Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Buffy: Season 8


After Buffy the TV show, a travesty to the Buffy community hit the comic book stands; Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic book. With no Joss Whedon, or any of the writing crew from the TV series, the comic book was only recognizable in title, and even the most hardcore fans found it hard to read.

But, in 2007 Joss Whedon showed interest in comic books. First, he released a Firefly comic book that tied together some loose ends between the movie and his TV show.
After that, he went to reclaim his original brain child, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, taking over as lead writer, and bringing in the original TV show writer staff along with him. To recognize him as the writer and the new direction the comic book was taking, the comic book went with the title recognizing the continuation of the TV show: Buffy, Season 8.
As not to alienate the thin crowd that stuck with the comic book before Whedon's return, Season 8 does start off from where the comic book had and doesn't simply do the Marvel thing of black-listing unwanted issues. Most of the storyline for the TV show watcher will just seem like a believable jump into the future from the TV show, with limited "WTF?"s going on (like, "WTF, why is Dawn gigantic?"). Whedon and the crew take a few pages at the end of the first few issues quickly recapping what occurred and where they plan to take Season 8.
To quickly bring the crowd that didn't feel like reading the travesty of writing that occurred before Whedon's return, Whedon brings the comic book to where we left off: Sunny Dale. By bringing in old, memorable characters, the TV watching crowd could quickly identify and place themselves back in the Buffy world. On top of that, Whedon takes no time to re-establish his humor into the issues (man does Xander look like Nick Fury now, glad they mentioned it for the nerds of us out there), giving us the feel of the old TV show in a written format.


Season 8 will soon be releasing issue #12, the 1 year marker of Joss Whedon's return. Already the comic book is going strong, releasing multiple omnibuses of the past issues and even quick handlings of the TV Show before Whedon's return, and helping spring forth the Angel comic with Whedon as writer as well (and rumors that he may do the Spike comic too...so hot, so Billy Idol). For those that were unaware of Whedon's return, and look forward to reading Whedon's return, issues #1-5 (The Long Way Home) was just released together for $15, and Issues #6-10 (No Future For You) will be released in the coming month, which will bring anyone upto speed until the point of Buffy's new Arch-nemesis, Twilight, a masked super-power occult villain who will gladly stop to throw steeples at our heroine Buffy. The comic book promises to entertain in all the ways the TV show did, just a little less frequently (One issues a month). But hey, every comic book has two variant covers to enjoy...so you can spend twice the money for the full collection!
So Buffy fans, or just comic book readers, keep on reading! The new "Wolves at the Gate" story-arc will be starting up soon with Buffy!

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Kingdom, without Jamie Foxx.


Considering we are discussing Twin Peaks, I thought I might mention this incredible show, The Kingdom. Complete maniac Lars Von Trier created it, and it has a remarkable resemblance to Twin Peaks. I think this has a lot to due with the genre bouncing each show does, and the idea of a Utopian society being mysteriously attacked by some type of evil force.
The most telling part of the "genre bouncing" the show does can be seen in its titles, where it tries to play itself off as some type of classic E.R hospital drama. Check it out here.
You can rent this in good video stores, where on the box it reads "Like E.R on Acid" and on the back specifically references its similarity to Twin Peaks. It's got ghosts, witchcraft, old people, supernatural forces, and lots more. It is also the most genuinely scary show I have ever seen, so go out and rent it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Class cancelled today Thurs. Feb. 21--please read!!!

Dear students: I am sick! (yes, you knew that already)

No class or office hours today.

We were to have begun watching Twin Peaks.

In lieu of class, there is a short assignment; please write a one-page (250 word) response to the article assigned for this week in your class packet: "Strange Reaganism: Ludic Postmodernism as Cold War Allegory in Twin Peaks. In particular, please discuss how the author draws a parallel between the town of Twin Peaks and the typical American town during the Cold War era.

You may email this to me at amberapple at gmail dot com; or hand it in next Tuesday (along with your first essay).

Let me know if there are any questions.

Professor Peg

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Deadline for first blog post: Last Thursday!

A number of you (ten in fact) have not completed your first blog post assignment which was due last Thursday. This is very disappointing

The blog posts count for 20% of your final grade, and this first one counts for 25% of that. So for those who did not complete it and gave no reason for it being late, your first grade is an F. (I am working on emailing the grades for this assignment this week)

I expect you all to follow the schedule for assignment deadlines in the future, and to complete this assignment as soon as possible. Since everyone has known about this for some time, there is really no excuse for not getting it done.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Tip: If you're a disaffected teen, don't change your name to 'Damien'.


With my thirst for information about "satanic panic" still unquenched after Thursday's screening, I decided to rent and view the film Paradise Lost over the weekend and give a little bit of summary and information about the documentary and the West Memphis Three. We talked a little about this in class, but I urge anyone who remains interested to get their hands on the video. It's truly powerful stuff.

In June of 1993, the bodies of three second graders were found in a ditch in West Memphis, Arkansas. The children had been molested, and their sex organs had been mutilated. Surprisingly, however, no blood was found at the scene of the crime.

A few weeks later, a local teenage boy named Jessie Misskelley confessed to the crime, naming his two friends Damien Echols and and Jason Baldwin as accomplices. He told the police that the other two boys held down and killed two of the kids while he chased down a third who was in the process of escaping. All three teens were arrested. Seems pretty open and shut, right?

Not even close. It turns out that Jessie has severe mental handicaps, and was interrogated by the police alone in a dark room for hours before producing the confession. His statement also contained numerous inaccuracies and impossibilities (such as claiming he killed the kids at midday when they were still safely in school). He also claimed later that his confession was the result of confusion and underhanded policework. Despite this, Jessie was given life plus 40 years in prison, where he remains today.

Damien and Jason were tried separately, and Jessie's original confession was not allowed as evidence in their case. The state offered to remove his life sentence if he would testify against his former friends in court, but Jessie decided not to "lie again". Thus, without any hard evidence whatsoever, the case against Damien and Jason mostly centered around the prosecution's attack on Damien's character.

Damien liked to dress in black and listen to Metallica and Megadeth, two facts which were brought up often as a way to paint a broad portrait of Damien as a satanist. He was accused of being a cultist, mostly due to owning a book about the history of witchcraft as well as having a passing fascination with Alister Crowley. Damien's answer was simpler: he was studying both Cristianity and Wicca, and was strugging to reconcile the two - just as many teenagers do. Unfortunately, Damien's decorum on the stand was one that wavered between standoffish and bored. While this is also a pretty normal teen way of dealing with a situation far beyond his or her comprehension, it didn't help Damien seem innocent. Ultimately, the jury found both he and Jason guilty of murder. Jason got life without parole, and Damien got the death penalty.

In looking back on the proceedings, it is pretty clear that there is a clear and reasonable doubt that these kids committed murder. The evidence is circumstantial at best: the case hinged on the testimony of two little girls who claimed they overheard Damien brag about the killing as well as a knife found in a lake behind Jason's house over six months later. In the end, it came back to the same thing we saw on Oprah and Geraldo: Satanic Panic.

Damien's wife, who had his child during the court proceedings, now runs a defense fund to free her husband. You can read about her efforts and the case here. There is also an interesting CNN article that talks about new DNA evidence that has come out only in the past few months that may finally exonerate the West Memphis Three. It seems to implicate the father of one of the victims, though right now it's all still up in the air.

For more evidence that Satanic Panic is still active in the world, take a look at this case of a woman in Saudi Arabia who has recently been sentenced to death for practicing witchcraft.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Tidbits


For those wanting to avoid a bit of spoilage in the reading on Twin Peaks ("Strange Reaganism"), here is the deal.

On Page 113 (!), the first two paragraphs (actually the first one is the continuation of a paragraoh started on p. 112) are free and clear; the second two paragraphs are not. By the time you get to page 114 all is well again. So, if you want to avoid knowing who killed Laura Palmer, I am fairly certain avoiding those two paragraphs will do the trick. So by the time you read the words "beyond their understanding or ability to resist" you will have to stop!

Secondly: the VHS tape of the Oprah/Geraldo episodes we waqtched in class will be on reserve in Media Services, along with the VHS copy of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, in case anyone wants to view htem for research purposes.

If anyone would like a to read or obtain a copy of the chapter from the book Hollywood Hex on the Matomorus cult murders, let me know...I can either make you a copy or put it on reserve in the library.

I've got Gibson on the Brain

So this post is mostly the byproduct of reading into the think of Neuromancer (yeah...I'm a little late to the game), but I want more cyberpunk on TV. The genre itself has seemed to meet with limited success when crossing mediums from the literary to the visual. Most the instances we do see are usually either incorporated into other types of science fiction or die off after a couple seasons.


But before I go too far, a think a brief explanation is due of what I mean exactly by “cyberpunk” The Cyberpunk Project (TCP) describes the genre as “a literary movement, born in the 1980's, that seeks to completely integrate the realms of high tech and of pop culture, both mainstream and underground, and break down the separation between the organic and the artificial.” There are also dominant themes of total dystopia, usually in the wake of a catastrophic or apocalyptic event, and protagonists are often unlikely heroes. Like TCP says, importance should be placed the ideas of a super high tech age, in an intolerably low point in culture.


As I said, the TV fare for such a niche genre has been slim. Robocop, a television serious based on the film, toyed with the ideas of civil unrest in a high tech age where a single corporation controlled the city of Detroit. One of the more well-known cyberpunk series, Max Headroom, featured Edison, an ace news investigator for the biggest TV network in the world, and his computerized AI double, Max, solving crimes and turning in stories. The series expanded on the genre with ideas of flooding the streets with information, in a world where people must abandon their names and documented identities in order to live in privacy. Max was canceled in 88 and faded into obscurity by the early 90's. The last real Cyberpunk themed show seen in recent times was Dark Angel. Starring Jessica Alba, the series follows Max Guenevera, a genetically pumped up super soldier, on the run from her creators since she was very young. Living in Seattle after an EMP blast wipes out America's technological superiority, Max works at a courier service while helping her rich underground journalist friend, Logan find truth and corruption in the morally bankrupt city. It also lasted two seasons.


It may be hard to find shows about cyberpunk, because, when it comes down to it, maybe it is more of an aesthetic than a genre. It is hard to make entire shows around an aesthetic, not to mention one that hasn't made any clear definitions on what it should exactly be like. Sometimes cyberpunk it's a world like Brazil. Other times a world like Johnny Mnemonic, or Max Headroom. There is really no distinguishing ties. Or maybe cyberpunk is hard to visualize because it just looks a little too close to our world now. What do you think?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Inspirations

Since everyone else is talking about things near and dear to them, I might as well follow the pattern. I read…a lot. One of my favorite novels of is I am Legend. Not to be confused with the painfully bad new remake of the film, the novel is a beautifully composed piece taking place between 1976 and 1979 (it was written in 1954) during which time a virus sweeps through the world, changing people into a form of vampires and bringing the newly-dead back to life.

Though I am Legend is often classified as a vampire novel, it goes much farther than that. It popularized the tale of an apocalyptic world brought about by a disease and the quest for its cure. Note that while the film’s version of the story has Robert Neville (the main character) already knowing that the vampirism is caused by the virus, while the novel version shows Robert’s quest to discover the source of the sickness and cure it.

In an earlier post, Conor talks about zombie stories, well, those stories are based off of I am Legend (or site it as inspiration). The director of Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero, acknowledges the novel’s influence. The film shares similarities with Last Man on Earth, which is a direct adaptation of I am Legend. Stephen King said “I think the author who influenced me the most as a writer was Richard Matheson. Books like I am Legend were an inspiration to me” (the back of the book). This level of influence is incredible for a novel of this kind. It has been adapted to film three times (though none of the films come close to the original story) and seven more site it as inspiration.

I am Legend is very difficult to classify in terms of the types of supernatural texts. Elements of the story can fit into nearly every category we’ve discussed. It is science fiction because the spread of the virus was linked to dust storms that had been caused by the use of nuclear weapons. Given the time period this was written in, there was a great deal of fear surrounding nuclear weapons since we didn’t (and don’t) know the full extent of what they can do. This also makes it speculative fiction because, at the time, a catastrophe caused by nuclear war was a legitimate concern. The story is also horror because the results of the virus was a form of vampires and involved the dead coming back to life to attack the living. It can even be considered paranormal documentary given the level of details when Robert is searching to understand the virus and his many scientific experiments to attempt to cure the victims. I am Legend is a very well-rounded (and at times confusing) story. A story that was considered the “father of modern vampire stories” and provided the inspiration for so many more.

Inspiration is a powerful tool. Where does the inspiration for supernatural stories come from? Sure some of them cite other supernatural stories, but they had to be inspired somewhere.

The Invisible Man is Out of Hiding


It has recently come to my attention that one of my favorite TV shows is finally being released on DVD after being canceled in 2002. I was so excited by the news I decided to share it and let those who don’t know show what its about. 

The Invisible Man aired on the Sci Fi channel in June of 2000. The show was created by Matt Greenberg and starred Vincent Ventresca as Damian Fawkes a thief who got more than he bargained for when his brother signed him up to be a government lab rat in exchange for doing time for the crimes he committed. He was implanted with a gland that secrets quicksilver to cover his entire body, refracting light and rendering him invisible. He in enlisted to work for the “Agency” disguised as the Department of Fish and Game and use his talents for special government cases. Damian is assigned to work with Agent Bobby Hobbes (Paul Ben-Victor) as his partner, watched over by Clair “The Keeper” (Shannon Kenny) and monitored by “Agency” head “The Official” (Eddie Jones). The conflict of course lies in the existence of counter agent. Give a thief the ability to turn invisible and you need a way to control him. The quicksilver toxins build up in Darien’s blood stream causing him intense pain and insanity. The counter agent keeps his levels normal and keeps him coming back for counter agent.

 

The Invisible Man was well written and action packed and a great deal of money was spent on a decent quicksilver special effect. The show had a lot of positive reviews and feedback. According to scifi.com “The SCI FI Channel saw its prime-time Nielsen ratings jump by 13 percent in August, Variety reported. The cable network showed a mix of movies, reruns of network series such as The Outer Limits and original programming such as The Invisible Man and Farscape during the period.”  Despite that, arguments between Sci Fi and its parent company USA over the show and the expense of the special effects resulted in the show being canceled after two seasons. Fans are finally in luck as season one will be released on March 25th of this year. It can be bought on Amazon for $44. The show is well worth the money and at the very least a Netflix rental. 

Tin Man: Hookers, Nazis and pot smokers OH MY!


Last December the Sci-Fi network scored its highest Neilson rating ever with its three night mini series event Tin Man.  I'm mildly embarrassed to admit that I was one of the 6.3 million viewers on the first night (and even after I realized how bad it was, I came back for the 2nd and 3rd installments).  With one of the most beloved stories at its root and a 19 million dollar budget (Variety 11/07) how could it fail?  

Tin Man attempts to reinvent the classic story by perverting every aspect and making it "more sci-fi-y."  The land of Oz is renamed the Outer Zone and referred to as the O.Z. (you know it's hip, like the O.C.) an alternate universe. This is where D.G. (as in Dorothy Gale, played by Zooey Deschanel) was actually born and raised (and murdered- by her sister- but we won't get into that).  While our original Oz lived under the tyranny of the wicked witch there was still the light hearted magical components making it a desirable place to escape to.  The new O.Z. is more of a dystopia than Dorothy's land of singing munchkins.  

The O.Z. is suffering under the occupation of an evil sorceress who happens to be D.G.'s older sister (possessed of course).  The evil Azkadellia rules over the O.Z. with the help of her Nazi-esque Longcoats and tattooed flying monkeys.  To add to the horrible state of the O.Z. the emerald city is the seedy home to lowlifes, bounty seeking prostitutes, and a wizard who gains inspiration from taking hits from a pipe.

Executive Producer Robert Halim is quoted saying Tin Man is a "bit darker.  To make a classic understood by young people today you have to talk an entirely different language."  I don't think I've ever met a person unable to speak the language of L. Frank Baum's Wonderful Wizard of Oz, nor have I spoken to any "young people" who better identified with the warped world of the O.Z.  

The greatest problem with Tin Man is that it tries to be too many things at once.  The sheer amount of characters, plots and nods to the original found in Tin Man is enough to overwhelm a series, not to mention a three night special.  Recreating the world of the Oz is a hefty task, especially considering the amount of recreations already in existence.  From the musical Wicked, to the 1985 Return to Oz (based on another Baum novel), to The Wiz, we've seen this story told beautifully so many times that it almost seems necessary to take it to an extreme in order to make it fresh.  However, there's extreme and then there's bad and Tin Man is bad.  By drawing from so many components of classic Science Fiction in order to appeal to viewers, Tin Man became a giant mess of concepts.

The basic themes behind The Wizard of Oz are completely lost in Tin Man.  Tin Man ends with D.G. reuniting with her parents- that she previously had no knowledge of- and her evil possessed  sorcerous sister, who is returned to a loving sibling.  Even with this family reunited, we never see the "there's no place like home" aspect that made the original so great and endearing. When Dorothy arrives home, safe and sound with those that love her, the audience is reassured, our faith in one aspect of the world is restored.  However, when D.G. completes her mission to save the O.Z. there's no hint she has found happiness.  She has a new family that she had previously forgotten and is forever separated from those that raised her.  After such complete destruction of the O.Z. it's hard to imagine things will all fall into place.  The tidy package that is the ending of Tin Man doesn't give any satisfaction or feeling of closure.
  
Ultimately Tin Man is a noble attempt to make the fantastic story of The Wizard of Oz even more fanciful. But how much more can you cram into a story with dancing munchkins, good and evil witches, a wizard and flying monkeys?  Variety writer Brain Lowry ends his review of the mini series saying "To Sci-Fi's credit, projects of this scope require considerable courage, and the desire to breath new life into another beloved classic demonstrates heart.  Now if it only had a brain."  

Psychic (?) Sylvia Browne



An aspect of supernatural TV that has yet to be really discussed in class is the Television psychic. Miss Cleo, John Edwards, and Sylvia Bwne are a few memorable TV psychics. While I don’t have much personal experience watching Miss Cleo’s infomercials or John Edwards’s daytime show, I have seen Psychic Sylvia Browne on Montel.

For those of you who haven’t seen her, or don’t know who I’m talking about, Sylvia Browne is a self-proclaimed psychic with dyed blonde hair and distractingly long fingernails. Her voice is coarse and gives the impression of years of cigarette abuse. She’s always very blunt and doesn’t cater to the qualms of the audience with insincere reassurances.

Montel is in its last season, and therefore Sylvia is soon to be off the air. Fortunately for Browne, her popularity far outshines Montel’s hour-long talk show. She has published thirty-eight books (which are all available on her website, here) and has been a New York Times #1 best-selling author. Interestingly enough, Browne has a master’s degree in English (but from where, I’m not sure).

Browne also has her own hypnosis-training center and her own church, called Novus Spiritus, where "The way of all peace is to scale the mountain of Self. Loving others makes the climb down easier. We see all things darkly until love lights the lamp of the Soul." (If I’m scaling the mountain of Self, when/why am I coming back down?)

It never worried me that Browne could be a fraud, mostly because I’ve never seen her claim anything too serious on Montel’s show, as well as the fact that she seems so harmlessly prolific (books, church, lectures, etc.) that she must be doing something right. However, looking back on it, it seems like these two aspects are big “DUH’s.” Montel? Credible talk show? (If there is such a thing) Also, if you’re out to make money, you’re going to do simply that, make money (38 books, ahem).

Regardless of Browne’s validity, she’s still a pill and a ton of fun to watch. I stumbled across this list of Sylvia’s predictions for 2000-2100, and it also gave me the idea for this blog post: . My favorite prediction is the last one.

In the sociological/cultural context of the American TV psychic phenomena, one of the main questions I have is: Why is America turning to psychics to solve its problems? My assumption is that with faith in religion (as opposed to faith in God) declining (cynicism abounds, especially in the wake of such things as the Catholic priest scandals), people are looking elsewhere for answers. If a person appears to be able to successfully communicate with the dead and to see the future, then she must have access to great knowledge and can therefore provide great hope and easy solutions.

That’s the other thing, easy solutions. In America’s fast-food culture, we don’t like to wait. We want to know and we want to know NOW! Sylvia and her ilk provide us with these quick fixes. For good or for bad? At least it’s entertaining.


Here is a link to a Sylvia Browne/Anderson Cooper YouTube Video.

Here’s one with an opposite tone...watch...

Ghost Hunters! Paranormal in reality TV

I figured we couldn't have a supernatural tv class without talking about a more recent phenomenon to hit the tube, and that would be the merging of the paranormal with reality television.  There have been quite a few examples of this, but one of the most popular (especially by this poster) has been the SciFi Channel hit, Ghost Hunters.  For those unfamiliar with the show, the two founders of T.A.P.S. (The Atlantic Paranormal Society), Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, lead their group of paranormal investigators to locations that are believed to be "haunted."  

At their location of interest, the thoroughly investigate, interviewing people who live/work there, research the history of the location, and use electronic equipment that is thought to detect paranormal activity.  TAPS's equipment includes things like digital thermometers, electromagnetic field detectors, infrared and night vision cameras, and digital audio recorders.  

The evidence they find is usually minimal.  Their MO is usually to go into a location to debunk or disprove claims of a haunting.  Jay and Grant's "day job" as Roto Rooter plumbers (which is referenced to every single friggin episode, though its hilarious) gives them the knowledge of all sorts of odd plumbing issues that apparently are often misinterpreted as a ghost.  Because when I hear a gurgling toilet, I think ghost.  Although there have been a good handful of investigations that have turned up some interesting evidence, both audio and video (including a case where a pissed off ghost apparently picked up and threw the sound guy on the production team).

Now there have been other shows that are very similar in nature, but most, if not all, match the awesomeness that is Ghost Hunters.  One of which is Paranormal State, which I've caught a few episodes of.  They try to do the same as TAPS, but ultimately fail.  First off, the members remind me of a few trekies between conventions that have nothing else to do so they decide to hunt ghosts.  They also like to find everything paranormal to be some sort of evil demon, and rely heavily on religion as a means to remediate the "problem." Which bring about a interesting point.  According to the  entertainment world, if you find yourself to be possessed, unless you believe in the power of Christ, you're screwed.  It's something that might be worth looking more into.  Also I have yet to see some evidence out of that show.  Entertaining?  Maybe.  Real?  I think not.

Personally, I'll be sticking to Ghost Hunters.  I'll be watching Ghost Hunters International tonight, and can't wait for season 4 next month!
THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE



Does anyone remember the first time they saw an episode of the X-files? I sure as heck do, and it changed my life. I remember seeing a preview for the episode Shadows (aired 10.22.1993) translated into Norwegian on a crappy local channel back home. It was a clip from when the bad guy was getting choked by the ghost-dude. “Du faar ikke lov til aa se det!” (translation: you are not allowed to watch that) my mother yelled at me when she noticed the rising excitement and crazed look in my nine-year-old eyes. Fortunately for me, my father had recently bought me a handheld Sony black and white television which I snuck under the covers that dark and stormy evening. Oh the horror! I was floored by its compelling story and visual effects - it was like nothing I had ever seen! And trust me, even for a nine-year-old I had encountered more horror and sci-fi films than a mildly squeamish college sophomore.

There are many reasons to why the X-Files became such a gigantic, global success. It juggled story lines such as sitting-on-the-edge-of-your-seat government conspiracies and staged abductions, which would continually last over multiple seasons. I believe episodes involving Mulder's sister Samantha, or the informative source named Deep Throat were the reason so many people – be it nerds, yuppies, housewives or nine-year-old Norwegian girls – got bitten by the X-files bug.

And then there were the individual episodes, each taking some absurd approach to anything within the realm of sci-fi, mystery, horror and the overall supernatural. One mind-blowingly disturbing, disgusting, FANTASTIC favorite was the episode Home, which took on not only disturbing topics such as severe deformity, primitive human instinct and murder, incest was the building blocks to this masterpiece. Entertainment Weekly named it “the most disturbing hour in the history of network television”. And boy oh boy, disturbing it was.

One very crucial element of the X-files, which I believe to have immense effect on its viewers and add to the chilling suspense, is of course the musical genius of composer Mark Snow. He captures us with heart-racing African drum scores; off-tune eerie strings; digital raindrop-like jabber; melancholy piano riffs.

The X-files frenzy not only captured the likes of nerds and the “common folk”, it created quite the phenomenon within the academic and scientific world. Scholar Sharon R. Yang wrote an academic essay on how the X-files refers to classic and religious literature. David Lavery an English professor at Middle Tennessee State University, has put together a book of academic essays about The X-files:

“If former Yale English Literature Ph.D. candidate David Duchovny had remained in academia, instead of dropping out to take up acting, he might have fallen into the strange state that grips many a scholar these days: obsession with watching, analyzing, and interpreting The X-files.”

I could go on forever on how much I love the X-files, but it is time for bed. I will leave you with some interesting links enclosed, and remember, Trust No One.

Interview with David Duchovny

Lone Gunmen Spin-off series

The beautiful Dana Scully

The hunky Fox Mulder

Interview with Mark Snow


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The 80s are back more than ever.

Professor Peg recently wrote about how there seemed to be a dearth of supernatural programming in the 1980s. I figured there had to be something, so I decided to do some investigating.

What did I find? Cartoons. Animated TV series with supernatural, science fiction, or horror elements seemed to be plenty prevalent during the Me! Decade. Their quality? Often dubious. But their impact of many of them on popular culture as a whole cannot be denied.

Some examples:

  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (first aired 1987): Genetically modified reptiles fighting crime. Spawned a line of toys that are still popular sellers today, as well as four films. The most recent, TMNT was released just last year.
  • Transformers(first aired 1984): Giant, extraterrestrial robots that can change forms come to Earth to battle for resources. In this case the toy came first, but the TV series really helped cement its popularity. This also spawned theatrical sequels, also as recently as last year.
  • Inspector Gadget (first aired 1983): A cyborg detective uses his body's built-in gadgets to solve his cases. The film spawned a (poorly-recevied) live-action version in 1999.
  • He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (first aired 1983): A fantasy-laden series about a prince who becomes the powerful hero He-Man and fights the evil lord Skeletor. He-Man had a female-centric spin-off, She-Ra: Princess of Power premiere a few years later. A He-Man remake is reportedly planned for 2009.


As you can see, supernatural cartoons in the 1980s were not only TV entertainment, but full of potential for cross-market merchandise. Some also tried to capitalize on the success of former TV series or films. These included:


Many series of this nature tended not to last as long, perhaps because of the creative bankruptcy of several of the concepts. Obviously, they seemed like good ideas at the time.

Either way, supernatural television was somehere to be found in the Eighties. Saturday mornings.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Gay Vampires?!: Queer Subtext in the Horror Genre

Although it may come as a surprise, a prominent area of focus in queer media studies lies in the horror genre, which is normally pretty heterosexist.....but what defines this genre is that it plays into our fears.  The queer community experiences great fear in coming out of the closet and is very familiar with horrors such as AIDS and hate crimes.  Like the monsters in horror texts, the queer community is often perceived as destructive to the moral fabric of society.  They are often rejected for being who they are and prevented from living a "normal" life.  Yet like the protagonists in horror texts, they also fight to overcome an oppressive and destructive evil.

In the 1980s, a decade that was dominated in America by the conservative religious right, horror texts - as well as homosexuality - were considered evil.  Filmmakers (especially gay ones) decided to play with this and invert the conventions of traditional horror films.  In many examples of queer horror, the villains (especially werewolves and vampires) are not necessarily evil, just misunderstood.  These films skillfully and subtly address the cultural anxieties surrounding the gay community.

In A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge, Freddy Krueger possesses Jesse, a teenage boy, in his dreams to continue his murdering in the real world. Critics and viewers alike have noticed a highly evident subtext of Jesse's repressed homosexuality in the film. He is afraid that "something is trying to get inside my body."

Vampires serve as common media representations of the queer community, and for the most part, they embrace this.  It depicts them as an elite group that doesn't follow the usual constraints of society.  It is also fairly easy to see the connection between bloodsucking and the AIDS virus, which, in the 80s, was largely believed to be a gay disease.  Some prominent examples of queer texts concerning vampires include The Lost Boys (1987), directed by Joel Schumacher, who is openly gay.  This film deals with a battle between vampires and a group who call themselves "fighters for justice, truth, and the American way."  The vampires seduce a teenager into joining them by having him drink blood.  In Interview with the Vampire (1994), Tom Cruise seduces Brad Pitt into becoming a vampire (or a member of the queer community), and the two of them essentially become a gay couple raising their "daughter" (a little girl who they vampire-ize), Kirsten Dunst.

The 2001 horror film Jeepers Creepers and its 2003 sequel were directed by Victor Salva, an openly gay man and convicted child molester who confessed to 5 felony counts of sexual relations with a 12-year-old boy in the late 1980s.  Unquestionably, themes of homosexuality and pedophilia do come to the surface in Salva's films.  The Creepers franchise is a rare horror specimen in that the victims of the villain (the Creeper) are not virginal young girls, but rather young men (in the sequel, a busload of shirtless jocks).  In the first film, the Creeper's victim is the boyish Darry, a supposed "closet case."  The monster is completely uninterested in Darry's sister, but he rams his shaft-like truck into the trunk of Darry's car.  Here is a good review/queer reading of Jeepers Creepers.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer has a large gay following and is probably the best example of queer horror on television.  It features stylish and powerful female characters as well as queer characters, and it makes outsiders cool.  Charmed also featured queer themes and characters, as well as lesbian undertones.

Other examples:
-  The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a parody of sci-fi and horror movies, whose Dr. Frank N Furter is a "sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania" who creates a blonde, tan man (just like Frankenstein) named Rocky Horror for his own pleasure
-  Michael Jackson's Thriller video, in which MJ warns his date that he's "not like other guys" right before he turns into a werewolf

What is it with the connection between horror/the supernatural and sexuality?  What do you guys think?  Perhaps this will be a theme we will encounter again later on...

For more on this topic, click here.

In Honor of A Nightmare on Elm Street remake

The upcoming feature film remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street is indicative of a number of things, including a) a creatively bankrupt entertainment industry that has exhausted its resources of shock and irony long beyond their shelf life, and b) a receptive audience that doesn't really seem to care. But upon hearing about this, I remembered a show called 'Freddy's Nightmares,' which I was too young to watch in its original run but caught a few amusing clips of on youtube a while back.

The intro can be viewed here.

The show was produced when both the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th franchises were at the zenith of their popularity, going at a rate of about a film a year for each. Unlike those however, 'Freddy's Nightmares' was aired on television and aimed at children in an environment where it is well-known that parents have a great deal less control, and that there are no theater ushers preventing entry for kids too young to otherwise see the film. But 'Freddy's Nightmares' is realy indicative of a few other things, as well.

1) This represents an instance in which television was used in conjunction with film (not to mention music in the form of soundtracks, merchandise) to push a product on people. It really wasn't even entertainment anymore, it was simply a multi-pronged marketing attack to make sure that people were as aware as possible of 'A Nightmare on Elm Street.' In later years, things like this would become as integral as the film itself, perhaps even more so, with absurd instances like 'The Secret World of M. Night Shyamalan,' in which they actually claimed that he was able to see ghosts, only to reveal the very next day that it was all a hoax.

Is marketing still an annoying hindrance, or have we walked forward into a new world where that sort of thing is just sort of the nature of the game? Is this something that people should be outraged by? Maybe just a little bit?

What is the product here? The tv show or the film? Or 'Spaceballs: The Flame Thrower'?

2) This represents probably the first time in which American culture has chosen a child murderer/pedophile as a cultural figure worthy of entertaining children.

3) On a personal note, I have something of a fondness for the original 'Nightmare on Elm Street,' and the seventh film in the series firmly positions them on top of the mid-90s self-referential horror heap. While slasher films are generally viewed as Reagan-era reactions to the free love of the 60s, in which children are punished for their freedom, 'Nightmare' separates itself from the lot with one key difference: Freddy Krueger is an adult, whereas Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees are both stunted children. If a town acting complicitly with a child murderer (and the adults are never any help in any of these) isn't a direct slam on draft-era suburbia, then I don't know what is.

"Cut off the head or destroy the brain" Everybody Loves Zombies!



Last week in class we briefly touched upon the subject of zombies, so I figured I would delve a little more on how it has evolved in the media and my interest in it and why.

You really wouldn’t think that something turned undead with a hunger for human flesh would be a topic people would be interested in. Seriously. When you think of it in depth, the idea of zombies is a truly horrific thought. People you know or care about coming back from the dead, where their sole purpose is to eat the flesh of the living. They can't be killed easily. The only real way is to destroy the head; besides that, they keep coming. In a situation where you had to kill a family member or loved one because they are trying to EAT you? That’s a pretty horrifying thought. Why would there be any interest in such a monstrous situation? Yet somehow, there is a morbid interest in the undead, and how to deal with them. Its popularity has reached all different types of media and really evolved. Zombies and Survival Horror have been around for few decades, and have become really popular with movies like "Night of the Living Dead" and "Dawn of the Dead". However, especially in this new generation, Zombies have made it to other medium as well, such as: video games, books, and more genres of movies.

My first exposure to the popular undead was not through any movies such as "Night of the Living Dead", but through a video game. Out in the early 1990's, the game "Resident Evil" came out for the PlayStation and I got my first taste of Survival Horror. The object of the game was that you played as an elite trained solider who must go through this mansion, survive all of these zombies and biological creatures trying to kill you, and make it out of the mansion alive. The game terrified me so much to the point me and my friends would make dares on who would play the game in the dark. Resident Evil did well enough as a franchise that over the years they have come out with four sequels, with Resident Evil 5 due out sometime in 2009 for the PlayStation 3. It’s the same set up: you are trapped in a situation and you have to shoot your way out. They do a great job of making the games very challenging and still terrifying.

The main medium of zombie portrayal has always been movies. Zombie movies have been around since the 1930's, and have always done a good job of terrifying an audience. However,in some instances the "traditional" zombie movies have been turned around a bit in my time. You no longer see the same old undead rising from the grave and terrorizing the neighborhood. A good example of an untraditional zombie movie is "Shaun of the Dead". This is one of my favorite zombie movies, only because its more comedic. Even its tag line is amusing: "A romantic comedy...with zombies". That's exactly what it is: Shaun is concerned with getting his girlfriend back. It just so happens that a zombie outbreak has occurred in London, and before he can continue pursuing her, he first has to save her and the rest of his loved ones. It has its scary parts and moral conflicts, but it still maintains both the comedy factor and the traditional zombie movie traits. Another non-traditional zombie movie is "28 Days Later". This movie does not have zombies as undead people coming back to life, but regular people infected with a virus that turns them extremely aggressive and makes them want to maim other humans and eat their flesh. This movie still scares me for a number of reasons: unlike regular zombies, they are not slow can even run, and like zombies it takes a lot to kill them. This usually requires the destruction of the head and brain. The most terrifying thing is how quickly people turn infected: if someone is bitten, they become infected in under 10 seconds. With its eerie musical score and overtly graphic scenarios, I still have trouble watching it. More and more, zombie movies are becoming more creative in their ways to frighten and entertain us.

Another form of media that portrays zombies is books. Granted, there are not too many of them, but the two that I have read that are noteworthy. The first one is "Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead" and the second is "World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War", both written by Max Brooks. The first one is exactly what it sounds like: an entire book on Zombie Survival. It gives examples of what weapons to use against them, the right type of survival gear, the best places to hold out till help arrives, and even suggestions on how to make escape plans. "World War Z" is a fictional collection of diary entries from around the world describing a zombie outbreak and how the entire human species was wiped out. It’s actually one of the most accurate books on the idea of how the world would deal with a zombie attack. Both books are really informative and very entertaining, and I am proud to say I own both of them.

Though there are some concrete examples of how Zombies have formed in the media, there is still the question of why people are so interested in them. For me and my friends, it either comes down to two scenarios: the fact that we love the idea of zombies and think it could really happen, or that we are absolutely terrified by them and pray it never does. The thing we all have in common is that we have it all figured out what to do in case of a zombie attack. Some might think it’s crazy or stupid, but we have discussed in great depth where to go and what to do. We have even researched escape routes out of Boston, and the best places to horde food. For me while the thought of zombies is indeed a terrifying concept, I keep thinking of ways of how I could combat them and escape. I even see regular objects and imagine uses for it as a weapon. ( Good tip: Having some type of bludgeoning weapons are your best bet; guns run out of ammo, and sharp objects are only good if you can cut off the head). Those are some of the reasons why I am so interested in Zombies. So, If you ever catch me staring around the room, I’m probably searching out escape routes in case the outbreak starts in Boston.

If Joss Whedon Builds It....They Will Come




Alright, to start this sucker off I Just need to claim that this is the business of Buffy, I don't know a lot about the show but after a little research I have found that the guy behind this show is possibly a creative genius and in light of the recent post on money, Joss Whedon proves with a good story you can tell those with the dollar, dollar bills yo! to take a hike.

Whedon comes from a family of Writers. His dad is behind such classics as the The Golden Girls, and the Sesame Street alternative The Electric Company. His brother had his hand in the beautifully demonic yet far from supernatural Deadwood. And they say talent isn't hereditary. He got his first writing credits on the sitcom series' Rosanne and Parenthood. Then out with the big guns, Whedon crafts the original Script of the Film Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Toy Story. Buffy grossed a messily 14 million total at the box office while Toy Story knocked out the competition a 191 Million domestic gross alone. It also snagged him an Oscar nod. After that Whedon was on a new level allowing him to do whatever wanted. Apparently what he wanted was a retake on his vision of Buffy which he felt didn't get the justice it deserved.

Buffy Numbers

Toy Story Numbers
Joss History

So what did he do? He created a show around his Buffy universe. It wasn't picked up by the major 4 networks, but it was snagged by lowly UPN and given a minuscule budget. Despite this, it developed a fan base. A mighty fan base at that, drawing in as many as 6 million viewers a week. Sure it never got the respect from the Emmy's, and for critics it was almost a guilty pleasure, but no one can stop the power of a good story and the fandome it creates. Even after it's 7 season run Whedon felt he had cheated his fans of a true ending so the series continued in comic form to the Buffy "buffs" delight. In 2003 Amazon had it posted as the highest selling DVD and at that same time it was in the top 10 merchandised shows behind classic programing such as Sesame Street and The Simpsons.

Merchandise


And this wasn't just a one time deal. The Buffy Spin off Angel was also a great success but once again the network pulled the plug even though it was pulling in "Buffy" ratings even getting a higher viewer ship for its finale. The network was forced to deal when fans rallied behind the show pledging money for a movie. The Network refused to comment.

Angel Info


And once twice three times a lady. Along comes Whedon again with his Sci-Fi Western which FOX decidedly canceled after airing only 11 of the original 14 episodes without airing the pilot episode and showing the serielized series entirely out of sequence. I mean if that won't bring viewership what will? But the Whedon drones Caused a racus baning their suportive war drums for more of this show and low and behold Universal gave the guy 40 million to make a movie which just became profitable a year and a half after it's release. It's like the little sci fi flick that could. A Sci-Fi western epic for under 40 mill. Not Bad Whedon.....Not bad.

Firefly and Serenity info
Profit Turn

This guy proves all you need is a good story and a fan base that resembles a pack of ravage wolves and then you can do whatever your little occult heart desires.

Whedonesque.com

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Not just a silly little vampire show

BtVS is quite possibly one of my favorite shows of all time, and I like a wide variety of television (including reality shows, I love New York is awesome, hello!) that isn't limited to the super natural realm  or vampire shows. But that's just it, Buffy is more than "just a vampire show." It has a wide variety  of themes like feminist empowerment and the transformation of the typical super hero from a kick ass man into a kick ass blonde teenager.  

I have to admit that I wasn't a huge fan of Buffy or her comrades before the Fall 07 semester. That is until I enrolled in the Buffy seminar. Yea, we all heard of it, the Buffy class, but it's not just a class centered around Buffy.. it also deals with the themes that I just discussed. Books, scholarly articles, and blogs are all dedicated to the different themes featured in the show, along with fan reactions to each episode, fan fiction is also an important aspect to the series. Just to name a few: this article from slayage online discusses  the feminist aspects in the series and relates them to Sarah Michelle Gellar's appearance on magazines, the book "Slayer Slang" by Michael Adams features a slayer lexicon, and "Fighting the Forces" edited by famous Buffy and television fan writer Rhonda V. Wilcox and David Lavery. Also, this article located on Slayage, goes into series creator's Joss Whedon's intentions behind why he made Buffy the series (97') and the original Buffy (92') movie.  
 
Just for the class alone, eight books were required for purchase and Slayage Online was visited quite often by me and my fellow classmates. I loved Xander, Willow, and even Dawn so much that I just purchased the season eight comics, own every season on DVD and watched the spin of show Angel, for which I also own every season. I finished both Angel and Buffy in less than 4 months. That might seem like a long time but considering that each season has 22 eps (fan talk for episode) at 45 minutes each and Buffy has seven seasons, along with Angels five seasons, I think I watched them in record time along with some time to spare for those other stupid college courses I had to take. 

In short (if you haven't noticed), I'm a fanatic of all the things within the Buffyverse.. I love Spike, I can't get enough of Buffy's drama, and I even own the X-Box Buffy game (Chaos Bleeds). Due to the class and my own personal interests I watched, re-watched and wrote articles all dedicated to "just a vampire show." I would love to hear if other people love the show just as much as I do or if you too, can't get enough.

Lost Mysteries


So, I figured I would talk about Lost because I am kind of a fanatic. There are so many theories and wonders to the show you just want to talk about it. I won't give this season's spoilers away - but I wanted to touch on some of the major supernatural elements of the show. I haven't seen seasons 1-3 in quite a while but I will try to explain what you need to know in order to understand the events. The links in the post are to youtube videos if you don't know what I am talking about and have any interest in seeing/ learning more about Lost.

I first wanted to mention the
Black Smoke monster that we still have no idea about. The Character Eko seemed to have a connection to this monster, perhaps even an understanding with it. In the video, however this is one of the encounters that Eko has with it and it destroys him. The smoke has a life of its own, like it is thinking. It feels and acts on the feelings. When ever it is in an episode it isn't for a long period of time and usually has a huge impact. It is a strong force, it is said that the island itself might be controlling this force. Something fishy is going on, and it is definitely supernatural.

I also wanted to mention the
House of Jacob. This strange place is where Ben brings Locke. It's a random house in the middle of the island where a great force, maybe even the heart of the island (kill this land and kill the island?) is located. This plot of land is surrounded by a circle of rocks which probably contains most of the power. I think this house is the key to understanding the island. We haven't seen it appear very much. And the spirit that lives inside the house, Jacob, we still have no idea what all that is about. This was probably the most exciting episode to date. I think there really are supernatural happenings on this island, and I think Locke's character understands it best and connects with it best. Locke is "one with the island".

Those are the two main questions that haven't really been touched upon in the show. I mean there are many other questions that have no answer like
-Who is Walt and why is he special. He obviously has some sort of power.
-Who are the Others and the traders? Do they have supernatural powers? (One guy just hasn't aged at all from what we have seen.)
-what do the numbers have to do with anything, really? 4 8 15 16 23 42... they are used for evil, but why do they matter so much.
-The polar bears and the black horse appearing randomly.
-Dharma Initiative and the Orientation Films.
-The Statue with no toes

All of these things have driven us fans crazy. Lost is a show I love to hate. Every episode makes me hate the show because I have to wait another week before I can see the next episode. There is hardly ever anything answered- and if there is then 5 million more questions are asked. I am sure I am missing a lot because the show is so complex and could be analyzed from so many angles everything could be read as something else. If you have more comments please add!

Watch Lost is what it all comes down to.

Update on articles, and thoughts on SRA, UFOs and fairies


The article packet which will be available in the Copy Center (Little Bldg) tomorrow will cost about $13; not too bad! So please obtain this as soon as possible, certainly for next week.

I also found this very interesting spreadsheet comparison of descriptions of alien abductions versus Satanic Ritual Abuse. This might prove illuminating as we discuss SRA this week and come closer to our unit on UFO-based shows in the next couple of weeks.

Another interesting point someone might want to research and write about: not only are there distinctive similarities between alien abduction and SRA narratives; but these are also markedly similar to narratives of "faery abduction" (including stories of changelings, being lost in fairy realms, being seduced by fairies, etc.) which were popular in the British Isles at the turn of the century (and which are mentioned in this NY Times book review. Of particular interest perhaps is the marked presence of sexual abuse common to all these different situations...

Thoughts??

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Death of TV Movies

Once upon time, well at least thats what people tell me since it was before my time, TV movies were awesome and well watched. They weren't discarded to the void, aka The Sci-Fi channel, and people actually enjoyed them. Having watched a few now from the mid 1970's and seen even more from the Sci-fi channel, I believe the root of all problems is as everyone knows already, Money.

Comparing today's TV movies to the blockbusters shows an obvious discrepancy of budget. Watching the Jurassic Park T-rex bite a man in half is almost believable; watching the sci-fi equivalent is like watching your little brother's play-do animation movie in comparison. Minus the few actors who stick with Sci-fi (or are they stuck due to contract?), none of them would even be allowed to be an extra on The Dark Knight. Over-all, its so obvious that the budget is massively different. And they are, the upcoming Sci-fi presentation about dragons, "Fire and Ice" is budgeted at $2million, meanwhile the blockbuster of this year, The Dark Knight, has an estimated budget of $150million, for the math impaired thats 75 times more. Simply put, no-one is putting any money into it.

Compare this to the 70's. Now, I'm not going to say the made for TV movies were amazing by today's standards, but when George Lucas' Star Wars (1977) can't get a blue screen right, we can't really expect much more from the made for TV movies. Hell, the acting in Star Wars isn't even amazing. The world was different, and so was the money dispersal. Unfortunately, the 70's didn't keep box-office prices of made for TV movies. But Star Wars did, and in '77 it was priced at $13million. Fire and Ice doesn't even have the budget of a 1977 movie pre-inflation.

Money killed the made for TV movies. Sure, the audience to want the big Blockbusters, but recently TV movies have been trying to make a comeback. But how can they be expected to do any good when the channels are simply not putting the money in. Come on Sci-fi, stop releasing a $#!+fest every week, and release one once a month and bam, you got about 10million into one movie that might actually attract an audience! TV movies were great when they were authentically trying and just not quite getting there...but now, they aren't even trying =/.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

What about the Eighties???


Trying to pull together the screening schedule for the course, I have noted a real dearth of quality supernatural programming in the 1980s. Of course, this may be due in part to the rise of the religious right and the concomitant influence upon television programming (Hollywood was declared a cesspool of sin that was corrupting America's children, remember?). The same goes for cinema: not much in the way of quality occult or supernatural cinema during that decade, either.

Some shows stand out as worthy of discussion, though: Like Beauty and the Beast which aired from 1987-1992. Fantasy Island was still going strong, running from 1978 through 1984. There was a series called Friday the 13th that ran from 1987 to 1990, but I don't remember ever watching it; probably because I was in graduate school. There were a few documentary-style shows like Ripley's Believe It or Not and Amazing Stories. Anthology horror came back, too, with a new version of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, plus Tales From the Darkside and Tales of the Unexpected, plus a new version of The Twilight Zone (a pale offering compared to Serling's work). There were also some random UFO-related shows, but nothing that lasted very long.

How about you? What spooky Eighties show kept you on the edge of your seat?

And why was the Eighties such a dead time for this kind of programming?

Perhaps more significantly, why are we suddenly seeing such an explosion of television shows dealing with different aspects of the supernatural?