Posts Tagged ‘television shows’

At the beginning of American Horror Story‘s ambitious eighth season, Apocalypse, I said that the first episode was a dark and violent good start to the series, and I was looking forward to the next nine episodes. Well, last night was the season finale, and I just finished the episode a little while ago. So what did I think of Apocalypse as a whole?

I have a feeling that this season is going to be very divisive among a lot of fans, but overall most people, including myself, will walk away satisfied by it.

While the first two episodes follow a group of survivors when they come into contact with Antichrist Michael Langdon, the rest of the season switches to a new focus, one-half biopic of Michael’s life and how he became the instigator of a nuclear holocaust, the other half about the efforts by his enemies, most notably the witches of Coven, to stop him from ending the world. And while structurally this form of storytelling can be a little jarring, it’s very effective here. It’s hard to look away as you watch Langdon realize his destiny and as you watch the witches try to grapple with the monumental task of saving humanity. The best way to describe it may be hypnotic, which I’m sure both Langdon and the witches would be glad to hear, as well as cinematic.

As for the scares, most center around Michael and what he sets into motion once we get into the biopic section of the season. While I would’ve enjoyed seeing scares from more quarters, what I saw was absolutely beautiful. Seeing Michael being so evil is chilling. And speaking of Michael, his actor, Cody Fern, was phenomenal, at times menacing and then at others very emotional and vulnerable. I hope he comes back for Season 9 (more on that below). I also liked the character of Mallory and her actress Billie Lourd. You could see the toll of all the events on the character, and the love she felt for the people she cared about.

Cody Fern as Antichrist Michael Langdon was excellent. I hope he returns for the next season.

And by the way, seeing so many actors and characters from previous seasons, especially the guest appearances, was such a treat. Every familiar face was like seeing an old friend. An old friend you never want to hang out with because they might be the cause of your death, but still an old friend.

That said, there were problems with the season. For one, the disjointed storytelling won’t work for everyone.. There’s also the fact that for a lot of people, Apocalypse usually means big battles, big power plays, big deaths. Just everything is world-sized, but at times the events of the story aren’t as big as one would expect. That’s understandable, as this is a cable TV show and not a Marvel movie, but for some fans, it might be a disappointment that things don’t measure up to the name Apocalypse.

I don’t feel that way, I thought they told a great story. But for some fans, this might be the thing they take issue with for this season.

But the thing I did dislike was that Michael Langdon wasn’t the greatest Antichrist I’ve ever come across (and I’ve come across a few in my time. Not all of them fictional). Yeah, he’s bloodthirsty and dangerous, but he’s very indecisive. He needs someone to hold his hand and point the way most of the time, and for an Antichrist, I expect a bit more independence. I don’t know, maybe that’s just my quirk, but I’m sure other people will gripe about that as well.

And as for the season finale, I’ve heard a lot of diverse opinions on it. Personally, I liked how it ended. Sure, the final episode wasn’t what I expected, but I felt like they gave a decent resolution to the story, and the ending did set up not only possible future storylines, but reminded us of something very important: that the horror lives on, even after the story ends. For me, that’s enough to satisfy me.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving American Horror Story: Apocalypse a 4.3 out of 5. It’s not the best season or my favorite season of the series (my vote on both counts still goes to Hotel), but it is an engaging season with memorable characters and character appearances that will satisfy most fans. On most counts, I’d say the ambitions of the writers and showrunners were met. Take a look, and hope you’re lucky enough to survive.

So what can we expect for Season Nine? Well, a lot of fans have been asking for Urban Legends, or Cruise, or a continuation of Apocalypse (which could happen). I’m all for those ideas, as well as maybe Orphanage or Academy. I’d also like to write for those ideas, as well as for the return of Lady Gaga to the show. And maybe something from the Cthulhu Mythos? They haven’t mined that goldmine yet.

Better cross my fingers and pay attention to the news as the season continues on, shouldn’t I?

Until next time, pleasant nightmares my Followers of Fear!

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Your protagonist is faced with a terrible choice. Whatever choice they make, they’ll be gaining one great thing but losing something else that’s equally important to them. Which one do they choose? Why can’t they have both? And is that even a possibility?

Sound familiar? This is actually a pretty common trope in a lot of fiction, the “Two Big Life Choices” trope. And I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest fan of it, at least in theory. I see its use, but as the title of this post indicates, the trope has its limits.

Let’s quickly go over it with a hypothetical example, shall we? You’ve got a character, a protagonist who has a big life choice set ahead of them and they have to make a choice soon. Let’s say it’s a young man who is given the chance to be the leader of a powerful mafia clan. His parents, friends and the clan itself want him to take over the clan, and saying no could lead to consequences for him, his parents, the clan and many innocents. On the other hand, he has a girlfriend and child that the former doesn’t know about just because of all that drama, and he wants to stay with them. Problem is, if he accepts the leadership position, he’ll have to leave his family forever to keep them safe. Which will he choose?

This is the Two Big Life Choices trope. And you’ll find it in many different places throughout fiction. Most recently, I found it in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix, and that inspired this post.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has a great example of this trope in its first few episodes.

But as I said, this trope does have its limits. To be specific, while in able hands the trope does create for some strong tension and storytelling while the protagonist goes back and forth between their choices, it will eventually lead to a choice being made. Otherwise, the audience will lose interest with the constant hemming and hawing.

In our hypothetical example, the protagonist could choose to join the mafia clan, destroying his relationship with his girlfriend and child, as well as hardening/numbing all of them to everything that happens from here on out, but allowing one of the most powerful mafia clans in the story’s world to survive under a strong leader. On the other hand, he could give up the mafia clan and run away with his family, leading to his happiness but the dissolution of the clan or it being passed to a leader who will hunt him down for leaving the clan in the lurch, which means they’ll be on the run for the rest of their lives.

You can see where my problem with this trope comes from.

Sometimes though–not every time, but sometimes–there’s a third path to take. This is when the protagonist actually decides to defy convention and take both options or neither one, forging an entirely new road. In the case of our hypothetical story, the protagonist could demand that since all the other options for clan leadership suck, he’ll take the job but only if he’s allowed to marry his girlfriend and raise his child with her under the clan’s protection. This could lead to all sorts of interesting conflicts as the protagonist deals with the strains of trying to be a husband and a father while at the same time dealing with the demands and politics of leading a powerful mafia clan. And for many audience members, this could be the most wished-for option, even when it doesn’t seem all that likely.

Conversely, the protagonist could decide “screw it” on both options and just run in the exact opposite direction, but I’ve never seen that option employed and I have doubts about the quality of the story if it is used. Or the quality of the character.

The managa Nisekoi uses this trope very well, especially in the final arc.

Now, despite its limitations and while I’m not exactly a big fan of this trope in theory (which might limit how much I use it in my own fiction), I do admit that when done right in practice, it is amazing. One story that uses this trope extremely well is the manga Nisekoi, where the “Big Life Choice” is the protagonist trying to decide between two girls he has feelings for in the final chapters of the story. I freaking loved that manga, and looked forward to every single one of its twenty-five volumes. Another great example is the above-mentioned The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, where this trope is a driving force through the first couple of episodes of the first season. And as we can see from the show’s critical reception, people (and this half-human demon lord) love the show and can’t wait for Season 2.

So yes, while this trope does have some limits, it can make for some fun storytelling. The thing to keep in mind while using it is, beyond an interesting set of choices for both character and audiences, keeping the drama and tension high while at the same time keeping it from being melodramatic, as well as figuring out how best to handle the drama that ensues once the choice has been made.

If you can do that, you might just have the makings of a very engaging story. One that can last quite a long time, and will have fans for years afterwards.

What are some good examples of the Two Big Life Choices trope?

Do you use the trope in your own work? What tips do you have for using it?

It’s here! It’s today! It’s the day I celebrate every damn day of the year, even during the High Holidays, but which I celebrate twice as hard in October, because everybody is celebrating it too. It’s Halloween!

I’ve always loved Halloween and the month of October.* In fact, I consider it the most wonderful time of the year. And before you say December and Christmas is the most wonderful time of year, think about this: during this month, you start worrying about a fat old man who watches and stalks you for three-hundred sixty-four days out of the year, and then one night breaks into your home via the chimney. And depending on whatever his judgment of your behavior is, he’s either going to leave behind awful fossil fuels or consumer goods that violate so many patent, copyright and trademark laws, you could be pulled into a class action lawsuit just by association. Prove me wrong!

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of problems I have with calling December the most wonderful time of the year.

But back to Halloween. You know what makes it really special? It’s a holiday both for the mainstream of society and outcast. For one day, you’re allowed to be someone else and revel in that. No one’s allowed to break that spell, and those who do are cursed to be jerks.

No one’s ever accused me of being mainstream. There were times where I didn’t have many friends, and when I did, I was always a little bit different from them. Call it being neuroatypical, call it being half-human and half-entity from another universe, call it just¬†being different. There was always this barrier between me and other people.

But on Halloween, all that changed. Kids and adults changed into costumes, became other beings and we were all equals. We all had a simple goal of showing off our costumes, getting candy, and having a spooky delightful time. It was magic for me. And as I got older, that magic has still been part of my love for the holiday. That, and more people actually get my obsession with things dark and creepy and horrifying and get into it, too.

But also this strange equalizing. For one night, we’re as different as can be from ourselves and from others, but we’re all equal and having a fun time. In a world where the wrong kind of scary is all too common, that’s something special.

I’m pretty sure if there’s a Heaven that I’ll be allowed into, and if that Heaven individualizes itself for each person in it, it’s going to be a forever Halloween. Lots of people in costumes, and my costume changes at my whim. Plus real monsters to fly around and terrify with. Lots of candy that never tastes bad and never upsets your stomach. There are endless horror themed rides and mazes, as well as libraries and theaters with an endless supply of horror movies, TV shows, books, manga and anime, music and art. All to digest at your leisure. The sun is never a problem (which is good, because even outside of sunscreen season, I have to worry about sun damage to my skin and even to my eyes!), and it’s just cool enough for sweatshirts. And everyone’s as friendly and chummy as the Addams Family, even after you scare them silly. And no one ever feels left out.

Like Hell Fest, but much better.

Seems like a nice dream, doesn’t it? And if it’s one I can someday achieve (though hopefully not too soon), I’ll be happy.

Wishing you a Happy Halloween this year!

In the meantime, I’ll work on making a Heaven on Earth. By that I mean, becoming a successful horror author who can afford to host an awesome Halloween party every October and get a bunch of people into a room to celebrate being scary together.

Wow, I really went on a ramble, didn’t I? Anyway, I think you get what Halloween means to me, don’t you? And I hope it means something special to you too.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll have another post out by the end of the day, a review of a new scary movie. Until then, Happy Halloween and pleasant nightmares!

*Even if, in Central Ohio, this is the month when summer heat and humidity changes to winter chill. Yeah, there’s no autumn here. It just switches from one extreme to the other. I’m pretty sure God’s punishing us for something, but I can’t figure out what.

Halloween (2018) poster

This past weekend, the new Halloween movie was released and eager horror fans, including myself, flocked to theaters to see it (see my review of the film here). At the time I’m writing this, the film has made over 103 million bucks, nearly seven times it’s original budget. This definitely counts as a financial success for the film and its producers, and it’s all but certain at this point that a sequel will be greenlit. This has many horror fans speculating on a particular question: is the slasher genre coming back, bigger and badder than ever?

Now in case you stumbled on this post by accident and have no idea what a slasher is, let me explain: slasher, also occasionally known as splatterpunk, is a sub-genre of horror that focuses on violent deaths and gore, as well as the prospect of those occurring, as the source of its terror and tension. Slashers were really big in the 1980s, but declined as the many sequels kept going for more ridiculous kills and even more ridiculous plots. There were some brief flare-ups of good slashers in the late 90s and early 2000s, with films like Scream, Urban Legend and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare¬†and remakes of franchises like 2003’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Rob Zombie’s Halloween, but for the most part it didn’t stick. Recently, slashers have done well in television format with shows like Slasher and Scream (yes, based on the film I mentioned a sentence ago), but Halloween‘s the first in years that’s managed to satisfy this many fans, critics, and bank accounts.

Hollywood can be a very reactive sort of place: anything that’s proven to be even slightly successful will be copied over and over again by movie studios until long after audiences have lost interest. So with Halloween doing so well and sequels definitely being discussed in boardrooms, can we expect more slasher reboots and remakes on the horizon? Which ones? And is this the first of a slasher renaissance similar to their first wave of popularity in the 1980s?

Well, there are actually a few slasher movies being developed right now based on the older franchises. Child’s Play, which first introduced the character of living doll Chucky, is getting both a reboot and a TV series, and A Nightmare on Elm Street has had a new remake in development for a while now. But with the success of Halloween, there’s a chance the studios producing them will give them more attention and funding than they might’ve had without Halloween.

Please bring back Friday the 13th! Jason and I both want to see a comeback for the franchise!

And I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to say other series will be getting new films. There has been talk for years of rebooting Friday the 13th with my boy Jason Voorhees. Recently a court case regarding the original film was resolved, and basketball player-turned-actor and producer Lebron James, who is as big of a fan of the franchise as I am, has come forward saying he would like to help produce the film. And while Lebron’s still new to Hollywood, I would welcome his involvement in a new Friday the 13th film. Sometimes it takes the perspective of a fan, especially one who has more power than expressing outrage through a keyboard, to truly give a character or franchise new life.*

And after the crappy 2009 remake, almost anything would be welcome. Seriously, what was with that film? It felt like the filmmakers were making porn, then making a raunchy comedy, and then remembered to put Jason in it! By the time the final third rolled around, I was bored! I’m seriously considering destroying a copy of the film on DVD when its tenth anniversary rolls around, it’s that bad!

But not just Friday the 13th: there’s room for other franchises to get new films. I think a Hellraiser reboot would be great, as the series has devolved into cheap, direct-to-DVD sequels. A proper remake would give the series’ concept the fresh rebirth it needs. Of course, I’d love to see some new Freddy Kreuger, as there’s still so much to do with that character. And I think given our current social/political climate, a director like Jordan Peele could do something great with the character of Candyman.

But there should also be original works, not just remakes and reboots. As you’re reading this, there are plenty of filmmakers out there with fresh ideas for the slasher genre that should be given a chance. Perhaps with the success of Halloween, studios will be willing to give them a chance. Heck, maybe Jason Blum and Blumhouse, one of the companies that produced Halloween, can use this to recruit some female directors to develop some new projects.**

Perhaps we can see all these dudes, and then some, get new films.

And as for if this is the beginning of a slasher renaissance, we’ll just have to wait and see. One film doesn’t indicate a genre’s comeback. Sometimes several films don’t mean a particular genre or sub-genre is going to be the next big thing (*cough* YA dystopia and fantasy films *cough*). It’ll take several successful films, both originals as well as remakes and reboots, before we can really say if the slasher genre is back with a vengeance.

Still, I’m hopeful. I didn’t think until the trailer that anyone could bring Halloween back. Perhaps with the right writers and directors, we could see the return of the genre. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Until then though, we’ll just have to content ourselves with Halloween, the old classics, and this awesome little video (sorry, couldn’t help but post it. Enjoy).

*And if you do end up producing a new Friday the 13th film Mr. James, can I help? I love Jason too, and I’d love to see him given a film worthy of his franchise. Perhaps I can help write the script? I have ideas.

**Sorry Mr. Blum. I love your work, and I even sent a resume to your company after I graduated, but you really put your foot in your mouth with that “lack of female directors” comment. I mean really? One article found 30 female directors who can do horror! Perhaps Halloween‘s success means a chance to start fixing that fiasco and bringing them on board.

As it gets colder and the nights grow longer, you can count on two things: my dark powers get stronger, and Anne Rice releases a new novel. This year it’s Blood Communion, the latest chapter in the new additions to her Vampire Chronicles that started with Prince Lestat in 2014. I was first at my library to get a copy, and I couldn’t wait to dive in. And despite a busy October (three words: work is insane!), I’ve been steadily making my way through the book. And this evening, I managed to finish the story. As is my self-imposed duty, I will review it. Even if it does mean staying up later than I meant to.

What can I say? I’m a bear for work. At least the kind I do for fun.

Blood Communion follows Lestat as his Court is finally beginning to look like an actual royal court. However, at times he finds his own desires and morals standing opposed to what those in his council desire or believe. As the Brat Prince tries to reconcile what he believes with what he must do as Prince of the Vampires, new threats to the Court arise. Old and new enemies resurface, threatening all he loves. And if he wants any of it to survive, Lestat will have to make some very hard decisions. What he decides to do will determine not just what will happen to the Court, but to vampires everywhere.

I feel like this novel, more than many of the others in the Chronicles, would make a great arc for a future season of the upcoming Vampire Chronicles TV series.* The story feels oddly suited to an arc for a show based off these books and characters.

But as a novel, I liked it. Written with Rice’s usual focus on beauty, sensuality, spirituality, and emotion and with that detail to language that makes her style so unique, it’s not hard to get drawn in. And as the central conflict of the story becomes apparent, you really get caught up in Lestat’s battle not only for his friends and family, but for the very soul of the vampire community. At the same time, seeing Lestat trying to figure out what is the right path for him and his new Kingdom of the Night is compelling. It’s a conflict we haven’t seen this famous vampire have to go through yet (and he’s met the Devil), and I’m glad that Rice decided to explore this new facet of Lestat and the issues that arise from what he’s trying to do.

My one criticism is that I wish that some of the new characters introduced could’ve been given bigger roles and perhaps allowed to surprise us more. I know that there was only so much room and there had to be focus on the main conflict, but I felt that these new characters could’ve been a lot more interesting if they’d maybe shown up with different purposes and goals in mind.

All in all though, this was a satisfying addition to the Vampire Chronicles and I’m sure that if the show gets far enough, it’ll make for a great season of television. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Blood Communion by Anne Rice a solid 4. Pick it up, and drink in the majesty of the beginning of a new era of the Children of the Blood. I’m looking forward to seeing the next book in the series has Lestat and the Court doing.

Though if the next book Ms. Rice produces involves werewolves, angels, or mummies, I’ll also be excited to read that. What can I say? I’m flexible.

*Yeah, in case you missed it, Hulu’s developing a TV series based off Anne Rice’s books and starting with a pilot penned by her son and fellow writer Christopher Rice. As you can imagine, I can’t wait to see it. And is it too much to hope that Tom Mison or Christopher Eccleston can get roles on the show?

Funny story: yesterday at work I told a coworker what the film was about, as she hadn’t heard of it before. When she heard the plot, she said, “That sounds creepy!” I told her that it was based on a true story. She looked at me in all seriousness and said, “Really?” I told her no, and we both laughed that for a hot second, she believed it. She was the only person I did that bit on yesterday who fell for it, but it was worth it.

Hell Fest follows Natalie, a college student who goes with her friends and a potential boyfriend to HellF est, a traveling horror-themed amusement park complete with scary mazes, rides, actors in scary costumes, and grotesque toys. Basically a traveling Disneyland for horror fans, and I so wish that was a real thing so I could go to it! Unfortunately, there’s a masked serial killer in the park, and he sets his sights on Natalie, stalking her around the park. But when everything is meant to scare you, where is the line between what’s for fun and what’s all too real.

So, the story is pretty straightforward for a slasher film of this type. You got a bunch of one-trait characters who are out for a night of fun, there’s a killer out there stalking them. Surprisingly, the level of blood and gore is pretty tame for this sort of movie, and the characters don’t do as much dumb stuff as they might have done if this movie had been made in the 80s or 90s. My favorite character had to have been Taylor, played by the incomparable Bex Taylor-Klaus of the Scream TV series (if there’s a horror movie with her in it, there’s a good chance I will see it). Taylor was pretty much an exaggerated, female version of me: horror-obsessed, very funny, plenty of social awkwardness to go around. I honestly would love to hang out with this character.

The best thing with this movie is definitely the costumes. Not just the killer’s mask, which is effective in a minimalist way, but the costumes of Hell Fest’s “actors:” the people hired to wear creepy costumes and go around scaring people. You could see how much work they put into each individual outfit to make them scary, or barf out slime, or whatever floats your fancy. They must have had costumers who worked in actual haunted attractions work for this movie, they’re that good.

Sadly, Hell Fest does have a few problems. For one thing, while the sets are creative and do look like they belong to an actual horror Disneyland called Hell Fest, they don’t seem to take it far enough. When you hear Hell Fest, you think something like the Nine Circles of Hell out of Dante’s Inferno, mixed with every Gothic story ever and every season of American Horror Story ramped up to eleven. The sets should make fear leap off the screen, and there’s none of this. Most of the mazes do look rather creepy, but others just have too much neon and not enough scary stuff. The Hell-themed maze in particular was disappointing, as it’s supposed to be “the scariest maze in the park.” And in-between the mazes, you might as well just be in a state fairground or at a national park trail done up for October.

I don’t know, maybe it’s the fact that it’s on a screen and I’m not there in person that’s the problem, but it’s not what I’d expect of a movie called Hell Fest.

Another issue is that for the first third of the film, it’s just not that scary. Even once you get to Hell Fest, it’s more colorful than terrifying. After the first maze or so, a horror movie atmosphere does crop up, complete with tense sequences and a few decent jump scares, but it’s not as strong as it could be. And in a film about a horror theme park, that’s just not good enough.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Hell Fest a 3 out of 5. It’s a movie that works on paper, and it has colorful costumes and a few good sets, but leaves much to be desired.

Still, I’d take Hell Fest over the Friday the 13th remake any day. At least it remembered to be a horror film, rather than a raunchy comedy that Jason happened to stumble into. That’s right, I found a way to trash that shit film out of Michael Bay’s ass again! And I won’t stop until I either get a better or a worse Friday the 13th film.

You know me, I HAVE to review the season premiere and the season as a whole, every season, for American Horror Story. And with Apocalype being the series’ most ambitious season yet, I was interested to see if they could pull it off. I mean, not only is this an apocalypse-themed season (can’t get bigger than that), but it’s a crossover between the original season, Murder House, and Coven, the season that divides many fans (personally, I like what they were trying to do, but found it all too campy and maybe a little too expansive). So can show runners Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk really pull it off?

If the first episode is any indication, yes they can.

The first episode of Apocalypse, appropriately titled “The End,” depicts what you would expect: the end of life on Earth as we know it. Nuclear missiles are launched at every corner of the Earth, sending the planet into a nuclear winter. Everything seems to be gone…or is it? A group called the Cooperative has brought people together–some for their money, others for their genetic makeup–to an underground bunker to become the survivors of humanity. Watched over by Madam Venable (Sarah Paulson), life in bunker is strict and the punishments for disobedience are harsh. As the months go on, the survivors start to go stir crazy and worry how much longer they can tolerate conditions. That is, until a mysterious figure enters from outside the compound. Does he bring hope…or hell?

The first episode is definitely off to a good start, depicting the chaos and fear that would all but surely arise if Armageddon began in the first ten-fifteen minutes: riots, people committing suicide, everyone going insane trying to find shelter. But then a very different tone arises after we’re introduced to the Cooperative and its agents: things become very claustrophobic. Lots of sharp angles that are meant to make you feel closed in, plenty of shadows. It makes you feel as uncomfortable as the characters, and makes the punishments for disobedience all the more awful.

Plus, those hazmat costumes are freaky! If I didn’t already know what I was going as for Halloween, I might try to get one of them and wear it!

As far as acting, Sarah Paulson’s Madame Venable is clearly the best. She’s an icy woman, almost psychopathic in the way she interacts with these characters. It’s quite a change, as Paulson’s never played this sort of character on the show before. I’m looking forward to seeing where she could go from here.

I can’t point to anything that didn’t gel with me. It was a really good episode and a great start to what will hopefully be a memorable season. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’ll give the season premiere of American Horror Story: Apocalypse a 5. I have high hopes for the rest of the season. If you haven’t yet and are curious, check out the first episode. And prepare for the end.