Zombies Archive

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Book Review: Fear the Abyss

In his introduction to Fear the Abyss, an anthology of dark horror and science fiction from Post Mortem Press, editor Eric Beebe asks, “What is more frightening than an unending unknown?” To answer this question, twenty-two authors present a variety of narrative insights into the relationship between curiosity’s call and the anxieties of discovery.

While these stories are well suited to the editor’s thematic mandate of exploring the science, knowledge, and fear, I believe another concept unites these stories. Almost all the fiction within Fear the Abyss probes the actual act of perception, be it visual, psychic, or something else, as both a reaction to and a means of comprehending the unknown. The tones of pessimism, nihilism, and, in a few cases, optimism which materialize out of these stories speak not simply to the construction of an imagined unknown, but how readily identifiable characters process that which is alien to them. Though the range of sub-genres is broad, from outright body horror to far-future science fiction, the experience is quite cohesive.

Honour Roll

Extraction by Jessica McHugh

Certain stories live on in a person’s memory long after they have been read. Extraction is not one of those stories. Rather, Extraction is the story that gives nightmares to all the other stories which keep a person up at night. Beginning with the phrase “I can’t stop jerking off at work,” what follows is an evocative piece of short fiction, dwelling in the cracks between body horror and contemporary science fiction.

It naturally follows that McHugh’s text is somewhat challenging to read. In exploring a literal form of human alienation, the story risks evoking a particularly sour taste from the reader. For me, the experience prompted equal measures of repulsion and fascination, akin to the first time I watched Hellraiser. Throughout the text, motifs of desire and addiction collide in what is quite rightly a reproductive grotesquery. Unsettling as the imagery may be, it’s not exploitative so much as an attempt to relocate the reader from a safe conceptual realm into a place where any pop culture preconceptions of the fantastic are stripped away. The remnant is a vision of reality which frames the great “other” as something genuinely horrifying to behold.

That Which Does Not Kill You by Matt Moore

Matt Moore offers a near-future war story that blends the best elements of Shelley’s Frankenstein and Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly. Though there are some aspects of body horror in the story, its raison d’etre seems to be an inquiry into the consequences of denying agency to its two central characters. A number of interesting questions emerge out of this denial of control. Should we have to confront the horrors of our world if there is an escape at hand? At what point do we accept our circumstances rather than trying to work around them?

There’s also a strong juxtaposition between the characters’ inner conflict and the war going on around them. It’s an almost MASH like quality which sees the grand questions of the war ignored. Instead, the story focuses on the war’s casualties, in both physical and psychological terms. In shining just enough light on battlefield apparati to avoid being bogged down in back story, That Which Does Not Kill You showcases the cheapness of life and death in a war where soldiers are adjuncts to military hardware.

The American by S.C. Hayden

I have been waiting for a story like The American for as long as long as I’ve been genre fiction. To me, there’s nothing more tiring than stories which try to shock me with the battle for Heaven as waged on contemporary Earth. We’ve all seen The Exorcist, and most everything that has followed after that, regardless of medium, has been variations on the theme. Moreover, stories of demonic possession often presume too heavily upon the audience’s ability to be moved by the Judeo-Christian legacy.

The American begins as a deceptively derivative story about demonic possession. And then with one perfectly placed knock-out paragraph, which can not be discussed without moving into the realm of spoiling, it takes a tired trope of Christian pseudo-mysticism and places it firmly within a post-modern context. It’s short, smart, and manages to double down on subversion in a genre niche which is firmly rooted in ignorance and superstition.

Life After Dead by Jeyn Roberts

Anytime a writer does something different with zombies, I’m going to pay attention. Though unique in its own right, there are echoes of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road within Life After Dead. Post zombie Vancouver is a bleak and desolate place. The heady thrill of immediate survival, as seen in so many zombie stories/films, has given way to resource scarcity and a profound existential void. The survivors are forced to reconcile their continued existence with the reality that modern city dwellers don’t know how to do anything when it comes to survival in the purest sense of the word.

Now if this story only worked with the above mentioned elements, it would likely still be doing enough to land on my honour roll. The mid-story transformation, however, really makes Life After Dead stand out from the horde. It’s a common enough thing to see a zombie apocalypse survivor putting down an infected loved one; the bio-political struggle between monster and sickie is pretty much standard fare in a post World War Z world. Rather than peeling away another layer of that onion, Roberts’ inverts the format. The result is unexpected and emotionally resonant. A survival narrative morphs into a story about love, and love is rarely handled with such adroit among the undead.

What We Found by Andrew Nienaber

When a writer frames a story around the question “Are we alone,” the answer is almost always yes; I call it the Sagan Doctrine. Answering one of science fiction’s most holy questions with a definitive negative invites not only the wrath of optimistic readers but also opens the door to fundamental questions about the purpose of the narrative itself. Through a survivor’s final words for a future that may never come, Mr. Nienaber imagines the psychological, as well as practical, consequences of terrestrial life as a cosmic accident.

The emerging story is simultaneously a commentary on the ever present isolation and dread of urban life, as well as a thought experiment on humans as creatures of hope. If humanity was confronted with absolute knowledge of our loneliness in the cosmos, would that realisation become a viral meme capable of flaying the humanity out of those who come in contact with it? Could we, as a people who strive to greater and greater heights, cope with a universe beholden unto ourselves? It is a troubling question, but one relevant to a world which pushes the frontiers of astronomy and quantum physics with each passing year.

Honourable Mentions

A Box of Candy by Nelson W. Pyles: A classic ghost tale focused through the lens of Quentin Tarantino style revenge.

Broken Promises by Jamie Lackey: My first thoughts after reading: this is what Prometheus should have been.

The Nostalgiac by Robert Essig: Hitchcock flavoured sci-fi horror focusing on working class characters.

The Bottom Line

Of the twenty-two stories contained within Fear the Abyss, there were only five which didn’t strike some sort of meaningful chord with me. The writers mobilize a broad range of styles and genres to plumb the depths of fear, knowledge, and perception. Would that The Outer Limits were reborn on HBO, freed from the conservatism of network television, I expect its first season would look something like Fear the Abyss.

Fear the Abyss

Edited by: Eric Beebe

Published by: Post Mortem Press


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TV Review: The Walking Dead Season 2 (Part 1)

I find myself a bit sick today. Not quite zombie virus sick, but still somewhat out of sorts. So since I spent the better part of the afternoon drinking copious amounts of tea and revisiting the second season (Episodes 1-7) of AMC’s The Walking Dead, I thought I’d share some of thoughts on where I think this chapter in the show went wrong.

Poor management from AMC

Say what we will about AMC firing Frank Darabont, their decision to cut the show’s budget, that is to take a tax credit the show got for shooting in Georgia and funnel it into the AMC coffers rather than leaving it as part of The Walking Dead’s production budget, is reflected in the final cut.

Granted, the walkers still look fantastic, but we see a lot less of them compared to the first season. These budget cuts also hobble the series’ perpetual tension. Herschel’s farm and its outbuildings do not lend themselves to the “terror around every corner” atmosphere that comes with post-apocalyptic Atlanta. To maintain some sense of dread, the writers resort to dropping a walker into the odd scene and yelling “boogie boogie boogie” at the audience, ludicrous gibs to follow. Of course anybody who knows anything about horror can see gimmick coming from a mile away.

Continuity

This isn’t a big thing, per se, but it’s enough to piss me off. Episode five’s preamble begins with a flashback of Shane, Laurie, and Carl stuck in traffic. Helicopters fly overhead and we smash cut to Atlanta being bombed by the military. Shane then says something along the lines of “My god, they’re dropping napalm.”

Maybe I’m off base with this, but I don’t really remember Atlanta looking like a fire blasted hellscape in the first season. Abandoned and ransacked, yes. This leaves me to assume one of four things:

1) Shane’s an idiot.

2) The writer’s are retconing season one.

3) There’s some wibbly wobbly timey wimey business afoot.

4) I’m high on codeine and not remembering things properly.

Carl

Carl doesn’t become meme worthy until the second half of the season. But even in the first seven episodes he’s little more than a talking prop. After surviving a bullet to the gut, two days of internal hemorrhaging, and field surgery from a veterinarian, Carl bounces back with no real physical or emotional hang-ups.

Mr. Scott, we need maximum power to suspension of disbelief.

Yet it’s his dialogue that sets my teeth to grinding. Carl can’t be more than twelve years old, yet his lines are on par with anything said by Rick or Laurie. He defiantly stands up to Shane, saying that leaving without Sophia is bullshit. I’ll concede events have grown him up. However, nothing Carl says ever lands as genuine. Where’s the petulance? Where’s the innocence driven outrage at perceived hypocrisy? Rick lies to Carl about Sophia’s disappearance and the kid is fine with it. Is this The Walking Dead or The Waltons?

Glenn and Maggie

When Glenn meets Maggie, and her almost perpetual come hither look, it is obvious they are going to end up in bed together. But who expected the actors behind the characters would have so little chemistry? I mean Kirk and Uhura sold it better in the sixties than these two do on a show that can get away with side boob.

Pacing

It takes until the sixth episode before the story gets to the thesis of the season. Do the survivors treat the walkers as people or monsters; if the latter, who are the real monsters? This question should have been asked, at the very latest, during the second episode. Instead we spend nearly three full episodes looking for Sophia. Meanwhile, Daryl has a pointless Dr. Franklin moment (Babylon 5 Season 3 Episode 21) when he defies science and manages to impale himself on a quarrel even though his crossbow isn’t loaded. Unless the “kill Rick” hallucination of Merle is a very slow played Chekhov’s Gun, what was the point?

Meanwhile, when the gang isn’t in pursuit of futility Sophia, they are waxing poetic about their feelings and inner struggles. Though I’m a fan of character depth, I’d rather come across it through conflict and ordeal, not exposition. Ultimately I have to ask if there’s anything in episodes three, four, and five that is essential in getting us to the shootout in episode seven? Much like the second season of Lost, it seems like a lot of material in The Walking Dead’s front nine should have been left on the cutting room floor.

Tune in Wednesday when I’ll throw together some thoughts on the rest of the season.


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World War Z Trailer and Breakdown

I feel it necessary to say a thing or two prior to breaking down the World War Z trailer. First and foremost, I don’t think I am going to like this movie. Further, I don’t think anybody who appreciates the World War Z novel will be automatically inclined to enjoy this movie, which has long since languished in development hell. Were it called “Handsome A-Lister does a horror flick to finance his new summer home” I’d be content to take it for what it is and enjoy the slaughter. The World War Z name, and requisite literary expectations, produces some very unique challenges for cinematic adaptation.

There are perhaps two proven screen formats to make Max Brooks’ novel work on the big screen. The first method would be producing a faux Ken Burns style documentary. Alternatively, WWZ could work within a District 9 approach. Why these two styles? Because the full title of the novel is World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. As such, the book is a collection of short stories told through a first person narrative. Typical Hollywood writing does not lend itself to such an approach. Moreover, Brooks’ book uses zombies as a means of exploring some very big and very uncomfortable ideas. Working with only the trailer as a point of reference, I don’t envision myself setting aside my devotion to the book where I can appreciating the film, such as it is.

Then again, my preconceptions have led me to feasting upon crow on a few occasions. On paper World War Z has some decent credentials. Marc Forster is certainly a capable director, despite Quantum of Solace. If twitter is to be trusted, people seem to like Damon Lindleof’s writing; though I don’t know I’ve quite forgiven Lindleof for Cowboys and Aliens.

Anyway, enough with the foreplay. Here’s the trailer.

 

We open on Brad Pitt and his family stuck in traffic. To pass time, the Ubermensch clan is engaged in some sort of guessing game. If at this point you’re hearing a shattering sound in the background, it’s just the trailer smashing my suspension of disbelief into elementary particles. Having once been stuck in Manhattan traffic with my family, I can safely say this scene is short at least nineteen colourful swears and a cacophony of honking horns. Also, I don’t know much about motorcycles, but it seems to me that the immutable laws of physics would come into play if a person so mounted smashed the window off a stationary car. I once clipped a car’s side mirror on my bicycle. The resulting impact caused me to turn the handlebars so much I ended up riding on the sidewalk.

It seems the only take away message for the trailer’s first forty-seven seconds is Brad Pitt as the white Cliff Huxtable. You may recognize this character from other movies such as 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow.

Forty-eight seconds into the trailer we bear unfortunate witness the next evolution of the Inception “Bwangh”. I thought the Prometheus scream was bad, but the WWZ buzz is even more obnoxious. Dear trailer makers of the world, please stop. I beg you.

Amid the low frequency whines, I was reminded of some very good writing advice I received from D.F. McCourt, the editor of AE – The Canadian Science Fiction Review. Therein he said an effective writer never puts emotion before action. Yet it takes this trailer a full minute and nineteen seconds before it even hints at the cause of society’s descent into madness, thus finally giving us some action. Prior to the shot of zombies storming over a bus like a wave breaking on rocks – though there’s nothing but foreknowledge of the franchise to confirm these are indeed zombies – everything in this trailer is emotion. But since all of those shots are derivative of big budget “end of the world” movies from the last ten years, the pathos is tedious, and Pitt’s character seems worn and trite.

Even as Brad Pitt and his family make a rooftop egress, there are no real visual cues screaming “Zombies!” I don’t have many kind words for the Resident Evil movies, but at least they know how to sell a zombie as a zombie. Instead this trailer just shows people running. Are North Americans really so fat as to justify running, the only thing these zombies do within the trailer, as a source of soul wrenching fear? If Paramount wants me to forget about the book and accept the movie as is, they should cut the trailer in a way which clearly demonstrates the zombie threat.

Post-rooftop evac, the trailer returns to pulling at heart strings. The dialogue hints at Brad Pitt’s special suitability to the “job” [of saving the world] all the while we see his inner turmoil as a man who puts family first. This exposition is interspersed with more running people, who we should assume to be zombies. In a shot reminiscent of the running of the bulls in Pamplona, a wall of humanity splashes around a corner in pursuit of the foreground. This follows footage of soldiers shooting indiscriminately into crowds. And finally the trailer offers a money shot of crudely rendered generic looking “zombies” climbing over top of each other to scale a wall. Hey where have I seen this before…

 

The guy who directed Monster’s Ball is cribbing from Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers. What…the…hell? More to the point, why do the CG bugs from 1997 look more menacing than a CG zombie horde from 2012. Something is amiss here.

All I see within the trailer is a shallow and incongruous attempt to portray the book’s Battle of Yonkers and the zombie siege of Fortress Israel. I don’t want to get into a fight about fast versus slow zombies, but the slow zombies of the novel allowed for the Battle of Yonkers to become a criticism of modern military practices as well as a spec-fic study of American war fatigue in the aftermath of Afghanistan and Iraq. Similarly, the Fortress Israel story was a discussion of Middle-East tensions and a true “Othering” of Palestinians within an Israeli world view. Yes there were zombies and brain eating, but there were also questions of agency and a degree of geopolitical depth.

Nothing in the trailer gives me a reason to expect any level of meaningful social critique from within this movie. World War Z presents itself as an action movie cut from the same sub-par marble which formed the basis for a great many of the last decade’s disastrous disaster movies. Unless this trailer is a complete miscarriage of the movie’s actual story, I predict World War Z to be one of 2013’s biggest critical, possibly even commercial, flops.


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Movie Review: The Dead Undead

First of all, I’d like to thank my good friend Amber Porter for suggesting The Dead Undead as a Netflix’s Basement review candidate. It’s such a rare thing to actually feel the minutes of one’s life slipping away, second by painful second. As bad movies go, this one has to be one of the worst. Then again, The Dead Undead is so bad that it becomes a sort of dubious comedy wherein I’m laughing at somebody else’s “hard” “work”. Normally I would feel bad for doing that, not so with this movie.

Still, after about five minutes of watching The Dead Undead one question was at the forefront of my mind; is this porn?

No really, from the outset to at least fifteen minutes in, The Dead Undead has all the hallmarks of porn.

Terrible dialogue – check

A grainy film quality reminiscent of 1978 despite the fact it was made in 2010 – check

Purple lens filter to cheap out on low-light shots – check

The director’s nephew’s garage band producing the soundtrack – check

Awkward “is she legal” partial teenage nudity – double check

Only close camera shots on knees and stomachs during the obligatory horror movie “girl in a shower” scene proved I was not watching porn. At least, not the kind of porn for which the internet is famous.

 

The Dead Undead’s first act is pretty much standard horror fare. Some teens, played by actors in their mid 20s, go away for a (sex romp?) weekend at a hotel. When they arrive, the hotel looks abandoned. Of course, it’s not abandoned. The hotel is some sort of nexus point for an army of zombies.

For a group of teens on a (sex?) romp, the gang brings a surprising amount of firearms with them. Naturally they are unable to repel the undead assault until at the last moment, of the first act, they are saved by the A-Team. Hold on to the Deus ex Machina feeling, kids. It’s the only literary device the writer knows.

Actually, the saviours are not quite the A-Team. There are five of them, and among them is a woman. But they have a van. And holy shit do they fire a lot of guns.

In fact, the entire second act of this movie is the A-Team, and some other guy who seemingly wanders into the plot, shooting guns. If the camera isn’t tight on a gun firing, it’s close on somebody falling down from an implied gun shot. Back and forth, first the slow hammering of an AK-47’s firing mechanism, and then the low budget ludicrous gibs of third rate squib packs exploding on extras. The bodies of the uncredited horde covered in blood as muscle men and a guy who looks like Ron Jeremy fire their big, heavy, powerful guns.

Wait, are we sure this isn’t porn?

Ron Jeremy is too good for this sort of movie, so they got his stand in.

Yeah, it’s not porn. Because it turns out that Ron Jeremy and the rest of the A-Team are all vampires. (It could still be porn) And as for the zombies, well they’re not regular zombies but zombie-vampires. Through fifteen minutes of flashbacks, which serve as miserable attempts to give a little dimension to glorified red shirts, and no less than ten minutes of straight-up narrative info-dumping we learn there was once a town full of vampires. Those vampires were ranchers who fed on cow blood as an alternative to human juice. Everything was great until some mad cow disease broke out and the vamps contracted the zombie virus, which they then spread to normal humans. Once bitten a  ”Zee-Vee” possesses vampire strength and zombie brainlessness.

I can’t believe it cost 1.1 million dollars to make this movie.

It’s pretty obvious that the budget went toward creating low-rent gun porn rather than hiring decent actors, writers, or paying attention to proper lighting. At one point the lighting is so bad that a night scene looks to temporarily shift to day and back to night again. Either that or for the sake of time/budget/insurance/shitty craftsmanship, a day time car crash sequence, which conveniently removed another red shirt character, is inserted into a night scene. Perhaps the creative team hoped nobody would notice.

Either way, I want to know a director looks at their final product, sees something like that, and doesn’t feel so embarrassed as to disown the project with an Alan Smithee credit. Moreover, I want to know how a director looks at the movie’s ultimate scene, a contrived and poorly executed set-up for a sequel, and thinks, “Yeah, a second Dead Undead is almost certain to happen. I should defiantly leave this final scene as it is.” The unashamed ego, the majestic self-delusion, and the abject hubris is enough to choke a cat.

With its “don’t call us vampires” attention to political correctness (the word is night walker), a guy named Aries (Greek myth) who talks about seeing his dead girlfriend in Valhalla (Norse myth), and porntastic gun battles, The Dead Undead is a new low for contemporary movie making. It’s terrible on all counts. Though if you’re looking to satisfy a hunger driven by Schadenfreude then The Dead Undead might be worth a watch. Otherwise stay far away from this picture.

Tune in next week when I review some other movie as part of my stroll through Netflix’s Basement.

The Dead Undead

Directed by: Matthew R. Anderson and Edward Cona

Starring: Luke Goss (Jason Statham’s non-union look alike), Luke LaFontaine (Ron Jeremy’s cousin), and way too many other people who were probably working for college credit.

It is not porn, despite all indications otherwise.


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Movie Review: Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the first installment of my crawl through Netflix’s basement. Each Wednesday in October I’m going to be reviewing some of the most, hopefully, craptastic contemporary sci-fi and horror films that Netflix has to offer, and have I got a doozy for you this week. Behold the glory that is Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies.

NB: AvZ is in no way related to the Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter movie.

This movie frames the life and death of the great emancipator through the lens of an outbreak of Zombification in Savannah, Georgia. The story itself is set shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg. As Lincoln (Bill Oberst, Jr.) considers his now famous Gettysburg Address, word reaches the White House that a Union raid designed to capture Fort Pulaski has failed miserably. What’s worse, the lone survivor returns to Washington with stories of animated corpses feeding on the flesh of the living. Abe’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton (Bernie Ask), believes the man to be deranged from battle, but Abe suspects otherwise. You see, Abe’s mother didn’t die from “Milk Sickness” as history records; she and Abe’s father were both infected with the zombie virus. As a nine-year-old boy Abe used a wheat scythe, which he subsequently employs as his weapon of choice as an adult, to decapitate both his parents.

The rest of the movie unfolds about as you would expect given such an auspicious start. Abe and a dozen men from the newly formed secret service – before you ask, yes they do wear black suits – take a train into the Deep South to ascertain the fate of the initial Fort Pulaski raiding party. Secretly though, Abe leads the mission because he alone has the experience to deal with a zombie outbreak. Oh and this is the sort of movie where people call zombies zombies, courtesy of the lone African American secret service agent whose name is – wait for it – Mr. Brown. Seriously? Mr. Brown? That’s the best name screenwriter Richard Schenkman could come up with for the token black character? Anyway, Mr. Brown gives us “zombie” as a proper noun because he grew up in a Creole family or some such culturally sensitive contrivance.

For a movie made on an estimated $150,000 budget, I’m not going to bag too hard on AvZ’s meagre production values. Point in fact, the decision to shoot most of the film on location at Fort Pulaski was quite clever. As well, there was a clear mobilization of the local Civil War re-enactment community as all of the costuming is quite period appropriate – the notable exception here is Stonewall Jackson’s hat which prominently and stupidly features the Confederate battle flag. One quick Google images search should have told the director such a choice was out of line.

It’s the little details and inconsistencies which very quickly take a viewer out of a state of suspended disbelief and into the realm of “Dear god how am I only twenty-five minutes into this steaming turd?”

Perhaps the creepiest element among these goof-ups is seen in the relationship between Abe and Mary Todd. History records Mary Todd as Lincoln’s wife. We also know that Todd and Lincoln had four sons together. Why then does Mary Todd refer to Abe as “father” at two separate points in the film? For the life of me I couldn’t tell if Abe’s subsequent paternalism toward Mary Todd was typical behaviour for a nineteenth century male, or a genuine attempt to convince the audience that Lincoln’s wife is actually his daughter. Then again, maybe they had some sort of kinky take on the “call me daddy” fetish. Who is to know?

Don McGraw as Stonewall Jackson, seen right, demonstrates what may be non-high school cinema's worst use of a fake beard.

This first father/husband/daughter scene occurs five minutes into the movie. In the ninety or so that follow, we get to see revolvers magically transform from single to double action, muskets fire without the benefit of reloads or cocking the striking hammer, a Stonewall Jackson in the world’s most hilariously fake beard, and a ten-year-old Teddy Roosevelt charming the crap out of a Georgia prostitute, who just happens to be the daughter of another prostitute that Abe had a thing with in his younger years. That’s right, if you’re a women with a speaking part in this movie, you’re either a prostitute or burdened by quasi-kinky historical revisionism.

Truth be told, I kind of like the allusion to both Lincoln and Roosevelt as notorious philanderers. It’s probably closer to truth than most contemporary history books would have us believe.

Still, even if I forgive the almost unpardonably bad sound editing, the perpetual use of a low-light lens filter that washes out all but the brightest colours, and Lincoln’s battle cry of “Emancipate this!”, I still can’t bring myself to absolve this movie of its crimes against story telling.

Almost every ounce of dialogue within this movie is painfully contrived. The foreshadowing is so heavy handed and clumsy that each time it occurs it’s accompanied by the sound of a blacksmith banging a hammer against an anvil; one such scene features John Wilkes Booth delivering a soliloquy to a zombie. The proportion of scenes with characters walking to scenes where characters are doing something other than walking rivals the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Rather than telling a story in the conventional three acts, AvZ opts for four or five narrative chunks, all of which feel bloated. Rarely has a ninety-five minute movie felt as draining as watching The Ten Commandments. And not withstanding Bill Oberst Jr. as Lincoln, who did a decent job considering the material he had to work with, none of the principle cast seem like particularly gifted actors. Though, I suspect said absence of measurable talent might go hand in hand with the writer’s cliché driven approach to character development.

Ultimately, this movie is far too self-serious despite writing that takes many a merry jaunts south of the Cornball-Dixon line. There’s no inherent charm or whimsy to counteract the low-budget production values. And I see no reason to overlook the numerous flaws, inconsistencies, and common-sense short comings which would make a lesser person walk away from this movie after fifteen minutes. Were costumes and set pieces the only precursors to a cinematic romp, Abraham Lincoln versus Zombies would be at least acceptable as a Sunday afternoon B-movie. As it stands, it would take a barrel of Tennessee whiskey to drink this Southern belle pretty.


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The Unfinished Web Series Project

A wide shot of LA as seen in It Ends Today

Much like in the world of conventional television, not every web series makes it to the end of its first season. Some projects are so ambitious that they blow through their entire budget in the first few episodes. Others, particularly those that are produced piece meal, call it a day due to the cast and crew moving on to other projects. Some web series seem to quietly vanish into the ether of the internet, leaving stale youtube videos as the only proof of their unrealized potential. For your viewing pleasure, I give you four web series, two original and two fan series, that never quite, or have yet to, come to fruition.

It Ends Today


Written and directed by Aleem Hossain

Date of Release: September 2009

Number of episodes: 1

Status: Unknown, presumed dead.

Out of the four series mentioned in this post, It Ends Today is probably the one that scores the highest for unrealized excellence. In less than five minutes the story manages to frame the characters, a recovering drug addict and her boyfriend, establish a conflict, Zoë’s memory lapse which Eric interprets as her falling off the wagon, and hint at a supernatural power akin to the good parts of Lost. There’s a feeling of genuine history between the two characters, but it’s handled in a way that shows rather than tells. Though there’s some inconsistency in the sound levels, the visual quality of the production is excellent. It’s really quite a shame that It Ends Today was left as an unfinished production. I know that I would pay if it meant I could see a full season of this story.

Update: I managed to get in touch with Aleem Hossain and he informed me of a few interesting details about this series. The pilot episode’s positive critical reception led to serious talks with major financial backers for a complete first season. Unfortunately talks fell through, partly due to their timing with the meltdown of the global economy, and subsequent deals offered too little money to maintain the pilot’s production values. To quote Mr. Hossain, “I think I could have found a distributor if I had the whole series shot – but finding the money to make more?”

The only silver lining is that Aleem has not been idle since It Ends Today hit the internet – head over to his website and check out some of his other work.

Star Trek: Phoenix


Directed by Sam Akina, Gale Benning, and Leo Roberts

Number of episodes: 3

Status: Currently fundraising to make more.

Date of Release: November 2010

Star Trek: Phoenix is a very ambitious project. Set after the destruction of the Romulus, as described in the recent Star Trek reboot, Phoenix attempts to tell a rather unique story within the Trek universe. Where the Federation has always been a model of efficiency, this series shows Star Fleet as a bureaucratic agency subject to the whims of politicians. Phoenix runs into trouble when it attempts to shape that framework to suit a visual effects heavy story more in line with traditional Trek. The cerebral elements of the story end up as little more than narrative info dumps meant to bring an average Trek fan up to speed on the events of this series.

While the acting and dialogue occasionally border on cheese, the costuming, location shots, and special effects are quite impressive. If the production team does manage to make more, I’ll certainly watch them. However, I fear that they will never manage huge crowd sourcing goals telling a Trek story that is so far removed from the established canon.

Dead Patrol


Director/Series Creator: Jason Tisch

Number of episodes: 3

Status: Either dead or shambling through a one episode per year production schedule

Date of release: Feb 2008

If this series teaches would-be producers anything, it’s that there is a difference between real darkness and television darkness. Television darkness is mood lighting paired with the strategic use of shadow. Actual darkness is what happens when a person turns off all the lights, and unfortunately too much of this series is shot in said condition.

The concept, however, is great: a zombie apocalypse story where the military isn’t out to rape and pillage at the expense of the survivors. It’s the execution that really does this series in. Well, that and the painful continuity mistakes. I suppose I was also a bit put off by the shameless attempt to convince the audience that the surviving soldiers are driving a Lamborghini, rather than a Ford Focus that has been (badly) CG’d to look like a Lamborghini.

Halo: Hell Jumper

Written and Directed by Dan Wang

Number of episodes: 2

Status: Recently failed to meet a $65,000 fundraising goal for future episodes. Future unknown.

Date of release: January 2012

The props are amazing. The special effects are impressive. The costumes appear to be made by professionals. The story is maudlin, bordering on silly.

Hell Jumper literally tells the tale of an Orbital Shock Drop Trooper from the Halo-verse. I say literally because Gage, the series’ protagonist, tells the events of the series as a sequence of flashbacks while he is bleeding out on the battlefield. I say maudlin bordering on silly because at one point during his narration, Gage says that he “…can’t remember what he’s fighting for.” Forgive me for being blunt, but it’s Halo. You’re fighting to save humanity from the aliens. The concepts that drive this franchise aren’t known for being subtle.

The series’ two episodes show why Gage joins the UNSC military, how he gets tapped for the elite ODST detail, and chronicle his first taste of action against the Covenant. Yet, there’s nothing that really made me care about this character or the story. Perhaps because Halo is ten years old and I’ve filled in game’s narrative gaps on my own.

Make no mistake, the mood is convincing enough to make me want to like the story. Similarly, I want to care about Gage and his cohorts. Instead I find myself paying more attention things like run-and-gun military tactics that even a video game warrior like myself would never use in combat. The lesson here: if you’re going to go to the trouble of making a FX heavy war story, get somebody who knows a little bit about infantry tactics to consult. Or at least watch a few classic war movies.


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Movie Review: A Little Bit Zombie

Summary Judgement: A unique twist on the conventions of zombification sees this movie deliver laughs a plenty, even if it does lean a little immature.

Starring: Kristopher Turner, Crystal Lowe, Shawn Roberts, Kristen Hager, Emilie Ullerup, and Stephen McHattie

Directed by: Casey Walker

Written by: Trevor Martin and Christopher Bond

I didn’t know what to expect as I settled into the Toronto premiere of A Little Bit Zombie. I knew it was a zombie comedy, but not much more than that. Contemporary zombie comedies are tricky things as they inevitably invite comparisons, perhaps unfairly so, to the zombie masterpiece that is Shawn of the Dead. So let’s get the big question out of the way right now; is this Canada’s answer to Shawn of the Dead? No, I’ll explain why later in the review. However, it’s still a very funny movie. And as it happens, pure straight forward comedy is exactly what director Casey Walker admitted to as his goal during the post movie Q&A.

Like any zombie/horror movie worth its salt, A Little Bit Zombie involves young people and a cabin in the woods. Yet its opening scene subverts the “let’s go party” pretext that drives most horror movie slaughters with the promise of a team building/wedding planning weekend. This atypical setup is courtesy of the film’s protagonist, Steve (Kristopher Turner), a well meaning human resources manager. Steve has a bit of a problem. His overbearing passive-aggressive fiancée Tina (Crystal Lowe) doesn’t get along with Steve’s sister, Sarah (Kristen Hager), who just happens to be Tina’s Maid Matron of Honour. Nor does Tina score any points with Craig (Shawn Roberts), Steve’s brother-in-law and long time friend. As the group settles into the cabin, professional zombie hunters Max (Stephen McHattie) and Penelope (Emilie Ullerup) are blasting their way through a zombie outbreak at a nearby circus. Then comes the twist: a mosquito bites one of the walkers before flying away with the zombie pathogen. Cut scene to Steve getting bitten by a bug that won’t die, and there’s your premise for the story that follows.

Over the course of a night, Steve goes from boring beta male to partly undead. Sure, he hungers for brains, but he’s still a nice guy who feels really bad when he accidentally eats his fiancée’s pet rabbit.

For a brief moment, I thought that the invention of the human-zombie hybrid might open the door to some new dimension of zombie subtext. After all, there’s a well established history of zombies and zombification as a metaphor for larger social issues. Other than Penelope chastising Max for his love of zombie killing, and Steve’s reticence to kill as a means of sating his hunger, there’s not much in the way of a deeper story within this movie. A Little Bit Zombie is content to work on the same physical gag/dick and fart joke level as something akin to Kenny Versus Spenny or Billy Madison.

Yet there’s an unmistakeable charm that holds together this litany of fast paced pratfalls and punch lines. You see, I’m the first person to roll his eyes when somebody advises I turn off my brain and go with the flow. A case could be made for A Little Bit Zombie as perfect ‘turn off thy cognitive functions’ fodder. Yet, I never had to make the conscious decision to abandon half my IQ in viewing this movie. Strong acting, mile-a-minute jokes, and a self-aware lack of pretension in the story telling all came together as something that is subtlety disarming. By the time I stopped to think about a lack of a subtext, I was already forty minutes into the movie. By that point, the constant laughter and sudden onset of emotional investment in the characters had won me over.

There’s only one role within the story that didn’t work for me, Stephen McHattie’s Max. His scenes weren’t terrible, but his motivations were never really explained to my satisfaction. While his demands for canned “tactical bacon” were amusing, his temper tantrums and blind zombie hatred were a little unoriginal, especially when set against Tina and Sarah stipulating that they would find Steve a human happy meal, but that they would only let him eat a douche bag. Odd as it may be to say, the presence of a gung-ho zombie killer strained my suspension of disbelief as I watched Turner/Steve try to cope with the struggle between his zombie’s biology, his human brain, and a looming wedding.

At the start of this review I said that A Little Bit Zombie didn’t make the cut for me as Canada’s answer to Shawn of the Dead. Here’s why: where Shawn of the Dead embraced its essential Englishness, A Little Bit Zombie downplayed itself as Canadian. From ketchup bottles to licence plates, everything that could give a whiff of Canadian flavour is made generic. I understand the marketing/distribution value in creating an environment that could be anywhere in North America. Still, the effort that went into erasing the overt Canadian content was far too obvious.

These few criticisms aside, A Little Bit Zombie works quite well as a comedy meant to appeal to as broad a base as possible. It might not win awards for being the smartest movie out there, but it delivers on the director’s promise of being a Canadian production that is primarily concerned with entertaining rather than propagating a given political message.

A Little Bit Zombie opens in theatres on May 18th, 2012. I recommend going to see it instead of Battleship. PS: This is a red band trailer – you’ve been warned.


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Podcast Episode 20 – Jordan Gaither Talks Book Trailers

Featuring the voices of Adam Shaftoe and Jordan Gaither.

Episode outline:

Start to 9:00 – My opening thoughts on book trailers, Jordan’s introduction, and a killer Nixon impression.

9:00 to 17:00 – V.M Zito’s The Return Man and Jordan’s trailer for TRM.

17:00 to 23:00 – The book trailer’s kryptonite, and setting the mood through music.

23:00 to 32:00 – Book trailers: fad or future?

32:00 to the end – What’s next for Jordan?

Right click on download and “save link as” to download the entire podcast.

Click here to head over to Jordan’s website where you can check out his profile.

Today’s theme song:  Jetpack Blues Sunset Hues by Anamanaguchi / CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

For your viewing pleasure, here is once again the trailer for V.M. Zito’s The Return Man.


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The Daily Shaft: What’s The Deal With Book Trailers?

Today we’re going to talk about book trailers. They are an interesting sort of thing. I won’t claim to be an expert on the subject, beyond watching a great many of them over the last few years. Generally, much of what I have seen is pretty grim. Last night, I saw one that finally made me want to read the book it was promoting, but more on that in a moment.

I’ll take it as a given that the intended purpose of the book trailer, much like the movie trailer, is to sell a given product. Examining how the movie trailer does that seems to be a natural starting point for this discussion. Within its two minutes of screen time the movie trailer needs to do three things to get my attention: introduce the principle cast of a flim, set up the plot, and showcase the movie’s x factor. Take this trailer for Inception as an example.

The trailer depicts a cerebral “action” movie about planting ideas in a person’s mind via a gizmo that exists within the real world. The actors and text panels give me a sense of the characters involved in the story. The x factor, the plasticity of an individual’s dream, is something that most audience members should find accessible. Dreaming as plot gimmick also has the benefit of being an untapped well in recent cinematic history. Interesting characters, good concept, and a newish plot device makes Inception’s trailer a solid piece of work.

Now comes the hard part; transitioning a medium that has been perfected by big budget film studios into a tool that is effective for selling novels. Problem one: the average movie screenplay is 150 pages with a lot of blank space in the margins. Novels are 300 pages of small print and skinny margins that often amount to 75,000 words worth of text. Problem two: where a movie has the benefit of actors who will convey characters beyond the printed dialogue, the novel has no such advantage. On paper, good characterization is the result of cooperation between the author and the reader. Problem three: on plot and x factors, movies tend to sell better when they are obvious about these sorts of things. For the novel, the opposite is true.

Even the math doesn’t work in favour of book trailers having an easy task. Inception’s runtime is 142 minutes. The trailer is two minutes long. That means the trailer is offering 1.3% of the finished product to whet my appetite. I happen to have a copy of Starship Troopers sitting on my desk. This edition is 263 pages in length. In two minutes of reading at a normal pace I managed exactly two pages. That is 0.7% of the novel. The numbers get even uglier if you apply the same math to something like Neal Stephenson’s latest 980 page tome, Reamde: 0.16%. I know, it’s hardly a scientific study, but I can’t imagine the numbers improving if I conducted this test with books I hadn’t already read. Given this unfriendly ratio, it seems to me that book trailers run the very real risk of inviting a potential reader to commit that most capital of sins, judging a novel on its cover.

Say nothing of low budgets, crappy audio, lousy directing, bad lighting, and air of rushed production that have hobbled so many recent book trailers. The very idea of “book” and “trailer” begins to seem downright incongruous.

Then along comes Canadian SF/Horror writer Matt Moore. He posts this video on his Google+ account.

And I’m blown away. Within ten seconds of finishing the video I’m tracking down the publisher, Orbit Books, and contemplating sending in a request for a review copy. Why? Because the trailer gives me my three essentials: plot, character, and x factor. More than that, it invited me to ask questions. Good literary questions rather than the banal details about the speed at which the zombies move. I want to know what sort of man is driven to bury the dead in a zombie infested wasteland. His bringing peace to others implies that he can’t find it on his own, what sort of trauma does that to a person? The trailer for The Return Man has done with its 0.2-0.7% what all good books must do: make the audience engage on a meaningful level with the material.

Nor should we neglect the fact that The Return Man’s trailer is aesthetically pleasing. Never, ever underestimate just how picky people/critics/me will become when they/we/me can find fault in a two minute trailer. “If you couldn’t be bothered to use a camera dolly in the trailer, why should I expect the prose’s transitions to be any more fluid?”

Kudos again to Matt Moore for the find.


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Contest: The Eldritch/Undead Giveaway

Wow, it has been a while since I’ve done a contest.  So here’s what I’m thinking; since I’m still not done editing the podcast that I wanted to post today – that is to say that I haven’t even started the editing – I’ve decided to give away some free stuff as an act of contrition.

Sadly, it’s not a free copy of the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.  Though if the good folks at Bethesda Game Studios want to send me a review copy that I can later contest away, I’d be happy to accept it.

Instead I’m going to give away a copy of a delightful indie game called Cthulhu Saves the World. If you’re a fan of classic RPGs in the fashion of Final Fantasy V and Chrono Trigger, a loyal minion of the Old Ones or somebody who thinks that games are just too damn easy, this is the title for you.  The game is also tongue-in-cheek funny in a way that I haven’t seen since the old Space Quest games.

But wait, there’s more.  Cthulhu Saves the World comes bundled with Breath of Death VII: The Beginning. In this game you’ll lead Dem the Skeleton Knight, Sara the ghost historian, Lita the vampire techie and Erik the zombie prince as they “explore an undead world in search of secrets from the past.”

Both games are published and developed by Zeboyd Games, who are in no way affiliated with this contest, but I imagine them to be very charming folk.

Leave a comment on this post and you’ll be entered to win.  I’ll roll 4d6 to determine the winner and send you an email so you can claim your prize.  Contest closes on Tuesday, November 8th at 11:59pm Eastern Time.

Kindly note that Steam is telling me this is a PC only game.  Sorry mac users, but you made your choice and now you have to live with it.