A Warning of Monsters: A Discussion of The Mummy

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“This means something bigger than you can imagine. My life’s work and you were going to steal it. How much is that worth on the black market?”

 

When I heard this line, I heard the cry of a thousand monster kids when news of the Dark Universe started appearing.

 

I’ll add my standard disclaimer now: I didn’t come to old school horror through Universal like most people did. Hammer was my entry point. While I’ve seen the Universal films and appreciate that horror as a genre would not be what it is without them, I don’t have the emotional investment in them a lot of people do. That also means I will be much more forgiving of this movie than most (I do understand how Universal people feel though. If you want to hear some wailing and gnashing of teeth, ask me about current Batman comics).

 

Let Me Get This Out Of My System First

 

Now, I’ve been obsessed with Egypt ever since I was 10. I don’t know as much as I should as I had periods where I was lax in keeping up with the archaeology, but I know a fair bit. And I know enough to have to get this out of my system…

 

THATSNOTHOWEGYPTIANMAGICWORKSITSNOTITSNOTITSNOTANDIFYOUACTUALLYDIDYOURRESEARCHYOUDSEEHOWAWESOMEEGYPTIANMAGICISANDYOUWOULDNTHAVETOMAKESTUFFUPTHATMAKESNOSENSE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

Also, if you’re going to make politics part of your plot, understand how the politics of your country worked. Egypt had a harem system, which meant the chances of Pharaoh not having a son were slim and even if the situation in the movie arose it would have been super easy for Ahmanet to Hatshepsut that shit: Rule for the kid as regent and just claim the title of Pharaoh before the kid was grown.   End of story.

 

And you want to erase someone from history? You don’t give them a tomb. The surest way to curse and insult someone was to have no funeral, no rites, and nothing to mark the grave.

 

And mummifying someone alive is not a thing. It’s kind of impossible.

 

Okay. *straightens tie and smoothes back hair* Moving on….

 

The Head That Wears The Crown

 

The Mummy 2017 1

 

Whatever else we want to say about this film, it is called The Mummy so the mummy is the really important thing here.

 

Sofia Boutella NAILED… THAT… SHIT! She was, hands down, the best thing about the movie. She was believably hurt and vulnerable when she needed to be, a stone cold bad ass the rest of the time and beautifully manipulative and calculating throughout.

 

Now, I’m a fan of the Gothic, so tragic romance floats my boat, but a change every once in awhile is nice. That’s where one of the key, and most refreshing, changes comes to this movie.

 

Ahmanet was not some woman who lost her lover due to the misfortunes of chance and shares the curse that stalks him through time. Ahmanet was the daughter of a god and the god who was supposed to wear the crown next.   Every decision she made was toward the ultimate goal of securing what she saw as hers by right.

 

The makers of this film never lost sight of that and a bunch of details (though I’m guessing a great deal of them were unintentional) show that. Ahmanet carried herself ramrod straight with her chin up and out. She stood slightly awkwardly but always in a way that took up slightly more space than anyone else which is consistence with the way Egyptian monarchs were depicted in art. She projected regal and when people – alive or dead – did as she commanded, even when she didn’t say anything, it made perfect sense.   God-queens must be obeyed.

 

One of my favorite scenes is when Ahmanet walks into the tomb of the Templars for the first time and all the undead warriors take a knee. The filmmakers probably didn’t realize it, but that’s a big deal.   Taking a knee (a.k.a. genuflecting) for Catholics is reserved for God and for the Host. You bow or kneel on both knees for everything else. So you have Christian knights making a holy gesture of servitude before an undead, pagan god-queen.

 

This is a woman who was born to rule and will do whatever she has to to secure that crown. That is what makes this my favorite iteration of The Mummy and if it weren’t for Ingrid Pitt, Ahmanet would totally be my undead queen.

 

I also think there was a major disservice done in the marketing for this movie (which actually probably bled into the movie now I think of it) because it was titled The Mummy, which meant we should have been focusing on our monster. Not Tom Cruise. Ahmanet feels like an afterthought. In that way, she does become like a typical female in a horror movie. What she does doesn’t matter, even though it should since she’s the baddie. What happens to her is where our focus is.

 

Ugh. That guy?

 

Film Title: The Mummy

 

While I rather liked this movie, it did basically suck. One of the reasons was that you have an amazing baddie but the hero is a total schmuck named Nick Morton.

 

Now, I didn’t like Guardians of the Galaxy so it grates on my last nerve that the male lead in every movie now is Star Lord.

 

Hate to break it to you:   A dick-bag with a heart of gold is still a dick-bag. And the love of a good woman has never, ever fixed a dick-bag. All it’s done is exactly what it did in this movie: Get those around him hurt and killed. Worse still, the “redemption” Nick gets in the end is in no way earned. It’s given to him because he’s Tom Cruise, er, I mean, the “hero.”

 

I do feel like there’s squandered opportunities in the character. First off, earning his redemption, but I also especially liked the idea of him going into these war zones and exploiting the fighting for his own gain. That is an avenue that is fertile ground for a new generation of ancient folk horror.

 

And the humor, which was mostly at Nick’s expense, was solid. That was a welcome borrow from Stephen Sommer’s Mummy.

 

Wait, Who’s Pulling The Strings Here?

 

Film Title: The Mummy

 

If this movie had been made in the 30’s, Jenny Halsey would have been the victim. She’s pretty, she’s useless and she contributes nothing to the story except the hero’s tears at the end.

 

But another fun aspect of this film is that it was made now and we have a gender swap on our hands.   Our female lead is the power grasping monster and the puppet on her strings is male. Nick has absolutely no agency until the very end. He is completely at the mercy of Ahmanet.

 

This really hit me during the scene in the cathedral when Ahmanet was going to sacrifice Nick.   She starts pawing at him in a way that is pretty clearly supposed to be sexual but Nick is NOT enjoying it (and women everyone cry “see how that feels!?”).

 

But the gender swap is at its best, I think, during the fight scenes. It makes me so happy to see a female villain pick someone up by the throat and chuck them across the room with one hand. Talk about empowering! And I was giggling madly when the final fight scene descended into Ahmanet repeatedly bitch slapping Nick (because those were bitch slaps).

 

It’s also nice to see Ahmanet take a hit like a champ. Pick axe through the thigh? Whatever.   *bitch slap*

 

All that promise did fall apart at the very end though. The nonsensical love triangle where there’s no evidence that anyone actually loved each other won out. Ahmanet got inexplicably jealous and the man with no willpower until that moment managed to contain the god of evil, so the woman gets shirked and the man becomes all powerful because… he’s Tom Cruise? Because they feel like they have to put Tom in another movie?   Because of some other stupid reason that’s gonna get me angry if I think about it anymore?

 

The Important Things In Life

 

Zombie Kisses

 

The dead people.   Let’s talk about the dead people in this movie because dead people are fun to talk about and they always make me happy.

 

Now, the scene where Ahmanet wakes up for the first time and sucks the life from the two cops had me wanting to run up and down the aisles of the theater skweeing and waving my arms around. It was soooooooo purdy!

 

I’m also madly in love with their version of Set. We only saw a little bit of him, but it was super sexy and I hope he pops up again.

 

There was a pretty clear attempt to make the dead people in this movie scary. When they first died, they didn’t move easily and it was creepy as all get out. They were gross too and I really appreciated that. I was madly in love with the scene where the Templars were swimming after Nick. It was a silly scene, but it looked so nice.

 

Here’s The Part Where I Earn The Side Eye

 

Film Title: The Mummy

 

I’m gonna bring the skeleton out of the closet here: I’m gonna set this movie side by side with Dracula Untold for a second.

 

Dracula Untold was being made when the Dark Universe was being conceived, so all the tie in stuff was tacked on at the end. But the big reason you can tell it wasn’t supposed to be part of the Dark Universe is because Dracula Untold doesn’t have much of an old school, 30’s feel to it. It actually leans pretty hard into Lord of the Rings style fantasy.

 

On the other hand, The Mummy smacks of the 30’s and, as much as I hate to say it, is probably the movie Universal would have made in ’32 if they’d had the means. Universal made those movies to put butts in seats and cash in hand. The fact that they ended up being such elegant masterpieces was mostly an accident because the stories had to be well written to balance out the fact that they had no means to do anything truly spectacular. They probably would have sacrificed story to go for the cheap scare back then.

 

The thing I associate most with horror films of that period (and later, to be honest, it’s not like Hammer never did it) is story sacrificed for the sake of style and plot convenience. That is all over this new film.

 

For example, the deal Ahmanet makes is a deal with the Devil. Tit for tat that goes awry and bites her in the ass. But Egyptians weren’t dualistic in the same way we are.   Set was a bad dude, but the bad things he did were necessary for balance in the universe and he wasn’t ultimate evil.   Not to mention that one did not bargain with Egyptian gods.

 

Another example is the sarcophagus on a lever system. In spite of taking all that effort to seal her away forever, the priests put in a lever system to pull the sarcophagus out. How else were our heroes going to get her out? Looked cool too.

 

How does Nick come back from the dead when he’s had no special experience outside of some visions?   Dunno. But it’s cool if he dies so we’ll do that and bring him back.

 

My point is that this movie followed the pattern of a 30’s Universal film and I think we can expect more of that type of barely sensical-ness from future films, especially if you want to force monsters together.

 

“You Have To Be Weary Of A Man Like Me.”

 

Jekyll

 

There is another aspect here that is quite modern. Prodigium is basically a government conspiracy to hunt evil. It subverts other branches of government in pursuing its goal, which fits perfectly with the personality of the man who created it.

 

This is one aspect of the story that really bugged me: Prodigium is headed by Henry Jekyll.

 

I like the idea of Prodigium and I like the fanaticism that rears its head in the way Jekyll deals with evil. There is no negotiation, no alternatives, only destruction.

 

My problem is a) I don’t like Jekyll and Hyde (personal taste, but it does factor into my opinion), b) what we seem to be dealing with in the Dark Universe is absolute good and evil. Black and white. To me, Jekyll and Hyde was the gray area between because the story itself was about the evil that men are capable of. Even good men. And c) Russell Crowe was not pulling off Jekyll. He was a fine as Hyde, though the transformation was lackluster. I heard that Eddie Redmayne was considered to play Jekyll and Hyde, and I think he would have been magnificent.

 

I Spy With My Little Eye…

 

This is a miscellaneous list of references I thought I spotted in the movie. Some of them are probably totally in my head but I stand by them.

 

– In the lab at Prodigium we see the Gill Man’s hand and a vampire skull. In Jekyll’s office there’s also a skull that has had the top sawed off and reattached, ala Frankenstein. I also kept seeing ape skulls, so I’m not sure what that could mean.

 

– The Egyptian dream sequences and the flashbacks where Ahmanet performed the rituals to Set borrowed heavily from Coppola’s Dracula stylistically.

 

– Ahmanet awakening in the wet, gross boggy area – The Mummy’s Curse with Ananka being found in the muck of a Louisiana swamp. During this scene the policemen also follow a strip of bandage that reminded me of the scene in the original Mummy when Imhotep walks away, leaving the laughing clerk insane.

 

-Rats on the streets in London – Dracula. I can’t see rats in a horror movie and not think Dracula.

 

– All the stuff from Stephen Sommers’s Mummy: Bugs.   All them Bugs; Sandstorms and faces in sandstorms; sucking the life breath from people to heal; and, of course, the Book of Amen Ra.

 

– The Templars: TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD! That makes Ahmanet my hero since she commands the Eastern Knights.

 

– During the fight in the cathedral, one of the zombies ends up tacked to the wall horizontally and that reminded me of the golden unicorn/catapult kill in The Abominable Dr. Phibes.

 

“This, My Little Prince, Is The Ultimate Game.”

 

Dark Universe

 

(That line is from Dracula Untold, for the record.)

 

At this point, the Dark Universe is a chess game we’ve only seen the opening moves of.

 

Dracula Untold has already been dismissed from Dark Universe continuity, but I think reintegrating it would be extremely easy and fun.

 

I’m a firm believer that Charles Dance should stay involved in the Dark Universe (he’s the closest thing to Sir Christopher Lee we have left!) and I think his master vampire would butt heads nicely with Jekyll and Prodigium. They probably would not be the group the vampire mentioned wanting revenge on, but they would most likely end up getting in the way. This would make Dracula choose sides, or not choose sides, so he can be a hero without being a hero and a villain without being a villain, ala Dark Shadows’s Barnabas Collins.

 

By adding Jekyll and what are basically zombies, they have made steps toward making the Dark Universe a much bigger, more all encompassing thing then it was in the 40’s, which is a step in the right direction if we’re going long game.

 

Last I heard Bride Of Frankenstein is up next, and I almost wonder if we won’t have Nick approaching Dr. Frankenstein, asking him to remove Set somehow. Perhaps the monster can act as a vessel for the god.

 

But, for me, the really fun implications are for Ahmanet. We see her desiccated corpse being put back into its sarcophagus and the sarcophagus being filled with mercury. Setting aside the fact that we know she’s not gone because franchise, within the story this denotes that they still consider her a threat. She was a queen on the verge of becoming a god.   She killed her own family to seize power. When she wakes up, who’s to say she won’t hunt Nick down and murder him to seize the throne of Hell itself?   Who knows what allies and enemies she’ll make along the way?

 

We’ve just been given our Queen, and in chess the Queen is the most versatile piece.

 

Did I like The Mummy? Yeah, I did.

 

The Queen is dead.   Long live the Queen.

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Nowhere To Turn: Dracula’s Daughter and the Victimization of Women

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Dracula’s Daughter was one of those movies I’d always heard everyone talk about but had never gotten around to watching until recently. It does have its strong points, but I can’t say I liked it all that well.

The thing is, as I stewed over this movie and picked it apart in my head, I realized something unintentionally sinister and a little disturbing about this film: Dracula’s Daughter is the perfect representation of the victimization of women.

Countess Marya Zaleska is a vampire. But how she became a vampire is a little nebulous.   We are not led to believe that she was bitten. Her vampirism is due to the “influence of her father.” What this points to is long-term mental and emotional abuse. Zaleska’s father browbeat her into believing that she was a vampire and she had to drink blood to survive. Zaleska is not the typical vampire femme fatale we have come to expect.   Vampirism was not her choice and not something she had embraced. She wants very much to be free of it.

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The funeral pyre sequence supports this. She is desperate to get hold of her father’s body. She’s the only one who can do what needs to be done and what needs to be done is an exorcism. Through the ritual burning and prayers Zaleska is making sure Dracula is dead.   Only when he is dead and can never, ever, come back can she sever the ties that bind them. She is exorcising the demon, her demon, in hopes of leaving that life behind.

But that’s not how family works. Daddy issues aren’t so easy to get rid of.

Here’s where things get really painful: She goes to Garth, a doctor (a psychiatrist, interestingly enough, not a doctor of the body, further suggesting that she was not bitten), for help. Garth insists she be upfront about what is troubling her. This makes sense. How can you treat a problem when you don’t know what it is?

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Zaleska is too ashamed to tell him her problems. Why should she be? Because she knows how that will go. She tells the doctor she’s a vampire (tells the police she’s been raped). He doesn’t believe she’s a vampire (she just slept with some guy and regrets it so she’s accusing him of things).   If she manages to convince Garth that she’s a vampire he will turn on her, assume she’s evil and should be destroyed (well, if you didn’t spend your nights running around like a whore this wouldn’t have happened to you so just accept the shame we’re going to heap on you).

When Zaleska refuses to tell Garth the problem he assumes that problem isn’t real (if you were raped, why didn’t you report it when it happened?).   She just needs to exert some willpower and get over it.

But Zaleska does have a problem. She was abused. And she wants help so desperately she agrees to reveal the abuse.

And when she does, everyone – including the person she turned to for help – turns on her and destroys her. Just like she knew was going to happen.

She doesn’t go down without a fight, but it’s worth noting that she is not doing what her father did and destroying lives. She is using her powers to kidnap a man, drag him off and force him to help her. All she wants is to heal and she’ll force Garth to make the pain go away if she has to.

This movie gives a pretty bleak picture of what it’s like to be a victim of rape and abuse and that was not what I was expecting when I sat down to watch it. But Zaleska’s story is the story of millions of women throughout the world.   Whether the movie supports or opposes this treatment of victims is hard to say, but it certainly exposes it to anyone willing to see it. Here’s hoping that we can look at the story of a fictional vampire and learn something from it.

Of Glass Slippers And Bloody Knives: Frankenstein Created Woman And Cinderella

frankenstein-created-woman-6(picture from The Peter Cushing Appreciation Page)

Frankenstein Created Woman is an odd entry in the Hammer’s Frankenstein series.   Most of the Frankenstein films follow the reliable pattern of Peter Cushing putting one person’s brain into another’s body. Wackiness and bloodshed ensue. But Created Woman sees the vehemently pragmatic Baron suddenly concerned with the human soul.

The story goes like this: The Baron, assisted by drunkard Dr. Hertz and outcast Hans, performs an experiment that proves that the human soul remains in the body for a bit after clinical death. To celebrate the success he asks Hans to run into town and get some champagne. At the cafe, Hans flirts with shy, deformed Christina, the innkeeper’s daughter. Secretly they’re lovers, but Christina’s father doesn’t approve of Hans. He’s the son of a murderer and the entire town is convinced he’ll come to no good. Hans has a dust up with Christina’s father before the local trio of rich douchebags shows up and starts hassling everyone, saving the most venom for Christina. Hans refuses to just let them, and in the ensuing fight, he pounds on all three of the douchbags. Later that night, as a bratty form of revenge the douchebags sneak back to the cafe after it has closed. Christina’s father catches them and ends up dead in the altercation that follows.   Hans is blamed and put on trial, but it’s a forgone conclusion. No one but The Baron and Hertz believe Hans didn’t do it. Hans is quickly convicted and executed. Christina witnesses the execution and commits suicide. The Baron now has two bodies and the ability to trap souls. So, the soul of Hans goes into the body of Christina, whom The Baron has performed plastic surgery on. Christina wakes up totally hot and with no memory of who she is. This means the compulsion to hunt down and kill the three douchebags is foreign to her, but one she still follows. Christina murders all three men before drowning herself and staying dead for good.

This one is a little weird for a Frankenstein film.   Trapping souls isn’t a science, whereas in the other films, The Baron is a scientist to the core. It is also much more morally dense than the other films.   The rest of the series is concerned with the badness of raising the dead, whereas this one leans more toward saving those who died undeservedly and allowing them to live.

But if you look at the film in the context of a fairy tale and everything suddenly makes a whole lot more sense. That’s because Frankenstein Created Woman is a slasher version of Cinderella.

Stay with me while I reframe the story a little bit.

Cinderella is part of what is apparently known as “the persecuted heroine” group of fairy tale figures. In this film, we have not one Cinderella, but two. Christina is the most obvious one. She has been deformed from birth, and has been looked on with pity and disgust and led to believe that she needs to be fixed for anyone to love her. Hans is our unexpected Cinderella. Physically, Christina is damaged goods.   Emotionally, Hans is damaged goods.   He has spent his whole life being looked on with pity and disgust and led to believe that he needs to be fixed because of what his father did.

Rather than wicked stepsisters we have our tree rich douchebags. The scene where we first meet them is very important here because we see them bully Christina by making her serve them wine, forcing her to spill it and threatening her with violence when she does. We then see them using the law to bully Hans after he kicks the crap out of them.

Here, just as in the fairy tale, Cinderella has to reach her lowest point before she can rise. In this case, they both die. But this is a horror film and we realize the pair has a very unexpected fairy godmother:   Baron Victor Frankenstein.

The Baron is kind enough to wave his magic science wand (this is a 60’s horror movie) and make Christina a total hottie after putting Hans’s soul in her body. It’s at this point that Cinderella can now have her moment of triumph and rise above her enemies. Our douchebags got Hans killed and routinely harassed Christina. In Frankenstein Created Woman, Christina and Hans triumph over the people who oppressed them in a way suitable to a horror movie:   They seduce then kill them.   Revenge is had by not only making the rich douchebags drool over the thing that had repulsed them before, but killing them afterward.

It’s also worth remembering that, even though the blonde lady with a blue dress surrounded by singing mice from Disney was probably the first thing that popped into your head when I mentioned Cinderella, most versions of the story from all over the world are much nastier. The German and Persian versions had the persecutors killed at the end. The German and several Asian versions also had their beauty being guided by the spirit of a dead person.

There are quite a few ways Frankenstein Created Woman is unusual. Not the least of which is that Terence Fisher rather directly created the fairy tale he always viewed his movies to be. There may be no singing mice (though Thorley Walters is basically Gus-Gus if you think about it), but it may not be too off the mark to say that this is the type of thing The Brothers Grimm had in mind. Or would have if they had been writing in the 60’s.

It’s Not All In Your Head: A Review Of The Unkindness Of Ravens

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Some religions believe that disease is caused by factors both internal and external. That has never been applied to PTSD before, but The Unkindness of Ravens makes a good case for it.

The British film from 2015 starts out with Andrew living on the streets. He is a veteran who served in Afghanistan and was the only member of his unit to survive an ambush. The tragedy left him with PTSD and an intense fear of ravens. On the surface, it seems like watching ravens feed on his dying comrades is the root of his phobia, but that may not be all there is to it.

At the advice of his psychiatrist he spends some time alone in a house on the Scottish moors. One of Andrew’s hobbies before the war was nature photography and his psychiatrist urges him to pick the hobby up again, including taking photographs of ravens.

As soon as Andrew arrives at the house, things begin to go wrong. He hears things and is even faced with his doppelganger who urges him to give up the fight for his sanity.

But we come to find out that Andrew’s mind isn’t just tearing itself apart. The moor used to be the sacred ground of a god that has been lost to time. The god being forgotten has set loose his servants, creatures in armor with raven-like heads that feed on the carnage of men’s souls.   They zero in on people who are desperate and broken and push them to a destructive and suicidal end. Soldiers with PTSD have become common food for them now, but Andrew decides to fight the monsters on his own terms.

Movies dealing with PTSD this directly seem to be a rarity in horror up until now. In this film, PTSD isn’t something the main character has to get around in order to defeat the monster. PTSD is the monster. As our culture moves forward and we start collectively dealing with the effects of all the wars happening right now, this will – and should – become a much more common concept in horror.

That’s not to say this movie is Dead Of Night.   The budget for it was clearly limited.   They made judicious use of CG, which is good, as the CG they used was an eyesore. The story also seems to have multiple climaxes and felt like it should have ended a couple times before it actually did. The final climax comes out of nowhere. The connection to the hospital is tenuous and the savagery lacks a proper build up.

The fact that you can conquer PTSD like going cold turkey from smoking will also raise some eyebrows, but can be forgiven for the sake of a compact movie (although a series of stories or a novel within this world would be a great thing).

This movie is also quite slow burning and the pace may turn some people off.  Whatever short falls this film has should be forgiven.   It’s not a gross kill-fest and you’d be hard pressed to find any jump scared here. What The Unkindness Of Ravens is is an exploration of the human experience in the way that has heart and compassion.

For me, a good horror movie is one I can enjoy and maybe relate too. A great horror movie leaves me a sobbing mess with an ache in my chest. The Unkindness Of Ravens is that movie.   I can’t wait to see what’s next from the filmmakers and hope more people come around to this style of movie making.

Jagged Black Shadows: A Review Of The Madness Of Dr. Caligari

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“We are shards of a broken mirror, Melanie once whispered to us in the sleep hall one midnight, and now we’re putting the mirror back together. Soon we’ll be able to see.”

-“Breathing Black Angles,” Richard Gavin

 

Few movies have been widely known for one hundred years. Few of those can still be mysterious, multi-layered and debated.

Robert Weine’s 1920 film The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (I didn’t use the word masterpiece because I didn’t want to sound like every film guide ever, but it fits) is both of those. It can be considered the pinnacle of German Expressionist cinema and is abstract enough that every person who watches it takes away something a little different.

The film is the starting point for Joseph S. Pulver Sr.’s anthology The Madness of Dr. Caligari (Fedogan & Bremer), featuring tales inspired by Weine’s film by many prominent weird and horror writers.

As a whole, the tales seem less interested in the world created by the film and more interested in leaving Caligari-like footsteps in other worlds, real and imagined. As such, there are a few stories where I was left wondering just what the connection to the film was.

That said, the stories are overwhelming strong and readers of any taste will find a great deal to love here.

There are stories that do play in Caligari’s sandbox, notably “Confessions Of A Medicated Lurker” by Rhys Hughes, where we learn that Holstenwall may have more of an influence on people than we thought.

The terrible Caligari himself is represented in spades and naturally has his fingers in every piece, but Caligari could not be Caligari without Cesare and I was quite pleased to see the Somnambulant represented throughout, in particular David Nickle’s “The Long Dream,” a discussion on the fate of a misdiagnosed psychiatric patient; and Daniel Mill’s “A Sleeping Life,” a positively heartbreaking tale told from the point of view of a somnambulant.

The art of movie making is also a constant presence in this collection, most notably in Orrin Grey’s “Blackstone: A Hollywood Gothic,” which should win some kind of award for making a convincing case that Caligari may actually be a zombie film, an argument I have been vehemently shouting against for years. John Langan’s “To See, To Be Seen” does a magnificent job of showing the power that can be imbued in a movie prop and the ripples it can cause in the real world. It is also easily the most frightening story in the book.

If I have any gripes with this book, it’s a personal one: There’s a lot of psycho-sexual stuff here. People are into that, I know, but I am in the minority that doesn’t think all psychiatric problems boil down to sex, so that theme got a little old for me.

But that simply highlights a simple truth that this anthology illustrates. Everyone sees something different when they look into the shattered mirror. Each story in this book is a shard, an aspect of a fractured psyche. When you put them all together, you have a mirror where you see what you need to see. Read The Madness Of Dr. Caligari for the thrill of embracing the madness. Be prepared for what you’ll see inside yourself when you put the book down.

 

An Anxious Place: A Review Of Batman: The Killing Joke

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The first line in Batman: The Killing Joke is Batgirl saying that she knows what you’re seeing is not what you were expecting. From there it spins into a line about her life as Batgirl.

Anyone sitting down to watch this movie should take that as the warning it is.

The now infamous Batgirl centered “prologue” (an interesting word choice there) is pretty much the font of all issues here. A large one being that it is completely different in tone and animation.

Brian Azzarello gets writing credit in the opening credits. I’m not all that familiar with his work. He seems to have popped up during my extended period of being overseas/being unemployed & poor/boycotting the New 52. However, judging by this movie, I can tell you that he does not write like Alan Moore. That’s not a judgement, that’s not an insult, it is simply a statement of fact. And it is an extremely important fact in this case because it leads to us basically having two episodes of the animated series to watch back to back. The difference in tone, quality, animation and philosophy are vast, and ramming them together actually makes the whole affair very off putting.

“He’s controlling, but usually I’m okay with that.”

Now, let’s deal with the elephant in the room: The treatment of Batgirl in part one and the sex scene that had the nerd community in a tissy.

The creators claim they wanted the first part to tell a story about Batgirl and delve into her motivations and psychology. This is where the whole messy affair falls apart. The take away is that Batgirl wants to be Batgirl to impress Batman, she does everything she does because she wants to bang him and she’s emotionally devastated when he keeps his distance even though she openly admits he’s always been like that and knows it.

After they have sex (on a rooftop after stripping off Bat suits, which is cringe worthy enough for die hard Batman fans like me), Bruce refuses to talk to her and it makes everything all awkward. The creators said they wanted it that way because real life situations become all weird like that. I’ve gotta give them that one.

But when Batgirl goes off the deep end to catch the bad guy and prove herself to Batman, a very ugly shift takes place and a soul crushing realization sets in: They just made Batgirl into Harley Quinn. They took an intelligent, capable woman and twisted her into a stunted girl who can’t function without her emotionally distant, in this case borderline abusive (rather than just flat out abusive) boyfriend. She has no identity without him.

This is crystallized at the end of part one, when Barbara decides to stop being Batgirl to make things easier on Bruce. Because every woman should give up her career to preserve her man’s machismo.

At this point, I’m so used to current Batman writers ignoring 75 years of history and twisting the Batman mythos into whatever they want it to be that it neither surprises nor bothers me. What did both was the reduction of a character that, though periodically cutesified and transformed radically at a couple points, had actually been one of the shining examples of the comic book heroine. She’s a member of the Bat Family, which means she is damn smart and has to use her brain as well as defend herself. She was a girl, of course she got saved. A lot. But she did some saving as well. And when the unthinkable happened and she was paralyzed, she used her brain to come up with a way to keep being a heroine. To see one of the characters that has truly and consistently been a role model for girls for so long become a petulant teenager who can’t live without her bad boy is devastating. And I mean truly devastating.

So, well done there guys.

Now, all that being said, there was something I found unexpectedly interesting in part one.

All the “why doesn’t he like me?!” codependent melodrama bullshit plays out against the back drop of a mobster who becomes obsessed with Batgirl and tries to kidnap her to bang her (the douche bag seems legitimately arrogant enough to think that it’ll be consensual when it happens, no matter how it happens).

This leads to an interesting train of thought that hadn’t occurred to me before: How do normal villains, average mobsters and hustlers (you can’t predict the thought process of The Freaks) view Batgirl? There’s a lot of dismissive talk. She’s referred to a couple times as a bitch. The bad guy even hits her with knock out gas to kidnap her (ruffies – they’re not just for night clubs anymore). Basically, she has to work twice as hard (in heels, so realistically, like, three times harder) to get these bad guys to take her seriously.

While this was something that could have been effectively explored in a story, it was just kind of skeezy here and showed that Batgirl is only around to be fucked.

You know, she’s a female comic book character.

So, we got through that and it was onto the main event.

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“Why aren’t you laughing?!”

The Killing Joke portion of the film was made first, I’ll be prepared to swear to that, no matter what anyone tells me. It was made first and with all the care and attention. And most of the money, I bet. You need look no further than the animation to tell that. Whatever else you may think about this movie, it is a work of art. And the creators were very conscious of the main images that everyone knew from the comic. The unmasking – when that schmuck washing into that sewage pool takes off the red hood and becomes The Joker and laughs and laughs – was worth the price of admission alone.

But sitting and watching this movie actually made me come to an unfortunate conclusion. It’s been a long time since I’ve read the whole story, cover to cover, so I always remember really liking it. And this actually seems to be a line for line, scene for scene adaptation for the most part.

Seeing this story, staged and with people actually speaking the lines…

The Killing Joke is crazy stilted and pretentious and the writing is just not good.

The movie wasn’t bad. It was that the source material that just wasn’t good. But I’m sure if you though The Killing Joke was the greatest story ever, you’ll love this anyway.

“I’ve heard it before and it wasn’t funny the first time.”

Standing On The Tower Of Babel: A (Rambling) Review of X-Men: Apocalypse

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I know when I am talking to someone who starts listing reasons that Marvel is better than DC or DC is better than Marvel that I’m talking to a movie fan. Comic book fans, especially long time ones, don’t divide the world that way. They read both. They like and dislike certain aspects about both. I find myself getting bogged down in the argument too. When I started reading comics 20 years ago, I read both. I still do, from time to time. I am a DC fan because the philosophical underpinnings of the Marvel universe are not to my taste. It doesn’t make them bad, I’m just not big into thinking of my heroes as normal people with normal problems. No normal person thinks of putting on a spandex suit and beating the shit out of people. My beloved Batman is a fucked up, emotionally stunted, violent man-boy with anger management issues, and I love him for it.

This is my fancy way of saying that I watched X-Men: Apocalypse with my hopes not too high, but hoping I would be surprised. The X-Men franchise has never been particularly good in my mind, but it also never hit home. The stories they borrowed from the comics were before my time, and while they were important and good stories, they lacked that emotional kick that allowed me to walk away without being really upset when they screwed things up.

Apocalypse changed that. I started reading X-Men right at the tail end of the whole Onslaught fiasco and not too long before Age Of Apocalypse hit. This was a movie full of characters I knew and loved. Suddenly, I have a stake in the X-Men movies.

I’m rambling like this because, much to my surprise when I was driving home after watching it, I had feelings about this movie. It had characters that I cared about being represented well and that I’d always wanted to see. This is territory usually reserved for Batman movies, and while I’m certainly not gonna rip Apocalypse a new asshole like I did Batman Vs. Superman, I do actually have opinions.

Now, when I buy Marvel, I’m buying characters. There are certain Marvel characters that I will follow into Hell and back without reading anything about any team they’ve ever been a part of. Marvel has used these characters in movies before (I will never get back that part of my soul the Elektra took from me), but this one had some of them, and promised even more.

Apocalypse, being the first major villain I encountered when reading Marvel, is a biggie for me. My big problem with the way he was dealt with in this movie was the fact that, despite his name being in the title, the movie wasn’t about him. It was about all the other mutants sitting around and being morose. The morose parts were actually important to the story, but there’s no reason we couldn’t have had X-Men: Days of Feeling Emo, then moved on to Apocalypse. Apocalypse is a villain who has been around for millennia, destroyed civilizations, kicked Dracula’s ass (that’s like the Marvel version of when Batman sends a potential Robin to fight Lady Shiva) and remade the world in his own image at one point. Come on, people! Dude gets his own movie! No one cares about Magento’s baggage (seriously, every X-Men movie from here on should be subtitled: Who is emotionally manipulating Magento? Chapter *insert number*), or Mystique being a reluctant hero (I think I just threw up a little in my mouth…). Let Apocalypse destroy shit! He’s earned it! The real loser in this approach to the character was Oscar Isaacs, who did a fabulous job using only his eyes and his voice. Everyone has opinions about the movie and none of them involve him, when his awesome performance should have been the lynchpin of the thing.

But he’s not the only character to suffer because our heroes had issues. The Horsemen should have gotten a great deal more attention. This one stung for me because one of my favorite X-Men has always been Psylocke. I’ve never been much of an Olivia Munn fan, but she was great in her five whole seconds of screen time and would have done even better if she’d had a freaking role (I was also pleased to notice that she was not teeny tiny and had some muscle on her).

But my main problem with this movie points to one of the problems I have with Marvel as a whole. Often times, they fail to understand the implications of the characters they’ve created. Magneto is the perfect example. Magneto is ridiculously overpowered. The only thing stopping Magneto from destroying everything everywhere anytime he wants to is that it would kill sales. Professor X and Jean Grey, likewise, so overpowered. Apocalypse plotlines, especially the original one dealt with in this movie, are really the crystallization of the entire struggle for mutant acceptance. This is the logical outcome. This is where it would feasibly go if mutants were a real thing. And one of the problems with the movie is the same problem the comics had: The writers did not understand the philosophical implications of what they’d done. They had created an omnipotent, charismatic god who had come forth to judge humanity and found it wanting. They did not understand that once they’d crossed this bridge, there was no going back. Mutants should, by rights, in the next movie be hunted down and exterminated. Governments should be expelling them like medieval kingdoms expelled The Jews. There should be witch hunts, rednecks with guns, government sanctioned genetic testing, children taken from their homes in the night because abberant genes were found in them. Mutants would have fought back for their lives and people would have ended up dead. In truth, even in failing, Apocalypse would have succeeded in destroying civilization. To say, as they did at the end of this movie, that things were only getting a little more tense because of what happened is very much a Marvel thing. Because, in the Marvel universe, human are basically good and the right always wins out, even when it clearly didn’t.

After all, Professor X “wasn’t alone” and had his friends. And being in a group with your friends will always beat the bad guy. No matter how powerful the bad guy is. (turns and wretches profusely into a garbage can)

But I can’t blame the movie for that. They borrowed it from the source material. I also have to blame the source material for the one thing about the movie that really annoyed me. Marvel company people, my dears, I think you need to hear this as much as the similar phrase I say to DC: Not everything is about Wolverine. You don’t have to put him in everything. We thought (or at least I did) he wasn’t going to be in this and we watched this movie anyway. How about you give some other mutants some love? There are other mutants, you know.

This was a pretty movie. I’m a sucker for anything Egyptian, so the opening scene was neat. I was also quite pleased with the music. On the whole, it wasn’t a bad movie, I just feel like there was some squandered potential. However, the potential was squandered in the source material, so it’s on me if I’m not happy about it.

Though I would like to take a moment to discuss the after credits sequence, which points to my boo the vastly underrated Mr. Sinister. Taking into consideration that Essex Corp. was plundering the Weapon X facility my heart is heavy thinking that Sinister will pop up as the villain of the next Wolverine movie. I can’t say I think that’s a particularly good fit, as Sinister is so cerebral and Wolverine is so… Not. But until I see it for certain, I will hold out hope that he will be the villain of the proposed Gambit movie, because if they make that movie and they do not have the Sinister/Gambit plotline that culminates in the slaughter of the Morlocks, I will not be talking CALMLY about squandered potential.