Romero’s Dead Manifesto

The history of zombies in horror cinema can be divided into two eras. There’s the period before Night of the Living Dead, in which the idea of the walking dead largely hinged on concepts appropriated from Haitian culture, with the deceased rising and taking actions under the direction of a magician like in White Zombie or Plague of the Zombies. Then there’s the period after Night of the Living Dead, when the concept was decoupled from its folkloric origins in favour of the newly-minted folklore of the zombie apocalypse.

Romero’s Dead movies effectively form three trilogies; there’s the first three which are the truly seminal work, then there’s the second three from the 2000s – Land of the DeadDiary of the Dead, and Survival of the Dead, which came about in a time when Romero had become so typecast as a director that he couldn’t get a non-zombie project off the ground and he leaned into it, thanks in part to the revival of the genre in the wake of 28 Days LaterShaun of the Dead, and Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake. Though Land of the Dead was pretty good and the other two had their moment, it’s safe to say the second trilogy is not what Romero’s legacy is largely built on – for that, you need to dig a bit deeper.

Night of the Living Dead

Night of the Living Dead more or less entirely changed the way zombies were depicted in cinema forever after, presenting a narrative which is simple enough to become archetypal but nuanced enough that there’s depth to it beyond the basic survival horror premise. Unfortunately, it’s been quite badly treated over the years in terms of home media releases or downloads as an upshot of a blunder by the original distributor causing the film to enter the public domain in the US.

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Taking Another Bash At the Shield, Part 1

I could have done the black square thing for Black Lives Matter today, but instead I am going to link you to this list of places you can send support and post a review of a TV show about police corruption as a reminder that this has been a long time coming.

One of disgraced LAPD policed chiefs Daryl Gates’ innovations was the CRASH program – giving each LAPD district a specialist CRASH team with a brief to suppress gang activity. It was the sort of tough-talking, dogwhistling deal which Gates had made his trademark, and it paved the way for the Rampart scandal, one of the biggest police corruption cases ever, when massive corruption in the Rampart district’s CRASH unit was exposed.

The full measure of what happened is still unclear, with numerous investigations having petered out and the city authorities allegedly obstructing a lot of the investigations into what happened, but what was proven was more than enough to put the name of CRASH beyond the pale and prompt its disbandment and replacement.

This inspired a brief flowering in the 2000s of media works taking the idea of the CRASH unit as inspiration for the depiction of police brutality. Grand Theft Auto 3: San Andreas did it in Rockstar’s characteristically flippant fashion; more thoughtfully, The Shield was a seven-season exploration of the subject, focusing on a single badly-underfunded LAPD precinct house in the fictional LAPD district of Farmington (or “the Farm” for short, so the police HQ is known as “the Barn”).

For this review, I’m going to take a look back at the first season. Content warning: this is about a cop show which is unflinching about showing the worst of police corruption and brutality on the one hand, and the worst stuff the police have to deal with on the other, and in this season there’s at least one episode which deals with the subject of child pornography. Continue reading “Taking Another Bash At the Shield, Part 1”

A Streak of Slashers

The American slasher movie boom, once it got rolling, ended up in a race to the bottom really very suddenly. After Black Christmas was a modest success, Halloween and Friday the 13th ended up becoming monsters, earning back some 100-200 times their budget in the cinemas. The combination of astonishingly cheap budgets and apparently low standards on the part of the audience meant that a lot of crap was produced by people jumping on the bandwagon.

For this article, I’m going to take a comically huge machete and chop out a cross-section of the genre to look at, illustrating its decline over the course of the 1980s. I’ll start with a pretty decent 1981 release (with some major problems) from early on in the craze, move on to a more amateurish effort blessed with some fun effects from 1984 from the mid-1980s, and end up with a trashfire which crept out straight-to-video in 1985 in Spain before it finally got a domestic release in the US in 1987.

Content warning time: this article is about slasher movies, also one of them was made by Harvey Weinstein, so obviously rape and murder are just a shot away this time around.

The Burning

Once upon a time at Camp Blackfoot, some of the kids decided to play a cruel prank on the caretaker, Cropsy (Lou David), who was a bit of a hate figure among them. Having obtained a spooky old worm-riddled skull and slipped some candles into its eye-sockets to make it extra scary, they crept into his bedroom, set the skull on the table next to him, and then crept out and banged on the window to wake him up.

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A Forgotten Doom

One of the freebies which came with my copy of Doom Eternal was Bethesda’s recent port of Doom 64 to the PS4, and whilst I’m sure I’ll get around to Doom Eternal sooner or later I’ve actually spent more time on Doom 64 of late. Originally released, as the title implies, on the Nintendo 64, this was an iteration of Doom which seems to have been a bit overlooked after its initial release. There’s a bunch of reasons why this is probably the case, but few of them are really the game’s fault.

For starters, you’ve got to take into account the fact that this was a Nintendo exclusive released in the midst of a console generation that the original PlayStation absolutely dominated. Sure, it could be worse – the PlayStation absolutely bulldozed the 3DO, Sega Saturn, and Atari Jaguar, and the Nintendo 64 was the only console which got within an order of magnitude of the PS1’s sales, but when you’re talking 102 million PlayStations sold next to under 33 million Nintendo 64s that’s still a devastating victory for Sony.

Another reason for the game being overlooked is that the market had seen a lot of Doom console ports already by this point in time, and from what I recall the general consensus was that they weren’t that good – usually they were janky ports of the PC Doom which didn’t quite manage to get the controls as smooth as the good ol’ keyboard and mouse, with some levels missing and, in the case of the SNES version, some of the content toned down to meet Nintendo’s guidelines. Overall, when it came to the original Doom, it was agreed that the PC version was the definitive way to experience it.

You could be forgiven at the time for assuming that Doom 64 was yet another port of the original to yet another console platform – particularly since literally the week before Doom 64 got released, a port of the original Doom was put out on the Sega Saturn. This was unfortunate, because Doom 64 isn’t a port of the original at all. If anything, it’s a sort of Doom 2.5 – an original, distinct game set after the end of Doom II and with significant updates to the Doom format, which I’ll get into later.

Another reason why Doom 64 may have been overlooked is that by this point, Doom in general felt a bit obsolete. id Software had, the previous year, put out Quake, which by any objective measure was a massive technical quantum leap forward over Doom and Doom II‘s engine. It was true 3D! You could jump! You could look up and down! You had grenades which went boingy boingy bouncy everywhere to ruin people’s day! id Software had thoroughly moved on from Doom at this point (Doom 64 was developed by Midway Games), and so had a good chunk of gamers. In fact, the Nintendo 64 would see a Quake port in 1998, and I can’t imagine Doom 64 would have seemed particularly cutting-edge compared to that fresh new hotness at the time.

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In Essential Solitude, a Vital Friendship

It’s understandable that Arkham House would have wanted to produce the Selected Letters series – a five-volume collection of correspondence cherrypicked from the massive amounts of letters Lovecraft produced in his lifetime. After all, he was far more prolific a letter-writer than he was a short story author, poet, or essayist, so when those other wells has been tapped, tapping the letters was a good way to get more Lovecraft after there.

Furthermore, August Derleth himself was one of Lovecraft’s regular correspondents, and putting out these collections gave Derleth a chance to show the world a side of Lovecraft which he’d seen but nobody outside of Lovecraft’s circle of contacts would have. The fact that these were specifically Selected Letters, however, allowed Derleth to remain a certain amount of leverage over the fandom.

As I’ve outlined previously, Derleth used the infamous “black magic quote” to push his particular interpretation of the Cthulhu Mythos as the “canonical” one, despite the fact that if we accept it as true, it makes Lovecraft look like an incompetent writer who couldn’t adequately communicate his ideas in his actual stories, and the “black magic quote” seems to fit Derleth’s stories (written before and after Lovecraft’s death, some of them misattributed to Lovecraft) far better.

That quote supposedly came from one of Lovecraft’s letters, but as best can be determined Lovecraft never wrote it – or at least, if it exists in any of his letters, none can be found that reproduce it, and the overall philosophical thrust of Lovecraft’s writing would seem to be against it. Precisely because Derleth was sat on top of the pile of surviving letters and choosing which got out to the public, though, it was always possible for Derleth to brush off objections by saying “Well, it’s got to be somewhere here, I just can’t find it right now.”

It’s even possible that Derleth knew that he didn’t have any original for the quote, just a rough second-hand paraphrase (which turns out to be of a passage which says exactly the opposite), but frankly I don’t credit Derleth with that level of intellectual honesty: after all, this is the guy who passed off a bunch of stories as lost Lovecraft tales or “posthumous collaborations” when they were nothing of the sort.

Hippocampus Press have, over the past few years, tried to step into the gap here, producing a Collected Letters series edited by David E. Schultz and S.T. Joshi which compile as many of Lovecraft’s surviving correspondence as they can (rights issues causing complications in a few cases). These gather together Lovecraft’s missives by correspondent, by and large, with the first part of the series being Essential Solitude, a two-volume collection of the letters of Lovecraft and Derleth.

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The Evil Ends Its Residence

After writing and directing the first Resident Evil movie, Paul W.S. Anderson restricted himself to writing the first two sequels whilst allowing other hands to direct; for the last half of the six-movie sequence, Anderson would handle the direction himself as well as doing the writing. By this point, he and series lead Milla Jovovich had married, making it a sort of horror-action power couple franchise like Underworld ended up being. (In fact, by the end it was a family affair: due to the passage of time aging previous child actresses out of the role of the Red Queen AI, their daughter Ever got the Red Queen role in The Final Chapter.)

Over the course of the first three movies, the story had covered most of the ground of the first three games – with the original movie doing the “bad shit in a lab under a lonely mansion” angle of the first game and Apocalypse incorporating the “zombie apocalypse in a city with a big bad zombie stomping around” of 2 and 3. With Extinction, the plot of the movies pushed on into original material, which the next three films would also follow. Would The Final Chapter find this zombie saga shambling to a halt, or go out with one final headshot?

Resident Evil: Afterlife

At the end of Extinction, it seemed like Anderson had written himself into a corner – with Milla Jovovich’s character Alice not only having absurd superpowers, but also an army of clones of herself who all also had the same T-virus-invoked superpowers. It’s only natural that he starts the next movie by neutralising most of these advantages – but nicely, rather than simply retconning them away he instead allows Alice to play the hand she’s dealt and make use of these resources in a devastating attack on the Umbrella Corporation headquarters. (There’s a nice shot of a security map indicating the spread of Alice-clone incursions into the base that subtly parallels an earlier shot showing the progress of the T-virus plague around the world.)

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Witch World

Andre Norton was not the first woman to write science fiction (Mary Shelley had her beat by a century, Margaret Cavendish by several), but she was the first to receive many of the modern genre’s honours – she was the first woman to be named a Grand Master by both the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America and the World Science Fiction Society, and the first to be inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.

Deliberately using an androgynous name (or her pen name of “Andrew North” when that wasn’t masculine-presenting enough) in order to get her work in front of audiences she felt might have turned their noses up at reading women’s work, she would produce a staggering amount of material over the course of her career, even setting aside the numerous collaborations she undertook with other authors later in life, and much of her work was pitched towards what we’d now recognise as a YA audience – at the more mature end of what science fiction called the “juveniles”, or the lighter end of adult-oriented work.

Her most expansive series was the Witch World sequence, a series of dozens of novels set in a fantasy world; commencing in 1963, the books deliberately put gender roles and power structures under a spotlight, and whilst some aspects of the series now seems unrefined, that may well be because she was coming in at an earlier stage of the conversation to us, and at a time when some of the pitfalls of addressing this sort of thing in an fantasy or SF context hadn’t been so evident. For this review I’ll take a look at the first two novels in the series, which largely set the stage for the rest.

Witch World

One of the advantages of having written SF and fantasy since the 1930s is that you can use the old, now-cliched openings without a second thought, since you helped shape them in the first place. Witch World commences with the old fantasy trope of a man from our world being plunged into a fantasy world through some mystic wibbly encounter. In this particular instance, our traveller is Simon Tregarth, and the mode of travel is the Siege Perilous, an ancient sacred stone which instantly transports those who sit upon it by the early light of dawn to the universe that most needs them, or which they are in most need of. (The implication is that in the Arthurian myths Percival and Galahad can survive sitting on the thing because they were already in the ideal time and place for them to exist.)

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