Archive | October 2017

Salem’s Lot

(If you missed my last October Horror series essay check it out HERE)

Happy Halloween!

Tobe Hooper’s (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Poltergeist) 1979 miniseries, Salem’s Lot, was based on a rather long novel by Stephen King. Many screenwriters grappled with the text in an attempt to condense it down to a feature run-time of around two hours, but a smart studio figured it would be better suited to the miniseries format and the resultant script and film generated over three hours of vampire-movie nostalgia ala Nosferatu, beautiful and striking atmospheric moments, and paranoia.

The film focuses on the town of Salem’s Lot (nee Jerusalem;s Lot), Maine. In the town, an ancient manor known as the Marsten house has been connected for generations with the supernatural and the eerie. It is the town’s haunted space, but until the arrival of novel writer (see Misery and The Shining to carry on King’s metanarrative theme) and a British antique dealer, it has been fairly innocuous. The writer Ben Mears was a one-time native of the town who has returned to write a novel about his own traumatic experiences as a youth near the Marsten house when he becomes absorbed in an even deadlier plot. People are falling ill with what the local doctor Bill Norton is calling pernicious anemia. And then they disappear. As more and more of the town’s population go missing or die, others flee, and others fight back against the dark forces brought to the town by the antiques dealer Richard Straker and his master vampire accomplice Kurt Barlow.

The tale mirrors Nosferatu in a number a ways. First, the evil master vampire is ghoulish and based on the model of Mas Schrek’s character Count Olaf in the original Murnau classic. Second, he resides in a manor known to be haunted or the source of evil, that locals do their best to avoid. Third, a young man slowly learns of the vampire’s evil plans and works with a doctor and other townsfolk to find dispense with his guardian and destroy him while he rests in his coffin.

The film contains many interesting and even beautiful scenes throughout. There are the shots of young boys who have turned into vampires scratching at the windows of their peers in the night. The fog and deep-focus cinematography, the darkness and the red light of their eyes paint the scene just as eerily as it would have been in the real life as a child awakens, unsure of whether the site of their dead friend at the window is reality or merely the product of their overactive imaginations and dreams. None of these levitating shots were created with the use of wires, but instead used cranes placed just so as to make the floating apparitions particularly eerie and realistic. Of all the vampiric scenes in the film, these are the most effective and hold up best today.

Later, we find a local laborer who has been turned into one of the undead sitting in  a chair in his former teacher’s abode. His teacher invited him in as he thought him to be merely sick. Later, he would find he was sorely mistaken as the man rocks in a chair in his guest bedroom, eyes alight with demonic fire, and voice seething with hatred and bloodlust.

In the manor, the antique dealer lackey Straker displays a near-inhuman strength against the Dr. bill Norton. He grabs him by the throat and carries him along a corridor toward a wall of antlers where he impales the man with ease. (This scene would later be recycled to great effect in the Lost Boys and in that film’s sequel).

In the film’s penultimate scenes, when the writer Mears burns down the manor, the deep reds and blacks proliferate and spread across the screen as the screams of the undead erupt from the smoldering timbers and reverberate through the open space of the cold cold night.

Finally, the element of paranoia is ever-present. In this film, by virtue of its extended length, Tobe Hooper had an opportunity to introduce characters and develop them more fully than most any feature-length film ever could. We find a young boy, obsessed with horror films, whose parents chide him for his macabre interests. But those very same interests will save his ass time and again, while their lack of knowledge of the occult puts them into severe danger. The writer, Mears, is extremely skeptical of the whole situation at the beginning, but his fear of the Marsten house and his belief that evil emanates from within it, leads him more easily than his fellow citizens to the right conclusions, and this keeps him alive.

As the film progresses and more and more citizens die, it seems like most of the townspeople are either suspicious of Mears or of Straker and both are advised by the police to stay in town. The paranoia is so thick at times you could poke a hole in it with a wooden stake.

I would definitely recommend the film to any fan of horror films and hope to hear your responses about your favorite parts of the film!

 

In memorium Tobe Hooper (1943-2017)

 

Postscript: As my last October Horror essay of the month, I would like to say thank you to everyone who has given me support through likes and comments during this time. The last month and a half have been my most productive period on WordPress yet and that productivity has seen its analogue in views and correspondence with many readers. You’re continued support has emboldened me to work harder and present a new series of film essays every month. With next month’s theme being Science Fiction films. Its been a heck of a ride and I hope you’ve enjoyed it as well!

Princess Karaoke (Digimon Adventure Episode 25)

(Catch my recap essay on episode 24 HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

So two episodes back Tai, Joe, Matt, and T.K. all finally met up and dealt with Peter Lorre Digitamamon. After escaping from a restaurant that was trying to keep Joe and Matt there as cooks indefinitely, the gang immediately split up again (this time with a game plan for where to meet up next) and went in search of their Digidestined friends.

Now, Tai and Joe are following their Digivice’s tracker feature across a large lake on the continent of Server. As they travel by paddle boat, their Digimon taunt them about not being able to reach the pedals and therefore being unable to help paddle. They arrive at Mimi’s location, which is a gigantic palace atop an island cliff. She has installed herself as princess and made the Otamamon and Gekomon their into her virtual slaves waiting on her hand and foot. The Gekomon and Otamamon’s old master is Shogungekomon who has been asleep for 300 years after losing a singing match to an opponent, they reason that a great song is what is necessary to awaken him. DemiDevimon hatched a plan to send Mimi to the palace where the Gekomon will keep her there indefinitely (he assumes that she cannot sing). However, she uses her singing as blackmail to get the palace’s servants to do her bidding and threatens not to sing if they don’t follow orders.

When Tai and Joe arrive they are surprised by the circumstances and attempt to get Mimi to leave with them. she has grown more selfish than ever and lacks the sincerity she was once known for. Mimi kicks them out of the palace but the Gekomon and Otamamon work with Tai and Joe to try and record Mimi singing into a karaoke machine that Palmon sets up in her boudoir. The plan fails and Mimi jails the two, their Digimon, and even her own Digimon partner Palmon.

Later, Mimi self-consciously has a dream wherein her friends won’t help save her from the dark lords they fought in the past: Devimon and Etemon. Sora, who has been sneaking around helping out whenever she can, goes into Mimi’s room and advises her to do the right thing and sing for the palace’s residents. the next day, she frees her prisoners and sings, but Shogungekomon isn’t happy about being woken up and in the ensuing fight, the palace is destroyed by MetalGreymon who defeats the Shogun Digimon handily.

Overall, the episode is a filler piece. They do achieve the objective of finding one more Digidestined since their earlier split-up in Tai’s absence, but there are no new big bads to face or new Ultimate level Digivolutions. Mimi has to face her own vanity, but we were all aware of it anyhow, and she grows only slightly in the process. Plus, instead of helping save the Digital world, the gang only awoke a powerful Digimon they then had to defeat, leaving the Gekomon and Otamamon without even a figurehead to adore. and they destroyed their palatial home in the process! Talk about a real bummer.

 

Till next time,

The Digidestined Cody

[Part 26 HERE!]

Let The Right One In: A Fairy Tale, A Fable

(For my previous October Horror series essay click HERE)

In 2008, Swedish director Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) created one of the most beautiful horror films ever made. The cinematography of Hoyte van Hoytema (The Fighter, Dunkirk) is at times subdued and very dark, near chiaroscuro in this film. Greys and blues and whites intermingle with the snow and cold colors of Swedish architecture and skin. The sound score is melodic and somber when applicable, textured when it heightens the emotions of the story, and absent when the image of pure cinema is enough to capture the audiences attention and awe.

Parts Fanny och Alexander (by Sweden’s, and possibly the world’s, greatest filmmaker Ingmar Bergman) and sharing in the fabulist fairy tale worlds Guillermo del Toro’s best work, Låt den rätte komma in tells the story of a young Swedish boy named Oskar in the early 1980s. He is inundated with newspaper headlines of crime and murder and has an intense fascination with collecting the most gruesome reports in his folio. He is small for his age and bullied constantly by a small group of peers. But this is no A Christmas Story. The bullies are sympathetic in that they obviously have terrible lives at home and severe traumas of their own that press them to act out.

In the flat beside Oskar’s and his mother’s apartment, a new family moves in. An old man and a young girl. He never sees the girl during the day and her window is covered constantly. He does meet her at night out in the flat’s quad, populated normally by a jungle gym and Oskar alone. The two bond and become friends as the city experiences larger numbers of disappearances. Eventually, her nocturnal habits and the ever-present smell of blood prompt him toward the conclusion: she is a vampire.

Her ‘father’, Hakan, is a man enamored with the girl. In the book the film was adapted from, he is a pedophile who kills and gathers fresh blood for her surreptitiously and for sickening reasons. As he kills in their new city, he leaves behind a trail of evidence that points an obsessed local in her direction, and toward his own horrendous death. Hakan fails in one of his attempts and is caught. He mutilates himself with acid and later, in the hospital, she finds him and ends his life at his discretion. Draining the blood of the one she called father (who may very well have been a childhood friend turned accomplice like Oskar may become, at least in the film version which leaves open the relationship between Hakan and the girl).

The girl, Eli, is more than two hundred years old, but is trapped in the body of a twelve year old. Throughout the film, we see her struggle against the pangs of hunger for blood and her distaste for killing. She seems to love Oskar, but the whole situation is convoluted as he is a human who will age and die like Hakan, and presumably, others before him. She was not born a she, but is a castrated young man with the outward appearance and sexual preferences of a girl. And she carries a lump of gold that ensures her a vast fortune and her and Oskar a life of wealth, albeit without safety and luxury, in their future.

Although the film can be read in a very pessimistic manner (Oskar is doomed to a life of murder and a bad end just as Hakan), the title and ending of the film I think edges us toward a different conclusion. A vampire must be invited in to a home before entering, but the old tales and stories are curiously quiet on what might occur if they entered a home anyway. The answer here is dramatic and disturbing. Eli asks to come in Oskar’s home, but he is disturbed to find she is a vampire and acts cruelly, refusing to ask her to come in and waving his hand to her to enter in an informal gesture. She enters and her cold life-blood flows from her eyes and ears and pores as she grows more and more emotional. Oskar, in one of the most emotionally compelling scenes of the film, cries out that she is welcome to enter, and her affliction ends. Oskar let the right one in for him and hopefully, in his future, they can find a cure together (she is not dead after all or even living dead, but a real living human being with a terrible curse), and scratch that he can always make the change for her.

At the end of the film, the two are on a train travelling to an undisclosed location. Eli is in a travel box to avoid the light. She taps out “kiss” in morse code (the language Oskar learned and taught her originally so they could speak together through the wall separating their apartments) . He taps back “little kiss.” I’m a little too romantic for my own good in this life, and as such, I’ve put myself into a safe emotional space of constant solitude and bracketed the heart from my world, but this film and films like it, with their call to love when love calls no matter the distance draws me back to a place where love could be the one truth. The one thing creating meaning, however ultimately futile and infantile and idealistic, daring to spit in the face of fate like Deckard on the precipice between life and death in Blade Runner, and creating something rather than merely destroying before I return back to the void that produced me ex nihilo of consequence.

And maybe, just maybe, amor fati has been a mistake all along.

 

Cody Ward

[Catch my final October Horror essay of the year: Salem’s Lot!]

Blade Runner 2036: Nexus Dawn

(For my essay on Blade Runner 2022: Black Out click HERE)

For Denis Villeneuve’s new Blade Runner film press junket, he hired two directors to create short films explaining the back story of Blade Runner 2049, those important events that set up the framework for the new world. In Blade Runner 2022, he asked Shinichiro Watanabe to create an anime. In Blade Runner 2036 and 2048, Luke Scott, Ridley Scott’s son directed two interesting shorts. The first, Nexus Dawn, explains how an industrialist Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) averted worldwide cataclysmic famine through his artificial farming techniques and industries. He is obsessed with proliferating the human race throughout the Universe to continue their existence indefinitely. In this pursuit, he sees himself as something of a savior, a god if you will, who wants to continue Tyrell’s work and create more replicants to expand the number of off-world colonies exponentially, and therefore, humanity’s odds of survival as they consume more and more natural resources.

In 2022: Black Out, a duo of replicants who escaped from the harsh off-world of Kalantha work together to destroy a power generator in Los Angeles that sets off a powerful EMP thrusting the world back into darkness and destroying all digital files, including those on the replicants still wandering Earth. This event led to the prohibition of replicant technology to prevent more replicants from going rogue. Now, with Wallace’s pull as Earth’s savior from starvation, he has set up a private meeting with the Magistrate Sector EL1R9-27. He wants to force their hand and go ahead with his vision, but he needs their permission first: “You remember hunger, so you indulge the recluse whose pursuits keep that hunger at bay.”

The leader of the group and Wallace’s main interrogator is played by Benedict Wong (whose upcoming role in 2018’s Annihilation I am looking forward- and directed by Alex Garland of Ex Machina!). Prohibition is not subject to debate, nor is its repeal. “Yet we are debating,” Wallace responds. He then plays his trump card and reveals that the secretary who guided him into the meeting is more than human, he is a new replicant model. A model that will never rebel or run from its creators or owners, but will only obey the commands it is given. He gives the replicant a choice: its own life or Wallace’s. The replicant’s eye twitches, showing intense discomfort and unease, and paying an interesting homage to Leon in the first film when he is being interrogated using the Voigt-Kampf machine by Blade Runner Holden. The replicant cuts himself and registers pain and then kills himself by cutting his jugular with a piece of glass. The scene is morally repugnant and draws responses from the magistrates that what he has done is wrong and grotesque.

“Laws chain the hands of progress.” Wallace believes, and rightly so, that human beings cannot exist forever on the Earth. We must move beyond our own planet and our own solar system to thrive in the millennia to come. He is something of an Elon Musk type, but with a much more grandiose sense of his own place and destiny in human history. Musk wants to create a martian colony of more than one million people within sixty years. He wants to create man-machine interfaces between human beings and computers and artificial intelligences (ala Ghost in the Shell) to make sure we are never destroyed by our own creations. Wallace wants to create superior humans, angels who can ascend to heaven and polish the firmament, rather than letting it remain to become cracked and disused.

We have opportunities at this point in time mirroring many of those in the Blade Runner universe. The bells and piano chiming play out over the soundtrack of this short film. They signal the dawn of a new era of nexus who will bring the human species to nine more planets by 2049. In our own world we may be able to achieve similarly drastic and awesome possibilities in the coming years, but the laws cannot stand in the way of progress. And if they do, they are worse than unjust, they are deadly. And in a postmodern, nihilistic world where morality stands on no eternal ground and lies defunct in the scrap heap of spooks consigned to the ages of stupidity and bad thinking, we should have no qualms about doing what is necessary to proliferate our own image through the cosmos. In an age of dead gods and un-grounded universal foundations, when we know that our existence is a mere fluke, an accident of chance, in the twilight of the gods, we can uplift ourselves to take their place. And after the dark night of the soul when we dispense with our souls as mere spectres of the imagination, we can arrive in the full dawn of a new day. If we take the necessary measures.

 

Cody Ward

[This essay series continues here with Blade Runner 2048: Nowhere to Run!]

Jeeper’s Creepers

(For my previous October Horror essay click HERE)

Jeepers Creepers is a pretty interesting film. It captured the imagination of a generation of horror film-viewers with its unique monster and interesting, albeit convoluted, plotline. The 2001 horror film was one of Victor Salva’s first forays into hard horror. his earlier works were more like sci-fi thrillers and dramas where the monsters were real people directed by their upbringings and abilities to act in horrific ways (not unlike Victor Salva himself, but I’m not going to go into that here). This time around he tackled the horror genre head-on, with mixed results.

The premise of the film is that a brother and sister are heading back home from college for break. Darry and Tricia are infantile, not very bright, and therefore, a perfect fit the base-level horror film. On the drive, a beat-up creeper truck with a curious license plate rolls up on ’em and almost runs them off the road before passing. Later, they see the truck parked beside a building on the side of the road. The man, or is it a man, is carrying human-sized packages wrapped in bed sheets and dropping them down a pipe. He sees them seeing him, gets in his truck, and runs them off of the road.

Shaken, but not scurred (sorry if these are bad, but so is the movie in a lot of ways), the two go back to investigate and see if the bodies were actually bodies who need saving. The building is a church where crows (ie. carrion) roost, the pipe leads to the basement, and the package was a barely living man who has been disemboweled and de-tongued, shoddily stitched-up and dies in Darry’s arms. The walls and ceilings of the basement are covered in bodies whose skin has been preserved in formaldehyde. A curious thing happens before Darry investigates and finds the House of Pain, however. His sister warns him that it would be stupid to climb into the pipe and even says that he is doing what some stupid kid in a horror movie would do. But he still does it!

Whatever. From there, the kids go and find a roadside diner and make total asses out of themselves by demanding that the waitress call the cops (there is a payphone right next to the entrance) and generally making a big scene. The cops come out to help (something which almost never happens in a horror film- the phone is typically offline and the telephone wires are cut). But the cops are not up to snuff to complete the job. Dozens are massacred by the beast before the film is over. As is an old cat lady with a shotgun who tries to dispose of the scarecrow, cowboy, Jersey Devil, the Thing, thing monster. The very fact that the kids reach the cops and that the cops believe their story after the weight of overwhelming evidence is a breath of fresh air in the mostly stale B-Movie miasma however.

Another subversive delight in the film is when the kids first see the monster close up. He is eating the tongue from a police officer’s face, but framed by a billboard that advertises a local meat market: “Tastes so darn good!” The total effect of seeing the monster is taken away over the course of the film by his nearly constant presence (as opposed to fear generated by the Cat People in Jacques Tourneur’s film of the same name where he famously never actually shows the beast and generates that corner of the eye existential fear). The thinly-woven and largely unnecessary character of the psychic medium adds little to the story’s suspense (but carries on the theme of psychics and tele-kinetic powers in Salva’s earlier films), but it does give away the important plot point that one of the kids will not escape the monster’s clutches. Finally, with dialogue like “it’s eaten too many hearts for its own to ever stop” the film isn’t exactly grasping for much of anything (I guess its reach doesn’t exceed its grasp, but to what effect?)

Oh well. Hopefully the next horror film I revisit will be better. Ciao for now.

 

Cody Ward

[Next up: Let The Right One In]

 

Kiki’s Delivery Service: Liminal States and The Abyss

(To check out my previous Ghibli essay click HERE)

Much has been written about almost all of Hayao Miyazaki’s films. But very few have received more narrow analyses than his 1989 film, Kiki’s Delivery Service. It seems that almost all critics and reviewers talk about this film in only the most overt terms, and they do it again and again and again. There’s the theme of self-doubt that creates a sort of witch’s block for Kiki in the film. Her self-doubt leads to an inability to fly for a short period and her familiar black cat, Jiji, being unable to communicate with her. She is young and awkward and trying to find her place in the world as a young witch who must specialize her skills for monetary gain and sustenance and as a young woman who is becoming interested in boys. The coming of age themes are the central themes of the film, but it seems lazy to continue prattling on about them.

What I would have the discussion be about are two of my favorite philosophical themes: Liminality and the Abyss.

The notion of coming of age always predicates that a few things be true. One, the person is currently a child. Two, they must undergo some quest or trial or ritual during which time they are no longer a child, but not yet an adult. Third, they must face adulthood and all the difficulties that come with it, acquiesce to them and change, and then become an adult.

Kiki is thirteen years old and must, as a witch, go through a potentially traumatic and dangerous trial to become an adult. She must fly far from home until she reaches a town she is unfamiliar with, land there and acclimate to her surroundings, use her skills to procure employment and housing, and establish herself as a fixture in the town. Unfortunately, she lands in a big city and the people don’t generally have the warmth of a small town populace. Many times they shy away from Kiki in the streets, the local girls make fun of her quaint dress and style, and modern medicine is widely available, so her potential skills as an herbalist are not needed or particularly desired. During this time, many don’t take her seriously and joke about her as a little clumsy witch out on the streets. She is neither a child any more (as she is independent, away from home, and physically maturing) and not yet a woman (she is not yet fully mature mentally, physically or emotionally).

This uneasy identification, and her persistent difficulties in making deliveries and courting (she stands up Tombo because of her current ineptitude at making deliveries: she was late), lead to an intense depression. Her stress and fatigue and uneasiness manifest themselves by making her immune system weak and she gets a pretty bad cold as a result. The pain of separation from her family, being bullied by local girls who can afford to dress in much more conventionally pretty manners, and other difficulties create such a mental and physical strain that her spiritual well-being suffers and she is unable to channel to magic power within that allowed her fly. Her identification as Other to the two conventional modes of human Being even separate her from her cat Jiji who could once speak to her (and in the Japanese language version of the film, probably will never be able to do so again).

Later, once she overcomes her difficulties, she saves the first love interest of her life, Tombo, and makes a name for herself as a hero in the town in one go. Thereby establishing herself as an independent woman with the ability to reliably make deliveries around town (the word of mouth has to be outrageous as her save was televised) and has made close friends to fill the void her parents left.

During her depression and witch’s block, she spends some time in the local forest at the cabin of Ursula, a young independent woman who paints for a living and serves as a strong role model for Kiki. She advises that all artist’s have difficulties and blocks from time to time, but the advice doesn’t seem to help. Ursula paints a large work exhibiting a Van Gogh night with her cabin in the background. There is a crow who soars across the frame, a bull who jumps over the moon, and a winged horse, a Pegasus, with two faces: The face of a horse and the face of a young woman. All living creatures in the painting can fly, unlike Kiki in her current predicament. Two of the creatures are enigmatic. the bull should not be able to fly and the Pegasus does not exist.

I remember once walking along Sunset Beach on the North Carolina coast. The sun was rising over the horizon and the waves gently splashed along the surf. Shells littered the sand and cut at the soles of my feet. I had just read Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet and was musing over the idea of loving the questions and living the questions and grappling when need be. I saw the splash of a large grey wave (I’m somewhat color-blind) crash down in the distance upon a sand bar. The viciousness of it all opened itself up to me and I saw it for one of the first times: the Abyss. I stared and it stared back and the moment echoed on in its power for days thereafter, slowly losing momentum like the tide upon the shore. But it has never left me.

This painting opened the same door for Kiki: Awe and Terror and Understanding and Mystery. And being alright with it all. and ultimately, it cured her.

 

Cody Ward

[Next up: Princess Mononoke!]

The Serpent and The Rainbow

(For more Horror essays in this October Horror series click HERE)

Wes Craven’s 1988 horror film is something of a cult classic that I’ve always been a little wary of approaching. It seems that almost everyone I know that knows about the film hasn’t watched it and I had no way of gauging whether to buy it on DVD or not. So anyhoo, I bit the bullet and bought it and got an interesting watch.

The film is based on the first-hand accounts of one Wade Davis, a Harvard anthropologist, who studied Haitian voodoo practices to better understand the zombie phenomenon and how it actually comes about. He found that voodoo shamans used an odd mixture of toxins that make the subject weak, amnesiac, and highly suggestible for a short period of time. Sometimes the concoction of puffer fish poisons and toad slime wouldn’t be potent enough, but cultural awe and regard for the voodoo practitioner would create a respect that allowed for placebo effects to often register in subjects. By administering the zombie powder daily, the patient could be made into a virtual slave to the voodoo shaman, sometimes (as in the case in the book) for years at a time.

The film takes the premise of the book, but expands it with some pretty interesting horror twists and turns. The anthropologist Dr. Allen (Bill Pullman) is investigating hypnotic medicines used by tribes deep in the Amazon rain forest, when a local shaman concocts a bad trip, religious awe entheogen for the professor, who then proceeds to have a vision revealing his totem as the jaguar and presaging his future difficulties with the dead in Haiti. He awakens to find no one around, except for the corpse of his guide that is. “I could feel the darkness and cold closing in one me.”

After a 200 mile trek to a local airport, he makes it home only to have a friend send him on an assignment to Haiti. It seems a man who was buried seven years earlier somehow turned up at a clinic last week. They think that the voodoo zombie drug reportedly used on him is some form of advanced general aesthetic and want to procure it for the American BioCorp company.

The film’s opening scrawl lends an interesting key to the film: “In the legends of voodoo the Serpent is a symbol of Earth. the rainbow is a symbol of Heaven. Between the two, all creatures must live and die. But because he has a soul man can be trapped in a terrible place where death is only the beginning.” Although a perfect quote to mine for philosophical, and especially metaphysical, subtexts, the film is pretty restrained intellectually. Rather than dealing with these themes cerebrally, it approaches them through dream and parallel. The Serpent appears twice in a beautiful dream sequence in a forest lit by candles. It bites Dr. Allen as he lie there prone and later it attacks again from the mouth of a dead voodoo priestess. I’m not sure if it symbolizes anything in the film as such, however. The rainbow appears briefly toward the end of the film when Dr. Allen destroys the jars that hold the souls of the zombies trapped by the local voodoo police chief, symbolizing their escape from the “terrible place where death is only the beginning” and their move onward to Heaven.

Dr. Allen himself succumbs to the corrupt police chief’s voodoo magic and becomes a zombie for a brief time. All his dreams of being buried alive by the man come true, but he is saved by the very man he came to Haiti to find in the first place: the man who was reported dead and turned up at the clinic. The first scenes when these two men meet reminded me immediately of the first zombie scene in Jacques Tourneur’s 1943 Val Lewton RKO picture “I Walked With A Zombie.”  Except this time, instead of an emotionless zombie without the power of speech, the zombie Dr. Allen encounters can speak, but is a deeply tormented soul who is rarely straightforward, uses cryptic manners of speaking and is fixated on the night that they buried him alive as he watched, unable to move his body (mirroring the fears of Ray Milland’s character in Premature Burial).

For any fan of horror, there is sufficient red meat here as zombies roam the country, people are possessed by voodoo shamans, people are buried alive, there are dreams of corpses coming alive and of our protagonist drowning in blood, decapitations and executions, and supernatural elements galore. For the action fan, there is political intrigue and violent revolt in the streets, gunfire and torture. Hell, a very sensitive part of Dr. Allen’s anatomy is even nailed to a chair in one scene. There’s a pretty steamy sex scene in the film too.

All in all, while this film doesn’t really meet the atmospheric greatness of the films of Jack Clayton or Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and isn’t as heady as Dario Argento or Mario Bava, as political-social-real as Cannibal Holocaust or The Blair Witch Project, or as bloody as Tobe Hooper films, it has some great scenes with real beauty, explores some interesting themes and images in an above-average manner, fuses the political film with the horror film, and excites the imagination less with buckets of blood and more by leaving it to the viewer. I enjoyed the film and would highly recommend it to anyone ho is still among the uninitiated, as I was until a few short hours ago.

 

Cody Ward

[Next up: Jeepers Creepers!]

No Questions Please (Digimon Adventure Episode 24)

(If you missed it, check out No. 23 HERE. To go back to the beginning of this blog series click HERE)

Tai, Joe, Matt, and T.K. are all back together and out searching for their other three Digidestined friends. Meanwhile, Izzy and Tentomon have been keeping themselves busy tracking down Gennai. It’s been over two months since their search for the continent of Server and Gennai began and now things seem to be coming to a head in the search, when DemiDevimon once again presents bulwarks to their progress. This time he sets up a series of wooden road signs warning of impending danger along various trails in the forms of falling sludge from the mountainside, a bottomless sludge pit, and “attack sludge”, whatever the heck that is. Of course these signs are over the top and meant to be humorous, but Izzy and Tentomon fall for them hook, line, and sinker and are soon right on top of DemiDevimon’s trapdoor.

The door is activated and they fall through into an odd seemingly endless space. A voice speaks to them in the midst of their cosmic space and offers his help if Izzy will relinquish his curiosity to him. Izzy protests, but eventually relents, as going splat from a fall like that would be far less preferable to some odd request to free his mind of curiosity and questioning. Then things get weirder.

Izzy and Tentomon find themselves in a micro-universe chamber, floating around. Vademon, a Mars Attacks-like alien with tendrils and a large external brain and ray gun welcomes them to his universe. His image is framed yogically as a teacher of eastern mystic religions. He is floating in space and advises Izzy that to become one with the universe he must stop thinking. If he thinks less, he will be happier. Then, in a powerful moment he relates a central theme of the darkness at the heart of Digimon Adventure’s core: “Indifference is the key to success.”

In this essay series, I’ve often made the point that Digimon Adventure is an answer to the postmodern condition shared by so many in our modern world. Sometimes the series makes this blatantly obvious with screenwriter nods to versatility in post-structuralist theories (like in Andromon’s factory) and elsewhere through the use of crests (Sincerity, Friendship, Courage) with names of quaint emotions and values that figures like David Foster Wallace believed could fight back against the emotionally devastating and ultimately true anti-foundationalisms of postmodernism. In this episode, we find that the blatant evil and darkness of the Digidestined’s antagonists is replaced by a softer evil in the form of eastern mysticism, which has aligned itself pretty thoroughly with many of the anti-foundationalisms of postmodernity. His advice to Izzy is to end his curiosity because it is not only a dead end intellectually (the more his curiosity grows, the more foundationalisms he must destroy for himself until he falls into the pit of nihilism), but also leads to unhappiness in the forms of malaise and aporia and existential dread at the vacuity of meaningful foundations and interactions in the world.

Vademon, with his yogic mannerisms of speech and posture, his vaguely Indian name (derived from the Vedas?), and his other-worldly appearance is ultimately unconnected to the Dark Lords who would corrupt and bring pain through their nihilism. Instead, he just deals with Dark Lords and attempts to bring happiness through nirvana, or the snuffing out into non-existence, to his prey by encouraging them to drop out and become like a drop of water into the ocean of all existence. To cease being entirely.

DemiDevimon arrives later and attempts to buy Izzy’s tag and crest from Vademon, but it turns out that DemiDevimon has nothing to offer in exchange (his own curiosity is too feeble and simple to even manifest in a physical bubble as Izzy’s has). They begin to fight over the tag and crest. All the while, Tentomon has seen his friend reduced to a vegetative state. He loses his energy as his Digidestined partner loses resolve, trust, and himself in the artificial cosmos of Vademon’s lair. Tentomon de-Digivolves into Motimon and then into Pabumon, and nearly returns back into the nothingness from which he was originally thrown into this world. Izzy awakens to reality at the last moment and saves his Digimon partner from the void of nonexistence in the brink of time.

The two then escape the room and steal back the tag and crest. Pabumon digivolves all the way back to Tentomon and then into Kabuterimon to fight Vademon, but is bludgeoned by meteors and asteroids in Vademon’s cosmos. Nearly defeated and Izzy now in mortal peril, the Digivice and Tag activate and Kabuterimon becomes MegaKabuterimon, blasts through the space debris, and then through an entire planet with his Horn Blaster attack. The Hey Digimon theme rings out as the two claim another win for the Digidestined team’s values of trust and friendship in the face of inscrutable, deeply-unsettling evil.

Now, Izzy and Motimon (all Digimon revert to their in-training forms after an ultimate level Digivolution) meet up with Matt and T.K., while DemiDevimon takes the punishment doled out by his master, Myotismon, for once again failing to perform his duties. Gennai appears and gives the team new information in the way of a Digimon file full of information on Izzy’s laptop (call it a DigiDex). This time the allure of evil was stronger than any other time before. Will the Digidestined be able to fight against what Nietzsche called our inevitable embrace of nihilism? Or is their fight the beginning of that move beyond nihilism he also predicted oh so long ago?

 

Yours Troubled,

The Digidestined Cody

[This series continued HERE]

WereGarurumon’s Diner (Digimon Adventure Episode 23)

(Check out part 22 HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

So what happened to Matt and Gabumon last episode? Why didn’t they return to T.K. and Tokomon at the desert amusement park within the few hours they promised? What could possibly explain Matt abandoning his brother for a full week?

Matt and Gabumon are looking over the surrounding area from the swan boat they commandeered at the amusement park. They see Monzaemon, Frigimon, and Kokatorimon walking toward along and decide to follow. The Digimon go into a building that turns out to be a restaurant run by Vegiemon. Joe and Gomamon are inexplicably working as cooks and busboys in the restaurant. It turns out that the two found the place and ordered a lot of food but were unable to pay for it (they only had real-world money). Vegiemon and his evil friend Digitamamon (who we know is evil because of his Peter Lorre voice. That and he’s an egg with creepy eyes peering out of the darkness of a huge crack across his front) forced them to work for the food, but Joe is a clutz and keeps breaking plates and ruining food by cooking badly, so his bill keeps rising and one day of work turned into six weeks.

Matt and Gabumon offer to help Joe work off his debts once they go get T.K. and bring him back with them. However, their trip is cut short as Digitamamon threatens to bring harm to Joe and Gomamon while they are gone. Long story short, Matt and Gabumon stay and try to help work off the bill and free Joe and Gomamon from indentured servitude, Joe continues to make mistakes that keep them there for much longer than necessary, DemiDevimon convinces Matt that Joe is making mistakes on purpose so that Matt won’t leave him behind, and then Tai and T.K. show up and reveal DemiDevimon for the evil Digimon he is.

The brothers are reunited and four of the seven Digidestined are once again together with Sora not far behind. She and Biyomon have been following the other Digidestined and helping them circumvent the trickery of DemiDevimon (as in last episode when they warned Agumon of the mushrooms of forgetfulness, and earlier in this episode when they prevented DemiDevimon from causing more trouble for Joe).

Before the Digidestined can leave Vegiemon’s restaurant, however, they must get through the Ultimate-level Digimon Digitamamon. His Nightmare Syndrome attack creates a void that sucks in good Digimon and weakens them. Vegimon captures T.K. with his vines and threatens to harm him if the Digimon continue fighting back and trying to to escape the restaurant. Joe shows a bit of bravery and frees T.K., all the while getting himself caught in Vegiemon’s vicegrip. Ikkakumon and Garurumon free him momentarily, but seem beaten moments later by Digitamamon. All of a sudden, Matt’s Crest of Friendship begins to glow and he realizes that he can no longer be the loner he has always tried to be. He understands finally that his role is as one of the Digidestined team: “together we’re strong and we can beat anything.” In one of the most nostalgic scenes of the series, the “Hey Digimon” theme queues up and Garurumon Digivolves into the anthropomorphic WereGarurumon and defeats Digitamamon, Vegiemon flees, and the gang celebrates their victory over the forces of evil who would deter them from fulfilling their destinies and saving the Digital World and their own real world back home.

At the end of the battle, WereGarurumon de-digivolves to his in-training form Tsunemon, which corroborates my observation earlier that Ultimate levels consume so much energy they must revert back to a pre-Rookie level after battling. We see DemiDevimon being punished again for failing to hold back the Digidestined from regrouping. This time his master, Myotismon is named, but we still don’t get a clear image of what he looks like. finally, the team is halfway assembled and again off on their adventures to save the Digital World. This time with the power of Ultimate level Digimon in tow, a little more resolve and acceptance of their roles as Digidestined, and closer bonds between one another and their Digimon partners.

 

Smell ya later,

The Digidestined Cody

[Up next MegaKabuterimon!]

Forget About It (Digimon Adventure Episode 22)

(Episode 21 HERE. The beginning of this series HERE)

Tai and MetalGreymon defeated DarkEtemon with the power of the tags and crests and through their newfound and hardwon lack of fear in the face of potential failure. The energy produced by the virus-infested dark core at Etemon’s center was destroyed and created a space-time continuum that sucked in Tai and MetalGreymon, who ended up back in the real world.

There they remained for a few hours, Tai’s little sister Kari was revealed to potentially be a Digidestined, the effects of chaos in the Digital World were shown to have effects in the real world, and we as viewers got to experience some really beautiful dramatic scenes action sequences from anime auteur Mamoru Hosada. Now, Tai and Agumon have returned to the Digital World.

The two find Tokomon alone with T.K.’s crest, tag, and Digivice. He explains that while Tai, the de facto leader of the Digidestined was missing (for mere hours in the real world, but more than a week in its Digital analogue), the group began to splinter. Each person had different ideas about what to do in his absence. Sora and Biyomon hurried off in the night to find Tai and Agumon on their own. Later, the group thought they could cover more ground by splitting up. So they did. Only Matt and Gabumon and T.K. and Tokomon were together, which is fitting as the two Digidestined are brothers, and T.K. is still quite young and could use his brother’s presence and protection.

Just as the Digidestined could not Digivolve their Digimon to the Ultimate level until they all had found their tags and crests and could sync their powers together, it seems without one of their members around (Tai), they are unable to work together as a team. Eventually, even the ties between the brothers, Matt and T.K., would seem to dissolve as Matt left his little brother at an inexplicable amusement park in the desert. He said he would only be gone for a short while, but ended up disappearing for almost a week. DemiDevimon, a (formerly?) evil Digimon who worked for Etemon, found Tokomon and T.K. and pledged his aid, said he had found Matt and lied that Matt didn’t want to come back to T.K. DemiDevimon claimed that Matt said T.K. was a crybaby and that he didn’t want to look after him any longer.

T.K. has been unable to be of any real help to the team since Angemon defeated Devimon, and then turned into a Digiegg. Since the egg hatched, his Digimon hasn’t been able to Digivolve past the in-training form of Tokomon, and therefore, has been unable to fight off any other Digimon to help the others. In one episode, T.K. and Tokomon simply hide under a blanket in the desert while his friends do all the heavy lifting in the fight against Etemon. Earlier, before the Devimon battle, Patamon was unable to Digivolve and help out the group. To add further insult to injury, T.K. is the youngest of the group and has the least autonomy. Everyone babies him and has to protect him, while he has only proven useful on one occasion (albeit a very important one). He feels inadequate. This is why he believes DemiDevimon spoke with his brother and reported his words faithfully. Because deep down he thinks that Matt is upset with him (and what else could explain his brother not coming back in the few hours time he originally claimed he would? Where has he been in the past week?)

The rest of the episode is a narrative of shifting trusts. Tokomon doesn’t trust DemiDevimon and attacks him to make him tell the truth. T.K. catches Tokomon strong-arming DemiDevimon and chides Tokomon, asking him to apologize for his actions. Tokomon refuse, T.K. goes off with DemiDevimon who tries to corrupt him further (again, like with Devimon, the forces of darkness are targeting the youngest Digidestined who was prophesied to deal the most damage to the Dark Lords and their plans), Tai and Agumon join with Tokomon and find the other two, DemiDevimon tried to feed them poisoned mushrooms of forgetfulness (and in a wonderful vignette we see two disaffected Gazimon, one-time followers of Etemon, tripping on out these mushrooms), Sora- who is hiding behind a tree inscrutably watching the events unfold- warns Agumon about the mushrooms, and Agumon convinces the others of DemiDevimon’s trickery. T.K’s crest glows for the first time and Tokomon finally Digivolves into Patamon (it took only 13 episodes!) and defeats DemiDevimon (who is later chastised by a creature who appears from the dark blood-red sky).

Once again, the forces of evil that pervert trust and friendship with the power of their moral void are thwarted by the sincerity of emotion held by the Digidestined. True friendship prevails and T.K. and Patamon regain their confidence and feelings of self-worth through their trials. After many episodes with a creature of the week or an intense focus on the fears and anxieties of Tai and Agumon, we finally come back around to T.K. and Tokomon’s character developments and are back on track in the third arc: Crest retrieval and Ultimate-level Digimons.

 

Ciao,

The Digidestined Cody

[Next up WereGarurumon’s Diner!]

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