Monday, January 31, 2011

Epic Fail: A Review of Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash: The Nightmare Warriors

Franchise crossovers are tricky things. They can be a blast when characters from different narrative universes meet in a single setting and share an adventure, or beat the crap out of each other, or beat the crap out of each other and then share an adventure. This stuff isn't high art; it's more of a treat for franchise fans than anything else, which is good news if you're a franchise fan.

However, even fan-friendly stuff like crossovers still have to obey a few rules to be enjoyable stories and not just meandering, clueless cash-ins of popular franchise brand names. For starters, it helps to provide some kind of balance between the franchises that appear in the story, so that both sides have some kind of direct involvement in the story. There's a big difference between a crossover and a guest appearance: Fans of a particular franchise in a crossover will feel cheated if their side doesn't get enough time in the spotlight, and it won't help the crossover narrative achieve a sense of tonal and plot consistency if certain elements just seem forced into the story with little sense of explanation or continuity.

To ensure that narrative balance is achieved, the franchises within the crossover should share some kind of thematic commonality. Dark Horse's original Aliens vs. Predator comic book miniseries worked well because both franchises dealt with killer extraterrestrials, so it didn't require much narrative acrobatics to explain what these two monsters were doing together in the same story. (In contrast, one of the more frustrating aspects of the Alien vs. Predator movie was the "ancient astronaut" subplot that took up so much time but didn't add much to the story, except to provide a convoluted excuse as to why the movie takes place in the arctic.) The same applies to Robocop vs. Terminator: Both franchises revolve around technology that has run amok, so it doesn't take much effort to put them together in the same setting. On the other hand, when two franchises that have nothing in common are forced together into the same story, the results can be ugly. Case in point: The DC Universe/Looney Tunes comic book crossover, two franchises that share no commonality other than that Warner Brothers owns both of them.

This brings me to the focus of this post, my review of Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash: The Nightmare Warriors. Nightmare Warriors is billed as third part of the Freddy vs. Jason "trilogy", with the first two parts being the Freddy vs. Jason movie and the Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash comic book miniseries. Read on for my review of Nightmare Warriors, which includes a brief look back at its two predecessors.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Coming this Weekend: After Dark Horrorfest 5

I'm usually able to say ahead of things when it comes to upcoming horror film releases, but this one really blindsided me: In select theaters this upcoming weekend, After Dark Horrorfest 5 will be showing eight never-before-seen horror films.

I'm used to hearing about After Dark Horrorfests happening in October, so to have one happening in January is a bit surprising. Even though After Dark has showcased horror films with a wide degree of quality over the years, it nevertheless has found some great films that probably would never have been on the big screen any other way. Previous entries that are definitely worth a second look include The Abandoned and The Broken; from this year's selections, Husk looks to be very promising.

Check out the After Dark Horrorfest site and Facebook page for more details about this weekend's event and which theaters will be participating. Beyond Hollywood also has some information about this year's selection of films, including a few of their trailers.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Building a Better Space Invader: War Of The Worlds Alien Creature Model Kit by Pegasus Hobbies

I just noticed this the other day: Pegasus Hobbies has recently released an alien creature model kit based on the invaders from the 2005 version of War of the Worlds.

While model kits of the alien invaders and the manta ray-like war machines from the 1953 version of War of the Worlds are in no short supply, this is the first model kit I've seen that's based on something from Steven Spielberg's version of the classic H.G. Wells' novel. This highly detailed kit comes with a logo display base and an alternate neck for posing options, and Monsters in Motion currently has it on sale for a pretty low price. Now all we need is for Pegasus Hobbies to release a model kit of the jellyfish-like, ethereal tripods from the same movie, and we'll have a complete set ready to terrorize Tom Cruise all over again.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Killer Machines Love Killing People, But REAL Killer Machines Love Ducati Motorcycles (and Killing People)

A bit of sci-fi film trivia: What do The Matrix, Terminator and Tron franchises have in common, other than human-hating A.I. programs that run wildly amok? Ducati motorcycles, apparently.

Ducati has been making its rounds in Hollywood's product placement division, but for some reason it has become a recurring feature in movies that feature homicidal computers and their legions of deadly mechanical minions. Here's a brief timeline of Ducati's relationship with our future machine overlords:
  • In Matrix Reloaded (2003), Trinity rode a dark green 2001 Ducati 996 during the freeway chase scene. A 998 version of this bike was sold at dealerships starting in 2003 as part of a Matrix promotional tie-in.
  • In Terminator Salvation (2009), the filmmakers used Ducati’s popular Hypermotard 1100 as inspiration for the design of Skynet's Moto-Terminator units (see below). Actual Hypermotard bikes were also used for stunt scenes in the film. The Ducati bikes were a new addition this franchise's long list of motorcycles used by both human and cyborg characters.


  • In Tron Legacy (2010), both Kevin Flynn and his son Sam are avid Ducati fans, and Sam's proficiency with riding his Ducati bike plays a key role in his success in the deadly Light Cycle games in the virtual world of The Grid.
I guess the moral of the story here is that killer machines really do love Italian motorcycles, and are inclined to stalk and kill humans who can ride them like champions. However, there's no word so far on whether Borgs, Cybermen, Cylons or Daleks will be purchasing Ducati bikes anytime soon.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Victoria F. Gaitán and Leslie Nolan: Different Shades of Fear

While many kinds of narrative and visual art are grouped together into the genre of horror, fear comes in many different forms. Some horror is very explicit, shocking the audience with unrelenting, unpredictable bursts of violence and gore. Other horror takes a more subtle approach, getting under the skin through repeated suggestions, unexplained events, and pervasive atmospheres of dread and uncertainty. Covering both ends of this sinister spectrum are photographer Victoria F. Gaitán and painter Leslie Nolan, both of whom have exhibits that are currently on display in the Washington DC area.

Gaitán's still life photos are on display at the Artisphere in Arlington, VA in an exhibit entitled "Sweet-Meat Cherry-Whip Flip". In terms of horror, Gaitán's work is of a more shocking, overtly visceral nature. According to the Artisphere, "Victoria F. Gaitán's photographic series of flesh-and-blood still lifes visualize human subjects as meat puppets. The images are calling cards from the artist's explorations of internal worlds, illness, in-between states, shared delusions and hells, stillness, memory, interpretations of pain, private and public intimacies, trauma, beauty and conditioned responses." While Gaitán's photos (as seen in the example above) at first seem like snapshots of zombies running amok at the Food Network, her overall work is somewhat suggestive of the subgenre of "body horror", echoing the themes and visuals of David Cronenberg and Frank Henenlotter--albeit with food, not blood and guts. Gaitán will be at the Artisphere to discuss her work on February 25, and the "Sweet-Meat Cherry-Whip Flip" exhibit will be on display until March 12.

In contrast to Gaitán is Nolan's paintings at the Touchstone Gallery in Washington DC in an exhibit entitled "Off-Kilter". Unlike Gaitán's explicit visual approach, Nolan is all about mood. According to the Touchstone Gallery, "Leslie Nolan's color drenched figurative paintings capture the uncertainties of our world. ... There is nothing tentative about these paintings: Nolan's bold brush strokes and vivid colors create a blur between the real and the imagined, resulting in an impression of physical solidity threatened by emotional disintegration. These strong works convey a sense of society on the edge." Nolan's subtext of uncertainty and alienation (as seen in the example above) is similar to that found in the more symbolic, visually abstract films in the horror genre, such as Dark City and The Broken. It is also evocative of some of Edward Hooper's work, although with a much, much greater degree of expressionism. The "Off-Kilter" exhibit will be on display until January 30.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Look At 1978 Reimagined: The Mego That Might Have Been

Of the many hobbies that fantasy, horror and sci-fi fans adopt to show their undying appreciation of the franchises that they love, action figure customization is one that has always intrigued me. In the best examples, customized action figures display a level of craftsmanship and devotion that sometimes leave official franchise-licensed merchandise in the dust. I've seen many examples of customized action figures, and I've noticed that one kind of figure is especially custom-made for customization: the 8-inch Mego action figure.

Even though Mego has been defunct for decades (the company shut down in 1983), its fan base is thriving--and with good reason. Mego took a basic, cost-effective toy production model--namely, a limited number of body types accompanied by a variety of head sculpts, costumes and accessories--and took it into the areas of fantasy, horror and sci-fi with licenses that included Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, and DC and Marvel superheroes. Mego made figures of other sizes but with such a simple method of production for their 8-inch figures, fans in the years since Mego's halcyon days have been able to build a wide variety of their own customized action figures by creating unique head sculpts and costumes and then applying them to Mego's highly poseable 8-inch bodies. Along these lines is the 1978 Reimagined, a 16 page "fantasy catalog" by Mego Museum. Read on ...

Friday, January 7, 2011

The X-Files Before The X-Files

It's a long-standing tradition within the entertainment industry that when something is a hit--be it a novel, a TV show, or a movie--it should be ripped off repeatedly until it no longer generates a profit. In this post, I'm talking about The X-Files, which was a surprise sci-fi/horror hit for the Fox network back in the 90s. Shortly after it proved to be consistently popular, the other networks (and even Fox itself) tried to ride The X-Files wave of popularity by airing similar shows, shows such as Dark Skies, Prey, Mysterious Ways, Freaky Links, and Special Unit 2.

When asked about where he got his inspiration for The X-Files, show creator Chris Carter would often cite Kolchak: The Night Stalker, which aired on ABC during the 1974-75 season, as his show's direct spiritual predecessor. However, there were quite a few shows that pre-date The X-Files' premiere in 1993 that could have also served as its inspiration (and probably did). These shows featured a duo of some kind--male and female, or believer and skeptic, or both--and their adventures as they explore the strange, the scary and the supernatural on a weekly basis. Read on to learn more about five of these shows, listed according to the number of episodes produced (from lowest number to highest).

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Remarkable Return of Primeval

I was flipping through the channels the other day when I made a discovery of great archeological significance: Starting this month, the fourth season of Primeval will hit the airwaves.

For those of you who have no idea what Primeval is, it's one of the best "monster of the week" horror/sci-fi TV shows I've ever seen. While many other sci-fi/horror shows do whatever they can to avoid being classified as "monster of the week" shows, Primeval takes the idea and proudly runs with it. Since a fourth season of Primeval was left up in the air after the third season's cliffhanger finale, it's great to see this show back on its (clawed) feet.

Primeval's overarching premise is simple. A series of unexplainable "anomalies", which are wormhole-like portals to our distant past, start appearing randomly all over Great Britain. Various prehistoric creatures emerge from these portals (mostly dinosaurs, but there have been others) and a combined team of prehistoric experts and military personnel are regularly dispatched to either return the creatures to the portals and their eras of origin or--if a portal closes before this happens--find some way to contain the creatures. As the series progressed, the team learned more about the anomalies, some of which also act as portals to Earth's distant post-human future and the frightening, deadly creatures from that mysterious era.

One of the biggest challenges behind "monster of the week" shows is maintaining a special effects budget to keep the monsters interesting. If you go back to early shows of this type such as the original Kolchak: The Night Stalker, "monster of the week" often meant "man in fake-looking monster costume of the week"--ergo, the stigma associated with the "monster of the week" label. Thankfully, Primeval has maintained a pretty impressive level of quality creature effects work during its first three seasons (Land of the Lost this isn't), and the fourth season looks to continue that standard.

I could say plenty more about Primeval, such as its large cast of characters and subplots, but it's best to see it for yourself--if you love TV shows about monsters, you'll be impressed. Catch up with the first three seasons of Primeval, each of which are available on DVD, and then watch the new episodes on BBC America.

Monday, January 3, 2011

NECA Alien vs. Predator 2011 Exclusive

It's a brand new year, and what better way to celebrate it than by picking up the lastest two pack of Alien vs. Predator figures from NECA?

This exclusive set is scheduled to arrive in Toys R' Us stores this month. It consists of two figures that were previously released by NECA: the movie-accurate sculpts of the creatures from the first Alien and Predator films. This set is the first time that these two NECA figures can be purchased together, three years after the release of the last big screen AvP monster mash, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem.

If you think that this two pack looks like a slimmed-down version of the deluxe two figure box set that McFarlane Toys released back in 2002, you are right. However, what this NECA set lacks in extra accessories (namely, a sculpted base consisting of glowing Alien eggs with removable facehuggers for the McFarlane figures), it more than makes up for in other areas. Both figures have more points of articulation and are more detailed than the McFarlane figures. Furthermore, this set comes with a highly-detailed Alien skull (as seen in the trophy case in Predator 2) and a likewise highly-detailed Predator skull (as seen in Predators). Click here to order your set today!