King Kong (1933)


King Kong

Fay Wray is all dressed up with nowhere to go.

(1933) Horror (RKO) Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot, Frank Reicher, Sam Hardy, Noble Johnson, Steve Clemente, James Flavin, Merian C. Cooper, James Adamson, Van Alder, Victor Wong, Ed Allen, Everett Brown, Frank Angel, Sandra Shaw. Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack

 

Few movies have had the kind of impact on the future of cinema as this one. Not only did it reportedly save RKO Studios from bankruptcy, it changed the way horror movies were perceived and essentially kick-started the entire genre. It is a classic from it’s way-ahead-of-its time special effects and for the amount of terrifying scenes of violence and sex that were displayed.

While later re-releases toned down both elements (a scene featuring Kong undressing Fay Wray was excised as well as scenes featuring Kong chowing down on people), it still remains a standard for fear-inducing films even today. Kong is an iconic figure in both horror and popular culture.

Most of us have seen this at least a few times but for those who haven’t this is kind of the basic story. A Depression-era filmmaker named Carl Denham (Armstrong) convinces a starving unemployed actress named Ann Darrow (Wray) to accompany him to Indonesia to make a film. Having nothing to lose, she agrees.

It is only while en route on the tramp steamer Venture that the real destination is Skull Island in the South Pacific, an uncharted island hidden by mysterious mists. It is also en route that rough and tumble first mate Jack Driscoll (Cabot), who at first sneers at the idea of a woman aboard ship, falls in love with the blonde bombshell Darrow. But Driscoll insists he has no time for dames, which amuses Denham no end.

Once they get there the natives are keen to have Darrow as a bride (read: sacrifice) for Kong, their local deity but Denham politely declines. The natives, not ones for taking no for an answer, stealthily board the ship and steal Darrow away. Driscoll leads a party of crew members to go get her back but by that time Ann has already been taken by Kong – a gigantic ape.

The crew follows Kong and Ann into the interior of Skull Island which they discover to their horror that the island is populated by carnivorous dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures. Many of the crew are lost, being eaten by giant spiders, brontosaurs (which must have come to a shock to the scientists who thought they were herbivores) and other creatures.

Finally, Driscoll manages to rescue Ann and carry her back to the native village with Kong in hot pursuit. Fortunately, Denham is waiting for them there with gas bombs which takes down the creature. Denham hits upon the idea of taking Kong back to New York and showing him as the ultimate sideshow attraction. However things go awry and Kong escapes for a date with destiny on the Empire State Building.

I’m not sure what writers Ruth Rose and James Ashmore Creelman had in mind when they wrote the screenplay but this is as layered an allegory as movies get, particularly these days. The beauty and the beast allegory is just one layer; while some looked at it as a modern retelling of that particular fairy tale, there is also subtexts of greed, the rape of the natural world and of the male-female dynamic. Of course, some of those go in there with the benefit of almost 80 years of hindsight behind them which does change the perspective.

But there is a lot of titillation here when you think about it, from the blonde being taken by a gigantic black ape (which played into racial fears of the period) to the nearly sexual disrobing of Ann by Kong. Wray gives one of the most compelling performances in the history of horror movies, from her signature screams to her playful flirtation with Driscoll. Yes, she’s very much a damsel in distress in certain way but by the same token it is more her movie than Armstrong’s or Cabot’s.

The stop motion animation special effects may look primitive by today’s standards but they were startling for their time. Sure the continuity is pretty lackadaisical (see Trivial Pursuits) and sometimes Kong’s movements look choppy but O’Brien did legendary work here that influenced special effects for generations that followed it.

This is epic in scope and yet the personal story of Ann Darrow still resonates. This is as classic as horror movies get, maybe the most important one ever. It paved the way for all the creature features that made all our Halloween’s creepier and that much more frightening.

WHY RENT THIS: An undoubted classic. Fay Wray the best movie screamer in history. For its time awfully high on the terror quotient.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Awfully dated.

FAMILY VALUES:  While reasonably tame by modern standards, some of the scenes might get to the most sensitive members of your household.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: King Kong’s height varies throughout the film. On Skull Island, he is 18 feet tall and throughout most of the New York theater sequence he’s 24 feet tall. When ascending the Empire State Building he’s 50 feet tall and when Fay Wray is in his hand he’s 70 feet tall.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The lost spider sequence, cut from the film because it was too upsetting to 1933 audiences, was restored by Peter Jackson for the 2005 two-disc DVD release that came out concurrently with the release of Jackson’s remake; although the footage itself has been lost permanently by all accounts, Jackson re-created the scene from the original script and storyboards and it is indeed terrifying. The Blu-Ray includes this as well as a feature on director/producer Cooper. In addition, on both editions there is a commentary track which includes archival comments from Cooper and Wray, as well as a making-of featurette that is longer than the actual film itself.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $2.9M on a $672,000 production budget; this was considered a massive hit at the time (when theater admissions were only a nickel) when the promotional budget was far less a percentage of the production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mighty Joe Young

FINAL RATING: 9/10

NEXT: Seven Psychopaths

A Date With Death


He sat nervously at the table, checking his watch. He was new to this online dating thing. He’d never thought of himself as particularly handsome nor possessed of much of a personality. He was pretty much a boring fellow. The most exciting thing that had ever happened to him was missing a flight.

Even his “narrow brush with death” stories were dull. He had been booked to fly aboard Flight 392 to Cincinnati for an insurance conference when he got inexplicably but violently ill. He spent the next two hours in the bathroom, puking his guts out. He’d wound up missing the flight which was a good thing because one of its fuel lines had ruptured and soaked the engine with gasoline and the plane had exploded, killing everyone onboard.

Except for Milton, who was at first erroneously reported as one of the dead. Nobody had noticed, even those who knew he was supposed to be on that plane. That had been a few months ago, and things had pretty much settled back to normal, which for Milton was an epic shitfest of craptastic proportion.

Milton had always had trouble meeting girls. Not only was he not a looker he had the extra added attraction of being insanely shy. In his mid-30s, he hadn’t had a serious girlfriend ever nor had he ever been laid unless you count a hurried handjob that he’d gotten from a friend of his sister in high school in exchange for writing all of her term papers senior year.

Since the plane incident he’d been loath to leave his apartment. He felt as if he’d cheated death and death might have his eye on him. He felt this odd sensation as he walked around the apartment like something was watching him. He chalked it up to jitters and decided finally he needed to get out. On the spur of the moment, he signed up for an online dating service.

It was all kind of confusing and the questionnaire was rather personal. He debated as to whether to lie about his experiences and at last chose not to – Milton was honest if not experienced; he felt any date would know that he was inexperienced right away and best not to waste their time with false expectations

So imagine his surprise after a week of nothing he got a response. And not from just anyone but from a gorgeous blonde that would make Nicole Kidman look homely. She said she was interested and wanted to meet for dinner; Milton had chosen the bistro but pretty soon the nerves began to set in. It was all he could do to get himself ready and tying his tie had been a nightmare.

Still, he went out to the dinner optimistic. Maybe even a homely fellow like him could find happiness. So I showed up in a suit and tie, waiting patiently as she was fashionably late.

Then she showed, her golden hair offset by a jet black dress, elegant and yet sexy; off one shoulder, deep cleavage and short showing plenty of leg. Her eyes were full of merriment as she crossed the room, her eyes full of joy and delight. Milton rose and reverently took her hand and kissed it European-style. She looked a little surprised but pleased.

“So what’s good here,” she asked taking the menu. He was dumbstruck for a few minutes but found his voice. “I don’t know. I’ve never been here before” She laughed, a silvery sound and tossed her hair back, Rita Hayworth-style. “Then we’ll explore together.” She ordered a filet mignon rare, while Milton ordered a roast chicken dish which was about the limits of what he could afford.

They made small talk over salad; when the main course arrived, she dug in with great gusto while Milton picked at his chicken. She was way out of his league and he knew it but if she didn’t know it then he wasn’t about to tell her. Things were going so much better than he ever expected they would.

They began telling stories of their lives together; she talked about her job which took her all over the world and left little time for herself; she didn’t specify but it sounded like some sort of executive position, or at least something in acquisitions. He told her about his recent luck, which she listened to, eyes glued to him as if there had been Krazy Glue involved.

She asked a lot of questions about how he felt about surviving; good, he supposed but there was a lot of guilt. Why had so many died and he was spared? She shook her head sadly. “I don’t know,” she said, “It almost sounds like there was a mistake in accounting, don’t you think?” That took him a little bit aback but he shrugged, not wanting to disagree when things are going so well.

“Do you ever wonder what it would have been like if you’d made the flight?” she asked him. He was going to say no but something about her made him completely at ease, as if telling the truth was all right no matter how horrible. “Sometimes,” he admitted, “I imagine sitting in my seat, hearing the explosion and seeing the flames approaching. It all seems so real but then I wake up at home in my bed. There are days when I’m so lonely I wish I had made that flight.”

She gave him a sympathetic look. “You haven’t tried to kill yourself have you?” He shook his head vehemently. “Oh no, no, no, no, no. When I was younger, yeah but not really seriously. I took a bunch of pills but just threw them up. I guess it wasn’t meant to be.” She looked at him strangely but said “Yes Milton, for everything there is a time, including dying.”

Again, a strange answer but Milton found himself answering “I guess it just wasn’t my time yet.” She laughed, but there was an edge to it Milton didn’t like. He wondered if he liked where this conversation was going. She responded “And how would you know that it wasn’t?” She shook her head. “It’s not like you get an e-mail telling you that you’re going to die next Thursday. No phone calls saying death is going to visit between two and four pm the next day. Death comes when death comes and that’s all there is to it. But sometimes a few people fall through the cracks. They get a bit of extra time. Do you follow soccer Milton?” Milton couldn’t say that he did.

She went on, “In a soccer game after regulation time ends, time is added for all the stoppages – penalties, injuries, that sort of thing. The game doesn’t end until that extra time is over. That’s what it’s called Milton, extra time. It sounds to me that you’ve been living on extra time.” Milton shrugged. “I suppose so. Of course there’s no way to really know.”

She shook her head. “Oh but there is. Let me see….” She picked up her purse and started rummaging through it. Finally, she found what she was looking for. “Here it is! Take a look” and she handed Milton what looked like a computer printout.

On it there were some of the facts of his life; his date of birth, where he went to school, how old he was when he lost his virginity (that field was blank), where he worked, how much he made – his whole life reduced to a single sheet of paper. He shook his head ruefully…and then turned pale.

At the bottom it read “Date of Death: 07/22/12.” The date of the plane crash. He looked up at her quizzically. “I don’t understand.” Her eyes rolled. “For a smart guy Milton you can be pretty dense. It’s right there in black and white. You were meant to be on that flight. So were a bunch of teenagers returning home from space camp and I have to tell you, it’s been insane chasing them down.”

She got up and Milton took another bite of his chicken, swallowing the piece before he’d thoroughly chewed it. Abruptly he felt something scratchy going down his throat – and lodging there. He couldn’t breathe. He began to gag, trying to expel the object. “A chicken bone, Milton. Not the most glorious way to go – I’m sure you’d have gotten more sympathy from dying in the plane crash but I promise you, this is less painful.”

As he choked, he gasped out “H-help. Please. Hit my back…do someth….” he was losing air fast.  She shook her head sadly. “I have a tally to keep Milton. All must be accounted for but sometimes some slip through the cracks. I have to find them and I really don’t have the staff for it. It’s a big world, after all. But now, with you, the balance is restored. Everything is as it should be again.”

He tried to get up but Milton felt numb everywhere. He fell to the floor. She stood over him, sorrowfully. “It’s not like the movie Milton. I don’t make these elaborate, sophisticated accidents. It just causes too much attention. I find simple is better, don’t you?” The fields of his vision were turning black. She picked up her purse which he swore looked like a scythe, pausing thoughtfully to leave cash for the bill and a tip. She bid him a jaunty farewell as she walked away into the night. His last thoughts were to wonder why his dates always went so badly at the end.

Final Destination 5


Final Destination 5

The eyes have it.

(2011) Horror (New Line) Nicholas D’Agosta, Emma Bell, Miles Fisher, Arlen Escarpeta, David Koechner, Tony Todd, Courtney B. Vance, P.J. Byrne, Ellen Wroe, Jacqueline MacInnes-Wood, Brent Stait, Roman Podhora, Jasmin Dring, Barclay Hope, Chasty Ballesteros. Directed by Stephen Quale

 

By now most filmgoers are at least aware of the movies in the Final Destination series. Starting in 2000 with Final Destination and continuing up to 2009 with the first 3D installment, The Final Destination the formula hasn’t varied much which has been both good and bad. Obviously audiences haven’t tired of it yet for here is the fifth installment of the series.

Like all the other movies, this one begins with a major disaster – in this case, a bridge collapse. Young Sam Lawton (D’Agosta), who works for a paper company whose employees are off to a corporate retreat (but really wants to be a chef which he does part time in the evenings) has a vivid premonition about the event and becomes so hysterical about it that he gets most of his friends off the bus just in time to avoid the catastrophe which happens pretty much as he calls it.

This gets the attention of Agent Jim Block (Vance) of the FBI who wonders how anyone could have foreseen the event without having a hand in it. It also gets the attention of Death who is mighty pissed off that he was cheated of the six or seven souls (out of hundreds) that Sam saved. Apparently Death is a greedy bastard.

The rest of the movie progresses pretty much the same way most of the other movies have – with each of the survivors being whacked by death but not in conventional, easy ways. No, when you piss of Death you have to go in an elaborate, gruesome demise that Rube Goldberg might have loved. How boring would it be if Death just gave them all cancer?

Make no mistake about it, you go to these movies (or rent them or stream them or watch them on cable) for the death sequences. Here the producers literally handicap themselves by telling you that the deaths will occur in the same order they did in Sam’s premonition. So when it comes down to it, his best friend Peter (Fisher), his comely ex-girlfriend Molly (Bell), Peter’s young hot gymnast chick Candice (Wroe), the office Lothario (Byrne), the head honcho (Koechner) and the bitchy secretary (MacInnes-Wood) are all set up for their last rites and you know that each one is coming. The trick is to pull them off in such a way that the audience doesn’t see it coming.

And at that Quale and company excel. The set-ups are not only sufficiently elaborate but also throw lots of red herrings at you; is the gymnast going to be squashed by an air conditioning unit that looks like it’s about to fall? Or be electrocuted in a puddle of water that is forming below the a/c? Perhaps the upturned screw on her balance bar will make it’s way into her eye? Or will it be none of the above.

In almost every death sequence the last applies. The deaths are gruesome yes, but there’s also an element of comedy to some of them and quite frankly, the mis-direction had me again and again. That’s a pretty good feat for any horror film out there.

As with the other films in the series, the cast is pretty much done for looks alone. The young cast are competent enough but none of them really stand out which you would expect since their sole purpose is to be ground up like sausages. The trick is to keep the audience not just entertained but invested and they accomplish that here.

There’s also a nice twist at the end which will have fans of the series having a complete a-ha moment (sharp-eyed viewers might be able to figure it out but you have to look hard because the filmmakers were awfully crafty about it). For my money, this was one of the best films in the series and it left me not minding at all if there’s a sixth installment down the line. Whether there will be is still up in the air – the movie was still nicely profitable but it’s U.S. box office take was significantly down, a troubling factor that might cause the producers to quit while they’re ahead.

This one shows that there is still life in the series given a creative writer and director. However if this is to be the swan song of the series, at least it would go out on top

WHY RENT THIS: One of the best in the series. Nifty twist at the end.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Doesn’t deviate from the formula – except in one significant way at the end.

FAMILY VALUES:  While there’s  bit of foul language, it’s the death scenes – as marvelously inventive and elaborate as they are – that are gruesome and violent. No kids, in other words..

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The company that most of the cast works for is called Presage Paper. Presage means “a sign or warning that something, typically unpleasant, will soon happen; an omen or a portent.”

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There are some featurettes on the death scenes and how they were created, which you would expect. Otherwise…nada.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $157.9M on a $40M production budget; this was a hit but curiously an international one; the U.S. take of the box office was only $42M.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: My Soul to Take

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: The Final Day of Six Days of Darkness 2012!

Remote Control


It’s just a job. Any trained monkey can do it. I sit in a room and watch security monitors. That’s it. I don’t even have to get my ass out of my chair other than to head to the vending machine to grab some Mountain Dew.

I’m not even anywhere near the place. Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital is in rural Maryland. I’m in Vancouver, part of a security company that monitors large abandoned buildings in the hopes of keeping out squatters and vandals for the property owners until such time as they either restore, rebuild or demolish. Since the State of Maryland is responsible for Collingwood, I doubt if any of the three are going to happen anytime soon.

The State installed our security cameras after a TV crew disappeared while filming there in 2011. An extensive search of the building and grounds failed to find anything of them except for traces – a cooler full of rotting sandwiches, camera and audio equipment and a woman’s shirt. They haven’t turned up a trace of their bodies.

Night after night we watch, myself or other employees. We all rotate on different buildings – that way we keep fresh eyes on things. Tonight I was assigned Collingwood. I wasn’t looking forward to it. Sometimes weird shit happens – cameras blank out for no reason then just turn back on as if nothing had happened. It’s annoying as fuck. Also there are instances of pixilation in the feed. Digital distortions – ghosts in the machine my supervisor calls them. We’ve repaired and replaced the cameras there several times over with no improvement. We think there might be some sort of magnetic rock vein in the bedrock, but so far nothing tangible has been turned up.

Usually there are a lot of people here at night – that’s when we do most of our monitoring. However today was a little different. We’re moving into a new building near Stanley Park which suits me just fine. However not all of the stations were moved in time – some sort of scheduling fuck-up – so I’m alone in the old building. They haven’t moved the day shift’s stuff there yet – they won’t until the weekend – so I’m thankfully not in an empty office – but it’s still kind of creepy.

I stretch, looking at the various camera positions. All quiet on the Western Front. Part of me wants to find a place to curl up and sleep but if someone discovered me I’d be fired on the spot. So I just stretch and yawn and drink Mountain Dew, eating Snickers bars and Hot Pockets and texting my girlfriend on my iPhone. A 20th century job for a 21st century life.

I’m looking down at a particularly racy nude pic she’s sent me (she’s lonely, the little minx) when my eye is caught by some movement on the edge of my vision. I look up at the monitors. Nothing. Nothing on Camera 1. Nothing on Camera 2. Nothing on Camera 3. Nothing on Cameras 4,5,6,7,8….hell nothing on any cameras.

I stare for a bit then go back to perving on my baby’s picture. Then movement again. Like an itch I can’t scratch. I look up annoyed. Nothing. I keep my eyes on the monitors. Nothing happens. Nothing moves. Finally with a sigh, my girlfriend awaits me. I look down.

A door slams shut. Not like it was shut slowly – it was slammed. I saw it. No breeze through the hallway would have shut a door like that. It was like an angry child flinging the door shut. No way that was air pressure. I saw it.

I peer at the cameras. I see nobody. Nothing. Some digital distortions start to pop up. Then dozens . Then hundreds. I could hardly see the interior of Collingwood there were so many. Then, abruptly they were gone.

Everything was quiet again but I had an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach. Like this was the calm before the storm.

I hate it when I’m right. All the doors on all the cameras started to open and shut, open and shut, banging against the jams. They’re flapping like wings on some hideous bird. I stand up, my chair pushed back and rolling away. I think I might have even screamed. I’m not one to believe in ghosts but what else could be causing this? I go to my alert phone to call my boss and the line is dead. Figures. Just my luck that it’s going to get worse.

I saw them. Hideous humans, or maybe once they were human but they aren’t that now. Impossibly thin and spindly with legs that went on and on. Dead black eyes. Mottled skin. Open mouths, impossibly wide. And teeth. And teeth.

One comes right up to the camera I’m looking at, grinning at me maniacally. The eyes are wild and knowing, impossibly wise and incredibly old – and evil beyond measure. He reaches out and I am a deer in the headlights, unable to move. Unable to scream. My phone drops to the floor from nerveless fingers.

Hand reach through the monitor and grab me. Now I find my voice but it’s too late. I’m dragged closer to the monitors, closer and closer. I struggle, I dig in my heels but these hands are incredibly strong. He drags me closer and closer to the edge. I scream again in despair. I don’t want to go to Collingwood. I don’t want to go there. I’m afraid. I’m afraid. Mommyyyyyyyyyyyy and it all goes dark.

A Walking Tour of Hell


At the side of the road, the Jeep sat, steam and smoke rising from the engine. Fuck. Double fuck. I didn’t have to pop the hood to know that my reliable Jeep had run its last mile. Fortunately, the road was clear as far as I could see in both directions but it wouldn’t stay that way. Night would fall.

I had my backpack and my canvas bag full of what I needed just in case the worst happened – and it just did. I had plenty of fire power and as much ammo as I could carry, as well as my trusty katana sword for when the ammo ran out. The sun was high but night would come. Night was when they hunted.

I began walking north, always north. The probe had fallen in the south, two and a half years ago. It had crashed in the jungles of Central Mexico. NASA had sent it into the Dickering-Piedmont comet to pick up samples from the comet halo for reasons nobody fucking cares about except some science geeks who’d never gotten laid and were compensating by bringing in some alien biological material that fucked things up big time on the guidance system of the probe, causing it to malfunction and land thousands of miles from where it was supposed to. And that same biological material began interacting with the flora and fauna of the rain forest of the high plains, mutating them into hideous monsters each more ravenous than the last. Soon most of Mexico was overrun as mankind moved down a notch on the food chain.

At first the 100 foot high steel wall on the American border kept all the monsters in Mexico but the aliens were clever adaptors. Wings were sprouted an aggressive intelligent plants sent tendrils slithering under the walls, toppling them in some cases or popping up on the other side in others. The Southwest was an alien stronghold in less than 30 days.

But there was a limit. Apparently the aliens thrived only in a narrow temperature range. The cities in higher elevations and northerly latitudes survived. Elsewhere….let’s just say that those that didn’t leave the cities got eaten.

Yes, that’s right. These completely alien life forms that managed to survive in a comet halo found a taste for human flesh. It took a lot of biologists by surprise too (although not as much as the inhabitants of central Mexico who wound up as brunch for broodmares and psychobabblers – the names these things got were facetious at best and disrespectful at worst – but nonetheless it didn’t matter if you died in the fangs of a Gibbering Idiot or at the claws of a Razorslash. Dead is dead.

I kept my eyes open and my gun cocked and loaded. Although the visibility was excellent here – it always is along the Roads – there are things that can charge at 100mph like a Hell’s Pegasus or a Demonspeed. There are things that hide and things that adopt the shapes and forms of other things, like the Lurker and the Chameleon Beast. There are a million ways to die in the Infested Zone and here I was 50 miles from the nearest border.

I’ve walked in the Zone before but only with armed columns of men armed with big time bang bang and aerial support. The common school of thought is that a lone person in the Zone won’t last 24 hours. I’ve never heard of someone who walked 50 miles alone through the Zone and lived  to tell about it. Inside, I was screaming in fear but that wouldn’t do me any good. The only slender chance I had at survival was to stay calm, stay along the road and hope for the best.

I hadn’t gone 500 yards before the sweat began to pour. It wasn’t just the sun but deep down I knew that the odds are that I wouldn’t be around too long after the sun went down – and there were plenty of beasts that would do me in during daylight hours as well. I felt the shakes coming on – I’d seen a lot of good men die horribly at the hands, claws, stingers, fangs, pincers and venom of these things. I gave my own face a hard slap. I couldn’t afford panic. Panic makes people dead in the Zone, even in the company of highly trained soldiers. It was a fact that no matter how large, how well-armed the party that went into the Zone was, there would always – and I mean always – be at least a 10% fatality rate. Some battalions went in and were never heard from again.

I kept going at as fast a clip as I thought was safe. Part of me wanted to panic and sprint and keep sprinting but that would be fatal. Sooner or later I’d tire out and when that happened I’d be easy prey. My best defense was to be alert and focused. I scanned the horizons, keeping a hundred count on my steps and on one hundred I’d check the horizon behind me to see if I was being stalked. I kept that vigilance going for at least six miles.

It paid off, too. About 15-20 minutes in I heard a tell tale “ting-ting-ting” sounds coming from my eight o’clock. I turned to my left and saw it flying low over the hill. It was close enough that I could hear the buzzing of its wings. The Ting Ting knew I was there long before I knew it was there. It resembled a dragonfly with a kind of Dr Seuss-looking head  that had a long protuberance (kind of like a lily stalk) with a bell-shaped chitinous mass growing out of its end. It was from here that the ting-ting sound emanated from. For some reason the acoustic properties of the mass were stupendous – you could hear it coming from a mile away. Literally.

Ting Tings are impressive flyers but not really fine hunters – they really can’t sneak up on things. Humans can easily evade them and I did. It made a lazy pass in my general direction and rather than dive to the ground (which will get you killed; once you’re on the ground for any creature you’re not getting up) I waited until the last moment and leaped aside, a game of Infested Chicken. It went buzzing off, the ting-ting-ting of its bell ringing in my ears – Edgar Allen Poe, eat your heart out!

In fact, that’s how it immobilizes its prey; the sonic wave that it produces can actually cause temporary paralysis on certain smaller animals. On a human it can cause temporary deafness if the animal is large enough. This one was more of an adolescent sized which explains why a single one of them would take on a human male. This one had about a six foot wingspan – I’ve seen Ting Tings with spans twice that. It was making another pass at me which wouldn’t do at all – I couldn’t waste all day with a teenaged monster while there were other things lurking nearby that wouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of tired-out prey.

I pulled out my trusty 12-gauge shotgun and took aim. Either this creature was too stupid to realize it was in danger or it was incredibly desperate. In either case I waited until it came close enough for a can’t-miss shot. BLAM! Ichor everywhere. Dead Ting Ting. Keep moving.

I did pick up the pace a little. The noise and the stench of the dead monster would bring others, including some Mama and Papa Ting Tings and those were large enough to kill a human adult. If they came at me one at a time I could pick them off all day but a swarm of them would be more than I could handle. I kept moving.

The Jeep, like any vehicle that is permitted in the Infested Zone, had a GPS system that keeps track of the local infestations. As the sun began to move further and further west, I heard the voice activated system in my ear – I’d removed the GPS and put it in my pack, linking it to my Bluetooth receiver. “Entering Ainsworth, Nebraska zone. Bad Emmetts and Devil Walkers detected here.

I cursed. Bad Emmetts were bad enough but easily avoidable; they hung out in trees and liked to drop down on their prey. They made little nests about the size of coconuts and secreted an acid out of their mouths that melted the bottom when they detected prey coming. They’d drop down onto their prey and burrow into them. They lay their eggs and as they do they secrete another liquid, this time causing full paralysis in the victim. Three days later their eggs hatch and a thousand Bad Emmetts eat their way out of the victim who is alive and fully conscious while it happens. It’s a real awful way to go and while I’m not exactly sure why it got the name, they are bad news indeed.

A Devil Walker is worse news. They are like a centipede on radioactive steroids. A Devil Walker is about a mile long and is all legs and teeth. They walk like a centipede but each segment has a mouth with mandibles that are sharp enough to cut through a tree trunk. Once spotted by a Devil Walker, a lone human is toast. They are far too big and far too fast to get away from and killing them is a waste of time; they can be killed but you have to kill every segment, not just the head and for full-grown adults it takes a rocket launcher to kill a single segments and an adult can have anywhere from 75-450 segments.

Needless to say, I’m not eager to run into one of those. The one advantage that I have over a Devil Walker is that they’re so big I can see them from far enough away to avoid them, but if I miss one and it crosses the road in front of me or behind me and it’s smell receptors (located just above their mouths) will detect me and I’ll be spending eternity being digested.

With the sun going down I had to be careful. In the dark Devil Walkers are much harder to spot. Still, keeping to the road would be the only way I could survive this and if I could keep to the road, I might live through the night. The problem is that there is no lights on the road – lights attract critters. For the same reason I couldn’t use a flashlight or a torch; for many of the creatures that’s just like ringing the dinner bell. I do have night vision goggles but they aren’t always helpful with far-off objects. Indeed, I’ll just have to keep my wits about me and hope I can walk the 50 miles before dusk of the second day.

Much of why patrols are still sent out is to pick up human stragglers like me and to make periodic “herd” thinning inroads so that the population didn’t get so large that the food supply would dwindle, forcing them to come north where the remaining people are. They don’t like the cold but it doesn’t kill them. At least, not as far as we know.

It was with a lot of relief I saw the river in the distance and realized I was approaching the Platte. I hadn’t seen any Bad Emmetts and only one Devil Walker but it was behind me, moving away thankfully. I hadn’t seen any up close and I wouldn’t mind keeping it that way.

The smugly emotionless voice of the GPS intoned. “Exiting Ainsworth, Nebraska zone. Now entering Platte-Keller Zone. Killfish, Deathshead Wolves, Yellow Terror, Lobstermen and Decapitators all detected here.” I swore quietly to myself. All of those were night feeders and it was well past dark.  I didn’t dare stay where I was – I was on flat prairie land and there was really no way to know if a Devil Walker was approaching.

But there was more forested land here. Trees. Places for things to hide. However I’d rather take on a thousand Lobstermen than one Devil Walker. However, my odds for survival in both cases were almost Nil. With a sigh I started my way into the Zone.

My hair was standing on end. I felt an unreasoning fear. I knew I was going to die and I was a sitting duck out on that road. Maybe if I got in amongst those trees I’d have a chance. They’ll offer some cover and…

I whirled around and started firing my rail gun into the trees. They exploded with a fiery bang and a shrieking Yellow Terror flew out and ambled away from the road. The monstrous creature had shaggy yellow fur and a half-formed face with large saucer-like black eyes, It had appendages but no recognizable hand or feet.

Yellow terrors aren’t physical specimens but they have powerful psychic abilities. They can project fear and curiosity and all sorts of emotions designed to get their victims to come to them. They really aren’t physical specimens but once their victims are near enough they have a spike like appendage in one and sometimes both arms that they stab their victim with which contains a toxin that stops the heart of their prey. They then drag their victim back to their lair and consume them at their leisure. They are easily frightened off.

I heard a bone-chilling howl and picked up the pace. Deathshead Wolves are the most dangerous predators that aren’t 50 feet tall. Like North American wolves, they hunt in packs. But Deathshead Wolves are far more vicious and deadly. Their skulls have no skin or fur – only gone with sunken eyes that are protected with a strong membrane that allows them to see much farther than terrestrial wolves.

They have razor sharp teeth that can tear chunks of flesh and entire limbs from their victims. They have powerful legs with sharp claws which they rarely use in an offensive capacity. No, they prefer to attack with their tails which have giant scorpion-like stingers which can be used as a sword and go clean through an adult body, or as a toxin which causes an agonizing feeling of pain that simply incapacitates their victims before being eaten of course. All these damned things eat us.

The woods were beginning to get closer and closer to the roads. Forested areas are far more dangerous than the plains. The trees can shelter and hide; things can attack without warning and the element of surprise can finish  you off. I looked at them nervously, dreading an explosion of fur and fang charging from the woods. I’m a pretty accurate shot but at night it is far more dicey to hit a charging animal than it is during the day.

Nothing came charging out though and I continued to move at a steady pace. Fatigue would be setting in; I took brief 5 minute breaks and sometimes slowed the pace a bit when there was more distance from the treeline. I had a long distance sniper rifle loaded with phosphorous tipped tracer bullets. Those were pretty lethal to anything that lived in this hellhole.

When I got to the Platte River it was nearly 2am and I was cold even in the warm clothes and armor I was wearing. I could see Killfish wriggling in the river from the bridge. I kept in the middle of the bridge – Killfish could leap high enough to grab someone from the side of the bridge and pull them down into the river. Also Lobstermen liked to hide under bridges and attack. I thought I could hear the clicking sound of their claws but so far none o those horrors had made their way out onto the bridge.

Crossing the Platte was nerve-wracking and twice I saw movement which led to shots being fired. I knew there were all sorts of things just under the bridge, but the sound of gunfire made them a bit more wary. However, near the end of the bridge I saw three of them emerging from under the side of the bridge. They were bipedal with large claws, two additional arms, a red carapace and a flat head with eye stalks protruding from the top. They were close so I pulled out my 12 gauge and blew off the heads of the first two. The third was on me before I could reload and was far too fast to outrun so I dropped the shotgun and pulled out the katana. The creature didn’t feint but came straight at me as most of these monsters always did.

I swung head on and severed one of it’s secondary arms. It shrieked, an unearthly sound but I’d been trained to ignore their noises. It came after me again and lost a claw for its troubles. When I took one of its eyestalks as well it decided to cut its losses and ran off but I knew its cousins would be making an appearance soon. Fortunately, I was close to the end of the bridge and crossed without further incident. When I looked back I saw a swarm of creatures including lobstermen feeding on the corpses that I’d created. Better them than me.

Daylight broke as I was passing from the Platte area and the terrain reverted to prairie. It would be a scorcher for sure. I began to think that I had a shot. After the bridge I’d seen a couple of Decapitators gibbering and lurching along like they usually do but I knew enough not to approach them. They lull their prey into thinking they weren’t a serious threat but once the victim came close enough they’d pounce and pull off their heads with terrifyingly lethal speed. They didn’t come any closer and I continued on my way.

The border was within reach. My feet ached and I was bone weary; I’d been walking for nearly 24 hours straight and I was conserving energy as much as possible. I was OK on supplies – my 12 gauge was gone but most of my other weapons were available, but that bag was getting heavy. I might have to lighten my load soon.

This was some of the more dangerous territory. Unkels roam this territory – ant-like creatures the size of a grizzly bear with a caustic acid that secretes from their mandibles. Not that hard to kill one at a time but they hunt in groups of hundreds and thousands.. You run out of ammo sooner or later and once that happens, they take you down to the nest and let the queen digest you. While you’re still alive from what I understand although how they figured that out I have no idea.

Some of the bigger monsters were out here, 50, 100 feet tall some of them. So tall they barely took notice of us humans but they could still crush us like a bug without even noticing. Many of my compadres have ended up a squashed bug on the bottom of their feet. And there were a few of the big ones who could be counted to take on a human battalion just for shits and giggles.

The day wore on and I was running low on water. I’d seen a few Pickle Groovers, little green buggers that love to find unprotected skin and burrow in. Get enough of them in you and that’s all she wrote but thus far none of them have been able to find a spot on me (thank God for head-to-toe body armor) and I was dripping sweat. I knew dehydration could be an issue but there was hope; on the horizon I could see the wall. I set my locator beacon on and hoped that someone was listening. Maybe they’d send a car out to pick me up. I started walking faster.

That’s when I heard it. The sounds of a thundering herd except it was no buffalo I was hearing. It was Unkels and from what I could see there were thousands of them. Heading my way, too. I said a few words that my mother were she still alive wouldn’t have approved of and started off at a gallop. I knew it wasn’t going to save me but there was a little rise a few hundred yards off. I could make my last stand there.

I wondered if the bastards watching this were enjoying the show. I figured there’d be no aid from the fuckers on the wall. I hope my horrible death would give them some entertainment.

I made it to the rise and ran up it, turning to watch the tide of Unkels heading towards me like a living carpet. I took out my Laws Rocket and clipped it into the shoulder launcher. I’d get only one of these before the herd reached me. I aimed it carefully and fired. A moment later fire and dirt and Unkel parts rained down from the sky. Calmly I dropped the launcher and pulled out my AK-47s, two of them and started firing. This was going to be some last stand. I didn’t let up and the pile of Unkel corpses had to be daunting for the Unkels although who knew if they thought anyway.

They were getting closer. 300 yards. 150. 100. 75. 50. I could smell the acid and I was down to my last clips on both the AK-47s. Then something amazing happened. The bastards turned tail and ran. I was so surprised I didn’t fire into the backs of the departing horde. I started to laugh. Maniacally. I was going to live. I was going to live! Then the earth shook and  I turned around and there was a Sentinel behind me, 150 feet high with a scythe like tail that was swinging for my head. Oh Shi–

Monsters


Monsters

Whitney Able discovers that blonds don’t always have more fun

(2010) Horror (Magnet) Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able, Mario Zuniga Benavides, Annalee Jefferies, Erika Morales Yolanda Chacon, Javier Acosta Rodriguez, Victor Manuel Martinez Tovar, Walter Hernandez Col, Kennedy Gamaliel Jimenez, Romeo Arista. Directed by Gareth Edwards

The only monsters worth fearing are those of our own making. I don’t know who said it first but maybe it should have been Victor Frankenstein. If not him, maybe a politician we can be proud of.

Speaking of non-existent creatures, Mexico is full of aliens. Not the illegal kind – although they kind of are – I mean the E.T. sorts, the ones who get transported to planet Earth by a faulty NASA probe that crashed in Northern Mexico and hatched some extraterrestrial octopus-looking thingies that proceeded to take over Mexico. As if they didn’t have enough problems.

Samantha Wynden (Able) is the daughter of a wealthy American publisher. That publisher is the boss of Andrew Kaulder (McNairy), a reporter whom the publisher feels can safely escort Samantha through the infested zone back home (there are a few lapses in logic here but we’ll just smile and pretend it all makes sense). He’s loathe to do it but if he doesn’t he’ll be unemployed at a time where that’s not such a good thing to be. Not that there’s any era when it’s a good thing to be unemployed.

So of course they meet and they dislike each other. So yes he turns out to be a screw-up and deeply distrustful of rich people. So yeah they fall in love and wind up in bed. And of course this happens while their happy little trip collapses around them.

Gareth Edwards, the first-time director of this movie, does an impressive job with a pretty slender budget. He employs guerilla filmmaking techniques – shooting on location without permission with locals as extras and even actors. That makes this as authentic a movie as you’re likely to see.

While the concept isn’t particularly new, it is done in a pretty smart manner. This is a universe of corruption and desperation with the innocent people caught in the middle. You can say it’s an allegory of American immigration policies, although I think if so the references are ham-handed. This is not, despite the title, not a monster movie although you do see them from time to time. I think the thought was to keep them in the background for greater effectiveness but this sure could have used a little more monster and a little less romance.

There are only two actors with any experience in the movie and so they pretty much carry the movie and while they don’t disgrace themselves, neither do they seize the opportunity to deliver a career-making performance. I grant you, that can be hard to do when much of their performances are ad-libbed. Able is cute though and has enough charisma to lead me to believe she has a future ahead of her in the business.

The monsters, when seen, are mostly seen in grainy TV footage but they occasionally make devastating appearances. I wish they had a greater presence, but at the end of the day the real monsters weren’t necessarily from outer space. That’s what really makes the movie worthwhile.

WHY RENT THIS: Feels real. Every cent is on the screen.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Weak acting in places. Underutilizes monsters.

FAMILY VALUES: The language here was alone responsible for giving this an “R” rating.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The only two professional actors in the film are Able and McNairy; the rest of the cast are locals who happened to be around when Edwards was shooting.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are several Q&A sessions with various members of the cast and crew at various conventions and festivals.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $4.2M on a $500K production budget; I’d call it an indie hit..

COMPARISON SHOPPING: And Soon the Darkness

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Day 4 of the Six Days of Darkness 2012

The Dead Survive


One foot in front of the other. Heavy, heavy feet in heavy, heavy shoes. Dust covers me. Dirt. The dirt of the grave. The dirt of death. I’m dead. Gone. Kaput. But the dead survive. I don’t know how it happened. I don’t care. I’m just…tired. Each step is agony. I want to lie down and go to sleep but my body doesn’t know how.

Once I was living. Once I slept. Ate. Fucked. I had friends. I was happy. Content. But that’s all faded away to nothing. There is nothing but hunger and the need to keep moving. One foot in front of the other. I can’t help myself.

I know that I have changed. A part of me mourns, the part of me that still feels but that shrinks by the day, a small light of humanity that has dimmed and almost gone out. I know this is Hell. It must be. Where else but Hell  could there be such cruelty, such torture? Hungry all the time but nothing to eat. Forced to move, to walk when all I want to do is sleep. Sleep is denied me. Oblivion is denied me. If I had tears, I might weep.

This isn’t what it was supposed to be. I thought that when we died, we’d sleep. We’d go to heaven. We’d be reincarnated. Not this. Not this agony of walking and hungering. I’ve walked…hundreds, maybe thousands of miles. My brain can no longer comprehend numbers and distance. It’s been years since I died. Years since I began walking.

Food was plentiful once. The living were everywhere, like ants. One small child was a meal, a small adult a feast. Their blood and brains gave us sustenance. Their still living tissue was sweet. But like everything else we did, we over-harvested the food supply. Like the fish in the ocean, the food grew less plentiful. We tried eating other living things – dogs, cats, squirrels, rabbits but it wouldn’t do. They walk with us now, no longer in fear although our scent disturbs them. They are not our food.

I haven’t seen a living human in a long, long time. They have gotten adept at hiding, maybe. Or maybe they’re all gone. This might be a dead planet with the reanimated corpses of the dead all that remains. How long can we live without food? Can we die, at last? Will our rest finally come when we all simply drop, too tired to walk,  no food to sate our hunger?

I no longer have the ability to answer such questions. I no longer have the ability to ask them. It is a thought, quick as lightning that passes through what was once my cortex and is gone. I shuffle my feet. One step. Another. Another. Moving forward, ever forward. Others of my kind are nearby but nothing living. Nothing human. We all walk, aimlessly. We are pointed in one direction and will walk until we can’t. What will happen when I reach the ocean? I have no need of breath; I will doubtlessly walk beneath the waves until I come to another beach, somewhere else.

It doesn’t matter. I’m merely a reanimated piece of meat, going nowhere and accomplishing nothing. My mind is flickering out and soon even these brief flashes of thought will cease. I don’t remember my name. I don’t remember my life, only a vague recollection that I was happy once. Now I don’t feel anything – not even pain. All is compulsion; compulsion to walk, compulsion to eat.

The dead don’t have lives. The idea is contradictory. We merely survive, one day into another and on and on it goes into infinity. The road stretches out before me. Grass grows through the pavement. The sun shines and butterflies flit across the landscape. Birds sing in the trees and a soft cool breeze rustles the leaves. It’s a beautiful day but I don’t notice it.

I must keep moving. One step. Another. Another. Walking, always walking. Never running. Never stopping either. Just an aimless, ceaseless journey on an empty stomach that has no meaning and no value. Reduced to bare functionality, sheer instinct the only motivation. I shuffle my feet. I stumble. I fall. I get up. My legs don’t work very well. My arm is broken but I don’t know it. I wouldn’t care if I did. The dead feel no pain. Only compulsion.

Hell. This is hell. One step. Another. Another. No bed at journey’s end. No soft pillow to lay my head on. No sheets to cover me in the night. No rest. No redemption. Just one step. Another. Another. My stomach growls. It doesn’t matter. I will walk until this planet is no more. I will walk until the end of time. I am dead and death is eternal. Death is walking. Hell is walking. One step. Another. Another. Another. Another.