ago, we ended up talking about Frank Abagnale, Jr., who is the basis for Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in the movie Catch Me If You Can.  I had neither seen the movie nor read the autobiographical book after which it was named, but Mr. Abagnale’s life was so fascinating that I soon ended up seeing the movie after that conversation (it’s GREAT!  If you haven’t seen it yet, do so).  I knew I had to read the biography next.

old-libraryI’m a librarian by profession, so I had easy access to the means to acquire it.  I put a hold on the book, got it a few days later, and started reading.  It was a fascinating book, but as many of you know, life often gets in the way of your leisure reading time.  I was only about 100 pages into the book when it came due, so I went to renew it–and found that another library customer already had a hold on it.

Now, when a customer has a hold on a book or other library item you have checked out, that means you need to return it by the date it was due when you checked it out.  You can’t renew or extend the due date on that item, as you’ve had the length of the loan period–usually 2 or 3 weeks–to read, watch, or listen to the item in question.  If you don’t return the item by its due date, you are penalized with a daily fine.  Many library customers are familiar with all of this.

Since I was a library employee, though, I had a privilege that our other customers didn’t.  I wasn’t fined for items that were overdue (at least not at first–you could be charged for the replacement of the item if it wasn’t returned by a certain point).  It was at this point where the rogue and the paladin started to pull me in different directions.

ultimate-spider-man-angel-and-devil_9444The rogue whispered in my ear to finish Catch Me If You Can.  I could have kept the book, which I was really enjoying and really did want to read.  I could delay for however long it took me to read the book, which wouldn’t have been that long, right?  What harm could really come of it?

But the paladin had words for me, too.  Words of honor, and integrity, and the idea that library rules existed for a reason.  Would not I be undermining the system by which our taxpayers are supposed to be guaranteed free, equitable access to library items if I selfishly kept them when I shouldn’t?  How could I call myself a good librarian if I didn’t support it?

The paladin won out that day.  As a library manager, it was up to me to set a good example for my co-workers and not abuse my privileges.  Besides which, I’d seen cases of staff abuse of their privileges that had resulted in people losing their jobs and/or being disciplined because of it.  I didn’t want to go down that path, or even start to.

So, with a heavy heart, I played by the rules, checked in the book that was due, and put it in transit to the next customer, forlornly wondering if I would be able to continue reading Catch Me If You Can anytime soon.

As it turned out, it was very soon.

Not five minutes later, I was at the desk, and looking for items to shelve.  A customer came in, returned some items and left before I could issue them a receipt.  Imagine my delighted surprise when I got to the audiobook they’d returned, which happened to be the book I had been reading, Catch Me If You Can.  And, as a bonus, it had no existing holds on it.

dstfpI didn’t actually let out a whoop and jump for joy, but I did do a small arm pump and grin big as I checked the audiobook out.  I actually really enjoy audiobooks, and spent enough time in my car that I would easily finish this one within two week.  I decided to start listening to it from the beginning, and ended up loving the whole thing.

And I could swear the paladin was smiling down at me, and at the rogue, who was rolling his eyes dismissively.  His words to both, “You see?  Even when you can’t always see it, there is always a way to do right and still be victorious.”

Touché, Mr. Paladin.  Touché.

The One-Sided Nature of Marvel Studios’ “It’s All Connected”

nickfury-imAnyone who knows me can tell you that I’m a big fan of the MCU that Marvel Studios started back in 2008 with Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk.  I love the interconnected nature of the movies, and how they reinforced the notion that these were characters whose actions would affect the plots and developments of others that came along.  It was a brilliant way to conceptualize and bring together a movie franchise, and it was so uniquely a Marvel opportunity, that I knew their film The Avengers was going to be a huge hit, even as far back as Iron Man, when it was only being hinted at.

making_mine_marvel_5With the ever-present phrase “It’s all connected” a seeming mantra of the entire universe, it seemed a no-brainer that there would be plenty of connections, however tenuous, between the films and the shows that emerged on ABC and Netflix.  And as far as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been concerned, they’ve made plenty of references to the films to show they’re connected, from having some of their stars (Thor‘s Jamie Alexander, The Avengers‘ Cobie Smulders and Samuel L. Jackson, and Captain America: The First Avenger‘s Haley Atwell jump quickest to mind) appear on the show, to having episodes and plot arcs made in direct response to the events of the films.  Netflix shows Daredevil and Jessica Jones have made small, oblique, blink-and-you’ll-miss-them references to the films, but thus far have mostly kept to themselves in terms of really connecting to anything else.

Where there has been the least amount of connection in terms of acknowledging properties outside its own wheelhouse, however, has been with the films.  And that is a major, ongoing source of disappointment for me.

Now, I realize that making movies is way different from making television shows, and I know it’s unlikely, and maybe even impossible, to really work the characters, plots, and developments of television into a film in any substantial or meaningful way.  Movies are planned out years in advance, whereas television can turn on a proportional dime as needed.  I get it–we probably won’t see any television characters in the films anytime soon, if ever.

But I think it’s criminal at this point that the word “Inhuman,” as used in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., has yet to even be uttered on screen in any of the MCU films.  I find the studio’s indefinite suspension of the previously planned Inhumans movie to be off-putting and disingenuous in light of it’s mantra.

As best I can tell, the only reference I’ve seen from the films to anything not originated in the films has been the Theta Protocol, which even then involves the Helicarrier that was first seen in The Avengers.  Even then, also, I’m not sure the name itself is even mentioned in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

In any case, my point in all of this is that, as the originating medium of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the films should be doing more to cross connect to the other content that’s out there.  And again, I realize we may not ever see Daisy Johnson or Mike Peterson or Melinda May, or even (though I really hope I’m wrong here) Matt Murdock or Jessica Jones or Luke Cage in the films.

I still think, however, that including a throwaway line about the Inhumans emergence or the chaos going down in Hell’s Kitchen would be something manageable.

before-daredevil-has-the-punisher-already-appeared-in-the-mcu-just-bear-with-me-steve-653803Come on, Marvel Studios.  Would it really be that hard for you to do that little?

Why the Zendaya Spider-Man Movie Controversy Isn’t a Big Deal to Me… and Shouldn’t Be to You

It seems there’s been a slow-burning uproar the last few days, since The Wrap posted an article leaking the alleged “real” role that young actress Zendaya has been cast for the upcoming film Spider-Man: Homecoming.  In it, the article states that Zendaya, a young woman of color, will be playing the role of Mary Jane Watson, whom Spider-Man fans know to be the most iconic and well-known of Spider-Man’s love interests.  In response, many fanboys–most of them white, of course–have taken to various social medias and websites to vent their collective outrage over this decision by the powers at Sony.

As a Spider-Man super fan myself, I’ve been aware of this announcement since it went live, and somewhat vaguely aware of the “backlash” that’s resulted.  To be perfectly honest, it’s hard for me to get worked up over this issue, for a number of reasons.

  1. MJ’s race doesn’t fucking matter!  I love the way I’ve seen most of the racists coding their response to this one.  They know damn well they can’t openly say, “I’m angry because MJ shouldn’t be black!”, so instead they attack her hair color.  “MJ should be a redhead!” they shout.  It’s purely code for saying she should be white, which is complete and utter bullcrap.  I’ll say here what I’ve said elsewhere: with very few exceptions, there are almost no Marvel comic book characters whose origins and backstories demand they be white.  The Human Torch.  Doctor Strange.  Iron Fist.  Hell, Iron Man, for that matter.  And Spider-Man, as well as his supporting cast.  Anyone who claims these characters must be exactly as they have been portrayed in the comics is saying so from a position of privileged ignorance
  2. It’s not official, at least not yet.  The Wrap article, while it has certainly touched off a minor firestorm with this alleged development, can’t actually be officially taken at its word… yet.  Until Marvel or Sony comments one way or the other, this is just a high-profile piece of gossip from a website.  Does it sound like something Marvel would do?  Yes it does.  Does it seem like a logical development to include MJ in the Spider-Man films?  Totally.  Would Zendaya be the proper age to play MJ in a high school iteration of Spider-Man?  Hell yes.  But until we hear something official, we may be getting wound up over nothing.
  3. The racists are clearly losing, anyway.  There’s been more focus on the backlash against the backlash.  I’ve seen articles where Twitter trolls get schooled for their coded comments about Zendaya’s race, and hair color.  Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn has defended the concept of a person of color playing MJ, very eloquently citing need for our movies to reflect the diversity of the world in which we live.  The “controversy” surrounding this hypothetical piece of casting is really nothing more than the slowly, noticeably, deteriorating yelling of the privileged racists whose voices are becoming less and less important as time goes on.  The powers at Marvel and Sony are not listening, and continuing to make movies and shows that prove to be highly successful, both financially and critically.

On a personal note, if Zendaya is indeed portraying MJ in Spider-Man: Homecoming, I am a-okay with this, in exactly the way I would have been okay with a Peter Parker who had been cast as a person of color.  I’m not familiar with her work, but I will say that she does look stunning, and I’m willing to bet that Marvel and Sony would be putting her in the role because they know she can do the character justice.  To me, that’s all that matters, and Marvel has long since earned my trust in these areas.

If Zendaya is MJ, bring it on!  I’m sure she’ll be wonderful.

Tony’s Lists: That Which Frightens Me, Then and Now (and in the Future)

I was one of those kids in grade school.  The one who wished Halloween was a year-round thing, and that ghosts and monsters and the scares they brought were real.  When my class went to the library and most people were looking at books about cars, and cats, and Garfield and so forth, I was always the person in the folklore and mythology section, searching high and low for books that collected scary stories.  Occasionally made fun of for my predilection for horror and the macabre, I was actually mostly allowed to pursue my weird little guilty pleasure in peace.

Nowadays, with the internet and mobile computing so ubiquitous in our society, it’s easy to reach out and get a scare by doing a few quick searches, and I couldn’t be happier for it.  These days we have creepypastas, freaky image lists that can keep you awake far into the night, and even web series in addition to the horror films, books, and shows that come out with such regularity to the mass markets.  Heck, it’s not uncommon for me to fire up a list of Youtube videos about creepypastas, strange encounters on video, or other scary stories and encounters to play in the background while I work on other things.

So clearly, I’m one of those adults now.

My affinity for a good scare has come from a fertile background of horror and slasher films, scary stories, and that feeling you get when you see a particularly gruesome, life-like piece of artwork.  To that end, I’ve created a list of those things that have scared me as a kid, which give me a good little rush today, and at least one upcoming phenomenon that (I hope) should deliver a nice fright in the future when it releases.

This is by far not an exhaustive list, and I’ll have a list of honorable mentions at the end, but a nice little Top 10 (in no particular order) that I hope you’ll enjoy and comment on.

  1. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (book series)
    Okay, so maybe there’s some slight order to this list, at least where my #1 is concerned.  I just couldn’t start this list without the series of books that I discovered as a child, and whose grim, gruesome stories collected and revised by Alvin Schwartz and nightmare-fueled illustrations by Stephen Gammell caused more than a few silent gasps when I first beheld them.I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who kept these titles circulating at the libraries when I was young, even if this series has ended up being one of the most challenged series of books in their collections (for the exact reasons listed above).  An “updated” edition was released a few years ago that swapped out Gammell’s illustrations with comparatively much tamer artwork by Brett Helquist, and while I’m sure those versions won’t be as challenged by lily-livered concerned scaredy-cats citizens, they just don’t pack the punch of the originals, and in my opinion are not worth reading.

    It’s pretty telling that, in an iHorror article just recently released about the best stories from these dark tomes (and which may or may not have served as inspiration for this list!), I thought of three particular stories that both scared the hell out of me AND were really good.  It turns out they were THE TOP THREE stories in the article.  I won’t spoil what they are (and doubtless won’t need to for many fans of this series), but I will take that as evidence that I’m both a visionary and a messed up individual.

  2. A Nightmare on Elm Street (movie series)
    Freddy 2I don’t think it helps that my first exposure to these films was A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, where Freddy seemed particularly more vicious than I’d see in the later films (though the first classic one was also a pretty good horror film on its own thanks to Robert Englund’s performance).  Not only was he killing people in their dreams once they fell asleep–a terrifying enough premise all on its own–but he was also possessing one particular teen-aged character once he fell asleep in order to do it.  In any case, the terrifying, claw-gloved antagonist of this series would go a long way in making sure I resisted the urge to fall asleep as much as possible for many years.  It probably helps explain why I’m such an effortless night-owl by default.I’d thought I wouldn’t be able to take Freddy seriously when they made him more of a clownish killer in the later Nightmare movies, but Wes Craven’s Final Nightmare did a good job of establishing how and why this character existed, and temporarily renewed my interest in him.  I wish they would have explored that when they rebooted by series a few years ago, but unfortunately they didn’t, and I was left wanting for another good Nightmare film.  Hopefully someday, someone with the right skills can come along and make Freddy frightening again.
  3. Stephen King’s It (movie)
    Oh my wow.  Pennywise, you magnificent bastard.old-it-clownThis film, along with honorable mention Poltergeist, is no doubt responsible for more than a few people’s irrational fear of clowns, though I myself never succumbed to this.  And with Tim Curry’s simultaneously comical and vicious portrayal of the character (or rather, the main physical manifestation of said character), it became one of the movies that came quickest to mind whenever I thought about things that scared me.  A creepy… no, scratch that–terrifying clown, who you couldn’t even really kill, and who could psychically torment you across distances?  A monster in disguise made to lure children to their doom?  Yep, I’m pretty sure that’s pure, unadulterated nightmare fuel.

    But there’s also one other scene worth mentioning.  It’s one of the very few that really gave me a good jump scare when I first saw it.  Look below:


    Yeah.  That may been tame by today’s standards, but it made me jump the first time I saw Bill looking through the scrapbooks and comes across this picture of his younger brother Georgie, who was just recently murdered by Pennywise.  And suddenly the picture winks at him.

    The still picture FRICKING WINKS at him!

    I jumped in fright, and I feel no shame in saying so.

  4. Spasms
    These pieces of three-dimensional nightmare fuel in the form of a Halloween decoration you can buy (yes, seriously) are creepy enough on their own, but I first encountered these things as the featured images in connection with a creepypasta called “The Russian Sleep Experiment” (which is, on its own, a great creepy story that you should totally read if you haven’t already).  The clear intention of using the Spasm was to give an approximate visual representation of what the sleep-deprived, slowly feralizing prisoners were becoming, both in terms of their looks and their natures.

    Wanna snuggle?

    And it was very effective.  I mean, just look at the twisted little bastard.  It looks mostly human, though with some serious deformations.  The first time I saw this image, I immediately asked myself what depraved movie would have had a character like this in it?  How was that look achieved?  And oh my jeez, how the hell could I get that image out of my gorram head?

    I can’t, so here it is for all of you.

  5. Garfield: Alone (comic strips)
    hqdefaultI remember reading this series of comic strips during a week in October when I was around 10 or 11, and it was a harrowing experience to say the least.  For a comic that had had a consistent style and premise, both of which revolved around the life and antics of a surly, lazy cat and his companions, this abrupt shift in tone and mood was unsettling from the get-go.  The premise, that Garfield was in fact a lonely, starving cat who lived in a dilapidated and crumbling house, and that his actions with Jon and Odie in the warm, well-kept abode readers had come to know are merely the self-delusions of an individual suffering from starvation and extreme denial, left an indelible mark on my appreciation for Jim Davis to tell a good horror story when he wanted to.There’s an article by Chris Sims on Comics Alliance that I pretty much try to re-post every October on my Facebook, and he breaks down the specifics of why this series of comic strips is so effective and frightening far better than I could.  I highly recommend you read it if you want to know more about this series of strips, if for no other reason than he includes the entirety of their run in his article.
  6. Night Terrors (mobile game)
    This one’s not out yet, so I don’t have much to say about it, other than it looks to be frightening as hell, and I’m really excited for it.

    Click here for a video demo… if you dare…

    As much as I am a gamer, and a fan of horror, I actually don’t play very many horror video games.  I’ve seen a few of them, and even played a couple (Slender: The Arrival and Five Nights at Freddie’s being a couple of semi-recent examples) from time to time, but I can’t claim to really want to play them very often.  I guess there are limits to the extent I want to immerse myself in that particular medium.  Maybe that will be the case for this one as well, but some reviewers’ claims that this is “Pokemon GO for horror fans” guarantees that I’ll at least check this one out.

  7. The Thing on the Doorstep (short story)
    strandedinsalem-thethingonthedoorstep2This isn’t the most famous of HP Lovecraft’s stories, and certainly suffers at times from his tendency to over-verbalize, but this first exposure to his works instilled in me both a love for the writer and a visceral sense of terror at this story’s premise.  It mostly comes down to the central premise about the story being about possession, and the extremes of one particular entity’s willingness to take over the bodies of others, but there are other elements and themes of this story that creep me out as well.  That this little gem of a horror story both begins and ends with the author’s imprisonment in a mental facility leaves the reader more than a little discomfited at the entire experience, which is exactly how you should feel when reading Lovecraft.  Well done, Mr. Lovecraft.  Well done.
  8. Exploring haunted locations
    A thing that I sometimes do is grab a friend after reading an article about haunted locations and going and exploring to see what we can find.  I don’t think I’ve ever found anything overtly paranormal or supernatural, but there have been one or two experiences that I haven’t been able to fully explain, and they certainly chilled my bones at the time.  Below is a picture and link to a video I made when my sister and I went to Spaghetti Warehouse in downtown Houston.13095976_10154134572918899_3850412281435318771_n
  9. Horror film remakes
    ImageIn the last decade or so, there have been a slew of remakes of old horror films that have really driven home the scares.  Not that the originals aren’t perfectly hair-raising on their own–I can recall more than a few of them keeping me up at night–but the sheer level of visceral terror involved in such films as Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake of Halloween and Fede Alvarez’s 2013 reimagining of The Evil Dead just make it seem like the creators were really out to get moviegoers.  There’s also no doubt that with the advances in movie effects, films such as these are ripe for an upgrade.
  10. Slenderman (egregore), and Marble Hornets (web series)
    Slendy 2I pretty much couldn’t close out this list without mentioning Slenderman (a.k.a. the Slender Man), whose emergence onto the internet and into the collective consciousness of a generation has been both fascinating and horrifying to behold.  The unnaturally tall, thin, blanked-faced character dressed in a black suit tends to stalk, abduct, and otherwise traumatize people, disrupting video feeds and often causing others to disappear without a trace.  Having only graced the internet with his presence since 2009, Slenderman is a very new phenomenon that demonstrates just how powerful a well-conceptualized image and premise can be online.It’s Slenderman’s fame in particular that intrigues me, as he’s basically gone from a nonexistent thing that has no influence on the world to a nonexistent thing that now exists very strongly in the minds of others, and who very arguably influences the world in which he doesn’t exist, fitting the definition of an egregore.  This is very evident not only in the number of stories, creepypastas, artworks, video games, and other multimedia in which the character continues to pop up, but also in the unfortunate attempted murder of a young girl in Waukesha, Wisconsin in 2014.  Her classmates believed the Slenderman to be real, and that by murdering their classmate, they would become his proxies.

    marble hornetsClosely related to Slenderman is the web series Marble Hornets, which utilized the mythos surrounding the character as a framework for them to create a horror series.  While there are several very unnerving shots of the Slenderman (known as the Operator in the series) throughout the 90 or so short episodes, many of the series’ scares rely on what isn’t seen, or at the very least more conventional horror tropes, such as being attacked by a man in a mask.  This has the effect of making the times the Operator does appear to be that much more significant and frightening.

Honorable Mentions: Stranger Things (Netflix Orginal series), Berserk (anime and manga by Kentaro Miura), Poltergeist (movie), The Shining (movie, 1980).

Fandoms: Learn to Play In the Sandbox Together, or Get the Hell Out

Don’t expect to insult my fandom to promote yours and expect we’ll be friends for very long.

There.  I needed to say that, and get the venom out.

I like to think I’m a pretty accepting person, all things considered.  I prefer Marvel comics to DC comics for the most part, though I’m perfectly willing to acknowledge when certain DC stories get things right that Marvel either doesn’t or hasn’t in some time.  I like both Star Wars and Star Trek, and don’t understand why people have to choose one or the other.  I like Doctor Who at certain stretches, and am not so hot on it for others.  I love Firefly.

And there are plenty of other fandoms I like.  There are fandoms I’m not so hot on.  There are plenty of fandoms I just haven’t had the opportunity to explore, and may or may not discover in the future.  And I’m fine with all of those things.

You like My Little Pony?  Wonderful.  It’s not my cup of tea, but it works for you, and that’s what’s important.

But one thing I’m not okay with?  Don’t ever insult my fandom to try to make yours seem better.  I will knock you flat on your ass if you do so.

Lately I’ve seen a lot of material online that denigrates Marvel and simultaneously extols DC.  Tawdry, sensationalistic, clickbait-y headlines and memes that use the Us vs. Them premise to lure readers into their pointless and often terribly written content.  Typically, when I see dreck such as this, I generally just roll my eyes and keep going.  But lately I’ve seen enough of it, as well as re-postings of it from people I actually care about, that it’s starting to impinge on my overall enjoyment of my fandom.

This, friends, is not acceptable.

does-marvel-appreciate-their-fans-more-than-dcI’m not one to go around starting fights.  I prefer Marvel to DC, but again, I’m willing to give them credit when and where it’s due.  More importantly, I’m actually rooting for the DCEU to be as successful as the MCU, even though I think they are far behind in terms of execution at this point.  I want them to have a tentpole franchise they can be proud of.  I am not willing to lower myself into a mudslinging fight that we see so often, both online and in pop culture forums, where one side is yelling “MARVEL SUCKS!” and the other is yelling “DC SUCKS!” as loud as they can.  It’s pointless and puerile, and I want no part of it.

And I expect the same treatment from those around me.

You want to think Marvel sucks and DC buries it?  Go ahead.  Think it all you want.  But the moment you open your mouth and say something to that effect and insult my fandom, you and I are going to have problems.

It’s fine if you prefer DC to Marvel.  It works better for you, and Marvel works better for me.  There’s no reason to start insulting the other.  It’s a big, wide, wonderful world, and there’s plenty of room in the sandbox for everyone to play.  I don’t understand why people feel the need to tear others down in order to make themselves feel better, but one thing I can do is refuse to tolerate it.

So consider this a warning, dear reader.  You’re free to disagree with me all you want.  You don’t have to like what I like, so long as you express your disagreement respectfully.  I will never trash talk your fandom or franchise, and I think it’s not asking too much to expect the same from others.

The moment you put a foot out of line and spew bile all over a thing I hold dear, you can expect to be warned, once.  After that, if you continue, expect that I will censor the hell out of you.

It’s not about having a different opinion.  It’s about being able to disagree like adults.  If you don’t know how to do that, don’t expect me to hold your hand.

I’ll just show you the door.english-idioms-show-the-door-300x194

Oh, and one addendum: this cuts both ways.  Marvel fans insulting DC fans, for example, will also be shown the door.

Play nice, everyone, with everyone.