Christmas Shopping Horrors

Sorry, I have been so erratic lately but, once the REF was gone, Christmas appeared right around the corner! However, despite its stresses and strains, this year’s season of good-tidings has proved fascinating, horror-wise.

I’m not saying that I am now cool or anything, but, Great God, kids have changed. This year, when I asked friends and family what their kids wanted for Christmas, the responses that I got were repeatedly about things that harked back to my own (and once unpopular) fannish enthusiasms.

Most kids today, it seems, are into The Hunger Games, which looks pretty much like 1970s exploitation films (and their more mainstream Hollywood companions). In a futuristic world, kids are forced to battle it out TO THE DEATH as part of some evil, mass-mediated form of social control. It is part Death Race 2000, part Rollerball, part … well, part quite a lot of 1970s dystopian science fiction/horror.

In addition, many kids also seem to be into material that one friend summed up quite nicely with the phrase, ‘Gothic light’. For some of you, this term might summon up the terrible vision of Twilight, and certainly my niece, who is around ten says that this is her favorite book. However, not only is Twilight subject to quite unfair and completely contradictory criticisms (see my article and other pieces in a new collection on the subject) but there is a lot more to ‘Gothic light’, which sort of puts Twillight in a quite different light.

I had wanted to get one kid a copy of Eerie, Indiana, but it turns out that the show might be a bit old fashioned for them. Although, it turns out that my niece is really eager to watch Buffy, which is now back in vogue. Fantastic! Her favorite television show is also something called Wolfblood, which has completely passed me by and which I need to obviously check out.

But of course Christmas shopping was never going to be easy and, while the kids might love this stuff, their parents are, predictably, worried about it. The appeal to many kids is that these books, films and television series seem fascinatingly adult (for someone between eight and twelve) but that is precisely their problem for many parents.

I had thought about getting Warm Bodies, a wonderfully sweet, witty zombie/romance, with a killer performance by John Malkovich, but apparently the thought of a post-apocalyse zombie wasteland, however much it might be redeemed by love, might prove traumatizing to kids… Damn!

So, the encouragement was to go, instead, with something more appropriate to kids: Snow White and the Huntsman. This might have the star of the dreaded Twilight (who was once known as a fascinating androgenous child actor), and it may actually be darker and scarier, in my humble opinion, than Warm Bodies, but its based (however loosely) on a fairy tale and is therefore more appropriate for kids … apparently.

Of course, I would have thought that any child with half a brain cell would really want Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, if they knew anything about it, but if parents are going to object to Warm Bodies, they are never going to get over this joyous, endearing comic spatterfest – although what child could resist the charms of Tucker or Dale … I know that I can’t.

Ah well, maybe another Christmas.

Advertisements

Grimm – It’s All About The Sidekicks!

I must admit to having a real fondness for Grimm. It is a mess, and its makers seem to find it impossible to make the hero interesting. But it is the peripherals that matter here. The series is partly the creation of David Greenwalt, who brought us Angel, which gives you a fair sense of what the show is like. Its sort of angel mixed with some fairy-tale horror.

Of course, fairy-tale horror is so hot right now. In movies, there is  Snow White and the Huntsman and, in television, there is Grimm and Once Upon a Time. I am guessing that this is some sort of post-Twilight attempt to develop horror properties that have a strong female angle, but it also makes for a nice change of gear. In fact, Grimm‘s use of the pacific northwestern woods, and of sets that visually remind one of fairy-tales, actually makes the series look pretty good and quite atmospheric.

The problem with the show is, as I have indicated, its hero, Nick Burkhardt, a cop who discovers that he is descended from a family of Grimms. But what are Grimms? They weren’t just a couple of brothers who collected folk-tales but a group of monster hunters that are endowed with superpowers and a monster-killing destiny! The problem is that I am both confused about both their powers and their destiny.

At first, it seems that their destiny is to battle evil, but then Nick quickly works out that there are a whole series of species of ‘monsters’ and many of them are benign or, at least, feature individuals that are able to suppress their urges and live in harmony with humans. So it turns out that Nick is actually a nice Grimm and that most Grimms in the past were pretty much racist vigilantes – or worse! May even seem to have done the bidding of the key force of evil in the series, The Varrat, a kind of aristocratic, fascistic association for evil that I am still trying to understand. But they are bad (or at least some of them are!)

But if Nick’s destiny seems confused, his superpowers are even more weird. In short, they seem to boil down to two key abilities: the ability to see monsters for what they really are (all other humans are simply too unimaginative to be able to process reality); and the ability to fight brilliantly with weapons that he has never used before. Oh, and he has a really impressive library, which he stores in a trailer (kind of like a super academic!) But the trailer also contains an impressive arsenal of strange weapons (which isn’t like a super academic, or none that I know anyhow).

The trouble is that Nick just isn’t very interesting. He doesn’t seem to have any ‘story’. By series two, even his girlfriend has forgotten who he is! Okay, so that’s supposed to be the result of magic but I think that it is also a sign that the makers have spotted the problem.

None of which does anything to dampen my enthusiasm for the show. If Nick is a little boring (and I feel mean saying this when the actor that plays him is trying so hard to do something with his impossible role), the series is chock full of great characters; and I find myself watching each episode with a thrill, while thinking of all the great spin-off shows that they could create.

Of course, leader of the pack is Monroe, a friendly werewolf, who is one of Nick’s numerous sidekicks, and the coolest cat (canine) on television. He is funny and engaging; has an interior struggle; and I can’t wait for the forthcoming Werewolf of Portland, a fantasy project that I have invented in my own head.

I must admit to also being quite excited about the spin-off with Rosalee, Monroe’s partner, where she battles evil from her store of magic and potions – unfortunately, Monroe and Rosalee would have to split up for this and that would be a shame as they are a lovely couple. Their nervous romance is one of the key pleasures of the series.

Another great series would feature Nick’s police captain, Sean Renard, who is a member of one of the royal families of Europe (the evil, monster ones) and probably a member of the Varrat (but I am not sure). He’s great. I love him. And I still don’t know if he is good or evil. But, frankly, I don’t care.

I could also imagine a pretty good series with Nick’s girlfriend (so long as she can dump Nick). In the first series, she was incredibly boring and her only real function was to represent that ‘ordinary’ life of happy domesticity that was now lost to Nick. So basically she was kept ignorant of everything happening elsewhere in the show. However, by the end of series one, she was brutally pulled into the main plot and, as series two progressed, she becomes more and more interesting – as she forgot about Nick entirely and developed a narrative of her own.

Even Nick’s partner-in-crime (or crime-fighting), Hank, is more appealing than Nick. He’s human but learning to cope with a reality in which monsters exist, even if he can’t quite see them with the clarity that Nick can. I can’t quite see how he could become the centre of his own spin-off but he is still more interesting than Nick.

True Blood – Surely Sex and Violence Shouldn’t Be This Boring?

True Blood has been a phenomenal success. It has been going for five seasons; I keep reading about it as a classic example of quality television; and people are repeatedly telling how good it is. My friend, Brigid Cherry, has even edited an academic book on the subject. (Note to self: given the quality of Brigid’s work, I should probably read this, despite what I am about to say).

The problem is that I really don’t ‘get’ this show. I watched the first series, and I really had to force myself to through it; it wasn’t a pleasure; it was more like pulling teeth. I had heard so much about how good it was that I felt obliged to give it a try; but, seriously, it was painful. The characters really grated; the plot seem to meander about all over the place; but most unforgivably the sex and violence were just boring.

It was as if, having secured a deal with HBO, the program makers just went a bit loopy. Brett Mills once (brilliantly in my opinion) described watching The Dark Knight as like having someone shout ‘look at how profound I am being’ for two and a half hours! True Blood felt like the program makers were shouting ‘look what we can get away with on cable’, which sought of destroyed any tension or shock or thrill. Surely sex and violence shouldn’t be this boring!

On another level, the sweet seductions of vampirism with its sensual appeals seem to be reduced to the hit of crack or a kinky one night stand. Neither of which look very enticing – just a bit sleazy. God, maybe I am getting old but it just doesn’t seem to be any fun any more. But, then again, maybe its not me. I am not singing the praises of The Vampire Diaries, and should really write a entry on the show, which certainly has numerous irritations; but, frankly, I would rather curl up with a box set of this bunch of whining teenagers than spend more time with the inhabitant of Bon Temps (which is as far from a good time as I care to get).

I keep seeing endlessly comparisons between True Blood and the Twilight saga, comparisons in which Twilight is not only a bit of a straw man but critics even seem a little unfair to Twilight. It is like claiming that Night of the Living Dead is more gory than Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein: it is a meaningless comparison and both of these films are more fun than True Blood (and Twilight).

If you really want a slice of Southern Gothic (another irritating attempt to avoid the horror label), you would be much better off with the Sonja Blue novels by Nancy A. Collins, particularly Tempter. But of course they haven’t made a television series out of those novels – and that would really test the ‘freedom’ of cable.