Archive for November, 2016

How Do You Feel About Remakes?

November 28, 2016

Some people say remakes are a sign of Hollywood’s lack of good ideas. However, film producers have been doing remakes since before there was even a Hollywood. And Hollywood began producing them since it was born. The important thing to retain here is that there is nothing extraordinary about great stories getting a second, third or fourth versions. It just means those stories are that great. Take a look at A STAR IS BORN. It was made three times (1937, 1954, 1976 and another version coming in 2018). Take a look at the cast and you’ll understand why: Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand and soon Lady Gaga. It’s obvious that it’s not a creative problem driving those remakes. It’s the opportunity of bringing a great intellectual property to new audiences.

The horror genre did not arrive late to the party. Just look at DRACULA. It is such a great property that it has been remade (as a major film, that is) at least once every decade. And if you look at Lugosi’s classic of 1931, well, that version had a Spanish language remake as it was being made. DRACULA is a great example. Which version do people prefer? Ask people who grew in different decades and you’ll be surprised. Really, it is a matter of personal taste and affection.

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The opportunity of a remake is clear: new (and more popular) stars, a more contemporary setting, better visual effects, better (or updated) production values, etc. Of course fans of the original GHOSTBUSTERS, THE EVIL DEAD, HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13th and so many other great horror classics get a taste of disrespect in their mouths when they hear about a remake of the films they have loved all their lives. And that’s very understandable, after all, those films are forever linked to times when we solidified our love for the genre or the movies. We love them as part of our youth. They are a part of us. More than that, they are our family.

But even when we question the occasional heavy hand of stupid studio execs making decisions that clearly prove to be misguided (GHOSTBUSTERS comes to mind), it is also clear that the films we love always come up swinging. Remakes rarely touch the originals we love. Instead, they are (for us) an alternate reality we don’t even have to watch if we don’t feel like to. You like some, you hate others.

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The version you love is always there on your shelf waiting for you to celebrate it. Pick it up. Admire it. Talk to it. Watch it again and soon you’ll both be laughing like old friends.

So you were – like me – a teen when GHOSTBUSTERS was released in 1984? Well, the version made in 2016 is not for you and me. The jokes are not the same, the visuals are not the same, the spirit is not the same, but here’s the truth: we’re not in 1984. I did not hate the new version. I understood it. And because it wasn’t for me, I was left kind of indifferent to it (I’ll be dedicating a full post about audience hate and indifference soon). Thank God I can enjoy on Blu-ray the version I love.

Some remakes, however, are so far from the original and, yet, made with so much care (for us who loved the original) that it’s hard to find the taste of disrespect. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015) comes to mind: clearly a great film in its own right. In the horror genre, I like the new versions of THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (2009) and I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (2010). But since I love revenge stories, I could easily find myself in those remakes – while I still love the originals.

The landscape is diverse and we have to understand the films instead of judge them. Some remakes are for us. Some aren’t. The originals live forever.

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Horror and Politics.

November 27, 2016

Nazi Cinema never produced a horror film. Soviet Cinema only slightly touched the genre in one film – VIY (1967) – that only escaped the censors because it was adapted from an old folktale. Why? Because totalitarian regimes will hate any genre that will tell its people that there is no utopia. It’s harder to keep the people under control when you tell stories where horrible things happen to innocent people. It’s harder for the regime to justify its actions when horror stories tell you that the universe is chaos.

Through their existence, horror films have told us that the most gorgeous people get slaughtered by horrible monsters. The political undertone in so many horror films is clear: we are all alone and help is not coming.

Film trailers, many times, summarize the whole idea of a film in order to attract its target audiences. Eli Roth’s THE GREEN INFERNO (2013) had this very effective trailer.

The trailer is amazing because it clearly shows one of the essences of the horror genre: a disparity between how we think things are (or would like them to be) and the way things really are. It’s the same issue author Robert Bloch nailed when he says “horror is the removal of masks”. Sometimes we are the ones taking off the masks. Other times it is the entire universe taking off its mask.

Poor gringos. They left the comfort of their country (the comfort of free market economy) and went to the Amazon jungle to fight for a cause (and change the world). Well, expect the world to fight back.

Of course the political orientation is irrelevant to the genre. Instead of young dreamers, the film could be about a ruthless real estate developer trying to build a hotel in the middle of the jungle. Well, expect the jungle to fight back too.

The lesson here is this: horror is subversive. It will always throw a couple of “what ifs” that will make you question the powers that be. So the tightest the regime is and the more authoritarian the leader is, the more unwelcome the horror genre is. Other genres merely like to start discussions. Horror usually ends them.

That is why the horror genre is essential. We should support it, celebrate it and respect it as a fundamental contributor to our sanity.

Which Zombie Type You’ll Have in Your Film?

November 5, 2016

Here’s something to consider when you start thinking of making a zombie film: it’s been 48 years since the great George A. Romero made his seminal NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) and the zombie genre has given us many classic films. As the genre evolved, many types of zombies began to be used in very different films. Here is just a small list to help you understand the pros and cons of writing for one type or the other and help you decide what are the attributes that better fit your zombies and your story.

1 – THE DEAD.

Yes, of course. This is the classic zombie made famous by Mr. Romero – and for years the only zombies around. In a nutshell, these zombies are dead corpses who were reanimated through some process. We can subdivide this group according to the what and why. What type or reanimated corpses? Recently deceased like RE-ANIMATOR (1985) and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) or the long-dead putrefying masses of dead flesh like BURIAL GROUND (1981)? And why were they reanimated? Perhaps a chemical origin, like in THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985) or a pure supernatural reason like CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (1972) and DEAD SNOW (2009)? Regardless of your answer, these zombies were indeed dead people before they were reanimated and they look just like it!

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Pros: usually these are the scariest zombies, since most audiences are truly scared by death and corpses.

Cons: The cost of making a film with these zombies has gone way up since THE WALKING DEAD started spending big money in its makeup department. This means that the audience nowadays expects elaborate and shocking zombie makeups, a clear contrast with the next type:

2 – THE GREEN DEAD.

These zombies are rare these days. We could see them in the early Romero films like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978). They are dead people just like in the previous type. However, the level of makeup on them is kept at a minimum that sometimes derails into a simple green face. Of course we love those classic films, but we have to admit that such makeup job would be unacceptable by today’s standards.

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Pros: cheap to produce, these zombies can be a matter of personal taste. Also great when far from the camera.

Cons: since the 80’s zombie makeup has evolved a lot. THE WALKING DEAD brought the zombie makeup into state of the Art. Now this type of zombie is just a sign of a no-budget film. That in itself is not a bad thing at all. THE BATTERY (2012) mixes several minimalist zombie makeups with tremendous success.

3 – THE SICK

Contrary to the above, these zombies are not dead. They are sick people who simply transition from healthy to infected to zombie. The time may vary from infection to full zombie. 28 DAYS LATER (2002) is a great example: it just takes seconds. RESIDENT EVIL (2002) tries to walk between the dead and the sick: we know it’s the T-virus alright, but there is a brief moment of inactivity the audience perceives as death. In PONTYPOOL (2008), the virus spread through language!

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Pros: in the age of AIDS, Ebola and so many deadly epidemics, this is a very contemporary zombie type that pleases many audiences.

Cons: they have been a bit overused. By now, the “virus” with a strange, enigmatic name (in the air or contained inside some sophisticated glass work) that turns people into zombies has became a huge cliché. This means you have to bring some clever ideas if you want to go with these.

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4 – THE SUPER-HERO

These zombies are kinda annoying. They can jump over anything and crawl on walls and ceilings like in the  remake-in-title-only DAY OF THE DEAD (2008). The problem here is that these zombies defy reality and easily become implausible and too farfetched. The strange vampiric zombies in I AM LEGEND (2007) also fall here.

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Pros: perhaps the deadliest of all zombies. You can amp the stakes whenever your protagonist meets one of those. Or 200.

Cons: they are mostly implausible and signal a poorly written or sloppy script.

5 – THE JUST LIKE THEY WERE WHEN ALIVE

These are truly rare to see, but with lots of potential if you manage to create a great story from them. These zombies are simply people who were dead, but came back in perfect replicas of themselves just like they were when alive. Yuck factor = zero here. However, these zombies can be disturbing and eerie. This is the case with the French film THEY CAME BACK (2004) and the much better series made by the same filmmakers THE RETURNED (2012). Again, no flesh-eating zombies here, but plenty of space for great ideas and innovations in the genre.

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Pros: there is limitless potential in these very rare and strange zombies, since they tap into a more complex and highly emotional horror.

Cons: how do you keep the interest of your horror audience and create a horror story out of this? It is very possible, but very hard – and the horror you can create here will not fall in the usual zombie brackets. The potential is there, but this type of project needs a lot of development, talent and imagination.

6 – ZOMBIES FROM OUTER SPACE

Just like the sick zombies, these have also a  relatively clear origin: something alien. At times it keeps a straight face like in LIFEFORCE (1985) where a group of life-energy-sucking-space-vampires manage to turn Londoners into zombies. Other times it goes for a lighter comedic tone like in NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (1985) where parasitic space slugs turn their hosts into zombies. This type of zombie usually mixes horror, comedy and sci-fi with mixed results.

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Pros: the sci-fi part can help the writer create some amazing new setups that can be quite inventive. Plus, you can create zombies that can be more that the basic flesh eating beasts.

Cons: sometimes audiences feel confused and frustrated due to some genre/tone fluctuation if at times it goes all the way to horror or to sci-fi, to seriousness or comedy.

7 – THE HYBRID

These zombies exist in combination with a different monster. Vampires are a common choice. Bob Clark’s DEATHDREAM (1974) is a great example: a soldier who died in Vietnam comes home but needs blood to survive. Or he will fall apart. Here the main character walks a fine line between a zombie and a vampire. But there are more extreme versions like the Lickers we see in the RESIDENT EVIL series: larger monstrosities that can be very dangerous.

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Pros: visually, they can be quite arresting. Strong, violent and deadly. If you want to create something over the top, maybe you should consider working here.

Cons: they cost more to produce than the regular zombies IF you want to go the RESIDENT EVIL way. Plus, they may lose some scare power since those zombies tend to lose some human familiarity.

8 – INTELLIGENT

These zombies can talk and do things just like we do. They can exist under a ghost form like in PET SEMATARY (1989) and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981) or they can be real, functioning (although still very evil) beings like in NIGHT OF THE COMET (1984). They can get as close to a living person as possible just to get what they want. Like Rachel Creed in (again) PET SEMATARY and the zombie who says “send more cops” in THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. And let’s not forget Ben in HOUSE (1986).

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Pros: a screenwriter can create memorable zombies here, since they often breathe a fresher look into the protagonist’s situation – not to mention some poignant commentary on what is is to be alive or dead.

Cons: those are not the usual zombies and may give the writer a tougher time finding the right story. Some audiences may prefer a more classic approach as they may still favor more flesh-eating and less talking.

FINAL NOTE

The good thing when you are writing a zombie story (on prose or screenplay) is that there are so many ways you can combine those types and so many other degrees and qualities you can add. Zombies do not have to be a boring monster. They can be really a great horror element if you devote some time thinking about what works best in your premise.


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