Happy Halloween 2014

Today is Halloween. Tomorrow is NaNoWriMo.

I’ve been bad this year. I came in with a huge list of stuff I wanted to do for my New Years Resolution, and very little of it was actually finished. I’ve invested in other pursuits, most relating to writing, but not the path I set for myself.

I won’t beat myself up for this. I refuse to. Opportunities came up that didn’t exist in 2013. I wrote and wrote and haven’t been able to reward myself the same way one can with short stories. More than anything, I want to finish up these longer stories and get back to writing shorts for a while.

So, on that note. While I will not be committing to NaNoWriMo, I will be stealing its thunder and trying to do 1,000 words a day. An easy pace that shuts down a chapter every 3 to 5 days and puts me on the fast track to wrapping this up. I don’t like to feel rushed, but I cannot commit to any new assignments until it’s finished.

Happy Halloween folks!

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Halloween Movie Reviews: “Evil Dead”

A different kind of voyeur...

A different kind of voyeur…

While the movies I saw the previous nights were more psychological in nature, Evil Dead veered towards the gore and bodily horror that has been absent from my recently-seen for far too long.

The movie opens with a vignette suggestive of a typical horror movie. A scared girl is running, and is cornered by what at first looks like “backwater hicks”.

Taken to a cabin, she is tied up and immolated… by none other than her father. In a snap, the seemingly innocent girl is revealed to be the real terror, demonically possessed and a murderer of her own mother. An intriguing revelation that reverses the assumed cliché.

Some time later, the stage is set for trouble again. Five teenagers go to the same cabin, oblivious to its past. But rather than be out for cheap thrills and sex, they’re there to help a friend, Mia (Jane Levy), go cold turkey and beat her heroin addiction. This is a strong hook that both creates denial of the real nature of the problem, and creates incentive to protect her even as she becomes the host of all their fears.

I particularly admire the game the demon plays. Sometimes, it gives control back to its host for one of two reasons. Either to trick others into giving the demon what it wants, or truly for no other reason than to cause anguish. There’s a fear that the relinquished control might suddenly be snatched up again. But when it isn’t, you recognize that the demon just wanted to let the characters see their loved ones die. It’s insidiously twisted.

Perhaps the best thing I can say about Evil Dead is that, with one minor exception, every character seems to have passed Horror Movie Survival 101. That exception was, “Never read demonic scripture aloud” but that can be forgiven by anyone with the right mix of scientific doubt and curiosity, and was necessary to kick off the movie.

Given the circumstances and events, the characters almost always seemed to make the right choice or call, only to be thwarted by the demon’s powers. Every avenue that is the correct one is cut off. You rarely find yourself saying, “Don’t do that…” in that been-there-seen-that tone that comes from watching too many horror flicks.

Demons have a way of making the right decisions go poorly. They’re just more advanced than your average slasher.

However, I hope you’re comfortable with blood and gore. Evil Dead winces rather than winks when it comes to violence. I admire that CGI has been used as a touch up rather than as the source of the special effects. But just as with any normal slasher flick, the movie leaves nothing to the imagination.

In terms of horror continuity, Evil Dead holds itself in a strange position. It’s not of itself a sequel to The Evil Dead. But rather is something that one might call a “blessed reboot” much like how the new Star Trek found a clever way to simultaneously both reboot the series and tie into it.

And Evil Dead was blessed indeed. Although directed by Fede Alvarez, it was produced by Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi. Campbell even added a tiny Easter egg after the credits. Talk is that both the creators of Evil Dead and Army of Darkness are hard at work on sequels, and rumor has it that there’s talk of merging the two movie story lines into one. Hey, if Freddy and Jason can do it…

Why Dead Space 3 is an Important Question

I write horror. So do hundreds to thousands of other people out there. And serializing horror is not something that has ever been done particularly well. For that reason, Dead Space 3 is something anyone who takes their craft seriously should keep an eye on.

It’s certainly been tried so, so many times. Friday the 13th, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Resident Evil, Silent Hill. Each of these movies and game series have their hey day and begin to fade, their sequels becoming derivative. A recent interview over on IGN certainly suggests that the artists and designers at EA and Visceral Games are doing their best not to let the horror element get away from them.

Now, I certainly don’t feel any need to defend EA or the game. I am looking forward to it, but that’s not to say I cannot be disappointed. It might be, as many other gamers worry, too much action and not enough scares. But I think that overall, based on a few things I’ve seen and heard, there are three things worth discussing and thinking about when it comes this trilogy’s ending.

So how do you keep horror fresh?

Extreme Venue Change

In the past two Dead Space Games, outdoors meant trying to find oxygen tanks and avoiding floating bodies, because you were in zero gravity space. While I certainly hope that there will be some actual moments spent in the void again, the frozen tundras of Tau Volantis have all kinds of possibilities too.

The open spaces make for an unusual set of circumstances. Before, we always had reason to fear the vents and the tight, claustrophobic tunnels and shafts. Which means that if the necromorphs (or whatever monster you are writing about) want their prey, they have to develop new, interesting ways to get close. Hunters always adapt or die, as is the law of the jungle. Camouflage? Tunneling beneath the snow? Masquerading as a snow mound? All possible. Even probable.

But here’s an idea. What if you had to trudge through a snow storm and you see a human looking figure ahead of you. (I know of at least one monster type that is already doing this.) Crazy thing is, your mission is to rescue survivors. And let’s say you can hurt or even fail your mission if you shot them just to be sure.

Which means you have to get close to confirm. Kind of like The Thing. A real moral dilemma.

Admit it. It would freak you out as you have to guess. The question alone causes hesitation.

Someone Else’s Madness

"There is no John Carver, fleshling! It is I, Megatron!"

“There is no John Carver, fleshling! It is I, Megatron!”

John Carver. We don’t know crap about him. Except that one, he’s a soldier. Two, he’s starting to hallucinate. Badly. And three… you’re stuck with him. Now if these ingredients aren’t a recipe for disaster, I don’t know what is.

That first point is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on the second point. What if the game designers decided to really play with your mind, and player one looks like a necromorph on the screen from a hallucination? And friendly fire hurts?

Yeah. I’d be furious myself. You got necromorphs, the environment and unitologists trying to kill me. And now I got to deal with a rampaging player who is freaking out? No wonder they didn’t want split screen co-op. And I couldn’t really blame the other player. When I see a necromorph, my first instinct is to blast away too.

Oh yeah, nothing adds scare like desperation. Survival horror, not just horror. How are you two going to divvy up the ammo and credits? The last thing I need is to find out my partner is an ammo hog and a really bad shot…

The Still Unknown

One large and very disturbing fact is that no one knows what or where the marker actually comes from. There are theories and ideas, but the only thing that seems to stick is that it’s alien. But obviously, there must be a marker on Tau Volantis for there to be necromorphs. Possibly even the original, the black marker. The Dead Space 3 trailer suggests as much, but it could be something else.

It would be strange at this point not to use the marker to open up a larger possibility. Maybe humans and necromorphs won’t be the only foes Carver and Clarke face. Maybe there’s one more thing somewhere down there. One more faction to the already expanded list, that wants its property back. As Dead Space has proven over the last two games, what you don’t know can and will kill you.

Imagine something comes after you. Something that is not remotely human, its skin is smooth. Its features more animal like terror. There is no rot, no gore, the blood it spills is different in color. It might even sound like it’s saying something. You manage to kill it. And Clarke examines the body.

And admits it does not even look like a necromorph.

… guess we’ll find out on February 5th.

Horrible

So far, this week has started very poorly.

My last post mentioned a failed alternator in my car. That was fixed and the issue resolved. Car ran fine and I drove the 3 hours home.

I decided to go into work for an hour. But 270 was clogged. I changed my mind and got off the nearest exit when I got into an accident.

No one was hurt, thankfully. But the car is having problems. I returned it to the shop, just barely making it as the engine continued to shut down on me. I suspect the battery cables have been jarred and rain water was leaking in. With the trip to London coming up, it’s just more expenses. I owe the gent for the damage to his ride.

I think after this, I’ll be returning the car to my parent. Although I’ve enjoyed my time with the car, it has been a cause of considerable problems. It continues to break down and get fixed. It has eaten into my reading, the time I would otherwise spend finishing books on the metro (local train) is gone driving, even though the benefit has been less time traveling.

I’ve also cut back on expenses. I’ve started making lunch at home, cancelled Netflix and plotted my commute to be the least expensive. Hopefully, I can start to recover my savings, but this has been a very harsh Monday.

I’ve decided as well to cancel my Bane costume for Halloween. Although inexpensive to design, I do not think I’ll have that much time to finish the mask. Also, my designs to shave my head are weakened by the fact that one, it would be a strange impression to leave on the people I plan to meet in London. And two, it will be colder there, not ideal for a guy who would be bald for a while.

Instead, I’ll just sew the buttons on the black leather jacket and go as the Punisher again. Not ideal, but at least it’s something.

Hopefully tomorrow, all these problems will be handled. Until then, it’s back to writing and working. Here’s hoping the rest of the month goes alright…

Hacking Away At It

There are only three days left in the month of September, and after that only three months left in the year. Fortunately, I always find the winter months to be the most fun. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Two of these are often spent with friends, the others with family. Oh, and my birthday fits somewhere in there.

But as we reach this part of the year, there tends to be a large rush to complete several projects. The anthology’s due date is supposed to be around (preferably before) Halloween. That’s a difficult time, as although all the first drafts are turned in and edited, we still have to wait for the final ones to be returned, the legal agreements to be signed, then putting together the book and getting it on sale.

And on top of that, I’ve got to get my costume(s) together for Halloween. Uggggh, the work never ends.

I just realized I have until this weekend to finish a story for Cruentus Libri. Ugh, with little more than two weeks to finish my own piece for my anthology, I think I’ll have to take a day off of work.

Expect some big news next month folks.

Movies to Study (For Budget to Special Effects)

So I’ve started putting together a list of movies with two criteria. One, the movie must have special effects and great settings, preferably in a fantasy setting. And two, the budget on the movie must be cheap. I would drag out these movies and watch the “making of” to gather ideas and some know-how. Although there are other movies I’d want to pull my inspirations from, these movies are crucial to look at from a financial light.

Because the new one was not as amazing...

Because the new one was not as amazing…

Here is the list thus far, not adjusted for inflation.
Conan the Barbarian: $20,000,000.
Conan the Destroyer: $18,000,000 (est).
Following: $6,000 (est).
Rocky: $1,000,000.
Night of the Living Dead: $4,200,000.
Excalibur: $11,000,000.
The Blair Witch Project: $750,000 (max est).
Paranormal Activity: $15,000.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: $17,000,000.
Halloween: $320,000.
 
Of the movies listed, you maybe wondering about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the Conan movies. Compared to the average fan film makers budget, these price tags are still quite high. However, they are a degree of mentionable quality that can be achieved at a decent enough price.
 
Let’s discuss what each of the films brings to the table and why. The first thing of mention is that the horror films are among the cheapest. Halloween, The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity all have price tags well below a million.
 
Yet these horror movies bring a few mentionable qualities to them: TBWP brought strong use of the setting to it. Halloween manages its bloody special effects while Paranormal Activity uses a few clever illusions with their camera work. While Night of the Living Dead is critical for its application of makeup.
 
There are three that really stand out for different reasons.
 
The first is Following, one of Nolan’s earliest films. The Wikipedia article on it currently mentions that the most expensive aspect of the movie was the film that Nolan used, jacking up the price to approximately $6,000 which is a maximum estimate at best. I’ve yet to see this but it’s on my to do list.
 
Rocky is a critical reminder of the importance of an interesting, central character. A movie can be defined by only a strong central character, and frequently is. This means that a well design, well prepared and well acted main character can be a tremendous deciding factor if all else fails.
 
The last movie is Excalibur. While $11,000,000 is still high of a price tag, it was a movie filled with tremendous props and setting. Amazing costumes, splended settings and violent, glorious battles. And yet it maybe filled with more battles and bloodshed than even Conan the Barbarian and yet almost half the price.
 
Unfortunately, only the Conan movies are in my collection. I’ll have to rectify this…

Warhammer Movie Ideas

The old debate for a Warhammer movie felt put aside after the release of Ultramarines. The feeling I got was Games Workshop declaring, “We’re doing this only for the fans.”

It was not a gigantic attempt, like as a $50 million dollar summer blockbuster. A rumor over at DakkaDakka put the budget for it at around $14 million (£9 million). I gathered that it was not for those uninitiated into the 40k cult. But an idea had been boiling in my head to consider trying my hand at a fan made film someday.

But then I thought about Damnatus, the fan-made unofficial 40k movie that was… “unreleased” a few years back. Story goes that Damnatus was supposed to be a strictly fan made movie with respect to Games Workshop’s IP permissions. The problem came about when it was discovered that German IP laws would require that the movie and its content would belong to the creator of the movie. This loophole was cause enough for Games Workshop to deny permission for its release.

The ugly lesson learned is that time would have to be spent reviewing the differences between the IP laws of England and the United States before even attempting.

Putting aside the legal groundwork of such an endeavor, I began to think about a lot of the technical details to make a film possible. The first issue was choosing which of the two universes I would prefer, be it Warhammer 40,000 or Warhammer Fantasy.

Although there’s more excitement for 40k, I think that Fantasy would be easier to do overall. We can thank Tolkien for giving us a lot of the settings and concepts within WHF, although the Black Library has added its own ugly details, such as the politics and religions, various races both original and not. Still, I believe that the backstory would be easier to settle into over 40k.

Another reason for choosing WHF is the physical settings themselves. Both 40k and Fantasy call for urban settings and for backwater locations. Both Altdorf and any hive would be almost too much to reproduce on a limited budget, so an urban location is not preferable. And 40k often has the Imperial stamp over everything. Landing pads, the aquila, all the vehicles… it would be an awful lot to reproduce even if it takes place in a rural area.

I have recently started reading Brunner the Bounty Hunter, by C.L. Werner. As I ventured through the short stories, it quietly dawned on me that this would be good material to craft a movie from.

Not pictured: His marvelous singing voice.

Not pictured: His marvelous singing voice.

First, many of the stories started with some scholarly character who took down Brunner’s tales. This gives the director the option of using a narrator to fill in the details and explain any issues that may not be easily shown on the screen. These stories aren’t overwhelming with the details, and they are both faithful to the source material and easy to spoon feed to the uninitiated.

Second, Brunner’s tales thus far (I’m three and a half stories in), have taken place more on along the frontier than anywhere near Altdorf. Finding a place to shoot hills and forests would be much easier than constructing huge keeps and streets, especially on a fan’s budget.

Third is the fact that the tales don’t have to be made into a full length movie. The short stories could probably be made into 30 minutes-to-an-hour in length. This reduces the investment of time and money. Rather than banking too much , the success or failure of it can be recognized on a bite-sized piece of film craft.

Fourth is the fact that Brunner himself is such a powerful, interesting character.

Rather than a tiring origin story or extreme development, Brunner simply is. His motivation is clear. His appeal obvious. That steely action-hero glare just draws you in, regardless of whether you have any idea what Warhammer is.

But despite these points, there are hang ups and considerations for a short movie. Of the three stories I’ve finished thus far, two of them involve non-humans. Beastmen and a werewolf. How would I make such monsters on the screen?

It’s possible to try CGI if I know the right people, but I’ve never been terrible impressed by that sheen that appears on the surface of digitally made objects. Besides, it would be more interesting to come up with the right costumes and the right camera work to create beastmen. CGI has its place, but I want that place to be as minimal as possible.

Although the frontier setting would be much easier to recreate, there are still medieval/colonial settings that would have to be made. This is where being an American on the east coast pays off, as there are many historic locations that might work for this effort. Indeed, I feel the setting is more a matter of research and creativity than stage construction.

Another concern is the sheer number of props. Some of it can be alleviated by contacting a group of local LARPers (Live Action Role Players). These guys buy and craft weapons and armor for their sessions, sometimes looking quite authentic and dirty. I’m sure they’d jump at the chance to put together a movie.

That would solve many of the problems, but not all. Brunner, for example, would need a well made costume. His sallet and armor would have to be carefully made. He’s also a walking arsenal, frequently described as having multiple throwing knives, a falchion, crossbows, a knife for combat and beheading and black powder pistols. Rather than a single special or weapon, Brunner comes equipped for almost any situation.

Another concern are horses. While a horse farm would be willing to provide horses for a price, many scenes involve horses being spooker or involved in combat. And there is absolutely no way I’m going to risk the safety of amateur actors around a large, scared animal.

Which brings me to my final concern for the moment. Finding good actors. Brunner has an advantage in that his face is frequently hidden by his helmet. All I’d need is someone capable of portraying a general badass for a few hours, no heavy emotional scenes or points of incredible drama.

I think there’s a part of me that would want to try it myself, but being a main actor/director has always struck me as a somewhat vain pursuit. And besides, for a first effort I think it would be best to try just the directing. And everyone else? Well, it depends on the role and whether or not I can find people skilled enough to fill it.

I think this Halloween, I’ll keep my eye out for particularly talented costume makers. Who knows? It may solve at least one of these issues.